An inside look at building the matrix for a 1/144 fireplace

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

Tile fireplace with copper highlights

Marble

Faux marble

Painted black and white

Painted black and white

 

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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

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.