The Chair Challenge (Part III): Assembling the Chair

In small scale, assembly can be one of the most challenging steps.   A crooked leg or stile can easily destroy the illusion that you have worked so hard to create.  Assembling this chair had two particularly challenging aspects: (1) making sure the various pieces were cut to length correctly so that there were no visible gaps between the pieces and (2) getting the legs at the same angle–about 10 degrees off the vertical from the front and side.

Oh yes–by far the biggest challenge came from pieces trying to fly away/  A pair of tweezers with ridges helped there.

Use tweezers with ridges

Use tweezers with ridges


The two stiles for the back were attached first.  A small bur in the shape of a ball, held in a pin vise, made small indentations on the seat where the stiles would go.  These indentations served several purposes:  hiding some of the glue, covering any raw ends of the stiles,  and making sure the stiles are attached in the right place.

11.  Assembly - back  - 2

A side view, showing the angle back of the stiles.

10.  Assembly - back - 1

The seat is held on a little pedestal with double stick tape, to aid in assembly.






The legs were next.  I was aiming for a 10 degree angle.  The legs were rounded on one end, and sanded lightly to an angle where they would hit the seat.

8.  The Angle of the legs

The angle of the legs

7. Rounding and shaping the legs

Two of the spindles for the legs



As it turned out, the easiest approach was just to flip the chair over and attach the legs by eye, rotating frequently as it dried to make sure the legs were in the right place.

A bit of sticky tape holds the chair in place while the legs are attached

A bit of sticky tape holds the chair in place while the legs are attached

When everything was dry, the last steps were to attach the rail on the back, the additional spindles on the back, and the spindles between the legs.

I would try to improve on one or two things if I make it again, but overall I’m pleased.  I hope the person I made it for is, too!

13.  Finished chair

Front view

14.  Finished back

Back view


The Chair Challenge (Part II): Making all the Pieces

The first step was to find some pictures on the internet and pull together measurements.  Lots of websites have useful information, including these:   for photos of simple windsor chairs, for dimensions, or for detailed drawings and tips on construction.

After testing a few different woods, I settled on boxwood–it has a fine grain, is flexible and strong enough to withstand turning to small diameters, and the color is neutral but not bland (in case the chair is not stained).

The final pieces:

5.  All the pieces

The most challenging part of the chair were the various spindles–for the legs, the stiles on the back, the spindles connecting the legs… you get the idea.

The spindles were formed on a lathe using a combination of roughing down to about 2 mm, using a graver as a scraper to thin it another half millimeter, and then sanding with 180 grit sandpaper and fine files to get the spindle down to a mm or less, depending on the piece.

          1. Roughing 2.  Gravers2.  Sanding with 180 3.  Partway through


The drawplate was used to get the spindles down to their final diameters.

4.  Using a drawplate

Challenge in Quarter Inch Scale: Making a Chair (Part I)

I’ve worked in various micro scales most of my life.  Recently, I’ve become intrigued by the potential for added detail that 1/48 scale (quarter inch scale) offers. After all, it’s absolutely huge in comparison to 1/144!   The challenge, though, is how to bound that potential.  Should drawers open?  Cabinet doors have working hinges?  Should  the lumber be to scale in thickness?

When I was asked to contribute a 1/48 scale chair to an exhibit about dollhouse scale at the recent IGMA show in Teaneck, NJ, I decided to see just how detailed I could get.  This is the result. To learn more about the process of making the parts and assembling this chair,  stay tuned for my next post.

0. Quarter scale finished - 1 0. Quarter scale chair


Making a tiny carving gouge

Working in small scale often requires making your own tools (or doing without).  After a lot of searching on the internet,  I found a few, nice quality, small palm-held gouges from Two Cherries and Pfeil.  Two Cherries makes three that are 1 mm in width and various shapes (sweeps #3,  #6, #11)–the number refers to how deep the “U” of the gouge is.  Pfeil makes #11 sweep gouges in both 1 mm and 0.5 mm.

You can find these and other tools at some online stores, such as Chipping Away.  For the Pfeil tools, search for Palm Block cutters, and for the Two Cherries tools, look for their Palm Micro series.

But no one makes anything smaller than 0.5mm.  And I just wasn’t getting the scales on the 1/48th scale dragon right!

Making the groove

Getting ready to make the groove in the gouge

My friend Tom  is a wonderful turner (both full size, small, and dollhouse miniature) and loves to innovate (and share those innovations).  He gave me a few tips on how to make my own gouge.  After a few false starts and many hours of trial and error, I produced a gouge that was about 0.3 mm in diameter, smooth in shape, and shaped about like the #11 gouges I had been working with, in terms of the depth of the U.


Marks made by new gouge and commercially available gouge



Finished gouge

Finished gouge


If you want to learn more about how to make this tool, check out a TUTORIAL: Making a tiny gouge.


Carving a dragon #4: painting

We’re getting close to the end!  Just painting and assembly to go.

Painting.  UGH.  Have I said before how little I enjoy painting?  Here it was particularly difficult, because it was important to get some variation in the surface so it looked like wood, make the background a little darker, and not create a blotchy mess. The idea was to try to match the pear-wood being used on the remainder of the piece.

