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This upcoming project is a little different from my usual ones. This is a rehab. This custom dollhouse belongs to a neighbor and she was ...

Saturday, January 20

Dollhouse Siding Guide

Many people choose to apply siding to their dollhouse to create a more realistic and detailed look.

There are many options of materials for siding. Dye-cut, tab and slot dollhouses usually come with birch veneer wood strip siding in 12 inch long pieces. A lot of MDF or 3/8” plywood dollhouse kits come with pre-milled siding, right on their walls, so there’s no need to apply individual siding strips.

If your dollhouse kit does not come with siding, you can buy the birch veneer siding strips or pre-milled siding sheets in different lap widths from your miniatures vendor. (The lap width is the distance of overlap between each siding strip.)

Birch Veneer Strips

Premilled Siding Sheet

Lap Width

Siding a dollhouse can be difficult and tedious. It can also make or break a dollhouse. Poorly applied siding can have a dire effect on the beauty of the finished product. Careful planning is necessary for the job to come out right.

There is really no wrong way to side a dollhouse. Any method that achieves the outcome you're looking for, is the right method to use. It's more about personal preference and some basic knowledge.

Options
There are two ways to side a dollhouse. I suggest you read through both and then make a decision.
  • Application Before Components: This is when you add all the windows, doors, and mouldings AFTER you apply siding.
  • Application After Components: This is when you add all the windows, doors and mouldings BEFORE you apply siding.
Once you have decided the method you want, then it's time to get started.

In this tutorial, I will be describing how to side a dollhouse, using either method above, with individual siding strips.

Keep In Mind
Do not apply siding to unassembled walls. This is going to cause several problems with your assembly.
  • Siding will not allow for walls and floors to fit flush.
  • Siding can not be applied to edges where walls overlap each other. This will not allow your dollhouse shell to be assembled properly.
  • Siding will cover slots that tabs have to go into. Cutting them out through the siding, so the tab fits, will not give you a neat and finished end result.
  • It is difficult to know which areas of certain walls will face the exterior of a dollhouse and which areas will face the interior. You might be left with a sided interior wall.
  • Tab and slot dollhouses are not precise. Walls may not meet at the same height after assembly. This will cause for your siding lines to not match up between walls.
For these reasons, siding should only be applied to a fully assembled dollhouse shell and never before.

Application Before Components

Preperation
To apply your siding BEFORE the components, you have to assemble the basic shell of the dollhouse first, including all bays. Do not install the windows, doors, gingerbread trim, mouldings, trims or porches yet. It's also a good idea to leave the roof off as well, especially if it's gabeled. A basic shell is only the floors and walls of the structure.

Though you can paint the siding before applying it, I recommend you paint it afterwards. Since there will be no components in the way, it will be much easier to paint all of the siding, once it is on the walls of your dollhouse. Painting the siding before it is installed on the dollhouse, will cause it to warp.

You can lightly sand the edges of the siding before application but this can make the process harder and siding has a tendency to split and break. It is much easier to sand the exposed edges after the siding is applied and the glue dry. Use a fingernail file to tidy up any rough edges or you can also wrap sandpaper around a piece of scrap wood, for easy sanding. Work slowly to avoid splitting the siding.

Siding strips can be cut with scissors or a craft knife. I recommend scissors because birch veneer is very brittle and can crack easily under the weight of a craft knife, no matter how sharp it is.

Glue
You must choose a very good quality glue because all of your windows, doors, mouldings, shutters, etc., will be glued over your siding. If your siding is not held down by a good quality glue, the weight of the components will lift your siding and everything will eventually fall off your dollhouse. I recommend Aleene’s Quick Grab Tacky Glue to apply siding with.

Water-based glues like Aleene’s Quick Grab glue will warp your siding slightly, so you have to clamp it, in sections, with tape while the glue dries. Once the glue is dry, the siding will lay flat on the wall again.

There are other non-water based glues you can use that won't warp your siding but they tend to have fumes, so use them in well ventilated areas.

Application
Once your dollhouse shell is assembled and completely dry, you can begin siding. You do not need to prime or paint the exterior of your walls before applying siding before components.

