01 of 10
Making a Dollhouse Window or Storage Box
Wooden crates and storage boxes are a staple for many dolls house scenes. Practice making them by making these simple decorative boxes with rabbet joint ends. The joints are made with a simple flat file, and files are also used to help form decorative heart cutouts in the box sides. As shown here the box is used for a planter, but it can also hold pots of dollhouse plants, scale patterns, magazines or CDs. If you change the size, the same techniques will make beer and milk crates, or storage boxes for all kinds of miniatures.
The rabbet joint is one step up from a butt joint where wood is simply glued on edges. A rabbet joint is cut halfway through a piece of wood, allowing the glue to hold on both the ends and the sides of an adjoining piece. This strengthens the joint slightly and also makes it easier to make square sides, bases, and ends.
Rabbet joints can be used to make a basic box, by cutting the rabbets on the base, gluing the sides to the base, then making a fitted top by cutting rabbets on the edges of a top piece and adding a handle.
This project is designed to help you learn to file simple rabbet joints accurately. For that reason, the rabbets are made on the box ends. Normally the rabbets would be made on the base, and or the decorative side edges so that no joins are visible on the main sides. Here they are used on the box ends, as it makes for a bit less work while you practice making straight rabbets.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Materials You'll Need
To make the dollhouse storage box you will need:
Continue to 3 of 10 below.
- Stripwood: We used 1/2 inch by 1/16 inch basswood. Use harder woods if you can find them (jelutong, limewood, mahogany). The planter shown used three pieces cut two inches long for the sides and base, and two pieces cut 5/8 inch for the ends. If you want to store particular items in your box, make sure the box is wide enough and long enough on the inside to take them, you may need to use wider stock if you need a wider box.
- Wood glue: You can use PVA (white glue) if you don't have wood glue, but wood glue will form a stronger, more watertight bond.
- Craft knife: You need one with a fine tip for the cutout hearts.
- Craft saw or you can use a stripwood cutter.
- Miniature drill: The size of the drill bit will determine the size of the lobes of your hearts and the curve of the handle on the end of the box. Use one that is close to the size of the end of your round file.
- Miniature files: You will need a straight-sided flat file, a round or oval file, and a tapered flat file (a pointed metal nail file can be substituted for the flat file and the tapered file if necessary).
- Sandpaper: Use a fine grit, 220 or finer.
- Glue spreader or flat toothpick.
- Wood finish or paint: If you want to finish the wood for your box.
03 of 10
Cut the Crate Handle Openings in the Box Ends
Continue to 4 of 10 below.
- Mark the handle location: Take your two box ends and use a paper embosser, or a ballpoint pen, to mark the center of the handle for your crate ends. We set ours about 1/8 inch below the top edge. Set your drill on the mark to make sure you will leave enough wood above the handle for a secure edge. When you have the correct depth figured out, mark the wood at the center, and one drill bit width away on either side, so you have three centered marks to start your drill on. Your crate handle will be three drill bits in width.
- Drill three holes for the handle: Center your drill bit on your marks and use your drill to make three holes side by side. You have to be careful to avoid slipping the drill bit sideways.
- File the handle smooth: Use your round and flat files to neaten the ends and the base and top of your handle slit. The round file will round the ends, and the flat file will make a straight edge on the top and bottom.
- Sand the handle edges: Roll up a tiny piece of sandpaper, or roll it around a toothpick or wire, and use the sandpaper to smooth the ends of the handle opening. Take care to keep the slot straight across between the rounded ends.
04 of 10
Cut the Rabbet Joints
- Mark the joint edges: Your rabbet joints will need to be 1/16 of an inch wide on the sides and bottom of the end of your box. This width of joint will allow you to fit your 1/16 inch wooden sides and base, neatly into the edge of the joint, helping to hold the pieces square for gluing. To mark the joints, measure 1/16 of an inch away from the side and base edges and mark the line with a shallow knife or saw cut.
- Cut the rabbet: To cut the rabbet, clamp your wood firmly with the inner edge of the crate end facing up. Line up the straight side edge of your miniature flat file with the measurement mark you made in the first step above, and carefully file back and forth on the outer edge of this mark, keeping your file straight and flat. This takes a little practice so stop often and check the edge of your work to see how your filing is progressing. You want to file a square flat section from the mark you made, halfway through the thickness of your end piece. Take short strokes with the file and clean the file by tapping it on your work surface to clear it of sawdust. It is handy to have a clean used toothbrush to clear out any sticking sawdust.
- Make three rabbets: Make one for each side and one for the box base. When you get used to making these joints you can make rabbets on all four sides of the base, or the sides instead of on the ends of the box, but for now, it is easier to practice on shorter sides, which is why we are making the rabbet joints on the smallest side of the box. Rabbet joints hide the butt edge of the wood you glue to them, making a neater, slightly stronger finish than a butt joint.
