Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Captured in Ink

I wrote an article this fall about how to matte your digital photos using Microsoft PowerPoint or Word. I'm delighted to report that the January/February issue of Dollhouse Miniatures has a four-page spread of the article, starting on page 28.

For some reson, the pictures on page 31 are slightly out of focus. That may because the matted pictures you see on that page were in a PowerPoint slide. The magazine's artist pulled them out of the slide, added some shadows behind them and overlapped the images. It makes a nice collage, but the pictures lose a little in clarity.

If you're curious about the photos in the collage on page 31 of the article, I took all but one of the pictures myself. Starting at the top left and going clockwise they are: Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY; the Bundy family circa 1900 (this is the only one of the grouping that I did NOT take!); a view on Mount Lemon near Tucson, AZ; the Maroon Bells near Aspen, CO; my girls a few years ago; and downtown Chicago on a foggy night.

I've written a follow-up article, which is coming out in the next issue of the News with more information about how to do the matting with ovals and shapes. I hope you find the instructions clear and easy to follow. Since you're already a computer user and reading this blog, you may find it easier to do the matting than some of the other DH readers.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Let Your Imaginations Take Flight

Want to guess what this block of walnut wood is going to become? (Hint: It won't become just a pile of sawdust or ashes in my fireplace!)

Having enough of the "right" tools makes miniature-making a lot of fun. If I succeed in using some of my tools skillfully, this block of wood will evolve into something quite interesting.

I wish I could say I am so skillful that I won't have to use any more than this 4" by 9" piece of wood. I might have to go back and cut another 4" piece to finish the job. We'll see...

It will take several months for me to get this done, since I've been extremely busy lately. I'll post a few photos along the way and see if anyone can guess what it's going to become. If you've been following my blog over the past months, you may be able to guess at least what part of this wood will be transformed into.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More on Table Saw Safety

Following Evelien's comment to my previous blog, the two of us had an off-line email conversation about what might cause saw blade kickback. I ended up contacting Micromark to see what suggestions they might have about how to prevent this.

They recommended using a featherboard to hold the wood against the blade and fence. Of course, they sell such an item. However, it's a great add-on tool for the table saw, and one which I've written about before. I'd recommend it to anyone who needs to cut a number of pieces of wood that are the same width. It's a bit of a pain to have to keep resetting it each time you rip a board, but if safety is your number issue, then it's worth the time.

The folks at Micromark also shared a link to an excellent article, and I thought I'd share that same link with each of you: http://www.waterfront-woods.com/Articles/Tablesaw/tablesaw.htm

So, here's to safe and happy ripping on your miniature (or full-size) table saw.

By the way, for those of you who want a full-size, table saw that is extremely safe, I saw one demonstrated last week. It was invented by a lawyer. The number one tool for causing injuries in workshops is table saws - probably because it's one of the most common saws found in workshops. Anyway, the blade in this saw carries a slight electrical charge. As soon as human flesh comes into contact with the blade, it shorts out the saw, the blade instantly stops and snaps down below the table top. The demonstrator placed a hot-dog on top of the board he was cutting. As soon as the wiener touched the blade - BANG! And the casing of the hot-dog wasn't even cut! Now, the saw isn't cheap. Even a contractor version of this saw costs about $1700. But if fear of getting hurt on a table saw has kept you away from getting one, well, there is now a VERY safe one out there!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Table Saws Are a Valuable Tool

When I think about the number of times I use my table saw in woodworking, I realize it's the tool I use the most. In fact, in my tiny workshop, I have a table saw sitting on a table saw! The smaller one gets the lion's share of use; but occasionally, I am forced to turn to the larger contractor's table saw that takes up the largest amount of space of any tools in my workshop.

Whenever I have needed to cut crown moldings, I have always turned to my table saw to do the cuts. When I need to make a compound cut -- where the saw blade is at an angle and the miter gauge is also at an angle -- the table saw is a great tool.

For those of you who know the story about the shingles on Sara's dollhouse, I cut all 1200 of the shingles on my Dremel table saw. I also have made many of my floors by cutting regular pine, walnut or cherry wood boards into thin pieces, which I then glued together to create the floors that are now in the house. A good orbital sander helps me smooth the rough surface down to a velvety finish very quickly. For furniture making, such as the Victorian bed? Much of that was also done on the table saw.

I realized a couple years ago just how much sawdust my table saws crank out. We had a plumber come in to fix a clogged kitchen drain. The pipe comes down alongside the wall of my workshop. As he got to work in the room, the plumber said, "Wow. This room must never get used. Look at all the dust in here." I didn't bother to set him straight. Since that time, though, I've begun to be far more conscientious about using my shop vacuum to suck sawdust from the table saw! (I've also started running an air purifier just outside the door to help pull more of the finest particulate from the air.)

I have cut so much wood over the years that I totally wore out my little Dremel table saw. I went through multiple belts. Then Dremel stopped making the saw, and I had to buy my belts from a vacuum cleaner store in town. The motor finally gave up the ghost, and that's when I decided it was time to get a new saw. I've liked the Micromark saw. It's a direct drive system unlike the belt-driven blade with the Dremel. With the Dremel, if I was cutting a lot of wood, I inevitably had to stop and put the belt back on the drive after awhile, because it would slip off.

The Dremel customer service rep told me that they discontinued making the saw because they had encountered too many lawsuits. People thought of the Dremel table saw as a toy. I can tell you in no uncertain terms: neither the Dremel nor the Micromark saws were or are a toy! I treat them with the same respect as I do the larger table saw. Here are some of the rules I follow:
  • I have my saw attached to a heavy MDF board which extends several inches in every direction from the saw. I use those extended sides to always clamp the saw in a stationery position when I make a cut. (The last thing I want is for a "live" saw to start sliding away from me while I'm in the middle of a cut - YIKES!)
  • I use push sticks to move boards through and past the blade. (That's what the big, ugly piece of plywood is that's sitting on the saw in the picture above.)
  • I turn off and disconnect the saw if I plan to change the blade.
  • I always make sure that only the length of a blade tooth extends above the surface of the wood I'm cutting.
  • I stand to the side of what I'm cutting so that if there is ever any kickback, the items don't get thrown into my face.
  • I always wear safety glasses when I use the saw.
  • I roll up my sleeves so that no clothing can catch on the saw blade.
  • I have the saw plugged into a power block up on my workbench. It's always turned off when I leave the workshop. It's also up and away from little hands - should my nephews ever wander in and accidentally push the start button.
On a couple of occasions I have had a piece of wood bind up on the blade. The wood flew out of my hands and smacked the door of my workshop with a loud thud. Had I been standing in its line of trajectory, I would have had a nasty bruise or cut from the board smacking me in the face.

