October 29, 2009

Window progress

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The windows are coming along. I wish I could say they are almost finished but there is still much to do. I will be making the frames that hold the windows and go into the house openings next. Then comes the hinging. After that there is more wood trim  goes onto the windows. There is a vertical piece that covers the join on the casement windows. There is a drip molding to fabricate that glues onto the lower edge of the windows and door. That drip detail keeps rain from getting into a house. After that is hardware, knobs, locks and such. Shutters will be made later and installed after most of the exterior work on the dollhouse is finished.

You will see on some of the windows that are not painted there are bits of blue showing. I paint inside all of the grooves I made to hold the glass. The blue color in there helps disguise the thickness of the glass. In addition the back side of the muntin strips that glue to the glass are also painted. You would be able to see the bare wood if they were not painted. Painting is done with a watered down, very thin coat of flat, exterior house paint. I run the corner edge of a piece of glass through the groove to act as a scraper to remove any excess paint. The grooves are painted before I glue the window frames together.

I have decided to cut new walls for the dollhouse out of the thicker foam cored EasyBoard. It is about 7/16 thick although they call it 1/2". I want window sills and 1/4" is just not going to give me that look. Having the windows and doors all framed up makes it easy to create the openings to the exact size. Two steps forward one step back, oh well it will get done one of these days.

I am looking forward to getting this part of the job done so I can get those walls up and start the timber and stucco work. Working with tweezers to put in tiny bits of muntins and then detailing them with a scalpel is not my favorite task. But I am not done with it yet, looking at the sets of windows next to  the door I realize I need to take the muntins off the door and change it from a 6 lite grid to a 9 lite so the proportions all work together.

My original thought was to do some leaded glass windows but for some reason I decided not to. I do have two types of windows with different muntin patterns that might have been salvaged and installed at a different time. On a centuries old cottage replacement windows would be the normal look.

Even on more modern houses I have owned and renovated I have seen three sets of window changes on a cottage  that was only 80 years old. There were the original wood framed, plus some single paned aluminum and also some double paned vinyl windows. All the exterior doors were different types too. Another house I owned was built with salvaged windows the original builder thought were charming.

October 25, 2009

Stop Block

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I am cutting the side frame strips for another dollhouse window. They are too long to allow me to clamp a stop block to the side of the miter block and too short to extend past the edge of the miter box to reach a stop block clamped to the table. Notice that I am cutting with the part against the back edge of the box. That is because I am using a saw that cuts on the stroke pushing away from me, that means I am pushing the part against the fence as I cut. This means a more accurate cut that does not wobble all over the place. If I were cutting with a pull saw my work piece would be against the front fence. Use the force of the cut to your advantage. Simple trick but one a beginner might not learn without some frustration first.

Here is where years of looking at creative woodworking jigs in books and magazines brings up the easy solution. Put a screw into the stop block, oh so easy to do and it gives me a fine adjustment stop block. No need to loosen and move a clamp, just turn the screw  to move it a tiny fraction for the perfect length of cut.

Over the years in news groups I have had people write and say they don't know how to go about making jigs. Therefore I keep showing this type of everyday situation and easy solutions so everyone will realize jigs are not always complicated and they can be as simple as a scrap of wood, a screw and a clamp. These very basic items have just created a fine precision, adjustable, stop block for making fine miniatures in less than a minute of time. I will be using this one jig often.

I love that gold anodized Zona Miter Box and Razor Saw, they are so much nicer than the Exacto brand miter box. Just two pushes of the saw cuts right through the window frame. It is so fast and easy to use there is no point in setting up a power tool to do the job.

In-scale lumber knots

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Yesterday a neighbor in the building pulled up in front of the dumpster and started tossing in pieces of wood. He was tearing out the railings from his front stairs. The contractor had built them with wood that was not rot resistant so indeed they had started rotting in our damp climate. The stairs were only a few years old so I knew the paint on them was not lead based.

