Dollhouse - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Craft project: Making a dollhouse is much like building a conventional house – it takes time and patience. While there are a lot of pieces to this challenging project, they are not overly complicated to cut and assemble.  

Dollhouse Woodworking Plan

Dollhouse



Illustration by James Provost 

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More illustrations at end of article

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In order to make it easier to follow the MATERIALS LIST (above), the parts are all identified as seen when facing the front facade of the dollhouse. Before you attempt this project it’s a good idea to study the illustrations. Labelling each piece as it is cut will simplify things when it comes to assembly time. I used ⅜" Baltic birch plywood for most of the project; it is rigid, strong and provides sufficient thickness for the joinery. Hence, all the dados are 3/16" x ⅜". Along with a table saw, a scroll saw is indispensable for this project and makes it easy to cut the small parts safely. An oscillating drum sander will make it simple to bevel the edges of each shingle, and assembly will be easier if you use a ¼" crown nailer and 23 gauge pin nailer from grexcanada.com, kingcanada.com or busybeetools.com.
 
Foundation
• Cut the floor (A) to size. Be sure that it is square or you will have a hard time making the upper pieces fit together.

• Lay out the lines for the dados and cut them on the table saw.

• Cut the five pieces (B, C) that form the support for the floor ensuring that they are exactly flush with the edges of the main floor.

• Using glue and a crown nailer, fasten the foundation pieces to the underside of the floor, ensuring that the center piece does not cover up the dado. Glue and nail the ends of the sides, and use wood filler to fill any holes left by the nailer.

• After the glue has cured, sand the edges and top of the foundation.
 
Walls
As this part of the project progresses, use a pin nailer to tack the pieces together in the proper orientation and confirm the actual size of every piece in place before cutting. This will allow you to accommodate any variances in your construction. The measurements in the materials list were taken from the actual parts before I assembled the house.

• Cut the left (D) front (E) and right (F) outside walls to size, leaving the tops square for now. Mark the location of the dados, making your measurements from the bottom edge of the pieces. Cut the dados and pin the wall pieces in place on the foundation.

• Cut the second (G) and third (H) floors to rough size. Mark and cut out the large notches for the stairs on both floors, and cut the bevels for the stairs. Slide the second floor in place and apply a long clamp across the open back to exert enough pressure to hold the floor in place.

• Cut the porch side (I) and front (J) walls to size. Set the pieces in place on the main floor (A) and confirm the location of the two floor dados. Mark and cut the dados on the table saw. Cut a notch out of the end of the dado on the side wall (I) to accommodate the second floor. Set the porch front wall (J) in place. These pieces should fit snugly without gaps. Once you are happy with the fit, pin the pieces together at the edges to hold everything in place for now.

• Cut a notch on the left end of the third floor (H) to accommodate the outside wall (D) and set the floor in place. Apply another clamp across the back of the house to hold the floor in position between the end walls.

• With the three floors in place, measure the exact distance between the floors. If your measurements vary from those in the materials list, adjust the height of the walls (K, L) to reflect the actual measurements.

• Cut the first (K) and second (L) floor divider walls to size, and fit them in place. Cut the opening for the door in (K) now as well.

• Disassemble the walls and mark the roof line on the right side wall (F). Use a scroll saw to cut off the triangular waste sections. Use this piece as a pattern to transfer the roof line to the left side wall (D), cutting off the waste sections.

• Mark and cut out the roof line on the front wall (E).

• Cut the first floor stair support (M) and top floor divider walls (N) from these off-cuts. Cut the door opening in (M) at this time.


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Roof
Preparing the four roof pieces involves making some bevelled cuts. Cut the main roof sections on the table saw. Make the bevelled cuts on the top and bottom edges of the dormer roof on the table saw, and then make the angled cut on the scroll saw. Tilt the table on your scroll saw and cut the bevels on the soffit edge.

• Cut the front (O) and rear (P) roof panels to size and bevel the long edges on the table saw.

• Use the roof panels to mark the location of the bevel cuts on the third floor (H) where it meets the roof panel. Remove the third floor and cut these bevels on the scroll saw.

