How to Build an Outdoor Manger
My favorite time of year is Christmas. I enjoy sitting by the Christmas tree and just watching the seasonal lights. When my wife and I decorate our house, we try to make sure that at least some of the decorations point us to the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.
A few years after we had built our house, we purchased an outdoor nativity set that came with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus so we could display an outdoor nativity scene. The set tends to blow over very easily and I was tired of constantly picking up the pieces.
Deciding to Build A Manger
I wanted to buy a manger to block the wind and make the scene more complete but had a hard time finding one that I liked. I really wanted a manger that looked great and would be easy to store once Christmas is over. I decided to build a nativity manger on my own that looks nice while up and stores relatively flat in two pieces.
Easy-to-Follow Plans for Building a Manger
One of the great things about building a manger is that it does not need to be perfect. It is okay if it looks worn or if there are slight gaps here and there.
Project Supply List
The supply list for building your manger is nice and short. Be sure to pick out the straightest boards that you can. Remember that board lengths are less than what they are called. For example, a 1” x 6” is actually a ¾” x 5 ½” board.
I used pine to construct my manger, but you may wish to use cedar or green treated wood. If you use pine, you will have to put a protective coat on it. This can be a simple waterproofing, outdoor paint, or stain.
Supplies for Building Your Manger:
1” x 6” x 8’
1” x 6” x 6’
1” x 4” x 8’
1” x 4” x 6’
packages of 4” heavy-duty tee hinges (total of four hinges needed)
box of 1 ¼” screws
paint, stain, etc.
Some Organizational Tips
In pencil, lightly number each of the boards starting with a 1” x 6” x 8’. All of those should be number 1 through 5 and continue in order of the supply list so that the final 1” x 4” x 6’ is number 13.
The cut list below will tell you how each board needs to be cut but do not make all of the cuts at once. Follow the steps in the sections below just in case you have to make an on-the-fly adjustment.
Remember that board lengths are less than what they are called. For example, a 1” x 6” is actually a ¾” x 5 ½” board.
Building the Back Wall of the Manger
The back wall of the manger is the best place to start because all of the other pieces need to align with it.
Cut List for the Back Wall
Take boards 1-8 (1” x 6”) and cut each of them using the miter saw to a length of 29 1/8” starting with the end that was not numbered. Place the remainder of each board aside for later use.
Now cut board number 10 (1” x 4”) into two 46” sections using the miter saw. The left part of the board is scrap. Take board number 12 and using the miter saw, cut it to a length of 36”. Now take it over to the table saw and rip it to a width of 1 ¾”.
Assembling the Back Wall
Assembling the back wall is easy! Just follow these steps.
- On a flat surface, lay the 1” x 6” x 29 1/8” boards next to each other. Move them around until you have the best fit. Once you are satisfied, start on the right side by taking the second board in and running a bead of glue down the edge.
- Push the two boards on the right together and line up the top and bottom of each so that they are flush.
- Take one of the 1” x 4” x 46” boards and lay it across the top.
- Drill two pilot holes through the 1” x 4” into the first two boards and then screw the boards together.
- Repeat the same process with the other 1” x 4” x 46” board on the bottom. Be sure to make sure that both of the 1” x 4” are flush with the top and bottom respectively.
- Repeat this same process with the next two 1” x 6”s.
- Now take the 1” x 1 ¾” x 36” board and attach it using the same process. Putting this board in the middle hides the fact that it is smaller than the rest of them.
- Next, attach the remaining 4 1” x 6” x 29 1/8” boards using the same process. The best tip that I can give you here is to go slow and take your time. Make sure that the 1” x 4” boards are flush with the tops and bottoms.
Building the Manger’s Side Walls
This is the trickiest section to build because it is critical to be accurate on the angle cuts. Go slow through the cutting portion of this section. Cut the angle portion first and then cut it to length. You want to be sure you're making the right cut.
Cut List for the Side Walls
- Set your miter saw to 20° and cut the remainder of board number 5 (1” x 6”) as close as possible to the top.
- Then measure down 36 inches from the high side of the angle cut and make a straight cut.
- Repeat the same cuts onboard number 9 (1” x 6”).
