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Make your own Créche

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(@de-nitzemer)

Dear Friends of the Creche, lie­be Krippenfreunde,

during our time in the United Sta­tes we were gre­at fans of the Christ­mas Putz in Beth­le­hem, Penn­syl­va­nia http://www.victoriana.com/christmas/putz.htm. Living now with my fami­ly in South-Wes­tern Ger­ma­ny I had the gre­at oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn about the making of a creche from some of the best creche makers (or would you say crib makers?) in Germany. 

While we lived in Dela­ware, we were alrea­dy collec­ting creches and had star­ted on buil­ding our first one. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly the­re was no good rea­ding mate­ri­al avail­ab­le on making your own creche. Qui­te in con­trast to the vast varie­ty of books on wood car­ving to be found. This seems to be still the case when you look through the offe­rings at amazon.com or the resour­ces page of the „Friends of the Creche“ – Home­page http://www.friendsofthecreche.org/englishus-2013/. So …. see­ing this new forum, I though about genera­ting a small set of step by step inst­ruc­tions to buil­ding a creche.

Zitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 26. März 2014 22:39
(@de-nitzemer)

Dear Friends of the Creche, lie­be Krippenfreunde,

as an illus­tra­ti­on let me start with a small sta­ble creche I found in the well known book of Jakob Ger­ner and Hans-Gün­ter Röh­rig “Krip­pen sel­ber bau­en” (Build your own Creche) http://www.amazon.de/Krippen-schlichten-romantischen-Techniken-Beispiele/dp/B003K1G0AA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395863458&sr=8–1&keywords=gerner+r%C3%B6hrig which is unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly avail­ab­le in Ger­man only. The ori­gi­nal creche cal­led for lar­ge figu­res of 18 cm (6 to 7 inches). For the creche shown in the pho­to I used 4cm (1 9/16 inches) resin figu­res and sca­led down the sta­ble accordingly.

I have plans avail­ab­le for the sca­led down creche, which I can share. If you are inte­res­ted, plea­se send me a PN (pri­va­te note) through this forum.

The base of the Creche is 8mm (5/16 inches) ply­wood. The walls are made from “sty­ro­foam” (XPS), the tim­bers are small 6x6mm (3/16 inches) wood sticks. The roof is made from cor­ru­ga­ted paper. All is pain­ted with water-based emul­si­on paint (wall paint). But we will get to details later.

Glo­ria et Pax
de Nitzemer

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 26. März 2014 22:42
(@de-nitzemer)

Every genera­ti­on of creche makers has its own favo­ri­te tech­ni­ques and pre­fer­red mate­ri­als. A hund­red years ago peop­le used bone glue and chalk and cloth. Later they chan­ged to soft fiber board. The last five years have seen the advent and rise of extru­ded poly­s­tre­ne (XPS), com­mon­ly used for home insu­la­ti­on pur­po­ses and known by its brand name as e.g. syty­ro­foam © or Sty­ro­dur ©. Extru­ded poly­sty­re­ne is avail­ab­le in any lar­ge hard­ware store. Scrap pie­ces which can be found on many con­struc­tion sites will do for small creches like this one, as well.

Figu­re two shows a num­ber of XPS sam­ples, which I cut for a small stu­dy on the bene­fits of various types of XPS http://www.krippenverein.de/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=336&hilit=XPS. All types are sui­ta­ble for what we want to do here, but I would recom­mend one of stan­dard hard­ness and with fine pores. I also sug­gest to use board of some 6cm (2 to 3 inches) thic­kness, sin­ce the pore struc­tu­re chan­ges with the thic­kness of the extru­ded slab. 

XPS board can best be cut with a hot wire foam cut­ter. I use a PROXXON Ther­mo­Cut http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=thermocut&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Athermocut (see Figu­re 3) but other types (e.g. Sty­ro­Cut 3D http://www.thecooltool.com/produktgruppe.php?language=e&pg_id=3) will do just as well.

XPS board can also be cut with a saw. I used a band saw to cut the sam­ples in Figu­re 2. You will noti­ce the tooth marks on the sides. Thin XPS slabs are best cut with a kni­fe. Both saw and kni­fe have to be very sharp, other­wi­se you will end up with ugly rips along the cut. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly XPS dulls a kni­fe quick­ly. So one eit­her has to shar­pen often or use a snap off uti­li­ty kni­fe and chan­ge bla­des frequently.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 26. März 2014 22:48
(@de-nitzemer)

Once we have secu­red some sty­ro­foam we start with the walls of the sta­ble and the barn. I used 6cm Sty­ro­dur C© (2 3/8 inches tick) for this. I start with cut­ting 5mm (1/4”) sli­ces off the slab using the Ther­mo­cut, see Figu­re 4. Tho­se sli­ces will beco­me the walls of the sta­ble and the side walls of the barn.

