Lumber and Building Materials

Page: 2

First roombox: an old aquarium makes a good starter roombox; you can add foamcore walls on three sides, and either omit lighting by having a clear or frosted glass pane cut as a lid, or make a foamcore lid to accommodate ceiling wiring. Find them cheap at yard sales. I love them to do mini-gardens because adding a lid keeps them dust-free.


Gator Board: I made a building with Gator board and had no problems. I did put stainless steel pins with the plastic bead at the end to hold the pieces as the glue set up. When it was dry, I just snipped off the bead and it was a bit stronger with the pins.

Deanna from downtown Thiensville

Gator foam/Gator Board: I have made room boxes 16 x 16 x 16 using 1/4" gator foam with no problems and no warping. If I were to make a box much larger, I would use the 1/2" gator foam.


Gatorboard: I can heartily recommend Gatorboard for your roombox project - it comes in a variety of thicknesses, as you probably know, and is easy to cut and even bend to a radius, if it's sawn with parallel lines on one side.

I use any white glue, even Tacky, to assemble the parts. For corners, use a 'rabbit' joint: mark a line, parallel to one wall edge, as far from the edge as the thickness of the gatorboard. Cut the line thru the surface plastic, all the way thru the foam, and stop at the opposite side where the hard plastic begins. Scrape away the foam and scrap, and you'll have a notch to receive the adjacent wall. When glued together, it makes a clean, very sturdy corner with no rough edges.

And my favorite 'secret': straighten a coathanger, heat it over a flame and push it through the foam wherever you need wiring. This allows you to 'hard wire' all your lights and accessories without using tape and with no visible traces. Scrape out foam along the tops of the wall to run the wires to your power source.

Braxton Payne

Hard Wiring Gator Board: My favorite 'secret': straighten a coat hanger, heat it over a flame and push it through the foam wherever you need wiring. This allows you to 'hard wire' all your lights and accessories without using tape and with no visible traces. Scrape out foam along the tops of the wall to run the wires to your power source.

Braxton Payne

Paper Clay problems: Welcome to the limitations of foam core :-) The problem is the paper covering on the foam core absorbs moisture from the paperclay and since it is on one side, it warps. If you use foam core with paperclay, you need to either back it with wood or have enough stiffening features, such as half timbers, which will impart rigidity to the foam core.

The best solution is to use Gator Foam. Since it has a plastic covering, it will not absorb moisture and will not warp. It is my material of choice. I know that gator foam is more expensive but it is worth the difference.

Now to the cracking of the Paper Clay; being a water based material it will naturally shrink as the water dries out of it. The nice thing about it is that it can be patched or if, in your case, you like the cracks, they can be left. I wish I had the "Magic Bullet" to cure the shrinking but unfortunately I have found no rhyme or reason for the difference in where and why it shrinks.

I do suggest that you put a tacky coat of yellow carpenters glue on the surface before putting the paper clay on; this seems to eliminate some of the cracking and make a positive bond between the clay and the surface you're working on. I hopes this helps some, but the major problem is the foam core, which is not a structural material to start with and shouldn't be used unsupported in structural areas.

Rik Pierce

Spool-bed: get some Tiny Turnings (from local shop or one of SS's on-line dealer-members) and make your own. Most of the DIY books have bed patterns and instructions, and TTs are scale versions of spool work, so cut the head and footboards, side rails, and then substitute lengths of TT for the pattern bedposts.


Installing Plexiglas on Back of Dollhouse:   I purchased the Northeastern guttering for dollhouses and glued it to each straight side of the back and if desired it could also be placed at the bottom edge.   The Plexiglas fits perfectly into the gutter openings.

