Using Miniature Hinges
Tab and slot dollhouse doors are difficult to hinge. These doors are made up of many layers of laminated wood, making them very thick, heavy and uncooperative. The casing or "trim" that goes around the door is also made up of layers of wood that make it very difficult to work with. You can imagine the challenge presented when you're trying to make such thick slabs of wood gently and easily glide open and closed on the world's tiniest hinges. Well, this guide will show you how to do just that.
First, this cannot be done upright, so you have to lay down your door and exterior door trim (casing) on a flat surface. Door and casing trim has to be completely finished and assembled before you can attempt this. That means that if your door and exterior casing is made up of multiple layers of wood, they have to all be assembled and finished.
You have to do a dry fit first, to make sure that the door fits correctly into the casing in order to allow movement. Lay your casing down first, fully finished and then put the fully finished door inside, just like it's supposed to hang on the dollhouse when installed. You will have to sand the door down well to make sure that it sits in the casing, loose enough to allow movement.
You should add masking tape to the corners where you plan on putting the hinges, so you can stand the door upright for a test run and see if there is free movement inside of the casing.
If your door is made of many layers, you can omit some of them to create a thinner, more manageable door but keep in mind that this option might take away from some of the three dimensional, architectural details of the door.
The larger the hinges, the better the outcome but it will clash with scale. You have to decide what's more important to you. Larger more durable hinges, that will work well or smaller more fragile hinges that can pose problems in the future.
It can take you many hours to hinge the door and you only get one shot at it. If you damage the hinge, you have to get a new one. Many hinge packages bring strictly four hinges and the exact amount of hinge nails for each, so it's always best to order more packages to use as spares.
I chose L shaped hinges for The Brimbles Mercantile Dollhouse door. I thought they would be a bit stronger since the door is made up of many layers and is heavy. I also decided to choose true to scale hinges.
You're going to need:
- Spotlight lamp
- Tacky glue
- Push pin
- Leaded pencil
- Nail setter. If you don't have a nail setter, you can use any sturdy object with a small enough tip to tap in your hinge nail heads. A small screwdriver would also work well.
Speaking of nails, the nails that come with your hinges are microscopic. They are smaller than the brads used for wiring. Be careful not to lose them.
The 2 things you MUST do in order to be successful at this are:
- You must make a starter hole with a push pin. If you do not make a starter hole, you will bend or break your hinge nails. They are not strong enough to make a hole in hard plywood.
- You must dip all of your hinge nails in glue before tapping them in place. If you don't apply glue to these tiny nails, expect them to pull off or fall off with the movement of the door and natural weakening of the wood due to movement.
This Brimbles Mercantile Dollhouse has a double door, so it's harder to hinge. Each door has two hinges, on the top and bottom.
When you're sure that the door has free movement in it's casing from a lot of sanding, you can position your hinge in place and mark where the tiny nail holes are. Make sure your hinges are positioned correctly to open and close.
I suggest you do the door casing side first and when you're done with that, you do the door side. If you try to do both at the same time, you might shift where the holes go.
These hinges are TINY. The best way to mark the holes is to use a refillable lead pencil because the leads are so thin that they will fit into the hinge holes. A regular pencil will not.
When the holes are marked, put the hinge to the side and use a push pin to make starter holes on your markings. You just need a small indentation, so the tiny hinge nails can fit halfway in before tapping them all the way down.
Once the starter holes are done, position your hinges over them to match up. Now take a small hinge nail, with a tweezers since they are way too small for fingers, and dip them in a dot of glue. Position them in the hinge hole. They will fit nicely in the starter hole. Use a nail setter to finish tapping them all the way in.
Once the casing side is done, open the hinge, butt your door to it, open the hinge and make your hole markings on the door side. Then temporarily close the hinges, so you can make the starter holes with the push pin on the door side. Open the hinges again and line up the hinge holes with the starter holes you just made. Set in the hinge nails. Same process as was done on the casing side. If you have a double door, you have to do this same process four times.