- Check the fit of the joints by test fitting the sides and base of your box to the ends.
Set the ends aside while you finish the decorative hearts on the sides in the next step.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Use a Drill and Files to Make Cutout Hearts
Continue to 6 of 10 below.
- Mark the drill holes: To make heart cutouts for miniatures start by choosing a drill bit for the heart lobes at the top. Use a pen or an embossing tool to mark the starting hole for your drill and drill a single hole through the side of your box. When you have the first hole drilled, drill the second hole far enough away to one side of the first hole so that you leave the point of the heart at the top intact when you drill. You could use this technique to make shamrocks from three hearts that join together.
- Cut the point of the heart: Use a fine craft knife to cut down from the outside edge of your drilled hole to the place you want the bottom point of your heart. Try to line your point up with the indent on the top of your heart between the two drill holes. Cut a matching line up from the point of the heart to the outside edge of the second drill hole at the top of your heart. Don't worry if your heart isn't heart-shaped, files will neaten your cutout.
- Flat file the point of the heart: Use the flat side of a miniature tapered file to straighten the point and the bottom edges of your heart. Try not to cut into the circular lobes at the top of the heart. If you do slip into the lobes, it can be fixed with the circular file.
- File the top lobes: Use the circular or oblong file to round out the lobes at the top of your heart. Be careful to leave (or make) a point in the center of the heart top, between the two lobes. If you lost this point when you were drilling, just file your lobe further away from the center to make a new center indent.
- Sand the heart shape to get a finished edge on your cutout. Roll up a bit of sandpaper to sand the lobes of the heart and fold a strip to sand the straight point of the heart.
- Repeat on the other side: If this is a window box, you can leave the back without cutouts.
06 of 10
Test Fit the Parts
With all your parts prepared, do a final test fit to make sure the joins line up properly. Make sure the ends of your pieces are straight and true. Check them with a square, or the end of a metal ruler. Sand the ends of the joints if necessary to square them up for gluing together.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
Glue the Base and 1 Side of the Box
Spread a small amount of glue on the rabbets you cut at the end of your box. Spread a small amount of glue on one end of the base, and one side of the base. Press fit the base of your box into the rabbet on the end of the box.
Run a small amount of glue on the end of the side that fits the box end, and press the side onto the rabbet on the end of the box, and up against the glued edge of the box base. The box base and the side will be glued in a simple butt joint, where one piece glues flat on its end to the side of the other piece.
Finish gluing the box by adding the final side onto the end and base. Then add glue to the other rabbets on the final end of the box and glue it to the sides and base.
Carefully wipe away any excess glue that comes out of the joint seams.
See the next step for clamping the box.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Clamping the Box to Strengthen the Joins
Glue joints are always stronger if the wood is clamped in place until the glue dries. To clamp a miniature box, small, quick release bar clamps are easiest to use. This box has three: two to clamp the sides evenly to the base and the ends, and the third clamps the box ends to the base and sides.
If you don't have clamps you can use a gluing jig, like this magnetic one or use a straight piece of wood laid against the sides of the box, and hold those pieces of wood tight against the box with rubber bands or twist ties. If you use rubber bands, you may need a second person to hold everything square while you fit a rubber band. Do not try to use rubber bands directly on your miniature piece.
Set the box aside until the glue dries.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Final Sanding to Neaten the Edges
When your box is dry, use fine-grit sandpaper (220 or higher) and a square sanding block to neaten the edges of your box at the glued joins. The rabbets you cut should help to keep your box square, but you will still need to sand to make sure all the edges are even. You can see the rabbet joints at the end of the box in the photo above. After this practice run, try making a box with the rabbets on the base and the sides, to make a stronger, neater box for a window box. Don't expect your first attempt to be perfect. This is an easy way to make better wood joins than the butt joins commonly found in miniature furniture kits, but you need to get used to working with wood files.
You can finish your box with a clear finish at this stage, or attach paper fruit crate labels or shop decals to the box and add a clear coat over them when they are dry.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Adding a Crackle Finish
To add a crackle finish to our dollhouse window box we used Ranger Distress Crackle paints.
This paint is available in several colors, including white and metallics. It goes on very thick. For miniature crackles you may need to thin it a bit with water. If you want a color showing through the crackle, paint the crate with acrylic paint in your chosen color and allow it to dry completely before applying the crackle paint. The miniature crackle paint can be lightly sanded to further the weathering effect, but when you have the look you want, you may want to apply a clear matte or satin glaze over the crackle to help hold it in place. Otherwise handling may cause your paint to wear more than you wish.
To set up the windowbox, we used reindeer moss behind the cutouts to give it a moss basket effect and set the plants into a small piece of dry floral arranging foam cut to fit inside the box. The top surface of the foam has a layer of reindeer moss on top.