I love to make things for people & I've found that kids birthdays are a fine excuse to take the time to make something epic - last year, for Carys' birthday, Lin and I made a millennium falcon dolls house and a set of star wars peg dolls. The two of us had been noodling for a while about what to make Carys this year (ok, last year now since this post took me ages to get round to writing) - the girls have really been enjoying make believe play with dolls houses and those little people dolls you see everywhere (Polly pockets and the like). So, in keeping with the interesting dolls house for birthday theme, we thought we'd make a mini version of our own home - one that would be an interesting puzzle for the kids to put together and that would come apart easily for storage afterwards.
The inspiration for this came from an old woodworking book we picked up a while back. I'd been flicking through it and noticed the page with the modular dolls house idea & thought the girls would love it.
To begin with I tried moking something up by taking measurements of the house using the overhead view from a google maps satelite image and filling in the inside myself. This was ok, but it was difficult to get the internal dimensions looking right. So I ended up going round the inside and outside of the house measuring the lengths of all the walls and using these measurements to create a few "architectural" drawings. I quite like seeing the drawings people make of their ideas, so I've posted a load of mine at the end of this post (they're nothing special, but you can see the evolution of the idea). For the impatient, here's the final design I was working from:
I spent a few nights just looking at and thinking about the set-up before realising that I was over complicating everything by trying to be too precise (left wall is 33.24", middle is 12.56" etc). I decided to simplify everything and round all the measurements (making sure to keep the proportions sane and as close to the true values as possible).
I mocked up a simple version of the house using CamBam and cut it out of 1/8" thick plywood on my CNC machine. This gave me an idea of how it all could fit together and how to improve the design. Sure, I could have cut it out of cardboard, but this method is more interesting to me & had the upside of leaving us with something a bit more robust that the kids can play with.
Lin took a look at the ~8" x 6" model you see above, frowned and said "how big can you make it?". I had to laugh, because that was the exact comment that lead to the glow in the dark wall after I showed Lin a scrap of parchment paper I'd covered with glow-in-the-dark paint. The main size limitation turns out to be the trunk space of our Nissan Dissapointment - I can just about fit a 4' x 4' sheet of plywood in there, so that's how long the main side walls are. This had the unexpected benefit of making the house a 1/12th replica of the original. This means that we can buy 1/12th sized doll house furniture and it will be in perfect proportion. It also meant that the dolls house furniture that our friends, Jessen and Lani, bought for the girls fits perfectly. Thanks guys, if you're reading this!
After deciding on the final design, I set about drawing each individual piece and working out where all the mating slots should go - this is important because it defines the order in which the walls can be slotted together. I wanted to work out a sequence that's easy (no having to straddle a couple of pieces while a second person slots something in) and that makes sense (large outside pieces first to make a frame for the inner walls to slot onto later). For this design I was limited by the fact that I've put the roof on the front piece so the slots have to go on the bottom, this makes the first step in assembly slightly awkward, but the rest is a doddle.
I popped over to home despot to decide on what wood I was going to use and to pick up a dadoe blade set for the table saw (hey, there's nothing wrong with using present making as a reason to pick up some new tools!). I've ended up using some fairly decent 1/2" plywood.
I had to make a new insert for the old Atlas table saw - a zero clearance plate for the dado blade. Here's a few pictures to give an overview of the process (I cut out the initial shape using the original plate to draw a template and a scroll saw to cut it out).
I used the table saw to cut out the main house pieces and a jigsaw to cut out the shape of the roof and the windows. The dadoe blades (1/2" wide setting) were used to cut all the slots and finally a router, with rounding bit, to curve the edges. I used a scroll saw to cut out a few of the more awkward parts at the end & now I wish I'd used that for all the windows and doors... It was much easier and more accurate than the jigsaw.
Here's the house assembled in the kitchen. I hadn't decided on how to do the porch at that time, so it's still missing.
After cutting out the main shape (and deciding on the porch design) it was just a matter of painting it. This took a bit longer than I expected... we wanted to keep it a surprise so it was only worked on in "the mystery room" after the kids were in bed.
Here's the completed house with some kids in the mix so you can get a sense of scale :)
As always, some of my favourite touches are the ones that Lin added. She did all of the detailed painting and went one step further by creating some scaled versions of the more recognizable items around the house (rug and pillows in pic below). Awesome!
I love the rug on the rug effect. Ffion often comments on my enjoyment of recursion... We were reading Charlie Cook's Favorite Book recently and she said "Look dad! That's the kind of thing you like!" pointing to the cover (which has Charlie reading his favourite book, which is the very book he's in). I haven't yet made a small enough copy of the house to fit on the small rug though. That'd be great - a playhouse within a playhouse within the house it was modeled on.
Here's a load of sketches I made whilst thinking about and planning the house. You can see the evolution from "I don't really know what I'm making" to "how is this all going to fit together?" to "this is where everything goes and this is where the slots need to be".
In retrospect, if we were doing this again from scratch we'd probably make the corridor wider to make a bit more room.