December 21, 2010

Birdhouse for a birdhouse

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

One could think of the new design as a dollhouse for a dollhouse but in this case it is a birdhouse for a birdhouse.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

The photo shows the new miniature sitting inside the bottom (feeder) floor of a 1:12 scale half timber structure I made as a functional birdhouse years ago.

August 24, 2010

Architectural images from Normandy

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010
I love this old lantern with all the fancy, stamped metal embellishments.
These images have been left in higher resolution so do be sure to click on them for better viewing.

Every once in a while I take a little vacation back to France by going through folders of photos I took 3 years summers ago. The are of real value to me in helping to create a realistic dollhouse. It is not so much that I exactly copy a specific architectural detail. The value is that I know exactly what the textures and colors of the materials I am using should like when I finish the parts for my project.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

Looking at this photo I took in the Normandy region of France of  hinges and shutters I think I did get my miniature versions to look just right.

August 18, 2010

Making the pintles

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

A quick hinge preview for you. I won't install the hinges until after the shutters are painted. I have drilled the nail holes into the straps. The wire nails I will fabricate will go all the way through the shutter and then be bent over and clinched on the opposite side of the wood.

I have used a patina product called "Instant Rust" from Modern Options on the hinges. It is real rust but just a light surface coating. I have not used this product before, I am pleased with it. I purchased it in my local hardware store, it is part of a line of decorator products.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

The pintles I am using to hang the shutters are very simple to make. I have used annealed steel wire. Make a simple 90 degree L shaped bend and then cut to length. Don't forget to dress off the end of the wire so it is smooth with no sharp edges left from being cut by the pliers. The other end that goes into the wall can be pointed. That is what the cup shaped grinding stone in the Dremel motor is for, dressing smooth the end you don't want to be sharp.

August 17, 2010

Dollhouses come in cans?



I have started fabricating the shutter hinges. They will be strap hinges with a pintle support that comes out of the wall of the house. A very basic type of hinge that is not difficult to make.

Research told me a thickness of 3/16 of an inch was used for some real hinges of this type. That meant I needed metal of approx .01 inches to create a 1:12 scale part. Digging into the drawers of metals I have on hand I found a tinned can that was a good match. As I wanted steel for the hinges that also meant it was a good choice. There was a strip of metal wound around the key used to open the can. That is what I am working with.

The tin and plastic coating on the can must be burned off with a torch. This is a job to do outside as the fumes are not good for you. You can anneal the metal at the same time as you burn off the tin. I have given my metal a hammered finish so I had to again anneal the area I was going to form into the hinge barrel as the hammering work hardened the metal.


I am forming the end of the strap around a piece of music wire that I am holding in a vise. Music wire is very stiff and strong so it makes a good forming rod. Tonight's new discovery was that my pair of nylon tipped pliers I purchased at a bead store make easy work of the forming. I can grab onto the metal and hold it against the music wire without damaging the metals. The nylon is soft enough to gain a grip onto the hinge strap so I can pull the strap around to form that tight circle. The top surface of the vise acts as an alignment guide so I get a barrel that is at the correct square angle instead of being crooked in alignment. Of course my forming pin must be clamped at exactly 90 degrees to the top of the vise for this simple trick to work. Or if your don't own a vise you can drill a perfectly perpendicular hole the same diameter as the music wire in a piece of hardwood as use that as your forming tool jig.

Now that I have the hinge barrel formed tomorrow I can cut the strap to length, drill holes in it and even do some decorative shaping of the strap if I wish to do so.

Progress on shutters


The wood work on the shutters is coming along nicely.

I need to make the decision to paint them blue or leave them as they are. I think the aging looks very nice. Of course they are meant to be worn by the wind and the rain as well as having a coat of grime and a hint of green slime. I think I will have to leave the decision to paint or not paint until later when I can do a temporary installation. The  overall look of the project will tell me what to do. I suspect that I will choose the option of painting but for now I will enjoy them as they are.

I have not made the hinges, latches and shutter hooks yet. That is something I am looking forward to doing although no doubt I will feel plenty of frustration during the fabrication of them.

August 15, 2010

Building the shutters


I have started cutting the parts for the window shutters. They are basic plank board shutters but I am adding some extra detail so they have a little more interest than a plain board does. My boards are being artificially weathered for an aged look. The wood I am using is Western Red Cedar and I have selected pieces with tight, vertical grain. They will be painted blue but the first step is to make the board have a gray tone. You can see the natural color in the groove I just cut.

