November 29, 2009

Falling in love again

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

When I went into my files today looking for a photo I fell in love all over again with one of my own pieces. It is funny how that can happen. Often when I look at various photos I have taken I think "oh I wish I had done that differently or better" but now and again I feel "oh I got that just right". Well I got almost all of it just right, there is one small detail that bothers me a bit and I want to make that part over again but I can't so I have to accept it the way it is. This is the curse of being an artist.

The photo above is of the bay window on my Acorn Cottage house. The leading on the window is made from the adhesive back lead that is used for weighting putting irons for the sport of golf. It starts wide at the bottom and then tapers to being thinner at the top where it branches out. This window repeats the theme of the gothic arches of the trees which are the framework of the structure.

At first you might think looking into the window that somehow its shape is reflected in there but you are simply looking at and through the little window on the other side of the house by the front door. It too has the same  leading pattern in the shape of a tree. Looking into the dollhouse through this window you can clearly see the slight distortion from the hand poured glass I used.

The carving of the branches in the header over the window continues the line of the branches of the trees from the corners of the house. I like the flow of that and the leaves on the tips of the branches. I have always loved the shapes of leaves.  I don't recall planning that particular design detail to happen, I think it is one of those happy accidents that should have been in the plans. I never noticed that it had happened until just a few moments ago when writing up this description.

The natural boulders of real rock and the ground covering of natural moss and tiny bits of real branches and real fallen leaves all add to the feeling of the forest setting. The small vine on the base is a bit of wooly thyme. Watery thin acrylic paint tints the moss and the vine to keep them green forever. I have not taken the time to learn to make flowers from paper or fimo. The flowers in the pitcher on the sill are real dried flowers and they look perfect to me as they are perfect flowers.

Yes, sometimes our visions do become the reality we intended, this was one of those times and one of those photos where the magic did get captured.

If you come to the N.A.M.E (National Association of Miniature Enthusiast) convention in Seattle Washington USA in the summer of 2010 you can see this dolls house in person. The owner of the cottage will have it on display. It will be fun to see how she has chosen to decorate the interior. I will enjoy the chance to visit it and remember the fun and the struggles I had in creating it. Now and again I get to enjoy visiting some of the special real life houses I have owned and then recreated to my personal visions. The owners always have a great time talking about the magic of those places.

November 27, 2009

Blue Skies and progress

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The sun came out today and it was grand sight to see shades of blue everywhere. The water, sky and even the earth were blue.  Fresh snow on the Olympic mountains provided the contrast of white. The breeze had the white capped waves dancing. Do enlarge the photo by clicking and join me on the beach. Bring hot chocolate with you to warm your hands and your insides, it is very chilly outside.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Welcome everyone come on into my new dollhouse. Pardon the mess and the duct tape, we are under construction. The carpenters took a holiday, they will soon come back to do some timber framing work. Then the plasterers will come and then the stone mason. The stone mason has yet to carve the stone sink that goes under the window on the left and to finish the fireplace. You have all heard the horror stories of trying to find reliable help in the construction trades.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Now you can finally see some progress on the dollhouse. Most of the windows are glued into the walls. I still have to cut the parts for a dormer and the roof.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I have always planned on adding a small shed roof extension. I thought at first it would be a shed roof on the outside to shelter tools and firewood. Then I decided it would hold a box bed for the inside of the house. It is called in France a lits-clos (bed closet). Some of them are free standing pieces of furniture. Mine will have a furniture type front facing the inside of the room. It is tucked in right next to where the fireplace will be, so warm and cozy snuggled in your little box for the night just like a kitten.

This shed roofed addition also helps with the overall look from the exterior and gives the interior more depth and adventure of exploration. An architect would have said it this way "breaking up the primary massing of the building".

It is a quirky cottage, the balance of the elements is informal rather than being symmetrical about a central point. But indeed there is balance and there will also be a lot of rhythm as you will see when it is all finished. One of the things that attracts me to timber framed houses is all of the rhythm of the framing members. It plays a little tune for your eyes and they simply must dance with a happy pace over all  the details of the dollhouse.

A long ways to go yet on this project but I am feeling good about things. Perhaps it won't end up in the trash bin after all.

