Behind the stairs, through the secret door, down to the basement...a box in the darkest corner catches your attention. It is a box full of secret splendors, your own little treasure chest! Since it is magical and ever changing, you will never know quite what you will find. Hurry! Great mysteries beckon...(By the way, can you tell miniaturists are always up for a good story? ). I will try to update this page often (though not making any promises) and it will contain a little information, a little entertainment, but mostly whatever whimsy that pops into my head.
Wooden kits can be a great learning tool for the budding miniaturist. The right kit can teach you patience, technique and can give you the confidence to go on to other things. However, opening a box of a seemingly innocent dresser kit and finding almost sixty individual puzzle pieces to assemble might be intimidating to the beginner. Here are a few tips I have learned along the way that might be helpful.
Second, the sand paper. Ideally what you want is three grades of paper, each one a finer quality than the last. The finer the last paper, the smoother your finished piece. Also a sandblock is handy. This does not have to be anything fancy, just a piece of wood that has a smooth surface, wrap the sandpaper around it.
A jig is handy to have for furniture making. All this is is a box with squared corners, and can be fancy store bought item, or a simple drawer. Jigs allow you to keep freshly glued pieces from getting out of alignment, and can make it easier to place pieces as well.
Your first step is always to inventory your pieces. There is nothing worse than finding out half-way through a project that you are missing a piece.
Next, read through the directions to make sure you understand what piece goes where. Sometimes it doesn't matter how you put something together, but other times it is critical.
Sanding time. Well, maybe not. Sanding is a personal decision which really is dependant on what kind of kit you have. I don't like to sand before I put things together if I am working a good kit. I find it far too easy to ruin the fit by accidentally sanding too much. Of course, you can sand if you want, and if you do choose to sand remember this is not like scrubbing a pot. What you want is even light pressure going *WITH THE GRAIN*. That is very important, otherwise the wood will tear and become pitted. Be careful that you do not accidentally round corners, and when you are done you must clean the surface of the wood. This can be done with a tacky cloth (usually a piece of cheesecloth with a bit of thinned varnish in it, but it is sold commercially as well).
I always drill hardware holes first. Carefully measure and test fit against drawers so you know that everything will line up.
Finally, test fit everything. Sometimes pieces will need to be altered a bit, and if you just rush ahead with the glue you may find yourself with broken or misglued pieces.
Ok, you have sanded, assembled and are ready for the icing. What to use should be your first concern. There are many products out there, some oil-based and others water-based. I prefer the oil-based for looks, but breathing those toxic fumes aren't the best for anybody, so I have been experimenting with water-based. The biggest thing to remember is that water-based stain *WILL* raise the grain of the wood, so you will need to gently sandpaper after the stain is dry (*Carefully!* Otherwise you will rub up the stain, something you do not want!). Do not mix wb and oil based products, or you can get some distressing effects that you may not have intended on. Try to buy the best products you can, professional grade if you can. You will be happier. Something some non-woodworkers may not be aware of is there are two kinds of "varnish" (I am using this as a catch all phrase), and that is it can come with an amber tint or be crystal (clear). Choose according to your needs. An amber tint will lend a nice orange glow to a piece, and make it look a bit more old fashioned. Crystal will make the piece look more modern. Also remember to take these differences into account when you choose a color of stain.
The best way to finish a piece is to let each coat of whatever dry completely before you go onto the next step. This will usually be 24 hours if you use an oil-based product, about the same for a waterbased product (unless there is a high humidity). Do not be fooled into thinking that just because a wb product feels dry that it is dry, because that is sometimes only surface.
Start by sealing edges you do not want to be way darker than the rest of the piece. Be careful not to get any where you do not want a light patch, or you will get one.
The next day apply the stain. Some people like to rub on stain, others like to brush, and then there are those who brush and then rub a bit to even everything out. If you rub on stain, use an old worn t-shirt piece. Do not put on the stain too heavily, remember that you can always go back and darken something, but you will have a rare old time trying to lighten it back up again.
The next day, decide if you need more stain, and if you do then apply. If you don't, then apply a very light coat of varnish. Try not to waterfall the varnish over the edges. You can avoid most problems by starting application in the middle of a surface when possible.
Once this is totally dry, give it a light sanding, just to remove the bits of dust that settled in the stick overnight. If you are intending on an antique look, this would be the time to apply the toner. Rub your product on gently, allowing it to be heavier in places that the piece would not have been used as much (legs, edges of top and drawers), and lighter where hands might have worn it down. If you do not intend on toning it, go to the next step.
To finish, apply two more coats of varnish over the next couple of days. Remember the "lighter is better" rule, and that it is easier to add more varnish later than to have to take a few layers off evenly.
