Monday, December 10, 2012

The Dissolving Tree

I don't know what the weather is like in the rest of the country (or the world for that matter) but here in the Southwest US things are warm. Warmer than usual. This time last year we'd had snow a few times. Now, I'm not complaining...I'm not much for cold...but it hit me two nights ago that Christmas is pretty much 2 weeks away. 2 weeks! I'm nowhere near ready. The warmth fooled me into thinking I had plenty of time. I have all these projects I wanted to do and gifts to finish making. Eek!

One of the many things on my list to make are mini Christmas trees. You know how some people LOVE snowmen, or santas, or snowflakes? Well Christmas trees are my Christmas thing I obsess over. Ok, I don't obsess, but I love them. I want to make mini trees, make tree wall hangings, make a tree table runner, and I'd have 5 real Christmas trees if that wasn't a little overboard. I had all sorts of plans for the tree stuff I was going to make this year and now we'll be lucky if we have time to even go cut our Christmas tree (the permit to cut a tree is free here...can't pass up free, especially for a real tree and an adventure). So...I was excited to receive Allison's email and see that someone is getting to at least attempt to make their little mini trees. 

The Original Pin
 Glass Christmas Trees
Allison's story goes like this:

"I had spent weeks looking at them and picking out the perfect spot in my living room to display them. The directions were simple... assemble a Styrofoam Stack Tree kit, paint it, glue on the clear glass discs... how hard could that be?!"

"Somewhere along the way...this simple craft became a nightmare."  

The Pinstrosity
"First... the Styrofoam Stack trees were almost impossible to find in craft store but I ended up ordering them from Amazon.  The product is actually spelled "stak tree" unlike the "stack tree" referred to in the original post, which did not make googling them any easier.   I decided on a 12" tree and a 18" tree so my finished product would look like the blog picture."

"The original directions said to assemble the trees then paint them with craft paint and a foam brush. Well I was too excited to get these cool looking trees in my living room, so hand painting them was not going to cut it. I used green spray paint.  I let my boyfriend talk me into a formula with paint and primer in one can with the idea that it would help keep the foam from absorbing the paint."  

"I sprayed the taller, thicker tree first, took my time with thin even coats, and it looked great.  Then my boyfriend sprayed the smaller tree, spending much less time than I did, but again it looked great.  As we stood there admiring our work I heard a faint crackling noise... I leaned down to our freshly painted trees only to realize that the spray paint was dissolving them.  The entire surface of the smaller tree had holes forming before our eyes and it started to lean to one side.  By this point I could not bare to watch so I left them to dry for a few hours."  

"The end result was a slightly smaller, tilted 12" tree and a perfect 18" tree.  One down.. one I still had hope."  

"I decided to test out the glass discs on the smaller tree because it clearly was not going to make the final cut.  I began with E6000 glue.  Again not following the directions which involved a hot glue gun.  E6000 clearly says on the label that it shouldn't be used on styrofoam, but I went ahead and did it anyway.  I figured the spray paint would act as a barrier.  I got one row of disc glued on when the bottom layer of styrofoam began to dissolve.  The glue had softened it and the discs were so heavy the tree was starting to tip to one side even more.  I picked the tree up to move it and crack!  The bottom two layers disconnected from the top layers.  I had learned NOT to use that glue, so I attempted the second test layer with a hot glue gun.  My glue gun is a small one temp gun that doesn't get very hot, but it did get hot enough for the glue to eat right through the remaining styrofoam.  I don't know what kind of gun was used for the original project but there was no way my little glue gun was going to work.  I finally tried plain white glue and that could not dry fast enough to hold the glass on... I found them all on the table after 5 minutes."

"I decided to keep the larger tree, which looks pretty good for now, and use it for a totally different, non-Pinterest related project." we know a few things NOT to do with this project. Let's go through those and talk about what you maybe should do. 

Now...first one...and this one bites me in the backside all the time...deviation from the directions. But come on...who follows the directions every single time? I don't. I read something...look at what I have in my stash and try to make do so I don't have to go buy something else that will just end up in my craft stash. That and I read the directions and think, "Man...I could way simplify that." Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This is a time it didn't work.

So now the paint. Spray paint and I have a rocky relationship. I will almost always opt for regular craft/acrylic paint rather than spray paint. Emilee however is a spray paint champion. We'll have to ask her about the spray paint part of this and if she knows any tricks. But from my experience, here's what I can tell you: craft paint is way way less harsh than spray paint. I've yet to see it dissolve or eat into anything (I have had Allison's experience of hungry spray paint). It can take longer to do the initial painting, but with styrofoam it may just be worth the extra time in the beginning. 

