Saturday, August 29, 2009

So Much to Say...

To all of you who made such nice comments about my southwestern roombox, Thank You! The artist in me loves to receive compliments. (Actually, most people do!) Your comments and compliments make the long hours of miniaturing and my blog-writing even more fulfilling.

This past week, the total number of subscribers of my two blog sites (which are virtually the same, by the way), surpassed 90 members! I've not thanked each of you as you've become followers. Please know that as I see your names added, I deeply appreciate your choosing to follow my blog. I am so excited to have followers in so many different parts of the world, too. The Internet is truly a remarkable invention!

So, again, THANK YOU for following this blog and for your kind remarks. I'm so pleased that you've chosen to be a part of my mini world!

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Official!

I walked through the Iowa State Fair last night with a big smile on my face. As I carried my roombox away from the display building, a blue ribbon hung from my entry. It didn't win best of show. (A woman from West Des Moines won that with her dollhouse that she'd been working on for the last 20 years.) Nevertheless, I was a very happy guy.

Out of a possible 100 points, the judge gave my entry a 100. The judge commented that he/she liked the case I built for the roombox. The box includes stained glass panels on each side of the box, which are lit with rope lighting inside the box.

The rope lighting is fastened just below the top of the mountains in the background, which creates a strong source of light just behind the mountains. It helps create the sense that the sun has just set. Winding the excess parts of the rope light around to the sides helped me do two things. First, it allowed me to create some light to come out through the stained glass panels on the sides. Secondly, I was able to bring it back across the top of the stained glass to add a little more light for the orange stained glass.

I made the mountains using 1/8" thick basswood. After I cut out the mountain shapes, I used some of my small files to add some shapes and details to the hills. The weeds in the foreground are sisal rope that I took apart. I'd take a tiny hank of the sisal, bend it in half, twist it and add a little glue to hold it together. Then I drilled holes into the floor board of the box and glued the "weeds" into place. There are a few lonely saguaro cacti out in the background, too, which I cut from wood, sanded and painted.

The judge also liked the floor in the room, saying "The way you created the tile floor is wonderful." I made the tiles using digital photographs and PowerPoint software. On one of our trips to Tucson, I purchased a floor tile and a baseboard tile. When I got home, I created a grey background that looked like grout, then inserted the picture of the tile, sized it to scale and then copied, pasted and adjusted the placement of the tiles until I had a complete floor. I also used PowerPoint to create the entry floor tiles, too, which are plain terracotta tiles.

The camera has no lens in it. I took a digital picture of the roombox, then reduced it to the size of the screen in the camera, and printed it upside down and backwards (because that's how it would look in a real camera). A tiny light helps the camera picture show up a little more. The wire to the light runs up through one of the camera tripod legs. I made the camera from scratch, using some parts from a hobby store that were intended for remote control airplanes.

The fireplace is made of wood. I used a compass, and drew a half-circle on a piece of 3/4" pine wood. Then I set my Sears jigsaw table at a slight angle and cut out the semicircle. This made the bottom edge of the semicircle slightly narrower than the top edge. I next set the narrow edge of that semicircle on top of the board and traced the shape. Then I cut out another piece.

I repeated this step until the piece was very small. Next, I cut out the fireplace itself, using the jigsaw once again. Then I glued all the pieces together. There were places where I hadn't cut perfectly. So, I used my Dremel tool and sanding drums on the tool to smooth out those imperfections. The mantle is a piece of walnut that I inserted at one of the layers of the fireplace. It was the easiest way to mount it to such an odd-shaped object. The final touch was to paint the wood, smear some drywall compound in various places on the walls and the chimney, then paint again. I used charcoal pencils to blacken the fireplace to a level that satisfied me.

I made the box as a lamp. You can't see it from this photograph, but there's a stem area atop the box where the light fixture comes out. To hide the brass stem, I inserted a couple of four-inch round pieces of wood, and then affixed pieces of saguaro cactus ribs to it. (I noticed in some of the places in Tucson, people have created shutters using these cactus ribs in their shutters.) I intended to do that on the sides of the box, but realized it was too difficult to make with the glass insets.

I hope to publish an article one of these days about how I matted the pictures for the room. For a little more information about other techniques I used in creating this room, I had a post about this room on February 6, if you'd like to read more about it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

When Things Start Coming Together - Wow!

Our miniature club met last Saturday, and worked a good share of the day on our barbershop room boxes.

