It comes up occasionally that you need a dollhouse for the dollhouse inside your dollhouse. I like to make–and occasionally teach a class where students make–workshops for a 1/144 miniaturist, who of course is making dollhouses (what a shocker). But you might have a 1/144 scale miniature shop, or just a nursery or child’s room in 1/144.
There are lots of different ways you can make a tiny house. Some folks cut them out of wood and paint them. Others make a small printie and wrap it around a block of wood. There are also some etched brass versions from Severn Models, and tiny wooden models by Arnold Volker that you can assemble.
But I like to miniaturize card models and then cut them out and assemble them using tweezers, glue, and a bit of profanity. Fiddler’s Green is a wonderful site with card models for everything from buildings to airplanes to ships to airstreams. Over the years, they have been very generous about letting me use their models for my classes, and suggested I put together a tutorial for the home schooler. You can find that tutorial here: Making Dollhouse houses from Fiddler’s Green. And it comes with thanks not only to Scott Fyn of Fiddler’s Green, but Roger Pattenden, the Illinois State government, and many others for sharing their knowledge and card models over the years.
As LEDs become smaller and smaller, it becomes more fun—and feasible—to add fireplace lights to a dollhouse-for-dollhouse roombox or vignettes. Even unlighted, fireplaces are a staple in living rooms of all time periods. While a few metal minis, laser cut wood fireplace mantels, and cast resin pieces are available, not a lot of choice exists. What I wanted was a way to make fireplaces for roomboxes in different styles—traditional, art deco, ornate, and so on.
This was my first foray into molding and casting–and began back in January of 2013. As I learned in a wonderful course taught by Judy Andraka (Acorns by Oak) at Philadelphia Miniaturia a few years ago, molding and casting allows you build a “matrix” or object to be reproduced using a variety of materials. Molding and casting is the great equalizer; whether you use paper, styrene, metal, fabric, or braid, ultimately everything looks like plastic when it comes out—and has the same level of permanence. And if one happily spends 10 hours designing a single fireplace, all that work ends up embodied in not only one roombox—but can be used again and again.
Of course designing, building, molding, and casting is not an easy task, and getting from here—an idea—to there—a fireplace in 1/144 scale–took time.
How to Build a Miniature Fireplace is a look at the process of building free standing fireplaces—and getting them ready for casting.
Be sure to keep an eye on my website this summer, to see the fireplaces painted and in use in vignettes. Hopefully, a few unpainted mantels and free-standing fireplaces will be offered for sale.
Here’s a look at the finished and painted free-standing fireplaces. The tallest is about 5 feet in real life.
Tile fireplace with copper highlights
Painted black and white
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!
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
If you want to learn more about how to make this tool, check out a TUTORIAL: Making a tiny gouge.
The next step was to determine the type of landscaping. A rough cobblestone sidewalk and path would have been ideal, and in keeping with the “quaint” look of the book box. But clay and I are not really friends (barely acquaintances), so I always opt for real materials whenever I can. Nature is much better with the palette and the knife than I. In this case, a few hours with a mallet and some shale paving stones from the yard produced hundreds of tiny usable pieces. The question was then: How to create a level path, and how to adhere them to the base of the book box firmly.
Basically: the steps were:
- make a slightly sticky surface using paper labels (just sticky enough to hold the stones in place, but not so sticky that it couldn’t be removed) glued to a piece of mat board
- place the stones close together
- spray with sealer over everything (so mortar doesn’t stick to label paper when you put it on)
- drip mortar (spackle powder and paint and water) into place between all the stones, so no paper shows, let dry (try not to touch the stones, because they’re not well-secured to the paper)
- make an edge to the desired height of the bottom (higher than the stones)
- spread Moreflex or some other caulk or adhesive to the height of the edge; use cardboard to level off. moreflex is textured which is a nice look, stays flexible, and comes in different grays (although dark gray didn’t come in a small tube, so I used light gray, as you can see in the middle of the picture)
- dry thoroughly!
- remove the edge carefully, paint edges of Moreflex if needed, flip over and glue in place useing Weldbond or other water based glue (if use Moreflex, which is acrylic)
- peel off mat board layer by layer (carefully) and then the label paper–if stones come out, just hold onto them and glue them back in later
- use dental tools and craft knife to clean up the mortar if it shows
- and add mortar as necessary. dry thoroughly
- spray all with sealer or matte medium
It was a rather painstaking process, so you can view a more detailed tutorial here–or just see the finished product below!
To see tutorial, go here: Flagstone path