The woodwork can make or break a dollhouse. It's the things we don't really think about, or notice--floors, columns, door frames, etc--that give it that "real house" feel. They're the canvas on which we "paint" the rest of the scene. Unfortunately, they're also the parts we tend to want to rush through--at least, I do. I've developed the techniques I use through years of trial and error, and the (repeated) experience of being really unhappy with my results. I tend to slap on a coat or two of stain, a coat or two of varnish, and throw in a few passes with a sanding sponge. If it's smooth and pretty looking, I conclude I'm done...and then I look at the final product and wonder what went wrong.
This dissatisfaction has led me to developing a few new techniques, which I'll share with you.
- 3 colors of water based acrylic craft paint. If you want to replicate the exact look I've created here, use "Americana" brand paint in Dark Chocolate, Lamp (Ebony) Black, and Honey Brown. Dark Chocolate forms the base color, Lamp Black the lowlights, and Honey Brown--which is really more of a light mustard--forms the highlights.
- A soft brush for brushing away excess dust; I use a 1" or 2" soft bristled trim brush.
- Sanding sponges. I like 3M brand sanding sponges in "medium" grit. Keep in mind, you want a rougher surface, to really scratch up the floor.
- An x-acto knife.
- "Roughing" tools. I like small stripping brushes, which are available at Home Depot. You can also use one of the wire brushes that comes in a standard golf kit. They're very cheap, and a great tool to have on hand.
This is the Tudor Bakery floor, only there's no floor yet.
I like to apply my wallpaper before I lay my floor, but everyone's different.
Here, I'm using 1" pine strips. They have a very interesting grain, which I like. But, you can use any thin strip. I'd stay away from lime (basswood), if at all possible, only because it's very soft and can dent. Lime is more suitable for columns, trim, etc, because these are lower-wear surfaces.
I like to dry-fit the entire floor before I start gluing anything down. This way, I can get a sense of how everything fits together, and what the trouble spots are. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, your room ends up a few degrees off square. Even one degree can make a big difference, and if you dry fit your floor, it's easier to figure out how to compensate for any problems--and make it as non-obvious as possible.
Make sure everything lines up as exactly as possible along the front.
Here, I'm working around the chimney column. Once I cut all the boards, I glued them down in sections using Quick Grip. Silicone-based adhesives work best, as they tend to cause the least warp. Water-based glues (like craft glue) tend to produce a lot of warp. Even so, make sure you glue the boards down in small batches (no more than 3 or 4 strips at a time), and weight them down while drying (for at least 20 minutes) to prevent warp.
The hole in the center is for tiles, which I'll install later. Once everything's dry, paint the floor with diluted Dark Chocolate (or whatever your base color is) paint. I tend not to sand beforehand, as there's little point; the moisture in the paint raises the grain. I wanted a very deep color brown, so I applied two coats of paint, and then sanded with my sanding sponge.
Here's a close-up of the floor, after it's been sanded. If you really want the grain to stand out, you can put a coat of water-based matte varnish on between coats of paint. Make sure you sand the varnish well, before you put on a second coat of paint!
Here's the floor. So far, I've put on one coat of paint, a coat of varnish, sanded, put on another coat of paint, and another coat of varnish, and sanded. Don't be afraid to go nuts with the sanding sponge.
Now it's time for the fun part. I used my tools to rough up the floor. Whenever you think you've done enough, don't be afraid to do a little more!
See all that dust? This is where a brush comes in handy! You want all this gunk gone before you start aging the surface with paint.
A close-up of the floor. Those scores and scratches were created by my x-acto blade, and my stripping brush. I created lighter spots with my sanding sponge, by sanding some areas slightly more thoroughly than others.
Now, I'm ready to start aging with paint!
I diluted my darkest color (Lamp Black), and began working it in to the corners, and the centers of the boards. I made a particular effort to work the color into the deeper knife scores I'd made. Only place lowlights where it makes sense: in corners, dark crevasses, etc.
A close-up of the lowlights. The key to success, with this effect, is subtlety. You don't want to end up with tiger stripes! "Barely there" is where it's at.
Here, I've completed the lowlights.
Here's a close-up of the lowlights.
Now, it's time for the highlights. I made a wash of Honey Brown and water, mixing in just enough paint so that my mixture was watery, but still opaque. Then, I painted it on, let it sit for a minute, and rubbed it off. So I could keep the overall effect even, I applied the wash in sections. I didn't want the paint drying before I had a chance to rub it off.
Here's a close-up of the finished floor. It's a very subtle effect. I like the mixture of the Dark Chocolate and the Honey Brown, because it gives a very rich, warm effect. A lot of paints called "Burnt Umber", and other paints in that general range, are very ashy looking when dry. Likewise, a lot of lighter value paints end up looking bright orange.
One final close-up.
So what do you think? Any floor (or other woodwork) finishing techniques you'd like to share?