Tip: If your dollhouse kit came with birch veneer siding strips on a sheet, the best way to remove them is to roll each sheet, folding each strip along its perforation. Roll one way and then the opposite way, until the siding strips loosen and fall off. This will prevent the splitting and breaking of the strips, which tends to occur when they are removed by pulling or prying apart.

Start from the bottom of the wall and apply your first strip. Make sure you don't apply it on the foundation. The first strip is usually applied in line with the bottom of bay walls, anything underneath this area is considered foundation. After the first bottom strip is up, you have to decide what lap width to use in order to continue up the wall.


The lap width measurement is up to you. Some people like wide siding and others like narrow siding. It also depends on the style of the dollhouse. You might want narrow siding for a Victorian but wider siding for a farm house.

Whatever you choose, you have to decide what measurement of lap width you want to achieve and transfer it to a template. This template is what you will use to draw lines, up the wall, with a pencil. That way you know where to apply the next strip of siding, as you move upward.

Tip: A bag of assorted fingernail files, come in a variety of different widths and make excellent templates to draw siding lines with. These are especially helpful if you want your siding to have different lap widths throughout, instead of even spacing. You can also find strip wood at craft stores in a variety of widths.

I sided the Willowcrest and Beacon Hill Dollhouses using a 1/4" lap width, and the Westville and Lily Dollhouses using a 1/2" lap width.

Make sure you make your lines straight, so you don't have crooked siding in the end. It's always best to have a wide view of your dollhouse to make better assessments, so step back every once in a while, as you side, because when you're too close, you tend to miss crooked lines.

Always eyeball your siding and do not use hard measurement to decide if your lines are straight. Because tab and slot dollhouse components, like roof trim and window openings, are not completely square, what might be straight mathematically, may not look straight in reality. Make sure that you go with what looks straight on your dollhouse.

Work your way up the wall by overlapping each top strip over the bottom strip, using your pencil lines as a guide. Cut your siding pieces around windows and door openings and along the length of the wall. The edges around window and door openings do not have to be perfect because they will be hidden under components. The same goes for the corners. All of them will be covered with corner trim.


The edges you do want to keep as neat and flush as possible are around the bays and the roof peaks. There is no trim around these parts, so take extra care of cutting the siding neatly around them. Dry fit the siding strip, so you can see where it needs to be cut and then mark it with a pencil to get the perfect fit.

Do not forget to cut the siding around any slots that might be on the wall for porches or roof trims. Cut closely, but you do not have to be perfect, because the components that go into these slots will cover any uneven edges.


Use masking tape to hold the siding down as it dries. Binder clips hold siding perfectly flat around door and window openings.


When the wall is longer than the siding piece, you will have to butt siding pieces side by side, to make the length. Make sure you stagger the butted joints along the wall, rather than apply them in a straight line. Staggering butted joints will help divert the eyes to different areas of the wall and not make them into one continuous and very visible vertical line.

Tip: Apply masking tape to butted siding joints. This will allow for both joined siding pieces to warp the same, keeping them even and flush to each other once they dry. Otherwise, one might warp more than the other, causing them to become more obvious.

Do not worry about warping if you are using a water-based glue. Siding will warp. All you have to do is clamp it down and prevent the siding from shifting. Once the glue dries, the siding will revert back to its original flat state. There’s no need to put heavy books or weights on it, to keep it flat. Binder clamps and masking tape, to keep the lines from shifting, are good enough.

Once the wall is complete, let the siding dry. After it's completely dry, sand the edges, as described above, if needed, and paint. The paint will not warp the siding because the glue is dry and holding it down to the wall, preventing it from warping.


Once the siding is painted in the wall color you want to use for your dollhouse, paint all of the window trim and glue it to the window openings. Binder clips keep component trims nice and flat, on the siding.

There is a lot of debate about whether applying siding first will make the windows and doors not fit the dollhouse. I can tell you from experience to not worry about this. Your windows and doors will fit even though siding is under them. I’ve already sided several dollhouses this way, each with different style windows, and I've never encountered any problems installing the windows and doors with siding underneath. If the siding leaves a gap between your exterior window trim and the wall, you can fill it with lightweight spackling compound, sand and then paint.




Once the windows are in, apply the shutters and corner trim. As you can see, the corner trim hides all the cut siding edges along the wall corners. You can also go ahead and finish applying the porch and balconies.