Not wanting to see a tree wasted I snagged the spindle pieces to see if I could use them for a miniature project. I have been working on a design for a house that will have natural planked walls in a lighter wood than the cedar I normally use for miniatures. I am so very happy I took the time to get that lumber. When I cut off the white latex paint  I discovered in-scale knots just perfect for a 1:12 dollhouse. That is a very rare thing to find, I am thrilled with it. I could have haunted lumber yards for a long time finding just the perfect material. I did find a source for this lumber, it is Pine from Canada. The Home Depot stores in the Seattle area have it. But only the smaller boards such as 1 x4 and 2 x 2 have the small knots and small grain. Probably because this small diameter lumber comes from near the top of the tree where there are lots of tiny branches. I have to pick through the stacks of lumber, maybe, at best in a stack one board out of 25 or 30 has the small knots. I now have it on my list of things to look for when out running errands, Don takes the time to check for me too whenever he is in that store.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Here is a photo of how the exterior side of my door and one of the casement windows is coming along. It is sitting on top of the in-scale knotty timber I just cut. You can really see just how perfect that lumber is going to be in a dollhouse project. The aging on the door is getting close to perfect. It is a lot of work to get good aging, it is like creating a watercolor painting of an object. Most people just take sand paper to the edges doing that shabby shic thing. That does not create realistic aging on the exterior features of a dollhouse. Paint fades with a lot of variation in color, one color of paint for the door would not recreate that look. I have several shade of paint on the door plus I have grayed the natural wood and added a thin gray paint wash on top and splattered on some paint for splashed up dirt spots and bug splats.

October 23, 2009

Acorn Cottage Roof

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I have been busy with things other than miniatures this week but I am posting a few photos on how I made that unusual roof for the Acorn Cottage.

The beams which support the roof have a curve to them which creates the curve for the roof. Putting it together is the tricky part. The beams have to be held in the correct position in a six sided radial pattern. So I made a custom assembly fixture. It is not pretty, just made out of scraps I had around the shop but it works great.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The plywood I used for the roof is thin, it will curve in one direction. Getting it stuck to the beams without using clamps was the tricky part. For this task I used polyurethane hot melt adhesive that comes in cartridges. The glue set up in a 90 seconds so the pressure of my hands holding the panel against the beams was the clamp.  This polyurethane glue gets harder as it ages and it cross links with the wood fibers. This is probably not a glue and gun you will buy for the occasional job, the glue is expensive, the dispensing gun is expensive and the glue has an expiration date. I purchased my kit from ROCKLER
photo from Rockler

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
You can see the beams inside of the roof. The opening is finished off with a strip that will be grooved to accept thin, clear plastic to close the house off from dust and unwanted intruding sticky fingers.

The roof plywood is so thin you can cut it by scoring with a knife. I made a pattern for the shape and also a stencil to mark the rows of shingles. I marked the rows before I assembled the roof. You might think that because the plywood is thin the roof is not strong but it is. I used to use heavy plywood for dollhouse roofs but I realized as long as there are beams to help with support  thin plywood is adequate and it is much more in scale. The look of the roof edge is nicer and it weighs a lot less. I created a wavy curve in the edge of the cottage roof to resemble the loose shape of the lower edge of the leaf canopy on a deciduous tree. The Acorn Cottage is very organic in its various elements.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The leaf shaped shingles I used for the roof are one of the unique features on this cottage. They started out as normal rectangular dollhouse shingles. A pair of scissors is all that is needed to trim one end into that point. Boring work but just fine for TV watching time.

October 15, 2009

Using Calipers

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

A tool that gets used all the time in my workshop is a digital caliper. They range in price from several hundred dollars for a very high precision unit to about $30.00 for a unit that is just fine for  most tasks in house holds or the average home workshop.