Putting on the hinges might have slightly affected the way your door sits in the casing, making it not open and close smoothly. Dry fit it to your dollhouse door opening to test this. If it starts snagging against the casing or the dollhouse floor, you have to continue sanding the door, until it's easy again. Just make sure you hold the door in your hands firmly when you sand. You do not want to apply even the slightest pressure on the hinges.
Don't forget to also finish the interior edges of your door for a finished look.
If there is a casing available for the other side of your door opening, apply it before you apply the casing that has your hinged door attached to it.
After that casing is installed and dry, you can install your hinged door casing. Apply glue and center your casing, with the hinged door attached, gently onto the door opening of your dollhouse. Use clamps to keep it in place. You will not be able to use binder clamps on the door side because the door is in the way. I suggest you use glue sticks as clamps.
Test run your door, while it's clamped to the dollhouse, in order to ensure easy movement. Sometimes if you gently move the casing around the opening, up or down/side to side, it helps with the doors movement. Make sure it moves just right before the glue dries.
You must finish the interior edges of your casing because they will be visible when you open the door. You do not want to see laminated, raw wood edges exposed when your door opens.
To do this, you must wait for your door to dry for at least 24 hours before unclamping it and moving it on its hinges. Once dry, you will need spackling compound to fill in the laminated gaps around the casings interior edges. Be gentle and avoid touching the hinges. Using a small piece of siding, as a putty knife, to do this will be helpful. When you have filled everything evenly with spackle, let it dry.
Once dry, sand the edges a little if needed, using a fingernail file and then paint them match your door. Now when the door is fully open, the interior casing edges look nice and finished.
Keep in Mind
Though you want your door to move freely within its casing, so it doesn't snag when opening and closing, you do not want it to sit too loosely. If you sand way too much, your door will continue to swing open on its hinges even when you want it to sit closed. To prevent this you have to sand enough for it to have free movement but to also sit close enough to the casing to prevent movement when you don't want it to move. The door must remain closed when you close it. It's a delicate balance that you have to determine by constantly dry fitting the door to its casing and using masking tape as temporary hinges.
Be gentle on your door! Do not press it in while closed or you run the risk of pulling out the hinges. Remember, tiny nails + thick door = disaster. Open and close the door gently without applying pressure in either direction. Let it sit closed or opened naturally, without forcing either. When you gently open and close it several times, you will get the hang of how to do it easily. Each door hangs different. Remember these hinges have been hand installed, so things will not be precise. You have to open and close the door a few times to see the best way of moving it.
For double doors, like the ones on the Brimbles Mercantile Dollhouse, open one door at a time. Do not try to open them both at once. Once one door is open, the other will also swing open since they are lightly touching each other, while closed, to keep from swinging open. Sometimes, there's a combination to how double doors open. For example, if you push one door gently in, the other door will swing open or vice versa. The same is true for closing them. Gently play with your double doors until you get the "swing of things".
Apply your door knobs once the exterior door is installed. This will assure that they are sitting at equal heights. If you are hinging interior doors, you will want to install the door knobs before the hinges. Interior door knobs are usually tapped into the door rather than glued on. You do not want to tap anything into your door after the hinges are installed.
While working on the dollhouse, you can use a piece of masking tape to prevent the doors from swinging open as you move the dollhouse around. You also can leave the installation of the finished, hinged door for last.
Flooring will affect your doors. Floor covers add extra height to floors. If you are using a flooring cover on your dollhouse, you will have to trim your doors to allow leeway for the floors to run through the door opening. This has to be done before the doors are hinged because it also affects the door trim, which will have to be trimmed to fit as well.
If you have a doorway that is facing two different rooms and you apply a thick flooring cover on one and thin paper flooring on the other, you must hinge your door on the side with the paper flooring. Always hinge your door on the side of the thinner flooring. That way you do not have to modify the door. Also when the door is closed, you will not see an unfinished "step" where the thicker floor begins because the door will butt against it, hiding it.