The advantages of this method is that you do not have to cut siding along complicated architectural details. This gives the siding a more finished, professional look.

Application After Components

Preperation
To apply siding AFTER the components, you have to assemble the dollhouse shell in its entirety.

Then you will paint the dollhouse walls. Because siding your dollhouse after installing your components can leave small gaps around them, it's a good idea to paint your walls the same color you will paint your siding. That way minor gaps will be less visible because there won't be any raw wood peeking through.

Now you can install all completely assembled and finished components to the dollhouse. This includes all windows, doors, porches, balconies, trim and mouldings. You are basically left with a completed dollhouse in front of you, which is only missing the siding.

Paint
Paint all of your siding before you install it. This will produce the best outcome. It may seem tedious now but it will be worse if you paint after installation. Trying to paint the siding, around complicated, architectural details that are very small, is even more tedious to do.

If your dollhouse kit came with siding, then it is most likely attached to a sheet. I recommend you paint the entire sheet, before you remove each strip. It will make painting easier. To fix any warping, apply weights on top of the siding sheet until the paint dries. This will help keep it flat.

If the dollhouse kit did not come with siding, then you most likely will have individual siding strips, rather than sheets. You will have to paint each and every one of them, individually. To minimize warping, paint them on both sides and then lay them on wax or parchment paper to dry.

Glue
You will want to use hot melt glue, in the high setting for this. You will not need to go through the clamping process required when using a water based glue. Your siding is not going to be holding up anything structural on the dollhouse, so it is perfectly fine to apply it with hot melt glue.

Application

When I sided my first Beacon Hill Dollhouse after components, I didn't paint the siding beforehand and this is why I recommend it. It would have made my life simple if I had.



Just like applying the siding before, you have to decide on the lap width you want and make a template. Draw straight pencil lines up the wall using your template as a guide. Begin applying siding from the bottom of the wall and work your way up, overlapping each top strip to the one underneath it. Make sure your lines are straight and even.


When you get to a component, you will have to cut the siding around it. Since these will not be straight cuts, you will get a more precise cut if you use a very sharp craft knife instead of scissors. Work carefully, so you get nice clean cuts and minimize splitting the siding. Shutters should be installed after all of the siding is in place.

Perform any touch-ups with lightweight spackling compound. A Q-Tip will help you get spackle into small areas.

There really aren't any advantages to installing the siding in this way. Some people prefer it because they claim it gives the dollhouse a more authentic sided look.

Neither method is right or wrong. It all comes down to preference and what type of work your comfortable performing.

Siding Versus Double Hung Windows

Some dollhouses have double hung windows and these type of windows cannot be installed over siding. You have to install them before. The Lily Dollhouse is a good example of a sided dollhouse, with double hung windows.


I suggest that you install the windows and window trim first and cut the siding around them. This should be easy since it's straight cuts, as the window casings of double hung windows are always square.


Leave the sills, bottom trim and pediments for after your done siding. That way you don’t have to cut around them.

Siding Fan Patterns

This option is for more experienced builders because it is a very difficult project, unlike shingle patterns.

I first saw this option used on a dollhouse while browsing Jenny's Willowcrest Dollhouse blog. I knew I had to try and re-create it for my Willowcrest Dollhouse.

In order to create this fan siding design, you have to make sure you can work on it until it is finished. You can not leave it half done and then return to it later. If the glue dries, before the design is perfect, you will have to scrape it off and start over.

You also can not use hard measurements to create this design. You have to eyeball everything. Hard measurements will more than likely cause for the design to not appear straight. Remember, walls, trim and the components of a tab and slot dollhouse are not precise, so hard measurements will not help you.

Finish all of the components that will go around this sided area. You will need to dry fit them constantly, so you can see how the siding falls underneath them.

You first have to side the dollhouse as you would normally and begin slowly fanning out your siding as you reach the top circle of the barrel roof. You will need to fan out the siding on both sides, at the same time. This is the only way to ensure the siding meets evenly on both sides. Try to continue the same lap widths as you fan each strip of siding outwards.


Because of its long drying times, using a tacky glue will allow for you to shift the design, multiple times, in order to get a perfect fit. This design can not be done with hot melt glue.

