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Thursday, July 31, 2014

What IS Steampunk?!!

Hello folks!

It occurred to me that some of my visitors might not know what Steampunk was.  I asked a friend of mine if they knew what it was and they looked at me rather strangely!   I really didn't expect that, because it seems such a trend lately.

However, when you look into it, it IS somewhat hard to define! Everyone has their own ideas about the Steampunk aesthetic and what it means.  I found a poster on Pintrest that defined it quite well.  That poster proclaimed that Steampunk is...

"A psuedo-Victorian melange of ideas, notions and possibilities intersecting [with] a neo-apocalyptic dystopian future wherein the occupants reside within a quasi-utopian, retro-technological and idealogical society. Generally while fighting Cthulhu from airships while wearing corsets and goggles."

There!  That is Steampunk!

Steampunk design has become a groundswell within the creative and arts world, and today is even making itself into real life interior design. The variation of what people come up with is truly amazing.  In fact, there are even "sub-cultures" developing within the Steampunk world.

My particular "brand" of Steampunk is all about redefining the past to create an alternate technological reality.  You'll see that tendency in everything I choose to do for this house, which also means I am constantly having (already!) to re-invent and imagineer not only what to do for the house, but also how!

I will be using lots of clocks and gears (a staple in just about all versions of Steampunk), lots of copper, gold, brass, bronze, and verdigree...combined with Victorian mirrors and furniture, with a semi grunge theme, while creating an opulent elegance using the Art Noveau and Art Deco design elements juxtaposed against fantastic textures and fabrics.  Modern elements will be redefined to appear Victorian, while Victorian and Art Noveau elements will be redefined to appear modern.   It will be a lovely mess, won't it!  (you may think that once you see the first pictures!  Remember, it isn't finished yet!)

I won't be adding skulls.  If you want skulls, there are lots of other fine stops on the internet where those can be viewed in their full glory...but this house will not have those if I can help it!  (watch...I'll find the "perfect" piece somewhere and it will have a skull on it...but if I do, we'll remain very quiet about it, OK?)

I hope to strike the perfect balance between graceful elegance and grungy age.  This has already been an incredibly fun challenge!  I want to "see" it finished...but first I have to figure it all out.  Very overwhelming at times.

So after all that, I owe you your first glimpse of the Entry as a Work in Process.

Here it is!

in all its unfinished glory.

This room has been, and will be a LOT of work.  This is going to take me a rather long time to finish, I believe! I am building pretty much everything from scratch, largely because the sorts of things I want in the house just are not out there on the market.  I also really want to create these things myself so that I learn the skills for future projects. I could probably not have picked a better project to start with, by that measure.  I am going to have to learn about everything to pull this off.

I will also comfort some of you by letting you know that the floor won't stay the way it is!  It is rather gaudy and discombobulated at the moment, but "we have plans for you" dear reader.  I sure hope they work!!

I'll fill you all in on each component of the above in my "history of the house" posts.  And as promised, as I do make progress that is noticeable, or am doing something that is of educational value for others (and probably frustrating to me!!) I will post and share those things.

Until Next Time!!

Doug S

Negotiating the Curves

Morning folks!

First I want to acknowledge and welcome my first follower, Ray!  Thank You, and I am excited to have you!

This post is going to enlarge slightly upon the last two posts, because I wanted to share an additional  technique that someone may need to know about if they love curves as much as I do.  I have always been drawn to graceful, flowing curves.  In art, architecture, and nature, curves are the first thing I notice and appreciate.  They lend a beauty to just about anything that takes something simple and elevates it to grand.

The simple beauty of curves

But when building, whether with wood or with Foam Core, those same graceful curves can become a nightmare.  Getting them drawn, getting them to appear graceful, and getting them cut can be a true pain.

So today, I wanted to spend a few minutes showing you the tools and one of the main techniques I use to negotiate those curves when creating a three dimensional piece, like a dollhouse or three dimensional model.

First, some of the tools that can make drawing those curves so much easier!

  • Common Everyday Household Items - You may laugh at the first one....but don't!  I use this more often than any other tool!  It works!  The common, everyday bowl! 