So, would I recommend getting a miniature table saw? If you plan to make any scratch-built pieces of furniture or dollhouses, my answer in a heartbeat would be "Absolutely!"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Dremel Rotary Tool - A Great Addition to the Workbench

If my Dremel tool were to quit working for me tonight, I'd very likely go buy a new one tomorrow! It's just that handy a tool. It hangs from a hook in my workshop, and I frequently leave it plugged in, ready for me to change out the bit and use it for grinding or cutting.

The Dremel is a wonderful carving tool. I have many different bits for it. I use it to grind and rough out shapes on things I'm carving. Other bits work well for sanding and polishing. I also have various cutting bits I use to put tiny rounded edges on boards, or to cut delicate little indentations in a piece of wood.

When I made the clock for the Scrooge roombox, I put a bit into the Dremel that could etch glass. Then I locked the Dremel into a bench-top vice that held the tool at a 45 degree angle. Then I took the glass I wanted to etch and carefully brought the glass under the bit and gently touched it to the bit to do the etching. The tool is just too big and heavy for me to do extra fine hand movements with it, but locked down, I can do very exacting and delicate work.

The hole in the ceiling of the Scrooge room was another Dremel tool project. I attached a hand-held router attachment to it to adjust its depth of cut, then routed out the area where the plaster had "fallen" from the ceiling. I used a chisel to sharpen some of the edges of where I cut, and then pieced in tiny boards to make it look like the plaster had fallen from the lath.

I use my Dremel with its router table a lot. In fact, that's how I made the mop board in the maid's room, the bathroom, and the little girl's bedroom in Sara's dollhouse. (See photo at left.)  I had a round-over bit that gave the wood a nice curved top. Then I took a slitting saw blade and ran my boards past that blade a couple of times, allowing the blade to cut only slightly into the board. (I used purchased quarter-round to finish out the detail of the board.)

In addition to all of these uses, I have found the Dremel tool useful for doing a variety of projects around the house. It's not just for miniature work!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dremel Tool, Jigsaw or Table Saw - Which to Get First?

I have three power tools on my workbench that I use constantly:
  • A workbench jigsaw
  • A small table saw
  • A rotary tool
I have depended on these tools so much over the years, I would have a difficult time deciding which one is my favorite. Each has its own unique value to me. If you were to ask me which tool a beginning miniaturist should purchase first for their workshop, I'd be hard-pressed to choose. So, the answer I would have to give is, "It depends on what you want to do."

If you're thinking about buying a power tool for your miniature work and can't afford to buy a LOT of tools all at once, I'd like to describe the strengths and weaknesses of these three tools in various applications. I'll do this in several blogs over the course of a few days here.

I have purchased my collection of power tools over many years, and I have used and had to replace each of the three major tools listed above at least once. Except for the rotary tool, I chose a different brand the second time around. In one case, I chose a different brand because of the tool's features. In the other case, I was forced to buy a different brand because the manufacturer no longer made the item. I'll talk more about that when I get to them.

The Jigsaw
The variable speed jigsaw is a terrific tool for making cabriole legs and for cutting fancy fretworked screens. It's good for making rough shapes that don't require precisely cut straight lines or for cutting sizeable, rounded over or irregularly shaped pieces of wood. I also use it to rough out the basic shape of an object that I plan to carve.

When I want to do really delicate fretwork, though, I don't use the jigsaw. I turn to my hand-held jeweler's saw instead. When I'm cutting a delicate piece of wood that is 1/16" or thinner, the relentless motion of the jigsaw makes cutting such fine wood very challenging. It only takes one upstroke from the table saw blade binding on the piece to rip out an entire, delicate leaf that I've just cut. You can't feel the saw blade start to bind with the jigsaw like you can with a hand saw. On the other hand, the jigsaw makes short work of cutting larger or multiple pieces such as roof brackets.

My first tabletop jigsaw used blades that had pins in the top and bottom of the blades. It was manufactured by Dremel, and it was a pretty good machine. It incorporated a sanding disk on the side of the machine, which was handy, too. The blades changed quickly. There was a lot to like.

There were other things about it that I didn't like, though. It vibrated a lot. After cutting a number of pieces of wood on that vibrating table top, I could feel the effect in my arms and hands. My fingers and wrists began to feel numb as a result of that vibration. I also didn't like the limited choices of blades. Also, the pin-fastening system of the blades required my drilling nearly a 1/8" hole in a piece of wood if I wanted to do inside fretwork cuts. On intricate fretwork, that's a sizeable hole! Also, it was a single speed machine. I couldn't slow it down for working on extremely delicate pieces.

One of the tool catalogs offered a fence for rip cutting wood with a Dremel jigsaw. The idea was that you could set the fence and "rip" boards lengthwise using the jigsaw. I purchased the fence and was very disappointed. It never worked very well for me. I have found that if I want to do a straight cut in a piece of wood - whether a cross cut or rip cut - I can do it faster with a table saw, and the resulting piece of cut wood has far fewer imperfections to the cut. 

Speaking of cutting, the jigsaw can cut your finger, but it's far less likely to do severe damage to a digit than the table saw. (To be honest, I've never cut myself on either type of saw, and hope I never do!)Rule number one with any saw is to never put your fingers anywhere close to the blade. Use a push stick instead. Rule number two: Never try to touch any moving saw blade - even if it's just idling to a stop. A co-worker nicked my leg with a chain saw one time when it was idling to a stop. It put a gash in my leg that required about six stitches. Rule three: unplug the saw when you change the blade.

When I had some money saved up, the Dremel jigsaw table was the first tool I replaced. I purchased a Sears Craftsman jigsaw table. It had a slightly larger tabletop than the Dremel. It's variable speed, and can be slowed to a gentle cutting motion for working on really tight pieces. It also had a blower on the hold down clamp that helps to blow some of the sawdust away from the cutting line.

The saw itself weighs nearly twice what the old Dremel saw weighed; vibration is now barely palpable when I run this saw. Last, and most importantly, it has a set-screw system for holding down the blades. I can use very delicate saw blades on this machine as well as more coarse ones for rough-cutting wood. And I can adjust the tension level on my blades.

When I shopped for the new saw, there were table jigsaws with built in lights to illuminate the work. I already had a combination magnifier/lamp set up on my workbench that allows me to put the light very close to the work and peer down at what I'm jigsawing through the magnifier. Whenever I'm cutting out anything that requires precision, I always use that lamp magnifier.

There were even larger and heavier jigsaws that had their own stands to hold them. (I'm sure they have even less vibration to them.) I had two limitations to consider in my selection - workshop size and tool cost. The jigsaw needed to sit on my workbench. I could not afford to give up floor space to a saw on a separate stand. Likewise, I didn't want a monster saw sitting on my workbench, taking up a large amount of space there. And with two kids approaching college age, I didn't want to fork out the extra dollars for the higher end saw.

