Materials for Scale Models and Dollhouses

Blue model house
cyano66 / Getty Images

Not all materials for miniature building, such as dollhouses, are created alike. 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 for miniature building may change your choice of components, such as windows and doors, or determine how you should best finish your house.

illustration of different materials for building scale models
The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

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 09

    Baltic Birch Versus Medium Density Fiberboard

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

    Dollhouses and other miniature scale buildings often come as kits or completed structures made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) or Baltic birch plywood. 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. If you use MDF, make sure you prime it before you paint.

  • 02 of 09


    Cutting gatorfoam board with a power jigsaw
    Lesley Shepherd

    Gatorfoam, or Gatorboard, is used mostly for indoor and outdoor display support for photos and posters. It makes a great building material for miniaturists, 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 its lightweight, 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 09

    Luan Plywood (Philippine Mahogany)

    Luan plywood, sometimes referred to as lauan, 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 09

    Craft Stripwood or Scale Lumber

    Desk with architectural model
    Westend61 / Getty Images

    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 specialty 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 09


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

    Bookboard, Davey board or paperboard 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 dollhouse displays. It's 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 09

    Sheet Styrene

    Train set, railway station
    onfilm / Getty Images

    Sheet styrene can be bent and shaped, as well as glued, to make buildings and other models. It is most often used to scratch-build railroad model buildings and rolling stock, but can be used for other types of miniature building as well.

  • 07 of 09


    Basswood taskboard shaped into a tight curve around a small wooden tool handle.
    Lesley Shepherd

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

  • 08 of 09

    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 that don't need curing, other than a protective coat of sealant.

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  • 09 of 09


    Coroplast is essentially 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.