Using a common everyday bowl to guide a curve

This is the tool I used to create this curve.

Graceful curves  from common everyday items

Sure, it is a  humble tool, but think about it.  There are more beautiful curves in the common everyday items sitting around your home than you might realize!  Cups, glasses, bases of statues, lamps, you name it, it probably has a curve in it somewhere.  And what comes in more shapes and sizes than common dinnerware! 

Of course, there is always the practicality factor!  That gorgeous curve on the dining room table won't help you here much. (Although someone has tried it!  We won't talk about that.) 

  • The French Curve - The Architects Tool  - a great tool for smaller or compound curves
The French Curve

These are the tools I used to create the profile you see in the base of the stairs below:

An Early Version of the Grand Staircase

  • The Compass - The old standby for simple circles 
The Compass

I used this tool to create the pattern for my circular staircase (to be shown in a later post!) in combination with the French Curves pictured above.

Pattern for the Spiral Staircases in Steampunk Manor

OK, so now we have the curves drawn.  Now how do we turn them into three dimensional curves?

I won't insult your intelligence by creating photos of cutting the curves out of wood...I'll just give you a couple of important pointers when cutting miniature curves out of wood.  They are a different animal than large, life sized curves!

  1. Use a scroll saw or Dremel tool to cut the basic shapes.  I don't worry about following the lines too closely on the first cut IF the item I am cutting is big enough to shape with a sander or Dremel after the basic shape has been cut.  
  2. Paradox here!  If your shapes are very small, as in the circular staircase above, DO NOT cut the shapes away from the board first....cut them as close to the lines as you can manage but do so while they are still attached to the larger board.  The reason for this is that once you reach a certain point of "mini", most tools will not allow you to do precise cutting.  For example, in the curved shapes on my circular staircase, I made the mistake of cutting each basic shape out (not worrying about the lines) and then tried to cut the curves on those teeny tiny pieces.  Trust me, it does not work!  My scroll saw was too wide and the Dremel, while it would eventually have worked, would take much longer to shape the curves.  So for those smaller pieces, cut them out of the original board one at a time...this gives you the room to make those precise cuts while the piece is attached to something you can hold on to..which gives you greater maneuverability.  
  3. All curves will still need sanding into shape. It is nearly impossible (for a novice anyway!) to cut a precise curve with one pass of the saw.  I use my Dremel tool to get into the tiny curves that grace most miniature items.   Here is a tip.  Everyone hates sanding.  Another tip.  Sanding well separates the men from the boys!  Good work REQUIRES good sanding.  Nothing you will do will turn out well if you do not sand and finish the pieces well. 

Now for the major technique I wanted to demonstrate.  This is an important technique when creating curves in miniature, especially those tight curves.

This technique is called "kerfing".  It is used by woodworkers and crafters to shape wood into curves the world over, but if you are not familiar with woodworking, you would never think of using this technique.  So I wanted to post about it.

I used kerfing to create the curve in my Entry door opening.

The Entry Door with a curve (kerfed!) arch in wood

I also used it in my original version of the second floor stairwell.  (Yes there was an original version that got tossed...shhhh!  Don't tell!)

The original stairwell, using kerfed corners in Foam Core Board

You can see in the second photo what kerfing is.  It amounts to making small cuts in one side of the board, whether wood or Foam Core.  For the Foam Core piece above, I cut slits approximately 1/4 inch apart all along the outside each curve.  

When kerfing wood, you will need to follow up with a second step, to soften the wood and coax it into shape.  I put my wood strips into a large mixing bowl...and soaked them overnight.  This softens the wood and makes it much more pliable.  Even then, you will need to use some care, as wood really does not LIKE to bend.  It will fight you all the way.  The best solution to this is to bend slightly, then relax the wood, then bend slightly more, then relax the wood, and repeat until you have the shape you desire.  Even with that careful approach, your wood stick may break.  Wood is like people, some are strong, some are weak! Each piece of wood will bend differently, depending upon the wood grain, strength of the wood fibers, and the variety of wood.  Be prepared for the possiblity, (aka have more materials at hand!) and just start over again with a new can be done!

