Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tools for Making Holes

As a miniaturist, you will often have a need to put a hole into something - a board, a wall, furniture, or a piece of matte board - there are thousands of reasons for needing to add holes. There are many ways of getting those holes punched, too. I have a leather punch and a paper punch, but I rarely use them for my miniature making. The ones you see above, plus one low tech and one high speed tool, are the hole-makers of my hobby.

Sometimes, the simplest tool for making a tiny hole is a push pin or a T-pin. You can usually puncture a piece of matte board or make a starter hole for where you want to drill with either of these "tools." They're also less painful to work with than plain straight pins, which can make your fingers sore if you press hard on their ends.

Of course, having a cordless electric drill is almost mandatory for any home owner. It's also a valuable tool for miniaturists who want to build dollhouses or room boxes. I use screws to assemble my room boxes. I think the screws hold the wood together better than nails, and there's less likelihood of my nailing crookedly and breaking part of the wood out from the side of the box. You can use even delicate, 1/16" drill bits in a cordless drill. Once you begin to get much smaller than that, it's time to move on to the pin vises. The tinier the drill bit gets, the easier it is to break. The sheer weight of the cordless drill and the leverage that it can easily apply to a bit is just too much for a tiny, 1/32" drill!

I show four pin vises in the above picture. The two on the left are swivel top drills. The two on the right are "fixed" tops. The prettiest one is probably the one with the wooden handle. It's also the least handy for me. Here's why. The swivel top allows you to apply downward pressure on your drill bit by pressing on the top of the drill. Since the drill swivels, you can hold it in place on the swivel and turn the drill with your other hand. Or, you can hold the swivel portion of the drill by your pinky finger and still turn the drill with your index finger and thumb. You have considerably more control over the work when you do this. The fixed top drills are, well, awkward. I suppose one can argue that the wooden handled drill above gives greater leverage than the other smaller drills, but the key to using a drill is to let the drill bit do the work for you - not your hand pressure!

By the way, the plastic egg-looking item in the top, right-hand corner of the big picture is a set of miniature drill bits that I purchased years ago. I've broken or lost at least half of them. When you get down to micro-sized drill bits, they are delicate. If you get them a little ways into the wood and then carelessly allow the drill to move at a slight angle instead of straight on at the hole you're drilling, well, you probably will have added a snapped off piece of drill-bit to your project!

I really like the longer swivel-top pin vise above (and at left), because it comes with four different collets built into the shaft. For those of you who have not used a pin vise, the collet is a piece of metal with a hole in the center and slits on the sides. It expands slightly to allow you to push a drill bit down into the hole. Once you screw the top of the drill back over the collet, this tightens the collet snugly around the drill bit. Dremel tools and pin vises both use collets. You can see the extra collet in the back half of the drill at left. The collet you see has two different hole diameters to accommodate different bit sizes. I can turn remove this collet and replace it in the drill end of the pin vise to hold the drills.

The "low tech" tool I referred to at the beginning of this article is pretty rudimentary, but it works well for cutting holes! It's the X-acto or hobby knife! You can press the sharp point against a piece of wood or matte board and with a few turns of the blade, you have cut a conically shaped hole into the piece. And sometimes that is exactly what you need or want!
The one rule to remember with the Xacto knife is that it is extremely efficient at cutting. It can make a hole in you as fast or faster than it does in the wood or paper! Dropped from a workbench onto your foot, you can impale yourself. Always make sure you set it down on a flat surface away from the edge of the table and beyond where you might bump it with your hands while working on a project. Better yet, when you're done using it. Put it back in your tool box!

I can't finish this blog posting without noting the high speed tool that I use regularly in my miniature making. My Dremel tool is a constant companion at my workbench. It drills, it grinds, and it shapes. Wow! What a great tool!

So, there you have it - a variety of tools that can accomplish one simple task - making holes in your miniature things!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making Your Own Baseboards

The walls in my barbershop room box were just too tall, leaving the edge of the wallpaper exposed at the bottom. I had to decide on adding some wainscoting or to make my baseboard a little taller than the commercially manufactured baseboard that I have. So, decided to make my own baseboard. I also made some of my own baseboards for Sara's dollhouse using this same method. I'm going to show (and describe) what I did to make this baseboard molding.

Let's start with the finished product (below). Please note the picture is missing one final detail that will be part of the baseboard - quarter round wood at the bottom of the baseboard. I will glue that in place when the room box is fully assembled and I'm ready to glue the wall permanently into the box. The baseboard I made is approximately one inch tall - taller than the baseboard you would normally buy at a miniature store. It's made from 3/32" basswood.

