Monday, March 30, 2009

Tools I Use to Cut Miters for My Miniatures

There are a number of good ways to cut miters. I use three different tools to cut mine. Each has its advantages.

The first, and simplest way to cut them is to use a miter shear called the Miter Master available from Micro-Mark. This scissors-like shear is extremely sharp and cuts a very precise 45 degree angle in moldings.

Micro-Mark says this tool can cut wood up to 1/2 inch thick by 1-1/2 inches wide. I would never try to cut anything that thick with this shear, but cutting a flat piece of molding? It's awesome!

The next tool I have used extensively in dollhouse miniature making is a miter hand saw. I use the Dobson Miter-Rite from Micro-Mark. With its well-designed, two-screw locking system, you can secure the saw very precisely to the angle you need to cut your wood.

The 45 degree angle marked on the plastic arc on the top is "fairly" accurate, but if you're a perfectionist, don't trust it. You'll want to use a plastic 45 degree angle ruler to set the saw accurately. The stable sleeve that holds the saw blade ensures you will make a virtually straight vertical cut in whatever piece you're mitering.

Finally, my tool of choice for cutting thicker pieces (such as the dentil molding around the ceiling in yesterday's blog), is my modeler's table saw (also purchased from Micro-Mark). It can cut up to an inch thick piece of wood. Again, to get a precise 45 degree angle quickly, use a plastic triangle between the miter gauge and the saw blade to get your angle. (Be sure the saw is turned off before doing this, however!)

Since my workshop is so small, I have my dollhouse on display in my living room, but my workshop is downstairs. So, I frequently get a workout running up and down the stairs to cut wood on my table saw. That's why I've become more comfortable using the Miter Master shear - it's so easy to measure, cut and glue molding - especially window trim. If we had small children in our house, though, I would be very careful in where I left this tool. I shudder to think about how badly a child could get cut on it. (Of course, they could get hurt with my table saw, too, but I can lock my workshop when I'm not in it.)

My thanks to Micro-Mark for permission to use their photographs in today's blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Finishing a Ceiling

I thought I'd share briefly about finishing ceilings. This is the dining room of my latest house. I used a combination of things to do it. The ceiling itself is acid-free matte board. (I use acid free materials whenever I can in my work, since I want my grandchildren and maybe even great grandchildren to be able to enjoy my miniatures long after I'm gone.)

With wooden dollhouses, I think matte board is really the easiest way to finish off ceilings. A small piece of molding around the edge helps to hide any imperfections as well as to help hold the matte board in place.

Even though I thought my walls were perfectly straight and all corners were 90 degrees, I checked to make sure using a right angle square. If any corner was not precisely 90 degrees, I would have had to adjust the angle of my miter cuts for that corner. In cases where my ceiling has a cut-out or extends into a smaller nook area, I create a paper model of the ceiling before I ever cut out the matte board. (Saves making mistakes in cutting.) Be SURE you mark which side is up so that when you place the model onto your matte board to draw lines, you have the proper side selected!

I purchased the sconce above the chandelier as well as the ogee and dentil moldings around the edges of the ceiling. (I've tried making my own dentil molding. It's a pain.) However, I did make the octagonal molding that floats around the chandelier sconce. To do that, I cut out straight pieces of wood approximately 1/4" wide and then I used a compass to draw quarter inch wide arcs on the same kind of wood as the straight pieces were cut from. I then cut out the arcs with my table jigsaw.

Next, I used my Dremel tool and one of the Dremel router bits to create the indented and rounded effects of this piece. I routed both edges of each piece. I then used an emery board to smooth out the top of the rounded "bead" to remove any imperfections.

Next, I set my table saw miter gauge at 22.5 degrees. I cut the straight pieces in appropriate lengths so that I had two sets of equal length straight pieces. Then I cut out an arc that filled in the remaining portion of the inner curve of the routed pieces and created a right angle. Holding the curved piece against the arc, I was then able to cut the 22.5 degree angles into the curved sections. The last step of creating this molding was to carefully measure where I wanted the molding to go on the ceiling.

