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!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Challenges of Building a Front-Opening Dollhouse

Here is Sara's dollhouse nearing completion. I still have a punch list of "things to do" to complete it, but it's really quite presentable now and becoming more so on a nearly daily basis.

I designed this house using a variety of reference photographs I have taken of Victorian homes. I thought Victorian houses were ugly when I was a boy, but a contest in Sioux City, Iowa put on by the city's history museum gave me a new appreciation for Victorian tower houses. (The museum had over 20 paintings all done by a former Sioux City woman. Each painting featured a different Victorian house in the city. The contest challenged people to find all of the houses that were scattered all across the city. We found all but one of them!) Today, at least half of those houses are gone; so I'm very glad we took the time to see them and appreciate them.

I designed this house with the intention of offering the viewer enough architectural details to give them a real sense of the house's architecture. However, I also wanted the viewer to enjoy seeing the rooms with all of their details. Since I chose to maintain the integrity of the roof because of its architectural interest, that made making the third floor rooms more open impossible. In some ways I regret that, but I also like the unity of the roof line the way it is.

I didn't make any cutouts on the sides, so the viewer can see the bay window on the dining room side and the detail on the left-hand side of the house. I especially wanted to have the front door and stained glass window with its tiny balcony in plain view for the visitor. The brackets near the roof line also were a must to convey the fussiness of this painted lady Victorian.

All of those details made the front opening of this house quite a challenge! I'll share more details with you in my next blog about what all I did to make the house so it can be opened. I have to remove or shift several little pieces before I can open any one of the three different doors on the front.

Please do click on the photograph so you can see the house close-up!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Working with Greenleaf Kits

Greenleaf puts out affordable dollhouse kits with attractive designs. This is Alicia's dollhouse. When she wanted me to build her a dollhouse, I started to think about designing one based on some of the Victorian tower houses we had enjoyed seeing in Sioux City.

Alicia felt it might take too long if I designed my own and built it. (She wanted it done quickly.) In retrospect, she may have been right, considering that it took me over four years to build Pam's dollhouse, and I've been "working" on Sara's house now for about 14 years!

So, Alicia lobbied her daddy to go with a kit. She liked the Greenleaf McKinley, and she begged me to buy it and complete it. I gave up my dream of doing my own design and used the McKinley.

It turned out okay, but I wasn't crazy about working with the kit. I don't like the thin walls, which made it difficult to create realistic doorways between rooms, and I really disliked the porous, grainy plywood the kits are made of. I also didn't like the windows that came with it, and I found that due to the tall, narrow design of the windows, I was unable to substitute better quality ones from Houseworks, which I would have preferred to have used. All that said, Greenlieaf makes attractive houses, and this one turned out pretty nicely in spite of its drawbacks.

I made a few mistakes along the way in building it. I chose a roofing material that went on quickly, since it came in long rolls and was easy to glue on, but in retrospect, I feel it was too thick. The copper tower roof was a bear to do. I spent many hours measuring, cutting, and bending the copper foil to make it fit just right. It was also difficult to find a glue that worked well in holding it onto the roof. Last, but not least, I sliced my fingers several times working on it.

The biggest mistake I made, and it's a design flaw of this dollhouse, was not enclosing it so that the rooms don't get dusty. The house has become terribly dusty, and it needs to have some sort of plexiglas cover or doors on the front to eliminate or reduce the amount of dust settling in the rooms.

All in all, I have to say this was a girl's play dollhouse - not a Thorne Room replica. Alicia thoroughly enjoyed her play with it - decorating it and redecorating it for various seasons. To this day, when she's home, she comes in and makes seasonal changes. So, though it's not a museum piece, it's definitely a well-loved dollhouse.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Making Your Own Shingles

After seeing some real, miniature slate shingles at a dollhouse store in Denver, Colorado years ago, I set about saving my pocket change so that I could buy enough to do Sara's dollhouse. As time went on, I realized, there was no way I was going to get that money saved up any time soon since it was going to cost in the hundreds of dollars to do all the roof of this house!

If you read Dollhouse Miniatures magazine regularly, you may have seen the article I wrote about how I substituted real slate with wooden, faux slate shingles. The various gradations of color you see in the slate in this picture is real. After making these delicate little shingles, I sealed them with alcohol-based B-I-N undercoating. Next, I mixed red and green paint using colors as close to the colors of the house as I could get. I scumbled that paint onto the shingles. I was very sloppy in doing this - on purpose. It made the shingles somewhat wavy and revealed "layers" in some places, which made it look all the more real. Next, I took the red and green paint and mixed it together, added some lamp black to it, and thinned the paint just a little. I then painted over the shingles with that. The result? These lovely, various-hued shingles.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Creating with the Computer

Here's the bathroom for Sara's dollhouse. I haven't mounted the mirror over the sink yet. I wanted you to see the floor, which I created using PowerPoint.

I created this small, black and white tile pattern using PowerPoint software. It took a while, but it was less time-consuming than trying to create little tiles and place them piece by piece.

Once I got the pattern laid out the way I wanted, I printed it out on photo (glossy) paper to give it maximum gloss. After that, I sprayed it with several coats of glossy workable fixative to further give it a shine and to protect the ink from ultraviolet light.

The last part was the hardest - I had to piece together the floor, since the space was larger than the 7.5 x 10" image I got from the PowerPoint slide. If you study the picture very carefully, you might see where the two pieces connect.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wonderful Clock Face

I was saddened a few years ago when I read that Suzanne Russo had quit her business, which was a specialty supply business offering various brasses, including escutcheon plates and clock faces. Fortunately, I had purchased this clock face, the clock hands and the brass finial on the top from her before she closed.

This clock hangs on the wall of the Scrooge room box. To be honest, as I look at this, I'm not exactly sure HOW I succeeded in making the half-round, mitered top to this clock! The carvings, of course, were created mostly through the use of my jeweler's saw. I also had some pieces of brass, which I cut out and polished extensively to create the pendulum.

The whole clock face and pendulum are covered over by a very thin piece of glass - about the thickness of a microscope slide cover. I bought the glass from a dealer at a miniature show years ago, and have never seen any more like it again nor have I seen the dealer! And, again, I honestly don't remember how I succeeded in cutting that rounded glass without shattering the whole sheet! Just lucky, I guess!

If you're wondering, yes, there's a "tag" hanging from the top of the clock. Throughout the Scrooge room, I have various items of value with the names of people who owed money to Scrooge and he's "holding" their items until the come forth with the money. This clock belonged to Owen Moore at 101 Queens St in London. He owes Scrooge 35 pounds. ;o)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cabriole Leg Example in My Dollhouse

The bed stand at the left is one of my scratch- built pieces of furniture. It's solid cherry wood, and I used the same methodology for producing the cabriole legs as what I illustrated in my previous blog.

Once I cut out the wood, I used a rounded head on my Dremel motor tool to carve out the indented areas toward the top of each leg.

In reality, they're not terribly hard to make. The most "work" involved with them is finishing them off once you've cut them out of the block of wood, since that involves quite a bit of sanding time.
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