Monday, June 23, 2014

What Should I Go See?

     Friends, I am making two journeys to Europe
in the next year. One trip will include Germany,
Holland, Belgium and Denmark. The other trip
will include Italy, Switzerland and France.

     For those of you living in Europe and those 
of you who know Europe like the back of your 
hand,  what are the "must see" places - full 
sized or miniature - that you would recommend 
I go and see?
     The last thing I want to do is to get home and
then discover that I was only X miles away from
some amazing place and didn't even know it
existed! I truly appreciate your input on this!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why I Have Been Away So Long

   It's been a long time since I last posted to this blog, and for those of you who have followed my blog, I apologize for my disappearance from the blogosphere. About this time last year, my wife of 42 years began to have some serious health problems.
   We discovered far too late that what we thought was congestive heart failure turned out to be multiple myeloma and a relatively rare condition called amyloidosis. She passed away from heart complications caused by the amyloidosis on December 12, 2013.
   Pam was a wonderful person. Extremely well-read. Caring. Dedicated mom and gifted teacher. Our daughters thought of her as a "helicopter mom" - rescuing the girls whenever they needed help. (She commuted to Des Moines for about the first 8 months of our grandson's life, helping to care for him while our daughter worked on getting her master's degree from Iowa State.)
   Her students knew her as "the teacher who always smiled." She was also very bright and knew how to challenge the smartest of her students and how to help those who were struggling. Parents loved her and often requested that she be their child's teacher. She loved almost all of her students and loved giving and receiving hugs from her second graders and former second graders.
   Life for me has not been the same since losing my best friend, my advisor and spiritual guide, and an irrepressible presence in my home and my life. She was the person who got me interested in doing dollhouse miniatures, and was always supportive of my involvement in this pastime.

Planning the Project- It's the Little Details That'll Get Ya!

 You might think that a miniature project is pretty straight-forward. Come up with the idea, visualize what you think it will look like, and then plunge into the work to make it!

  The problem for me is, when I go about a project in that way, it's so easy to put the wallpaper on the walls before I remember, "Oh yeah. I needed to wire that wall for electricity first..." or I installed all of the walls to the dollhouse before I remembered I was going to cut a new doorway to the hall. Oops.
 It's the little details like this that really set a project back. If it's a big enough mistake, it's easy to throw my hands in the air and walk away from the project for days, weeks, or maybe even years.
That's why I try to write up instructions for my project as if I were creating a new kit. It's so easy to get caught up in the moment of creative excitement only to realize that I have just put the proverbial cart before the horse.

   Miniature club members were chuckling at my latest project when they saw I had jotted notes to myself on the frame of the house (an area that will eventually be hidden by the finishing materials. Several times I've looked at the project and thought, I need to finish the other side of the roof! And just as I approach the project, I look down to see four different notes. Then I realize I don't dare finish the roof until I have gotten my club members to this stage with their houses!

  An example of all this is my latest project, which is dry-walling, then wainscoting my son-in-law's new office. (Not in miniature - in real life!) He works from home, and I promised him I'd install wainscoting and cabinets in his office. I got the cabinets all installed only to realize that the floor in his office (a basement room) slopes almost 1 1/2" in the 7' of length of the cabinets. Sadly, I got the cabinets all installed when I realized this problem. Long story short, I had to do some re-engineering and a little demolition work to get the cabinets leveled.

    Prior to that problem (which I had not adequately incorporated into my plans), I had written out detailed, step-by-step instructions so that I wouldn't forget to take care of key details as the work progressed.
    All in all, in spite of my set-back with the construction, the walls and cabinets are turned out pretty well, I think. Don't you?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sometimes The Plan Isn't Thoroughly Thought Through...

     As much as I planned and thought through how the various pieces would come together, I forgot to consider the layer build-up of the shingles on the fascia above the ceiling. I could have set the board in that section back another 1/8". Easily. I could even have set it back farther than that if I had wanted. But I didn't. And now I regret it.