I should mention that I worked on the ceiling outside of the dollhouse. I cut the matte board slightly narrower (about 1/16th inch) than the length and width of the room, so it would go in easily. I then centered the sconce in the middle and glued it into place. With the ceiling flat on the workbench in front of me it was fairly easy to measure and piece together the molding pieces described above. Next I glued the matte board into place. I used a few pieces of thin wood that were about 1/16" taller than the floor to matte board ceiling. I bent these and set them in various spots around the room to help hold the matte board in place while the glue set and dried. (I used at least six boards to hold up the ceiling.) Once the ceiling was firmly in place, I glued in the ogee/dentil moldings.

By the way, I use a capenter's ruler to get precise inside dimensions for the molding. I find it a very helpful tool. Most any hardware that sells tools also sells these rulers. They are eight inches long when folded up. The segments can be twisted 180 degrees to extend out, making the full length of the ruler six feet long when fully extended. Inset into the last piece of the ruler is a sliding brass rule that can be extended. You can insert the folded up ruler into a room, push out the brass extension and get a precise reading of how wide your room is.

It's crucial to get precise measures of the room so that you can cut your molding exactly. If your measurements are too wide, the molding won't fit in the room. If it's too narrow, you'll have ugly gaps in the corner(s) or molding that doesn't go all the way to the wall.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thank You, Friends!

I have received three blog awards from you, my friendly readers. Thanks to De at De~lightful Minis (twice!) and to MiniMaker at Creating Dollhouse Miniatures for both of you thinking enough of my blog to recognize it.

I'd love to pass along the award, but I'm so green in the blogging arena, I haven't spent enough time snooping around to find a lot of blogs.

I must say, most of the sites I have found have been delightful, and I'm fascinated with what I find. As with all things, though, time is our greatest enemy. I have a full time job and enjoy a full time hobby; if I spend much time on the computer, I'm actually cheating myself on workshop time, and there's still so much to do! I'm working on a fancy, dressed Victorian bed right now, which I'll share with you one of these days soon.

So, to my fellow bloggers and new-found friends, thank you again!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hand Laid Floors Add Beauty to a Room

These photos illustrate two floors I hand laid for my latest dollhouse. For the floor on the left, I used my table saw to cut three different kinds of wood into small pieces. I used stops on the table top so that each piece would be exactly the same length.

I then took a piece of acid free drawing paper and drew out a grid pattern on it. The lines helped me keep everything in alignment. I dabbed some Weldbond Glue on the bottom of each piece of wood and when I set it down on the paper, I slid it around in a circle in the general area where it would go to even out the glue underneath the piece of wood. Then I pushed it into place and held it momentarily until the glue began to set. I found that I got a more precise pattern if I pushed fairly hard to hold the piece in place. If any extra glue emerged around the sides onto the paper, I immediately scraped it off with a wooden toothpick. If it oozed out from between the pieces of wood, I used a damp tissue to wipe away the excess.

By the way, if you know someone who is diabetic and uses syringes, I've found they are terrific for applying glue - especially if the needles are cut down in length. (If you have small children anywhere around, though, I don't recommend this method.) You can remove the plunger, squeeze a modest amount of glue into the syringe and reinsert the plunger. Don't plan on reusing the syringe. I normally can't reload and do multiple loads of glue in a syringe. The syringe allowed me to squeeze much more precise amounts of glue onto each piece of flooring so that I had far less excess glue to clean up.

Although I had to pay some attention to what I was doing, the process was one that I could do while watching TV. It took me about a week to complete each of these floors. Once they were all glued up, I then took my orbital sander and smoothed them down using some of the finer grades of paper. I finished them using clear stain to bring out the natural colors of the wood, and then I coated them with several coats of Deft varnish. I rubbed the varnish out with some 0000 steel wool and then coated the floors with wood wax. I then buffed down the waxed floor.

