subscribe: Posts | Comments | Email

Project Tree ’09

3 comments

For Christmas 2009, the Spectacular Christmas team decorated a new 6.5 foot artificial tree with a wide selection of glass and specialty ornaments. We call this decorating extravaganza Project Tree ’09!

__________________________________________________________________________

THE TREE

Balsam Hill Vermont White Spruce, 6.5 foot full design, 56 inch width, unlit

Overall Impression: Highly realistic tree with excellent simulated needles and branches

Nice: The Balsam Hill “True Needle” design may be the best in the industry.

Naughty: Lower sections of the tree would benefit from an additional layer or two of branches.

BUILD QUALITY
EASE OF USE
ORIGINALITY
COLOR AND PRESENTATION
PACKAGING

Balsam Hill Christmas Tree Company is a privately owned California firm which sells artificial trees on their website and at retail showrooms. There has been extensive media coverage of their product line. Of particular interest is their “True Needle” technology which uses polyethylene to accurately simulate real evergreen needles. The trees are manufactured in China.

Prior to ordering our tree, we took advantage of the Branch Sample Kit offer so that we could assess the real nature of the Balsam Hill product. The sample kit must be purchased for $17.00 (the company says the charge is to defray shipping and handling costs – shipment was by Federal Express). If you subsequently purchase a tree, the $17 is credited toward your order.

The kit includes 19 samples of the various types of trees offered by the company, including those with the True Needle design. The samples were quite impressive, and showed genuine variety among the tree types with authentic colors and needle patterns. In our opinion, the True Needle technology is a real breakthrough that lives up its name. If you’ve only ever seen bottle-brush branches, or flat PVC needles, you should examine these samples in person.

Some of the samples from the Balsam Hill kit

We were particularly impressed by the Aspen Colorado Blue Spruce and the Vermont White Spruce samples. Since we wanted to decorate the tree from scratch, we did not want one of the pre-lit versions. Unfortunately, the Aspen Colorado Blue Spruce is only available in pre-lit style, so we chose the Vermont White Spruce. At the time of our selection, the tree sold for $439.00. It was delivered in one large, heavy-duty carton by Federal Express; the order was shipped promptly, and Balsam Hill provided a tracking number so we could anticipate its arrival.

The tree came in three segments, plus the stand. A detailed, full-color tri-fold instruction sheet answered all of our questions about the assembly. Balsam Hill provides a large green plastic storage bag for those who take down the tree after the holiday season – in our case, we will be leaving our tree up year round. A pair of white cotton gloves is included for the customer to wear while shaping the branches. For our tree style, we found that the gloves were not needed.

Assembly of the tree was quick and easy. Each section was labeled with a letter-coded tag (A, B, C) and was easy to identify. You begin by pulling apart the legs of the 4-legged tubular steel stand to form an X. (You need to judge the X-factor by sight, since there is no detent on the stand.) In our case, we inserted the stand into the pre-drilled stabilization board (discussed below) to provide an extra measure of security and maneuverability. After partially inserting an eyebolt into the stand, you begin stacking the appropriate sections, building the tree from the ground up.

The heavy steel main branches are hinged at the center pole (or “trunk”) of the tree, and fall into place as the sections are stacked. The instructions note that branches may come loose from the pole, and extra hinge pins and retainer washers are included in the package to fix such occurrences. In our case, everything was fine, and we didn’t need the extra pins.

As the instructions indicate, the most important (and time-consuming) part of the assembly is shaping the branches and tips so the tree looks like the real thing. We took nearly two hours to accomplish this critical task. Fortunately, this is actually fun to do. On each branch, the tips are packed tight against the branch and must be angled out and away to form a realistic branch. The instructions show a sequence of four photographs to demonstrate this process; once you see the actual branches, the idea becomes very obvious. The branches are very durable and almost infinitely adjustable, which is a boon when you are decorating.

Even a thorough job will miss initially miss some branches, and it’s best to come back a second and third time to make those final adjustments that bring the tree to a natural state. Our advice: if you can plan ahead, particularly for the first assembly, allow time to reexamine the tree and fix areas you missed before you start decorating. (Of course, you can always make adjustments as you decorate, but it’s nice to have the tree in full readiness before you start putting on the lights.)

Tree branches of Balsam Hill Vermont White Spruce tree

After the tree was finished, we did notice that the segment levels could be rotated around the center pole. Although this posed no particular problem, and actually helped us work on the branches, it is something to keep in mind when you install the lights. In our case, mainly out of habit from previous years of erecting large and ponderous real trees, we secured the tree to a nearby wall with a length of speaker tree wrapped around the center pole and a screw eye inserted into the wall. This precaution was not mandatory, but we believe in a “belt-and-suspender” type of safety philosophy.

Perhaps the only surprise – and a minor one at that – was the discovery that the True Needle design is only present on the forward portion of the larger branches. The part closest to the pole is covered in flat PVC needles. When the tree is fully assembled, the flat needles provide an important depth to the branches that hides the pole and gives the tree a very full appearance. Because of their position away from the front of the branches, the PVC needles are not noticeable on the assembled tree and do not detract from the beauty and realism of the True Needles.

Another view of the Balsam Hill True Needle branches

Our only quibble is that the tree would have probably benefited from one or two more layers of branches at the lower levels. Before it was decorated, there was a somewhat noticeable gap between the branch levels about a foot or two from the bottom. However, once we decorated with some very large glass and specialty ornaments, the gap was filled, and tree was just as beautiful as we had hoped it would be.

