Tim McMahan Graphic and Website Design

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Step by Step Christmas Manger Instructions

Posted on January 20, 2009 | 40 comments

To help our family bring more emphasis on Jesus at Christmas time I built a manger.  We brought several new traditions into our home with this manger.

The first was, we put our present under the manger.  We still used a tree, but it was a small 2 foot tree next to the manger. This was better in our minds than a small manger ornament hanging in our tree

The second was that every time some one did something kind in our home they got to place hay in the manger. This was a great incentive for our kids.

The third was a search throughout the house for “the baby”.  We left the manger empty in anticipation of the baby who was about to arrive. We used a small baby doll (the most Middle Eastern looking baby we could find; please don’t use a white baby) and hid it somewhere in the house on Christmas Eve.  The kids were then set loose to find the baby Jesus.  Whoever found the baby got to place him in the manger. The best part about this was hearing our kids scream “We found Jesus! We found Jesus!”

I looked on the web for instructions on building a manger, but couldn’t find any.  I decided to build one and take pictures along the way just because I figured other people would be looking for the same information.

Step 1

Step 1

Here is everything I used.  A hammer, nails, an electric saw, one 1″x6″x48″ piece of wood and four 1″x2″x96″ pieces of wood.  The 1″x6″x48″ piece cost me $2.32.  The other pieces were $0.97 each.  Pretty cheap right.

Step 2

Step 2

I cut the 4 foot piece in half.  That’s two 2 foot pieces for those who are bad at math.  I then cut four 2 foot pieces of the 1″x2″ wood. I nailed two legs into each side as shown above.

Step 3

Step 3

Here is a detail of how I nailed the legs into the side.  Notice that I nailed the side into the 1 inch side of the leg.

Step 4


I cut four more 1″x2″x24″ pieces.  I then nailed them into slats underneath the 6″ side.  Make sure they are evenly spaced.  About 2 inches apart should be about right. At this point in the project I reflected on Jesus being a carpenter. . . .

Okay, cheesy religiously reflective moment over.  Let’s move on.

Step 5

Step 5

This is the part you didn’t think of on your own.  I cut two small 1″x2″x3″ pieces and nailed them to the left side of each half of the manger.  You’ll need these when we combine the two pieces.  Make sure you put them on the same side of each half of the manger.

Step 6


Here’s a close up of how I nailed that small piece on.

Step 7


Cross the two halves together into and “X” shape.  The bottom slat on each will help you find the middle. Put a nail right between the middle of the “X”.  The manger will fold up and down at this point.

Step 8


I cut two 16″ crossbars and nailed them to the top of each half of the manger.  Do you see my little 3″ piece there on the right.  You need that to make the cross bar even.

Step 9


Hey look, it works.  It’s actually standing.  I cut a bunch of little pieces and placed them at the bottom of the trough.  You may or may not need these.  You’ll also probably have some extra wood left over.  At less than $1 a piece I bought an extra 8 foot piece just in case I made a mistake.

Step 10


We put a blanket on the bottom to help catch the hay.  You can use whatever you want for the hay.  We bought a packet of rafia from a craft store for $4.  It was more than enough.

Step 11


Here’s the baby being placed on Christmas Eve.  You can see how much hay was placed in the manger over the advent weeks.

I hope this was helpful.  Good luck.


  1. melanie / February 18th, 2009 18:40

    I love the way this turned out! Luke loves woodworking, so this will have to be one of our new Christmas traditions in the near future…

    =), mel


  2. Helen / August 20th, 2009 10:25

    Well…..you saved me. I have been looking for ages on the internet for instruction on how to build this. I have to admit that I am not going o use this as you have. To be honest I am going to make it bigger, out of pressure treated wood, line it and grow my veg in it next year.

    Thanks again

    Helen Nicholson-Herpe


  3. traci / November 15th, 2009 13:07

    Tim…Love everything about this!!! What a great idea and I love the sm. tree next to it..lol


  4. Phil Eager / December 2nd, 2009 13:19

    Thanks for this Tim. My son and I will be buying the wood today (hopefully can get all I need here in Mexico 🙂 ) and we will begin building it soon. Thanks for the creativity and putting up all the pics and ideas. Love your blog,


  5. Nic / November 25th, 2010 23:45

    This is great. We need this for our christmas cantata that’s why I’m looking for an idea for me to build. Thanks and God bless.


  6. Nate / November 27th, 2010 0:47

    Thanks this is a very clear set of instructions. Even I can do this! Have a great holiday season!


  7. Nate / November 27th, 2010 0:48

    By the way thanks!


  8. peggy / November 28th, 2010 5:53

    thanks i loved the story i think i will have my nephews build it for their grandma god bless you


  9. Marlene / December 28th, 2010 14:42

    Wonderful! I have been looking everywhere for instructions with photos. I’m planning on doing a photo shoot of my new grandson, 3 weeks old, in this manger. Thanks so much, God Bless You!


    • Tim / January 1st, 2011 23:49

      Your grandson is Jesus?!?

      Glad I could help.


  10. susannah / December 2nd, 2011 4:01

    saw this on wendy’s fb. this is so rad. stealing.


  11. David / December 15th, 2011 11:52

    Great !

    I have just finished mine. Turned out fine !

    Just a small comment on step 7. When crossing the two halves, make sure that the sides with the small 3inch pieces are on the side further in. Otherwise the crossbars on Step 8 will not be level.

    Happy Christmas to all !


  12. Heidi / January 10th, 2012 12:29

    Thank you so much! My 9-year-old daughter Erin wanted to give her little sister Annika a manger for Christmas. Your simple instructions and PHOTOS (they were key!) enabled my husband to easily build it!