By the way, before I began each flooring project, I made a precise model of the room that I intended to floor. I trimmed about 1/16" of wood away from each edge, since I knew I would be adding wooden wainscoting and trim with miniature quarter-round, which would hide all edges of the floor. By cutting it a little shy of full width, it was easier to set the floor down into the room. You can use glue to hold the floor in place or if you think you might have to someday remove the floor to fix some wiring, you can always use double-sided carpet tape to hold it in place. I recommend gluing it down, though; especially if you live in a humid climate.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My First Project

This was the first room box I ever created from scratch. My wife was a fourth grade teacher at the time, and my parents had given her a McGuffey's Eclectic Fourth Reader.

I decided to build a shadow box that held the reader in the top half of the box and created this old fashioned classroom for the lower half of the box.

At the grade school where I attended so many years ago, the walls were all painted with an industrial green paint, similar to what's here. And, yes, I sat in desks fastened in rows to 1 x 4 boards, just like these are in this tiny classroom. We even used the Big Chief tablets for writing in when I was a kid - just like this one I found at a miniature store.

Other than the tablet and the books on the desk, I made everything in the room as well as the cabinet that this is in. If you study the chair in detail, you'll notice that the three spindles in the middle are a bit mismatched. I didn't do that on purpose. It just happened.

I made all of the spindles for the chair using toothpicks for the wood. I "turned" the wood with needle files. Since I didn't have a lathe at that time, I would hold a needle file against the toothpick using my thumb to apply pressure and turned the toothpick around and around with my other hand until I got the approximate "turning" that I wanted. I used the triangular shaped needle files to create sharp lines and the round needle file or the half-round needle file to create more rounded grooves. Depending on where I placed the needle file helped determine how wide the gouge would be. I would then finish the turning with pieces of fine grit sandpaper.

The pencils in the pencil cup were two more toothpicks that I made ever so tiny using the same turning method and an emery board. The apple on the teacher's desk was a wooden bead.

If you look really closely, you'll notice another error I made in building the room. I didn't realize that the wood of my wainscoting would shrink over time. (I made this nearly 30 years ago.) Since it did shrink, there are gaps exposed between the pieces of wood I used for the wainscoting. I wish I had taken a dark felt pen and had colored the wall with a stripe about 1/8" wide behind the area where the wood came together. The shrinkage would have been far less visible as a result.

The truth is, I think most of our best learning occurs from our mistakes, and I made some with this project.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Looking Into The Shop Window

I received a nice note from Brenda that concluded, "I would never dream of having the ability to do what you do..." That makes me feel a little sad when I hear that, because so many folks have the ability, if they have the right tools and/or the right resources. I've just been incredibly lucky in that regard.

Please know this: I got a D in wood shop in the 7th grade! Of course, I wouldn't mind showing that shop teacher a few of my pieces today...

A lot of the stuff I do requires patience, occasionally a steady hand, and a willingness to give new things a try. I'm hopeful that through this blog I can inspire others to try some new things in mini-making. There are always new skills and new approaches to learn. Sometimes the items I work on turn out wonderfully. Other times, well, let's just say the old shop teacher would have smiled and said, "See? I told you so!"

I often talk to myself when I'm working - sometimes out loud and frequently within my head. I coach myself as I go with statements such as: "Careful! Slow down. Steady.... Did you measure that right? Check it again! Looking good. Yes! That's the way to do it." I try to tune out the voice that says, "I could never do that..." Instead, I more often think, "I'd like to try that sometime..." It certainly leaves me with endless projects to do!

All of this said, please understand how much I appreciate your kind comments for this blog. Thank you, Brenda, and thank you also to the many others of you who have left such kind comments!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Uses for Jeweler's Saws

The sign "GOGANY" and the panels just below the roof line were all cut out using a jeweler's saw. The shop was a miniature club project. We were given the basic box with a front window and sidewalk and room for a front door. What we did with it from there was up to the individuals.

GOGANY stands for George's Oddities, Gimcracks, Antiques and Nicknacks of Yesteryear. In other words, a store full of odds and ends - a great way for me to include "stuff" I've collected or received over the years; although, it hardly made a dent in that collection! The rocking horse in the foreground was my Christmas gift to club members one year. I made a couple extras so that my children would also have one. For the life of me, I don't recall who made the doll. We bought her at a miniature show, and she's a gem!