• Replace the third floor and then use the pinner to tack both roofs in place.

• Cut the left (Q) and right (R) dormer roof panels and the valley support strips (S) to size.

• Bevel one edge of the support strips on the table saw. Pin the dormer roof sections together along the ridge and set them in place. Reach through the front window and use a pencil to draw a line marking where the dormer panels meet the front panel. Make the final angled cuts to fit the support pieces together, on the scroll saw.

• Cut the porch roof (T) to size, beveling the top and bottom edges. Cut the porch ceiling (U) to size, but don’t bevel the edges.

• Cut the stair panels (V) to size and bevel the top and bottom edges.

• Pin all of the pieces in place to be sure everything fits together properly. When you are satisfied, take all of the pieces apart and pull all of the pins out with a pair of pliers.

Wall Perforations
• On the inside of the three peaked wall sections (D, E, F) mark the centerline and draw a vertical line from the peak to the base. Draw another line two inches below the dado that the second and third floors sit in. These two lines will be used to locate the windows.

• Prepare a plywood template of the three window sizes and mark the center of the window on the top and bottom edges. To locate the window openings, line up the top edge of the window template with the horizontal line and center it on the vertical line. Trace around the edge of the template with a sharp pencil.

• Drill a small hole away from the edge of each opening and cut out the windows carefully on the scroll saw. There won’t be any trim to hide a sloppy cut on the inside so take your time and make the opening as true as possible.

• Mark and cut out the door opening on the porch front wall (J).

• Sand all of the exposed interior wall surfaces in preparation for painting.

Paint the Interior
To liven up the inside of the house and to provide some contrast between the floors, walls and ceilings I painted the interior plywood surfaces with a milk paint, (lamemoiredelartisan.com), in traditional colours. With milk paint it is impossible not to end up with a great looking result, but more importantly excess paint will not obstruct the dados the way an acrylic or other film forming finish would. When the milk paint is dry, the excess powder is simply rubbed off the surface before sealing, leaving a clear full size dado for joinery. Apply a coat of Watco Natural Oil to the surfaces and then wax the painted surfaces to seal them before assembly.
 
Assemble the Shell
Headless pins are fine when holding trim in place while the glue sets and for temporary assembly and fitting operations. To hold the house together switch to a ¼" narrow crown stapler as it provides superior holding power. Use 1" staples for the wall-to-floor and wall-to-ceiling joints. Because the material is only ⅜" thick, it is imperative that the staples go in perfectly perpendicular to the surface, so take the time to make a ‘skate’ for the stapler. Assemble the pieces in the same order they were cut, but don’t assemble the porch section yet.

Porch
• Mill the pieces for the porch posts (W) to size and sand them using a sanding mop, (stockroomsupply.com). Since the porch ceiling is unfinished, it is best to apply a coat of Watco Oil to them now to avoid the need to mask off sections later.

• Staple the three corner posts in place under the ceiling. Do not fasten the front center post in place yet or you will not have enough space for access to the front wall and porch side wall with the pinner to secure the logs in place.

• Mill the pieces for the porch roof trusses (X) to size and glue and staple them in place, being careful to allow enough room to staple the center post in place later.

• Set the porch in place and drive a couple of staples into the front wall at an angle through the top edge of the truss sections. Use the pinner to fasten the two corner legs to the walls and toenail the post bottoms into the base.
 

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Exterior Cladding
To give the exterior a harmonious appearance, carefully select your material so all of the exterior cladding (the logs) show tight vertical grain on the exposed face. The exterior cladding on the house is made from red cedar and to provide some visual contrast, the soffits and fascia boards are cut from lighter coloured quarter-sawn western hemlock. I have only included the cross sectional dimensions of the cladding materials and the method I used to manufacture the stock; on installation these will need to be cut to length to fit your project as built. Mill the pieces and install them in the order outlined below.
 
Soffits
• Mill material for the thick soffit (Y) and the thin soffit (Z).

• Scribe the pieces for the all of the horizontal sections onto the thick soffit and then cut them to fit using the scroll saw. Do only the horizontal pieces at this point. Use the same method to apply the thin soffit to the sloped sections on the gable ends after the logs have been applied to the walls.

