131 – How to Build an Advent Calendar (Part 1 of 3)

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The holidays are quickly approaching, and this year I’m making an Advent Calendar. If you aren’t familiar with Advent, check out this article. Now I’m not a religious man but I do celebrate Christmas, and I have the fondest memories counting down the days in December as a child. Who am I kidding? I STILL count down the days until Christmas!!

This Advent calendar is relatively basic in design, but has 25 little cubbies with enough room for a special treat or a secret message. In the first part of the two-part series, I start working on the grid structure and the hanging of the doors. The grid structure is creating using a shop-made jig that is very similar to a box-joint jig.

And if you’ve been following the Shop Journal on the blog, you’ll know how much of a pain the door hanging has been (see links below). But I finally came up with a good solution that I think you are going to like. It involves the use of Blind Nails from FastCap.

Want to build along with me? Download the plans and start making some sawdust:
Advent Calendar SketchUp Plan
Advent Calendar PDF Plan

Associated Shop Journal Posts:
Jig For the Advent Calendar
Tiny Door Hinges
More Tiny Door Hinges
Distressed Painted Finish

Other parts in this series:
Advent Calendar Part 2
Advent Calendar Part 3

Category: Projects


  1. Mark Williams November 10, 2010

    Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!

    Awesome video, I want to make a box joint jig and I get it alot better now! Thanks Marc.

  2. Nadav November 10, 2010

    Hi Marc
    first I want to compliment you on your great site
    since I started to be inserted in woodworking
    I found your site and videos so helpful and enriching
    you really make woodworking fun!!!

    I want to offer 2 suggestions :
    1. If the doors will be align with the partition (dividing wall) it seems you will have more space access.

    2. In the order to overcome the problem in area where doors are one above the other. maybe you can change the hinge position
    so the door will open from left to right.

    I apologize for my English
    not my native language

  3. spwiz5578 November 10, 2010

    Nice work, Marc, as always. I’m really glad you called notice to your brad nailer. I was all ready to say you’ve gone Nahm on us :)

  4. WoodyWoodWrecker November 10, 2010

    Great project but to make the hinge drilling easier, you could have used your dado jig. You can raise the jig up enough that the jig peg will slide into the dado but the piece will be under the peg. You then align the whole thing on the drill press table and drill them out.

  5. BedrockBob November 10, 2010

    Great video.
    This looks like a fun project. But man, this also looks like many hours of tedious work. I think this would fall into the category of one time holiday project. I would not want to make one for each of my family and friends.
    Looking forward to the next video.

  6. Dale November 10, 2010

    Do you have a cut list and a list of tools you used ?
    I would like to start getting everything together and make sure I have all the tools, bits , or anything out of the run of the mill that I might need to build this project. It looks like fun project.

  7. Jeff November 10, 2010

    Great video Marc. I have been looking forward to this one, and I must admit dreading it at the same time. The way you handled the stock situation by using plywood helps a great deal. Those little nails are going to be a pain for us hamhanded guys, but the only other practical way besides friction fitting you could do it is by making drawers. I hope that drawers won’t be cheating. Again thanks for the upload and hope to start on my first build.


      Someone mentioned the drawer idea earlier and I thought it was a good one. But you’ll probably want to make the cubbies bigger so that the drawer actually has some space in it. And its definitely no cheating, just a different way of tackling the problem. :)

  8. Gary November 10, 2010

    Good job Marc. Will be looking forward to the following part(s).

  9. Aggie83 November 10, 2010

    On time, under budget!

    Thanks, Marc

  10. Marc, I love your vids! Your sense of humor and ability to relay your knowledge in an entertaining fashion is wonderful. Thanks for another great project and I can’t wait to see the next half. (The preview for the next episode had me in tears.) Ha ha..aid

  11. Bill Akins November 10, 2010

    Can’t wait for the big finish. Of course frame and raised panel doors would be nice. Just kidding. Looking good.

  12. Justin November 10, 2010

    Great video as usual Marc. Definetly looks like a time consuming project! Looking forward to the next part!

  13. James H November 10, 2010

    Looks great Marc! If I find 10 spare hours between now and Christmas I might just make one of these. As a gift, no way. I think nobody could appreciate the amount of time and effort going into this thing except for the crafter.

  14. Marc:

    I like that! I may make a couple for the kids.

    Regarding hinging the doors, I came up with a couple of ideas, but your idea is way better than the mine. One idea I had thought of gluing canvas to the vertical support and to the door. The other is borrowed from my days making, flying & (let’s be honest) crashing radio controlled air planes. They make these aileron hinges from nylon. You cut a slot about the thickness of the larger X-acto knife blade in the door & the vertical partition, then glue the nylon hinge in with CA glue. It’s pretty easy to cut that slot in balsa; I think Baltic birch would be a lot harder.