You may notice that the letters for GOGANY may appear to be rounded on the edges. They are. Once I cut them out with the jeweler's saw, I used one other tool that I most frequently rely on with miniatures - an emery board. I use these tools to sand off any rough edges, smooth any bad cuts and in this case to finish off the letters making them nice and round! I sometimes cut the boards in half lengthwise (or even narrower) as needed to get inside tight areas for sanding purposes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Another Example...

Here's another example of a multi-layered piece. Again, I used cherry wood (my favorite for carving and furniture making). This piece was very challenging, due to the various angles, shapes and pieces of wood involved. The bonnet in the center posed some particularly difficult problems in how to piece together the top horizontal pieces of wood, which were routed, to the hand-sawn and carved bonnet piece in the center. The carved pieces on the corners (also cut out with the jeweler's saw and then shaped, carved and sanded) were much easier to fit into the scheme of the piece. (If you want to view the piece in larger size to see the detail, I think you can click on the photo.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where the Jeweler's Saw Shines

This bookcase is one of my pride and joys. A number of years ago, my wife gave me a book titled Blackie and Sons The Victorian Cabinet Maker's Assistant. It was filled with what I thought were accurate scale drawings. Turns out, not quite.

I followed the drawings to a T only to discover that the top portion of this bookcase could never hold any books on the shelves - they were too short! The two months' worth of carving the side pieces for the top had to be done all over again, only taller. Aargh! Sometimes miniaturing is an exercise in patience!

Everywhere you see fancy filigree on this piece, I used a jeweler's saw to cut it out. The teeth on a jeweler's saw are so tiny on the smallest blades, you can't even see them. You can only feel them when you run your finger up the blade. The blade I currently have in my saw is .48 deep by .2 mm thick. In inches, that's .013" x .007". Tiny! You can drill a hole the size of a pin and thread the blade up through to do your cutting.

The disadvantage to using a jeweler's saw is the delicateness of the blade. If you don't keep the saw perfectly vertical as you saw or if you try to push too hard as you make a downward stroke, the blade snaps. If you're lucky, you may have snapped it at one of the extreme ends of the blade instead of in the middle, which means you can shorten the saw and keep using the same blade! (I LOVE that about the jeweler's saw!)

By the way, there are three layers of wood in the front drawer of this bookcase and on the sides, too. I cut out the outside of the carved design first from 1/32" cherry wood, then glued the piece to another equally thin piece of cherry wood. (I used clothes pins as my clamps to hold the piece in place while it dried.) Then I cut out the inside, giving me a depth of 1/16". Then I glued this piece to another 1/32" piece of wood. So, it's approximately one inch thick in scale.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Power Saw vs. Hand Saw

When friends discover that I like making dollhouse miniatures, one of the first questions they ask me is, "What kind of tools do you use to do that?!" Depending on the object I'm showing them, I might answer, "A very small table saw," or "A table mounted jigsaw," or "A jeweler's saw."

The table saw is great for making straight cuts and cutting down regular wood stock into the more manageable pieces we most often need for making minis. At the left is a picture of the table saw I use.

The two add-on devices are a featherboard (the wooden device on the left near the front) and a micro-adjustable fence for my mini table saw. The featherboard helps me keep the wood against the fence, thus creating a much straighter cut. The fence allows me to make very tiny adjustments in the thickness of my cuts. When doing miniatures, even a thickness variation of only a few hundredths of an inch makes a difference in how something looks!

By the way, I have the pictured table saw attached to a board, and that board is clamped onto the top of, well, an even larger, 10" Dewalt portable table saw. (I use the big saw when I have some heavy-duty cutting to do.) I also have a power miter saw, but it sits in my garage most of the time, since I have a very tiny workshop. (It's slightly less than 10' x 9'. With workbenches along both of the longer walls and a short L at the end, you may have a sense of how tiny the workshop is!) One of these days I'll show you a picture of it. It's a total mess right now - not a scrap of available work space for anything!