You may have noticed in the photo that there's a piece of plywood siding on the face of my jigsaw tabletop. I didn't like the size of the hole where the blade comes through the table. I cut a much smaller hole in my wood for the blade to pass through, which allows me to cut moderately delicate pieces of wood without its breaking.

So there you have it.  A jigsaw is great for cutting out various shapes of wood and for doing some fretwork cuts. If the wood is quite delicate, the jigsaw is generally too rough a tool for cutting it. Thursday evening I'll talk about the table saw.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Hundred Thank You's!

Today was a milestone for this blog. One hundred individuals are officially now following my blog. I am so pleased that each of you have found something about this blog that interests you. The technology we now have at our fingertips is so amazing! Here I sit in my cozy little study in Iowa communicating with people all over the globe in Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, Canada, Argentina, Finland, Australia, France, Portugal and even Tucson, AZ!

If I've left out your country, please post a comment and add your nation to this list! I usually go to each of your sites if you have blogs, and look to see what you're posting and to see what coutries you're from. I love your energy, curiosity, humor, and creativity.  I look forward to opening my emails each day to see if there are new comments from any of you, and I enjoy scrolling down to see what you have posted on your sites. Whether I can read the language or not, your pictures usually tell a story. And there's a thread of continuity throughout them all - miniatures are a fabulous hobby!

Blessings to you all, and THANK YOU! 

Tomorrow I'll begin a series of blogs about some of my power tools.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Curtains for the Bedroom

Okay, all you fabric arts specialists. This one's for you. At a miniature show last summer, I picked up a D'Anne Ruff Miniatures swag and tails kit. I met D'Anne at the Minneapolis NAME convention many years ago, and took her curtain-making class. She's just a really nice person and very talented with fabrics.

I did not purchase enough of the fabric to do both the bed and the curtains, and as a result, I had to find a different fabric for my curtains. I selected a beige, cotton cloth with a very tiny, subtle print to it. So, I'm happy with the fabric. Made up into a swag, I think it looks pretty nice. 

I also found some bridal lace that made a good, lacy under curtain. After I pleated the lace, I glued white netting to the back of it using Weldbond glue. This will help stabilize the pleats, and keeps the lace portion self-contained, which then allowed me to glue that into the cornice of these curtains.

On my first attempt at the cornice, I misunderstood d'Anne's instructions and made four cuts that I now regret. You can see how the curtain on the left (below) is slightly different at the top from the curtain on the right. (There's an extra angle in the pleats at the top.)

Here's my quandary. It takes me the better part of a day to make just one set of these curtains. If I glue the improperly cut curtain into the window that faces outward, unless someone takes a hand mirror and holds it in the room to check to see how the drapes fit, they'll never see this flaw. I'm already facing a serious challenge with making the cornice for the center window. It will have to be narrower than the other two on the sides and it will have additional angles in the top so that the sides can touch the other two sets of curtains. I plan to glue all three together and then glue them all into the window. 

So... knowing what I've now told you about the flaw and the work ahead... would you use the first set of curtains as I'm showing them here and not worry about it, or would you go back and redo that first cornice so the top is the same as the one on the right?

Here's how the bedroom looks with the curtains and bed. I think it's beginning to look like a very feminine little room. Once we begin to add the extra little touches, it should really begin to look quite homey.

So... what's your take? Redo or live with what I have? The front of the dollhouse is glassed in; so no one can stick their head in to peek at that curtain....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using Spacers in Brick Laying

Lisa asked a good question about the spacer I referred to in my article about creating a faux brick wall. Sometimes, the simplest tools can be very useful. I measured the width of the mortar lines on the bricks of my own house and found that the mortar was .4” wide. Divide that by 12, and you get a fraction of .03”. I have some, unused business cards from a previous job. I found that gluing three of them together comes very close to .03”.

I trimmed the cards lengthwise so that they were about ¾” tall by 3.5” long. This made the spacer high enough that I could grasp the spacer firmly, but not so high that it made the work awkward, and wide enough that I could glue several bricks in place before I needed to move the card over to lay more bricks. I also made a second spacer about ¾” by about one inch. I inserted that between the bricks so that I had consistent vertical and horizontal spacing throughout the project. I made two of those shorter spacers.

Each time I glued a new brick into place, I pushed it up solidly against both the horizontal and vertical spacers. The reason why I made a second, small spacer was that I needed to have the glue become fairly tacky before I pulled out my first spacer. By the time I had glued in a second brick, the glue on the first brick had usually become tacky enough that I could pull out the first spacer and move on to lay a third brick. And on it went.

I found only two disadvantages in using these paper spacers. One problem is that the glue occasionally seeped out from the edge of a brick and adhered to my spacer. (I had to replace one of my spacers after doing about half of the bricks.) The other problem is that the spacer somewhat obstructs previous rows of bricks laid. Once during the process of doing my wall, I had laid about four or five bricks before I noticed that I had not staggered the first brick of the row using a half brick. (My spacer had obstructed my view of the row just below it.) I ended up having to tear out the row and start over. Aargh!

I hope this helps to explain what I did, Lisa! Thanks for asking!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Protecting Your Wallpaper

I considered taking Alicia's dollhouse to the state fair this summer. In preparation to do that, I took everything out of the house. Much to my amazement (and despair) I discovered how badly the wallpaper in the parlor had faded!

Some of the newer, Victorian wallpaper that I purchased has very tiny type on one of the edges recommending that the user spray the paper with fixative before applying the paper. Several years ago, I participated in a Web conversation where someone ranted about NOT using anything that a person printed on their computer printer, because it faded too quickly. Well, I installed the above paper about 18 years ago, and look at how it's faded. (Alicia had a couch in front of the area where it is darker.)

When I got into the discussion about not using computer printables, I contacted HP to find out what they predicted would be the longevity of their printed inks. The tech who spoke with me said it's hard to tell. He said use acid free paper for starters. Then he said, once it's dry, spray it with fixative. Their research had indicated that this would help reduce ultraviolet light degradation.

I also have used museum quality glass in areas of my dollhouses and room boxes where I can put real glass, because most museum glass also offers some protection against the damage of sunlight, too.

So, long blog short - spray your wallpaper with fixative before you put up any paper. You can get the fixative at most any art supply store.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Way to Make Miniature Bricks

I have used a variety of ways to create miniature bricks in projects over the years. I have found one approach, though, that I like more than others. The end result can be quite realistic. I'm going to share directions with you for how to do it.

The picture on the left is the wall outside of the barbershop we're making in miniature club. It's my finished piece, and I made a mistake with it in the finishing process, but fortunately, it didn't ruin my wall. I'll tell you what I did and how I fixed it toward the end of this blog.