Sometimes, even after continuous dry fitting, the door will continue to swing open, when you want it to sit shut. This is caused by the dollhouse not being level. It is not visible with the naked eye because it might look straight but your doors are telling you otherwise. This is not caused by anything you did wrong. The dollhouse is not assembled incorrectly. This is the nature of a handmade product. Tab and slot dollhouses are not precise. They are not level.
If your door keeps swinging open, let it be. Do not force it closed. You might damage your hinges. If it bothers you too much, you can use a glue dot, found in the scrapbooking aisle of your local craft store, and apply it to the inside edge of the door casing. That way when you gently close the door, it will catch on the glue dot and this will prevent it from swinging open on its own. The glue dot is gentle enough to allow you to open the door, with minimal effort, when needed.
Using a Chamois Strip
Miniature hinges are always difficult to use on a tab and slot, plywood door. These doors tend to be very thin and the wood of older kits become brittle, which easily delaminates. They will bend and pull out many miniature hinges. So, if you want a quick and easy way to hinge a door, then the chamois strip is the best way to do it.
Chamois strips are better suited for display dollhouses, not play dollhouses. They are also very good for hinging closet doors, attic doors and roof panels because there is an area to hide the strip.
You're going to need:
- Tacky glue
- Chamois in the right color to match your stain.
First, buy a piece of chamois in a similar color to your doors stain. If you're using light stain, use the "blond" chamois and if you're using a darker stain, use the dark brown chamois. Chamois strips are sold at the craft store where the leather crafts are. One piece will allow you to hinge several doors. Sometimes, there is chamois available in other colors at fabric stores. This is especially useful if you painted your doors, rather than staining them.
In this tutorial I was hinging a door where the chamois would be completely hidden, so the color of the chamois didn’t matter.
You want to finish the wall where your door opening is, first. This is very important because once the door is up, it's going to be very difficult to wallpaper the wall.
Then finish the door and the door trim/casing. Stain or paint and let both dry.
Dry fit the door into the casing, after everything is dry, to make sure it fits in the opening. If it doesn't fit smoothly, with no snags, sand it until it does. It's vital that the door swing in its casing without getting stuck, so sand and dry fit as many times as possible.
Position the door into the opening, the way you want it to open. Practice how the chamois strip will go and which way the door will open by using a piece of masking tape for a test run. This will help you figure out which way is best to glue on the chamois.
Fit the chamois strip between the door trim and wall, glue and clamp dry. Do not mess with it again until it is thoroughly dry.
Fit the door in the opening on top of the chamois strip, glue to the back of the door and clamp dry. Leave to dry overnight if possible. You don't want to start opening and closing the door, until it's completely dry. If you dry fitted the door and sanded it well to fit the opening, then you shouldn't have any problems in this step. From the front, the door will not have any visible strip.
This is an example of the Willowcrest Dollhouse, bathroom closet door that was unable to have the chamois strip on the back side but since the door is facing sideways, you hardly notice the strip.
Keep in Mind
Chamois strips are good for dye-cut plywood kit front doors because they are usually made of two or more parts laminated together. That gives you a great opportunity to sandwich half the chamois strip between the laminated door parts and then sandwich the other half between the wall and door trim.
Chamois strips are visible. It is very rare to find a door where they will not show. The secret is to always try and hide the chamois strip as best as possible. They are not aesthetically pleasing if they show.
Don’t expect for your door to swing like a real life house door. You have to treat chamois hinged doors gently and like I said in the beginning, they are best for display dollhouses. The strips are very strong and won't wear down, if they are handled carefully but this hinge is a novelty. It is just to create an illusion of a moving door, not to create a fully working door. When you sandwich a chamois strip between trim, it impedes the movement of the door, so you will never get a fully operable door.
In the end, the ideal way to hang your doors is with hinges, but chamois strips give the appearance of a moving door and it's a good alternative to gluing the door shut or messing with finicky micro hinges.
Deciding On Inwards Or Outwards Movement
You can apply your hinges on the interior or the exterior of your door. It is vital that you make a decision, first, on which way you want your door to swing open. Do you want it to swing inwards, towards the interior of the dollhouse/room or outwards, towards the exterior of the dollhouse/room.
