Introduction: Nativity Creche Upcycled From Clementine Fruit Crates

About: I've been building up gadgets from scraps and re-missioned tech since the days when a 555 was considered high function silicon. People doing such things weren't called "Makers", but that's what it wa…

This instructable demonstrates how to assemble a wooden creche for a nativity scene using raw materials upcycled from Clementine fruit crates. All of the structural elements of the creche are reused from the fruit crates, with the exception of the pine board base used to mount the creche.

As a bonus challenge, the creche is built in such a way that it can be disassembled and stored flat in a minimum volume. It can be assembled and disassembled in seconds using no tools.

The creche is sized to be suitable for use with the popular Willow Tree Nativity set figurines.


The materials used in this instructable include -

  • Parts from 4 Clementine Crates
  • Pine Board for Base
  • Wooden dowel
  • 2 Disc Magnets
  • Metal Strike Plate
  • Finishing Nails
  • Wood Glue
  • Shoe Goo Adhesive
  • Wood Stain

Step 1: Obtaining Your Raw Materials and Assembling the Rear Wall

Quite some time ago I realized that the packing crates used to ship and sell Clementine citrus fruit were an excellent source of small pieces of thin plywood. Each crate typically consists of two long sides, two short sides, a base, and four triangular corner posts that hold the crate together. Each base is either a single piece of press board, or a structure made up of a pair of single ply wooden slats reinforced with multi-ply wooden stiffeners attached cross-wise.

The first step is to enjoy your fruit and stockpile a few crates. I prefer to accumulate a few crates and then break them down into component pieces all at once. Breaking the crates down into their component pieces consists of removing the steel staples that attach the various flat pieces to the four corner posts.

Sort the pieces into groups of similar size. I hold onto the corner posts, too, as they can come in useful for various projects, as will be seen in this instructable.

I chose to fashion the back wall of the creche by layering a multi-part wooden crate base on top of three long crate sides. The clipped corners of the crate base form the 45 degree angles needed to help support the planned roof sections. The four crate pieces making up the back wall are assembled using wood glue and pressing the assembly against a concrete floor with weights until the glue dried.

Step 2: Dry Fitting Components and Designing Base Interlocks

The desired creche features a minimalist open front design. There is a back wall, two side walls, and a peaked roof over them. The desire to have the creche disassemble-able lead to a design where pieces interlock into blocks mounted on the base, with the roof interlocking with the back and side walls.

The triangular corner posts from the fruit crates are used throughout the design to provide bracing and clamping for the sheet goods. The posts are cut using a scroll saw to provide short mounting blocks that do not obstruct the view of the interior of the creche. The outermost blocks can be glued at this time. The small, inner blocks should not be attached until the walls are fashioned and final thickness is finalized.

Step 3: Designing the Roof and Its Supports

The two halves of the peaked roof are formed from a double thickness of the boards that formed the small ends of two fruit crates. Four fruit crate triangular posts are glued and nailed at the ends of the roof sections. The top two triangular posts come together to form a larger triangle that becomes the peak of the roof.

The two triangular posts that form the roof peak are held in relative position by a small wooden dowel that is glued into the face of one post and inserted into a hole in the other post when the roof is assembled.

A triangular post is cut and glued to the top of the rear wall so that it supports the roof peak and roof sheathing. The compound angles were cut using a scroll saw.

A metal plate is screwed and glued to the top of the post on the back wall.

A small disc magnet is embedded in the triangular post at the top of each half of the roof. A dab of Shoe Goo adhesive is used to bond the magnet to the wood. A piece of card stock is affixed with wood glue to cover each embedded magnet. The card stock serves to mask the presence of the magnet and to help retain the magnets in the roof peak posts. The assembled roof halves are pictured with paper clips clinging to the hidden magnets to illustrate where the magnets are on the bottom side of the roof peak posts.

When the creche is assembled the magnets cling to the metal plate on the post glued to the top of the rear wall. The provided picture of the rear wall and roof assembly being held upside down illustrates that the magnets are strong enough to hold the roof in place on the rear wall even when it is inverted.

Step 4: Side Walls and Putting It All Together

The two side walls of the creche are the easiest part to fashion. They each consist of two of the boards from the short ends of a crate. They're glued together with wood glue. Doubling the thickness provides additional wall stiffness. An additional benefit is that the painted side of the short walls can be glued face to face, thus avoiding the need to sand off the original fruit crate paint.

Once the side walls and back wall are assembled, the final placement of the retaining blocks on the base can be determined. Glue the base blocks such that the three walls are held firmly in place. C-Clamps can be used to hold the short, upright blocks in place while the glue dries.

Step 5: Finishing the Wood

The Clementine fruit crate wood is typically quite rough. You may choose to leave the rough finish. I chose to sand the rough surfaces mostly smooth and to apply a dark wood stain to all surfaces. Steel wool was used after the stain to further burnish the surface of the upcycled fruit crate wood.

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