Mini-Me (or Mini-Home)

A few years ago (7 to be precise) when my significant other and I moved to our current home, we happened to catch an IMAX movie at a local museum. As we were exiting the theater, we noticed a large dollhouse on display. It was made entirely by hand and quite large, about 3’x4′ and about 2′ high. According to the information card, it was built by the original owner of the actual house in 1932. And as we looked closer, we were remarking about how similar it looked to our house. The roof was open so you could see each of the individual rooms, complete with all the furnishings down to the candles on the dining room table and His & Her towels on the shower curtain rod.

Anyways, we then noticed a 4×6 photograph in the corner of the display case showing the original house as it stood today. We both looked at each other with kind of wide eyes, realizing that in fact this was a scale model of our home that we had just bought! It was pretty crazy. This entire miniature version of our actual home. I felt like a kid again, staring in amazement at all the detail, the individual wood shingles, the cast iron pots on the stove, the list went on and on. The guy that built this dollhouse spared no expense.

Given the craziness of it all, I contacted the museum and let them know if they ever happened to de-accession this particular piece, that we would love to have and return it to its original “home”. Well, just a couple weeks ago, one of the curators called me and asked if we were still interested. And so I was able to pick it up this week and bring it back to where it was built.

Apparently the dollhouse was built by the original owner of the house in 1932 for his two daughters who then many years later donated the house to the museum in town. A handwritten note on the bottom of the house by the builder stated that it is in fact to scale: 1 inch = 1 foot. As the museum ran out of space recently, they contacted us, with the blessing of the daughters, to see if we would be interested in taking it back. And so it has returned.

I will design a stand for it and we’ll display it in what is now the den. And I’ll post more pictures soon. But here’s a sampling…

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The living room:

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The dining room:

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And for a sense of scale:

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Don’t Forget…

…issue #2 of Mortise and Tenon Magazine is available for pre-order.

Over time I’ve come to appreciate those things in this life that lend themselves to quiet and contemplation. From working only with hand tools to sitting down with a cup of coffee and reading a quality magazine from cover to cover, the satisfaction of slowing everything down, for just a moment, brings a welcome respite from the day to day noise.

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Mid-Century Ikea

When we moved into our home nearly 7 years ago, my significant other and I were both starting new jobs, had never owned a house, and were in the mindset of a college student when it came to home furnishing, i.e. “that recliner by the dumpster looks like it still has a few good years left, don’t you think?”. And who’s to say that eating dinner on the floor with a stout cardboard box for a dining table doesn’t have it’s perks?

And so like many other young couples we wanted to have nice things but couldn’t really afford them and that put Ikea directly in our sights. I’ll leave the big-box store pros & cons arguments to others who are more eloquent, but to be perfectly honest it was convenient and cheap.

As the years have gone by, I’ve made an attempt to build a few more pieces to replace the early ones we bought, like a dining room table and seating, a sofa table, etc. One piece I’ve wanted to swap out for some time is the TV console that we use to hold our record player/stereo. Currently that honor goes to the LACK model seen below by IKEA.

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Here’s our iteration:

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Fast forward to February 2016 and a good friend gave me an incredible piece of white oak just because he’s awesome. It’s about 7 feet long, 13 1/2″ wide and about 2 1/2″ thick. I went back and forth over what I could do with it. It’s got a couple of large knots on one side, and it’d be shame to cut it up to make something out of it so I figured here’s my chance to make a new low, console table. Here’s the plank in the below image, sitting outside yesterday as I received it. More or less flat but a little rough around the edges.

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For design inspiration I had initially considered using it as simply a Japanese style bench-top, but I wanted to put it in a place where more people would be able to appreciate what a fine piece of wood it was, hence inside our house. None-the-less I’d seen a couple of examples online where a plank like this when used as a portable bench-top would have larger sliding dovetails underneath for when it would sit on saw horses to keep it from sliding around. So I found a couple of 3″x3″x14″ pieces of Poplar in my shop and using my dovetail plane, cut the biggest tails I could. Which ended up being about 1 1/2″ tall. These will be placed about 1 foot in from either end on the bottom of the console top. For the base, I’ll take some large left over 6″x8″ pine beams and fashion them into feet that the whole piece will rest on.

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To add some lightness to the wood I cut a large radius on both ends and I’ll use my drawknife and spokeshave to smooth those ends out. The board has also been squared and planed. For the finish I think I’ll try soaping it with soap flakes to keep the lovely white hue of the wood.

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It Takes Time

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I’ve been woodworking now for about 6 years, blogging for 4, and using hand tools for about 3. I don’t necessarily believe in the culmination of anything to be perfectly frank, i.e. there’s always room to explore and improve, but getting to the point where I’m able to flatten a rough sawn piece of wood using only a jack plane, a jointer plane and a smoothing plane has been nothing short of gratifying. On the surface of it, a simple task, no? But considering the details of keeping a hand plane properly tuned, of learning to correctly sharpen a steel blade by hand, and to listen and respond to a piece of wood in order to coax the desired form from underneath is a real trial and a real joy. It’s a unifying process, of working in harmony with hands, tools, and wood. And I’m grateful for the opportunity.

On Craft & Art

“A craftsman, from the bottom of his or her heart, is to serve society…The artist’s social responsibility and obligation is to find a valid concept and execute it, then share it with society…whether society likes it or not”

-Toshio Odate

Popular Woodworking December 2015

Osage Orange & Redwood #2