Our tree – like all non-clearance trees in the premium selections – is covered by a generous ten-year tree and foliage warranty. The Balsam Hill website has full details about the warranty.

Overall, we are extremely pleased with this unique and lovely tree. The entire experience from the time we discovered the Balsam Hill site through the assembly of our tree was outstanding.

__________________________________________________________________________

TREE STAND STABILIZATION BOARD

Although the four-legged black steel tubular stand provided with our Balsam Hill tree was sturdy and stable, we had two minor concerns: the X-spacing of the legs was not fixed in place, and the plastic caps on the legs provided a very small contact area with the carpet. To ensure absolute stability of the stand, and provide a bigger surface area on the floor that could facilitate small movements of the tree after assembly, we decided to place the legs of the stand within a wooden board. We used a holesaw to create pockets for the legs.

__________________________________________________________________________

ORNAMENT HANGERS (HOOKS)

Several years ago, we discovered what we believe are the finest ornament hangers ever made at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland: green-coated metal hangers. They come in both 1 inch standard and 2 3/4 inch long sizes. The green plastic coating makes the hangers easier to use, and the color hides the hangers within the branches – a great combination!

The hangers are available on the Bronners website for $1.99 per package, 6o in the standard, 50 in the long.

__________________________________________________________________________

TWIST TIES

We have used “twistie tie” wire wraps for years to secure light sets to the tree. For this project, we obtained Woodstream Sturdy-Twists (Plastic Coated Wire Twists), item T009, in a spool of 164 feet. The spool has a relatively sturdy built-in cutter assembly. We cut the wire into 3 to 4 inch lengths. We found ours at BestNest.com for a price of $6.99 plus shipping.

__________________________________________________________________________

Tree after light installation (before ornaments)

_______________________________________

THE LIGHTS

  • GE 50 LED C-5 Lights
  • GE 50 LED Crystal Miniature Lights
  • GE 50 LED Crystal Pearl Lights
  • GE 50 Mini Lights
  • GE C-5 Sparkling Crystal Lights
  • GE Snowflake Lights
  • GKI / Bethlehem Lighting 20 Crystal Drop Lights
  • GKI / Bethlehem Lighting LED 35 Glitter Lights
  • Hallmark Illuminations Starlight Tree Topper
  • Kurt S. Adler 10 Lights Fruit Set (Strawberries)
  • Snoopy Light Set
  • Sterling 50 Light Double Tulip Reflector Light Set
  • Sterling Fancy Light Set (Flame Lamps)
  • Sterling Novelty Light Set – Snowmen

_________________________________________________________________________

The final result!

_________________________________________________________________________

THE ORNAMENTS

  • Bronner’s Annual 3D Sleigh Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Deer with Trees Ball
  • Bronner’s Frog Prince Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Garden Tomato Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Happy Holidays Snowman Bell
  • Bronner’s Happy Snowman Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Liberty Bell Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Merry Christmas Ball
  • Bronner’s Merry Mr. Snow Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Pig with Christmas Tree Glass
  • Bronner’s Poinsettia Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Ponderous Frog Glass Ornament
  • Bronner’s Santa with Snowman Glass
  • Bronner’s Snowman Sweepers Set
  • Bronner’s Snowman with Red Hat
  • Bronner’s Strawberry Glass Ornament
  • Campbell’s Soup 2009 Glass Ornament
  • Carlton Cards: 1967 Shelby GT 500
  • Carlton Cards: Garfield 2009
  • Carlton Cards: Rudolph
  • Hallmark: “Snow” Time Like Christmas!
  • Hallmark: 1963 Ford Thunderbird
  • Hallmark: 2004 Chevrolet SSR Truck
  • Hallmark: All Aboard for Holiday Fun!
  • Hallmark: Christmas Cards for Santa
  • Hallmark: Christmastime with Thomas
  • Hallmark: Cool Decade 2009
  • Hallmark: Corvette StingRay Concept
  • Hallmark: Fishin’ Buddies
  • Hallmark: Frosty Friends #30
  • Hallmark: Holiday Red Mikado Locomotive
  • Hallmark: Holiday Red Mikado Tender
  • Hallmark: Lionel Holiday Boxcar
  • Hallmark: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
  • Hallmark: Sing-Along Snowman
  • Hallmark: Snow Buddies
  • Hallmark: Snowman Band
  • Hallmark: Subzero Serenade
  • Hallmark: The Sweetest Gift
  • Hallmark: There’s No Fun Like Snow Fun!
  • Hallmark: Wonder of Snow
  • Hallmark: Zipping Through the Snow
  • Holiday Lane (Macy’s) Hot Air Balloon
  • Holiday Lane (Macy’s) Poinsettia Balls (5)
  • Holiday Lane (Macy’s) Shatterproof Balls
  • Holiday Lane (Macy’s) Small Holly Balls
  • Holiday Lane (Macy’s) Train Glass Ornament
  • Kurt S. Adler Gold Taxi Ornament
  • Kurt S. Adler Matte Glass Balls
  • Kurt S. Adler Poinsettia Drops Set of 9
  • Kurt S. Adler Red and Gold Drops Set of 9
  • Kurt S. Adler Rudolph Glass Ornament
  • Kurt S. Adler Set of 4 Glass Snowflake Balls
  • M&Ms Musical Animated Ornament
  • Martha Stewart (Kmart) Shatterproof Balls
  • OTC 2009 Fleece Snowman Ornaments
  • OTC Fleece Camouflage Snowman
  • OTC Resin Snowmen Ornaments (12)
  • Red M&M Driver Ornament
  • Tin Tree Light Reflectors (Star Shaped)

Leave a Reply