One of the most important things you have to do first, before beginning your dollhouse assembly, is to prepare your work area.
Assembling a tab and slot dollhouse is a task that cannot be completed in a weekend or even a week. You should be prepared for a long term project. An important part of assembly preparation is finding a good area in your home for assembly. The more comfortable your work area is, the less chances you will have of becoming impatient and overwhelmed with the building process.
Your assembly area should preferably be away from your main living area. You might not be working on your dollhouse every day, so having a designated area that you can close off from your main living space, would be ideal. That way you can take a break from your project without having to clean up and put everything away or worry about little hands misplacing parts and possibly losing them. Dollhouse assembly is messy, noisy, dusty and there will be a lot of tools laying around, that can cause injury.
Though a preferred assembly area is away from your main living area, it is not recommended to assemble a dollhouse in either a garage or a basement, unless these areas are temperature controlled. Humid, too cold or too hot areas will prevent proper adhesion of materials. It might also affect the application of wallpaper.
Running a fan during assembly will speed glue and paint drying times.
Preparing An Assembly Area
Regardless of the area you choose for your assembly, preparation of the area is the same in all instances.
You need a sturdy, large table. Depending on the size of your dollhouse model, two, four foot or larger, tables are required. You need one table to set your dollhouse on, as you assemble and another table for finishing of parts and assembling sub-assemblies that will be installed onto your dollhouse later.
Folding banquet tables are inexpensive and work very well. They are sturdy enough to hold the largest tab and slot dollhouse. Unfortunately, they are not waterproof. They are generally covered with a type of wood grain, laminated, paper that bubbles and creases when wet. Because of this, it's best to take a few minutes to waterproof your table.
Waterproofing is done by covering the table’s top surface with vinyl, shelf liner paper. This paper comes in all colors and styles. I have my table covered with a wood grain shelf paper, similar in design to what the original table's surface was.
The shelf paper roll is not wide enough to cover the entire table at once, so you will have to do one half of the table first (the long way) and then the other. The seam that overlaps, in the middle of the table, will be invisible when done.
Having someone help you with this process will make it easier but it can be done by one person. It's best to stick the paper to the table, slowly, as you unroll it. Smooth it down at the same time to prevent bubbles. The best way to smooth it down is using a small hand towel and rubbing it down as it is unrolled.
Don't forget to read and follow the paper manufacturer's suggested application method, alongside the above tips.
After you have one half of the table covered, cut the excess off the table edge with a craft knife. Then you can do the other half.
The paper allows for the table to be easily cleaned with a moist cloth. You can also clean spilled paint and glue easily from it. If the paper becomes damaged, just remove it and re-cover the table. You will always have a new craft table using this method.
Keep in mind that when you remove the shelf paper, the top layer of the table will be damaged. You should only remove the shelf paper if you plan on recovering the table with new shelf paper.
Plastic, utility tables will also work well for assembling a dollhouse. These tables are more expensive and they don't have to be covered with shelf liner paper since they are already waterproof and easily cleaned. Because these types of tables fold in half though, rather than just having folding legs, they are not as sturdy as the banquet tables, especially around the joint they fold at.
The best thing about both of these types of tables, is that they can be easily folded, and the table put away when not in use.
You should position your tables in an L shape, if possible, for easier access to your dollhouse shell and finished parts but if you have limited space, you can position them side by side, with space in between, so you can fit your chair. This way you have easy access to both work areas.
A spotlight is necessary for assembly, especially when finishing the interior of a dollhouse. You want to have plenty of light, so that details of what your finishing can be viewed easily. A spotlight gives you the flexibility of focusing your light where you need it. You can also move it easily into your work area when needed.
Use a fluorescent, low energy, cool burning bulb, so that you can get up close to your project without excessive heat or burning yourself by accident.
Keeping a power strip on top of one of your tables, makes it more comfortable to plug and unplug items like hot glue guns, sanding and rotary tools without having to bend over constantly to find an outlet.
If you plug your power strip into an outlet that works with your wall switch, you can just turn your power tools, glue gun, etc., on or off with one push.
A wheeled chair, with or without a backrest, is much more comfortable to use during assembly than one without wheels.
Keeping Things Organized
Plastic, utility shelves work very well to keep all of your materials and tools in place. They are space saving, so they can go right in a closet or corner of a room and are easily cleaned.