Once the curve has been created, the side that is slit, if it is to show, can be covered with wood strip to create a clean, simple, and graceful curve. 

I hope the above will help some of you achieve those elegant curves you desire!  The process is easy, if sometimes a bit frustrating...but one thing I am learning...there is no such thing as an "impatient miniaturist"!  Take your time, move slow, and this will allow you to create sumptuous curves that beautify the simplest pieces. 

Until next time!

Doug S

P.S.  I promise I will start posting my current progress soon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Modular Scratch Building - Part Two

Greetings all!

As promised, I am back to share with you the rest of the build process for a scratch built Foam Core roombox.  I have been very happy with my choice to use Foam Core, and I am impressed with the strength of the final box.  I have not even attached the "ceilings" yet, and the boxes are very sturdy. 

As I posted in the last entry, I did not apply the basswood strips until after having built the basic roombox using Arlene's Tacky Glue along all edges.  I love the Tacky Glue, because it grips almost immediately, allowing you to clamp and move on.  Remember to compensate for the width of your Foam Core board.  It helps to mark the ceiling, floor and the three sides with pencil marks that tell you what they are, because it is VERY easy to glue the back to the front, forgetting to add the sides between! 

Having never built a roombox using this material, I decided to use a framework pattern that surrounded each edge with basswood (or hickory) strips and then filled in the center with additional strips, as you see below.

Wood Strips Added for Strength

This strengthens each edge, and still provides support for the future "floor" of the module above.   I glued at both ends, as well as to the Foam Core along the bottom edge, thus supporting each joint from both sides and from the bottom.   I chose to add full length center supports and then secondary supports to add further strength, similar to a real life build.  I know next to nothing about framing a house, but felt that this would provide the strength necessary.  It proved to be very satisfactory.

At this point I would like to recommend a couple of things about the wood strips.

The first is to use basswood, rather than balsa wood if you buy your wood strips.  I felt that the balsa was just too soft to act as a strong support.  I did use a few balsa wood strips early in my building, and I've not felt that the final roombox is as strong.

The second is DON'T buy them!  Er...I guess I should qualify that.  Don't buy them if you have a table saw and know how to operate it safely.  You can cut those same wood strips for a fraction of the cost.  I used a 1/8 inch thick hickory board bought at Lowe's in 36" lengths, which would be one of the standard lengths of the craft store offered basswood.  Using the table saw and a push stick, I was able to cut the board into strips nearly identical to the basswood strips.

Comparison of craft store basswood (right) and home cut hickory sticks (left)

I have included proof above!  

However, I will caution, you MUST use a push stick, and I recommend using a jig against the guard...basically a board such as a 2' x 4", to keep your hands out of the saw blade...and to support the very thin pieces of wood at the end of the cut.  Always be sure you are operating your saw safely.  But you can save a pile of money by cutting your own boards.  What cost me 15 dollars at the craft store, I could cut for about 5 dollars.  It proved to be worth the trouble for me.

Before applying the hickory sticks to the future ceiling, know what your general floor plan is for both the roombox you are building AND the one above, if you are building a staircase, as I have in my entry.  You will need to cut the opening for the stairwell before applying the sticks, if you do not, you will have an opportunity to do some additional rebuilding the ceiling!  I've included an example of what I am referring to above.  If I did not cut the stairwell opening, I would have added sticks across the future open area.  So "know where you go".  Always plan ahead..and avoid some of the rebuilding I have had to do!!!

Several of the roomboxes I built also had window boxes attached.

Again, I glued together the window box separately, using just the Foam Core board.  I then cut and added the wood support after the fact.  I used boards around each window and door, and added support between the vertical boards.  Once the boards were attached to the window box on all sides and in the front, I glued the assembly to the larger roombox and applied any additional support I thought necessary.  If you try this yourself, be sure to compensate again, in your measurements, for the width of the Foam Core board in your  measuring.

I treated all sides the same, wood supports on each wall, under the floor and over the ceiling.

Now comes the more interesting part.

I wanted my final house to fit together like a glove, to hold itself together once assembled.  So I created channels on the "inside" walls of each box.  These help align, support, and keep together the final roomboxes.

