Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hey! Take a Look at Page 56...

I just received my copy of the March/April issue of Dollhouse Miniatures. I'm delighted to report that they included my second article with more information about how to matte miniature photos. It's three whole pages with the step-by-step instructions for how to matte photos using various shapes other than a plain square. I hope you may have access to the magazine.

Just the other evening, I read on one of the miniature store's web sites an essay from the shop owner's hubby. He is adamant that items printed on most computer printers will fade and fade badly, and the degradation will occur rapidly. I think he's overstating the case to promote sale of the shop's wallpapers. (Except for doing up some simple, striped wallpaper, I'd rather use commercially produced miniature wallpaper than try to make my own, anyway!)

So, the reasonable thing to remember is that if you do print out anything from your computer and plan to use it in your miniatures, be sure to spray it with fixativ to help reduce the degradation of the image due to ultraviolet light. And if you can put a museum-quality glass in the front of your room box, that will further help to reduce impact of UV light.

Illustrated above is my great grandmother, Lucy Hainline Bundy. The photo was taken in 1915.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More Tools You Must Have

Ask any woodworker what he or she thinks they could always use more of, and they'll say, "Clamps." Nothing is more frustrating than to be working on a project and to run out of the size or kind of clamp you need!

Regardless of how many power tools you may have, you still need clamps. All of the clamps I show at the left are the ones I most often use; although this is not the extent of my clamp collection. I have LOTS of all of these and in varying sizes. (Clothes pins excepted - I know of only one size for them!)

As humble as they may be, clothes pins make a wonderful mini clamp. I used them just last night to hold down some matte board I was gluing to the framework of a roombox wall. I used both the spring clamp (shown above) and the clothes pins, and realized the clothes pins did a better job. The spring clamps gripped too hard and actually put a dent in the matte board. The clothes pins gave enough pressure to hold the object firmly, but not too firmly to cause any damage to the items being glued.

I also like the adjustable bar clamp shown at the top of the page. I can release the tension of the screws and move the sliding clamp up until it touches the project. Then I tighten that part. Next, I turn the top screw until the gap between the parts closes. Once I see no gap, I stop tightening.

Karin F. asked me to write something about corner clamps. I have one, Karin. Appropriately, it's buried in the corner of my workshop. I should just toss it out, because I never use it. When the miniature club began to work on building our room boxes, I made a corner gluing jig for each club member. I've made a few slight alterations to that concept and at the right, you can see how I took a couple of small pieces of MDF board and glued them up into a precise right angle. I put some screws in from the bottom side to help hold these pieces in place so that they don't break loose from the base. With this kind of set-up, you now have "walls" against which you can clamp your boards, and a base against which you can set a third piece of wood and hold them all together. Depending on how big a project you're doing, something as small as what I have shown here (about 8" x 4") is all the bigger you'd generally need.

I do have a metal gluing jig with very aggressive magnets and precisely bent corners. I have used that on many occasions to glue up square corners. (With miniatures, you just don't need very heavy equipment.) It worked very effectively for me.

I also found another very helpful "gluing jig" which was not intended for that purpose at all! The item I'm referring to is a ruler used for safe matte cutting. It's marked item #2 in my blog about rulers:
http://tallminiguy.blogspot.com/2009/07/measures-for-success.html. This ruler has a vertical bar down the middle of it, that projects upward at a 90 degree angle and stands up about an inch above the ruler body.

I used it tonight to glue up some additional wood onto some crown molding I had purchased. I felt the commercial crown molding was too small - barely over a half-inch tall, meaning my crown molding would be about 6" tall at the most. With a 12' ceiling, a 6" crown molding (in scale) seemed skimpy. So, I clamped this ruler lengthwise on my workbench using a C-clamp to stretch over to the back side of the ruler, leaving the front edge "open" so that I could push against that to glue up my crown molding. It worked like a charm, and now my crown molding is about 10" in depth (in scale). Much better!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More Must Have Hand Tools

The tools at right don't look very impressive, but when I'm working on miniatures, they are a "MUST" have item. When I run out of the emery board fingernail files, I feel lost! I use them all the time for cleaning up edges quick sand jobs and shaping any carving work I've done.