November 24, 2009

Router bits for dollhouse building

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

My Christmas present to myself has arrived and of course I opened it since I knew what it was. A very special set of router bits that are made just for dollhouse miniatures. They fit into a 1/4" shank router. I will use them in my Bosch Colt router on the router table I made for it. You saw that in an earlier posting on my blog.

This router bit set is made by Amana Tools and this set and other high quality miniature carbide router bits can be ordered from

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Still learning new tricks for safely working on small parts almost every day. I finally found the brass C channel I wanted for the catches on my window latches so I started making new ones. I decided to cut the pieces to length first. Of course that created the problem of exactly how I was going to hang onto that small chunk of channel so I could drill a hole in it for a nail. As I have already told you brass wants to grab and spin while drilling it. After trying this that and the other I picked up a leftover piece of wood from the windows it was grooved to accept the glass. Oh joy, a perfect snug fit for the channel that put a little bit of grip onto the brass so it would not spin out or shift position when I went to drill into it. Into the vise my wood strip went, supported from underneath to keep it level.

 I put a USA penny in the photo for scale, that drill bit still looks big in the photo but it is only .0292" (.741mm). The smallest size drill bits are numbered, this one is a #69, they are called wire drills.

November 20, 2009

Window Latches

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The working window latches are just about done. I can see that I need to move the catches on the upper and lower edges over to the right a little more. Digital cameras are so fantastic to use for an instant critique. It really gives you a fresh perspective and virtual set of  eyes that have not been staring at a miniature part for far too long.

The handle in the center of the latch is a fragment of one of the Vintag brass findings I got at the Fusion Bead store in Seattle the other day. The brass rod has a darkening patina applied to it. No bling allowed on this dollhouse but there is a richness of texture and detail that tells its own story in this structure.

In case you are wondering about scale the brass rod I used is 1/32" in diameter.

While they are not a replica copy of any particular window latch they are of the early style that was found on old houses. They will do nicely.

November 16, 2009

Never enough Vise

You can't make tiny metal parts without good holding devices. The photo above shows a little guide block I am building as part of my window latching system. The square part is a bead I found into which I have drilled another hole. In that hole I have soldered a piece of 1/32" brass rod that has been trimmed to length and will be filed into a point. The pointed rod pin will go into the window frame and help keep the guide block secured in position. A dab of superglue will secure the guide block to the window frame surface. The pin primarily keeps the block from shifting side to side when under pressure and also adds extra surface for the glue to grab onto.

I have to use a needle file to point the pin and also to remove oxidation from the soldering process. Hard to hold anything that tiny with fingers so I have it held in a pair of flat nose, smooth jaw parallel pliers. You can find them on the internet using that keyword description. When the pliers grip the jaws stay parallel along their length. That creates a good grip that is also a gentle grip and it won't scratch my piece. The pliers I am using allow for a long part to go right on through them which is another useful feature. Update: You can now purchase these pliers online direct from my favorite hardware store Hardwick's in Seattle. Click here to order them.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Another essential tool for making my window locks is a high quality bench vise. The vise on the right is called a pattern makers vise, the vise on the left is an Eron block vise. The long bar in the pattern maker's vise is a parallel which raises the object I am holding up to the height I need it to be but keeps the object squared to the surface and supported from underneath. I used that when drilling the hole in the bead to accept the pin.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
These small vise are created to a high quality standard. The jaws are smooth on the inside. When you tighten them the jaws stay parallel to each other, that is essential for micro machining work. Cheap vises lift one of the jaws as you close them and you only get pressure at a small point when that happens. It will also gouge your work due to that shift out of parallel.

Another good feature is when working with them on the bench I can flip them around from one side to the other and still have a flat surface to rest on the bench. That lets me work on small parts from several different sides without moving the part in the vise.

Every year I add a few new quality items like good vises to my tool collection to help me make small metal parts. I have a Panavise but it just does not compare in ability to the pattern maker's vise for most tasks.

November 13, 2009

Auxilliary Fence

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I did not find any C shaped brass channel of the size I needed on my shopping trip to the stores. However I did find some square tubing that could be made into C channel. 

