Monday, July 27, 2020

Tiny House Paneling (and some Foam Core tips)

Foam core – as a construction material for dollhouse structures – has its advantages.  It is light weight, easy to cut, inexpensive and available almost everywhere (Hobby Lobby, Office Depot, art stores), but some of its benefits actually become weaknesses.  Because it is lightweight and thin, it also warps when you try to wallpaper it.  Also, the light weight factor makes it hard to attach anything very heavy (shelves, siding, sconces).  I also find it hard to assemble walls together because any clamps that are long enough are pretty heavy. 

But most of these things can be overcome.  For this Tiny House project I chose very thin exterior covering so I could weight it down and keep it flat.  My goal was something like this inspiration photo – combination of painted and stained siding (source:

I loved the streaked wood grain from the inspiration Tiny House.  I will tell you how I simulated the exterior stained panels. 

But first, for the UPPER EXTERIOR COVERING- I used poster board that I previously painted a dark gray.  The poster board was thick enough to disguise the seam from where I patched two pieces of foam core together (previous blog).  After the paint dried, I laid my wall shapes on it and traced around them. I glued this on with white craft glue (Crafter’s Pick).  Note that the poster board only covered the top half of the outside walls.

For the LOWER EXTERIOR - I had some very thin (1/32 inch) sheets of balsa wood lying around (yes, Balsa! Can you believe it?).  Very thin, cracked and dinged up but I did get it to work.  Photo below shows the label on the back of one of the sheets (after I had stained the front side so you can see the stain seeped through).  The piece under it is the front of another stained sheet.

I was able to get the streaky look by applying several swaths of different colors of wood stain using a rag.  I tried to dip the rag just in the top of the can so the color wouldn’t be too dark. The colors I use were:
    Minwax Natural #209 (almost invisible)
    PPG Penetrating Wood Oil in Oxford Brown (darkest stripe) and
    Minwax Colonial Maple #223 (kind of reddish stripe)

I had three or four of these 24 inch long balsa sheets.  I did a light / medium / dark strip and left a little unstained strip between each stain stripe.  I tried to repeat the pattern across the entire length so I could later match up the panels on all four sides of the structure.

Pics are kind of bad because they were taken in the garage with poor light.  I used wood glue to attach the balsa panels.

Trimming the windows - I used coffee stirrers to frame the windows.  I painted around the foam core edges so the white wouldn’t show after the wood trim was glued on.

One more foam core construction note - Assembly and Gluing:
There are three types of clamps in the photo below.  It was hard to find clamps long enough for this project.  The black and yellow ones marked "Irwin" and the silver aluminum one with blue (bottom right of photo) were borrowed from my husband.  These are probably from Home Depot.  The small, thin brass one at the top of the wall nearest in the photo was purchased at a Miniatures show.  I love these brass clamps and one I had was just long enough for the project.  I think Micro Mark also sells them.  I recommend them highly.
You can see the white stripes down the corners of the house - this is because I covered it with paneling before assembly (so I could weight it down).  I covered those exposed foam edges with trim wood later.

Gluing foam core walls is very tricky.  Here are my tips:
  • Use Crafter's Pick Ultimate Glue.  It is very thick and grabs quickly
  • Use pins or small nails to hold walls at the corners just until you can get the clamps in place (some people keep the nails in and just cover over them after glue is dry).  Since I had already covered the outer walls with siding, I just used very thin sewing pins and removed them later.  I added wood trim to cover the exposed foam edges anyway.
  • Get your clamps set ALMOST at the correct length before you put on glue.  This prevents the walls from falling apart while you are struggling to adjust the clamps
  • Get a friend (spouse, child...) to hold the walls for you while you get the clamps in place.  Since I had no one available I used large cans of soup to hold the walls vertical.
  • I glued and clamped the four outer walls with the inner wall in place (though not yet glued).  Sometimes inner walls (or even just a scrap of foam core) can be used to brace the outer walls while gluing so they don't bow up.
  • Floor - since this is hard to clamp (and there isn't much weight to the structure) - I glued each wall to the floor as I glued them to each other.  Then after all the clamps were set I used pins pushed up through the bottom to hold the floor to the walls.
Hope this was helpful to those who have struggled with foam core for building.  Next time something fun - Lighting (and making custom light fixtures).  Keep safe (and sane!) in these difficult times.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tiny House Nation

This may seem like a dumb question but how do you feel about the “Tiny House” craze?  Funny thing to ask since this is a MINIATURES blog and almost everyone reading has a tiny house or two…but I mean a miniature version of a “Tiny House” – the kind everyone is building to downsize? 