I love creating a sense of depth in a box that is less than a foot deep and narrower than 18 inches wide. So, I spent quite a bit of time getting just the right picture to show a street scene out the front window of the barbershop.

The picture at left is from downtown Salida, Colorado - my home town. The sky is from a picture I took in Tucson one very moody evening.

I had hoped that it would look like very early morning or end of the work day for the scene, because it is lit by a 7 watt night light bulb. The picture above is not my roombox but rather another of our club members - Jane. Jane is the farthest along in our project.

I couldn't resist including a picture here of Linda as she worked on the brick wall of her box. (It's the wall just outside the doorway of the roombox.) Linda did such a beautiful job with this wall. She really is quite the artist.

I was so excited when Jane put her floor in, added her front door, temporarily mounted the matte board on the frame and then set her picture frame in front of it all! It was a goose bump moment for me as I saw how it is coming together. The box is beginning to turn out EXACTLY how I had hoped it might. And here's how it looks at this point. I can hardly wait until we begin to put in the tin-type ceiling and wallpaper!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Life Sometimes Gets in the Way!

Sometimes, life gets in the way of important things, like having fun, working on miniatures or writing on my blog. July-August has been tough at our household. My wife caught her foot as she was climbing out of the minivan, fell and smashed her humerus near the shoulder. Fortunately, it's not her dominant hand, because she's been in a restraint/sling device ever since. She reported to school for her first day back yesterday; so I've been helping her get her classroom ready.

Then at work, we began moving from year-long temporary facilities (due to the Cedar River flood last summer) back into our regular office building. Then my secretary resigned to take a different position in the agency. Nothing personal, just a career move for her. But then my boss told me we couldn't replace her due to funding concerns.

Okay. I know I was a bit stressed out, because at that point, my back went out. Big time. I could barely walk, and I was out of commission for a week. So, my plans for entering Sara's dollhouse in the Iowa State Fair went down the tubes. I was able to get the southwestern roombox entered in the fair, though. It didn't require any heavy lifting, and thus I was able to get it there.

I'll let you know soon how it fared. (If you'll pardon the pun!)

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Measures for Success

"Measure twice, cut once."
Old carpenter's rule

This blog installment isn't pretty. In fact, I won't show you any pictures of miniatures I've made in today's blog. (I hope you won't be too disappointed.) As I said in one of my earliest posts, I want to share how-to information in this blog, too. So, today I'm talking about rulers, and I don't mean kings, queens or presidents!

I have LOTS of rulers, and I use almost all of them regularly. It's amazing how many different ones are "out there" and how each fulfills a unique need in my woodworking and miniatures. Below is an assortment of them I gathered up from my work room and toolkits. I thought that if you're trying to figure out what tools you might need for this hobby, then this could be useful to you (or if you're experienced, you may feel it's worth sharing with someone who is new to the hobby).

The largest ruler (#1 above) probably gets the least amount of my use. However, when I was preparing to cut out large pieces of plywood to build Sara's dollhouse, this ruler, which serves as a four foot wide T-square, was a very useful tool. I also use it occasionally when I need to cut a wide piece of matte board.

The smaller T-square, #12 on the right of the picture, hangs at the ready in my workshop. I use it for drawing and for cutting dollhouse wallpaper or fabric in exactly square dimensions. The easiest way to use this T-Square for cutting is to lay one edge of the fabric or the wallpaper along the straight side of a cutting mat. Set the T-square down on top of the fabric or paper with the plastic T placed against the edge of the mat.

Your ruler is now perfectly set at a right angle to make a cut. All you have to do is move the T-square to whatever width you need, and slice along the ruler. (Hint: Being a right-handed person, I press down with the fingers on my left hand about midway down the length of the ruler to hold it firmly in place and slice on the right side of the T-square with my roller cutter or Xacto knife.)

The "ruler" marked #2 above is a matte cutting guide, which also has a ruler along its edge. This is an especially safe tool for guiding your knife cuts on matte board, which requires either multiple strokes with your Xacto knife or heavy pressure on the knife.

When cutting matte board, it's easy for the knife to slip up over the edge of a thin ruler, putting your fingers in great jeopardy of getting cut. This special ruler has a center ridge that sticks up almost an inch and goes down the entire length of the ruler. I can use this ridge to pick up and adjust it by purhins or pulling on that ridge. Once the ruler is exactly where I need it, I can put my hands behind the ridge, and they are safely protected from the knife blade slipping over the edge of the ruler and toward my very tender pinkies.