Brass is somewhat dangerous to cut and drill. It is soft and the bits of material being cut will bind up in the drill  flutes and saw and even clog up your files. Because it will grab and bind on the tools it can spin out of your control and damage the part and you.

Working with small pieces of any type of material requires being able to control the material so it does not move in directions you don't desire. For this particular operation I created a purpose made auxiliary fence. Nothing special about making it just a piece of scrap plywood with a notch cut into it that I sized to fit snuggly around the brass tube I wanted to trim.

I clamped that purpose made fence to my normal table saw fence and from the back I pushed the brass into the saw blade. When I had a long enough cut (less than an inch) I pulled back on the brass tube to pull the piece back out of the saw blade instead of trying to push it on through. I don't need long lengths for my parts. If I had to cut long lengths I would need to make a second auxilary fence that was clamped behind, but clear of the saw blade. A long skinny length of material tends to whip around and lash back into the saw blade and of course knocking into the teeth on the saw blade would ruin the part.

In the photo below you can see the backside of the auxiliary fence and the cut I made into the brass tubing. It is a very simple cutting task but a potentially dangerous one for injury to hands and fingers.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I will do any filing and drilling work to this piece before I separate my new C channel from the long length of brass tubing. It is good to have a nice built in handle. I will also use that advantage to clamp the piece to my drill press table so it does not spin out of control. This channel will hopefully become part of a catch for my window locking system. My reference book "The French Farmhouse" calls the type of latch an "espagnolette". I will be making a very basic, no frills version, of that locking bar system.

Creating holding fixtures so you can work with small pieces of materials is a skill dollhouse builders must develop. If you needed to modify a small piece of commercial, strip, basswood and safely run it through a saw or router you can use the same type of technique of making an auxiliary fence that I used to resize my brass tubing.

November 6, 2009

Squaring Up Assembly Jig

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Yet, once more you see a jig made out of odds and ends of leftover small pieces of materials from my workshop and you will keep on seeing them. It is the green thing to do, recycling at its best and it saves money.

I needed to square up and assemble the pieces of windows. The two white melamine strips are glued and tacked to a piece of plywood. They did not need to be melamine, its just what was handy in my scrap box today.  They are nicely square at 90 degrees, that is what is important, that the edges be 90 degrees so if I had to clamp upright pieces against them my parts would sit square to the base. I used a large, professional quality, drafting triangle to help align that corner.  That drafting triangle helps me setup all kinds of fixture and fences for dollhouse work. Glue and tack one strip to the plywood, then put glue on the second and using the drafting triangle as a guide clamp it and let it dry. You can add brads after it dries if you think they are needed.  One caution sometimes glue lets pieces that are clamped creep out of position so keep an eye on it and while it is still wet gently tap it back where it belongs. A fast way to get rid of glue creep is to rub the two glued surfaces together, the friction heats the glue so that it kicks off more quickly. A thin layer of glue evenly spread is better than a thick layer because it won't tend to creep. That is important to remember when you assemble wood pieces.

To clamp the pieces into the corner I use more cut off pieces of wood to the push the window components into that squared up corner.  Those pieces also need to be nice and square. One of the pieces of wood I grabbed is my push stick for the small table saw. It fit in there and why cut something when it was right by my hand at the right time? It will go right back to being a push stick shortly. Did it surprise you to see me using those big clamps to do a delicate glue-up task? They don't have to touch the miniatures, they are simply holding the pieces that are applying the gentle pressure on my window parts.

This is jig building at its most basic for a very basic and frequently required task.  Part of the reason for creating this blog is to show some of the behind the scenes dollhouse building work that is not in books or magazines. If you want to start building and don't have a background in making things it helps to watch over someones shoulder now and again. Just remember there are hundreds of ways of doing the same thing. I don't use the same way all the time, it varies depending on my mood, materials on hand and if I am in the mood to play engineer or mad scientist and try something new.

Proxxon Miter Saw Fence

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The Proxxon KGS80 Miter Saw is a very nice size for many task when scratch building a dollhouse. Not for the tiny strip wood pieces but great for things like window and door frames, flooring strips and such. However as it is out of the box it is going to launch any small pieces you cut all the way across the room. It is a powerful saw for its size. Good luck finding anything small in the back room of my workshop and of course the parts can be damaged by the journey and landing.