If you’re hinging an interior door and the room is small, you might want to have the door swing outwards in order to conserve room space. This can be seen in the photo below, showing the infamously small bathroom of the Willowcrest Dollhouse. I made the door to swing outwards or it would interfere with the bathroom furniture.
It seems like a trivial decision but when dealing with exterior doors, this decision becomes vital. In fact, the entire procedure of hinging the door will be affected by this simple choice. The reason is because most exterior door trim is made up of many layers and these layers can interfere with the placement of hinges and movement of the door. So, if you want your exterior door to swing outwards, you will have to modify your exterior trim. You can avoid this issue altogether by always hinging your door to the interior trim, which does not consist of layers. This will cause for your door to always open inwards by default.
I decided, I wanted the Beacon Hill Dollhouse exterior door, to open outwards. I like for the miniature hinges to be visible from the exterior of the dollhouse but I also did not want the open door to block the view of the staircase. The problem is that the exterior, top trim does not sit close enough to the door, for the hinges to be inserted properly. For this reason, the exterior trim had to be modified. I had to cut the sides off of the top trim, hinge the doors to each cut side and then reassemble the trim while installed to the dollhouse. I then had to use extra trim to hide the side gaps, circled below, and spackle to fill in the joined, cut areas below the half circle.
Other Types of Hinges
Another hinge method is pin hinging. This is when you insert one end of a pin into the bottom, edge corner of a door and the other end into the dollhouse floor, creating a moving door. You have to do the same thing for the top of the door, inserting one end of the pin into the door and the other into the dollhouse ceiling.
This is extremely difficult. Not only do you have to wrestle a thin pin into extremely hard wood but you have to balance the door correctly, so it doesn't wobble and/or snag while opening and closing. Door openings on tab and slot dollhouses are seldom level and the wood is only 1/8th" thick, most likely crumbly on the interior, making the entire process very frustrating. The pins will also interfere with ceiling and/or flooring covers.
I do not recommend this method for tab and slot dollhouses or inexperienced builders.
Installing Door Knobs
Door knobs come in two varieties, the kind you just glue on and the kind you have to tap into place, like nails.
Usually, external door knobs, for a front door, are the kind you glue on and internal door knobs, are tapped in.
For a one inch scale dollhouse, the door knobs should be placed on a door, about three inches up from the floor.
External Door Knobs
External, glue on door knobs can be installed after your door is hinged in place. Just measure three inches up your door, from the floor, and mark with a pencil. Add glue to your door knob and position in place. You might want to use a small piece of masking tape to clamp the door knob until the glue dries. This will prevent them from sliding down, out of place.
Open your door so you can have an angled view that shows both sides, in order to position a second door knob on the other side. Make sure both knobs are the same height. Notice the arrows in the picture below, pointing to the same height of the door knobs, on either side of the door.
Any height difference will be visible when the door is opened and viewed from this side/angled position.
Internal Door Knobs
Internal door, tapped in door knobs are different. The first and most important thing to keep in mind, before you begin, is that these types of door knobs must be installed before the hinged door is put on the dollhouse. You can also apply them before the hinges but never after the door is in place.
These door knobs are usually made by Houseworks and this company makes products that are ideally used on cabinet grade, 1/3" plywood dollhouses. Doors used on cabinet grade dollhouses are much thicker than the kit doors of tab and slot, plywood dollhouses. This causes a problem when trying to install the door knobs.
You cannot place your door knobs, on either side of the door, aligned in the same area. They will not fit because the area on the door knob that is tapped in, is as thick as the door. Once you tap a door knob in on one side, the door is not thick enough to accommodate another door knob, in the same area, on the other side. You will have to tap in the second door knob, slightly to the right or the left of the first one, so that it fits the thickness of the door. Do not place the door knob slightly lower or higher, than the first one, because it will be noticeable when you open the door and look at it from an angle. Maintain the same height.
