How to Make a Simple Roombox From Baltic Birch

  • 01 of 10

    Making a Simple Roombox

    Different sized roomboxes used to make a dolls house
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    Roomboxes have a long tradition amongst dolls house miniature collectors. They are a simple way to show off a collection as you build it. Less expensive than starting with an entire dollhouse, they are also a good way to build up a child's dollhouse collection as their interests change or develop. A child's dollhouse collection can be built room by room, to be housed in existing furniture until the entire collection can be linked in a single case.

    If you plan for the future when you build your first roombox, you can create a collection that will fit in an existing bookcase, or be built into a complete house. As a collection of roomboxes grows, it can go into a special baby house or a particular piece of furniture. If room boxes are designed to be a standard size, you can create a village of one and two-story shops or houses by attaching the room boxes.

    On their own, roomboxes can be left without fronts, fronted behind standard picture frames, or build with sliding glass tops or fronts to protect them from dust. As your skills grow, you can create opening fronts with windows and doors for shops or simple buildings. All are built on a simple box plan.

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  • 02 of 10

    Materials You Will Need

    Baltic birch plywood pieces and a picture frame
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    You need the following materials to complete this project:

    • Plywood. We used 1/4 inch/6.4 mm Baltic Birch plywood as it is lightweight, sturdy, good on both sides, and is easily cut with little splintering for the insertion of windows and doors. Available from craft stores and online suppliers in small sheets or full 60 x 60 inch or part sheets from a good lumberyard/scroll saw supplier.
    • Glue: PVA Glue, white glue, or carpenters (yellow) glue.
    • Clamps: Corner or framing clamps hold the sides at right angles, but you can use quick release type bar clamps if you make sure the joins are square.
    • Dollhouse scale windows or doors: This is only needed if your project requires them.
    • Picture frame: If you want to finish the top or front of the roombox with a frame, choose one which has a deep enough reveal to cover the edge of the wood you use, or you may need to insert a piece of mat board to cover the room box edges. The frame, with glass inserted, should also be deep enough to allow you to friction fit it over the front of the box, then hold it on the box with a hinge or clasp.
    • Iron on veneer edging: This will be used to finish exposed plywood edges.
    • Wood moldings: If you will not be using a frame and want a sliding glass front, you need wood moldings which will create a channel to hold a piece of glass in place. You can cut down an L shaped molding for this purpose, or use a square molding with a narrow piece of rectangular strip or picture molding glued on it to cover the glass edges, yet allow it to slide.

    Useful Tools

    • Table saw to cut wood pieces to size. If you do not have a table saw, you can buy plywood in pre-cut sizes or ask a lumberyard to cut it for you.
    • Jigsaw, jeweler's saw or coping saw to cut out areas for windows and doors if you want to install them.
    • Drill or rotary cutting tool, to cut starting holes for saw blade when cutting out windows.
    • Flat file and sanding block to square corners.
    • Steel square or protractor.
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  • 03 of 10

    Plan the Design and Measurements

    Two sizes of roomboxes laid out to make a dollhouse
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    These are the questions and ideas to take into consideration when you are building your roombox:

    • Do you want a single roombox or a collection? If you want to give a series of roomboxes to a child which will grow into a house, then plan the full-size collection. How many rooms wide and high? Will it need to fit a piece of furniture? Most standard dolls houses have two large rooms separated by a stairwell or smaller room on each floor. Townhouse designs may have a large room with a smaller stairwell. A house can be up to three floors high.
    • Plan for location. If your roombox will need to sit in a bookcase, what is the depth and width of available space?. For example, our box will have a plain front frame. We need the box to sit on a standard Swedish modern bookcase shelf, 10 1/4 inches (26 cm) deep. A front façade or picture frame must be part of this overall depth measurement when the box is complete.
    • Consider your pre-built components. If you plan to use standard picture frames for the fronts of your roomboxes, your measurements will be dictated by the available frame size. For example, we want our boxes to fit a standard 9 x 12-inch interior frame. This lets us use precut 9 x 12-inch glass for fronts or lids. The smaller box size will be 9x7 inches to match the main box and allow us to work inside the box. We will cut the stock picture frames to fit if we wish.
    • Other measurement issues to consider. What will the contents of the box be? How much space do you need for special miniatures; a piano, a four-poster bed? Do you need doors or windows on interior walls? Will that leave enough space for large pieces of furniture? How high will your ceilings be? Although modern houses often have 8-foot ceilings, these seem small in a dolls house. Something closer to 9 inches usually works better in scale.
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  • 04 of 10

    Measure and Mark the Pieces

    A picture frame on the front of a roombox
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    Determine Measurements

    Your decisions from the previous step will determine what measurements you will need for your roombox. Here is a sample of our measurements in case you need help.