A groove is cut near the edges of the boards. I want the groove to be the same distance on both edges of the boards so I am using a  jig to control the position. A small flame shaped jeweler's steel burr is being used to cut the detail. My shaper is a Cameron Deep Throat drill press, this is a specialized drill press that  turns very fast and accurately, almost as fast as a router. You can't use router bits or most cutting burrs (exception diamond coated burrs) in most drill presses and get a smooth cut in wood. So generally this work needs to be done with a Dremel or Proxxon motor mounted into a drill press or even a router table. Those machines turn fast enough for routing. Always check that the bit you are using is rated to run at the maximum rpm you plan to use for cutting.


What is important is having complete control over the board you are putting a groove into. I have created a channel which controls the board. The groove will now stay in the exact position along the edge. The only work my hands have to do is push down on the board while pushing it along through the groove.


My jig is  not fancy or complicated, it is built from wood scraps. The fence at the rear is permanently fixed to the base of the jig. The fence at the front is not fixed, I clamp it into position as required. It needs to be adjustable as my shutters are of different widths. Remember jigs can be easy to make and inexpensive. The results you get will make you look like a professional.

July 27, 2010

Bird Barn is built!

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010


Here is the little bird barn my young friend and I have been building over the last few weeks. It has been a lot of fun for both of us.

The Barn Raising is tomorrow afternoon, you are all invited!

Yes, that is indeed one of my big birdhouses in the background. It lived out in my yard for 10 years but I have now retired it since I no longer have a yard for it.

The lovely original, oil painting in the background of this photo is by Julann Campbell a talented artist from the Pacific Northwest. I love having paintings in the workshop, it is like having a  window looking out on a special place that is always sunny and serene.
http://www.julanncampbell.com/

July 26, 2010

Celtic Sea Monster





A Celtic Knot Sea Monster carved from jeweler's purple wax. It will become a necklace pendant for my son's birthday.  I have just about finished carving this character, only a little more fine detailing and polishing left to do. I got the design from a Dover Publishing book of Celtic art.

 This summer I am taking a lost wax casting class at a local art college. It is something I have wanted to try for many years. 

I must say I have really enjoyed carving this material, so much easier than dealing with wood grain. It is a good portable project too as long as the weather is not so hot your wax melts. 

Another material I am learning to carve is Plaster of Paris. My friends, "The Guys from Texas" have told me much about it as they carve it for details for their roombox projects then make molds and cast the pieces in resin. This technique of carving in plaster then molding in resins is used by most of the high end dollhouse builders. I am surprised by how easy and pleasant it is to carve. First mix up your plaster into the basic size form you need then let it cure at least a full day before you begin carving. But be sure to complete the carving in a day or two or the plaster becomes more difficult to carve. 

Plaster is very inexpensive. Dental tools can be used as well as wax carving tools, wood carving tools and files. I put a sharp, beveled cutting edge on my dental and wax carving tools. 

One of these days if all goes well I will have a bronze sea monster to show on the blog.

April 24, 2010

Back to work


I am home from the big shows in Chicago and my creativity energy is all recharged. Now it is time to focus on building rather than buying. I have completed the firebrick inside the fireplace box. All that remains in there is to put a little sealer on a couple of bricks I trimmed back. I left it unsealed for the photo so you can see how the sealer really enhances the color of the clay. Look over to the left and you will see a brick at the front edge and one just behind it that look dull and pink rather than a rich terracotta.

I will also be putting "smoke" onto the bricks. It has a very specific type of pattern to the smoke application as  the fire keeps some areas clean while others get the smoke and soot. I am assigning that artistic task over to my friend Don as he is very particular in how he thinks it should look. I do trust his judgement and besides that he is an artist so he really should get out the paint brushes now and again. I will explain all about how it is done later when we get to that part of the project.

At the moment I am busy with the very tedious project of refining stucco detailing and adding some weather checking cracks into the timbers. When I got home I took a close look at the stucco and got out the artist trowel and made up some stucco paste to further refine the surface. Having several weeks off made a real difference in what I could see that looked wrong but before had become too familiar for any real objective personal opinion. That task is not photo worthy or blog time worthy so I will fill in the blog showing you items I purchased in Chicago to put in the house such as light fixtures. Or items I will put into the house when I display it at shows such as pottery and a few chairs.

Naturally being me I also bought a few tool items in Chicago so I will post about those as well.

