Ever wanted to build your own life-sized Christmas tree out of LEGO® bricks? Do you wonder how many bricks you need, or even where to start? Ponder no more, dear reader. You can get step by step instructions for assembling a life-sized LEGO® Christmas tree measuring 185 cm (6’1”) high and 178 cm (5’10”) wide. These instructions come compliments of Marty Mitchell, LEGO® Ambassador for the Tennessee Valley LEGO® Club (TNVLC). Additionally, Marty sat down to answer our questions about the tree through email. However, reader be warned, this is a not a project for the faint of heart or small brick collections. This epic tree requires 14,728 pieces and weighs about 35 kg (77 lbs).
The tree instructions come compliments of Marty Mitchell, a lifelong LEGO® fan.
Marty Mitchell, a fellow AFOL and LEGO® Ambassador, created the digital instructions. He is a long-time fan of the brick who has built for most of his life. According to Marty, his earliest LEGO® memories involve building a Blacktron set with his dad when he was only three or four. Before that, it was Duplo all the way. He admits to a short dark-age in the early ‘00s. However, even then, the LEGO® bricks never really went away. “I still had a shelf of LEGO® Star Wars sets in my room and a bunch of Bionicle figures around,” Marty recalls, “but I stopped following new set releases or buying LEGO®. Around 2008, I had a sudden revelation that I still had the desire to collect and build sets. I didn’t really care if LEGO® was ‘cool’ or not, since I was an adult and could do what I want.”
“I remember ordering the Fallingwater Architecture set,” Marty continues. “When I picked it up from my dorm’s front desk, the box had the LEGO® logo on the side. The guy and girl at the desk handed over the package and asked, ‘Is that really a LEGO® set?’ I nodded, and they were both super excited. That was the point where I not only realized I didn’t care what other people thought, but that there were other adults out there who still thought LEGO® was awesome.”
TNVLC’s Fantasy of Trees display includes a few other custom goodies.
Nowadays, Marty’s collecting focuses mostly on MOCs. He confesses that most kits he purchases are in fact parts packs. With that said, like every AFOL, he still has his favorites. “There are a select few [sets] that will stay on display in my home in perpetuity. One of those is Ninjago City. I think all three of the Ninjago City sets are incredible, but the first one just has so many incredible features and Easter eggs. There’s a Galidor T-shirt and a working crab steamer! I adore LEGO® sets with lots of details and call-backs to earlier themes. Every one of the Ninjago city sets has fit that bill, starting with that first incredible set.”
As for the life-sized Christmas tree, Marty tells us it came about in the early days of the TNVLC. The club opted to partake in the annual Fantasy of Trees fundraiser for the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. The fundraiser involves a walkthrough of over 350 elaborately decorated trees and holiday accessories, according to the official site. This past year, they raised over $450,000. TNVLC’s tree has displayed annually at the show since 2016.
The first iteration of the life-sized LEGO® Christmas tree took 250 hours to build.
“I don’t recall exactly how many people had a hand in it that first year,” says Marty, “but the bulk of the design work was handled by our (at-the-time) club President and Ambassador Pete Campbell. He came up with a spec drawing on graph paper and then we all came together to turn that into a physical thing.”
As with any iterative design process, the first year was the roughest. Marty tells us the tree took around 250 man-hours to assemble. Additionally, he recalls “the tree ran into several snags that first year, including having to be mostly rebuilt upon arrival at the convention center. It just wasn’t able to handle its own weight very well. Because of that, I did a fair amount of redesigning of the internal structure and added some strategic plates to lock weak points before we tried the second year.”
The digital instructions too close to 70 hours to produce.
Year two went better in terms of display. However, the tree needed disassembling and reassembling each year for the Fantasy of Trees event. “After 4 years of building the tree from scratch with no instructions,” Marty tells us, “I decided it was time to create a digital model and build guide so that the process could be made easier moving forward. Three years after the first, the build process typically involved 8-12 club members making the branches via assembly line, with me building the trunk. It took a lot of trial and error based on scribbled notes from previous years and whatever spare brick we had on hand.”
In 2021, that all changed. Marty sat down in front of Bricklink’s Studio 2.0. Subsequently, he invested close to 70 hours digitally re-building the tree. It took an additional two hours to simply export the instructions into PDF format. However, the work paid off. “Between having the instructions and 4 years of experience under our belts, 2021’s build took only 35 man-hours, with 7 builders,” says Marty.
The tree is composed of 14,728 bricks separated into 15 layers.
“By design, the tree separates into about 15 separate layers that range from about 6 to 11 bricks in height.” Marty continues, “once the tree is built, we separate it into the individual layers, and we load them into a small fleet of club members’ vehicles. It takes about 5-6 vehicles, depending on the flat cargo space of each. We caravan to the convention center [for Fantasy of Trees] and unload the tree layer-by-layer. We reassemble [the layers] on site.”
The LEGO® Christmas tree is now a staple at the Fantasy of Trees event. “Fantasy of Trees is a big deal around the Knoxville area,” Marty tells us. “Many families go to the event every Thanksgiving as a tradition. Our life-size LEGO® tree has become quite popular at the event, as well.”
TNVLC is offering a free download of the build instructions for this tree!
“When I mention being a member of a LEGO® club for adults, people ask what kind of stuff a club like ours actually does,” continues Marty. “I usually go over some of our club shows to give an idea. On multiple occasions, when I’ve mentioned the LEGO® tree, the person I’m talking to has lit up and exclaimed something like ‘Oh my gosh! You guys did the LEGO® tree?! We look for it every year at Fantasy of Trees!’ It’s really rewarding to know that we, as a LUG, have helped create something that is now an annual holiday tradition for people in our city. It’s a little surreal, even.”
Marty and the TNVLC are graciously offering the Christmas Tree building instructions for free. Consequently, you can now build your own… if you have 14,728 bricks lying around. I am certainly tempted to start collecting bricks slowly for just such an endeavor. Be sure to check out the TNVLC site and download your own copy this holiday season. Let us know what you think in the comments below or reach out on social media.
Until next time,
Want to support True North Bricks?
If you like the content at True North Bricks, please follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or YouTube for regular updates. Additionally, you can support True North Bricks by making your LEGO® (and other) purchases using the links in the main menu. As an affiliate of those retailers, we earn from qualifying purchases. These earnings come at no extra cost to you but help to the keep the content at True North Bricks free. Thanks for your support!