Juanita in Missouri

Plexi Front for Roombox: The easiest way to apply Plexi to the front of a room box is to construct a channel to insert it into. This is simply a U shaped piece of wood applied to both sides and the base of the box. The plexi slides into the center of the U. This allows you to raise it up and down........ I often make my own with a piece of 1/4 inch x 1/8 inch basswood glued directly to all 4 sides of the front opening of the box. Use a good strong glue such as Tite Bond. I miter the corners just as if I were applying a frame to a picture........ Follow this with a 1/8" sq. strip of basswood firmly glued to the outer edges of the first board. Only apply this to the sides and base of the front opening of the box. This will be the channel and the size of the wood is determined by the thickness of your plexi.....Complete the channel by gluing either a pretty molding or another piece of 1/4 inch x 1/8 inch basswood to the sides and base. Glue the same molding to the top of your piece of plexi. This will create a handle that makes inserting the plexi easier for you.

Becky Holliday

Rubber Wood: Rubber Wood is common in Asia and used in furniture making. Here is a site with info and pictures:

Anne Gerdes

Carved Toothpicks: I have the carved toothpicks on my web site, as well as a lot of other do-it-yourself type supplies. You wouldn't believe all the things my customers use the carved toothpicks for. They're very inexpensive and quite versatile. These are the wooden ones with a small bit of carving at the top. If you live near a Cracker Barrel restaurant, they have them there. I carry them on my site for those who don't have easy access to them. Here's a few ideas and hopefully someone will post more:

- They are used for bed posts for 1:48 scale 4-poster beds.
- People use them for handles for parasols.
- Some cut them off just under the carved part and use them for pepper mills or salt & pepper shakers in 1:12 scale.
- They can also be used for 1:12 scale old fashioned clothespins (the kind without the spring). That can be a bit tricky because you have to be very careful when splitting them lengthwise after you cut them off short.
- I've seen people make little Christmas nutcrackers or tiny people out of them for watch case scenes.
- hat stands for 1:144 scale hats?!

There are other fancy carved cocktail picks out there that miniaturists use, but they are more like a two-pronged fork. There's also toothpicks with cellophane frills, but I don't know what use they'd have in mini. The toothpicks are under Misc. Tools & DIY supplies/Other Neat Stuff at: (click on online catalog).

Debbie Jones

Lumber & Building Materials

Warping Foamcore: Inserting pieces of wire coat hangers into the foam between the layers of paper will strengthen and protect foamcore from warping. Before painting, spray a sealer on both sides of the foamcore. Several light coats. I prefer spray Gesso because it creates a tooth that grabs the paint or other application I wish to apply. - It is not a good idea to use a product like paperclay directly on the foamcore. There is too much moisture involved. It would be the same as leaving your structure out in the rain. As an alternative - spread out your mixture on a dummy pattern form of wax paper.

When your design has dried, seal it for strength then glue it to the foam core just as you would apply wallpaper. As in any application, consider the strength of the foundation. You would not glue heavy velvet to a sheet of typing paper BUT you could glue a sheet of velour paper to the same sheet of bond.


Dovetail jigs: The only dovetail jig available today is made by Jack Blackham who teaches a class at the Guild School in making it. Pam took the class last June and tells me it is a good design. He may have some to sell: I use finger joints cut on the Preac table saw instead of dovetails most of the time.

Jewelers Saw. There is probably no better hand saw to cut your wood. It is a tool that is difficult to learn. Try a fine blade like a 2/0 or 4/0. Make sure the blade is installed so it cuts on the pull
stroke. Make sure it is tight enough so you can pluck it like a guitar. Support your work on a piece of plywood clamped to the table. Cut a v-shaped slot out of the plywood about 1/4" and 1.5" deep. Use the edge of the slot to help you start your cut and practice. Once you get it, it is very quick and accurate if you don't have power tools.

Air Brush. I have been using an external mix Paache air brush to spray lacquer or shellac for many years. I mix it about 1;1 with thinner or alcohol and use about 28 psi. I use a full scale compressor with a tank which is very nice. When I spray I have a Badger booth that exhausts to the outside through a dryer hose. I also use one nitrile glove and a carbon respirator. It is very quick and I get good results.