March 13, 2010

Bench Hook


Have you ever needed a little portable workbench you can use on the dining room table or counter top? Have you ever tried to saw something too big for a razor saw miter box and had it slide all over the place? If so then make yourself a "bench hook". Bench hooks have been around for eons, they are an ancient, simple and very useful jig. They are called hooks because they have a cleat that hooks over the front edge of a work bench or table or counter top.

There is certainly not much involved in making one of these. You will need a flat board and nice straight wood to make the cleats. One cleat is on top at the rear of the top, the other goes underneath the front edge. Be sure to keep the top cleat shorter than the length of the board you glue it to so the saw can clear the cleat. I have left room on both the left and right side of the cleat. Cleat boards are easy to make from 1" x 2" lumber. I have used a leftover piece of Baltic Birch plywood for my base since it was lying around unused. I make sure my top cleat has a truly square 90 degree cut on the ends so they can be used a guides for a flush razor saw that has no tooth set. That type of saw won't cut into the cleat that is guiding it. You could make the other end of the upper cleat a 45 degree angle for a miter cutting guide.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I have spray glued some rubber drawer liner to the bottom side of mine. That will protect the table top or counter top I use it on from scratches. It will help the bench hook grip to the surface I am using it on which will make working with it easier.

Look Mom no clamps to screw and unscrew! Need to stop to make and eat dinner and your project is in the way? It is easy to pick up the board with the project still on it and set it aside until you can get back to work.

How they work is simple, if you are using a saw that cuts on the stroke that pushes away from your body or using other tools that you push away from you such as chisels then the force of the tool keeps the bench hook in position. Of course you are not limited to just those tasks, you can use them for cutting boards with knives or for light duty hammering tasks. Make one with a Formica (laminate) covering on the top, wax the Formica and you can glue or paint projects on top of  your bench hook.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

In the photo above I have placed a board I am going to cut against the rear cleat lining up the cut mark with the end of the cleat. Next I clamped a piece of plywood in place that lines up with the edge of the rear cleat. That clamped wood will do two things for me, first it keeps the wood I am cutting from shifting around so much, second it gives me a square edge to guide my razor saw against. I did not care that my scrap plywood had a hole in it or that it looks ugly, what matters is that there is an accurate 90 edge to guide my saw against.

See the bucket in the photo below? Just think of all the potential jigs for making miniatures that are hiding in there! With a few buckets of leftover wood, some glue, brads and a few screws you can create so much for so little money. There was that scrap of plywood with a hole in it sitting right on top.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

March 9, 2010

Holding my breath

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

Have you ever been really nervous about making a part because if you messed it up there would not have been enough material to redo it? That is the case with the band that is just under the top piece of the mantel. I call it a smoke apron, usually I know the correct architectural name for such elements but this time I don't. It functions to direct the smoke up the chimney. I have not fully assembled the fireplace yet, things are just loose stacked together. I can see I need to mix up a little stone filler for some small voids between the apron piece and the mantel top. To make the filler I take stone dust and mix it with PVA glue into a thick paste. Simple to do and it is a perfect color match when it dries.

In  photos of old cottages you sometimes see that the owner has put a little fabric curtain (skirting) below the mantel in the effort to keep the smoke out of their eyes and out of the room.

Now I only have two small pieces of stone left to make and if I don't get it right the first try I still have enough stone to make them over. A little touch up here and there on the carving too. Then I have to finish the brick work inside the fireplace. There are still the chimney pieces to create but that does not worry me, it is child's play compared to cutting and carving the stone.

March 5, 2010

Curtains and copper

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I spotted a fabric in my local quilting store I thought my do for the curtains in the box bed area. Of course I had to buy a 1/4 yard of it. For some reason the print and colors reminded me of the Provencal prints although it is not one.  I think the fabrics terracotta color is going to be just right in the room. It will play off the terracotta of the fireplace bricks and highlight the copper pots and pans.

There will only be a little bit of curtain showing once I get the front made for the box bed. I want to get the curtains and mattress made before I put on the front face. I have not finalized my design for that piece of woodwork. I am still trying to decide if I will carve in a bit of a wave motif, or repeat a  celtic knotwork motif to tie in with the baby bed or maybe a bit of both. I hope to make up my mind in the next few days. I am feeling the need to get the walls fixed into position and get to the roofing.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

The slate shingles I made seem to have provided the stimulus to drive me to move on to the roofing stage of the project. I really want to glue them on but I can't just yet as the edges will be prone to damage and I don't want to risk that. I did get the roof boards glued onto the bed shed ready for the slates to be installed.