The jigsaw is a terrific tool for cutting out larger shapes and stuff with curliques. When I have my table saw set up for a specific cut, and need to cut a piece of wood, and if precise right angles or width of the final cut are not a concern, I'll flip on the jigsaw and cut the piece.

The jigsaw is also a wonderful tool for cutting cabriolet legs. In an upcoming blog, I'll show you how to do that. They are a lot of fun to make, and I'm not being sarcastic when I say that.

For precision cutting, though, there is nothing like the jeweler's saw! In my next post, I'll show you a couple of items that I could not have made without the jeweler's saw! In many ways, it's my most favorite tool. The pieces I create with it frequently cause the most jaw-dropping responses from others who look at my work, and for me, that's the joy of crafting miniatures!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Creating Delicate Spindles

I thoroughly regret that when my kids were little and my budget was tight that I still didn't buy a very special tool. It was a turning duplicator and lathe made by (I think) Anker Rasmussen. He was able to make some very delicate spindles using his duplicating jig.

In lieu of that, I found a way, when building my wife's dollhouse, to create some very delicate spindles for the front porch. I used florist wire and threaded tiny wooden beads onto the wire. Then I added glue to hold each bead exactly where I wanted it. Finally, a coat of paint, and it was ready for the next step.

I cut out the curved sections that hold the spindles using my jigsaw. I then drilled holes into this piece to insert the ends of the wire spindles. I also cut out a smaller curved section for the corners and drilled holes in those to hold the other end. Once it was glued up, we had a lovely set of one-of-a-kind spindles for the front porch!

Monday, March 9, 2009

You'll Never See This One at the State Fair...

I would love to show this house at the Iowa State Fair, but it is too wide to qualify. I designed it back in the late 1970's, and had thought about marketing the design. Unfortunately, Greenleaf introduced a cheaper front-opening dollhouse about a year after I started working on this one.

The building itself is made out of Gatorfoam, which makes the house VERY light and easy to move. Instead of using nails, I used dowels that I sharpened on a pencil sharpener and then pushed them into the house in the places where fastening needed to occur. Ceilings were a breeze, since I left them all white, and the Gatorfoam comes in a pleasing white finish.

The main open area on the front is enclosed by two, sliding panes of glass. This significantly reduces the amount of dust that makes its way into the house. We have a Greenleaf house, too, which one of my daughters begged me to do for her. I never installed any cover to the front, and the dust is really a problem.

So, whether you buy a manufactured dollhouse or build your own, one simple piece of advice - ENCLOSE IT to keep the dust out. You'll appreciate this little piece of advice much more over time...

Friday, March 6, 2009

More of Grampa's Office

Here's grampa's office. The scene through the door in the rear was a photograph of the actual office through the window in that door.

I made the old-fashioned comptometer on the desk, which was a painstaking process. I took a batch of pins, and cut them at precisely stairstepped lengths to create the keyboard. Then hand-filed the round faces of each pin head so they were flat. Then I painted them. I also made the manual typewriter, which is hidden in the background. I carved the hat (hanging on the halltree) from a piece of pine wood.

Sharing Memories

When my younger daughter was in high school, she came up with the idea of recreating her grandfather's fruithouse in miniature. She found a wooden apple crate and asked me to work with her to turn it into grampa's office.

She did all the fruits and vegetables. She also painted the walls, which was a dry-brush effect we developed to simulate the compressed wood walls that covered the fruithouse walls.

I helped with the overall construction, built the hand cart and banana room cooler door. I "aged" the cart using the mixture of India ink and rubbing alcohol. I dabbed this mixture away in places that would have had high levels of rubbing. Where the dirt and grime would have settled, I let the mixture puddle a little extra.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Yes, You Can Use Your Computer for Rugs

Casey from sent me a note and asked if I have thought about using pictures printed from my computer to produce a rug. The answer was, "Yes!"

