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It never fails: I bring home a 9-foot pine, cut the trunk flat, remove the lower branches, and place our Christmas tree in the stand only to have it fall over a little later in the evening.

How can I prevent this "Christmas tradition" from ever happening again?

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I cleaned up some of the side conversation because it bordered on a rant and wasn't constructive (per the faq). –  BMitch Dec 7 '12 at 20:04
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4 Answers 4

Get a heavy stand

Growing up, my dad had a traditional stand that looks something like this:

Traditional flimsy tree stand

That works for smaller trees as long as you can be sure that nobody (such as a child or pet) will disturb it. That's not at all a given. Remember that trees have extensive root systems that keep them grounded during windy periods and so it's important to get a stand that can simulate the parts of the tree that have been cut off. For that reason, I'm a proponent of a heavier stand such as this one made of cast iron:

Cast iron tree stand

There's something to be said for the simplicity of a really heavy, wide stand that will hold your tree firmly in place. I've been told plastic stands are sturdier than they look when they are weighted with water. They have the additional advantage of holding a gallon of water or more, which means you won't risk a dried out tree. In some ways it doesn't matter what the stand looks like since you can always cover it with a tree skirt. (And my wife insists on it even though I like the way our stand looks.)

Placing the tree in the stand

One thing I've tried is to set the tree up before removing the twine that holds the branches in place. This is a mistake for two reasons:

  1. The balance of the tree changes when the branches are fully deployed. A tree that stands straight when wrapped can sometimes end up leaning when unwrapped.

  2. My wife always wants me to rotate the tree so that the best side is facing into the room. Once the tree is secure, you don't want to mess with the balance by trying to move or rotate it.

For the sake of getting a good balance, I also think it's a mistake to attach the stand before putting the tree upright. Or rather, you're going to need to readjust it anyway and it probably won't buy you anything—especially if you have a heavy stand.

Attaching the tree to the stand

Here's where my stand fails me. It attaches to the tree with three screws. Three is the absolute minimum number of points need to hold a trunk in place and it doesn't seem to be enough. If I try to adjust one side, the tree starts falling over and I need help holding it up. (My father's stand had the same problem, but image searches show most of the traditional design have 4 screws plus a ring to hold the truck more securely.)

This year I hit on a solution that's so simple I can't figure out how it didn't occur to me before: I put 2x4 scraps between the screws and the trunk. This has the advantage of spreading the side pressure to a larger area and also makes adjustments easier since the bolts don't screw into the trunk itself. For added security, I packing in extra scraps of wood to brace the tree now that I have it secured to the stand.

Looking around, I see that newer designs use two levels of screws or even "hug" the trunk with a pedal operated cable. I don't have any experience with these designs, but if the stand is heavy enough (see above) they are probably improvements over the three-screw stand that I'm using.

Consider a guyline

Here in California, we are encouraged to secure everything in case of earthquake. Given the excitement of the season, I like to secure our tree in case of childquake. It's a bit of a hassle, but in years past, I've been glad to have a bit of safety from tree fall when its balance shifted due to watering and decorations. It need not be an eyesore either—the line might be secured to a hook in the wall behind the tree.

I've used monofilament fishing line to attach our tree to a hook in the ceiling. Since the fishing line is designed to be invisible (or close to it) in water, most people won't see it. A bonus advantage is that you know what your line is rated and can estimate how many strands will suffice. If you do fish in the summer, its a good idea to replace your line between fishing seasons to avoid tangles, so this is a perfect opportunity.

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+1 for the guyline, used them every year in Maine. Cats man, cats and Christmas trees. –  Jeff Ferland Dec 6 '12 at 0:59
    
+1 for packing wedges. We have a plastic, water filled stand, and the 3 screws weren't enough. With wedges it works perfectly. –  Rory Alsop Dec 6 '12 at 9:50
    
Must be a Maine thing because our cat loved to try to pull over the tree. She is 16 now and much better behaved. Happy to lay under the tree and not play with all the ornaments lol I used mono fishing line to secure it to the back wall and ceiling. –  shirlock homes Dec 6 '12 at 12:30
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My mother loads her Christmas tree down with so many ornaments that until we started using a guyline, it fell at least twice a season. We use clear fishing line as the guyline, it's invisible unless you know it's there. –  Malfist Dec 6 '12 at 13:21
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If you can't get a heavy tree stand, take one of the lighter ones, and screw it to a short but wide box (2 footx2 foot or larger) made of plywood and 2x4's (screw the plywood down to the 2x4s so you get a short space under the box). If you get the stand attached well, you'll have a MUCH more tip resistant stand. You still have to get the tree in correctly, but at least you'll have a fighting chance. –  Michael Kohne Dec 7 '12 at 11:32
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I'm going to presume you have a fairly standard type of christmas tree stand, like this one, however much of what I am saying applies to other sorts of standsthat rely on similar mechanics. standard christmas tree stand