The grid in between modules within which channels from the next box fit in to

The channels are slightly smaller than the channels they fit into, thus fitting like a glove between the two modules and creating a "single" thickness just like at each end.  

If you look at the third photo above, the one with the stairwell hole cut out, you can see in the photo the way each box nests itself into the next.  Something I neglected to mention above is that I extended each vertical wood support piece about 1/4 inch above the top of the sides, as a mechanism to ensure that the house would fit together vertically, as well as horizontally.

The Ground Floor modules are fit together below, using this method.  On the left side is the Grand Parlor, which we have been following the build of.  In the center is the Entry Hall, and to the right is the Kitchen, Scullery and Butler's Pantry.  More on all of that later!

The three modules making up the ground floor fit together

Don't look too closely at the kitchen behind!  You will know more about me than I want you to!  

I will probably post more on this later as I actually finish the job on the second and third stories.  I got excited and wanted to move on, so I  haven't finished this on those two floors.  So if you are curious regarding more detail of the above, just stay tuned!  I will post as I go, so you will see more, and I will try to remember to take pictures of the process instead of the final products in the future!

Once I have completed all the work I want to complete before attaching the modules together, I will cover the outside with a beautiful light colored brick exterior.  One of the "disadvantages" of building a modular home is that you cannot complete the exterior toward the beginning of the build, but must wait until later in the build to finish it.  There are many advantages though, from ease of transfer to opportunities to hide the wiring between walls. I think it is worth it to postpone the exterior finishing!

Have fun building your own roombox out of Foam Core.   And be sure to be safe while cutting those hickory boards!

Until next time.  

Doug S

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Modular Scratch Building - Part One

Hi folks!

I may not have vast knowledge about miniatures yet, but I sure have some "experience" building modular FoamCore room boxes!  I thought some folks might be interested in how to go about building them, so I thought I would show you the processes I used for the boxes. 

First, let me share the resources I used because they were very helpful to me.

The first was a book written by Dorie Krusz, titled "Building Miniature Houses and Furniture".

Building Miniature Houses and Furniture, by Dorie Krusz
In this book were the basics of  Modular Foam Core construction, along with chapters on basic tools and techniques, things which I might have missed entirely if I had not done my research first.  Stuff like how to plan for overlap of the top, sides and floor, how to plan for a staircase, how to plan for doors so that the "floor" reaches from room to room without a gap.  This book really formed the basis for my overall plan to use Foam Core Board. It did such a nice job of laying out the process.  I continue to use it as I reach new elements of the build. 

The second was the website of a self described "maker", David Neat, who has the generosity of spirit and the knack for teaching to create an extremely valuable website sharing his various modeling techniques.   If you haven't found it yet, and want to learn how to develop a professional looking model, I highly recommend it!

The last major resource was more a matter of inspiration than anything else.  I stumbled onto Juliette's website "Victorian Mini - Adventures in Scale Modeling".  I was impressed with the versatility and the modular nature of the build, and this was the point at which I said "I can do that!" 

One reason for my choice to use modular construction and Foam Core materials is that while I have marginal woodworking experience (having built exactly one jewelry box and one sofa table in high school, a flat or two for stage sets, and some "posts" for various projects) I felt that I was more likely to succeed initially with the Foam Core Board.  I also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, wanted the build to be light, and modular in nature so that I could work on some parts of the house without having the entire large structure sitting on my dining table.  To me, with the above three constraints, I thought Foam Core would suit my situation well.  So far, it has been a great choice!

So off to the store I went, looking for Foam Core Board! 

Here is the process I came up with, which has served me quite well.  

Obviously, Step 1 was to determine the size of the room boxes.   I got inspired by a book titled "Decorating with Architectural Trimwork" by Jay Silber, part of the Creative Homeowner series, which helped me decide the initial room sizes before setting the floor plan in my Chief Architect Program.  This was the drawing that I found, which pleased my sensibilities.  I used this and my "It should look about like this" tool to finalize those sizes for each room. 

Image "Decorating with Architectural Trimwork"

Once I had the room sizes established, I began cutting the Foam Core board to size, with an alteration from the drawing for the window walls.  Deceptively simple...yes? 