This tiny house project was designed by my good friend, Wilhelmina Johnson for an event our club hosted in February for Society of American Miniaturists.  Our club made 84 tiny house kits for a day-long workshop.  The project included a loft bedroom, separate bathroom with shower and a kitchenette with modern appliances.

I have already given a few small tutorials from the Tiny House project (sink and faucet, coloring books and flat screen TV).  In the next few blog posts I will describe how I customized my particular Tiny House.  I won’t give all the instructions since the design really belongs to SAM, but I will just give some dimensions and my readers can figure out the particulars.  The finished "Tiny House" measures 15 inches long by 8 inches wide by 12 inches high at the back wall.  This would be only 120 square feet (excluding the loft) if it were full size!  Here is the original design (side view) finished by my dear friend, Harriet Turner.  Note the simple but functional wedge shape and sky-view window:

Over the next few posts I plan to cover these projects, all part of the Tiny House:
  • Modifying roof line
  • Exterior paneling, windows, and trim
  • Electrical and wiring, hiding the battery
  • Kitchenette
  • Loft “built-in” bed
  • Modified (and modernized) commercial door
  • Some Fun Accessories - tall floor lamp - loft cushions and bolsters- planters
First Subject:
Changing the Roof Line (or How to join two pieces of Foam Core)
The roof line of the kit was designed to be angled and straight, going from 10” at the front wall to 12 inches at the back wall.  There is a loft (partial 2nd floor) at the back where the roof is higher.
I wanted my roof line to have more room above the loft bed so I decided to extend the height. Since I had already made the angled cut on the two sides for the roof line (and didn’t have enough foam core to re-cut both of the biggest pieces), I had to join foam core using a “butt” joint (two pieces just 'butted' up together and glued edge to edge).  In woodworking, this is the weakest type of joint.  It was tricky.  Basically I used the wasted triangle scrap and re-sized it a little then re-attached it near the back of the house to make the ceiling a little higher over the loft.

To join the pieces of foam core, have on hand a large very flat surface (counter or table), wax paper, some T-pins, blue tape and wood glue (because it can be sanded).  Cover your table/surface with wax paper.
Cut the T-Pins into about ½ or ¾ inch pieces.  Tape the two foam core pieces together then mark with a pencil across the crack where the pins are going to go.

Then insert the pins into the smaller piece where the pencil marks are.  Now with both pieces against the wax paper covered flat surface (no glue yet!!), push them together lining up the marks.  This is to make holes for the pins when glued in.  Now pull them apart again.

Time for glue (this will be messy).  Take each pin out and put glue in the hole then replace the pin in the same hole.  Then put lots of glue along the entire edge where the pins are poking out.  Line up the pencil lines and push the pieces together again keeping sides flush against the wax paper.  There will be lots of oozing glue (this is OK if you are using the wax paper to protect your surface).
Smooth some extra glue over the seam so it kind of fills in the crack.  Weight down overnight (use another piece of wax paper on top of the seam).

Depending on your final wall covering (internal or external) you may want to use some spackle or Gesso and very light sanding to smooth the seam a little.   I used poster board on the exterior wall and it covered the seam nicely.  The interior side was slightly smoother and I just used wallpaper there.

There!  You now know how to join two pieces of foam core (will you ever use that information or will you have enough to just cut a new piece?).  Anyway...

Planning location of windows, doors, etc.
When building with Foam Core (or really, any material), before cutting windows and before trying to glue the sides together I do some planning:
  • Where will the furniture and kitchen go?  What do I want to be visible through the windows? 
  • Will there be lights and where?  If so, how will I route and hide the wiring (later blog on that).
  • Everyone is a little different in how they plan their project but before I cut any windows or doors, I have already decided what furniture I will have, what wall it will be placed on, where lighting will be and even some wall decorations (and colors to use!). 
To help with the planning phase – with walls temporarily taped together - I taped on possible window sizes and locations.   This helps to plan furniture arrangement, to see where windows might conflict with interior walls and envision where shelves will be, kitchen will be, etc. This is a tiny space so not a lot of room to change your mind after cutting openings.

Another word about planning - I keep a lot of inspirational magazine clippings (and pinterest pins) and make a lot of sketches before I cut.  This helps to envision the finished space and not forget my ideas (since it takes so long to finish anything!).

A page from my Tiny House Sketch book:

 Well this was not the most glamorous subject, nor was it cute or even very fun.  I confess I really just suffer through the construction so I can get to the interior on most projects.  Next blog post – exterior covering and window trim (still not very fun but necessary).  You may be surprised at what the exterior paneling is made from!  Until next time!