Pete Boorum

Gatorboard and Foam Core: Gatorboard and Foam Core are similar in that they are approximately 1/4" thick (or can come 1/2" and thicker from specialty display suppliers) - and they both have a smooth poster board type surface on each side. BUT - the difference ends there.

Gatorboard has a hard, dense, fine-grained core. You can stick a straight pin into it, with about as much effort as you would into balsa - but the pin will hold, even under pressure. It is a sturdier board than the Foam Core boards.

Foam Core has a more open, loose, softer core. You can easily press a fingernail into it - like the white foam packing material called 'peanuts'. It will not hold a straight pin well - nor will it hold it's shape when pressed very hard, especially at the edges. It is good for small projects - or 'mockups' of bigger projects, to see how they will look. It is definitely not as permanent a product as the Gatorboard - but has it's place for small vignettes, small boxes, the base for larger items as fireplaces, etc., which are then finished with other materials to look like a fireplace.... etc. Foam Core tends to warp - particularly if not sealed on BOTH sides for larger projects (i.e., gesso, paint, or something similar that will keep moisture from penetrating). You must seal BOTH sides, even if you intend to only wallpaper, for example, one side.

Gatorboard must also be sealed - because it will warp, also, but has less of a tendency to do so than Foam Core. There is also, as someone mentioned, a corrugated plastic-surfaced Foam Core type board from which real estate signs are made....not good for miniature work, to my thinking.

Gatorboard, being a denser, 'tougher' product than Foam Core, can also be easily cut with X-Acto knife, scroll or table saw, and then holds a good edge.

Miter cutting:   Others will have suggestions for a saw to do fine miter cuts. May I offer my personal alternative? For very fine miter cutting such as mini picture frames, gingerbread on 1/144th scale houses, and such - - - -I prefer to chop off square and a little bit long. Then, I trim to size and angle with a small disc sander.

I have wood pieces that fit snugly on the work table, snugly close to the sanding disc, and with guide pieces at a variety of angles to orient work pieces along. Photo copy a fine scale (ruler) onto sticky back paper and apply it along the guides as a gauge for length. Make many so they can be occasionally replaced when unreadable from many pencil marks. My own sander has the advantage of a moveable disc so I can put stops in place and run the abrasive into the work piece but a fixed disc and moving the work piece into it works almost as well for limited production.      

I cut out my own sanding discs with concentric rings of 320, 440, and 800 grit and get months of light usage by occasionally cleaning out any accumulated sawdust with a gum eraser.  

Mel K. Las Vegas Nevada

Small table saws: The Preac is NOT any more accurate than the Jarmac, Microlux, or probably various others!   The no longer built Dremel saw did have a problem with the blade movement, but it was easily fixed as shown in The Scale Cabinetmaker.   The accuracy of any of these saws is basically in the hands of the user.   The Jarmac and Microlux are both tilting arbor saws, which means you can do compound angles, and bevels which the Preac can't do.   The Preac also uses an unusual size blade and has a depth of cut of only 1/4" versus 3/4" for Jarmac.   The Preac runs slower, and is therefore considerably less noisy than others.

Any of these saws should do a satisfactory job.

Tom Berkner

Small table saws: I have to add to this...We own 3 Dremel table saws, a Microlux and a   Jarmac. The Dremels have had a real problem with belts slipping and as they no longer make them...even finding a belt is tough.

For my use with the precision fence you can buy(about $45 for the fence providing you can keep hubby from stealing it and adapting it to one of HIS saws...grrrrrrrrrrr) the Microlux works quite well but for Larry it isn't   to his   standards. He really prefers the Jarmac though wants to add a Preac to the herd. You do need a new plate where the blade comes through. They are all too widely spaced...mainly to allow the blade to tilt but if you work in really tiny things you loose them through the slot otherwise. The plate we bought from MicroMark for the Dremel saw broke the first day so Larry had to make some himself. I am no judge but Larry who makes models professionally and uses saws for 6-10 hours a day...every day...(.he is a workaholic in his shop between 4 and 5 every AM til about 6 PM or later.)... says the Jarmac is the best for his $$. He has to do absolute precision for the things he is making and it is his favorite. The problem with the Microlux is that unless you have the precision fence you just can't get really accurate. The guides that slide in the metal tracks fit too loosely and can move 1/32 from side to side   which may not seem like much but depending on what you are doing it can make a LOT of difference.