So, let's get started, shall we? I used white, acid free matte board to make the bricks. Whenever I use cardboard or paper in my buildings, I strive to make sure I'm using acid free paper. Card board, card stock or paper that isn't acid free tends to yellow and degrade over time.

I would like to think that a hundred years from now others will look at my miniatures and enjoy them as much as my friends and family do today. By using acid free papers, I come closer to assuring myself that they will.

Step 1:
If you are using framed walls (like the ones you see in the above picture) rather than solid plywood or a foam core product , you must cut out two pieces of matte board. One piece has to be the exact the dimensions and angles of the wall(s) you plan to cover with bricks. The second piece should be about an inch wider and taller than the first. The larger piece will become your bricks.

There are two reasons I say make it larger. First, by doing this, you will make more bricks than you need to cover the wall. The last thing you want is to run short on bricks near the end of your brick laying. The second other reason is so that you have more to choose from. After I cut out my bricks, I didn't like how some of them looked. By over-producing them, you can be choosy.

Step 2: If you wish, you may paint the first piece of matte board to look like mortar. You can skip putting mortar in between the bricks, then, if you do this. (I prefer to fill the gaps between the bricks with mortar.) One of our club members chose to skip mortaring her bricks, and with the wall painted behind her bricks, I have to admit it looked pretty good.

If you choose to let the paint be your mortar, don't paint all of the surface with a solid color. If you study a brick wall, you'll notice that portions of the mortar whiten with age. Other parts actually get darker with dirt and oils splashed up on them.

Choose a light gray color of paint. Rather than painting in long strokes, take a sponge paint brush, get some paint on it, and then dab the matte board with the paint. You'll see little flecks of white appear that didn't get painted. Don't try to paint over them. Once that coat dries, take a darker color such as Payne's Grey and mix that with your original gray paint. dry brush over the first coat with this same dabbing technique. Be sure to make the color gradation get darker as you get nearer to the ground level.

Step 3: Now you can begin to paint your bricks. Before you begin, take time to look at various brick walls. You'll notice that the bricks are rarely a solid color. There are many colors - rusts, hints of ocher, browns, reds, yellows, touches of black, and, yes, even white! You can use the sponge paint brush again to create the bricks. If you're using the latex hobby paints that come in small bottles (2 oz./60ml), you can squeeze some out onto wax paper, dab your sponge into it and then tap around on the paper with the paint. Don't try to paint with strokes.

Linda from our miniature club painted my bricks for me while I helped others with their room boxes. As you can see from this picture of the resulting bricks, she created a variety of color and shades with her painting.

The colors we used for the bricks were Brown Iron Oxide, Georgia Clay, Heritage Brick, Burnt Orange and a very dry brush application of lamp black dabbed on with a paint brush (not the sponge brush). You can see from the picture how mottled the bricks looked.

Step 4: Once the paint has dried, you can then cut out the bricks. Cut the matte board in long,
7/32" wide strips. I use a rotary cutter for cutting the matte board. It's much easier to cut the matte with this tool than an X-acto knife. Take your time in setting up the cuts for these strips. Don't just measure once - measure at each end at least twice to make sure your rule is set for a consistent cut. (Using a ruler with a cork backing on it, will prevent it from slipping on the paper once it's it place.)

If you have a tool such as "the chopper" where you can set up a stop, you can cut your bricks very quickly and consistently. It's very important that you cut the bricks a consistent length! Other-
wise, you'll end up with a very odd looking brick wall. Also, remember to cut some half-bricks for the end of a row.

Step 5: Buy a felt tip art marker with a gray or dark gray color (I got one at Michael's). You'll need to color all four sides of each and every one of the bricks that you plan to use. This hides the solid white edges of your bricks. When they are laid down on the already painted matte board, they look quite real. (See photo below.)

Step 6:At this point, you are now ready to begin laying bricks. Start with your bottom row of bricks and glue them in place with a good craft glue. I created a spacer that was about 1/2" thick in scale (3/64" or .041") I made sure to space the bricks by that thickness as I glued each in place. Remember to start each alternate row with a half brick so that the bricks are correctly aligned.

Continue laying bricks until you have completed the wall. At this point, you could stop. (As you can see from the photo, it looked pretty good at that point.) Or you can add grout.

Step 7:
Before you add any grout, you must first spray the bricks with a matte fixative. This makes your bricks somewhat water proof so that they don't absorb the paint from the "grout." The fixative dries quickly; so don't hesitate to put a couple coats on the bricks.

Step 8: To add grout, pick up a small container of spackling compound - the stuff you sometimes use to repair small dents or holes in drywall. Take about a tablespoon full of the compound, and mix in some gray latex paint. (I added color to this compound until I was satisfied with the color.)

Then using a putty knife, scrape it across the bricks. Fill in small squares at a time - approximately 3" x 3" squares. As you see that you have filled all of the lines between the bricks, use a damp paper towel to wash away any excess of the grout that is still on the face of the bricks. (You only want it in the grout lines areas.)

To add some realism to your grout color, you can start with a lighter shade of grout and dab it into various places, then add some color to the grout to make it darker and dab in more in various places until it's all filled in.

Another way to add realism is to use dry powders model railroad enthusiasts use to give their models that perfect dirty and aged look. This is where I erred with my project. I used too much of it. You can wash it off, but in the places where I had white on my bricks, the aging dust obliterated all of the white. It also made my grout look a little like it was becoming brick colored, too. So, I went back over the grout with a small round file to scrape away some of the stained grout, thus restoring some of the grout to its original color.

And that, my friendly reader, is how I make my bricks. I think that if I need to have my bricks form real corners such as on a chimney, I will make those bricks the length of one full brick and a half brick. I'll then cut away most of the matte board behind the brick surface where the brick touches the corner. That way, I'll be able to fold the brick and there will be no line where I have joined two pieces of matte board together. That will be an exercise in patience, but anyone who takes on a project of "bricking" a wall in miniature is in for a test of their patience anyway!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

So Much to Say...

To all of you who made such nice comments about my southwestern roombox, Thank You! The artist in me loves to receive compliments. (Actually, most people do!) Your comments and compliments make the long hours of miniaturing and my blog-writing even more fulfilling.

This past week, the total number of subscribers of my two blog sites (which are virtually the same, by the way), surpassed 90 members! I've not thanked each of you as you've become followers. Please know that as I see your names added, I deeply appreciate your choosing to follow my blog. I am so excited to have followers in so many different parts of the world, too. The Internet is truly a remarkable invention!

So, again, THANK YOU for following this blog and for your kind remarks. I'm so pleased that you've chosen to be a part of my mini world!

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Official!

I walked through the Iowa State Fair last night with a big smile on my face. As I carried my roombox away from the display building, a blue ribbon hung from my entry. It didn't win best of show. (A woman from West Des Moines won that with her dollhouse that she'd been working on for the last 20 years.) Nevertheless, I was a very happy guy.