The three needle files at right represent a bevy of metal files that I have and use. (I got a bunch of them in a rummage sale; and rarely use all of them.)You can "get by" with having and using four needle files:
   - a square-shaped file
   - a round shaped file
   - a flat file (with no cutting edges on the sides)
   - and a D-shaped file.
The black "thing" shown is another fingernail file. I use it "sometimes."

The other "tool" you need in this category is a solid clipboard with a nice, flat board, a file folder full of various grades of sandpaper, and a tack rag. The clipboard holds your sandpaper in place, and then you can pull your wood pieces across it to sand. If you have a rubber finger piece that filing clerks sometimes use to push papers, that can help with adding friction to the piece of wood you want to sand. When I sand a flat side of the wood and the other side won't show, I use the tack rag to wipe any dust off that side of the piece. This sometimes makes my fingers slightly tacky,too, which helps with sanding the board. If not, I sometimes lick my fingers and press down on the wood with my damp fingers to push the board back and forth across the sandpaper.  It gives just enough friction that I can move the board across the sandpaper. You don't have to press very hard - just enough to make contact. Let the sanding material do the work.

When I'm sanding edges of a miniature board or lengthwise on a thin edge of a longer piece, I count the number of times I push or pull the wood across the sandpaper. I then flip the board around 180 degrees and sand it again for an equal number of strokes. That way, I don't end up with a trapezoid or badly deformed piece of wood. ;-)

Here are the sandpaper grits I use in my workshop:
100, 120, 150, 180, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1500
If the wood you're working with is already quite smooth, you can probably skip the 100 and 120 grits and start at 150. I usually do between 20 and 40 strokes with each grade of the paper. Recently, I read through a woodworkers' how-to site and they claimed that when finishing wood projects, a craftsman only needs to go to 220 grit. I can definitely feel a difference on my pieces when I don't go to the finest grade of paper. But then, we're talking MINIATURES here and not some rough piece of furniture!

After I've sprayed Deft on my natural wood pieces, and it has dried thoroughly, I usually have some 0000 (that's four zeroes) steel wool on hand that I gently wipe across the piece. Never do the steel wool with much vigor - it can cut right back down to the bare wood and destroy a nicely stained and varnished piece!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Back to the Basics

Norma's comment made  me think about some of you who have NO room for a workshop. Your "workshop" is a desk in the corner of your bedroom or it's the kitchen table. As I tried to say in my response to Norma in my previous blog, it is possible to make some very intricate and beautiful pieces of furniture even if you don't have space for a table saw, lathe or other large tools. If you want to do some great stuff, and want (or have) to keep your workshop tools to a minimum, here is my list of tools I'd put into that box:

 Try Square - Illustrated at the left is a miniature Try Square. I use it a lot. I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to buy a full-size, foot-long try square from the hardware store. The first three tools I purchased for doing any sort of woodworking were a hammer, a saw and a try square. I constantly use my try square for projects large and small. It's great for helping you to square up walls in a dollhouse or room box or for setting and marking an exact depth. (You can see the square on the left is set for about a 3/8" depth on the left side of the square.) The full-size try-square also has a built-in 45 degree angle on it, which also comes in handy .

 Before I bought my miter saw, I used the methodology illustrated at left to cut some of my wood. I would place a 1 x 4 board on my kitchen counter top. Then I would lay my thinner cherry or bass wood on top of that. I next set the the try square on top of both pieces of wood, and pushed the square up against the flat side of both boards so that they were completely flush with the handle of the try square. That way, I had a perfect 90 degree angle set on the board. I then would take a C clamp and clamp the ruler part down onto the wood so that nothing moved. Next, I set my X-acto saw against the ruler blade and cut ever so carefully. I built my Victorian bookcase using this method; so I know it works, and it makes an extremely accurate 90 degree cut. Also, I use this method of cutting where I need both sides of my board to be cut smoothly. Table saws can sometimes break the wood on the downward side of the piece of wood you cut, leaving a somewhat jagged edge. With a fine-tooth X-acto saw blade, and this cutting method, I guarantee you will NOT have a jagged edge!