You will see two of my calipers in the photo above, the one on the top is by Mitutoyo, I have had them for a number of years and use them for tasks in manufacturing workshops where precision is important. The caliper at the bottom of the photo is a pair from WIXEY I purchased about 6 months ago, it will read in fractions. Most fraction reading calipers are not very accurate but this pair is reliable in that you know there is only a four thousandths spread in which it will read the fraction. Huh you say? OK so a 1/4" in decimals is .250". The caliper display reads 1/4" in fractions anywhere between .248" and .252".  Plus or minus .002 (two thousandths) of an inch is not an uncommon tolerance in manufacturing. But in miniatures you can see that gap if you are looking for a really snug fit. Most inexpensive digital calipers that read in fractions are not all that accurate, the Wixey pair is very nice quality.

So the conclusion is that fractions are OK to think about in general terms but working in decimal inches or in millimeters is way easier for math and digital calipers are so easy to use it makes no sense to me to worry about trying to mark or cut something to 1/64" or 1/32" and then read it off a regular ruler. It does not take long to memorize .25" or .50" or .75" or .125" instead of the fractional unit. If you can't remember there are a lot of free charts you can print from the internet that show the equivalent decimals, fractions and millimeters. I have a few of them around the shop for quick reference.

In the photo below I am measuring an inside dimension. I am going to divide that result in half and mark the centerline for my muntin location to divide up the panes in the glass area on the door. You can see the prongs on the caliper I am using for an inside dimension, I just slide open the caliper until they touch the wood.  I  look at the display to know just how wide that distance is. I love it, so easy on the eyes, no strain trying to see a the tiny line reads on a ruler and then try to see the tiny marks to figure out what fractional division it is by counting the marks. With a push of a button I can display the dimensions in millimeters instead of  inches.  On some calipers I can also read the results in fractions. But I personally almost always work in thousandths of a inch. This is a real time saver way to measure that also increases the quality of the miniatures.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

In the photo below I am measuring the outside width of the door. You can see the edges of the blades I am using for this task.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

In the photo below I am measuring the height of an object. The flat blade is placed against the table and you can see the flat edge of the blade that sits on top of the object.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

In the photo below I am using a small protruding pin at the end of the caliper rule to measure a depth. You can use this method to measure the depth of narrow recessed areas such as a dado groove cut to fit a tenon.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
After ten minutes of using digital calipers  you will be spoiled rotten and totally frustrated if you happen to misplace them. They are not just for engineers or geeks and there is no reason to be intimidated by the idea of using this tool, they won't bite you and they make the math very simple.

October 12, 2009

Its all in the details

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I have been busy the last few minutes sorting through the digital photos I took a couple of years ago in the Normandy region of France. What I was looking for were the details on real life windows from colombages buildings also known as Pan de' Bois, timber frame, half timber. If you do an image search on any of those words you will find a great many photos that people have posted on the internet of this type of structure.

I am going to do very simple muntins on my windows. Muntins are the strips of wood, steel or lead that divide up the panes of glass in doors or windows. The muntins will be glued directly on top of a single piece of glass both on the inside and outside. My task today is to cut the lumber, age the strips, paint them, let the paint dry and then cut and glue them onto the door.

I will also start assembling the wood casement windows for the cottage.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I like the lead flashing over the sill, I saw that detail on many old wood framed windows in France. I have on hand enough thin lead from the old wrappers that covered the corks on wine bottles  to recreate this look in miniature.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Of course I also need hinges for my casement windows, this pintil hinge is so very beautiful, but it might be a little too wide of a design to fit my cottage window frame pieces. I would need to make 16 of them and that is a lot of work. Maybe if the new metal cutting blade I got for my scroll saw works out I can stack cut them in batches. I have been meaning to try that out anyway. If only I had a pancake blanking die for them it would be not nearly as difficult. But I don't have the steel material on hand to make the dies or the jig to hold the saw at a set angle to cut the die. It is something to think about trying but that list of things I want to try is longer than a lifetime at this point. Actually  I have been thinking about this for 20 years and visited an artist studio to learn how to do it. Still not at the top of the list for purchasing the needed items, will it ever be? Maybe I will order the steel for it, I need to put in a order of steel to create metal spinning tool rest. Might as well toss that item in with the order.

