Monday, May 31, 2010

The Pack Rat in Me Wins - Again!

For those of you who have seen my blog post showing my tiny workshop, it's cluttered with all sorts of pieces of wood that I have not tossed. Even though they're not very big, and some people might think they're useless, I keep thinking, "That's a good piece of [insert kind of wood here]. I could probably use that sometime..." It's the pack rat in me that drives me to keep it!

For those of you reading this blog who don't live in North America, the pack rat is a real live rodent that is notorious for collecting "stuff." They especially like shiny objects. People who never throw "stuff" away are also called pack rats.

Well, today, I couldn't find my calipers (still can't) and so I cleaned up my workshop. I had a small box filled with little pieces of wood - 1" x 1" x 3/4" - very small pieces. I finally decided today, "OK, I'm not going to need those blocks of wood anymore. Time to pitch those!" A half hour later, I was out in my garage digging them back out of the trash can. (Fortunately, I hadn't tossed anything else into the can this week!)

Those tiny blocks of wood are perfect for holding my pieces of wood up off the table so that the painted edges don't stick to the workbench. I put a couple of pieces of double-stick tape on the blocks and set my wood on top of it. Voila!  The perfect tool for painting. So, now I have to figure out where to store these little pieces of wood... I'll give a couple of them to each of the mini club members so they can do the same thing when they paint their Coke vending machines!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

How to Paint Your Miniature

Actually, I need to provide a disclaimer here...this may not be the best "how to" you've ever read!

At left is the start of a mid-20th Century Coca-Cola vending machine model I'm making for the barbershop. I had carefully cut out my wood and glued it together to the precise measurements, sanded it to make the nice rounded corners, and sprayed it with several coats of BIN primer. I used wet-dry 600 sandpaper, dampened it, and smoothed each layer of the primer. After the second coat, I began to sand it with two levels of grit - the 600 to remove any big junk and then 1500 wet/dry to smooth it even further. (I dipped the paper into a bowl of water and sanded in a circular motion, taking care NOT to scrub too hard along the edges.)  And my model was beginning to look pretty good!

I realized that when I started to hand paint the red latex paint , I needed some way to hold the miniature, since I needed to paint ALL of the sides, and if I held it any places where I'd already painted, I be leaving huge fingerprints in my paint. So, I drilled a small hole in the bottom, and inserted a long screw into it, which serves as a "handle" for me to use so that I can paint. The handle worked great for drying, too. I took a pair of vice grips and snapped them down on the screw, and had a very sturdy way of holding the vending machine right where I needed it. So far, so good!

Then I started adding layers of the red, latex paint that I had specially mixed for me at the hardware store. I got four coats on the piece, and things were looking pretty good. Maybe I hurried it too much, and didn't wait long enough for the paint to dry. Maybe I pressed too hard with my sandpaper. Maybe I needed to change the water to remove any impurities from previous coats I'd sanded.  I'm not sure what caused the sanding to go wrong. At any rate, as I was carefully sanding with my 1500 wet/dry sandpaper, large chunks of the red paint peeled away all the way back down to the primer coat! YIKES! (Actually, I said something a little stronger than that...) So, tomorrow, I will start over - maybe with a different kind of paint...

If you want to know what it's supposed to look like when it's done, here's a link to a picture of it on the Web: I will show you a picture of the vending machine once it's done.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stained Glass for the Barbershop Door

Here's my front door for the barbershop. I know it's not perfect - my lines are a little wavy - especially with the bottom part of the glass. I got in a hurry and didn't push the leading material just a little southward on the right-hand side. I may end up having to redo that part.

That's the fun part about using this stained glass material on glass. You can scrape it off and do it again. Or, you can create various stained glass windows using a template and do the "glass" on a piece of special plastic. If you like what you've created, you can trim it to size and insert it into your window.

I tried doing it the old-fashioned way - placing my leading on the glass and then adding the color stains. The advantage of doing it that way is that I know my colors will truly bleed to the edges of the window frame. Had I done it on the plastic sheet and THEN cut it out for the window, there's the chance that a tiny sliver of light would show around the edge, and that would not be realistic looking, either.

For those of you who are curious about what I used and where I got the stained glass "stuff", I purchased it at the Michaels store here in town. I'm sure you can purchase it online, too. I bought a kit, since I knew I didn't need a lot of the staining gel. It's interesting stuff to use. The "leading" is available either in a tube or in sheets that you can cut. I chose the sheets, since I was certain that I could not pour out a line that was about 1/32" wide. One of the leading sheets comes pre-marked at 1/16" widths. For miniatures, though, that would be far too wide! Even 1/32" is a bit bulky, but that's about the best I could do with trimming this stuff on my first go-round. When you add the colors, they look quite opaque. It's deceptive, because you think, "Oh dear! This won't look good!" Then it dries into much brighter, slightly translucent, jewel tones. Now I'm wondering why I never did more of this with my dollhouses! It was a lot of fun and easy to do.

If you're wondering, the I left the center of the window as plain glass. They make an etched glass material that I could have used, but I want the "Open" sign to be hanging in the glass from the back side. It's a little more realistic to have that be clear glass for the barbershop, too, I think.

And if you're wondering what the brand is, it's Gallery Glass by Plaid. ;o)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Things You Should NOT Buy in Advance

I finally had a project I wanted to do that would use my glass staining kit. I purchased it a while ago. Um, maybe it was more than a while... In fact,  I think I bought the kit about 20 years ago... ulp!

It was really cool, though, with nice little bottles in a variety of colors and "liquid" lead that I could add to a needle-pointed dispenser and create stained glass windows. When I dug these items out of a drawer over the weekend, , the cute little bottles of stained glass colors were almost completely dried up. I had discovered the "lead" tube had dried up several years ago and had tossed it previously. Sigh. I know it's the cheapskate in me, but I just HATE to waste money on tools and/or products that I never use!

