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.
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