• Finish the soffit pieces using the sanding mop and apply a coat of oil to the exposed areas.

• Glue and pin the horizontal sections in place.
 
Corner Posts
One option for the cladding is to run the logs to the end of the wall and then overlap each layer with the next one as in traditional log construction. However, for a cleaner look, make the corner posts frame each wall and then fill in the interior space.

• Mill the material for the corner posts (AA) to the correct cross sectional dimension. Cut a 5/16" rabbet into one edge of each; this will mate with the wall and provide a surface for glue.

• Measure from the base of the wall to the underside of the soffit and cut the corner posts to length. Sand them using the sanding mop and apply a coat of oil to the exposed surfaces.

• When installing the corner posts run a bead of glue along the rabbet and use the pinner to fasten it in place. Clean up any glue squeeze-out immediately to get a tight fit when applying the logs.
 
Logs and Fascia
All of the log stock (AB) for this house was milled from cedar boards with a flat face grain pattern. When sliced into strips, the grain at the edge of the boards provided the proper pattern for the logs.

• Mill the starter board to a thickness of ¾". Dress the most attractive edge with the jointer.

• Set up a fence on your bandsaw to rip a strip from the edge that is slightly thicker than the ⅜" finished dimension, and set it aside.

• Take the starter board to the jointer and dress the raw edge to remove the saw marks, and then head back to the bandsaw to rip another strip. Continue working between these machines repeating the previous steps until you have enough stock for the logs.

• Install a 45º chamfer bit in the router table. Set the fence to bevel the two face edges on each log. The resultant bevelled face should be about 3⁄32" wide. To make working with these pieces safe, use a pair of feather boards, one on the fence and one on the table, to hold the wood firmly in place during routing. It’s easiest to apply the logs in sections. Begin with the section below the windows on each wall, and then move up to the short sections between the windows. Cut all of the pieces to fit into a section, keeping them stacked in place until an entire section has been filled. Then go to the sanding mop and sand every piece, following this with a coat of Oil on the exposed faces. Then glue and pin them in place.

• After the entire wall has been clad, scribe the thin soffit (Y) and cut it to fit on the sloped sections. The porch area will require some additional work, so leave the two porch walls until the end.

• Mill the fascia stock (AC) to the correct cross sectional area and then cut the pieces to cover up the edge of the plywood roof panels and angled soffits. Sand and apply some finish to the exposed areas and glue them in place.


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Ridge Cap and Roof
At this point the house is assembled and clad, with the exception of the porch area. Extra porch trim still is needed on the leading edge and the roof needs to be made and installed.

• Mill a board for the ridge cap (AD) to the correct thickness and joint one edge square to the face.

• Use the table saw to cut a rabbet on the edge of the board.

• To work with this piece safely, cut the rabbeted edge from the larger board thus forming the ridge cap on one edge and then rip this piece from the larger board.

• Sand the pieces. The ridge cap, like the shingles, remains unfinished.

• Glue and pin the ridge cap so that the ends overhang the plywood roof edge by about ⅛".

The roof is covered with individual shingles cut from red oak and held in place with glue and pins. The shingles are cut on the bandsaw with a special wedge-cutting jig, and while not complicated, the sheer number of them makes this a time consuming task. Build the jig to make the shingles and then keep it handy for any time you need to cut wedges in the future.

• Try to select stock for the shingles (AE) that shows a perfectly vertical grain pattern on the edge of the board. Set up a stop block on your crosscut sled and cut enough short sections to cut the number of shingles you need. As it is hard to determine just how many pieces you’ll need, leave the stop block set in place in the event that you need to cut more.

• Cut the individual shingles on the bandsaw with the wedge-cutting jig. Flip the piece over after every cut to maintain the wedge shape of the shingle.

• Light and shadow plays a great part in how we perceive a surface. To give the roof some definition each shingle needs to be bevelled. This is a simple, if somewhat time-consuming procedure, and can best be done on an oscillating spindle sander. Set up the largest sanding drum available and gently touch the edge of each shingle on both long sides.