I took a digital picture of a southwestern rug and then transferred it into my PC. I then enhanced the picture for colors and all those wonderful things you can do with the photo editing software. Then I printed it out on photo paper.

Once I had printed it on photo paper, I then sprayed three coats of semi-gloss workable fixative, which I had picked up at Michaels. The fixative does two things - it seals the inks into the picture so that they won't smear. Two, the fixative I used adds protection against ultra violet rays, which are a key cause of colors fading in fabrics or in printed materials.

Once I took those protective steps, I then went back to the tried and true tissue paper and Deft process. I liked the rug well enough that I made them for all of the members of our miniature club for our gift exchange.

By the way, I DID try to print off a beautiful Victorian rug design onto cloth using the T-shirt transfer printing materials for inkjet printers. It didn't even begin to do justice to the depth of color and beauty of the carpet I saw on the Web. I even had contacted the rug merchant to request permission from him to recreate his carpet in miniature for my dollhouse bedroom. That whole effort was a bust, unfortunately!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Creating a Believable Persian Rug

Years ago, I read somewhere about how to make a miniature Persian rug. The instructions said, "Start with a magazine page or advertisement of a Persian rug." I found a good photograph of one from a Southern Living magazine and used it for my Scrooge! roombox, pictured above.

It's simple to make the rug, actually. You'll need the picture, of course, plus a can of semi-gloss Deft spray varnish, one ply of a facial tissue, some grosgrain ribbon and a little bit of glue. Trim the photo to the exact dimensions of the carpet. Next, lay it down on a surface that can be heavily doused with Deft varnish. Spray it once to seal the picture. Let it dry.

Most facial tissues are two ply. If you tease it apart, you'll get a very thin piece of tissue paper. Most likely, it will have a bad crease through the middle. You'll need to steam iron it carefully to flatten the tissue.

Once your tissue is prepped, go back and heavily spray the Persian rug again with the Deft. Carefully lay the tissue down onto the rug and pat it gently into place. Do your utmost best to make sure any little wrinkles are smoothed out. Now spray it again until the entire surface is heavily soaked with the Deft. If any bubbles form beneath the tissue, use a pin to pop these out and make sure you see no white tissue that is standing up from the surface of the rug.

Let it dry. You'll now have a much softer tone quality to the picture of the carpet. Take a piece of grosgrain ribbon and cut it the length of the end of the carpet. Then trim the edge off one side of the entire length of the grosgrain ribbon and fray the ribbon by removing the threads. You'll now have a beautiful piece of fringe. (This technique works on draperies, too!) Glue the fringe to your rug, and you now have your Persian rug.

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to Strain Family Relations

As part of the design of the current dollhouse I'm finishing, I decided to put a stained glass window above the front door on the second floor landing. I fiddled with various media, and then talked with my brother-in-law, Paul, who has done some beautiful stained glass windows.

Paul will be the first to tell you, "I'm a patient guy!" But his tongue is squarely in his cheek when he tells you this. Nevertheless, I had seen his meticulous work, and thought, "Let's go for it!" Being up for an occasional challenge, he thought so, too.

So, I designed the window at right. To give you an idea of the diminutive scale, though, the three red circles in the middle of the window are each about the size of a pencil eraser - less than a quarter inch in size.

Paul dutifully created the window for me, and as he handed it to me, his only comment was, "Don't EVER ask me to do another one for you!" He had multiple pieces of glass that he had ALMOST ground down to fit into these positions, only to have them shatter against the grinder or fly out of his grasp and shatter against the floor or wall.

It makes for a great story. Plus, it is a lovely, totally unique, very real, miniature stained glass window that our family will treasure for as long as we have the dollhouse.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Curtains and Lace

I'm frustrated! It's such a hassle trying to find fine lace and cloth for the curtains and bedding in my new dollhouse. When I recently shopped for lace and cloth, the fabric store here disappointed me. When I did my last dollhouse's curtains and bed, I don't recall having this problem!

As you can see from the photo, I built a rather intricate pelmet for the study window. I don't want to install an out of scale fabric that detracts from the "reality" of the scene, but I may have no choice!
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