I love praying the Stations of the Cross. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful devotions in all of Christianity. Since childhood, this process of walking the Passion in my heart has been THE centering Lenten exercise that gets my soul set for Easter praise.
And then, I had children.
Needless to say, wrangling my crew of littles around the sanctuary with a crowd of fellow parishioners is not exactly conducive to penitent reflection. (Unless you’re counting the fact that I probably need to go to confession by the fifth station.) After my third abysmally failed attempt, I did what any sane mother would do. I stopped going. Okay, okay, maybe that’s more cowardly than sane. Whatever. I did it. But I wasn’t happy about it. I missed my stations hard.
As they say, necessity if the mother of invention, and this project came out of necessity: I wanted a way to pray the Stations of the Cross that did not involve me fleeing the church with a headache, a screaming toddler, and a face the color of freshly boiled lobster!
So I figured out a way to have our own meaningful devotion right at home.
I’ve always found that candlelight is particularly conducive to helping my kids focus in and enter more fully into what we’re doing. Maybe I’m raising a brood of pyromaniacs. Frankly, I don’t care, so long as they stay quiet during devotions. A mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. In any case, I knew I wanted to incorporate candlelight into our Stations of the Cross. I liked the idea of the children taking turns putting out each of the candles as we went through the stations: another way to get them fully invested in the practice.
The project itself is simple enough to create: Take wood. Drill 14 holes (one for each station). Sand smooth. Finish off with some stain and varnish. Insert tea lights, and voila!
Sure, there’s some waiting for stain to dry. There’s some definite mess involved. But really, it is so easy!!! So easy even I could do it! With my husband’s help and supervision. (Truth: I was a bit of a chicken with the spade bit at first.) All told, I pulled this project off over the course of 2 evenings.
I used a 2×4 (which, as it turns out is actually not quite 4″ wide), but you can use whatever you have that’s of comparable size. The important thing is to get it 49″ long. If you’ve got a lovely hunk of repurposed barn wood or *swoon* driftwood, by all means, use it! I happened to have plenty of leftover 2x4s on hand from THIS!! (Which I cannot wait to post some progress on, but that will have to wait until after the holidays because: hello! Stations of the Cross candelabra–how cool?!?!)
First I’ll tell you what you’ll need, and then I’ll tell you what to do with it. In very simple language. Because when it comes to power tools, I’m as “layman” as they come.
What you’ll need:
- 49″ 2×4 (or comparable hunk of wood)
- saw horses (or other appropriate work surface)
- saw (preferably a chop saw) if you need to shorten your wood
- ruler or carpenter’s square
- face mask
- a drill
- 1.5″ spade bit
- orbital sander with 100grit paper
- 1″ (or similar) paintbrush
- wood stain
- felt furniture pads
- 14 tea lights
How to make a Stations of the Cross candelabra
First things first: You want to get your wood on a sturdy surface, and adjust the length with a saw, as needed. 49″ is what we’re aiming for. Measure twice; cut once. (If you’re nervous about getting a straight edge, a carpenter’s square can be helpful, but a ruler should be adequate if you’re cautious.) Oh, and make sure you don’t mind getting messy wherever you are. There will be a ton of sawdust. There will be dripping wood stain. Wear junky clothes, and if you care about your floor, put down drop cloths. I just went out to the garage and threw down a couple of garbage bags to protect the concrete.
Mark your holes.
Now you want to mark the spot for the dead center of each of your tea light wells (i.e. holes). With a 49″ board, you’re going to want to measure the first holes at 5″ in from the edge. After that, every 3″ will get you 14 evenly spaced wells. NOTE: You want these holes evenly spaced width-wise as well as length wise. Measure the width of your particular piece of wood and divide in half to find the center line of the board before making your marks, so you’re centered from all angles.
Measure your tea lights.
You need to make sure your wells are the right depth. I wanted mine to be just deep enough for the tea light to nestle all the way into the hole (and thus hide its unsightly metal shell). Measure the depth of the tea light. Then mark that depth on the wide part of the spade bit with a piece of adhesive tape (duct tape would work; painter’s tape did not).
FACE MASK + GOGGLES ON!
Because, girl, you are about to create a heap load of dust!
Drill, baby, drill!
Get your spade bit in the drill. Now center the pointy tip of the spade bit right in the dead center of your first mark. Placing minimal pressure on the drill, get that bit spinning at your drill’s highest speed. Once you’re up to speed, start placing pressure on the drill to drive the bit in. Be careful to keep the bit level (you’ll notice whether you’re doing this or not as it starts to carve the circle that will form your hole–the circumference of the circle should maintain an even depth). Test the depth of each hole by placing a tea light in. Drill deeper if you need to. When you’re done drilling, tip the board upside down to get all the sawdust off.
Sand ‘er down.
Using your orbital sander, apply light pressure to smooth out all sides and edges of your wood. You might be able to tell from the photos that I “weathered” the edges of my wood a bit. (Actually, that was to hide some nicks and impurities in the wood, but I really like how it turned out, so feel free to experiment even if your wood is flawless.) To do this, you just need to apply a bit more pressure as you’re sanding the right angles of the board. You want to make sure you get rid of all burrs and bits that might give you a sliver as you’re moving the candelabra. Splinters suck. Again, be sure to get rid of all the sawdust before moving on to the next step. You don’t want that when you’re staining.
Stain the wood.
This is my favorite part. Open up your stain (I used a dark walnut), and paint on a thin layer. I used an unsaturated brush to lift off stain where it got too heavy around the holes, because I wanted that pretty woodgrain to show through. Of course, you’re welcome to keep it thicker if that’s your style. Let the stain dry completely before moving on to the next step. (Check the can to figure out how long you need to wait.)
Spray or paint on a coat or two of varnish (depending on how shiny you want your finished product to be). I used one coat. If you’re using two coats, you’ll need to wait between applications for the first to dry. Again, check the product to figure out how long to wait.
You’re almost done! Once your varnish is dry and to your liking, add some adhesive felt furniture pads to the bottom of the wood (so it doesn’t scratch whatever surface you’re setting it on.) Pop in your tea lights, and you’re done!
How to Use Your Stations of the Cross Candelabra
Now that you’ve got this beautiful work of art, what do you do with it? Well, each of the tea lights represents one of the stations, a step on Christ’s passion journey. Start with all tea lights lit. Then, using a devotional, such as this one, you and your family can take turns reading each of the stations. (You could also use these awesome print-outs if you don’t have the time or inclination to buy a book this year.) After a moment of silent prayer, assign a child the task of blowing out that station’s candle. It would be really moving to do this in the evening, so that when the last candle is blown out, the room is dark.