Friday, February 22, 2013

Measure Twice; Cut Once

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

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Making Bricks for the Front Porch

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

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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Down to Details

Getting the details just right in a miniature project is important if you want the final product to look "real." 

      In this case, I had to use a little geometry (Yeck! I did not like that subject in school!) to get the lintel just right. (The lintel is the board that spans across the front on top of the porch pillars.)

     You see, the roof angle on the porch project is far less than a 45 degree angle. In geometry class I think they called that an acute angle.  So I had to figure out a way to get the lintel cut to be compatible with this very narrow angle.
     Because my table saw blade cannot be tipped beyond a 45 degree angle, I had to figure out a way to solidly support a tall, narrow piece of wood to go through the table saw without putting my fingers at risk of getting

cut by the blade. I also had to make sure that the piece I was cutting would come to a sharp point along the entire 1.5" width. I was able to do that with the setup at right. Because I only had to make two cuts like this, I didn't bother to make a cutting jig. (If I had a lot of pieces to cut, I probably would make a jig.)

     First, I set my table saw blade so that it was at about a 73 degree angle. That's where the geometry came in. The angle of the roof is about 17 degrees. To get to that, I had to deduct that number from 90 degrees to get to my angled cut. I took a square chunk of 3/4" plywood and then used a clamp to hold a thinner piece of plywood at a right angle to the 3/4" plywood.

Next, I set my table saw fence so that the plywood was touching the side of the saw blade. That meant that anything held against the plywood would be cut down to the acute angle  without any flat portion on the end, which was exactly what I needed.
      I held my small, right-angle square against the plywood to make sure that it stayed upright at precisely a right angle. The picture to the right shows the finished cut of the lintel. I got it right with the very first cut, which meant I didn't waste any wood on this part of the project. (And believe me, I've wasted plenty of wood in my miniature-making!) I was pleased with how the lintel turned out.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting Closer!

We are truly making progress with our front porch projects. The pillars in the front now connect to the roof. The windows and the front door are glued in place . The porch floor is laid. The steps are in, though they need several more coats of paint! Now I'm working on the siding.

If I were doing this like many dollhouse builders, I would have glued the siding in place and then glued the windows and corner boards OVER the siding. I'm not doing that.

In looking at old houses, it appears that the windows don't stick out that much from the siding; so I'm doing my best to be authentic. That's a pain when you get to the spots where the window sill projects out 1/16" from the left and right sides of the window. I then have to cut out my siding to fit around that little projection precisely.

You perfectionists with a discerning eye might notice on the window on the right, the siding is only about 2" (scale) in width below the window; so I have LOTS of fun trying to cut THAT out. I also discovered at this point that somehow I glued in the right window between 1/64 and 1/32 of and inch higher than the left window in each pair of windows. That plays havoc when you want the siding to run evenly across the bottom below both windows. Yikes!

Our club members are beginning to talk about their color schemes for their houses. It's always fun to see how other club members personalize these projects with their choice of colors and decore. We all start with the same idea/framework and then take it from there.

I'm hoping to get the rest of the siding done by next week. Then it's on to doing the front porch swing. Then the shingles on the triangle above the porch. Then the roof. Then more shingles on the roof. Then the porch railings and the slats under the front porch, followed by some flowers or maybe I'll be lazy and just create some ferns to go there! And last, but not least, the Welcome sign to go across the base.

After that, I can begin to decorate for various seasons, which makes me realize I need to make the flowers/ferns removeable so that I can pile some snow in front of the house for winter time, some pumpkins and leaves in the fall, and tulips or daffodils for the spring.
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