Creatology, which appears to be a Chinese manufacturing wooden puzzle division of Michael's craft stores, sell a number of punch out tab and slot wooden puzzles. For 2010 Michaels / Creatology have a simple plywood tab and slot two story four room dollhouse cottage with a veranda or porch and stairs. The puzzle can be built, played with, then taken apart, or built following the puzzle instructions and glued with trim covering the slots for a more permanent small dolls house.
The puzzle pieces are well finished (a small piece of sandpaper is supplied if needed) and fit together fairly easily, following a number matching system, with all parts clearly labelled on the reverse of the package label.
Surprisingly Well Designed For the Low Cost
This inexpensive ($8) two ply dolls house is surprisingly well designed and finished for the low cost. This year's (2010) version has four rooms and is slightly larger than the version with the front porch sold last year. It is available from other suppliers for up to $40. The puzzle kit of eight sheets of finished 1/8 inch plywood assembles into a 1:24 scale (half or G scale) sized house measuring 13.3 b y 8.4 by 12.1 inches (33.8 x 21.5 x 30.8 cm) with a veranda across the front, four rooms, and a closed front door. Trim pieces which require gluing in place around the window cut outs and over the corner tab slots, are supplied if the house is to be permanently assembled with glue. The house is fairly sturdy, and easily fits common 1:24 dollhouse play figures such as Playmobil.
The pieces are easily punched from the eight plywood sheets, although younger children may need a bit of help to avoid damaging the larger parts. The slots and tabs are well engineered and easy to fit together, allowing the house to be assembled for play, then taken apart and stored flat for reuse later. Trim pieces can be applied with glue to cover the corner tabs and slots if the house is to be left up permanently. Detailing and fit of the parts is very good for a wooden toy in this price range. Although listed as a puzzle this is a toy which will most likely be played with as a dollhouse. This year's version has the floor tabs locked together to make a slightly sturdier (and larger) house than the Creatology house with a porch introduced in 2009 year.
Assembling the Puzzle Dollhouse
The plywood in my sample was clear and smooth, without knots. It is very soft wood and quite flexible, so it will not stand up to hard use and should be stored flat once disassembled. The wood is comparable to heavy illustration or Davey board (bookboard).
The pieces are precisely engineered, although not all slots were punched through cleanly in my sample. The parts fit together snugly, without any required sanding or special fitting. At the end of the build you will have lots of interesting small bits of lumber left over to make furniture with a bit of creative addition of legs for tables, chairs, even a possible fireplace. A separate set of puzzle furniture is available for the house, but most 1:24 scale toys will fit as well. If you intend to build this as a permanent fixture, it would be a good idea to assemble the house as a puzzle first, and mark the areas you want to decorate, then take the pieces apart to paint or paper before final assembly. If the house will get a lot of play, or be moved often or played with out of doors, it would be advisable to coat the plywood pieces with a clear water resistant finish before final assembly.
Simple assembly instructions which involve matching numbered pieces are supplied on the reverse of the single label sheet of packaging, so do not throw away that sheet!
Extending the Play Value
As these puzzle houses are so inexpensive, they are easily adapted to be turned into fairy houses or other creations. The soft plywood accepts paint easily. Younger children might find it easier to paint their houses using the sponge application latex paints available as samples from building supply stores. A good wood glue will allow a child (or adult) to apply cocoa fiber or broom straw as thatch for the roof, or the roof could be covered in pine needles or with cone scales.
Finishing the house could become part of a scavenging nature walk or alternatively an example of recycling, with wallpaper made from cast off clothing or recycled from magazine pages or wrapping papers. The wood is soft enough to scribe, so it could also be gently shaped with an embossing tool or rounded toothpick or spent pen, to resemble brick or stonework and painted accordingly.
For their cost and design, these are a good first decorated dollhouse for children, or a good basic starting shape for adults to decorate inexpensively.