First Cuts for the Project

Well, there is a secret or two that is of use...these learned from David Neat's site, linked above.  Foam Core does not like to be manhandled...  Gentle is the word of the day.  To get a clean, straight cut with Foam Core board you will want to follow these instructions very closely.  

  1. Make sure you have a sharp cutting tool.  I use the Utility Knife above, which gives me a good solid weight in my hand that helps me guide the cut.  Others recommend a scalpel...yes, like doctors make these cuts.  I found the utility knife very satisfactory though, if I used care and changed the blades often enough. 
  2. Measure the lines you would like to cut, and draw them onto the Foam Core with a mechanical pencil.  I like the mechanical pencil because the line of the graphite is more controllable, and the lines can be drawn in quite lightly and precisely. I used an 18 inch steel ruler, which I highly recommend purchasing, again because it allows precision.  
  3. Before making any cuts, be sure to measure and draw both intersecting corners.  The reason for this is that you want to ensure that you have those corners square and even.  If you do not, your final roombox will not be square, which creates problems for you all the way through the build.  I learned this the  hard way!  Use a carpenters square or tri-square to ensure 90 degree angles, or an architectural triangle also works well.  Measure once, measure twice...then start your cut.  This is probably the most critical part of the process. 
  4. Place the steel ruler against the line to be cut, ensuring that the edge is directly on the line. drifting away from the line, because your cut will follow the ruler, not the line....the very act of putting pressure on the line tends to cause your hand to drift away from the line. 
  5. SCORE the line lightly.  Do not try to cut clear through the entire piece of Foam Core all at once.  Hold the knife, as you draw it along the line, tightly to the steel ruler, as this will keep you from drifting. 
  6. It is best to draw the knife from both ends of the line into the center, especially as you are working out a corner.  This prevents cutting into the board surrounding the cut, especially important as you are cutting out doors and windows. 
  7. Repeat the cut on the same line, using slightly more pressure, and cutting a little more deeply, again from both ends into the center unless you are cutting a single line clear across your Foam Core.  
  8. Repeat until the cut is made.  I have found that it takes about 4 times through before the cut is complete.  
When complete with the above process for one room at a time, I ended up with something like this:

A completed roombox

I am fudging in the photo above...I didn't of course take a picture of the roomboxes without the this picture is standing in for that.  I did not apply the wood sticks until I had built the basic roombox assembled in each case.  I glued the Foam Core along each edge with Arlene's Tacky Glue, which I love...and I have used the sticks primarily for the purpose of adding strength and giving me a way to ensure a tight fit between modules.

I'll continue this post next time, explaining the process of applying the balsa sticks and showing the decisions I made to connect the roomboxes into a final whole.

Until next time!

Doug S

Monday, July 28, 2014

From Humble Roots


I always find it interesting to see how people go about the creative process... we are all so different, and nothing quite demonstrates that as much as how a person goes about creating.  I thought some folks might like to see how I went about putting together the original concept for my Steampunk Chateau project.

The project started out of sheer boredom!  For many years now, there has been little "outdoor" stimulation at our house...Our town home literally has no outside space in the sun.  I have a beautiful little shade garden in the back that is too cold to sit in most of the time!   So I am somewhat trapped indoors, and have been for several years.

Nicknamed Cold Storage - My only outdoor escape 

During one of my fits of boredom, I got to looking out on the web at some of the incredibly beautiful and creative miniature work done by others, and got a hankering to try my hand at a miniature project.

At the same time, I was playing around with a book of George Barber Designs, as I love the Victorian era architecture, and I fell in love with this plan.

George Barber House Plan

I decided right then and there that I would build a miniature house to keep me busy during my down time.  And this had to be it.

Nothing too grand, you know!  

I wanted to build in 1:12 scale, so I drew it all up, thinking I would turn this into my project, but once I got everything measured out... It was going to be 7 feet long! I am a bit of a dreamer...but even I got cold feet at that.

 Town homes...miniature houses 7 feet long...not a pretty picture!