I don't have a big collection of miniature items but I try to have on hand enough things to create a bit of a display inside of houses for shows and photos. One thing I do love is copper pots and pans. I used to own them for my real house but I downsized and let go of most of my antiques and decorative items. However it takes little room to have them in miniature size so that is where I indulge my love of such things. It was fun to open the boxes I store them in and play dollhouse trying out this and that item in the room to see how it will all look one of these days.

Tomorrow is the Seattle Dollhouse show. I am going to take my camera along to share a bit of the fun with all of you.

February 27, 2010

Miniature real slate roof tiles

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

The photo above shows a real, full sized, slate shingle next to my newly made miniature slate shingles. A full size tile was cut up and split thin to make the miniatures. It is amazing that real slate stone scales into making a miniature version very nicely. But it is not an easy task to do. I have tried making thin miniature slate roof tiles for a dollhouse before and failed at the task so I have been putting it off. But today I was able to make them so I am very pleased with myself.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010
These slate shingles will be used on the shed roof over the box bed. It is a small roof so I don't mind making the small amount that is needed.

I will make a jig tomorrow to hold my splitting blade more safely; it is very sharp and I don't want to loose any fingers. I don't think it is wise of me to do a tutorial , it is a dangerous task to do. I would feel bad if anyone got hurt doing it. In addition cutting up the stone into small rectangles requires a water cooled, diamond blade tile saw. I already owned the tools because I have for many years done my own tile work on houses I lived in including installing slate flooring.

February 24, 2010

Brickology Part 5

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010
This photo is a closeup of the herringbone pattern laid brick inside my soapstone fireplace. I am pleased with the realism of it. These are the very same miniature bricks I have shown you how to make earlier in my blog. Brickology Part 5 is on how to mortar the bricks you have made.

After your bricks have been made and glued into position they need mortar between the joints. For a dollhouse you use a method similar to putting grout between tiles. For tiles most dollhouse builders use a lightweight spackle product (Polyfilla). But in real life bricks have mortar and mortar has a different texture than grout, it is much more coarse and has a lot of sand in it. I will repeat yet again how very important texture is to creating realistic miniatures. My handmade miniature bricks have the realistic texture of real life handmade bricks so my mortar must also have the realistic texture.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

There are several choices of materials to use for this miniature mortar. Sanded grout for real tiles works nicely for this application if you are using real ceramic dollhouse bricks. But I felt it would scratch up the surface of the miniature bricks I made from Activa Plus Clay. So I have used another material, Elmer's ProBond stainable wood filler. It contains tiny bits of wood fibers. Those wood fibers give me a nice, sand like texture that does not scratch the surface of my home made bricks. The wood filler is not the correct color for the mortar, I wanted it to be more grey in tone. Therefore I have added a few drops of black, acrylic paint to the wood filler.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I do not spread the mortar all over the surface and then wipe off the excess. That would make a mess of the project. The residual paint and wood filler would change the color of my bricks and I don't want to get water on my bricks to wash off the excess wood filler. My application tools are shown in the photo above. I use the knife blade to pick up a small amount of my mortar material and hold it over the joint I am filling. Then I use the toothpick to press the material into the space. Yes it takes a while but there is very little cleanup needed. A  toothpick can be used to finish smoothing the joint. Blunt the sharp point of a tooth pick so that it  approximately fits the width of the joint between the bricks, it should be just a little wider so it does not slip down into the gap.  for the final smoothing of the mortar line. Brick masons have special tools to dress the joints.

I did not want perfectly smooth joints. The mortar joints on my fireplace would have been subjected to the heat of the fire and the bricks would have shifted with time, the fire will have caused damage as well resulting in  some cracking and loss of  mortar.

A teaser of what comes next. As this brick is used inside a fireplace the last step for this particular brick project will be to create the smoke and soot patterns found in a real fireplace.

February 22, 2010

Miniature reward time

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I have been working on the fireplace and needed a bit of instant gratification. You all know how that works, you just have to try fitting the parts together before it is ready to be glued together so you can see how it is going to turn out.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

OK now it is back to being a stack of parts, my incremental reward break is over for the moment. My reward also served to give me a little something to post on the blog today. I hope you enjoyed it too.

