Thursday, May 21, 2015

Miniature Furniture Kits

Building your own dollhouse furniture gives a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It also give you a lot of control over the creative design and decorating of you house. I have spent countless evenings in my craft space, radio music playing, assembling furniture from kits. I thought that I would share my favorites and what I am learning along the way about eBay bargains and thrift shop finds.

So far I have worked with three different kits: Realife Miniatures Heritage Collection, Houseworks, Ltd., and Xacto

Kit 1: Realife Miniatures, made in the USA, 1980, manufactured by Scientific Models, INC (New Jersey). I really want to like this kit.

I purchased this kit at local antique market for $20. When I Google the kit, a few showed up in the search. eBay also has good selection. This kit has three pieces of furniture: the table, the hutch, and the dry sink, along with 4 chairs.

The pieces are punch out and numbered for easy (?) identification. They punch out easily, but sometimes the wood splinters and the edges are not smooth and require sanding.

Good instructions are essential for theses tiny kits. You can see that the instructions begin with a list of pieces that must be punched out. Some of the pieces will be on the same board, but I had to sift through the several boards to look for all of the pieces and then check them off as I located them. While the instructional images are clear and fairly easily to read, they don't always demonstrate exactly what the construction will look like.

There could be more instruction on how to align the pieces to get accurate assembly.

While the legs (the curved pieces) are nicely punched out, they require sanding to remove the splintering. The support bars for the chairs were not pre cut. They were cut to a certain length from an 18 inch length of wood then had to be sanded down to size, which I found to be very much of pain as I tried to get them all the same length, which is really important if the piece of furniture is look right, nice, and professional. As this photo shows, the side piece connecting the front let to the back leg does not fit. I also had to figure out how to get the legs even, so I taped a piece of wood to my work surface to give a straight edge for the legs to fit against.

I work on a piece of styrofoam so that I can use pushpins to keep pieces in place, if necessary. I also used Gorilla wood glue. It does not dry clear, but it does bond quickly and nicely. You must be careful to clean up glue that oozes out of joining surfaces. 

Finished. I am hoping that whatever finish I decide on--stain or paint-- will cover up the imperfections. Then again, the rustic look might just fit the farm house. And I still have more sanding to do to smooth out the rough joints.

You will find these 1980s kits available on eBay, I honestly think that unless it is a piece that you absolutely cannot find any other place, move on, look other places: eBay, Etsy, Amazon, craigslist, garage sales, thrift stores. 

The balsa wood is not the best quality, not all of the pieces are pre-cut, and pieces require a lot of sanding. Of course a fine quality wood finish does require sanding, but these punch-out pieces require more. The kit did come with the stain and finishes, but the liquids had all dried up. I have to decided if I will use stain or go for the shabby look. 

Another American company that has been in business for a long time (1975), has a fine line of both assembled unfinished 1:12 scale dollhouse furniture and kits. The company has everything from accessories to building supplies. You will find some of their items in Hobby Lobby and other craft retailers. You can also order online as I did this piece:

This piece came in a zip lock bag, each piece cut, and required little sanding. The instructions were not quite as specific as they could have been. This little table comes with the hardware--tiny, tiny brass drawer pulls. (I have compared these first two kits to final kit, Xacto).

I made the mistake of inserting the drawers all the way before really testing to see how tight they would fit. Well, they fit very tight, so tight that they are in place for good. I like this kit because as you can see I cut out the template to mark where the hardware will be installed.

(Sorry. I should have rotated the image). The instructions have each piece diagrammed so that you can easily identify each piece by laying it on its image. The diagrams and illustrations could be more specific. Instructions aside, the wood quality is better than Realif but not quite a good as Xacto pieces. The pieces nicely cut and easily identified.

Despite the weaknesses, I will buy from this company again.

Kit 3: House of Miniatures by Xacto: 

No longer made, these kits are by far the best. I am thinking that perhaps Houseworks purchased the rights to this company because the kits are so similar and the instructions so nearly the same. 

This company produced quality furniture. With very specific instructions, exceptional wood quality, and authentic design, these kits certainly are worth the effort to search them out, which really isn't that much of a challenge. eBay always has a nice selection, as well as Amazon. I have a large collection of pieces that came for different sources. My daughter found the first batch, 20 boxes or so, on in Denver for $90. I have not assembled all of the pieces yet, but I have such fun building furniture. 

My other daughter scored the next great find of 10 kits at ARC, an local thrift store that has locations all over Colorado. These were priced at $6 a piece and on half price for the day. I have some duplicate pieces that I will share with either of the girls as they build their houses.

High quality wood, neatly cut. I don't think they are laser cut as that technology was not available then. Accurate and authentic design that allows for easy assembly.

Once again, the pieces are easily identified by diagrams that aid in sorting the pieces.  I haven't assembled these chairs yet, but I am quite sure that they will be easier to assemble and will fit together much better. You can see the differences in design. Not extra cuts to make. Some pieces even have diagrams that you can lay the pieces on to get the alignment correct as you glue them together. You place the pieces on the illustration, pin them place once glued to make sure that pieces are spaced  and aligned correctly. Realife skipped that option, sadly. I have not assembled enough of Houseworks kits to know if they provide that feature.

These kits are worth seeking out. I have enough to furnish one house with pieces left over. I'll be sharing them along the way. Of course if the girls find them as they visit thrift stores, they know to buy them. I don't order much on eBay or Amazon. I have to really want an item to shop,  but I like garage sales and thrift stores and antique malls the best. Nice dollhouse furniture is hard to come by, so I am always looking. 

I have a large collection of furniture and accessories that I have found in various places. My little town is home to 6 antique stores and I know all of the owners who all know that I look for dollhouse furniture. I especially like Shackman furniture, another 1970s-'80 company that while it is still in business it not longer makes dollhouse furniture. There is quite a bit of their furniture out there and many pieces still have their little gold Shackman sticker on the bottom. Made in Taiwan or Japan, the pieces are high quality and the company made everything from dolls to pots and pans and pianos. You will find a very nice selection on eBay and Etsy. 

Part of the thrill of dollhouse building is not just building the house, but the quest for fine pieces to create the perfect imaginary miniature life.

You will be reading more about these two young ladies, the Pullip sisters who seemed to have grown tired of their place on the shelf. They have told me that they are looking at relocating. They want a place of their own. Frankly, I am not too sure what sort of tenants they will be. I am a pretty picky landlady and I think these two are bit too persnickety for the old farm house. We'll see. 

The bed, by the way, is a Houseman, Ltd. kit. I still need to stain or paint it, but it is so darn cute. I had a lot of fun making it.

Until next time, thanks so much for stopping by. If you have any questions about building miniature furniture, you can ask me, but truthfully there are some really good blogs out there where the hobbyists build their own furniture from scratch and offer some really good tutorials. I do encourage to go for it. Yes, Hobby Lobby has some wonderful pre-made furniture, but you want unique one of kind, don't you? Even if you build a piece from a kit, you can give it your own special touch. No two pieces will come out the same.

Have a wonderful week end.

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