You have to stand away from the dollhouse and have it on a table where the siding design will be at eye level to you. This will ensure that you are fanning the siding evenly on both sides. Every Time you add a siding piece or tweak the design, you have to stand back and see how it looks from afar. You will not be able to see defects if you only work on it up close.

You have to make sure that the siding goes under all of the components but does not "peek" through the architectural details, like the holes along the curved trim or the hole on the top of the attic window. This requires constant dry fitting of components, as your siding, so that you can shift or cut siding, in order to correct any issues before the glue dries. That is why I recommended above, for these components to be completely assembled and finished before you start your siding.

The middle siding piece, goes on last and over both fanned sides, in order to join them together.

After the glue is dry, you can paint the siding.


Finally, you can add the components over the siding.


Because there are multiple layers of siding under these components, you will need to use spackling compound to hide gaps between the window trim and wall.

Keep In Mind

Some dollhouses do not bring siding or corner trim with their kits. This means that your jagged cut siding edges will be visible on all corners. You can buy separate, L shaped, corner trim from your miniatures dealer to hide all the edges or you can make your own by simply gluing two pieces of strip wood together, to make an L shape.


Some people side their bay window walls as well as the main walls on their dollhouses. If you do this, you won't have any trim for the joint edges. You will need to buy corner trim or cut the siding extremely close together at the joints. Use spackle to cover any gap thats left in order to get a nice smooth finish. The same goes for siding tower walls.

Your dollhouse kit may not bring corner trim for walls that butt together, to create an inside corner. If you have this issue, you can create your own corner trim using strip wood but I do not recommend it, as this can adversely effect the look of the dollhouses exterior. Some areas were just not meant to have trim and adding it can cause an awkward look. Added trim may also not line up with the rest of the dollhouses trim.

I suggest you use spackle along inside corners instead. Apply it with a wet, flat tip paint brush, so the spackle does not create globs along siding lines. Always butt your siding as close as you can when applying to inside corners, so any gap will be minimal.

Lastly, remember that tab and slot dollhouses are not square, plumb or level. You can try very hard to line up your siding lines between walls, only to find a slight deviation somewhere. Some walls just do not line up perfectly, in height, and this causes for siding lines to not match perfect between walls, even when the siding is started in the exact same area on both walls.

Dont give this too much thought. As long as the overall appearance of the dollhouse is correct, there is no reason to nit pick tiny inconsistencies. These are not machine made, pre-milled sided walls. They are hand made. No one will notice or even care, once they see the beauty of this one of a kind structure.

Troubleshooting

Laying Flat
Due to the nature of birch veneer siding, it will never truly lay completely flat once installed. This siding is very thin and highly susceptible to moisture and heat. This means that the siding will react to the moisture in glue and paint. Both are needed for installation and finishing.

Even when using hot melt glue, which will give you the flattest outcome, you will still see slight variations between strips. There will always be a little lift in the siding, especially along the bottom exposed edge of each strip. These variations are most noticeable along walls with minimal components and wide widths. These slight variations and lifts are what gives the product its realistic finish.

Warping
There have been some cases where people have experienced severe warping of their birch veneer strip siding that does not go away, even after the glue has completely dried. Some have had the warping go away after the glue dries, but it has returned after painting and will not go away even after the paint dries. This is caused by high humidity.

The only way to solve it is to use a hair dryer and heat up each strip of siding, one by one, holding it flat with your fingers until it cools. Yes, this is a very tedious thing to do, but short of scraping all of your siding off and starting over, it's your only alternative to fix the problem.

Avoid this problem by not siding your dollhouse in damp places like basements. Stay away from garages and side your dollhouse indoors if you live in hot and/or humid areas.

Use good quality paint. Avoid using paints that are too watery with poor coverage per coat, especially if you're in a hot and/or humid area of the country. Remember, the more moisture you put on your siding, the more water it will soak up and the longer it will take to dry. Let the glue dry before you paint and always allow for each coat of paint to dry before applying the next.

Running a fan in your work area will reduce humidity and help the siding dry quicker, thereby not allowing it to soak up too much moisture.

Rough Edges
Birch veneer siding will sometimes have rough and uneven edges. That is just the nature of the product. You can certainly discard any strips that are too uneven. Like I mentioned above, you can lightly sand any rough edges, with a fingernail file, once your siding is installed and dry.