    Erin even thought to wrap Annika’s baby doll with the manger to serve as Jesus. Annika was thrilled when she opened it on Christmas Eve. And now we’ll be able to put it next to our Christmas tree each year to remind us of the best Christmas gift ever given–Jesus!!


  13. veronica / September 11th, 2012 18:49

    Thank you for sharing, and giving such great step-by-step pictures. Plus great ideas for new holiday traditions. My baby Jesus figure came from Assisi and I can now display him this Christmas, thanks to the manager I am going to create in time for the Season! God bless you!


  14. Mary Ann Hall / November 30th, 2012 17:47

    Thanks so much. We are in charge of the ward Christmas party and your instructions have saved us hours of work.


  15. Toni / December 8th, 2012 19:40

    Thank you for taking the time to record your construction with supplies and step-by-step progress! I had been looking for directions for the manger needed to fit into our limited space in the chancel area for the nativity pageant. I merely cut a few inches off here and there and voila! It works. Thanks for a special Christmas present. Much better than a modified cardboard box!!!


  16. Mark / December 10th, 2012 2:50

    These plans TOTALLY ROCK! In less than an hour, and for less than ten bucks, I was able to construct a super nice manger. The only modification I made to these plans was to take the leftover 1″x6″ board I had and cut it down to make the bottom of the trough. It worked and fit perfectly! Thanks for such a detailed description of the process, and Merry Christmas!


  17. Danny Holifield / November 25th, 2013 0:27

    I completed my project was very pleased with it. Thanks for posting it.


  18. robin eicher / May 18th, 2014 16:15

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.you can only buy these in the UK and I need one for out door Christmas display AND for a planter.


  19. Alberto / December 1st, 2014 15:50

    Thank you for this. How long did you cut the pieces that made up the legs?


    • mcmahant / December 1st, 2014 17:06

      2 feet


  20. Sharon & Dan / December 4th, 2014 20:05

    We built the manger in about an hour. Your instructions & photos were very clear & easy to follow. We will use it in our nativity scene at our church., replacing a more modern cradle. Thank you so much.


  21. Sally / December 6th, 2014 23:07

    Thank you so much for being willing to share your know-how. This is a lovely design and I will try & get it made!
    Christmas blessings to you & your family!


  22. cbg / December 11th, 2014 7:37

    Thanks for these instructions! Ours turned out so cute!


  23. nadine / November 23rd, 2015 4:44

    Great…Now to buy the wood. How high, wide & long is this so I can start looking for a baby??


  24. Tom Kondas / November 24th, 2015 20:32

    Good Instructions and a lot of help. Of course, that’s not “hay”, not even “Straw” but it does the job and that’s all that counts.


  25. james / November 30th, 2015 19:32

    thank you so very much


  26. amber / November 13th, 2016 18:16

    Thank you as I’m buying one of the lighted nativity sets and needed a manger for baby Jesus lay in. Hubby loved working with wood so once I get baby Jesus he can adjust pattern as needed according size of that piece.


  27. Preston / November 20th, 2016 17:54

    Thanks for the plans. We went to menards and they wanted 70$ for a small manger. Your comparison between Jesus being a carpenter and this project wasn’t cheesy. We need to keep Christ in Christmas because he is becoming forgotten in this commercialized world. Thank again


  28. Deana / December 4th, 2016 2:39

    This is a great presentation. Thank you for sharing and making it look so simple. I am going to attempt to buid it tomorrow to donate to my church for our Chrismas programs. Who knows, maybe I will make one for my home as well. It would also make a great Christmas gift. Will let you know how it turns out. Thanks again for your kindness in sharing. God Bless.


  29. Deana / December 4th, 2016 2:42

    * Christmas


  30. Sharon Keesler / December 12th, 2016 17:18

    Thanks so much for the pattern. I have looked for a pattern for a manger for years. My husband used this pattern last year to build me one last year. He is making one as I type and will make several for other family members out of wood from a tree that had to be cut down in our yard.


  31. Betty / December 16th, 2016 16:40

    This is just the instructions I needed for my brother to build a manger for a nativity scene I will be using in a short play in the nursing home this month. Thank you so much for your kindness and consideration in posting these instructions.


  32. Andi / December 29th, 2016 16:07

    Many thanks. This endearing piece looks great at our front door.


  33. Debbie / November 3rd, 2017 23:23

    And here we are, the years keep scrolling by and people are continuing to use your detailed instructions! As a single mom of a 6 year old boy, with no construction history, even I felt confident enough to make this with him! What a great memory with him and a treasure for years to come! We are putting ours outside with two light angels on each side. A great message of the angels declaring that Jesus is born!!


  34. Tired / December 6th, 2017 8:38

    This was not easy to build. The nails kept popping up out of the wood, gave up after a couple of days.


  35. Bill Walker / December 16th, 2017 19:33

    The Plabs are great. I am a pre -school teacher in a economically deprived area of Memphis , Tennessee . The school is called Hope House and it is for children who’s lives have been impacted by HIV. I am a retired educator and the opportunity to serve at this facility was offered to me. I strive to make everything come alive and realistic for the children I serve. I wanted the manger so they could have a visual as to the type of bed our Lord and Savior had. Thank you for these wonderful plans.


  36. Deborah / December 5th, 2018 10:58

    Thank you for sharing this manger made with LOVE. I will try to make it for my church decorations and the children’s play. YOU are one of God’s special servants and his love shines through you. I don’t know when you made this but today is when I needed it the most. May God continue to bless you and your family over and more abundantly.



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