• The lower edge of the shingle should overhang the edge of the roof slightly. To keep things looking orderly it helps to draw in some reference lines to keep the installation straight and square as it progresses. I drew a line 1 ¼" up from the bottom edge of the roof on all panels to guide the first course. After that the shingles just sit one above the other as they move up the roof.

• Make a pattern on paper for the shingles on both sides of the valley; both sides will need to be cut at somewhat different angles. Begin at the bottom and work your way up the roof to the peak.

• When the valleys have been shingled, move on and finish the rest of the roof.

• Use the headless pinner and glue to hold the first few courses and the shingles at the edges of each panel as well as the partial row at the top of the roof, in place. For the rest, use glue on the back of each shingle to set it in place.

• Mill the porch edge banding (AF) to cover the exposed plywood on the leading edge of the porch roof. Apply soffit and fascia stock to the gable end of the porch roof.


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Clad the Porch
The porch must be finished and installed before cladding the porch walls. Cut trim pieces (AK) to frame the door and apply them with glue and pins. Continue filling in the area under the porch roof with the remainder of the logs. The only area where the cladding is not built up from the bottom is the section of wall above the porch roof. Begin cladding this from the soffit on down until you get to the last few courses. At this point you will need to trim one of the pieces to fill the gap between the shingles and the first complete log before fastening the remaining pieces in place.


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Final Details
• Mill the edge banding (AG) to cover any exposed plywood edges at the rear of the house. Cut a ¼" x ⅜" groove on the edge of the banding that will be applied to the plywood edges. Glue and pin the banding in place.

• Mill the stair tread (AH) to size and glue and pin it to the surface of the stair panels. Mill the riser stair edging (AI) and glue and pin it to edges of the stair panels.

• Test fit the windows in the openings. They should be rather snug. You may need to fine tune the opening with a file. When the window has been installed, pin it in place through the sides into the wall. Cover the remaining exposed edge at each side by applying the shutters.

• Mark out the window in the front door and cut it out using a scroll saw. Cut some door window trim (AK) and fit it to the opening in the door. Fasten the ¾" hinges to the door and then hang the door on the wall from the inside.

• Mill material for the porch gable (AL) and fasten it in place with the pinner and some glue.


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Shop Tip
It makes little sense to install a dado head on your table saw for the limited number of dados to be cut on this project. Instead, use a regular blade to remove the waste, readjusting the fence after each cut. This will leave a slightly irregular bottom to the channel which can be quickly and easily cleaned up with the Veritas small router plane, #05P38.50 (leevalley.com). This eliminates the tedious tuning required to accommodate the undersized plywood with a dado stack.


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Wedge Cutting Jig
Cutting the small oak wedges for the shingles is best done on a bandsaw. Build this jig from shop scraps to make the job easy.

• Cut a base from a piece of ¾" plywood.

• Fasten a runner to the underside to run in the miter track on your bandsaw.

• Fasten another scrap of wood to the plywood at an angle to the blade to serve as a fence.

• Make a cut into the jig with the blade, stopping just after entering the fence.

• Place a pencil mark on the fence about ⅛" from the saw cut.

Place the blank stock on the jig and make a cut on the end of the stock. Throw this first piece away. Flip the piece over (top for bottom) and move the edge to the pencil mark and make another cut to make the first true shingle. Keep flipping the piece over after every cut until it is too short to work with, and then move on to another piece of stock.


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Stapler Skate
To keep your crown stapler perfectly perpendicular to the surface, make a skate out of scrap 2 x 4 to fit the bottom of your gun. Place a spacer under the heel of the gun until the nosepiece is perpendicular to the surface. Rip a piece of scrap to fit under and behind the gun. Trace any irregularities on the underside of the gun onto the skate and cut it to shape on the scroll saw. Load the gun full of staples and then use some painter’s tape to temporarily fasten the skate to the base of the gun. 


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Illustrations continued
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* the divider on the small window should be 1 ¾” long and not 4” as indicated in the Window Schedule

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For those who find it difficult to read the fractions on the illustratons above, please view these illustrations:

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MICHAEL KAMPEN
Michael Kampen