To cut the big back wall of the barn whe­re the Holy Fami­ly will stand in front of, I need to gene­ra­te a big­ger squa­re. To avoid til­ting it when shaving off the thin 5mm sli­ce, I sup­port it with a big­ger rect­an­gu­lar pie­ce from behind, see Figu­re 5.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 29. März 2014 23:51
(@de-nitzemer)

For thin pie­ces like the walls in this creche, only par­al­lel cuts are made with the Ther­mo­cut. All other cuts are bet­ter made using a sharp kni­fe. To ensu­re that cuts are rect­an­gu­lar I use a mit­re squa­re as in Figu­re 6. Always make sure you soft­ly pull the kni­fe and do not for­ce it through the mate­ri­al as it will give ugly tears, otherwise.

In the front of the sta­ble are a door for the sheep – or other live­stock – and the upper hatch for the feed store. After mar­king the cen­ter of the front, the out­line of door and hatch with a sharp pen­cil. It is then also cut with a knife.

The door is 4cm high and 1.6cm wide. The hatch is 1.3cmx1.3cm. The size of the door cor­re­sponds to the size of the stan­ding figu­re – usual­ly Saint Joseph, who in this case is 4cm as well. In real life doors should be a litt­le big­ger than peop­le. But in my creches I like to make them a litt­le tight. This ser­ves several pur­po­ses. First, you can shrink the buil­ding a litt­le. The­re is never enough space on a creche to build a state­ly house or barn. Second, the Holy Child was born in strai­ned cir­cum­s­tan­ces. Houses of poor peop­le had small doors and you had to stoop down to enter. Third, you always want to empha­si­ze the figu­res in a creche and tone down the buil­dings. Creches are not to sca­le! So the figu­res should be slight­ly too big. Just make sure it does­n’t get out of hand. If Saint Joseph can drink out of the rain gut­ter, the house is too small .

Glo­ria et Pax
de Nitzemer

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 30. März 2014 00:07
(@de-nitzemer)

XPS can­not be glued with many of the typi­cal house­hold glues. The orga­nic sol­vent in the glue would dis­sol­ve the polystyrene.

Howe­ver, simp­le wood glue will do the trick real­ly nice­ly. It dries more slow­ly when used with XPS as com­pa­red with wood, sin­ce the water can­not escape in to the poly­mer as it can into the ves­sels of the wood. The­re­fo­re it is essen­ti­al to posi­ti­on the pie­ces secu­re­ly. For lar­ger pie­ces I use thin nails. The nails are dri­ven into the XPS until they vanish bene­ath the sur­face. For small pie­ces simp­le fixing pins work well, see Figu­re 8.

Wipe off all the glue which has been squee­zed out. The glue will other­wi­se beco­me a pro­blem when we try to do the bricks at the pla­ces whe­re the plas­ter has fal­len off, see Figu­re 1.

The pins need to be remo­ved, once the glue has set. When you do that, make sure you twist the fixing pin, befo­re you pull. The wood glue has typi­cal­ly glued to the pin as well. When you turn the pin, you will break the bond and can then retract the pin smooth­ly. If you miss brea­king the bond, the glue stuck to the pin will rip through the XPS and can mas­si­ve­ly dama­ge the fra­gi­le piece.

Glo­ria et Pax
de Nitzemer

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 30. März 2014 00:11
(@de-nitzemer)

No mat­ter how well you pla­ced the walls and how care­ful you are, during curing the wall will move. The wool glue gene­ra­tes tre­men­dous for­ce, when it dries and can warp pie­ces easi­ly. The­re­fo­re you will always need to trim the excess mate­ri­al off to make smooth walls etc.

The way we made the sta­ble, the front and back face are made up of the small sides of the side walls and the actu­al front or back pie­ce. To gene­ra­te a smooth front I sand it on a san­ding board. When san­ding XPS one has to remem­ber that the mate­ri­al is an insu­la­ti­on poly­mer: it will melt easi­ly and does not trans­port heat well. The­re­fo­re you have to sand gent­ly by hand. Any machi­ne would gene­ra­te far too much heat. Also, I recom­mend to avoid back–and–forward strokes. Sim­ply pull the pie­ce towards you across the sand­pa­per, lift off and go back to the start position.