So, take a lesson from my experience - if it's a chemical, wait until you NEED it. Then buy it! ...even if that stain, paint or other chemical product looks really cool at the time you're in the store, you can probably buy it later on-line. I bought the stained glass kit when we went crazy at a miniature store years ago, and in retrospect, it obviously was not money well spent.

I also discovered that the manufacturer of the glass stains is no longer in business. Fortunately, though, another company has stepped into that void, and there IS a product for making stained glass windows. I'll share my finished window with you in my next post. I'm tickled with how it is turning out! It's going to look great in the front door of the barbershop!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kitchen Table - Another Quick Furniture Project

Here's another quick furniture project for you to try. This would make a good, sturdy kitchen table for a child's play dollhouse. It would also be in scale for a more refined miniature collector's dollhouse - especially if you were to add some toll painting or paint it and age it a little.

The only tricky part is cutting out the seven degree angle on the spacers. One way to do this is to take a scrap piece of plywood and draw a line horizontally across the piece of plywood. (Use a piece of scrap about 4" long by about 3" wide.) Try to center it about 1.5" in from the edges.

Next, draw a seven degree line at least 1.5" long - with 1" protruding above the horizontal line and the other half protruding below the line. Draw this intersecting line close to the right edge of the plywood if you are a right-handed person. Draw the line to close to the left-hand side if you are a lefty. Now, glue a small board along the edge of the horizontal line just up to where the seven degree mark intersects with the line. You have created a sort of miter guide for yourself. If you've left enough wood on the bottom edge of this "guide", you can clamp it to your workbench or tabletop so that you have greater control as you hold the pieces in place and saw them.

You can now cut your spacers to a 2" x 1/2" dimension. (Use 1/8" thick wood for the spacers, please.) Set the first spacer down so that the bottom touches where the two lines intersect. Use a razor or modeling saw. (X-acto makes pretty good ones). Line up the razor saw blade with the intersecting line and carefully cut the angle into the first spacer. Turn the spacer over sideways (not top to bottom) and repeat this cut so that you end up with a trapezoid like you see in the picture above. Repeat these steps to make the next three spacers.

The table legs are relatively easy to cut - especially if you have a small table saw. If not, you may be able to get some pre-cut wood at your local hobby store that is 1/4" x 1/4" dimensions. If so, then you only need to cut the leg pieces to 2.5" lengths. The table top is 3/32" wood, and should be a simple circle 4" in diameter.

Place a piece of wax paper on your desk or table top and glue one spacer to two of the legs. Repeat this procedure with one more spacer and the other two legs. Allow the spacer and the table legs to sit flat against the wax paper. If you have some clamps, you may use them to gently pull the pieces together for maximum adhesion. Allow these two sets of legs to dry overnight so that they are good and solid.

Day two, put one of the assembled leg pieces on its head so that the spacer is touching the wax paper and the legs protrude up. Add glue to one end of the remaining two angled spacers. Place them in position just like the already glued spacers are arranged. You will want the spacers to the inside of the square you are forming with the table legs protruding slightly from each corner.

If you wish, you can build a small gluing jig for yourself to help hold the pieces in alignment. Start with a piece of wood 2" square glued to a piece of heavy cardboard or plywood. Then glue some of the left-over quarter-inch wood pieces so that they form a square 1/4" wider all the way around this 2" square. The inside dimensions of this second "square" will be 2.5". To provide support for the table legs, you can take some cardboard and fold it into a box that is 3" square by 2.5" tall. If glued correctly, the table legs should just touch the corners at the top of this little "box."

Allow the table legs and spacers to dry for a day or two. Once it's good and solid, take the assembly and carefully place it face down on a piece of 100 grit sandpaper. Use a circular motion to remove the corners of the table legs that will be protruding above the spacers. Check frequently to make sure you're not sanding one side more than the others. A good trick here is to hold the piece, and make four or five circular sweeps on the sandpaper, then turn the piece 1/4 turn, and sand again. Repeat this process, making sure you do the same number of sanding strokes on each side and using the same amount of pressure when you sand.

Once you've flattened the tops of the table legs, you can then glue the table top to the legs and spacers. Draw a faint X on the bottom side of the table with a pencil, making four equal quadrants of the table top. Se the table top face down and then glue the leg assembly to the top. Make sure each table leg touches one of the lines you have drawn. When all of the leg corners are touching one of the lines, you know your table top is perfectly centered on the table legs.

After the table has dried, you can sand the legs the same way you did them at the top, gently working them across the sandpaper to flatten them. Be very gentle with your sanding at this point - one leg too short can cause a tippy table! You can now finish your table with stain and varnish, paint it to match your kitchen decor, or antique it however you wish!

Hope this works for you. Let me know if you encounter any problems!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Does It Look "Real?"

Take one dollhouse, a couple photos of a city park area, some photo editing software, and voila! You have a somewhat convincing picture of a Victorian house on a lovely estate.

In a slide show where this image will be on the screen for about two to three seconds at the most, I'm hopeful that the viewers won't notice the various edits I made in putting this together.

For instance, the flowering crab trees are a copy and paste of the same tree, flipped and enhanced a little. (The front one on the right is doubled up, in fact.) I cloned the windows on the right-hand side of the house. They were narrowed versions of the windows in the bay window that I copied and pasted. If the overall photo doesn't come across as convincing, well, I at least had fun playing with the software and learning how to use it!

For those of you who are curious about what software I used, it was Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006. It was considerably less expensive than some of the fancy professional editing software packages that I've seen. I occasionally use it to clean up the color in some of my dollhouse photos that I use in this blog.
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