Out of a possible 100 points, the judge gave my entry a 100. The judge commented that he/she liked the case I built for the roombox. The case includes stained glass panels on each side of the box, which are lit with rope lighting inside the box.

The rope lighting is fastened just below the top of the mountains in the background, which creates a strong source of light just behind the mountains. It helps create the sense that the sun has just set. Winding the excess parts of the rope light around to the sides helped me do two things. First, it allowed me to create some light to come out through the stained glass panels on the sides. Secondly, I was able to bring it back across the top of the stained glass to add a little more light for the orange stained glass.

I made the mountains using 1/8" thick basswood. After I cut out the mountain shapes, I used some of my small files to add some shapes and details to the hills. The weeds in the foreground are sisal rope that I took apart. I'd take a tiny hank of the sisal, bend it in half, twist it and add a little glue to hold it together. Then I drilled holes into the floor board of the box and glued the "weeds" into place. There are a few lonely saguaro cacti out in the background, too, which I cut from wood, sanded and painted.

The judge also liked the floor in the room, saying "The way you created the tile floor is wonderful." I made the tiles using digital photographs and PowerPoint software. On one of our trips to Tucson, I purchased a floor tile and a baseboard tile. When I got home, I created a grey background that looked like grout, then inserted the picture of the tile, sized it to scale and then copied, pasted and adjusted the placement of the tiles until I had a complete floor. I also used PowerPoint to create the entry floor tiles, too, which are plain terracotta tiles.

The camera has no lens in it. I took a digital picture of the roombox, then reduced it to the size of the screen in the camera, and printed it upside down and backwards (because that's how it would look in a real camera). A tiny light helps the camera picture show up a little more. The wire to the light runs up through one of the camera tripod legs. I made the camera from scratch, using some parts from a hobby store that were intended for remote control airplanes.

The fireplace is made of wood. I used a compass, and drew a half-circle on a piece of 3/4" pine wood. Then I set my Sears jigsaw table at a slight angle and cut out the semicircle. This made the bottom edge of the semicircle slightly narrower than the top edge. I next set the narrow edge of that semicircle on top of the board and traced the shape. Then I cut out another piece.

I repeated this step until the piece was very small. Next, I cut out the fireplace itself, using the jigsaw once again. Then I glued all the pieces together. There were places where I hadn't cut perfectly. So, I used my Dremel tool and sanding drums on the tool to smooth out those imperfections. The mantle is a piece of walnut that I inserted at one of the layers of the fireplace. It was the easiest way to mount it to such an odd-shaped object. The final touch was to paint the wood, smear some drywall compound in various places on the walls and the chimney, then paint again. I used charcoal pencils to blacken the fireplace to a level that satisfied me.

I made the box as a lamp. You can't see it from this photograph, but there's a stem area atop the box where the light fixture comes out. To hide the brass stem, I inserted a couple of four-inch round pieces of wood, and then affixed pieces of saguaro cactus ribs to it. (I noticed in some of the places in Tucson, people have created shutters using these cactus ribs in their shutters.) I intended to do that on the sides of the box, but realized it was too difficult to make with the glass insets.

I hope to publish an article one of these days about how I matted the pictures for the room. For a little more information about other techniques I used in creating this room, I had a post about this room on February 6, if you'd like to read more about it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

When Things Start Coming Together - Wow!

Our miniature club met last Saturday, and worked a good share of the day on our barbershop room boxes.

I love creating a sense of depth in a box that is less than a foot deep and narrower than 18 inches wide. So, I spent quite a bit of time getting just the right picture to show a street scene out the front window of the barbershop.

The picture at left is from downtown Salida, Colorado - my home town. The sky is from a picture I took in Tucson one very moody evening.

I had hoped that it would look like very early morning or end of the work day for the scene, because it is lit by a 7 watt night light bulb. The picture above is not my roombox but rather another of our club members - Jane. Jane is the farthest along in our project.

I couldn't resist including a picture here of Linda as she worked on the brick wall of her box. (It's the wall just outside the doorway of the roombox.) Linda did such a beautiful job with this wall. She really is quite the artist.

I was so excited when Jane put her floor in, added her front door, temporarily mounted the matte board on the frame and then set her picture frame in front of it all! It was a goose bump moment for me as I saw how it is coming together. The box is beginning to turn out EXACTLY how I had hoped it might. And here's how it looks at this point. I can hardly wait until we begin to put in the tin-type ceiling and wallpaper!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life Sometimes Gets in the Way!

Sometimes, life gets in the way of important things, like having fun, working on miniatures or writing on my blog. July-August has been tough at our household. My wife caught her foot as she was climbing out of the minivan, fell and smashed her humerus near the shoulder. Fortunately, it's not her dominant hand, because she's been in a restraint/sling device ever since. She reported to school for her first day back yesterday; so I've been helping her get her classroom ready.

Then at work, we began moving from year-long temporary facilities (due to the Cedar River flood last summer) back into our regular office building. Then my secretary resigned to take a different position in the agency. Nothing personal, just a career move for her. But then my boss told me we couldn't replace her due to funding concerns.

Okay. I know I was a bit stressed out, because at that point, my back went out. Big time. I could barely walk, and I was out of commission for a week. So, my plans for entering Sara's dollhouse in the Iowa State Fair went down the tubes. I was able to get the southwestern roombox entered in the fair, though. It didn't require any heavy lifting, and thus I was able to get it there.

I'll let you know soon how it fared. (If you'll pardon the pun!)

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Measures for Success

"Measure twice, cut once."
Old carpenter's rule

This blog installment isn't pretty. In fact, I won't show you any pictures of miniatures I've made in today's blog. (I hope you won't be too disappointed.) As I said in one of my earliest posts, I want to share how-to information in this blog, too. So, today I'm talking about rulers, and I don't mean kings, queens or presidents!

I have LOTS of rulers, and I use almost all of them regularly. It's amazing how many different ones are "out there" and how each fulfills a unique need in my woodworking and miniatures. Below is an assortment of them I gathered up from my work room and toolkits. I thought that if you're trying to figure out what tools you might need for this hobby, then this could be useful to you (or if you're experienced, you may feel it's worth sharing with someone who is new to the hobby).

The largest ruler (#1 above) probably gets the least amount of my use. However, when I was preparing to cut out large pieces of plywood to build Sara's dollhouse, this ruler, which serves as a four foot wide T-square, was a very useful tool. I also use it occasionally when I need to cut a wide piece of matte board.

The smaller T-square, #12 on the right of the picture, hangs at the ready in my workshop. I use it for drawing and for cutting dollhouse wallpaper or fabric in exactly square dimensions. The easiest way to use this T-Square for cutting is to lay one edge of the fabric or the wallpaper along the straight side of a cutting mat. Set the T-square down on top of the fabric or paper with the plastic T placed against the edge of the mat.