If budget (and space) allow, I would recommend getting a miter saw like the one on the left. MicroMark lists it at $29.95. It's worth the price. As you can see from the marks in its base, I've cut many pieces of wood and many different angles! FYI... this little saw is hard to hold still and cut. To eliminate that problem, I put it on a board and then put cleats in front, behind, and on the sides to hold it in place. I then C-clamp the board to my work counter (or kitchen counter) so that it doesn't wiggle around as I saw. This is another very valuable tool that I have used a lot.

The other cutting device that I fervently believe in using is my jeweler's saw. I have yet to see a jigsaw that I feel gives me as delicate and accurate a cut as what I can do with a hand-held jeweler's saw. The piece of wood shown in the photo at right is what they call a "bird beak." I clamp this down onto my counter top, and I set the wood I plan to cut near the center of the V notch. The bird beak provides support to both sides of the wood as I cut. Depending on the delicateness of your cut, you may need to make the V even narrow. This tool is available from www.widgetsupply.com for $19.97. They also list a cheaper one for $6.97. I wouldn't buy the cheaper one. Depth of cut is too shallow.

Tomorrow I'll talk about drills and files. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My New Lathe

  Since I showed you the turnings I made on my new lathe, I thought you might want to see the new lathe. It's about four times larger than my little Dremel lathe, and far more sophisticated with its variable speed control. When I turn it on, I barely can hear it running. It's a lovely machine, and I think I will have some good times ahead working with it. I also purchased a duplicator to use on it. So, when it comes time to creating multiple table legs or spindles for a staircase, I'll be ready to spin! My thanks to Karin Corbin (http://karincorbin.blogspot.com/) for her recommendation of this lathe.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Paper It Looked Easy!

The shop drawings I created made it look so easy! Using art from my Victorian scale cabinetmaker book and some of my own ideas, I sketched up the design for this walnut project. I still think it's do-able. It just may take more thinking and manipulating than I had expected. But that's what makes a project fun and exciting. It's also one of those items that when it's done, people will look at it and say, "How did you do that?" Well, at least I HOPE that's what they say. At the left are the spindles I made on my new lathe. The one on the left was the first item I made on this lathe. I felt I could do better. So I tried again. I like #2 a lot better, and it's a little truer to my original drawing. Both of these spindles are a little less than 2" tall. I'll share some more about this project with you soon. I promise!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Safe Table Saw Cutting

I saw a table saw recently that I would love to have. Unfortunately, they don't make it in a miniature size or price.  The full-size version would take up nearly half of the floor space in my tiny little workshop, and the price is prohibitive for my hobby purposes - about $3,000. 

I like the saw because it's so safe to use. Within milliseconds of its saw blade touching human skin, an electronic sensor slams on a brake and flings the saw blade down into the case of the saw. At best, someone using that system would end up with a mild nick on their finger, although when demonstrated with a hot-dog, the saw didn't even puncture its casing!

Since it's unlikely that anyone will ever build such a table saw for miniaturists, we need to be as careful as possible in using the smaller, table-top saws. I can assure you that if you're using a table top saw and you run your finger into the blade, you may need a doctor's assistance to stitch up the injured finger. These small saws might look tiny and innocent, but they can and will cut fingers!

So, now that I've given you my safety lecture... here's a safety tip! If you are using the miter attachment to your saw and you want to cross-cut multiple pieces of wood the exact same length, you should NOT set your saw fence to the width you want to cut the wood. Woodworking experts say that having three of the four edges of your board touching barriers (the blade, the miter and the fence), the wood can jam and cause the saw to kick the wood back at you.

The solution is to set a piece of wood between the fence and the wood you wish to cut. As shown in the picture above, you can set the spacer so that it is flush against the fence. Next, move the fence until your sample blank touches the saw blade. (You can see a sample blank in the above picture - just above my thumb.) Lock the fence in place and remove the sample length of wood. Now you're ready to saw.