In order to be able to tap these door knobs in place, you will need to open a starter hole, on your door, with a small nail or push pin. The starter hole will have to be larger than the ones you would need for a hinge nail because the area of the door knob that must be tapped into place is much larger.
Once your starter hole is made, dip the door knob into a little glue and tap into place. Use a mallet and be gentle so that you do not damage the door knob. Some door knobs of this variety come with a little crystal. If the crystal pops off, just glue it back in place.
Tapping in your first door knob is easy but the second one, not so much. You can no longer lay the door flat because the door knob is in the way. You would think this is easily fixed by simply waiting to have both starter holes made and then installing the door knobs but unfortunately, you still have to tap your door knobs in place.
My solution is to use a roll of masking tape to lay your door on, with the first door knob in the center of it. That way the door lays flat.
Now you can repeat the above steps to insert your second door knob.
Because the door does not have any support in the middle, try to keep the area where the door knob will be installed, as close to the edge of the masking tape as possible so it has more support. Make your starter hole and tap in your door knob gently.
Keep in Mind
You do not have to limit yourself on just using miniature door knobs. You can use jewelry beads, of all shapes, designs and colors to create unique door knobs for your dollhouse, to match your decor.
The same rule of thumb position, three inches up from the floor, applies. Just glue your beads on using tacky glue.
Because the beads are round and can roll out of place, glue them before installing the door and wait for the glue to completely dry before positioning the door vertically or flipping it over to install the second bead on the other side.
Tab and slot dollhouse interior doors, might appear plain but you can spruce them up easily and inexpensively.
Paneling can be created with simple wood strips, found at the craft store, in assorted sizes. You can create different shapes, depending on the door, with them.
You can use the interestingly shaped wood scraps, from your dollhouse kit, to create paneling of different shapes, like the ovals on the doors of this Fairfield Dollhouse.
You can also purchase bags of different sized square wood pieces, at the craft store, to create raised panels on doors.
When more ornate patterns are desired, you can always use stencils and spackling compound to create raised details on your doors.
After they are dry, they can be painted and look just like wood carvings. Spackle cannot be stained but you can use this same technique with wood putty or filler, instead of spackling.
Creating iron storm doors is simple by using a mixture of gold metallic paint and black paint to paint your door with. Gold, copper and silver metallic paint will all give you different hues, depending on which one you mix the black paint with.
You can then embellish the door with raised "nails", made from jewelry caps, that are glued to the corners of the door and then painted to match. You can even make ornate iron works using pipe cleaner. Just pull the "fur" off of it. Floral wire will also work well for this.
Faux doors will give you the impression of continuity throughout the dollhouse. They can also make a small area into an instant extra room.
Just paint the outline of your door on whatever wall you want it to be on. Don't forget to add hardware for realism.
Add the wall, with the painted door anywhere you want it to be. In the picture below, the added wall is extending a short wall that was already there, in the Beacon Hill Dollhouse.
Cut your wallpaper around the door and then frame it with wood strips. After you paint it, you are left with a door where there wasn't one before.
If the dollhouse does not have much space to add an attic ladder, you can always make a faux attic door. The faux attic door, pictured before, was also done in the same way as described above.
It gives the illusion that it can be opened and a ladder will drop down, without the ladder actually taking up any space on the interior of a small room.
Faux Removable Doors
Faux removable doors are very useful when you don't want to use hinges but you also don't want to close off a certain section of a dollhouse, by installing a permanent door.
For the Garfield Dollhouse, the French doors of the second floor, stairwell hallway, where assembled and finished away from the dollhouse.
The completed door was sanded until it fit the door opening, perfectly, without the need for glue. The door just snaps into its frame, without much effort, and is easily removed when access to this area is required.
For this Willowcrest Dollhouse, the bathroom door was made to be removable as well.
This allows for there to be access to the second floor stairwell but without the need for hinges. The door can be positioned as if it was open.
So, just because your kit doors may seem plain, with a little imagination they certainly don't have to remain that way. Tab and slot kit doors are just hiding a lot of potential.