I Want Pre-milled Siding On My Tab And Slot Dollhouse
Generally, you will not be able to apply pre-milled siding on your tab and slot dollhouse. Tab and slot dollhouses have too many architectural details on their exteriors that must fit properly, for the assembly to be successful. Adding extra thickness to the exterior walls can impede this. Therefore, the correct siding for a tab and slot dollhouse is birch veneer siding strips.

Can I Sand Pre-milled MDF Siding?
Many cabinet-grade dollhouses use pre-milled, sided walls made of MDF. You should NEVER sand pre-milled sided walls with sandpaper. If you want to smooth them out, use a crumpled brown paper bag to rub against your pre-milled sided wall, in the same direction as the siding. This should give you a smooth finish without damaging your siding.

7 comments:

Ashley Keener said...

I cannot tell you how helpful your Blog is. Thank you for all the hard work you have put into this!

Anonymous said...

I find myself referring to your blog for guidance all the time. Thank you for providing such a wonderful reference site for kit dollhouse builders.

I am working on my Beacon Hill and cut my siding sheets to such a tight fit that one appears very slightly bowed after the glue has dried. I have learned my lesson and am now sanding siding edges for a better fit.

Is it difficult to remove siding sheets glued with carpenters wood glue? Or would I be better off to live with the slight imperfection vs. possibly making a bigger one?

Gina said...

Hello and thank you!

Wood glue is very difficult to remove but you can try. I would spray the siding with warm water and let it soak in. This is an attempt to soften the glue. Then you can use a metal nail file, or other similar object, to gently pry up the siding piece. If the wood doesn't give way, the siding will. It is a very thin veneer so, at least, that will come up with some pressure. The glue underneath can always be covered with more new siding. To make life easier for you, I you might want to use hot melt glue for the repair.

When you are attempting to fix something, the extent of damage is unknown. The only known thing is that there WILL be damage but it can always be fixed. Its just wood.

You just have to decide what's worse, the potential damage or the flaw?

Jessa said...

I am siding my Buttercup dollhouse. Because of its small size and large amount of trim/detail pieces, siding and then putting the trim work on top just didn't look well done to me. I saw a picture where this had been done and all the trim pieces looked like they were sticking out. Especially around the double hung windows! I really wanted to paint the siding after I put it on though, without messing up the paint on my trim. So what I did is glued each trim piece (already painted) onto the house with one small dot of hot glue (just enough to keep it in place but still be able to move some). Then I applied my unpainted siding and trimmed it precisely to fit flush around all the trim. In order to get the right cut and make everything flush, I would slightly lift the piece of trim while being careful to keep it lined up to its spot (this is where the dot of glue helps) and slide the siding up underneath it, trace around the trim with a pencil, take the siding back out and cut it along my pencils lines, then glue the siding into place with the hot glue. Since the trim was not securely glued, I was able to very carefully pop it all off before painting my siding. (After you put the first few pieces of siding around the bottom of the trim piece, you don't really need the dot of glue anymore since the siding will hold the piece of trim in place. At that point I would pop the trim piece off very carefully and continue the pop it in and out after every few new pieces of siding to make sure it wouldn't get stuck.) After taking off all the trim and painting the siding, I just glued the trim back into place. Don't paint the inside edges of the siding that will be against the trim or you may have trouble putting the trim back on after the paint dries.

This sounds a little complicated but it was actually really quick and easy and was great for those double hung windows! I almost didn't side this house because it is so small, but it is really going to be worth it when I am done.

Gina said...

Hi Jessa,

Thank you for the siding tips.

Double hung windows should never be applied over siding. The siding must be cut around them. One the siding is cut around the square, double hung window, you add the details on top.

Sounds like you're doing a great job with your Buttercup!

Keith Runga said...

I'm going to use a fine wood burner to give the exterior walls a rustic siding look. Does this sound feasible? If so , could you give me a design example?

Gina said...

I'm sorry for the late reply but Blogger was not notifying me of comments.

This is something that sounds feasible. I don't see why it can not be done. I have heard of others doing something similar but I cannot give you a design example, unfortunately, because I have never tried it myself.

 

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