To make repetitive cuts of strips of wood an easier task I built a fence out of hardwood. Now my cut off pieces stay right there on the fence and I don't have to go hunting for them. My custom fence is sized to fit into the existing clamp on the saw. I did not want to modify the miter saw as it is very good for cutting pieces of non ferrous metals in it's standard configuration. The fence is a piece of 3/4" thick poplar wood that is cut to fit into the clamp opening. It is a little tricky to fit the fence in under the motor and on into the clamp, you will have to mess around with the design making adjustments as you go. Do worry a great deal about getting the fence on the back nice and square to the saw blade so it makes perfect 90 degree cut.

I had not used the saw for a while as I knocked off part of the back fence during the move last year. But since I had been ripping strips of hardwood and had plenty of extra it was a quick repair with that rubbery superglue. Now I am back in action again, whew, that feels good. I really like this saw.

If you are going to make a setup like this for your saw keep in mind that the rear wood fence needs to be short enough for the motor of the saw to come all the way down. Look at the photo, you will see the approximate height you need.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I made my fence base so it extended out further to the left so I can clamp on stop blocks. A long stop block will reach in quite a ways towards the center.

It is very important for your safety that you need to know the correct way to use miter saws with stops. You must secure the wood you are cutting some place between the saw blade and the stop block. If you don't the wood will get into a pinching situation and the part can be damaged and so can you.  Sometimes there is room for your fingers to do the clamping but don't take foolish risks. The eraser end of a pencil gets where fingers won't but sometimes even that is too big.  You can make other kinds of  custom hold down pieces as needed. When it is impossible to get in there with any kind of a clamp make a removable stop. Secure the work on the other side of the blade instead where you can get a grip on it.

You can find out more information on the Proxxon KGS80 by clicking "HERE"

November 3, 2009

Miniature Custom Carved Sabots

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I commissioned Linda Master to carve a pair of sabots for my coastal cottage project. Fishermen wore these to protect their feet from the wet long before there were rubber boots. Of course if a wooden shoe came off it would float instead of sink. They are much also warmer than wet leather.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

They arrived just the other day. I love the custom carved shoe box she made for safe shipping.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

You can see their actual size as they sit on the inch ruler.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

This is amazing carving in miniature. The width of the wood on the shoe opening as it turns around the heel is so consistent I can't imagine achieving it myself. The leather straps are perfect as well. The shoes look just slightly worn and scuffed, exactly what I was hoping for.

Sabots are fairly simple compared to many items Linda makes in miniature. You really have to check out her web site. You will fall in love and want to spend all your dollars there. Click " HERE to go to the website for Miracle Chicken Urns. There is an interesting story to go with the choice of name for Linda Master's business.

Linda does take custom orders so your miniature dreams can come true just like mine did. Have you ever wanted your real pet dog or cat to live in miniature size in your dollhouse?

I learned an interesting tidbit about the word sabot, it is the root word for sabotage which came from  throwing these shoes into the working parts of machinery during the war years to mess up production.

Installing the hinge

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

My hinges started out all bright and shiny, these were the gold plated over brass hinges from Houseworks. First thing I did was take a butane torch and burn off the gold plating. Then I took a needle file and cleaned the burnt oxide off the back of the hinge so it is bare brass again. That filing step also roughed up the surface just a little, giving it tooth. Now the glue will stick to it nicely. 

While I was at it I took some smooth jawed, duck billed, pliers and straightened out and aligned those hinge knuckles. Shame on you Houseworks, all your hinges have wonky knuckles. I also have to hammer the hinge leaves flat as they often have a cup to them.

Why mess up lovely gold plated hinges? Because the shiny gold would be completely out of character with the dollhouse I am building. My hinges have been out in the briny salt weather where plating or lacquer coating has absolutely no chance of surviving. I could have done a rust finish or a green patina finish but I am happy with the dull blackened look.

photo courtesy of gorilla glue

For the last several months I have been using a new kind of superglue. It is formulated with a little bit of rubber to make it shock resistant. I love this stuff better than any superglue I have ever tried before. It works just great for miniature hinge jobs and there is not a strong chemical smell to it. I got a gel version as hinges and recesses are never perfectly flat, the gel fills up those little gaps nicely. 

