Materials for Scale Models and Dolls Houses

Learn which materials are used to build dolls' houses and scale buildings. Although many people think of 'Balsa Wood" as the easiest building material, most miniaturists only use that for lightweight toys or other objects that don't need a lot of strength.

Your choice of material may change your choice of building components like windows and doors or determine how you should best finish your house. Each type of material has pros and cons. Before you start construction of a model building, read about these materials to familiarize yourself with the tools, techniques, and characteristics of the various building materials.

  • 01 of 11

    Baltic Birch Vs Medium Density Fiberboard

    Close up of child's hand in a dolls house
    Fun energetic ecelectic / Getty Images

    Dolls houses and other miniature scale buildings often come as kits or completed structures made from MDF (medium density fiberboard) or Baltic Birch plywood. There are pros and cons to each material which are discussed here. Both materials give off some gasses so they should never be left unfinished. Plywood structures are lighter and can be built to be dismantled or added on to at a later date. The decision of which to use is personal, but this article gives you some of the pros and cons of each material. If you use MDF, make sure you prime it before you paint.

  • 02 of 11

    Gatorfoam / Gator Board

    Cutting gatorfoam board with a power jigsaw
    Lesley Shepherd

    This material is used mostly for indoor and outdoor display support for photos and posters. It makes a great building material for miniaturist's, but it isn't the same as the more commonly available foam core board. You are best using fine tooth power tools to cut it, but it's light weight, ease of building and smooth, water resistant surface, makes it ideal for many miniature applications. This material does give off gasses, so it may not be accepted by museums. It is most often used as a substrate for displays which use ​paperclay or other modeling materials to create special surface techniques, or where light but sturdy materials are required.

  • 03 of 11

    Luan/Lauan Plywood (Philippine Mahogany)

    Luan/Lauan Plywood is often the material used for less expensive dollhouse kits. It is an easily worked material but requires more finishing work than some other choices. In kits, this plywood is often die cut and assembled using tab and slot construction methods rather than nails or screws. Buildings made with thin luan will need to use doors and windows designed to fit in this material. It is also more difficult to set up round wire routes through laun, as floors and walls may be too thin to score for wiring channels.
    Luan plywood is available from building supply stores in the form of 'door skins'  for refacing interior doors.

  • 04 of 11

    Basswood or Tilia (Lime) Stripwood or Scale Lumber

    Model made of basswood
    Model made of basswood. Jeremy Noble/Flickr/CC 2.0

    Craft stripwood and scale lumber is available from a range of suppliers. Most of the stripwood used for miniature furniture and building projects is basswood or Tilia (lime) wood, both used for their fine grain and strength. Some specialist hardwood stripwood is also available from specialist suppliers, mainly in sizes for model ships, although some are in various scales for dollhouse miniatures as well. Stripwood is good for building component parts for buildings (​windows and doors), scale furniture or trims for dolls houses and roomboxes. 

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  • 05 of 11


    Davey Board pieces for a roombox are cut to accept a dolls house window.
    Davey Board pieces for a roombox are cut to accept a dolls house window. Lesley Shepherd

    Bookboard, Davey board or paper board is an inexpensive, acid neutral, dense paper based board used for strong boxes and book covers. It is often used to construct roomboxes and breakaway boxes for dolls house displays and is also a choice material for architectural models. It can also be used as a base for printable miniature buildings. Bookboard is available from scrapbook and art suppliers or book repair specialists.

  • 06 of 11

    Sheet Styrene

    Sheet of V groove white styrene for model building from Evergreen Scale Models
    Sheet of V Groove styrene from Evergreen Scale Models, suitable for Bead Board Siding in 1:48 scale miniatures, models and dolls houses. Lesley Shepherd

    Sheet styrene can be bent and shaped as well as glued to make buildings and other models. It is most often used to scratchbuild railroad model buildings and rolling stock but has many other uses as well.

  • 07 of 11


    Basswood taskboard shaped into a tight curve around a small wooden tool handle.
    "Basswood" Taskboard curved around the handle of an embossing tool. Lesley Shepherd

    Neither a paperboard nor cardboard, Taskboard is a lightweight board made from non-aligned wood fibers. Available from specialist art supply stores, Taskboard can be shaped into curves and spirals for special construction projects.

  • 08 of 11

    Creative PaperClay

    Creative Paperclay
    Lesley Shepherd

    Creative Paperclay is a useful medium for creating miniature plaster, stucco, pargetting, stone tiles, tiled floors and walls, landscaping rock and stone effects, or small three-dimensional miniatures or sculptures. With handling properties very similar to fine clay, this is a safe, easy way to create strong lightweight miniatures which need no curing, other than a protective coat of sealant.

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  • 09 of 11


    Coroplast is essentially a plastic with a cardboard channel construction. Although it can be used for short-term buildings, or as covers for part of outdoor models, it's main uses for models and miniatures are for making storage boxes which are acid neutral. Like cardboard, it is easily scored along one side of channel walls and then bent to form straight folds.

  • 10 of 11

    Wood Aging Effects

    Raw balsa wood, silver grey and deep brown balsa wood created with vinegar/steel wool solutions
    Raw Balsa Wood, Silver Grey and Deep Brown Balsa Wood Created With Aging Solution. Lesley Shepherd

    This simple technique will turn new wood into aged silvered, brown or blackened wood within minutes of application. This is a great way to make repairs to items which have naturally weathered or to create the look of weathered boards or shingles on miniature buildings.

  • 11 of 11

    Wood Shingles

    One inch size cedar shingles and paper strip cut to resemble 1:48 scale shingles
    Lesley Shepherd

    Wood Shingle effects can be created in many scales using wood, wood veneers, paper tags or paper strips. The shingles can be shaped to particular patterns for siding or used to create rustic or aged roofs.