This got me into a downsizing mode, needless to say.   As part of my downtime during the last few years of captivity, I had purchased a program called Chief Architect.  It is a wonderful architectural program, and I have spent too many hours "building" houses with it.  So I took to my trusty laptop, and decided to create my own floor plan.  

The floor plan I came up with is the one I am using to build this project with. 

My downsized house is somewhere in the neighborhood of 54 inches tall and 58 inches long, when complete.  We don't want the neighbors thinking we cannot build "The Big One"!

Now wait for it....

The final design....

The Cardboard Model - the beginning

See, I told you I "make plans" but don't "plan"!  This is as far as I got before I knew what I wanted to do...sort of!   I had decided on a "French Chateau".  Lovely isn't it!

I was SOOOOOO excited!

My prototype sat in our living room for nearly a month while I planned and the end of that time it looked a little less prim and proper: 

The Abandoned "Tape Mansion"

Soon after this photo of the abandoned French Chateau, the lovely building was demolished.

Where did the steampunk come from you ask?  Well...I ALSO considered a smaller steampunk roombox, but earlier favored the larger French Chateau...Well, you can guess.  I kept thinking about that Steampunk I idea...I love Steampunk!  I couldn't get it out of my head, so I just decided my "French Chateau" would become a "Steampunk Chateau". 

That was the beginning of a boatload of fun!  I have truly enjoyed working through the process of building this structure so far.  I am excited to share the process with others now too! 

Until next time!

Doug S. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A New Beginning

Hello one and all!
Welcome to Miniature Endeavors!


Welcome to my learning curve!  I am newly into miniatures within the last year, and I am already hooked. Totally!

I hope to be able to share with you the many things I am learning, and to return some of what I have found on so many other fine miniature blogs which I have religiously followed since I began this project.  I have thoroughly enjoyed them, and learned so much from them.  I already feel like I know some of you.  I hope to get to know a lot more folks in this process.

I first began my journey in the mini world in January of this year.  My only previous experience was the obligatory dollhouse for my daughter, and I had fun with that, but never really completely finished it, and within a few years it went the way of all "REAL" toys.  Well loved and abused, I might say!

I'd like to introduce my current, and first, real project, the Steampunk Chateau.  I don't have a better name yet....The house hasn't informed me yet what its name is.  I just know that it is inspired by my love of architecture, steampunk, furniture and all things graceful.  The combination has led to the project you will be following if you choose to go along for the ride.

Scratch built room boxes assembled in dry fit - from the front

This is the view from the front on our dining room table.  I have built this structure entirely with foam core board and with wood sticks.  I chose to use this medium as I don't have much space!  I have built each of these room boxes separately, and will be joining them later in the build.  I live in a large town home with a SMALL living area...why DO they put all the space in the bedrooms?!

Here is a picture of the first of the room boxes at the very beginning of this process.   As you can see, I can work on one or two room boxes at a time, and don't have to have the entire contraption downstairs in our teeny, tiny living area.

Grand Parlor Room box, the first of many

I've scratch-built this house, as I did not want to be limited by what is available in the market. The process of designing the spaces, learning how to complete a task, and solving the problems that come with doing new things is what this is all about for you'll see me try and fail, and occasionally succeed...but that is the way I like it.

If anybody has great ideas for what to name this monster, I am all ears!

Here is the view from the open back, as it currently stands (minus a few home improvements in the entry, which I will share later)  Everything in the house in this picture is propped and taped....except the basic room boxes, of which there are 9. Each of the six outside room boxes are 15.5 inches  x 16 inches, and the three center boxes are 13 in. x 19 in.  The whole is rather imposing!

Room boxes assembled in dry fit from the open back

My wife is overjoyed to watch my progress on the dining room table...I store the house in progress in our bedroom upstairs on a table, and I do the dirty work in the garage...the very SMALL garage.   Needless to say, I was looking for ways to minimize the impact of this project.  I suppose, now that I think about it, I could have chosen something SMALLER!  Nah...that would ruin everything!

I'll be posting my progress from January through today in amongst my current progress over the next few weeks... You'll get to see my process...I'll warn you...I "plan", but I don't "make plans".  Makes for an interesting journey!

Until next time, and I hope you will enjoy the read!