You can see a pancake die in the photo of this etsy listing, click HERE

As long as you have one straight edge on your part design you can quickly make thin metal shapes using the die and a press. My workshop mate Don has a press I can use so exactly why am I not doing this? Not a clue other than I need to order an adjustable saw frame holder and they are expensive.

October 10, 2009

Rock Hound

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
Historic Roche Harbor Hotel

My blog has been quiet for a few days as I have been away from computers and the internet. I went on a short trip to the San Juan Islands here in Washington State, USA. My friends had a few tasks to do on a lovely home up on a mountain. From the house we could see right across the water to the lights of Victoria, British Columbia.

It has been almost a decade since I have visited San Juan Island. On my list of things to do while there was to find one of the old limestone quarries and bring back some rocks for my miniature projects. The lovely old Roche Harbor Hotel in the above photo is located right next to some of the old Lime Kilns.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
Kilns for burning limestone located at Roche Harbor

My rocks came from an abandoned quarry in another location on the island. There were several small cliffs of stone left exposed, all I had to do was pick up small chunks of scree off the ground.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
Cliff of limestone at the abandoned quarry

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The photo above shows some of my  newly collected stone for the Coastal Cottage, I still have to break it up into 1:12 scale pieces. The color of the stone is going to be perfection, grey with a hint of blue and also some browns. It will blend nicely with the timber frame, stucco, floors, roof and landscaping. The stone will be used for foundation walls, the entry step, the exterior chimney above the roof and also bit and pieces in the landscaping.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
Twenty minutes of work with a hammer, cold chisel and tile nippers and I have 1:12 scale real stone!

A tatlented stone sculptor from the Island, Tom Small, told me how to find the quarry. Tom's work can be seen on the internet by clicking HERE. I made sure to visit the sculpture garden at Roche Harbor as well as the local galleries on the island. The local Art Museum had a show of miniature sculptures including several of his pieces. Many of the items were of a scale that they could be used to create a miniature sculpture garden made of living small scaled plants.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
Tom Small sculpture in the sculpture park at Roche Harbor, WA.

October 4, 2009

Beveling the Inset Door Panels

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I am placing a slight bevel on the two panels that will insert into the lower half of the front door of the cottage. I have tilted my miniature table saw over to about 10 degrees. The exact degree within a few clicks or so is pretty much arbitrary on this project. What I am after is a beveled look to the panel that is not too wide and it creates a width at the panel edge that will slide into the slot I showed you yesterday that I put into the framing pieces.

Mostly what I want to show is one way to do this type of wood cutting task safely. Holding small parts so you can perform some kind of shaping operation on them without messing up your fingers or the part is always something you have to think about. However people rarely show just how they do this, mostly you see how it looks when it is all done.

I have taken the small panels I cut to size and applied double backed carpet tape to them. It the photo above you can see that I have place them right against each other while cutting. That is just to save time so I only have to make half as many passes on the saw instead of cutting one at a time. Then I have adhered them to a larger piece of wood I can easily hold onto and push through the saw. I rotate the panels around four times so I get all the sides beveled. The tape is strong enough for this holding task because and I emphasize this fact boldly here I AM NOT TAKING AGGRESSIVE CUTS. I am only taking a very small amount of wood off of the panels therefore the torque of the saw blade will not throw my pieces into the air or jam them down into the saw blade. There is also no danger of these thin panels slipping down and jamming into the slot next to the saw blade. I don't have to use a tall fence or feather boards to keep these tall, thin panels standing upright because they are stuck to that nice comfy to hang onto 2x2 board. A difficult cut is now very quick and easy to do.