February 21, 2010

Surfacing the soapstone

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I thought you might like to see a photo of the method I am using to smooth the band saw marks off the surface of a thin piece of soapstone. The tool in the drill press chuck is a 1/8" diameter shank, diamond coated bit. I do use a dust collector when surfacing the stone but I removed that so it was easy to see the stone and the bit. I only remove around a 1/16" of the surface in a pass, sometimes less when I get close to the final dimension. Too aggressive of a cut risks breaking the stone.

You can do this task on a regular drill press, even on a Dremel Drill Press if you have a speed control on your motor. Diamond coated bits are not rated for high speeds. Don't exceed the recommended speed stated for the bit you use. Only do this for soapstone, hard stones need to be water cooled while surfacing and you will ruin a regular drill press or Dremel if you get water in it.

The drill press I am using in the photo is a Cameron, high speed, precision, deep throat. This drill press does not look like much, in fact it looks rather old fashioned and well let me be honest...ugly. But it was one of those very lucky finds of a lifetime that one hears about. There it was sitting all dusty and somewhat rusty, on a low shelf in a local consignment store selling used tools. It was the former property of a Boeing engineer who had it in his home workshop where he probably tinkered with making prototypes of his own inventions and made his own circuit boards. Once in very great while they show up used on Ebay. The Cameron drill presses run fast enough that one can use them as a miniature overarm router and the spindle is so precise in the bearings, with very minimal run-out, that you can use the smallest of drill bits without breakage. These are actually a three speed drills press and a speed controller can be added to take the lowest speed even slower. It certainly deserves a place on the wish list for a dream workshop for making miniatures. You can still buy new Cameron drill presses but they are very expensive and probably not in most miniature workshop budgets. Used is a viable option as the Cameron company has very good customer service should you need repairs or parts.

February 19, 2010

Cutting soapstone tiles



I am back to working on the fireplace. It has a lot of soapstone elements to it. For the apron of the fireplace I needed a few tiles that will be inset into the flooring. Like any fireplace hot wood cinders can come flying out and one needs a fireproof apron in front of the fireplace.


Making the stone tiles involved a number of steps. First I had to thickness the stone. I had previously cut some stone slabs on the band saw. I then made a smooth surface on the slabs with a drill press into which I mounted a diamond coated burr with a flat bottom. That milled off all the bandsaw marks on both sides and gave me a flat piece of stone to work with. Then I made the side edges square, the first long side was sanded smooth, the second side ripped square on the table saw and then it was rotated and I used the tablesaw on that first sanded side. I did not care that the narrow ends of my slab were irregular although I could have used the crosscut miter to square them off. I am stingy with my stone and keep the leftover pieces as large as possible for future use.



Now comes ripping it into thin strips. Relatively thin, too thin and the stone breaks apart. I will rout out some of the wood flooring to inset these stones and hide some of that extra thickness in the final installation.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010


I wanted to rip the thin strips on the outside of the saw blade. If I had tried to rip them between the blade and the fence they would have shattered from the stress. To get all the strips the same thickness I created a quick and easy to make gauge.


My jig is just a piece of scrap plywood and a piece of scrap lumber that is double back taped to the bottom side of my purpose made jig. To use it you index it to the side of the table saw top, push your wood or in this case stone against it, then move the fence over to your material and lock the fence in place. Then remove the jig, rip the strip and repeat the indexing sequence for the next strip. You will see that underneath indexing position in a photo lower on the page.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010


It takes next to no time or any special skill to make one of these jigs. I simply set the material I was cutting into the correct position for the strip width, locked the fence down. Then I butted the plywood against the material and reached underneath and stuck the taped wood under the plywood overhang making sure I had the strip right against the edge of the saw's table top. No measuring needed to make this jig other than making sure you have the right width for your strip. You can make this jig for any of the miniature saws. On the Proxxon or Microlux tilting arbor saws be sure to move over the plastic table  top extension so you can index to the metal table top. The miniature saw in my photos is from Byrnes Model Machines. Soapstone turns to talcum powder during cutting, it won't hurt the table saw or the blade.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

Once I had my long strips made I cut them into the right length using my miter box. Use a stop block so all your tiles turn out the same size. I dressed any ragged edges on the stones with a small file before cutting the next tile from the strip. If I had a projection of ragged stone or any saw dust against my stop block then my tiles would not have been the same size. One of my tiles cracked right after I cut it, that was lovely since old stone tiles do get cracked. Perhaps someone dropped a pot on it or a chunk of firewood.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

February 4, 2010

Dust covers


When you build an open back dollhouse it is wise to think out a scheme for installing a see through piece of plastic or glass to act as a dust cover. If you can somehow integrate it into the structure so that it is not visually intrusive that is best.