Place the wood you plan to cut against the miter and then slide it over until it touches the piece of spacer wood. That will be your "fixed" length. Hold the wood firmly against the miter, and then remove the spacer. You can then easily saw the board without it getting jammed between the blade and the fence. (See photo at left, and notice how the board I'm cutting doesn't touch the fence.)

Happy (and safe) cutting to you!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

It's Curtains! Part Deux

I think I can comfortably say that the curtains in the master bedroom are now "done."

The drapery set in the middle was a bit of a challenge, because the other two drapes projected outward into the space where the middle one hangs. Had I made the middle one the same size and shape as the two on the sides, the corners where they meet would have fought each other, and thus NONE of the drapes would fit.

I ended up using my protractor, computer scanner, and some PowerPoint software to create a revised template for the middle piece. The top of the middle piece is not a long rectangle like the other two. Instead, it is a trapezoid. Figuring out all the angles was a bit of a challenge. Then, too, I had to make the pleats narrower than the ones on the sides. All told, it was a bit of a designing challenge. But everything has worked out for the best. Now I only have to install the baseboards in the room, and add a variety of homey touches to make it feel more like a real room, and the master bedroom will be done! Yeah!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Curtains, I Tell Ya!

I think I watched one too many gangster movies when I was a boy. One of the lines gangsters (and a few police detectives) used in those old time shows was, "It's curtains for you, kid!" The implication was that the individual's time on this earth was nearly coming to an end.

Well, as I begin to finish off the rooms with curtains, it also means I'm nearing the end of this dollhouse project. So, thus explains the above headline.

Here is a picture of the curtains in progress for the parlor in Sara's dollhouse. For those of you who are familiar with that project, it's a Victorian house with a two-story bay window on the left side of the house. The angles of the two corners of the bay are approximately 60 degrees.

Above the windows in this room is crown molding that comes down almost to the tops of the window trim. I considered for a while whether or not I should "hang" my drapes from curtain rods in this tight space. I decided that doing so would not gain me much of anything. So, I cut out a piece of half-inch plywood. (You can see it on the top, right-hand side of the photo.) The plywood projects out about 3/8" from the wall - about the same distance that the drapes would have been held away from the wall had I used a curtain rod to hold them. To secure the drapes to the wood, I used an aggressive fabric glue (FABRI-TAC), which dries very quickly. It's also acid free, which is important to me. (I want my creations to last for a generation or two yet to come.)

I found a one-inch wide ribbon that I think makes an attractive valance for the top. On my computer screen this valance comes off looking more green than gold. In real life, it appears more gold than green. Who knows what it looks like on YOUR computer monitor!

In the photo at left, you can barely see a little bit of the pleating device I used to make my curtains. It was built by Anker Rasmussen back in the 70's and is solid brass. I like using it, because after I push the cloth down into the gap between the brass pipes, I can inserts pins into a styrofoam backing to hold it in place. I can then spray the curtains with fabric stiffener to "lock in" the pleats.

Once I had the pleats, then I took grosgraine ribbon and trimmed off one edge and pulled the long threads from the ribbon to create a delicate fringe. I next glued that fringe in place along the bottom of the curtain. 

I added tiebacks after I had formed the pleats and I had removed the fabric from the metal frame. I used another kind of ribbon to create the tiebacks for the curtains on the sides. (It's a delicate, diaphanous ribbon.) I pinned the curtains to the styrofoam block and then gently worked the curtains back to a point where I liked the shape and then glued the tieback into place. Next, I glued the curtains to the plywood form mentioned (and shown) above.
Below is a photo of the drapes trial-placed in the parlor. I haven't put them in permanently yet, because there's still some work I need to do with the drape on the right. It's not hanging quite right, and I'm going to have to do some work on it. So, it's still not quite curtains for this dollhouse project, but we're getting to the point where I think I can see the end not too far down the road!

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