Intro: Cattle Shed for a Christmas Creche
This project is for making a rough looking cattle shed for a Christmas creche display to be used in your home or given as a gift. A few years ago there was a special catalog offer for simulated olive wood figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, an angel, and a few animals. The figures were about four to five inches high, and I made the dimensions of this cattle shed to fit them. If you were using larger figures, you could increase the scale of the cattle shed. It is assumed you either have suitable figures, will make your own figures, or will buy the figures you need. Here is a reasonably priced set of five inch figures that could work with this cattle shed in its present size. The figures shown are some my wife made in a ceramics class some years ago. They are about five inches high.
-1 x 6 rough sawn cedar 6 feet in length (There will be some "waste" if you are making only one of these, but the "waste" can be utilized if you are making several.)
-A 2 inch drywall screw
-A table saw or a radial arm saw
-A thin plywood blade for decorative effect
-A nail set for finish nails
-An electric hand drill and bits
Note: Legend in the Bethlehem area says Jesus was born in a cave that was used as a cattle stall. Using a cave to keep cattle was a common practice. According to books on the customs in biblical lands the Greek word in St. Luke's Gospel that means 'manger' implies a large room in which cattle were on the ground level. There would have been a raised platform about three or more feet above the ground level. The people would have used this for their living quarters. A feeding trough used as Jesus' crib would have been formed from a flat piece of stone placed at an angle against an outer wall. Mary and Joseph would have lodged with the owner family on the raised platform. There is no way for us to know the exact details of the place where Jesus was born, but there is also no harm in depicting it as a cattle stall like the one detailed in this Instructable.
And, you will have to decide how many figures to include in your display. It is quite likely the Wise Men (Magi) did not arrive on the night of Jesus' birth, but arrived some time later. St. Matthew mentions that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were in a house when the Magi found them. It appears they have had time to relocate to more suitable quarters, unless the house would have been the second possibility in the paragraph above (a large room shared by the people and their cattle). In The Bible as History, Werner Keller lays out a fascinating case for a convergence of Saturn and Jupiter as the Star of Bethlehem. St. Matthew notes that after the Magi talked with Herod, the star rose again. Keller lists three recorded appearances of a convergence of Saturn and Jupiter that appeared very near to one another in about the right years to coincide with the birth of Jesus. We will never know for certain, and others will disagree; but, these things could well indicate that the Magi did not arrive until some time later. In that case, you may not want to include Magi in the figures you use.
Step 1: The Base
The base is 3/4 inch rough sawn cedar. A piece 7 x 17 inches is needed. See the yellow text box for the location of a glue joint. I added a strip about 1 1/2 inches wide to the jointed edge of a piece of 1 x 6 (nominal--actual about 5 5/8 inches) of cedar. In this project the most visible edges of the cedar are left rough sawn for effect, even though some, by necessity will be smoother because they were sawn.
Step 2: The Rear Wall
Two pieces of 1 x 6 will be needed for the rear wall of the cattle shed. See the text boxes for dimensions and cut angles.
Step 3: Other Parts
Two roof supports and pieces for a decorative cattle pen wall are needed. See the yellow text boxes for details.
Step 4: Make the Roof Pieces
See the yellow text boxes for details on cutting the roof pieces.
Step 5: Glue the Halves of the Roof Together
The easiest way to glue the halves of the roof together is to clamp two stops to a table top or to a board so the pieces meet nicely at the roof peak. Apply a little downward pressure with a clamp to hold the pieces together until the glue dries.
Step 6: Dry Fit
The rabbets will need to rest against the base as represented by the rule. The pitch of the roof will need to fit the angles on the rear pieces. There can be some poor fitting, but the roof flexes enough, even after glued, to make the pieces fit. Take some measurements. The gap between the two rear pieces is about 7/16 inch.
Step 7: Fasten the Rear Pieces to the Base
Measure from the center of the base's length and mark for a gap of 7/16 inch between the two rear pieces. Center the gap on the center mark. Apply some wood glue to the rabbets and nail with two finish nails about 1 inch long.
Step 8: Fit and Attach the Roof
Even though cedar is relatively soft wood, I like to pre-drill nail holes where fit is more critical and where a slippery glue surface could cause movement during nailing. Notice how the pieces fit. The outer vertical part of the rear pieces aligns closely with the edge of the bevel under the roof. Mark, drill, glue, and nail.
Step 9: Fit Problem?
The fit was not quite as good as I had hoped, so I clamped the roof to the rear pieces while the glue dried. There is always the risk the clamp will make a mark in the wood. After the glue is dry and the clamp has been removed, use a nail set to recess the heads of the nails and make them disappear.
Step 10: Place and Fasten the Roof Supports in Place
Position the front roof supports. Use a square to make the supports plumb. Glue, drill, and nail with finish nails. Use a nail set to hide the nail heads.
Step 11: Add the Cattle Pen Wall
Glue the parts for the cattle pen decorative accent. Clamp them.
Step 12: Secure the Post for the Cattle Pen Wall
I wanted the decorative cattle pen wall to be very secure. So, I drilled through the base into the post for a 2 inch drywall screw. I used a countersink so the head will not scratch the surface on which the creche rests.
Wipe away any glue that shows before it dries.
Step 13: Finished
This is the finished cattle shed for the creche. If you wish to have an angel figure suspended over the creche, you can attach a vertical supporting dowel to either the peak of the roof or to the backside of the rear wall sections.
I did not add any finish to the bare cedar wood, but left it unfinished. A light stain could be added.