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Building Materials for Scale Models and Dolls Houses

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Learn which materials are used to build dolls' houses and scale buildings. The materials you use may influence your choice of building components like windows and doors, or determine how you should best finish your house. Each type of materials ans pros and cons. Before you start construction of a model building, read about these materials to familiarize yourself with the tools, techniques, and characteristics of the various building materials.

Baltic Birch Vs Medium Density Fiberboard

Baltic Birch Plywood
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
Dolls houses and other miniature scale buildings often come as kits or completed structures made from MDF (medium density fiberboard) or Baltic Birch plywood. There are pros and cons to each material which are discussed here. Both materials give off some gasses, so they should never be left unfinished. Plywood structures are lighter and can be built to be dismantled or added on to at a later date. The decision of which to use is personal, but this article gives you some of the pros and cons of each material. If you use MDF, make sure you prime it before you paint. How to Prime Mdf

Gatorfoam / Gator Board

Cutting gatorfoam board with a power jigsaw
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

This material is used mostly for indoor and outdoor display support for photo's and posters. It makes a great building material for miniaturist's, but it isn't the same as the more commonly available foam core board. You are best using fine tooth power tools to cut it, but it's light weight, ease of building and smooth, water resistant surface, makes it ideal for many miniature applications. This material does give off gases, so it may not be accepted by museums. It is most often used as a substrate for displays which use paperclay or other modelling materials to create special surface techniques, or where light but sturdy materials are required.

Luan/Lauan Plywood

Luan/Lauan Plywood is often the material used for less expensive dollhouse kits. It is an easily worked material, but requires more finishing work than some other choices. In kits this plywood is often die cut and assembled using tab and slot construction methods rather than nails or screws. Buildings made with thin luan will need to use doors and windows designed to fit in this material. It is also more difficult to set up round wire routes through laun, as floors and walls may be too thin to score for wiring channels.

Basswood or Tilia (Lime) Stripwood or Scale Lumber

Craft stripwood and scale lumber is available from a range of suppliers. Most of the stripwood is basswood or Tilia (lime) wood, both used for their fine grain and strength. Some specialist hardwood stripwood is also available from specialist suppliers, mainly in sizes for model ships, although some is in various scales for dollhouse miniatures as well. Stripwood is good for building component parts for buildings (windows and doors), scale furniture or trims for dolls houses and roomboxes. Instructions for building windows and doors can be found here:

Bookboard/Paperboard

Davey Board pieces for a roombox are cut to accept a dolls house window.
Photo ©2008 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
Bookboard , Davey board or paper board is an inexpensive, acid neutral, dense paper based board used for strong boxes and book covers. It is often used to construct roomboxes and breakaway boxes for dolls house displays and is also a choice material for architectural models. It can also be used as a base for printable miniature buildings. Bookboard is available from scrapbook and art suppliers or book repair specialists.

Sheet Styrene

Sheet of V groove white styrene for model building from Evergreen Scale Models
Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
Sheet styrene can be bend and shaped as well as glued to make buildings and other models. It is most often used to scratchbuild railroad model buildings and rolling stock, but has many other uses as well.

Creative PaperClay

Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Creative Paperclay® is a useful medium for creating miniature plaster, stucco, pargetting, stone tiles, tiled floors and walls, landscaping rock and stone effects, or small three dimensional miniatures or sculptures. With handling properties very similar to fine clay, this is a safe, easy way to create strong lightweight miniatures which need no curing, other than a protective coat of sealant.

Wood Aging Effects

Raw balsa wood, silver grey  and deep brown balsa wood  created with vinegar/steel wool solutions
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

This simple technique will turn new wood into aged silvered, brown or blackened wood within minutes of application. This is a great way to make repairs to items which have naturally weathered or to create the look of weathered boards or shingles on miniature buildings.

Wood Shingles

One inch size cedar shingles and paper strip cut to resemble 1:48 scale shingles
Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Wood Shingle effects can be created in many scales using wood, wood veneers, paper tags or paper strips. The shingles can be shaped to particular patterns for siding, or used to create rustic or aged roofs.

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