To get flat sur­faces when san­ding I use a home made san­ding board. One sim­ply takes some good eme­ry paper cuts or rips off a sui­ta­ble pie­ce and care­ful­ly glues it to a strai­ght pie­ce of wood. I lear­ned this trick form E. Ellenwood’s book on car­ving (http://www.amazon.de/Complete-Book-Woodcarving-Everything-Master/dp/1565232925/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396901661&sr=8–1&keywords=ellenwood+carving), a good source of infor­ma­ti­on for many sub­jects in Creche Making.

The side walls are angled to give a til­ted roof. Con­se­quent­ly the back and front wall will pro­tru­de a litt­le bit, as they are cut rect­an­gu­lar­ly. To cor­rect this I place a kni­fe flat on the side wall and cut care­ful­ly with a long stro­ke cut through the pro­tru­ding mate­ri­al. Always remem­ber to run a sli­ding cut when cut­ting XPS, never push squa­re into the material!

Glo­ria et Pax
de Nitzemer

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 7. April 2014 23:22
(@de-nitzemer)

Not­hing could be fur­ther remo­ved from our idea of a creche than a new and flaw­less buil­ding. We learn from Luke, Chap­ter 2, that Jesus was born in pover­ty. The sta­ble should, the­re­fo­re, be reflec­ting that. Our buil­ding will later have a nice plas­ter of the walls. So a typi­cal sign of pover­ty and bad repair would be bricks visi­ble in pla­ces whe­re the plas­ter has fal­len off. Such pla­ces are usual­ly in cor­ners or under dama­ged parts of the roof, whe­re the plas­ter will get wet a lot. 

To make the bricks we need no more than a sharp pen­cil. First one draws a rug­ged line to show the edge of the dama­ged zone. Then one draws the hori­zon­tal groo­ve whe­re the grout would be visi­ble, then the ver­ti­cal ones. Just remem­ber that bricks are never on top of each other but always such that one covers the joint of the two below it. You want to mark a dis­tinc­ti­ve line on the XPS. Paint and plas­ter will par­ti­al­ly fill it later on and make the groo­ve less visi­ble. Also remem­ber to pull the pen­cil, other­wi­se you will dama­ge the pie­ce, see Figu­re 11.

Final­ly we paint the­se parts with dark (I use black, here) wall paint. I use a stiff brush and real­ly brush it into the groo­ves until no XPS remains visible.

Glo­ria et Pax
de Nitzemer

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 10. April 2014 22:54
(@de-nitzemer)

Abo­ve the brick wall our barn and sta­ble shall have a rough plas­ter (cal­led “Rau­putz” in Ger­man), which is is typi­cal for farm houses in cen­tral and sou­thern Ger­ma­ny. Medi­ter­ra­ne­an houses always have a smooth ren­de­ring coat, howe­ver. For the very small sca­le we have in this Creche, app­ly­ing an actu­al plas­ter is not an opti­on. Ins­tead I am using a tech­ni­que I found in a book from Her­bert Dem­har­ter http://www.amazon.de/Kunstvolle-Minikrippen-Detaillierte-Anleitungen-Wort/dp/3426647400/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397678750&sr=8–1&keywords=minikrippen.

Here we use a white exter­nal wall coat and mix it with very fine saw dust as it will be pro­du­ced during san­ding. For this pur­po­se I always collect what is in the dust bag of my small belt san­der. Alter­na­tively, You can use regu­lar saw dust and sie­ve out the fine frac­tion. I mix about one to two spoons of white disper­si­on paint with fine saw dust. Start with one spoon of saw­dust and gra­du­al­ly add more while mixing until you get a pas­ty like substance. 

To get a rough coat I final­ly add a small quan­ti­ty of real­ly lar­ge saw dust chips, see Figu­re 12. With this mix­tu­re I now paint all parts of the walls which shall car­ry plas­ter, see Figu­re 13. The insi­de of the sta­ble is coated with white paint as well, to avoid visi­ble XPS – just in case.

Glo­ria et Pax
de Nitzemer

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 16. April 2014 23:17
(@de-nitzemer)

Befo­re we start buil­ding the tim­ber frame, we want to colo­ri­ze the bricks. One could also do this once all pie­ces have been assem­bled, but it is some­what easier to reach the various parts now com­pa­red to the ful­ly moun­ted barn.

For the bricks we use the “light on dark” tech­ni­que. This works very well with disper­si­on paint, which one uses for walls. As a palet­te I use a small white cer­a­mic disk., see Figu­re 14. Wall paint does not attach well to the cer­a­mic and can be remo­ved sim­ply by immer­sing the dish in water for a quar­ter of an hour and then brushing the remai­ning paint off.