I just finished making the most complex timber I had to cut. It is a beam that goes against the floor beams of the attic. On the bottom is a rabbet to receive the upper edge of the dust cover from the first floor opening. On the top there is a channel to accept the bottom of the upper story dust cover. The timbers at the sides of the opening also have a rabbet for the dust cover to recess into. This way the cover won't project from the back of the dollhouse and all the edges of the plastic or glass are protected. I will make a small turn button to fix it into place but still allow it to be easy to remove.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

This one piece timber plays a trick, on the top side it integrates into the flooring of the attic with a smooth surface that will match the floor stain color. But on the other three sides it is one of the  structural timbers of the house. The timber is notched to allow the walls to slide into it. A lot of tricky cuts, the table saw did the rabbet and channel, the bandsaw made the receiving notches for the walls. I textured the surfaces that act as a framing piece.

Lots of timbering to do today on the inside walls of the dollhouse. The pieces around the opening are part of that job.

I will start gluing some of the walls in place today. The front wall will be the last to install as it is easy to see and reach from the back opening.

January 30, 2010

The other side

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I thought you would enjoy a glimpse of the other side of the house. Remember the walls are only temporarily assembled, the stucco on the wall joins is missing and I am in the process of applying foundation stones. The upper area of the roof timbering is unfinished as beams that will be upstairs are going to come poking through that gable wall.

You can see some of the chunks of limestone I have been breaking down into smaller pieces for the dollhouse.

 In this photo you can see the dynamic patterning relationship of the timbers leading the eye around the structure. Repetition and variation of pattern is what it is called in the architecture design world. The shorter diagonals near the foundations were chosen as I saw in various books quite a few cottages in the Normandy and Brittany area that use that particular pattern of bracing. It is not something I have seen commonly used as a timber pattern in other countries or other areas of France.

January 29, 2010

Foundation work

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I am starting to lay some of the foundation stones. I have created a separate foundation riser structure that the house wall and the floor sit on top of. Makes life a little easier for me being able to work on smaller segments of house and I am less likely to cause damage to work I have already done.. The walls are not yet attached to each other or to the foundation, good old duct tape is holding the corners of the upper structure in place.

Before I lay the stone work I first put on a skim coat of grout over the substrate. That way if I miss getting a good grout fill between the stones it won't be very noticeable as there is a color match. A little missing mortar here and there will look as if the mortar between the stones fell out from the land settling, the timbers sagging or weather related events such as freeze thaw cycles.

My substrate is a tile backer board so putting a skim coat of mortar on it works fine. I like that I can use push pins to hold the stones in place until the Quick Grip brand of glue dries. This glue does grip fast and dries fairly fast. Another advantage is that it dries waterproof which is important when I apply the wet grout between my stone work. I like working with this glue where the object I am adhering has an uneven surface that needs gap filling. These natural stones do not have a truly flat surface on the back side. I can use a coarse carborundum file to flatten areas if needed. You can find those files in the tiling supply stores.

Now I am running out of split stone, that means I will have to open my mini quarry box of stones up and start breaking up the bigger chunks into smaller chunks. You can see why I liked this color of stone for the project it is a nice complement to the timbers. The stone has shades of gray and browns to it as well as subtle blues and green, a little purple too. It might look like a miss match of stone between the area with the sink drain and the foundation but it is not. What you are seeing is that the sink area has had grout on it and it has been scrubbed to remove excess grout. That has removed some of the brown surface oxidation caused by the stones sitting out in the weather for many years. There is iron around in the soils and in the stone, also some algea green and brown and that gets scrubbed off too. But I will later use washes of acrylic paint to put some of those colors back on.

A sand dune landscape will be coming up against the foundation area. I don't have a straight line on the bottom edge of the stone work as I will be creating a loose, windblown, hilly look with sea grass type plants here and there rather than a manicured lawn.

January 27, 2010

Sink Drain


photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I started filling in the wall area on the outside of the cottage that is behind the stone sink. There is a stone drain trough that comes through the wall. It projects from the wall so that water from the sink does not get the house wet. This is a traditional detail used with the old sinks. I decided to infill between the timbers with stones rather than stucco. This helps to create a focal point for the big gable wall.  More stone work to be done to create a small foundation under the house.

The drain block is made from soapstone but the rest of the stones are limestone that I collected from an old quarry near Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island, WA.