- Next, grab boards 6 and 7 (1” x 6”) and make a 20°angle cut at the top of each and then measure down 33 ¾" from the high side and cut off the excess.
- Repeat the same process for boards 8 and 9 (1” x 6”), except cutting them to 31 ¾".
- Now take board number 11 (1” x 4”) and cut two pieces to 16 ½”.
- Do the same with board number 12 (1” x 4”).
The reason that I am having you use two different boards is to try to buy the least amount of boards possible.
Assembling the Side Walls
- Separate the boards into two piles, one for each side. Each pile should have the following 1” x 6”s: 36”, 33 ¾”, and 31 ¾”. Both piles should have two 1” x 4” x 16 ½” boards.
- Arrange each pile so that the 36” boards are on the outside and the smallest boards are closets to each other.
- Pick a side to start with.
- Take the 33 ¾” board and run a bead of glue and push it up against the 36” board. Be sure that the angles on top line up and that the bottom is flush. If your ends are not perfect, make sure that the top lines up the best.
- Take the 31 ¾” board and run a bead of glue down the side and push it against the other two.
- Once you have everything the way you want it, take one of the 1” x 4”s and screw it flush with the bottom of the side.
- Take the other 1” x 4” and lay it straight across the top starting at the low side of the top.
- You may wish to use a square to make sure that it is as straight as possible. Repeat the same procedure for the other side.
- Make sure that the sides are going opposite directions.
Building the Roof of the Manger
Cut Pieces for the Roof of the Manger
Grab the remaining 1” x 6” boards 1 through 4 and cut them to 57 ½”.
Then take board 11 (1” x 4”) and cut three 20” pieces out of it. You are now ready to assemble the top.
Assembling the Roof
- Lay the four 1” x 6” boards parallel to each other and try a few different arrangements to determine how they fit the best together.
- Stand three of the boards on their ends and run beads of glue down them.
- One by one lay them flat and push them against each other. Be sure that the top and bottom sides are flush.
- Take one of the three 1” x 4” boards and measure in 4 ¾” from the right edge and make a mark at the bottom.
- Do the same thing on the third board up.
- Line up the 1” x 4” with the marks and screw it in. One edge of the 1” x 4” should be touching the front of the “1 x 6”, while the other end is short about 2 inches.
- Now measure over 18 ¾” from the 1” x 4” and make a mark at the bottom and on the third board.
- Screw in the next 1” x 4” aligned with those marks.
- Measure over another 18 ¾” and make your marks and attach the final 1” x 4”.
Trim and Final Assembly
The final cuts we have to make are using (1” x 4”) board 13.
- Cut it to a length of 46”.
- Take it over to the table saw and rip it to a width of 1 ½”.
- Lay it on the top of the back section and screw it to the top. Make sure that it is as flush as possible on all sides.
- Lay the back down so that they side with the 1” x 4”s is facing up.
- Grab both sides and lay them the same way. The short side of each should match up to the back piece.
- Take the hinges and lay them on each of the 1” x 4”s. Make sure that the hinges are even on both sides so that the wall will swing easily. The best way to check this is to measure how far each hinge goes in on the 1” x 4”.
- Screw the hinges to the 1” x 4”s.
- Stand up the manager and close the doors until they both form 90° angles.
- Take the room and lay it over the top of the sides. The 1” x 4” brace on each side of the roof should fit flush against the sidewalls. The back of the top is the side where the 1” x 4” supports do not go all of the way to the end.
- Once you get the roof to fit how you want it, screw in two screws on each side into the 1” x 4” supports on the top. This will hold everything in place while you are using it.
The manger is now complete. One thing that you may want to add is a small door hand on the outside of each sidewall so that you can tie the walls shut when you want to store the manger.
Also, you may want to attach a large handle on the back to make carrying the main piece easier.
My advice to you is to pick out your outdoor nativity set before building the manger to be sure that the size is right. Changing the measurements should be an easy exercise.
There are only two parts where you need to be particularly careful:
- the angled cuts on the sides and
- the top braces are a little short from the back of the top of the manger.
© 2012 Eric Cramer