  15. jon wallwey November 10, 2010

    Love the video cant wait to see rest. My only question is how do you get the table saw to look like a mirror.

  16. Beechwood Chip November 10, 2010


    Your videos just keep getting better!

    You said that you chose Baltic birch plywood over MDF because it was:
    no voids
    high quality
    takes paint well
    This all sounds like MDF to me (aside from “high quality”; I’m not sure what that means in this context.)

    I’m not sure if 1/4″ MDF would be strong enough – I’ve never worked with MDF that thin. But maybe 1/2″ MDF and 1/4″ hard board?

    Could you say more about why you chose plywood? I think I would have chosen plywood because I never want to deal with MDF dust ever again, ever. Evil stuff. Plus, who wants to make a family tradition out of MDF?


      Thanks Chip! You da man!

      You are right, there are a lot of shared characteristics between MDF and baltic birch. But there are a few key differences that would make me choose one of the other. And these are things that are weighed heavier than the other attributes. Strength its a big one. I believe the baltic birch will hold up for a longer period of time. If the piece ever gets knocked over and hits the ground, I am going to be glad I made it out of BB and not MDF. Also, consider the possibility of little hands opening an closing those doors all the time. The nail hole could easily open up in MDF and that would be an inherent weak point. Its still a weak point in BB, but my gut tells me its still strong than the equivalent setup in MDF.

      And finally, the dust. I don’t really want to work with MDF any more than I have to.

      All that said, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone using MDF for a project like this. But for me personally, I feel Baltic Birch is the better option.

  17. Ronald York November 10, 2010

    Excellent project, would be fun to work on with my grandson.
    I love the new format of the website.
    Just a question, can you make the dados on a router table with the special sized plywood bits.

  18. Dan Drabek November 10, 2010

    Excellent video Marc. The section on the box-joint-type jig was particularly good. A follow-up on making box joints would also be something to consider. It’s a super-strong joint, and something most home woodworkers don’t consider.

    Also looking forward to the video on making a cross-cutting sled. Mine is worth it’s weight in gold to me for precise, clean cuts on small stock. And my fingers appreciate it too.


  19. Devon Shannon November 10, 2010

    I would definitely like to hear more singing in upcoming videos! Thanks for the video Marc.

  20. mark williams November 10, 2010

    Who can’t wait to see the cross cut sled video? I think you should trick it out Marc!

  21. Claude Stewart November 11, 2010

    When putting on door and window casings and such I often just take a nail of what I’m using and chuck it up in a drill and drill the hole with it. Makes the perfect size hole. I think I might have tried that on the this. Another great video Marc.

  22. Jason Chvat November 11, 2010

    Now I am thinking we need an all out jiggy episode….

  23. Rob Knott November 11, 2010

    Great christmas project, being diabetic I cant really eat chocolate or candy, so i will be making one for myself to put in what the heck I feel like (big 27 year old kid).

    Owe and 7.56 priceless lol!

  24. Eric November 11, 2010

    Elegant solution! I love it!

  25. Russ November 12, 2010

    Hey Marc, another great video. I noticed two things that I would have done different that haven’t already been mentioned.

    1. Make the finger joint/dado jig into a small sled. With 1/4″ B.B. for the bottom you would have a zero clearance to protect the face of each board, plus when it comes time to getting the non-standard cuts in the right place, measure, mark, and line up the marked line with the cutout in the B.B. bottom.

    2. The gauge block that you use to offset the piece from the fence isn’t wide enough for the small pieces. With only the 3/4″ (assumed) offset, the little squares could spin and bind against the blade. A sled is the best option, but an alternate would be to use one of your magnetic devices as a gauge, and move the fence way over.

  26. Will November 15, 2010

    Hi Marc,

    Excellent video and approach to your project. Thank you for going into detail about not pulling back when making dadoes on the TS. I noticed that before you mentioned it and I am really glad you spent time discussing the safety aspect of what you were doing.

    This is what really sets you apart from the rest – your ability to share “why” and not just “how”!


  27. Nice wooden advent calendar. Thanks so much for the tips on how to make the wooden advent calendar using video. It is really helpful to hear and see what you are doing. This is something I will start but may not be able to use it this year.

  28. Bryan Huot November 18, 2010

    As simple as it is for everybody else…the best part for me was learning the ‘box joint jig’ part of it. Cool to see everything come together, and the importance of the mock ups!

  29. Great video … wish i would of found it earlier so i could have one ready for this year.

  30. Victoria Richardson December 22, 2012

    Have you ever constructed a German Advent Pyramid? I’m trying to find plans for my husband to build one for me. Any advice on finding this would be great :) Thanks in advance and have a Merry Christmas!

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