As much as I hate to admit, I’ve got a long way to go with my Keeper’s House dollhouse. I haven’t tackled the door (painting it), finishing the window (assembling it), the stairs (painting them, creating a railing) and a bunch of other things.
However, I’m not letting this stop me. I decided to forge ahead with the balsa wood floors. Why? I had a feeling it was going to take quite a bit of time to get them done.
Spoiler alert: I’m right. Creating a balsa wood floor by hand is going to be, well, a long-term project.
In Our Last Episode
As a quick review, I created a template for my balsa wood floors. If you want to read the whole story, it’s here. If you don’t want to read it, here’s the TLDR version:
I made paper templates of the floor, then sketched out what boards would go there. That gave me a tool to figure out where I would use the whole balsa wood stick, and where I would need to cut them to size.
After my last experience with the miter box, I knew I was going to have to take a somewhat unconventional approach to cutting the balsa wood. While I could do what I did last time (stack them), I knew that wouldn’t work.
Well, I guess it could work if I were willing to measure, stack, and tape them in “odd” configurations. But I’m not. That seems like a lot of extra work.
If you haven’t read the miter box story, the quick lesson is that the best way to cut balsa wood strips with the miter box is to stack the wood strips on top of each other. This does two things. First, it creates a taller pile of balsa wood that’s easier to cut. Second, it’s easier to stabilize the tall stack with the dowels.
The stacking method works if I’m cutting all the balsa wood sticks to the same length. However, for my wood floors, that’s not the case. I’ve got some full-length strips, some shorter strips, and some really short strips. That, in my opinion, is the only way to make the floor look “real.”
Time to Improvise
I knew going into this project that I wasn’t going to stack the balsa wood strips. Technically, the strips all start at the same length. But, they are all cut at different points because they end up different lengths. Yeah, I could have lined up the cutting marks, bundled the strips, and taped them together, but that seems like a pain.
Plus, I want to reuse the “scrap” balsa wood. While the trimmed ends are shorter than the original strip, I can use it for a smaller piece of the wood floor, thus creating less waste and saving money.
Or, leaving me with spare balsa wood strips for when I inevitably mess up!
That means creating some kind of riser for the one strip I am cutting.
Recycling takes on a new meaning
Initially, I figured I could grab some scrap wood and use that. Unfortunately, all the scrap wood was either too wide or too tall.
With my original plan foiled, I turned to other materials.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t have a ton of “scrap stuff” lying around, so I pulled this out of the recycling can:
It’s clean, it’s sturdy, but not so sturdy that I can’t fold it with my hands. And, if I kill it with the saw, no loss. I’ll just make another one.
I tore off some pieces and folded them like so:
Taped them down:
Then, stacked one on top of the other and taped them together to get this:
I put it in the miter box to see how it looked. It looks good, but the function isn’t great.
On the right of the picture, you’ll see that the cardboard slopes down. Yeah. That makes it hard to cut the balsa wood. I put it in and it kind of sloped forward (toward me). I’ve got a picture, but it’s blurry so we’ll just skip it. Trust me. It wasn’t awesome.
I ended up trimming off some of the cardboard edges, and I got the riser a little closer to the side. But, it still wasn’t perfect.
I figured, what the heck, and decided to use it. If I hated it, I could make a new one, or try something else.
I’ll cover what happened below. In the end, I’d still do something like this. However, going forward, I’d cut the cardboard instead of folding it, so I get clean straight edges, and I’d probably do one more stack to get the riser a touch higher.
Picking the Perfect Piece
With my “new tool” ready to go, it was time to get cutting.
I fully expected the first few attempts at this to be practice runs. They kind of were, and kind of weren’t. The more pieces I cut, the better I got! Anyway, I started with some of the less perfect pieces of wood, if for no other reason, I can’t use them as whole pieces for the floor. For example, I started with this:
The top piece has a slight curve on the right end. It’s pretty subtle. But, the bottom piece has an obvious curve. I started chopping these up first.
Before I talk about chopping, I’ll share an observation.
When I laid out the template, I grabbed whatever piece was closest to me. At the time, I was well aware that some of the balsa wood strips were less than straight, but I didn’t worry about it. The template was just a guide, and I was estimating what I needed. I figured when the time came, I’d have plenty of choices.