Safety reminder: If you want to do anything like this, please always remember to wear safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes!

Here's what I did to make it:
  1. I cut the 3/32" basswood into the 1" wide strips. Then I sanded the edge I ripped with my table saw.
  2. Next, I set up my Dremel tool in the router base (see photo at right). You may also notice the plastic protector at the very top of my router. When I'm routing pieces like this, I flip this out of my way.
  3. See the photo below for the round-over router bit I used. The bit barely peeks out from the edge of the fence so that it cuts a curve into the top of my board. I also allow the bottom edge of the blade to protrude about 1/32 to 3/64" above the router table. This can add another tiny line at the top of the rounded over piece of wood. The photo below is an extreme close-up showing you the Dremel bit I use for this process.
  4. Once the fence and cutting bit are both set for the correct depth of cut, I'm then ready to begin to route the wood.
  5. I usually find a piece of scrap wood at this point that is several inches long and not quite as tall as the piece of wood I'm cutting. I use the scrap wood to hold my piece of basswood against the fence of the router, and I use either my finger or another piece of scrap wood to hold the basswood down so that it touches (and remains firmly touching) the route table surface. (See photo below, which is an overhead view of how I hold the pieces of wood against the router table fence.) Once I have this "jig" in place, I begin feeding the basswood strip through the router. I don't hurry it. If the sound of the router begins to change significantly, I know I'm pushing too fast, and I slow it down.
  6. Sometimes I will start with the fence set a little closer to the router bit so that the first pass through the Dremel router is a "rough" cut. I then move the fence back a tiny amount, exposing a hair more of the bit and run all of my pieces through the router again for the finish cut. Whether I move the fence or not, I always run my "boards" through the router a second time to smooth the cut and clean up any rough spots that might still be on the board.
  7. For some reason, I often get an uneven cut on the first or last half inch of this piece I'm routing. So, if you're following this tutorial to make your own molding or baseboard, always be prepared for some wastage. I usually route at least one if not two extra pieces just to make sure I have plenty of stock to work with. (Nothing is more frustrating than coming up inches short and then having to start all over to recreate another piece of the same stock!)
  8. Moldings and trim boards are all about lines and shadows. I created a line in my baseboard just below the curved portion of the board by cutting a 1/32" depth table saw cut. I used my thinnest saw blade that I currently have for my table saw to cut this line. This blind cut adds to the overall shape and personality of the baseboard piece. It has no other serious value or purpose. However, if you wish, you can always flip your baseboard over and reverse the wood 180 degrees to put a groove into the back of your baseboard for a wiring run. Some commercially manufactured baseboards have a gap cut specifically to hide the tiny electrical wires. See photo below for the approximate set-up of the table saw.
  9. I always sand the cut that I put into the side of the baseboard to slightly round the edges of the cut. (An emery board held at an angle and sanded very gently on both of the sharp edges of the cut works well for this.) 
  10. Next, stain or paint your baseboard, and you're ready for installation!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Did It Work?

I just logged into my blog today and tried to show the video I did about making Cabriole legs to one of my co-workers. (
To my surprise, it would not play on the computer we used,. I noticed that there were no comments about that post, which got me to wondering if it didn't work for other folks who tried to view it. So, my question to you, dear readers, is this: did it work for you? If not, please post a comment to let me know so that I can figure out what I need to do next time I decide to post a video to this blog. Thanks!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mark That Board

As I furiously cut and sanded pieces of wood for the front window of the barbershop room box today, I began to realize that I could easily confuse myself with where the pieces would go.

Whenever I'm working on a project where it's critical that I know exactly where each piece needs to go, but need to stain or paint those pieces before I put things together, I take a pencil and mark the pieces on the back side or in places where I'll eventually glue things together. No one will thus ever see these notes to myself, and this way, I stay organized. I also sometimes will take a few minutes to write a step-by-step process for myself so that I don't forget to do something and then regret it later. (I've made that mistake before - I'll glue something together only to realize I needed to add some other component first.) Having a simple step-by-step to refer to saves those moments of blue language and frustrating times of tearing out finished work.

By the way, I almost always trial fit my wooden pieces when I'm assembling things. Sometimes, it's hard to hold the multiple pieces together with my fingers and/or even with clamps. That's when I use a minute amount of positioning wax - the stuff you put under things such as vases and flower arrangement to keep them from tipping over in your dollhouse. As long as I use a tiny amount, it doesn't affects the ability of the boards to eventually hold together when I use glue on them. Happy modeling!
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