Ok, say you wanted to paint the beast. Remember to choose a color that won't overwelm a scene, but also won't fade back too much. Most of the steps are the same, but inbetween coats of paint sand with a piece of brown paper. This is sufficiently rough enough to be a good sander, but gentle enough that you won't accidentally pit your perfect paint job. A foam brush will keep down the brush strokes, the second choice is a self-leveling paint and a very soft bristled brush. Apply detailing/tole on with a liner brush (details) and a small round brush for petals. If you want to marble it, get a book about faux marbelling from the library, some small string and feathers, and a small brush. Then have fun!
There is in existence a BBC produced show called "Dr. Who". He is a time traveller, and his machine is called the Tardis. So why am I telling you all this? Well, the Tardis has to be the miniaturist's greatest dream, because of one of its special qualities: it is infinitely big on the inside, but compact on the outside. If you are a packrat like I am, and live in confined spaces, you know what I mean. It would be nice to have as much space as possible to store your minis without having it take up an inordinate amount of living area. Of course, this is science fiction, and unless we live in a mansion we are all in the same small boat. Here are a few tricks that I use in order to make the most of my 6 foot by 6 foot work area.
Miniaturists are a little like magicians...we can take seemingly ordinary objects, and transform them into something completely different with a little sleight of hand. The only difference between magicians and miniaturists is that a mini person will share their secrets outside the order! As I think of more, I will add to the list.
If your relatives are coming, and you decide to make something before they get to your house, invariably they will arrive three hours early and catch you in the mess.
The longer you wait for a magazine to come in, the less how to projects it will contain.
The week you decide to unhook the cable will be exactly the same week that one of the craft shows will decide to do miniature projects each and every day.
You will finish a perfect fimo sculpture about two minutes before you accidentally squish or misshape it and have to start over again.
The more you hope a mini package gets to its destination, the longer the actual wait will be.
If the knitting project is only one line away from being done, you will find that you dropped a stitch/added a stitch/messed up somewhere near the very beginning of the work and the only way to repair it is to start again.
If it is messy, will stain, will scatter, will stab a bare foot... you will drop it on the floor, and not notice that you did until it is too late.
The craft store will always be out of the size of bead that you want.
If you find a price on a mini that is too good to be true, it will be the wrong size or mislabelled.
The cat has an insatiable appetite for things that are complicated to make, or hard to buy.
If you find that are out of a certain vital supply which is only available at a certain shop, it will certainly be two minutes past closing time.
When you want to go to a dollhouse show, at least one child will get horrendously sick at six am, but will feel remarkably better two minutes after you miss your plane or ride.
If you find the perfect item through a mail order catalog, the last one will be sold one order before yours is processed and the company will then discontinue the item.
The phone will always ring just when you are concentrating on a mini. The item must then fly out of your hands and across the room, to which it will have the following fates: A) It be devoured by your Golden Lab pup B) will land on the carpet glue side down and become hopelessly covered in pet hair or C) immediately be stepped on by somebody in really heavy shoes.
You find all the fashion doll patterns you can and convert them into mini
You are elated that "Betty" from the Archies comics is a miniaturist, but get royally ticked when you find out her parents whine at her and tell her to grow up.
Vending machines are your undoing...
You don't fish, yet you come home from a bait and tackle store with a hundred dollars worth of fishing paraphenalia.
Your motto is "I am NOT a nut!"
You are elated when the neighbor calls you an "artist"!
You get all your relatives to hand over all their broken jewelry so you can make it into other things!
A broken VCR and all it's components make you feel like you are on top of the world.
You make up a lot of "how to know you are a miniaturist" sayings.
Store clerks look at you funny when you get down on your hands and knees to measure a piece of furniture to make in one inch scale!
Norm Abram is your hero...
Bob Villa is your other hero...
Martha Stewart wishes she was you...
Even when you make "big" projects, you wonder what it would look like in miniature.
Neighbors know to call you if they need last minute party decorations, as you have tons of crepe paper, construction paper, glue, glitter, etc!
You get down on your hands and knees to find cat whiskers, because they can be cut down to make mini straws.
Your cat lives in fear of you as you stalk him for his "fallen off" whiskers.
Every container could be turned into a "scene".
You find that you almost exclusively make scale items, and rarely make their larger real size counterparts.
You are more likely to learn how to make something in mini first, then try a real size item.
A bead and charm sale at the craft store sends you into seventh heaven
You "borrow" a few extra clear straws from the local fast food place whenever you go in, because it is the only place in town where you can get them.
You get on your hands and knees on the beach to find those tiniest of shells, and do not pay attention to all those who make a rude comment about "the view".
You are harder to get out of the toystore than a child is.
You buy a good scale snake/lizard from the vending machine everytime you go to the supermarket, and feel very offended when they replace it with some stupid candy and you didn't have a chance to get all the different types of reptiles.
When you go out for dinner, you choose the restaurant based on who has the best jam/butter/coffee creamer containers instead of food.
You know the inventory of the craft store better than the clerks do.