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Cut, Cart, and Care for Your Christmas Tree

You can learn a lot from TOH master carpenter Norm Abram's holiday tree-cutting ritual

Photo by Keller & Keller
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Every Christmas, Lindsey Abram picks out the tallest and fullest possible tree for her family's living room—to the consternation of her father, This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram, who fells the tree, then usually ends up "trimming 8 to 10 inches off the bottom." In many national forests, you too can cut and cart away some holiday cheer for as little as $5. Purchase permits from a local ranger station and start scouting the ideal tree after Thanksgiving. (Or next year, do like hunters in the West; early in the season they tie ribbons to their chosen tree, returning to chop closer to Christmas.) Once you get home, don't make the mistake of thinking your work is done. Freshly cut trees are still alive—sap seals the trunk, which you should trim straight across and stick in water immediately. Forget the ketchup and corn syrup concoctions, and don't bother sousing the stump in vodka; plain tap water is best (1 quart per trunk diameter inch). But watch the reservoir level: Even under ideal conditions—70 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity—trees can get dehydrated in as few as four hours and may stop drinking for good. To check for freshness, bend a needle or two. They should produce a moist snap, like a carrot stick.
Every Christmas, Lindsey Abram picks out the tallest and fullest possible tree for her family's living room—to the consternation of her father, This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram, who fells the tree, then usually ends up "trimming 8 to 10 inches off the bottom." In many national forests, you too can cut and cart away some holiday cheer for as little as $5. Purchase permits from a local ranger station and start scouting the ideal tree after Thanksgiving. (Or next year, do like hunters in the West; early in the season they tie ribbons to their chosen tree, returning to chop closer to Christmas.) Once you get home, don't make the mistake of thinking your work is done. Freshly cut trees are still alive—sap seals the trunk, which you should trim straight across and stick in water immediately. Forget the ketchup and corn syrup concoctions, and don't bother sousing the stump in vodka; plain tap water is best (1 quart per trunk diameter inch). But watch the reservoir level: Even under ideal conditions—70 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity—trees can get dehydrated in as few as four hours and may stop drinking for good. To check for freshness, bend a needle or two. They should produce a moist snap, like a carrot stick.
 
 

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