Well, the countdown to Christmas is underway. And nothing makes it feel official like an advent calendar, especially when you are counting it down with a 6-year-old. But my wife and I wanted it to tell a story and have more meaning than just a bunch of boxes with candy in them.
I wanted to create an advent calendar that would double as a Nativity set. Each day there would be a new piece to add to the scene, and a spot for treat or note behind it. And since I have access to a good laser cutter, I wanted to make a lasting wood one that we could pull out and use yearly.
Although this is the 1st iteration and I will likely make version 2.0 for next year, here is how this one was made...
Step 1: Piece Design (Thanks Chris!)
I am a technical maker, not a visual artist. And since I didn't want a stick figure nativity, I knew that I would need to rely on someone else to create something nice.
I did the ol' google search, and found these delightful pieces designed by Chris Routly as a papercraft for the Imago Dei DIY fair on 2013. Chris put up the files as a PDF free for Non-Commercial use, so do him a favour, click the link, and see what else he has on his site.
I downloaded the PDF version (Attached above). His original files did not have the stable as a building, but he had planks associated with it that you could make your own. In order to accomplish a lasercut version, I did need to group some of those for the stable walls and roof, as well as grouping the stars.
Step 2: Supplies
- 6mm Baltic Birch plywood
- 2x6 offcuts.
- White Glue
- 1 rattlecan of spray varnish
- Gray latex paint
Step 3: Creating the Processing Files in Microsoft Visio
With the PDF version from Chris Routly, I then needed to convert it so I could use it in my chosen design software. I use Microsoft Visio to do all my design work. But the PDF files were too granular, and scaling them would result in low quality work.
So I exported all of the pages as .JPG from the PDF document, and then input those into Vectorizer Io, which is my favorite online conversion tool. It takes files and converts them into .SVG files, which are smooth vector graphics that can be scaled up or down.
I could then import all the SVG files into Visio.(.VSDX file above) Once in Visio, I set everything up for the laser cutting on the Trotec Speedy 400.
- All cutlines needed to be full Red and 0.2px width
- All engraved section needed to be true Black
- Any Blue lines that I created would be ignored by the laser and only used by me for positioning.
I used all the figures as is. But I did need to do some modifications in order to get what I needed to make it a freestanding nativity.
- I built a stable shape and overlaid the planks grain on top.
- I outlined all figures and placed square tabs on the bottom,
- I created a base that all the figure tabs would be able to stand into.
- I numbered all the characters and placements.
- I grouped the stars, as well as the wisemen's gifts.
- I trimmed the top of the manger hay to match the baby Jesus outline.
- I created a tab that the baby Jesus could be mounted onto so he would stay in the manger.
- I created an outline set of the front so that I would be able to flip the wood and engrave the numbering and the first part of the Gospel account from the book of Luke. (I used distillery script as the font)
I used the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translation of Luke 2 for the words. Simply because the names and places sound. beautiful in the original Hebrew.
"Around this time, Emperor Augustus issued an order for a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This registration, the first of its kind, took place when Quirinius was governing in Syria. Everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Yosef, because he was a descendant of David, went up from the town of Natzeret in the Galil to the town of David, called Beit-Lechem, in Y’hudah, to be registered, with Miryam, to whom he was engaged, and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in cloth and laid him down in a feeding trough, because there was no space for them in the living-quarters."
Step 4: Some SVG and DWG Files for You! Merry Christmas!
If you don't have Visio, here are all the outlined shapes as .SVG and .DWG files. As the .DWG are exported from Visio, they might not be perfect. But it'll get you started.
Not that all tabs are sized at 6.25mm to be used with 6mm Baltic birch plywood.
Step 5: Creating the Base Stand
Originally I had plans of a nice little base with drawers. But December was approaching and I needed something fast. So I decided to go solid wood and drill out for candies. With that decision made, I went looking for cutoff scrap 2x6 from the carpentry shop. In order to make this the right I had to laminate 11 pieces together to get the final width.
I cut a quick jig (attached as .PJX Trotec laser files, as well as .SVG and .DWG format) on the laser, and used that to hold all the pieces against the table saw fence as I ripped them. Then I glued and clamped them all.
Step 6: Cutting and Engraving on the Trotec Laser
With all the design finished, I then set everything up on on the Trotec Speedy 400. I used 6mm Baltic Birch, and I gave it a gray latex wash before I started. I left that unsanded, as the latex will catch most of the smoke particulate and sand off easily. I engraved and cut the front plate, and then flipped it and engraved the Gospel text and numbers.
All the .PJX files are attached if you have access to a Trotec Laser.
Step 7: Finishing the Set
All the pieces came out of the laser pretty smoky. So I sanded them all down lightly. Then I took the base assembly, sanded it, and then glued the plate onto the front and the nativity base onto the top.
I then drilled out behind all the figures, and then varnished it all.
Once it dried, I did a test fit. With all the pieces in place on the face, no one can see who they are or what they are. But each day as you remove the numbered figure, you can place them onto the numbered spots on the base. I came out looking awesome.
Step 8: In Goes the Candy
Last of all, I put 3 mini Lindor Chocolates in each hole. Because the holes are slanted towards the front, removing the piece allows them to roll out nicely. And that leads to a happy son every morning! (That's Nate, on Day 6, doing his awkward 6-year-old facial grimace that is allegedly a smile.)
Merry Christmas. Thank you to Chris Routly for the character set, and to you all for reading along. Post up if you build one as well!
Runner Up in the