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.