Your ruler is now perfectly set at a right angle to make a cut. All you have to do is move the T-square to whatever width you need, and slice along the ruler. (Hint: Being a right-handed person, I press down with the fingers on my left hand about midway down the length of the ruler to hold it firmly in place and slice on the right side of the T-square with my roller cutter or Xacto knife.)

The "ruler" marked #2 above is a matte cutting guide, which also has a ruler along its edge. This is an especially safe tool for guiding your knife cuts on matte board, which requires either multiple strokes with your Xacto knife or heavy pressure on the knife.

When cutting matte board, it's easy for the knife to slip up over the edge of a thin ruler, putting your fingers in great jeopardy of getting cut. This special ruler has a center ridge that sticks up almost an inch and goes down the entire length of the ruler. I can use this ridge to pick up and adjust it by purhins or pulling on that ridge. Once the ruler is exactly where I need it, I can put my hands behind the ridge, and they are safely protected from the knife blade slipping over the edge of the ruler and toward my very tender pinkies.

The carpenter's ruler (#3), is a terrific tool for measuring inside distances within dollhouse or roombox rooms. It has a brass slide-out piece that can give you an exact measurement of the room's length. I like it even better than a standard tape measure (#5) for doing inside room measurements. That's because once you've slid out the brass extender to measure a room, it holds the measurement. (It does require a little math, though, since the brass insert measurement has to be added to the length of the yellow fold-out part of the ruler to get the complete measurement length.

Tape measures (#5) are designed to accommodate for inside and outside measuring by incorporating a little play in the steel tip. So, when I remove it from doing an inside measurement, and then try to place it onto a piece of trim molding and do an outside measurement, I can get myself quite confused. The carpenter ruler eliminates that problem. That's why I always use the carpenter ruler now for measuring my dollhouse rooms.

The problem with a carpenter rule, though, is its big. It folds up to a length of just under eight inches. When you're trying to measure doorways or windows, it can get awkward trying to fit this tool into tight spaces to get an accurate measure. That's where the mechanic's ruler (#10) comes into play!

I use the little mechanics' ruler a LOT. It has a scale on one side that goes down to 64ths of an inch and 32nds of an inch on the other. PLUS on the back, the ruler has a list of digital equivalents to the ten thousandths of an inch starting at 1/64 and going up to 63/64. It has a pocket clip affixed to it so you can clip it to a shirt pocket. That "clip" also can be turned so that you can measure inside dimensions of a window. I consider this a must-have ruler for an active miniaturist!

The two rulers marked #6 are both clear plastic, centering rulers. One of our club members introduced me to this kind of ruler. It has a zero in the middle, and then counts out inch by inch in both directions to the ends of the ruler, and it also starts with zero on opposite ends and goes to 12 inches. Set the ruler down on something and in short order, you can find the center of an object. When you need to find the center of a piece of fabric or a center point on a railing, this tool works great!

I use the white, triangle-shaped ruler (#7) for doing scale drawings. With its soft plastic body, it is NOT a tool to use for any knife cutting. It has a wide range of scales, dividing the inches into six different scales. It's useful for helping me to "draw" room plans on my computer, because it has a 1/10 scale on one of its sides. Since PowerPoint allows me to "move" and size objects using decimals of an inch, this ruler is a good tool. It also has a 1:6 scale, which can be used for 1/12 scale work, if you're imaginative. This one is NOT a critical ruler to use/have, though.

I use a caliper when I need some precise accuracy. I like it especially for setting up a cutting width on my miniature table saw. A caliper can measure both inside dimensions as well as outside dimensions. My wife gave me the digital caliper, and I must say, it's SO much easier to use than a vernier caliper! The jaws of the caliper can be set to slide a little stiffly; thus, like the carpenter's ruler, once you've tightened the caliper down on the wood you're measuring, you can slide it off of the object and this ruler stays open to the exact width you need.

The ruler at left is sometimes called a try square (it's number 9 in the top photo). Depending on the manufacturer, I've also found references to it as being called a tri-square, a combination square or an adjustable square. The one pictured here is a small, 4" long "adjustable double square." It costs about $10 from MicroMark. The ruler itself slides in the black metal handle, which allows me to make accurate measurements of depth. It's also machined so that it is precisely a 90 degree right angle.

You can buy a miniature square, or you can buy a full-scale, combination square for just a little more money - around $15. They are one foot long, and handy as all get out for little OR bigger projects around the home. You can buy this kind of adjustable square at virtually any hardware store that sells tools. If you're just starting out, and don't have any tools, buy a combination square ruler. The hardware store version even includes a level in the handle so you can adjust pictures on your walls!

I hope the photo below helps you see another key way I have used this square. I found that most of the miniature miter boxes are designed for cutting pieces of small, wood trim. So, when I was building my fancy Victorian bookcase, and wanted a precisely cut piece of cherry wood I couldn't pop a four-inch wide piece of wood into my miterbox and cut off a length of the wood.

When I built the bookcase, I also didn't have a good quality, miniaturists table saw. So, I put a piece of plywood down on my work space, set the cherry wood on top of that, and then pushed the black part of the square against both the plywood and the cherry wood. This lined up the edge of both the plywood and the cherry wood with the fat base of the ruler. I then carefully tightened a C-clamp down onto the ruler blade of the square. With the clamp holding everything perfectly square, I was able to set a razor saw flush against the ruler edge. This process produced all of the larger square pieces of that bookshelf, and it turned out wonderfully! So, if you're serious about making dollhouses and miniature wood projects, get thee to a hardware store if you don't have a combination square!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wooden Wainscoting Adds Warmth to a Room

There's nothing quite as lovely as rich, wood paneling in a room - especially if it's a Victorian drawing room.

I wish I had taken pictures of this project in the stages of its development so you could have seen how it went together. I've admired several other blogs where the reader can see the project evolve with details step-by-step photos, but unfortunately, I did this work before I began the blog. Next time, I'll do a better job of documenting!

There are many ways a crafts person can make a paneled room, and it doesn't have to be as fancy as this one. I chose to use picture frame wood (PFE-5) from Northeastern Scale Lumber to create more personality to the panels.

Northeastern also makes raised panels that you can purchase. The raised panels, of course, could also be used with the picture frame wood that I used, and it would have been an even more involved "look" to the wall. I have some of their panels in one of my stashes of "someday" stuff that I've purchased, but I decided I was happy with this slightly simpler look.