I never showed you a photo of the outside of the window. At the lower edge of the window frame is a molding that helps direct rain water away. It overhangs the window frame opening and has an undercut so the water drips off instead of running back onto the frame and into the cottage. This is also a traditional detail on old wood windows.

I need to start making exterior window shutters and the hinges for them this next week. They will be fairly basic in design, I don't want to spend the time to make louvered shutters. Guess I am feeling much too lazy to create the jigs for that task.

January 25, 2010

stucco layers

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

Will I ever be finished with the stucco job? Not for a couple of days more of work. It is very labor intensive to create the layers of texture, the cracks, the color washes and to pick off all the bits and blogs that get on the timbers. It is at least 40 hours, probably more like 60 to create this kind of look for stucco for a small cottage. No one part of the job is difficult but it is tedious work.

I had to invent a custom stucco putty mixture for the top layer of plaster. I needed something that was water resistant so it would not melt away the crisp edges of the broken plaster look when I applied washes. Spackle will lose its hard edges. It needed to be a smooth plaster with little grit in it.  I could not have any shine to this layer and I had to be able to carve it. It needed to be basically white in color but able to absorb the acrylic color washes without melting or bringing up a shine. Hooray I managed to accomplish that which I set out to do. Now that is a good day in the workshop.

So in order not to forget what I use for the top stucco layer I had better document it here. It is Golden Brand, light acrylic modeling paste into which I stir Lightweight Hydrocal Plaster. Do not add any water to the mix. You want a thick mixture that can be trowel onto the walls. When dry your mix should look and feel like plaster and not like the more rubbery feel of the acrylic modeling paste. The acrylic paste prevents the plaster from being fragile and cracking, it also makes it so that the plaster does not melt, dissolve, when you put a watery acrylic paint wash on the dry surface. As both the plaster and the acrylic modeling paste have a surface quality that will absorb paint rather than having it just lie there on the surface you get a very realistic look of time worn, lime washed plaster rather than having unrealistic thick paint on your project.

I put the sink in this photo, when I took it's portrait the other day the camera made the color too deep a brown. It is much more of a light grey with some browns. The sink fits right in with the monochromatic color scheme of the structure. The stone of the sink relates very well to the timbers and to the stucco. The natural edge on the sink front also works with those elements.

Back to work, another day of stucco tomorrow but I will break it up with a few other tasks on the dollhouse to relieve the boredom. What many people don't realize is that a great deal of the hours of work on dollhouses is not very exciting. I find the best fun is the research, the dreaming, the planning and the inventing of new materials and methods of construction.

January 23, 2010

Natural Stone Sink


Today I made the sink for my cottage. It is made of soapstone. Real sinks are also made from soapstone. I believe the French word for this type of sink is "evier" My design is generic, the size based on the area I want to put the sink combined with the piece of stone I had. It was already this thickness and was long and wide enough to do the job. I left the natural edge on the front. I like the fact that the sink tapers at one end, it says "I am  made for the purpose from salvage materials".  That is what my fisherman families would have done often when they needed a home improvement project over the centuries.

These types of stone sinks are typically shallow in depth. I created a small drainboard area. The sink and drainboard areas were milled out using diamond coated burrs. I mounted the burrs in a drill press. They don't have to run at high speeds when shaping soapstone. Soapstone is soft and turns into talcum powder.

If you have always wanted a stone sink for your dollhouse you will find it simple enough to make from real soapstone, you don't need to fake it. A fence and a stop block or two helps keep the edges of the recessed areas nice and straight. You do need a depth stop on your drill press to control how deep you cut.

The sink will drain out through the rectangular recess at the bottom into a channel that goes through the wall. You will see that detail in a few weeks.

Now I need to make the riser blocks that hold up the sink. No taps for this sink, my rustic old cottage does not have running water.

January 18, 2010

That driftwood look




In the two photos above I have set the side wall of the house right next to the front wall of the house. You can see the before and after effects of aging the timbers. The floors of the house are also in the photo, they were not bleached as the wood was already light in tone but they did have a vinegar and iron solution brushed over the raw wood as the first step in aging.

 I have mentioned before that the coastal cottage project is intended to have a grey cast to it invoking the feel of driftwood on a beach. The old timbers on these old houses will always weather to grey if left unfinished but they may still have some brown undertones to them. That is the look I want. This is a small cottage and the timber framing is very busy, the overall monochromatic color scheme of the dolls house has a calming effect on the viewer that lets one focus better on details.