    The height and width of our roombox are set by our decision to cover the front with a standard size picture frame. The ceiling and floors will take up 2 x 1/4 inch which is 1/2 inch of the space inside the frame. This means the sides of the box will need to be 8 1/2 inches tall.

    To fit on the shelf with the frame on the front, the box sides will be 10 1/4 inches deep. We need two pieces of plywood 8 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches for the roombox sides.

    The width of the box needs to fit inside the 9x12 inch picture frame. The overall width available is 12 inches. (our frame has 1/8 of an inch extra width and height which gives us room to fit the frame over the box front when it is built) we need two pieces of plywood for the floor and ceiling which are 12 inches x 10 1/4 inches.

    The back of the box will fit inside the sides and the ceiling and floor for strength. The back needs to be 8 1/2 inches tall by 11 1/2 inches wide.

    Mark Your Cutting Lines

    Make sure you mark your measurements square and accurate. Use a steel carpenters or engineers square if you have one, or check your lines with a school protractor if you don't. Your room box will be joined with a simple butt joint, and your sides must be square. Plan on cutting on the waste side of your measured lines (on the side you don't need!) Saw blades will use 1/16 to 1/8 of wood as they cut through it. You don't want to lose that width from any of your measured pieces

    If you intend to use a glass top, you will not need the same number of pieces we used.

    If you plan to use sliding glass fronts or tops, then see step ten before you complete your measurements, especially if you will be using pre-cut pieces of glass from a framing shop.

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  • 05 of 10

    Test Fitting Roombox Walls Into a Picture Frame

    Side and base of a dolls house scale roombox
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    When you have your pieces cut, test fit them inside your picture frame if you are using one to make sure the pieces will fit the opening. If you are not using a pre-built frame, proceed to the next step.

    If necessary, sand the pieces to fit.

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  • 06 of 10

    Test Fit the Pieces

    Plywood sides, top and floor of a simple roombox
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    To make sure everything is square and ready to glue together, use masking tape to hold the pieces in place for a test fit of the room box pieces. You don't want to prepare to fit the windows or glue the box until everything is a tight, square, fit.

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  • 07 of 10

    Measure for Windows and Doors

    Center lines for a dolls house window and door
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    If you are going to install windows or doors in the walls of your roombox, then measure the centerline of the window or door back from the front wall. We eventually want the room boxes to join together to form a house, so we want two doors in the smaller hallway boxes and a window on the side of the roombox, which is centered on the door. We have set the doors and windows so that the edge of the doorframe is two inches in from the front of the box, leaving space for a piece of furniture. Using the door, we measured the opening needed for the door and mark the door's center.

    To make the window center on the door on the opposite wall, we use the door center measurement, and mark the same distance back from the front of the side, on the window side of the box. Now the window opening can be lined up with the same center as the door on the opposite side.

    Check the height remembering that the base of the box will be up against the side, so your door opening needs to be at least 1/4 inch taller than you expect, when measured from the base of the side piece. Take care to mark the openings for the windows and door at the correct height for the floor. To get the door height, you will need to know what thickness of flooring you are likely to use, and mark the door opening so that it will allow for that thickness of the floor. Some doors already allow for that height by the thickness of the frame. If you need your door adjusted higher or lower, make sure you mark the correct opening size.

    Windows are often set, so the top of the window is level with the door, or so that the window is the equivalent of 30 inches from the floor. Mark only the size of the opening you need to set the door or window in place. Do not mark the door or window openings to include the surrounding trim. Any uneven edges will be covered by the trim after the door or window is in place.

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  • 08 of 10

    Fit Windows and Doors

    A dollhouse window and door against a roombox
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    Use a drill or a rotary tool (Dremel or similar) to cut a starting point for a coping saw or jigsaw. Insert the blade of the saw through the hole you made and cut the window opening. (Make the hole just back from one of the window corners, and cut to the corner to make it square.) Use a file and a sanding block to make sure the corners are square.