Turns out, the balsa wood strips have more “less than perfect” strips than I anticipated. I guess I should kind of expect that, since, as I’m learning, cutting balsa wood is a pain. Or, at least, it requires some pretty exact and skilled cutting. But, now I wonder if I’ll have enough “good” balsa wood strips to complete my dollhouse.
I should. I bought 300 balsa wood strips and estimated I would need a total of 200 to complete the wood floors. That gives me 100 “bad” pieces to cut up. I’m sure it’s fine (crosses fingers).
But, it makes me rethink my plans going forward. Eventually, I will do a large mansion type dollhouse, and I will do wood floors. But, I’m thinking basswood, not balsa. Or, the premade wood floors.
One step at a time, though.
I took a handful of balsa wood strips and sorted them according to “straight” and “not so straight.” The straight pieces I’ll use as the full strip and the not so straight pieces I’ll cut.
Taking the good piece, I placed it on the template wherever I traced. Then, I took a not good piece and placed it on the template to determine where I needed to cut.
Then, I marked it.
I love how this piece is the perfect size. Trim off the bad part, and I’m good to go! How often does that happen?
I put the balsa wood strip in the miter box, cut the end, and got this:
Practically perfect! I have to file it, though.
This was when I discovered I should have made one more “riser.” The double-high was a touch too short, so I couldn’t easily saw all the way through the balsa wood. I got close enough that I decided to just “snap” the end by breaking the strip apart at the cut. It worked, but that’s why I have that rough edge.
The Plot Thickens
Then, I repeated the process for the other side of the floor. I used the very curvy stick this time because I only needed a small piece, and there was a straight part away from the curve that was just about the right length.
Awesome. Less waste.
The problem was that, as you can see, it didn’t lay flat against the edge of the miter box.
I flipped it and flopped it, but it wouldn’t work.
I tried taping the piece in the middle and cutting, but that was a disaster. The cardboard was sliding, and so was the piece.
At this point, I considered cutting the risers to a more narrow width. That, I think, would have made it easier to hold everything in place, or use the dowels to anchor everything. Next time, I’ll try a more narrow riser and see if that’s more stable.
Eventually, I ended up doing what you see in the first picture and taping the balsa wood strip close to the edge. That mostly worked. I still had to hold on tight with my free hand to keep it from sliding.
But, it worked. I sawed through and got my piece.
Here’s what the whole line looks like:
One down, 50 or so to go.
I’m not kidding when I say 50. I didn’t count the whole thing, but that’s my rough guess on how many lines I’ve got to do. It’s probably more. And, that’s just for one floor! I’ve got to keep track of what goes where and how much more I have to cut.
Well, there’s an easy way to that. Numbers.
I started by numbering the lines on the template.
Then the corresponding pieces.
That’s good for right now. At least this way when I want to check things later, I’ll be able to tell what pieces go where.
However, this won’t work when I dye the balsa wood. Those numbers will get covered, and then what?
I don’t know. But I’ll worry about that when I get there.
Once Again, from the Top
With my system kind of ready to go, I started chopping away, figuring, how hard could it be?
Once I got to line five, I figured I should check my work, in case it turns out my system sucks.
So, I laid out the strips. For the record, I did not lay them out in the exact right spot. I purposely moved the lines back from the front edge of the dollhouse to the start of the inside wall so I could make sure that I was getting the lengths on both ends.
But that’s OK. As I expected, the first couple of lines were practice. After a few, my measurements and cuts were more consistent.
Awesome. Looks like I have to trim line two and maybe redo line one, but otherwise, I think I’ve got it!
My Fingers Hurt
I’m not going to recap every single cut of every piece of balsa wood. That’s boring. And, just thinking about it makes my fingers hurt.
I do want to point out, though, that using the scraps is a great idea. Look at line 9 (sorry the pics are so blurry).
Now, that’s saving!
By the time I got to line 10, I was done. So, so, done. My fingers hurt, my back hurt, and it was time to close up shop anyway.
This was good practice (and learning). I’m going to build a taller, more narrow riser and that should make things easier. And, I should be able to lock a more narrow riser in place with the dowels, instead of my fingers.
My fingers will be grateful.
Otherwise, like I said at the top, this is going to be a long-term project. I think, depending on what happens with the riser, I’m going to plan on cutting 10 strips a day (when I can). That means about one week or so to finish one level of the floor.
Guess it’s a good thing there’s no rush on this project.
Any advice for this newbie about keeping track of the boards when I dye the wood? Anything else I’m missing?