Notice, at the bottom of the stand the little red trianglar tabs that stick up vertically? They are important in preventing your tree from tipping. Before tightening the bolts, you should place the tree trunk in the center of the stand, vertical, and hold on firmly to the trunk of the tree and push downward to insert the red tabs into the base of the tree. You may want to get an assistant to help you push the tree downward if you can't get enough downward pressure by yourself. And if you still can't get enough impact, lay the tree on it's side and use a hammer on the bottom side of the stand to attach the tabs. If you don't push the tree into the tabs, uneven weight of branches or ornaments could lead to excess force on one of the bolts, causing it to gouge out a portion of the tree and cause unplanned tipping.

Then you should double check the tree is perfectly vertical, and tighten the bolts. The bolts should reach into the tree about an inch to be secure, or use an attachment style such as pads or blocks with large flat surfaces that hold the tree like a clamp. Depending on the size of your stand and the diameter of your tree's trunk, you may need to replace the bolts with slightly longer ones to get a tight enough secure fit. We've had to do that before, and it helps a lot if the diameter of the trunk is not quite what you need for the stand, but using a smaller stand would be insufficiently sized. And make sure the tree is perfectly straight before tightening the bolts. Have an assistant hold it straight while you tighten. You don't want to start over on tightening the bolts as it will decrease the snugness of your bolts.

Also make sure the stand you have is an adequate size for the tree you have selected. The base should be broad/wide and a large bowl for water, and (including the water) significantly heavy enough to prevent easy tipping/knocking over. The bigger the tree you have, the more substantial of a stand you will need. The stand I have pictured is rated for trees up to 8' tall, so it may not be adequately sized, weighted, and broad based enough for a 9' tree, even if the tree trunk fits in the stand. One rule of thumb is the width of the stand should be at least 1/3 the width of the tree branches on the bottom level, if not larger.

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Hi Jessica and welcome to Home Improvement! I remember your contributions on Biblical Hermeneutics and it's good to see you around. I actually have a cast-iron stand with a big spike in the center, which works on the same principle. The suggestion to use blocks is a good one. From experience, that works even better than trying to buy longer bolts with the correct threading. –  Jon Ericson Dec 7 '12 at 20:20
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I dunno, but if you can't rotate the tree once it's in the stand without fear of it toppling, you're doing something wrong.

  1. Make sure the stand is appropriately sized for the tree. A 9-foot tree is quite big, and will need an extra-large stand of some sort. Don't think you can get by with your dad's old red-and-green stand just because he successfully used it for 30 years (unless of course your dad always got 10-foot trees, too).

  2. Make sure the trunk hits the bottom of the stand. If there's any gap, it's just not gonna work. (To see why, try holding a heavy frying pan vertically, with the pan part up, just by pinching the handle between your thumb and forefinger.)
    Diagram of tree in stand This is probably the most common problem encountered with the usual types of tree stands, because most trees just don't have very long trunks below the lowest level of branches. If you can't lop off a layer of branches for fear of ruining the look of the tree, put a scrap piece of wood or two in the bottom of the stand, to fill the gap.

  3. You really shouldn't need guylines unless you have a particularly excitable Irish Wolfhound or two-year-old in the house. If you do have such critters, consider getting a smaller tree and putting it on a table, at least until the dog (or the child) grows up a bit and is less of a danger.

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Yeah, I've never bothered with the red-and-green stands. Avoiding the gap is yet another reason to put the tree in the stand vertically rather horizontally. (I can't say this has ever been an issue.) As for the guyline, I don't think I need it this year, but it is a comfort. –  Jon Ericson Dec 7 '12 at 20:12
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I find that most consumer stands are junk.

My parents have a great-room with 18' ceilings, so they always have a massive tree. The only stand I've ever seen work to stabilize large trees is a metal ring stand like this one:

http://www.alpinefarms.com/wholesale/christmas-tree-stands/#.UMIuQYNlEtU

I see here that they come in various sizes. This ring stand is easily covered by a decorative tree blanket. My father set up boxes covered in craft-paper and did a little christmas town screne thing under it.

You can easily level the tree with wedges under the ring.

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