Wooden Nativity Puzzle




My mom made this puzzle about 30 years ago and I wanted to re-create it and give it as a gift to my siblings as baby gifts this Christmas. It's a fairly simple project that is easy to do in an afternoon (minus glue up and stain time)

Required Tools:

  • Scroll Saw (Jig saw could work, but would be tricky)
  • 12 in Miter Saw (Circular saw could work if you're careful)
  • Drill (I used a drill press)
  • 1/4" and 1/8" drill bits
  • Sander with 120 grit sand paper (not required, but makes things way easier)
  • Rag for staining
  • Clamps (I used 2" spring clamps and some quick grip type clamps)
  • Measuring Tape and / or Straight Edge
  • Scissors
  • Gloves
  • Protective Goggles

  • 1x12" Pine Board (I used common board from HD)
  • Wood Glue
  • Spray Adhesive
  • Stain (I used Minwax English Chestnut)
  • Tung Oil
  • Spray Lacquer
  • Large Paper (I used a large notepad we use for meetings)

Step 1: Rough Cut the 1x12"

Use the miter saw (or circular saw) to cut two 14" sections of 1x12". I would recommend cutting one of the sections so that there are no knots. This will make the interior pieces come out better. If you can't get a section without knots, try and center so that it ends up where the Camel will be.

Measure and mark 8 inches on both short sides of the pieces. Measure and mark 7 inches on the long side closest to the 8 inch mark and connect these points to form the top of the "manger." This makes a ~25 degree angle. Cut both pieces using the miter or circular saw.

For this step, I cut the 2 pieces and then taped both pieces together using painter's tape. This keeps both pieces aligned and makes any mistakes less noticeable.

Safety Note: It should go without saying, but be very careful to keep your hands away from the blade. If using a circular saw, make sure to clamp your work piece before cutting.

Step 2: Trace the Pattern Onto the Paper and Attach It

My plans came from measuring and drawing out the figures. I have put up a picture of my plans as well as a SketchUp file with a close approximation of the measurements. I would print off the SketchUp and soften some of the curves.

Once you have the pattern, trace it onto another piece of paper so that you can come back and make more. I'm making 4 of these, so I traced it onto a few sheets.

Spray the piece of paper with the spay adhesive. Wait about 15 seconds, then apply the paper to the work piece. I used the outer edges of my traced plan to align the paper. This will attach the paper temporarily, but allow you to remove it after the pieces are cut. Cut off the excess paper so it isn't getting in the way.

Safety Note: Be sure to have proper ventilation when spraying the adhesive

Step 3: Drill a Pilot Hole and Cut Out the Outside Edge

Drill a hole where the Camel's neck is with a 1/4" drill bit.

Feed the scroll saw blade through the hole and start cutting around the edge. Go slow and be careful to keep the area clear of dust so you can see what you are doing. Again, power tools are dangerous. I would definitely wear eye protection when using the scroll saw.

Step 4: Sand and Glue Up the Manger

You could do this step later, but you might as well let that glue dry while you are cutting out the remaining pieces.

Sand the interior edge and the back of the Manger using the sander. Be sure to get the corners well. It will be hard to come back and sand this after its glued. I used a random orbit sander and 120 grit sand paper.

Glue the edge to the back and clamp it. I re-used that blue painter's tape to secure the 2 pieces, then added my clamps. Clean up any glue squeeze-out with a rag and rub some saw dust into the seam.

Step 5: Cut Out the Puzzle Pieces

Use the scroll saw to cut out all the pieces. Again, go slow and try to follow the lines on the paper. Don't worry about making mistakes, its easy to fix later with the sander.

I split the pieces up to make it easier to manage:

  • Mary and the Bowing Sheep
  • Shepard and the Camel
  • 2 Wise Men
  • Cow and Jesus
  • Standing Sheep
  • Joseph and Wise Man

Once everything is cut out, take off the paper. It should come off easy, but don't worry if it doesn't. You can clean up the glue with the sander.

Step 6: Add Details

Cut a few notches in the wise men to make some crowns

Drill eye holes for all the characters using the 1/8" drill bit. Drill all the way through for the animals. Drill the sides for the people making sure not to go too far.

Step 7: Sand and Stain

Sand all the pieces (wait till the glue is dry for the manger). I'm using 120 grit again. Try and get rid of any bumps or saw marks. Smooth out the front and back or each piece while cleaning up any glue residue. I also used the sander to ease over the corners of all the pieces and I added a chamfer to the manger edges.

Once everything is sanded, apply a coat of tung oil to the puzzle pieces and stain the manger using a dry rag. Really work the stain into the end grain and make sure all the corners are covered. Be careful not to accidentally stain the puzzle pieces. I like to wear gloves to do this part so my hands don't get too messy.

Step 8: All Done

Add more coats of stain if you want or put some spray lacquer on it. Let everything dry and put it back together.

Thanks for reading!

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    8 Discussions


    Reply 1 year ago

    I attached a sketch up file in step 2. I tried my best to recreate the original pattern, but I was mostly going off of a picture my mom sent me of the one we had growing up. Good luck!


    2 years ago

    This is nice! A bit of a Rorscach brain teaser to figure out who's who. I see 2 'hooded' figures left of the manger, who I assume are Joseph & Mary, and 3 wise men to the far right. What's the triangular shape that looks like a shark's fin, just to the right of the manger?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    That's actually Mary crouched down. The other pointy hooded figure is supposed to be Joseph and the hooded figure in the back is a Shepard. At least that's how I thought they should be growing up :)