The wooden tray thing they offer is worse and can be 1/16 off. These are gripes I have had about it. The key is the way you will be using it. If you are like me and don't use it but every so often I'd go for the Microlux with the precision fence. Spendy little devil but I like it.

Now I think before I commented that you should keep a watch in the local paper and call local pawn shops regularly if looking for these items. We have picked up the Jermac and several of our mini lathes and a mini milling machine 2nd hand through these sources. All were in excellent condition and my daughter got hers at a yard sale still in the original box with all accessories! Keep your eyes open and they are out there from time to time.   OK, I'm off my soapbox now!

Anita McNary-Haynes

Preac Table Saws: I cant resist adding my two shekels' worth to the mini table saw thread...

Before buying my Preac, I had spoken to several SSers about the table saws that they had, and most everyone agreed that the Jarmac and Preac were excellent.   It was a bit hard to make up my mind, but the praises sung for the Preac were just a bit louder.   The Jarmac has a tilting blade, while the Preac doesn't. Each is an advantage and disadvantage.   Because the Preac's blade doesn’t tilt, tiny pieces of wood don’t fall through the opening near the blade.   However, the Preac has jigs available that allow you to push the stock through the saw at various angles – therefore solving that "problem".

I took a workshop with Pete and Pam Boorum at Molly Cromwell's Sturbridge (MA) show this past June, and in the workshop, we used the Preac saw to make a cherry lingerie chest.   Pete and Pam taught us more than a few tricks of the trade.   I was hooked - I had to have one to take back to Israel!   Well, it certainly wasn't cheap, after buying a few accessories, but... you get what you pay for.   I am THRILLED with that saw.   It is quiet, accurate and does everything I need it to do.   I rarely have to sand a piece that I cut with the Preac - it's that precise.  

If anyone has ambitions of making his/her own miniature furniture, I cant recommend the Preac table saw highly enough.   It's difficult to get the desired results without the proper tools... Come to think of it, I would highly recommend one of Pete and Pam Boorum's workshops   - not just to see for yourself - but also to go home with a great piece of furniture you built completely yourself.

Jonathan in Israel

Preac saw:   We are a distributor of the Preac table saw and thickness sander.  Our students almost always are comfortable using this saw. We think that is because it's not at all scary like the 4" machines can be .   It is easy to set up and maintains tolerances well. It is not powerful enough to cause serious damage but cuts well enough to make any furniture. We have sold nearly one hundred machines over the last few years and everyone seems to be satisfied with the performance.   It is always a pleasure when we hear that our students have gone on to create other projects on their own.

Pete Boorum

Real Glass Windows: When Compass used to build dollhouses, they used glass in the high-end ones. The major problem is finding glass of the correct thickness. Real glass is about 3/32" to 1/8" thick. This means about 1/96" in scale (.010"). This is too thin for most practical purposes. The thinest commercially available glass I have found in about .024" to .032" thick; it is called 6 oz. glass. The next thinnest (.036" to .044") is called micro glass. Picture framing glass is .070" to .078" thick. Since most commercial dollhouse windows are designed for .030" to .040" thick plastic, you need either 6 oz. or micro glass.

I and the person that took over Dean Jenson's business - (I don't remember the name, but I'm sure Dean would be happy to supply it), both sell thin glass. I have 6 oz. glass, not sure what the other is.

You do really need a special cutter for this, because it is VERY fragile. I really doesn't add much weight to the dollhouse, because it is so thin. This glass is thin enough that it even works for the doors in a china hutch.

Tom & Kari

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