     Once I added the shingles, they protruded further to the front than I had thought they might - even though I had cut and sanded them myself! I made them 1/32" thick - really thin. But when overlapped, the overall depth of the shingles came out to about 3/32". I set the fascia board so that it was recessed only 1/16". That doesn't seem like a problem, until you see the top layer of shingles protruding beyond the face of the surrounding boards. It's not very noticeable in the photo at left, but in person, it's noticeable.

     At our last meeting, one of our members was worrying that she might have made a mistake in her work. I told her, "If you think I haven't made any mistakes in doing this project, think again!" (She was thinking mine looked so flawless.) Some mistakes are easier than others to fix or hide. I've hidden most of my errors so far. I'm not sure if I have a good fix for this one, but I'll work on it..

     This brings to mind an article I read recently by a woodworker. He had completed a project and shared it with his friends. None of his friends noticed a tiny flaw that had occurred while he was working on the piece. When they complimented him, though, he couldn't help but point out the flaw, and immediately, they ALL saw it. Most of the time, if we don't point out the flaw, the average person will take in the overall view of the item and will never notice the flaw. If they do, most times common courtesy should generally cause them to withhold a comment in which they point it out.

     If you're making your miniatures for sale, that's a different story. Then the buyer will be scrutinizing the item for every tiny flaw that they might see. Each identified flaw, of course, becomes a new bargaining point for their argument to reduce the asking price. Maybe that's why I don't sell my miniatures! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Porch Continues to Evolve

     The Cedar Rapids Miniature club met last Saturday, and I added a number of finishing touches to the front porch project. When club members tackle a big project like this, we end up with everyone moving at different speeds, and so I'm constantly trying to help members catch up or stay up with the project.

     There are some steps I need to do yet, but it's getting close to being done...for now, at least. I'll need to gather a variety of items for all of the seasons so that I can decorate the porch according to the time of year it is. 

     As you can see from the picture, the siding is completed. Last weekend I finished with gluing up the slats that fit beneath the porch. The week before that, I put together the porch swing, painted it, and then hung it from the porch ceiling. 

     Now, here's a fun and somewhat incredible detail about this. The couple are not mine. They belong to one of our club members. When I brought the porch to miniature club, Linda took out this little couple. We set them in the swing, and their feet and the woman's dress fit just perfectly in relation to the floor! It was amazing. I had tried to set the swing at what I thought would be about 16" in height, and obviously, the sculptor adhered to that standard, too. What fun!

     At right is a photograph of the ceiling of the front porch. I could have ordered pre-cut wood with the individual boards etched into it (like the car siding we so often see in many old Craftsman and Victorian style homes). I decided, instead, to make my own. 

     I used the thinner one of my mini table saw blades, and set it so that it barely peeked out above the table surface. I cut about 1/32" from the 3/32" board - enough to put a noticeable groove into the boards, but not so deep that the overall stability of the boards was endangered. (Sorry about the visual distortion. Taking such a close-up picture apparently caused some curving of the visual lines.)

     In my next post, I will share about the jig I created for gluing up the slats for under the porch. I also will share with you one of the glaring oopsies I encountered with shingling the front of the house in the triangular section above the porch.

     Then I'll need to do a post about the window shades and the roof. The shingles I got from an estate sale were just too thick for my taste, but I loved their texture. So, I ran them through my table saw, one at a time, to make them thinner. I'll tell you all about it, and share some pictures. 

     Next steps: Glue on the roof, paint the railings, and install them, and then start making flowers.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Measure Twice; Cut Once

One of the hardest things for me - and I've been told it's difficult for many other wood workers -  is getting measurements and angles just right so that everything fits perfectly. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been off by some fraction of an inch, which leads to a gaping hole somewhere in the project.

The worst job of measuring I can recall was assembling the frame of a display box, and I put a shelf in crooked. Not just a little crooked. It was off by a full 3/4 of an inch - I put the bottom edge of the board where the top of the board should have been. Needless to say, I had to take it apart and start over again.I also had to replace some of the wood parts because of the nail holes.