I use double back tape a lot, it is very handy for work holding all kinds of things when a clamp or screw can't be used. I just ran out of tape  with this job so I will drag myself off to get my favorite kind, clear plastic, thin carpet tape from the "Do It Best" Hardware Store. That is a nation wide chain in the USA and they also carry K & S engineering metals as well as Northeastern Basswood in the stores in my part of the country.

To find out if there is a "Do It Best" Hardware Store near you, CLICK HERE
photo courtesy Do-it-Best Hardware
I like this particular tape because it holds firmly but it is not impossible to get your part unstuck. Any tape residue will clean off the unfinished wood with acetone.

I could have routed the bevels on the panels or sanded the bevels into the wood or filed them or even planed or carved them. There are many ways of doing this same task if you don't have a tilt arbor table saw and/or don't like using power tools.

October 3, 2009

Feeling Groovy

For both the doors and windows on my projects I first have to make the lumber that creates the frame pieces and then put grooves into those pieces to receive the glass or wood panels. This time around I am using poplar wood for the window and doors. Poplar is nice and hard and holds crisp details and best of all it is available at most any lumber yard. Sometimes the poplar pieces look green in color but that green will eventually go away and they will be the normal browns you see in most wood.

To cut the grooves into the edge of the lumber I use an 9/32" diameter, 1/8" shanked router bit. This bit cuts only on the sides, no cutting edges on the top of the bit. It cuts much like a blade on a table saw does.  The advantage of using a side cutting bit in a router table is you are not trying to balance an upright thin piece of wood over the top of a table saw. You will have more control with the router table. The bit I use was sold by Dremel as a #198, Dremel has now discontinued making this 9/32" bit but it is still available online from Widget Supply as Item: D-AL21.
Link Click: Groove Cutting Bit
You will need to make several passes to cut the grooves to full depth. The reason I like the #198 bit is the depth is always the same, you go as deep as the 1/8" diameter shaft allows. When you hit the shaft you can cut no deeper. Another huge bonus of this bit is you can make arched windows by following along the edge of the curved window frame using the shank of the router bit as a pattern follower. The depth of the groove is just enough to hold a piece of glass securely and hide any minor chips on the edge of the glass. The width of the groove can be adjusted by doing a flip cut.

To determine the height from the router table to the top of the router bit first figure out the width of the groove. Now subtract that dimension from the thickness of your framing member. Divide that number in half and subtract it from the thickness of your framing member.  Now set the height of the top of the bit to that calculation. I use a digital caliper to check the height of the bit. If you are using standard window glass or art glass you will need to flip the framing piece over and cut again to get the full width of the groove as the bit is not thick enough. With this method the groove will be perfectly centered in your framing member.

My lumber thickness is determined by the thickness of the glass I am using as is the width of the groove. I am not using micro thin glass this is window glass meant for real houses. Using this glass does push my pieces just above true scale dimensions as to the thickness of the door but it is not something viewers pickup on. The illusion is still there and that is what really matters. When I first began to make structures I was all worried about exact precision of dimensions for doors and windows. What else would you expect from a woman who for many years created aircraft parts where the tolerance of parts was measured in thousandths of an inch? But I learned to loosen up my thinking and my miniature work and instead of worrying about exact dimension I create that which is believably realistic and that which works visually with the project I am making and the materials I am using.

Creating that which is believable requires that you educate yourself by putting thousands of images of the real thing into your brain. Seattle is a long ways from the old buildings in Europe so I still start and end most days by looking at images of old buildings as well as reading about the history of the design and building of them. My bookshelves are located right next to my bed and there is always a stack of books by the table where I take meals and I take books along in my car as well for times when I sit waiting for a bridge to open or want something to read at dinner or lunch while out running errands. Many days of the week I browse the internet collecting images for the reference files I keep on my computer. Twenty years of this daily habit of ingesting images has been a real education in  architecture and structural details. My mind now knows what feels just right and I can design original buildings in the style of old buildings from many areas of the world and from many eras.