The first step is to measure the wall to determine how wide the overall wainscoting will be on the wall. Next, determine how wide the wood dividers will be between each panel. I chose to make my vertical dividers a half-inch wide. Ultimately, in the finished form, the columns appear to be 3/8" wide. That's because the PFE-5 molding is 5/32" wide, and part of the molding is cut away so that it can overlap the wood it attaches to. As a result, part of it projected over the half-inch dividers. Knowing this, I could then calculate how wide each of my panels needed to be to fill the space. (This is also why I didn't use the Northeastern raised panels - the spaces I was working with were too variable, and I didn't want to fuss with ripping the raised panels to make them fit.)

I used basswood sheets that I bought at a hobby shop to make the wood panels. I purchased some 1/32" thick basswood in 4" sheets. This became my vertical wood that you see in each panel. Next, I cut 1/16" basswood for the various pieces of wood that were the vertical and horizontal dividers.

The most critical part of building the paneling is to make sure the pieces you cut for the dividers are exactly the same length. It's very difficult to hide any gaps in this kind of woodwork, and they show up dramatically if one piece is shorter than the rest. (Voice of experience here...)

The picture at right illustrates how I used my vernier caliper to measure the inside dimensions of each panel. Using the caliper, I was able to make minor adjustments to my upright pieces so that they were evenly spaced. The caliper is not a terribly expensive tool, and it has come in handy any number of times. An alternative tool to use would be a compass. The point of using either is that you can lock them into a set width, and then you can use the tools to compare the different panels to make sure all of the spaces are the same.

Cutting the PFE-5 molding was challenging, because you can't just measure the inside space of each panel and then cut the molding to that width. It has to be wider than that, since the edges project out a little more.

I started out cutting my pieces just a little too wide, and then slowly sanded and trimmed until the piece fit into the space without having to be forced in. I used the hand shear that I featured a couple months ago (purchased from MicroMark) to cut the mitered angles on the molding.

Before I glued the pieces into place, I stained them. That way, there was no concern that if I accidentally had any glue work out onto the finished wood I didn't have to worry that it wouldn't take the stain. I dipped a corner of a tissue into the stain and then each time I cut a mitered corner, I'd touch the stain-dampened tissue to the raw end of the miter. (It just takes a gentle dab to get the stain to absorb into the ends of the raw wood.)

Notice how the horizontal pieces of wood stretch across the entire wall? This adds stability to the panel. Unlike a full-scale wall made of wood, the miniature wall doesn't have to have floating panels, such as what you'd find in a real wainscoting piece. I cut the vertical back pieces in widths so that the places where the wood is pieced together, it's covered by a vertical divider.

Once the wall section was complete, I wiped it down with a tack rag and then sprayed it with Deft. I let that dry, then rubbed it out with 0000 steel wool, used the tack rag again and sprayed it again with Deft. I put three coats of Deft on it, rubbing it out each time with the steel wool. Then I let that sit for a couple of days to harden. Finally, I applied a thin amount of furniture wax and then used a soft brush to remove any excess wax and to shine up the wax. Finally, I glued the wall into place.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Power of Accessories

For those of you who have followed my blog, you may remember my post lamenting that the Victorian bed didn't quite look right in the master bedroom. Janice Lee Smith suggested I make a throw and toss it on the bed. She added that by fastening my cloth to aluminum foil, I might have greater control over how it drapes. I tried her suggestion and it turned out well! (See photo below.)

My wife and I agreed that perhaps the flooring wasn't making the bed "pop." So, when we attended the Quad Cities miniature club show, we found an oriental carpet to put under the bed. The two additions - a throw and a rug - made quite a difference in the look for the room, don't you think?

I'm now working on curtains for the bay window. I'm using a cornice kit created by d.Anne Ruff. I'll put some soft lace curtains under the cornice. Again, it will be mostly white on white with the curtains, but we'll be sure to include some colorful pictures on the walls. And I probably will add a colorful throw pillow or two beside the two white pillows on the bed. Then, my daughters (who love interior design) will add the final touches to the room and we'll call it done.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

I've been tagged! Now I'm picking six...

It's Father's Day here in America. (Is it celebrated in other countries, too?) So, I've taken lots of time to explore and make some selections. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was tagged by LinsMinis who is in Durham, England. (I’m constantly amazed by the Internet – I follow blogs from people in a variety of European countries, down under" and various sites across the USA. How small our world truly has become because of this invention!) Lin is a very talented miniaturist, who also has some commercial sites and sells on eBay as well. Please do check out her blog. Her miniature food is exquisite!

I know the rule of the pick six is to tag six people whose sites I find interesting, and then list six things I like. I can’t just go post comments on six sites and leave it at that. I want YOU to know about their sites, too! So, here are the six I picked (in no special order of importance). I hope you may enjoy these sites as much as I have.

http://josje-bouwt.blogspot.com/ Josje Veenebos’ blog was recently picked by someone else for the “pick six” honor; so I don’t expect her to do a whole new group of six blogs to feature on her blog. I have just enjoyed seeing the pictures of her work. I was looking at the picture of her kitchen one night, and my son-in-law said, “You mean, that’s a miniature kitchen!?” It’s just exquisite. http://tinyurl.com/l76z24

http://dollhouse-tutorials.blogspot.com/ New England Miniatures in Kennebunk, Maine. It’s a small, family-run miniature business. Grazhina has several blogs – some feature the miniature houses and rooms she has made and then there’s this blog, which is right down my alley! It’s filled with all sorts of links to “how to” articles! Perfect for those of us who wonder, “How did they DO that?!”

http://libertybiberty.blogspot.com/ is from New Zealand, and she has done some remarkable things with her dollhouse in spite of not having any power tools for mini making! She does all this while still caring for her daughter who is preschool age. Way to go! She belongs to a miniature club, too. http://tinyurl.com/lmnwl3

http://caseymini.blogspot.com/ I thoroughly enjoy Casey’s Minis blog. Her sense of humor is delightful with her little characters Tessie and Zar helping her with her blog postings and her miniature work. Here’s a link to see her character Tessie taking a break between gluings: http://tinyurl.com/mddsqk

http://creatingdollhouseminiatures.blogspot.com Minimaker Anderson comes up with some amazing videos to share with us. Frequently, these feature “how to” information. This is one of the first sites I started following, and I have not regretted it since. If you haven’t linked to her blog, you’re missing some excellent videos. Please click on over to take a look at her site.

http://myrtlewood.blogspot.com/ Texas Belle is doing some wonderful things with her dollhouse. I’m so impressed by the rooms she has completed, and she says she doesn’t have a lot of miniature experience. Please DO check out her site. Here’s a picture of the wall she has created for her library. It’s very nice! http://tinyurl.com/l6ar7j

The other part of the pick six is that I’m supposed to share six things that make me happy.