So, imagine my nervous tension as I began to assemble my roof section for the front porch and then slid the porch posts under that section. I was prepared to see a gaping hole. Instead, on the left side, it fit perfectly, and on the right side, I had to add 1/16" to the bottom of my brick column. Wow! I ultimately added some pieces at the top of the columns to hide any flaws in the measurements. After all, that's what baseboards and trim boards around windows and doors are all about - even in full scale houses!  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Making Bricks for the Front Porch

     Back in 2009, I posted a couple of articles about how to make fake bricks using matte board, paint, and some wall spackling paste. (It's titled - One way to make miniature bricks)
      I used that technique to produce the pillars on this front porch project. And I added a new wrinkle - literally. The "bricks" are not just two-dimensional they instead are really "3-dimensional" as I hope you can see in this photo.
      But they are still made the same basic way, and you will not find a cut line anywhere on these bricks indicating that they were pieced together - because they weren't. So, how did we bend matte board at a 90 degree angle so that it goes around the corner? That's what I'm going to share with you today!
      If you get a thin enough piece of paper, you can usually fold it pretty crisply. The thicker the paper or the cardboard gets, the more rounded your corner becomes on that paper. So, the trick is to take away some of the back side of the brick in a strategic place, and the folding becomes exceptionally easy (and crisp).
     As described in the 2009 article, our club members each chose colors of paint to create their bricks. Some chose a family of light browns, pinks, and umber. I preferred to stick with oranges, reds and some umber. I even sparingly dabbed a few spots with a nearly dry brush of white out (used in typing). Next we daubed and scumbled the paint across the matte board at random, which created some dark and light patches of these colors. After the paint dried, we cut out long strips of the matte board in pieces that were approximately 10 to 12 inches long and as close to .97 inches wide as we could get.
      Next, I used my thicker, carbon-toothed table-saw blade, and adjusted the height of the cut so that the blade protruded above the tabletop by only .035 inches. The matte board I used measured .041 inches after it had been painted, which means I left about .006 of the material intact. (I used a digital caliper to measure the settings.)

     I then set the table saw fence so that there was a gap between the blade and the fence of .22. Calculating in the width of the blade and the cut, I was creating a section that was very close to 3.5" in scale - about the width of the narrow end of a full brick. In the picture at left, you can see the paper-thin thickness of the matte board facing is still there. To keep this depth of cut consistent and not endanger my fingers, I put a 1/8" thick piece of wood down on top of the matte board and pressed down firmly across that wood so that the paper went through the saw blade at a consistent depth of cut. We then had a long piece of matte board with a thin valley cut into it for the full 12 inch long piece. 
         We then used a chopper cutting board with a preset depth to slice the multiple bricks from this blank of matte board. At right you can see that Linda had cut almost all of the pieces from one piece of the matte board. When it got down to the last piece (shown here), she used a toothpick to hold it in place and kept her fingers safely away from the sharp razor blade of the chopper.
        Now, we had lots of bricks for the corners. You can see below an illustration I have made to show how we took the pieces from flat little units to 90-degree angled "bricks."
       The trick to making the paper easier to bend was to insert a small amount of glue into the valley of the saw cut, then slowly bend the piece over. The one side of the matte board fits into the valley of the cut, and you have a nice, 90-degree angled piece of matte board that resembles a brick with absolutely no visible cut lines. Nothing had to be pieced together for it to work. Below this large illustration, you'll see Linda's columns as she worked on them at miniature club.
       Linda preferred to do all of the corners on her column from top to bottom and then filled in the middle bricks. I preferred to go around the column one complete row at a time. Both styles work.
       The important thing is to make sure the rows are all lined up as you work, and to remember that every other row will have the half brick on the opposite side of the column. Using a try square to make sure your rows don't start going down hill is also advisable.
       Note the spacer Linda is using to help keep her work lined up (it's near her watchband at the top of the column just below her left hand). That was an old credit card I used to create a spacer jig. It wrapped partially around the side of the column, allowing us to make sure that both sides of the bricks remained aligned as we glued them to the columns.
       By the way, unless you are an extreme glutton for self-punishment, I would NOT recommend using this technique to do an entire dollhouse, but for four foundation pillars, it was "do-able."
  ;o)  Geo.            

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