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


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


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

Shannon Moore Bookbox: out of the box

As many folks know, Shannon Moore ( makes wonderful bookboxes. A brave woman, she agreed to make one for me in quarter inch scale. A quarter scale bookbox poses a lot of difficulties, because the spaces are so small and difficult to work in and light, wires are not easy to hide, books are less stable and difficult to keep together, and the list goes on.

Shannon did an amazing job.  The lighting is perfect—all the corners are lit up but  not glaring, and the lighting itself is cleverly hidden away in the ceiling. There’s lot of access for furnishing the very small interior, and lots of visibility through the door, windows, and opening.  Shannon did many incredibly creative things with this project—including arranging the books to create a two part building (with the raised roof on one part), hinging and lighting the horizontal part so it swings open (providing additional access or view of the inside), putting the books on a platform to hold all the wires, arranging the books to create a niche for the fireplace, and the list goes on.  Everything is incredibly neat, with straight and parallel edges, and clean cuts.

Best of all, Shannon left lots for me to do—not only furnishing the interior. but landscaping the exterior, adding exterior lighting, and final finishing. Oh yes–the plan is to make this into a minishop with all handmade items for the home.  It will be called:  “The Artisan’s Table.”

3Outside opening

2Current roombox2

3Interior view