Here are six for me:

  1. Finishing a miniature and thinking, “Wow! I really like how that turned out!”
  2. Cold, sunny winter days with lots of snow on the ground. I can stand in my workshop and look out at the blue sky and the white snow and feel comfy cozy in my little world. (And I also know I don't have to go out and mow the grass!)
  3. Finding new tools that really fit my needs. I love it when I have a new tool to play with.
  4. Discovering new ideas – especially “how to” ideas that I can add to my skills
  5. Having a good laugh – it’s good for the soul and clears the cobwebs.
  6. Having a supportive and loving wife (which I do), who doesn’t mind my spending inordinate amounts of time on my minis and/or on the computer!
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Details! Details! It's the icing on the cake!

Adding windows to the top floor of Sara's dollhouse was one of the toughest things to do with this house. As I developed my drawings for the house, there were so many details I wanted to incorporate into these windows. In addition to the paint scheme, layers, angles, and carving, the windows were to be my only access to the attic rooms; so I knew I had to make them removable.

I later had to modify my plan about access to the rooms when Sara found a canopy bed she wanted for the little girl's room. I could not fit it in through the window opening; so I had to retrofit part of the back wall so that we could open it to insert the bed. Like I said in my previous post, the best laid plans of mice and men... and daddies... oft go astray!

The small circles and arch over the window were some of the trickiest pieces for me to make. They really challenged my carving and painting skills. In fact, there's still a little bit of detail to paint there, and I haven't worked up the courage/energy/patience to do it, since I know I'll probably go back and forth several times between white and red paints trying to fix slight imperfections of brush strokes. It's the details like this, though, that really give Victorian houses their personality. I love that wedding cake frilliness of Victorian houses! It's just that it's hard to replicate it in miniature at times...

I've been "tagged,"by another blogger; so in my next post, I'll address that.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

When I began to build this dollhouse, I fully intended to have a full-scale door beneath the stairs. In fact, I even had cut a doorway into the back wall of the plywood. As I got to working on the stairs, though, I soon realized that it wouldn't work. I had to give up and install the miniature door for a storage area beneath these stairs.

The stairs are solid cherry wood. The landing is approximately 3" deep; so I was able to cut one piece of wood for that step. The lower steps, however, progressively project out about 5/6" with each step. The easiest way to bump out the cherry wood steps was to stack up pine wood pieces behind the cherry. So, as you look at the stairs on the right, there's no fancy construction work holding up that flight of stairs. It's solid wood from the front step all the way to the back wall and up to the landing.

For those of you with a discerning eye, you'll know why the maid for this house has her bag packed and a letter of resignation on her dresser. Dusty stairs was bad enough, but then to have a broken dinner plate in the dining room? Unforgiveable! ;o)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How I Made the Belt on Sara's House

This is the last post I'll make about the belt at the top of Sara's dollhouse. I promise! I just had to tell a little more about how I made it. Please do click on the photo to see it close up. The circles were wooden toy wheels that I bought at a Michaels store.

The wheels were approximately 1/8" thick and had a hole in the center that was just the right size for a 1/8" piece of doweling to fit snugly into. I drilled a 1/8" hole into a piece of 1 x 2 board and then set my table saw so that the fence was about 3/4" depth from the blade. The width of the blade is about 1/16", and so running the 1 x 2 past the blade, the saw would slice off the back half of a wheel (as long as the wheel was pushed flat against the 1 x 2).

I allowed a length of the dowel to protrude through the front of the wheel, because I held onto that piece of doweling to control the cut wheel. If I had not done this, my saw would have flung the wheels at me and all around my workshop! In fact, a couple of times, the doweling broke, in the cutting process, and that's EXACTLY what happened. (Flying saucers anyone?)

Painting Was a Challenge!
Painting these circles was a challenge. I had to do that free-hand. I used the 1/8" dowel once again to hold them while I painted, which made the task a little easier. The golden center of each circle is a brass tack that has a rounded head. I cut the nails down to a short length and glued one into the hole of each circle.

I cut the green pieces out of basswood, cutting out first the outline, then drilled a hole and carefully cut out the centers. Then I went through a dozen emery boards, which I wore out sanding the top edges of these pieces until they were rounded.

I've already told you about the brackets. I ended up making several more than the 24 that I put on the house. Sometimes they'd break on me when I tried to peel them apart from the double-stick tape. Other times, I just didn't do a good job of cutting out the fancy insides and had to start over again. People always say, "You must be a really patient guy." The truth of the matter is that I'm more of a perfectionist than I am patient, which means I often end up having to redo things because I got in too much of a hurry!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Opening Sara's Dollhouse

So... here's the house with all its fancy details. The brackets and fancy belt under the eaves really give the house its personality. But they also created endless headaches for me when I began to figure out how the house would open to allow access to the rooms!

The brackets on this house took considerable work. I took two pieces of 1/16" cherry wood and temporarily held them together with double-stick tape (available from most office stores). I made a template of the design, which I traced on the pair, and then used my jeweler's saw to cut them out. I then laid the brackets on a third piece of 1/16" cherry wood and traced the exact shape of that bracket (since there is almost always some permutations when cutting pieces like this). Then I cut out two more pieces of wood that were slightly smaller than the rest of the bracket. I then painted the pieces BEFORE I glued them together. (I tried making one bracket, glued it all up and then paint it. OH MY! That was just too hard to do!) This was the only way I was able to keep the white and red paints from being badly applied!

At left and below are how the brackets (and the house) are fastened. Here's the first step in how to "open" the house: remove the bracket on the top right. (I made it removable by using a toothpick as my "doweling" to hold it in place. To get this centered just right, I first drilled a needle-sized hole, then cut a straight pin so that only about 1/16" of it stuck out from the end of the hole. That allowed me to put the bracket in exactly its rightful place, and then press in a little. I then removed the pin, found the hole it made in the wall of the house, and drilled a hole large enough to accommodate the toothpick in both the bracket and in the house.

The next step for getting into the house is to remove the whole belt from the right front side of the house. I made it removable, because if I glued the belt to the top of the plywood base, it scraped the under side of the eaves and the downspouts when I opened the case. It was just easier to make this piece removable.

Next, we remove another bracket, which is also doweled into place with a toothpick.

Then, the steps and railing from the front porch have to slide out of the way. The steps, by the way, are made from Corian (yes, the counter material). A friend who makes pens out of the material turned each of the posts for me.

I can now open the house by moving a very tiny pin closure I inserted behind the clapboard siding. It's just a piece of florist wire that I bent like a paperclip so that one point projects into a hole in the house and the other end sticks out as my handle. I did my best to make it inconspicuous.

I remove the bracket and steps whenever I need to open the middle section of the house. The only thing holding the middle section closed is a brass clasp I fashioned. It is held in place by a single screw and slides over another screw to fasten. The left hand side of the house opens much the same way as the right. Obviously, I don't intend to open the house very often once it's completed!
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