Painting supplies

Painting supplies

The piece was painted with successive thin layers of paint.  The background was painted a little darker than the surface.  The raised dragon on the finished piece was drybrushed with a lighter color.   The final piece was washed with a thin coat of dark gray water color (using a water color pencil) to get the color a little closer to the stained pear wood.

If you’re interested in learning how to simulate wood with paint (and know as little as I do)–there are a few videos on YouTube that should be helpful, both those by model builders and real life “faux bois” painters. The colors used consistently–whether full size or miniature–seem to be burnt and raw umber, burnt and raw sienna, black, and alizarin crimson. In this scale, the main messages are: use very thin coats,  bringing out the different tones in real wood–from pinks to browns to grays–with each layer. A few drops of glazing helps thin the layers.

The finished painted resin piece

The finished piece turned out reasonably well. It could look more like wood, and the scales on the tail could show up better, but it’s not bad for a first effort, and hopefully future versions of this chest will turn out better, as I learn more about painting!

The pear wood was also coated with a thin coat of paint, to create a more uniform surface and tone closer to the painted resin piece.

Brushing on paint

Brushing on a thin coat of the paint, quickly

…and then wiping it off quickly with a foam wedge

Carving a dragon #3: final carving

finished cast piece

The cast piece is ready to be turned into a chest!

     Once the cast piece was ready, it went through a few steps:

  1. Sand the surface–from 320 down through 1500 to create a hint of wood grain and get rid of the texture from the bristol board.  Smooth as the board was, the mold picked up whatever texture there was, and it doesn’t look like wood!
  2. Add detail–to the fins, tail, wings, eyes, ears, and reinforcing some of the detail (e.g., the lines), etc.  This was done using the carving techniques taught by Ann High in her dragon chest class at IGMA school in Castine in 2013.  Details were added to the dragon using small gouges, gravers, and different scalpel blades and chisels. (For a tutorial on making a small carving gouge, see this post.)
  3. Sand the outside to the right size.  Since the piece is a little thicker than the 1/32″ wood that will be used for the remainder of the chest, the right and left edges need to be thinned a bit on the back. so the chest could be assembled.
  4. Spray the piece with a good quality primer–this is light gray from Testors
  5.  Complete the final detail on the tail–using a gouge made just for this purpose.

Cast piece with detail added, sprayed with gray primer, and the beginnings of the scales on the tail added.

Carving a dragon #2: building the matrix

Carving in quarter-inch scale proved to be impossible–at least for my skill level and the difficulty of this project.

Unwilling to give up, I decided to try to make a quarter scale chest out of a combination of cutting, casting, carving, and painting.  None of which I know much about.  After a few false starts, here’s how it went:

1. The basic shape was cut out of smooth Bristol paper (4 ply)–and glued to a base of the same material.

2.  Features were added to the basic shape–fins, wings, tail, tongue–using thinner Bristol paper (3 ply).

3.  A piece of art board keeps the whole thing flat, and a larger piece of heavy paper provides a base for building the box to hold the mold making materials.

It took a couple of tries to get all the shapes right–but the advantage of casting is that the hardest parts are not being carved–the basic shape, and the tiny openings.

1.  Cutting out the basic shape from Bristol Board (4 ply)

Cutting out the basic shape from Bristol Board (4 ply)

Adding a frame around the basic shapes

Adding a frame around the basic shapes

Adding the details to the mold

Adding the details to the matrix

4.  The matrix was molded in silicone rubber and then cast in resin.   If you want a great class in matrix building and mold making, Judy Andraka of Acorns by Oak offers some great classes–I learned the techniques I used from her.

Making a silicone mold and casting the "faux carved" piece in resin

Making a silicone mold and casting the “faux carved” piece in resin

The cast piece--very thin!

The cast piece–very thin!  You can see the light shining through!

More “faux” to come!

Carving a Dragon Chest in Quarter Inch Scale

In June 2013 I took a class from Ann High at IGMA Guild School in Castine, Maine, in which we carved a dragon chest.  Ann does truly amazing carving and is an excellent teacher, getting the best from her students–even the newbies.

Front of chest carved in class with Ann High at Guild School in 2013

Front of chest carved in class with Ann High at Guild School in 2013

The finished chest is about 5 inches long and a little over an inch high. This is the almost finished chest–all that remains is to add the final finishes over the stain.

Finished dragon chest

Finished dragon chest

Chest with tools by David Brookshaw displayed

Chest with tools by David Brookshaw displayed

The beautiful period-appropriate carving tools are made by David Brookshaw, who makes museum-quality reproductions of full-sized antique tools, as well as 1/12 scale miniature tools.

Being incapable of leaving anything in 1/12 scale alone, I tried to make one in 1/48 scale.  The results were not stellar.

Attempt to carve the dragon chest in 1:48 scale.  UGH!

Attempt to carve the dragon chest in 1:48 scale. UGH!

My carving skills were simply not up to the task–and the intricacy of the pattern–even with simplifications–was difficult to reproduce in wood, as small as it needed to be. So, what to do? Perhaps there is another way….

The Roof: finished!

The roof is finally finished, slate and copper and all!

Next up…. Bashing and painting grandtline windows, and adding window glass (gulp)

Roof 3

Another view of roof–copper tops of dormers just visible

Detail view of finished roof

Detail view of finished roof

View of roof--can just see the copper on top of dormers

View of roof–can just see the copper on top of dormers