Bricks in Ger­ma­ny and Tyro­lia are gene­ral­ly bur­ned to a brick-red color. So I app­ly first a red inter­me­dia­te coat. For this I take very litt­le paint on the brush and dry it off on a pie­ce of news­pa­per. With this almost dry brush I now app­ly red pint to almost all high parts of the bricks. One the left of Figu­re 14 one can nice­ly see that the mor­tar joints remain dark and also some of the cracks. This will give the bricks visi­ble 3D-apperance. 

Next – with the same dry-brush-tech­ni­que I add other typi­cal brick colors like oran­ge, och­er or light oxi­de brown, if nee­ded also some more red. The midd­le pie­ce in Figu­re 14 shows the final result.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 28. Juni 2014 14:39
(@de-nitzemer)

A frame of tim­ber post and beams sup­ports the barn roof of our Crè­che. Old tim­ber in a open barn has been expo­sed to the ele­ments and will show signs of wear, typi­cal­ly cracks and groo­ves as well a dull colors. So we need to inclu­des such defects in the design of our Crèche. 

With 4cm figu­res (1 1/2”) the beams should be around 8mm (1/4”) squa­re. I use wood sticks which we gathe­red from the debris of the New Year’s fire­works typi­cal for Ger­ma­ny. You can also cut them from a slab of wood with a table saw – just be care­ful with your fin­gers. The first step is then to brush the wood with a wire brush. I use a wire brush wheel and a drill press, see figu­re 1, but hand brushing will do just as fine. With the wire brush we remo­ve some of the sof­ter sum­mer growth from the wood. The har­der win­ter growth will remain inta­ct and this way we get the groo­ved wood face typi­cal for worn timber.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 15. Febru­ar 2015 17:02
(@de-nitzemer)

The next step is to stain the brushed wood. For a typi­cal Ger­man house and barn one yould use eit­her wal­nut of medi­um oak stains.

I like to use water based stain, which you can buy eit­her as a pow­der or rea­dy made. The pow­der stain comes in small enve­lo­pes of 25 grams. The power is dis­sol­ved in boi­ling water. After it has coo­led down you can app­ly it like any paint. Stain has very fin­de pig­ments and the­re­fo­re gene­ra­tes a semi-trans­pa­rent coat, which retains the wood appearan­ce of the piece. 

Stain pene­tra­tes into the wood ins­tead of forming a film on the sur­face. You can adjust the appearan­ce of the mate­ri­al by pain­ting various stains on top of each other. Howe­ver the first one will usual­ly domi­na­te. Also, if you want to make only a very light color, try app­ly­ing clean water first and then put the stain on.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 22. Febru­ar 2015 15:54
(@de-nitzemer)

The litt­le barn on the left hand side of our Creche will house the Holy Fami­ly. Its main sup­port are two woo­den posts and a cross­beam which form the ent­ran­ce. On the left the main beam rests on one of the two woo­den posts. On the right I cut a small notch into the XPS-wall, just big enough to hold the beam. One has to remem­ber, howe­ver that the wall slo­pes down, so a litt­le adjus­ting with the car­ving kni­fe might be nee­ded. The left of the three raf­ters hol­ding the roof is some­what shor­ter than the other two. This way the roof will have a more inte­res­ting form with a litt­le pro­tru­si­on on the right. I cut the­se small wood sticks with a Miter Cut­ter, but a small hand saw will do the job as well. White wood glue is the glue of choice, again. Figu­re 17 shows the tim­ber frame assem­bly. The view is from below. 

Ins­tead of roofing bat­tens, which would have beco­me rather flim­sy in this small sca­le, I used a thin lay­er of XPS to cover the raf­ters and sup­port the tiles. To give it a the appearan­ce of a woo­den board, some work is nee­ded. First we cut a small thin slab of XPS. The we intro­du­ce groo­ves simi­lar to what we find in worn wood, whe­re the sum­mer growth has rot­ted away. For this I use a small wire brush which I gent­ly pull along the run of the “wood”, see Figu­re 18. One has to remem­ber never to push the brush as it would dama­ge the part. The wires are com­pa­ra­tively stiff and would rip pie­ces of mate­ri­al out of the XPS surface. 

Figu­re 19 gives a magni­fied view of the under­si­de of the roof. The colo­ring was done with the same tech­ni­que as the colo­ring of the bricks, see Step 8.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 22. Febru­ar 2015 23:20
(@de-nitzemer)

Now it is time to put tiles on the roof. For the small sca­le of this Creche the best method is the cor­ru­ga­ted card­board technique. 