I told you about a two step process to recreate mother natures reality aging in my workshop laboratory. Mad scientist at work! So first step is the two part wood beach, it is a peroxide based oxygen bleach. I stop the bleaching action by brushing water onto the timbers. As I am using a water proof substrate and also waterproof glue no warping or other damage is done to the dollhouse from this process.

The second step is the application of a dilution of iron minerals in vinegar. This solution is easy to make, soak rusty objects in vinegar then strain it and store it in a plastic or glass bottle. Never store it in a metal container. Or you can shred steel wool pads into vinegar, let sit for a day or two and then strain that solution. Usually though I purchase the famous Thomas "Bug Juice". I know the strength of the solution is consistent and  my purchase helps support the two people in the miniature business who have taught me more than any other individuals, Noel and Pat Thomas. They used to write a series of articles for Nut Shell News, Dollhouse Miniatures and later Miniature Collector I have all those articles saved into a big notebook. It is a fountain of wisdom, artistic attitude and examples of building fine miniatures from scratch.

January 17, 2010

Stucco Test


I started testing stucco last night. The store has changed brands on me. The stucco material I used to buy is no longer there. Last night I did a test patch of the new product they are carrying. I like it better in many ways, it is lighter in weight, the size of the bits of  sand is smaller, it does spread nicely, it is not as sticky.

Some things I don't like better, it is too white, it is not as sticky,  there are areas on the structure where I want to have larger grit showing. Ah you see there is no pleasing me, I want it sticky but not sticky and big grit as well as small grit. In order to get the right look for an old stucco wall that has cracking and failing plaster I have to use multiple products applied in layers. That is because that is how the real houses are created. I can also modify a product with bigger grit and a change of color and then layer on those variations. That may be what I will do this time around.

My goal will be to create a stucco that is showing age, has cracks and loss of plaster but is not completely decrepit. I am not building a haunted house, I am building a normal house that is in need of some attention. The photo below is a good reference for how that looks  on a real structure. I will be having a few areas where the plaster is coming off in larger sections, that is not shown in the photo.


The real life stucco process on a timber framed house starts with a very course mix of clay, straw, sand and other inclusions. That thick stuff is pushed into the underlying structure of wattle.  Wattle is basically  little sticks sprung or woven in the openings. Then what modern plaster masters would call the scratch coat is applied, that layer also has grit or other inclusions in it but it is not a course. After that comes a coat of smooth plaster. The last coating is a lime wash. The lime wash is to plaster walls what paint is to wood walls. It provides a protective coating that helps resist water.

Timber frame houses are an interesting architectural structure in terms of engineering. They move and they breathe. Moisture from inside the house can pass out through the plaster walls, that helps prevent issues such as toxic mold and rotting wood. The frames stay in good condition because of the plaster. When the plaster fails you dig it out and fill it back in again. There is a constant cycle of stress on the plaster, wind rain and movement due to changes in humidity. Only a newly plastered house would have the completely smooth texture from using a product such as Creative Paperclay or lightweight spackling compound or plaster. Only a newly plastered house would be free of cracks, stains and dirt. I don't build newly plastered houses so to achieve realism I use a combination of products of different textures and colors applied in layers.

Because I will also be applying paints, glaze and washes to the surface I need to have my stucco materials be water resistant. A wash of dirty looking water will melt and smooth away sharp edges of broken plaster if I make it from lightweight  hole filling product unless I choose to use an exterior product that dries to a water resistant surface. There is also the issue of the color of materials. The course daub (torchis) is not the same color as the white lime wash or colored lime wash. In some geographic areas of the world the earth the minerals used to make the layers of materials that make up the infill will be off white, other areas have a  golden tint or it could be grey and even reddish brown. Different layers such as the filler will be a color that does not match the final lime wash. What the local land provided  is what you got. They did not run to the local giant warehouse  home improvement store as I can. They will very likely have mixed their own stucco products for the various layers from basic materials using the locally favored formula passed around by word of mouth.

Set a time and a location for your project and then support your decisions with research. Remember to use materials the characters who inhabited your story house would used. They had to shop locally if they lived in the previous centuries unless they were very wealthy.

Quick and easy methods for dollhouse building are great but only if they make a believable finished product. Not all dollhouses have to be believable but sometimes that is the goal. Other times they are much like a stage or movie set, the designer edits out details and emphasizes others to create an artistic impression on the viewer. Either way  take the time to think it all out decided on a direction and then be consistent and faithful to that course


The photos below are some that I took on my tour of Normandy. Some show failing stucco and one shows newly restored stucco.