The carpenter's ruler (#3), is a terrific tool for measuring inside distances within dollhouse or roombox rooms. It has a brass slide-out piece that can give you an exact measurement of the room's length. I like it even better than a standard tape measure (#5) for doing inside room measurements. That's because once you've slid out the brass extender to measure a room, it holds the measurement. (It does require a little math, though, since the brass insert measurement has to be added to the length of the yellow fold-out part of the ruler to get the complete measurement length.

Tape measures (#5) are designed to accommodate for inside and outside measuring by incorporating a little play in the steel tip. So, when I remove it from doing an inside measurement, and then try to place it onto a piece of trim molding and do an outside measurement, I can get myself quite confused. The carpenter ruler eliminates that problem. That's why I always use the carpenter ruler now for measuring my dollhouse rooms.

The problem with a carpenter rule, though, is its big. It folds up to a length of just under eight inches. When you're trying to measure doorways or windows, it can get awkward trying to fit this tool into tight spaces to get an accurate measure. That's where the mechanic's ruler (#10) comes into play!

I use the little mechanics' ruler a LOT. It has a scale on one side that goes down to 64ths of an inch and 32nds of an inch on the other. PLUS on the back, the ruler has a list of digital equivalents to the ten thousandths of an inch starting at 1/64 and going up to 63/64. It has a pocket clip affixed to it so you can clip it to a shirt pocket. That "clip" also can be turned so that you can measure inside dimensions of a window. I consider this a must-have ruler for an active miniaturist!

The two rulers marked #6 are both clear plastic, centering rulers. One of our club members introduced me to this kind of ruler. It has a zero in the middle, and then counts out inch by inch in both directions to the ends of the ruler, and it also starts with zero on opposite ends and goes to 12 inches. Set the ruler down on something and in short order, you can find the center of an object. When you need to find the center of a piece of fabric or a center point on a railing, this tool works great!

I use the white, triangle-shaped ruler (#7) for doing scale drawings. With its soft plastic body, it is NOT a tool to use for any knife cutting. It has a wide range of scales, dividing the inches into six different scales. It's useful for helping me to "draw" room plans on my computer, because it has a 1/10 scale on one of its sides. Since PowerPoint allows me to "move" and size objects using decimals of an inch, this ruler is a good tool. It also has a 1:6 scale, which can be used for 1/12 scale work, if you're imaginative. This one is NOT a critical ruler to use/have, though.

I use a caliper when I need some precise accuracy. I like it especially for setting up a cutting width on my miniature table saw. A caliper can measure both inside dimensions as well as outside dimensions. My wife gave me the digital caliper, and I must say, it's SO much easier to use than a vernier caliper! The jaws of the caliper can be set to slide a little stiffly; thus, like the carpenter's ruler, once you've tightened the caliper down on the wood you're measuring, you can slide it off of the object and this ruler stays open to the exact width you need.

The ruler at left is sometimes called a try square (it's number 9 in the top photo). Depending on the manufacturer, I've also found references to it as being called a tri-square, a combination square or an adjustable square. The one pictured here is a small, 4" long "adjustable double square." It costs about $10 from MicroMark. The ruler itself slides in the black metal handle, which allows me to make accurate measurements of depth. It's also machined so that it is precisely a 90 degree right angle.

You can buy a miniature square, or you can buy a full-scale, combination square for just a little more money - around $15. They are one foot long, and handy as all get out for little OR bigger projects around the home. You can buy this kind of adjustable square at virtually any hardware store that sells tools. If you're just starting out, and don't have any tools, buy a combination square ruler. The hardware store version even includes a level in the handle so you can adjust pictures on your walls!

I hope the photo below helps you see another key way I have used this square. I found that most of the miniature miter boxes are designed for cutting pieces of small, wood trim. So, when I was building my fancy Victorian bookcase, and wanted a precisely cut piece of cherry wood I couldn't pop a four-inch wide piece of wood into my miterbox and cut off a length of the wood.

When I built the bookcase, I also didn't have a good quality, miniaturists table saw. So, I put a piece of plywood down on my work space, set the cherry wood on top of that, and then pushed the black part of the square against both the plywood and the cherry wood. This lined up the edge of both the plywood and the cherry wood with the fat base of the ruler. I then carefully tightened a C-clamp down onto the ruler blade of the square. With the clamp holding everything perfectly square, I was able to set a razor saw flush against the ruler edge. This process produced all of the larger square pieces of that bookshelf, and it turned out wonderfully! So, if you're serious about making dollhouses and miniature wood projects, get thee to a hardware store if you don't have a combination square!