    Cut out the opening for the door and square the top corners the same way. You can cut your door opening directly from the base of the side piece of wood. You do not need to leave a narrow strip of plywood along the bottom of the door.

    Test fit the window. If the opening is too large, you can shim the window into place from the wrong side. The trim will cover the shims.

    Test fit the door and make sure it swings through the opening, leaving enough space below the door to fit the flooring.

    Correct the fit if necessary.

    Check the thickness of the door and window trim while you fit them to make sure they do not push too far into the room. You may need to trim back the unfinished side of door and window casings so that they are not too thick for the 1/4 inch Baltic birch walls. The amount you trim back may need to be adjusted for the thickness of your wall coverings.

    If you want to have working lights in your roombox, plan how the wires will run. Will, they come out the top of the box, run up the walls or along the baseboards? If you are covering tape wire runs by putting your wallpaper on a piece of card to install it, you may need to leave a wider trim on your unfinished window and door casings to allow for the extra wall thickness.

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  • 09 of 10

    Clamp and Glue the Roombox Pieces Together

    Corner or framing clamps hold the sides of a dollhouse
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    Run a thin bead of glue along the top edge of one of the sides and clamp the top of the roombox across the top of the side, lining up the front and back edges and making sure the corner is square. Use two corner clamps, evenly spaced along the glue to join (as shown in the photo above). Repeat with the other side and the bottom of the box. Wipe off any glue that appears from the edges of the join with a damp rag. Set aside to dry.

    Run a bead of glue along all edges of the back of the box and the unglued end of the box sides. Lay the back of the box on a flat surface and clamp the final edge of the sides to the base and top, holding the back of the box firmly in place. Check that all sides are square, wipe off the excess glue, and leave the box to dry.

    When using PVA glue on plywood butt joints, it is important to apply pressure to the join while the glue dries.

    Use an iron over a piece of silicone (baking) paper, or a Teflon coated iron, to firmly iron veneer edging onto the unfinished plywood edges at the front of your roombox. Use a sharp craft knife to trim the edges of the veneer when it has set firmly.

    Set your roombox into the picture frame for the front and check that everything fits correctly. If your roombox has a frame, it may need feet on the underside of the back of the box, to balance the size of the frame on the front. Measure the depth from the base of the box, to the bottom edge of the frame and create two feet for the back of the box from scraps of plywood or appropriate sized wooden beads. To protect a shelf surface, glue a small bit of felt to the bottom edge of the feet. Don't glue the doors and windows in place until you have finished the wiring and the interior (and exterior) walls.

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  • 10 of 10

    Add Channels for a Glass Roof or Front

    Wood trim ready to glue together
    The Spruce / Lesley Shepherd

    Determine which direction you want the glass to slide out. This section of the box will need only the decorative molding in place, not the narrower channel spacers.

    On the three sides which will support the glass glue a strip of 3/16 inch wide basswood which is slightly thicker than glass, you intend to use. These strips of wood will be the channel spacers. The 3/16 inch width will be glued even with the outer edges of the plywood roombox, leaving a 1/16 inch ledge on the inner edge of the box to prevent the glass from falling back into the display. Glue these pieces, so they line up with the outside edge of the box on all four sides. Only the end of the piece from the adjoining side will line up with the outer edge of the box on the opening side. Check your pre-cut piece of glass fits between these three channel spacers, or measure the opening with the channel spacers in place to determine the measurements of the glass you will need.

    When you know your glass fits and will not fall back into the box, take a piece of wider strip wood or a piece of half-inch picture molding, and cut lengths that will fit together with mitered corners to cover the top or front of the box, if set even with the box's outside edge. These pieces of molding will cover all four edges of the box top or front and will hold the glass in place on the front like a frame. Test fit all four pieces to make sure they are square and line up properly. Glue the molding together in the corners to form a frame.

    When the frame is dry, glue it to the channel spacers, checking that the corners of the molding on the edge where the glass slides out are securely glued to the channel spacer on the top and bottom. If you do not need to add molding to the opening side, you can cut the top and bottom molding sections square with the open edge, just like you cut the channel spacers.