Trays help keep small parts, like wooden caps and fabric flowers organized.
Using snap hooks to hang your power tools, from a wire shelf, keeps them easily accessible and their power cords tidy. Use zip ties to hang them from, so that your wire shelves do not become scraped by the metal snap hooks.
Plastic cups from the dollar store are great for storing items like different brushes, markers and rubber bands. Small plastic bins also come in handy for fabrics and other larger items that would not fit in the cups. They fit perfectly on top of closet shelves or cube organizers. You can label the cups and bins using masking tape.
Always place items you do not use often, on the lower shelves and the ones you use most, on the higher ones. Hand held weights should always be stored on the bottom shelf, so they don't accidentally fall and cause injury.
Outside of your closet, a wooden shelf can store items you're using on a current project, like windows, wallpaper and flooring. It can also store dollhouse instructions, parts and sub-assemblies. Cube organizers will help you store small items, like miniature furniture that you plan using for your project later or fabric.
Your Supplies Should Move With You
The best thing a dollhouse builder can purchase is a wheeled caddy. There are many styles of craft caddies out there but the best one for a dollhouse builder is a wire one. Wire caddies are very inexpensive, about ten dollars, and easy to clean. You can keep all of the items you use most on it and wheel it to your work area, no matter where it is. This keeps you from having to constantly get up and go to your closet or shelf unit for supplies. When your done for the day, just wheel your caddy out of the way. With a caddy your work table remains free of supplies and that means more space to work on your project. No constant clean ups and organizing of tools required. Because of this easy mobility, any area can become your work area.
Just like with the closet shelves, I put my most used items on the top shelves of the caddy and lesser used items on the bottom.
Notice how I placed all of my paint bottles on the bottom shelf and added a foam core piece for them to rest on. This prevents the small bottles from turning over because of the wires of the caddy.
I place the paint brush container on top of a foam bowl, so that water does not get on the caddy and the other supplies on the lower shelves.
Smaller snap hooks can be used on the caddy to hold items like a dusk mask, measuring tape and safety goggles. Always use zip ties to hang the snap hooks from. Just like with the closet wire shelves, the wires on the caddy can be damaged with the constant rubbing of the metal snap hook.
I placed cups with my most used items like, sanding boards, utility and craft knives on the caddy.
You can upgrade your caddy and add more organizing features to it. I added these two shower caddies from the dollar store, made of the same white wire, to the sides of my caddy. They give me more storage shelves and hooks I can use. I attached them to my caddy using zip ties.
I placed my glue bottles upside down, so they flow easier. I also found another plastic organizer tray, that can be hung on a hook. In here I organized my door knobs and hardware. Do not place your brads in this organizer because it is hanging vertically and the brads can fall out of the tray.
Brads and small beads can be placed inside of these little, tightly sealed containers that can be kept in a shelf of your caddy.
But the very best thing about this type of caddy is that it can hold, hard to store, wood trim of all shapes and sizes. These trims usually end up broken and some are so thin that they become lost when they fall off shelves and land behind other items. Storing them in this type of caddy eliminates those common problems.
Just place a cup on the bottom shelf and run your trim through the wires until the bottom ends rest in the cup. Now your trim is safe and sound. Keeping them in the caddy also makes them accessible when you need them and organized. This tip was given to me by Casey of Casey’s Minis.
All of the above items are inexpensive. All of the storage containers and organizers can be found at a dollar store. You might even already have some of these items in your home. All you have to do is find an area to set them up in. They can be used for one dollhouse project or many. Regardless, you can always find new uses for these items if you plan on assembling only one dollhouse.
Small Dollhouses and Making Miniature Furniture/Accessories
Preparing your work area for small dollhouses and miniatures is different. You can use the same table and table cover tip, but your materials will be more accessible the closer they are to you.
Because small projects do not require you to move from your area, you can use a desktop craft organizer for your materials.
Rotating desktop organizers can be expensive, but you can achieve the same thing using makeup organizers instead. I found these makeup organizers at Target for $3 each. They are stackable and compact, so they do not take up much desk space, but yet have plenty of storage compartments nonetheless.
Compartmentalized food trays can be bought for a $1 at the dollar store. They help keep small items, you are working on, organized and handy.