Third...the glue. I'm still getting to know which glues are perfect for various surfaces, but in my Reference Section board on Pinterest I have this handy little chart saved: 
Which glue should I use?
"* These glues are not ideal for adhering the material but can be sufficient if the project is small and lightweight, and non-functional (craft only). When using hot glue for styrofoam projects, choose a low-temperature glue gun only. High-temperature hot glue will most likely refuse to bond and melt the plastic, which gives off harmful fumes. Also note that only waterproof glues should be used on ceramics such as mugs, dishware and vases. Lastly, if your paper projects involve fine artwork (or anything you’d like to keep for a very long time) you should use archival adhesives instead of the standard glues above." Check out their site, they have some great tips and tricks:

The white glue probably would have worked over time, but you'd have to sit and hold each glass piece on until the glue has dried enough. This isn't too bad if you're doing this while watching a show...but if you're just sitting at the table staring at the wall...that would get old. But hey...there are worse things to do, right?

I think those were the main two issues with the project here...the fast route (spray paint and high heat hot glue) were just too harsh. This project makes you slow down and take a look at life and smell the roses and count the dirty spots on your floor as you sit and hold the glass while the glue dries. 


  1. Ah yes...there's nothing sadder than watching your Styrofoam melt away. I figured this out while making a solar system model in middle school. :(

  2. The best glue for styrofoam I have found is gel medium found in the fine art section of you craft store near the gesso. It comes in all sorts of finishes from clear glossy to opaque white. It is very thick so things don't slide off while you wait for it to dry but it doesn't melt the styrofoam. It is quite prices but I use it for almost everything.

  3. Clearly I'm a hot glue idiot b/c I cannot get that stuff to work for me at all. It makes a huge mess, it dries before I can even adhere my object to the other object, and once I do get something stuck, it starts to fall off within a month. Not to mention all those strings that get left behind.

    1. Amen, sister! And let's not even discuss the 3rd degree burns when it gets on your hand and adheres firmly!

  4. For gluing options, I've found this site to be awesome for all my crafty going-ons:

  5. Oh my goodness, never use E6000 on styrofoam! Ever! Speaking from experience I have had that stuff MELT foam before...I'm talking total liquidation! It's a nightmare! Tacky glue would probably work better, since it's thick enough that it won't sink into the styrofoam all the way.

  6. Best to test on a styrofoam cup or plate, rather than the expensive final products. Save a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth.

  7. I was reading a magazine the other day and apparently Styrophone + spray paint = toxic, flammable fumes. So, yeah, you might have gotten lucky on this one!

  8. Your regular hot glue gun will work. use small wide mouth pliers, or blunt thin ones to hold your bead, squeeze a drop out, and *wipe the nozzle on the edge as you finish squeezing*! That eliminates the strings. Then take a moment to let it cool just enough to not melt the styrofoam but is still melty enough to adhere. It takes a bit longer, but not too much if you're going all the way to using the hgg anyway.

  9. Sorry you had to go through that. Aileens makes a glue especially for styrofoam and there may be a few others. They are usually clearly labeled for foam. Most Spray paint definately will melt the foam because of the alchol or petroleum products but there is a craft spray paint that is safe on styrofoam. It has a different base formula like a latex paint. Martha Stewart may have it in her line.
    I just e-mailed the Flora Foam company through their web site to find a local retailer for the Stak Tree kits. Haven't heard back but hopefully it's cheaper than Amazon and saves the shipping charge. Give it a shot if you're pinching pennies like I am.

  10. Xylene is a solvent that is in a lot of glues (plastic model glue, for example) and is used to keep spray paint fluid in the can and well mixed so it doesn't clog up the spray nozzle. (It's also in plastic model paint, too....) It also is the ingredient in both glue and spray paint that has fumes that will not only get you somewhat high, but will kill brain cells in copious amounts.

    That's what melts the styrofoam. The xylene. (I could also be benzene or toluene, all of which are strong solvents and some spray paints contain all three....)

    You can also melt styrofoam with acetone--which one finds in nail polish remover.

  11. Spray paint with Acetone will dissolve styrofoam every time. There are a few spray paints that you can use, like Design Master spray paint. Another point about the glue gun is to use a LOW temp glue gun... high temp will melt the styrofoam also.

  12. Glitter always works. If all else fails, just use glitter. I do like how the tree ended up. Much thanks for the handy glue/adhesive chart. Shall pin immediately.

  13. Has anyone here tried using the glue dots on styrofoam? They sell them at Michaels and WalMart now. I've had better luck with those dots on small craft projects than hot glue guns (yes, I too am a hot glue gun disaster), but I don't know if they'd stick to the painted foam or even if they'll stay stuck to the super-smooth surface of those glass beads.

    Funny glue gun story (well, it's funny NOW, it wasn't then)... I glued the gun itself to the surface of my kitchen table -- don't ask, I have NO idea how. Then I remembered high school chemistry and that acetone (nail polish remover) can remove glue... forgetting that if it can remove polish, it most certainly will remove the finish on the table too.


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