Most super glue companies are selling this kind of rubberized formula, I am currently using the Gorilla Glue brand because that is what I found at the store.

When you go to glue your hinge be sure both halves are supported so the hinge is balanced and you don't have to fight it flopping around and pulling loose before the glue is cured. I have clamped a scrap piece against my door for support of the unglued half, you can see this in a photo down below where there is natural wood next to the blue door.

Spread a little glue in the hinge recess you have cut and push your hinge down into it. You don't want any excess glue squeezing out and over the hinge surface, use enough to make a full coverage but not a huge amount. Hold it down for a minute or so to make sure it is firmly set.

After the glue is set up I used a needle sharp, very fine tipped awl to poke in starting holes for the nails that came with the hinge. The awl is a better choice than trying to drill a hole, you can see how small the awl tip is in the photo below, it is super sharp. I grap the nails with flat nose tweezers that have small grooves all along the inside edge. The head of the nail slips between the grooves and they grip the nail so you can push to start it. First though I put a little dab of glue on the tip of the nail so it won't come back out of the hole. You might need to push the nail on down further with a small flat, metal object such as the tip of a flat blade screwdriver until the nail is fully set against the hinge. 
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Next I take a needle file and flatten the nail heads out quite a bit. That makes the heads smaller, they look more realistic and it also removes any gold plating. I used a chemical patina solution to darken the shiny brass nail heads and also the hinge. Now I have grungy old hinges for my grungy old door.

My favorite dollhouse hinges come from Micromark, they are solid brass and are not gold plated. The quality of the hinge joints is superior to those from Houseworks. However I did not have enough of them for this project and I did have lots of the Houseworks product. 

Hinge recess jig

I designed and built a simple jig today to create those pesky little recesses, otherwise known as mortises, that the door and window hinges drop down into. They are so easy to mess up trying to guide the tools by hand. Too wide, too deep, too long, crooked, I have made all those errors before and I was tired of fighting the task.

My jig is made from  leftover pieces of material that were donated from Don's workshop. He has a real treasure trove of metal odds and ends and fasteners too. I used 90 degree aluminum angle. The larger of the two pieces was 1.5" x 1.5" by .125" thick. It is long enough and wide enough to allow me to clamp stop blocks to it and also the clamp the pieces I am going to attach hinges to.

The hinges I will be using are just under 3/8" in length, they are the standard dollhouse door hinges you purchase from stores. To create a guide notch in the angle I used a 3/8" end mill cutter, I could have used a 3/8 straight cutting router bit instead. The bit created a little too long of an opening so I glued in a brass shim to shorten the length. (Note that I don't always get these things right on the first try) Or you could use a narrower bit and take two passes to make the opening.

My chisel is guided down against the three edges of the opening. Hand pressure is all that is needed to make these shallow cuts.

The second piece of 90 degree angle was epoxy glued to the first piece. It is used to control how deep the bottom of the recess will be cut and to guide the chisel in so it is level for a perfect flat bottom for the hinge to rest on.

My chisel rest on the smaller angle as I push in to remove the waste piece. All  you need is light hand pressure to pare out the waste. A very sharp chisel is required for the task, my chisel is .25" wide.

I hope this post inspires you to make jigs to improve the quality of your work and also to make it much less stressful. I made mine for both reasons as I hate to mess up windows and doors I have spent a lot of time making. I was dreading the hinging task so I motivated myself to do something to make it easy for all the miniature houses I want to build in the future.

The secret to designing jigs is to think about the motions you need to make for the task and how you can control those motions for accuracy and repetition in the simplest way possible.

 How will you guide the tools you use to make cuts and how will you hold the piece you are trying to cut in the correct position?

You can build a hinge recessing jig out of hardwoods, just be careful not to allow the chisel to cut into the guiding surfaces. It will last a good long time. Or you can glue thin brass to those surfaces to give them an even longer lifetime of use. If you use a jig often and it gets a lot of wear then metal is a good choice.