We have received a lot of interest and even specific requests as to how to build our Willow Tree Creche. This post details the steps used to build it.
The creche is designed so that it can be collapsed for storage. Since we don’t believe in massive storage rooms or keeping anything large, heavy or unusable for any period of time, this is a must. It seemed a little bit absurd to store such a large creche for 11 months out of the year.
We had very limited resources as far as tools, since at the time we built it, we were living in a tiny apartment (a dull hacksaw and a drill was about it!), so there are a lot of rough edges when you get up close and personal with our creche. While some of you may like the look of “severely homemade”, feel free to use whatever tools you have at your disposal. If we were to build it again, I would for sure use better tools to make cleaner edges. My recommended tools are as follows:
- Measuring tape
- Electric Drill
- Tool for cutting the wood. Ideally you would use a miter saw, though a wood saw would probably function just fine.
- Wood glue, epoxy, or something else equally sticky
The creche will be created in several pieces. You can jump to each piece in the following list:
As I said, we chose 1/2″ poplar for our wood of choice. We were newlyweds trying to make the pedestal as cheaply as possible. We found the poplar in close to the right size for only a few dollars, so that’s what we used. The smooth finish on the poplar was also nice, but made for slight difficulty in absorbing the stain.
First, cut the base out. It is 11.5″ x 14″. All other pieces will be mounted here. In the bottom left hand corner, use an auger bit or a large enough standard wood cutting bit to drill out enough space to implant a nut that the angel stand will screw into. Make sure that you don’t drill all of the way through the base! You want it just deep enough that nut, when secured in the hole, will be flush or recessed slightly with the base. In order to determine what size that is, take a look at the Angel Stand description.
Once the hole is drilled, place the nut in and epoxy around the edges to secure it in place. You want to make sure that it stays vertical, otherwise your angel stand will be crooked. To do so, you may want to lightly screw in the angel stand to keep it flush while the epoxy sets. Don’t let the stand get glued into place, though!
The pedestal is where the manger will be mounted, and gives the creche some nice dimension. Cut, out of the same wood as the base, a rectangle 6″ x 6 3/4″. On the left and right side, you will drill 1/4″ holes about 1/2″ deep in which two dowels will be glued. Once the holes are drilled, cut two 1″ long dowels with a diameter of 1/4″, and glue them in the holes. They will stick out about 1/2″, and this is where the manger walls will be anchored.
The next step is to epoxy the pedestal onto the base. Center in horizontally on the base, and glue it flush against the top edge of the base.
At Lowes, we found a wooden block with a screw already mounted in it. We’re not quite sure what it is used for, so if anybody knows please let us know! Anyway, the block is 1 5/8″ x 1 5/8″, and we cut it to 5 1/2″ inches high.
The top of the stand is cut from the same wood as the base and pedestal. It is a block 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″. Glue this on top of the block with the screw in it – centered, of course.
Each of the walls is constructed in the same way. They are constructed with a 1/4″ base of poplar or really any other wood (since aside from the top cap or when viewed from the sides or back, they will not show). Door shims are then overlayed on top to give the walls some texture and a more rustic feel.
The rear wall is the trickiest, so once you finish this you should be home free. Cut out the wall base – 12″ x 5 1/2″. Next, glue the shims side by side on top of one of the faces. Make sure your shims are long enough that you can use the thin parts and cut or break the bottoms off.
Now comes the tricky part – drilling and mounting the dowels. 1″ from the bottom and top on either side, you will need to drill the holes. Our dowels were too big making drilling difficult, so if you can get dowels smaller than 1/4″ that would be ideal. The holes need to be drilled into the small face on the left and right edge, so having a vice or some other way to secure the wall will be very beneficial. Drill the holes between 1/4″ and 1/2″ deep. Next, cut the dowels that will be mounted in the holes. Cut them so that they stick out about 1/4″ – which is not so coincidentally the thickness of the left and right walls.
Using the same process, mount two dowels coming out of the top of the wall – 1″ from the left and right side. This will be used to secure the roof in place.
Using the same process of cutting the base and overlaying the wood with door shims, cut out the left wall. It is 12″ x 4″. After the shims have been glued into place, two holes will need to be drilled so that it can be secured into place against the back wall. The holes, which should be drilled the same size as the dowels, are 1″ from the bottom and top, and just inside the left edge. You want the gap between the left edge to be the same as the distance between the hole and the back edge of the rear wall so that they line up flush.
Mount one dowel sticking strait up for the top cap, and drill a hole in the bottom so that the wall can be anchored onto the pedestal – in this case 2 1/2″ from the back.
The right wall is a mirror image of the left wall. Instead of drilling the holes on the right edge, for instance drill them on the left. The dowel should be mounted out of the top, and the hole drilled from the bottom. You should be getting good at this by now!
The top cap gives the manger stability and keeps it square, so the more accurately you build the top cap the better. It is constructed out of the same 1/4″ wood that the wall bases are made from, but without any of the shim overlays (since it is not for the most part visible). The first step is to cut out the rectangle, in my case 6 1/8″ x 4″.
Once the roof is cut out, all you need to do is drill the holes for the dowels to anchor into. There should be two in the back, and one on the left and right side.
The front, while the most complicated, adds the most flavor to the creche. It is created by gluing the shims together in a support structure, and then anchoring it onto the walls with velcro.
The front starts with two vertical shims, which will hide the front faces of the left and right walls. They should be placed so that there is a 4 1/2″ opening between the two, and are 12″ long. The next step is to add the upper “support beams”. Glue the two pieces of wood across the vertical shims, ensuring that they remain straight before the epoxy sets. The lowest part of the beam is 10″ from the bottom, with 1/2″ spacing between the two.
After you have the beginnings of the frame, you can add two door blocks. They are 1″ x 1″ shims that are glued to the bottom of the vertical supports – centered as always.
Finally, the hardest part – the rafters. Getting the angle is the trickiest part, and it is really personal preference. If I remember correctly, I chose a 30* base angle from horizontal. To calculate the angle where the two beams butt against each other, subtract your base angle from 90. In my case, that meant a 60* angle. Cutting the exact same piece again will give you the correct sizing, though you may have to whittle away some of the base depending on how well you calculated the length of the beam.
Once the rafters are cut, glue them on flush with the vertical beams, and add some small pieces of wood to the back to secure the butting at the apex. Add some velcro to the top horizontal support and the door blocks, with the corresponding pieces mounted on the left and right walls.
After all of the pieces are constructed, they can easily be assembled or disassembled to make sure everything looks good. Once it is, you can stain it. We used Mediterranean Olive, also from Lowes. We like that it has a little bit of a green olivian feel, while being rustic enough to give it the same look as the creche commercially available from Willow Tree.
That should be it! Assembly and disassembly should be pretty snappy, and storage should be easy. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Also, we would love to see what you all come up with, so send us a note and a picture!