The source for my cor­ru­ga­ted card­board was a fan­cy box which was used as a pre­sent box for wine bot­t­les. I remo­ved the top lay­ers of paper from the upper and the lower side of the card­board. To do this one has to app­ly water with a spon­ge to the card­board and sof­ten the glue. The trick is to app­ly enough water to wea­ken the top lay­er, but not so much to dama­ge the cor­ru­ga­ted lay­er. If the outer lay­er shows pic­tures and adver­ti­se­ments, it is pro­bab­ly also very water repel­lent. In that case you might want to brush the card­board with a wire brush to gene­ra­te points of attack for the water. I remo­ve the sof­te­ned paper lay­ers with a sharp kit­chen kni­fe, but one can also use a brush. Slight dama­ge to the cor­ru­ga­ted paper is o.k. I will give the roof a more rea­listic appearan­ce later.

You don’t have to remo­ve both the top lay­ers on both sides of the cor­ru­ga­ted paper. I find it gives a more real roof, well worth the extra effort, however. 

Once all the cor­ru­ga­ted paper is rea­dy and dried, the roofing can start. Roofing starts from the bot­tom of the roof. The first lay­er is a very nar­row strip right along the lower edge of the bat­tens, see Fig 20. Its only pur­po­se is to ele­va­te the lower part of the first row of tiles. Other­wi­se they would be misa­li­gned, sin­ce all the other rows rest in their lower part on the row of tiles below. For the tiles I cut a strip of card­board across the cor­ru­ga­te. I mark start and end of the cut and use scis­sors to cut the strip. One wants to avoid a ruler, sin­ce it gives too strai­ght a line which appears unna­tu­ral for an aged roof. Some wavi­ness is inten­ded. The strips are glued 1) to the top edge of the alrea­dy exis­ting shin­gles and 2) with their own upper edge to the bat­tens, see Fig 21. 

The first row of tiles pro­tru­des abo­ve the lower edge of the bat­tens. Figu­re 22. shows the arran­ge­ment from the side. To achie­ve a natu­ral appearan­ce I avoid gluing the lower edge of the tiles. Once all tiles have been atta­ched and the glues has dried, I cut the rows to length with a pair of scissors.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 31. März 2015 12:44
(@de-nitzemer)

Befo­re we can con­ti­nue and mount the pie­ces of the Creche to the base board, we first have do make a small door and hatch for the stable. 

Sin­ce the sta­ble will not be lit, we can make things easy and use a thin pane of XPS, cut with the hot wire cut­ter to a thic­kness of 5mm (3/16”), as a sup­port. The pie­ce is cut to size to fit snu­gly into the insi­de of the sta­ble covering both the door and the ups­tairs win­dow ope­ning. Hold the pie­ce the­re and mark the ope­ning on the XPS – pane with a pencil.

Both door and hatch are made out of wood. We split small woo­den shin­gles of a block cut to size with a saw. Split­ting is best done with a lar­ge kit­chen kni­fe. One holds it across the wood grain and splits of thin lay­ers of wood by tap­ping it gent­ly with a woo­den ham­mer. Alter­na­tively one can use a home made “Schin­del­ma­schi­ne”, see http://www.mo-it.at/krippenwerkstatt/tipp_archiv.php?archiv_id=30 for details about split­ting (in Ger­man only). The grain gives a very plea­sant struc­tu­re to the pie­ces. My shin­gles were a bit too lar­ge, so I split them into small planks with a small kit­chen kni­fe. Next one has to car­ve off the edge with a small kit­chen kni­fe or a car­ving knife. 

One can use other thin pie­ces of wood, e.g. wood sticks from ice cream bars, as well. If you do, you have to brush them like the tim­ber we used in Step 9 and car­ve the edges off. 

The sticks are then bro­ken to length and glued to the XPS – sup­port. Bra­king ins­tead of cut­ting gives the appearan­ce of a used door slight­ly in dis­re­pair. Make sure you stay insi­de the mar­kings (see Figu­re 23), such that the door and hatch will fit easi­ly into the opening. 

The wood is stai­ned simi­lar to the tim­ber, see Step 10. 

If you want, you can cut along the top edge and one long edge of the door and push it sligth­ly inwards. This gives the appearan­ce of a par­ti­al­ly open door. The com­ple­te pie­ce is then glued into the stable.

Ant­wortZitat
The­men­star­ter Ver­öf­fent­licht : 2. April 2015 13:01
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