Wednesday, 26 December 2007

First side finished!

As it is Christmas time, I have managed to squeeze in several hours on the clapboarding, and have finished the first side including the dormer! You can really start to see what the house will look like when it is finished. I'm really pleased with it.

The side is wider than the clapboard sticks. This wasn't a problem for most of it as the board run is interrupted by the kitchen bay or by windows. Where a board runs completely across, I was careful to stagger the joins.

I am getting into a routine with this and it is going a bit faster. I cut the pre-painted board to size (using cardboard templates for complicated shapes like the stair window) with either clippers or an X-acto knive, daub some paint on the cut end, apply QuickGrab (and possibly Tacky Glue) along the reverse top and bottom edges of the board, let it all dry briefly, then apply it to the house. If it is QuickGrab, then just holding it with finger pressure for several seconds is sufficient. I did this whole side with about 2/3rds of a tube of QuickGrab.

Because I have exposed wiring on the outside, I couldn't use QuickGrab glue on all the boards (it would dissolve the wire insulation), so where the boards would cross a wire, I used Tacky Glue on that section. This meant having to do some clamping and letting glue dry before I could move on with some sections.

So far (touch wood) I am not worried about running out of clapboard as there looks to be loads still in the box. You can use up lots of short bits on all the complicated fussy cutting, so I don't feel that I am wasting very much.

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope Santa brought you lots of good minis.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Clapboarding (is that a verb?)

I have officially started the clapboard application. I started on the kitchen bay window, as that is the most straightforward, with absolutely no angles or windows making it more difficult. You can see in the pic that I am lining up the pre-painted (two coats) boards with the pencil lines.

Then I moved on to the right wall. This has an inside corner to be trimmed each time, and now I am just starting to sculpt boards to fit around the stair window. I realised that I need to paint a little ring of green paint around all the elements, just in case I leave a tiny gap that you can see through when trimming the boards. I am snipping my clapboards with a hand-held cutter (like garden shears) that is sold by hobby stores, and using an X-acto knife for complicated cuts.

I think I am going to be doing this for a looooooooooong time.

Friday, 14 December 2007

A word about windows

I've now finished gluing on my windows. On the two bay windows, I painted the main body colour around the window openings as I thought it was going to be too fiddly to try to apply clapboard in such a tight area. The clapboard will start underneath the window sills. The windowsill of the living room bay required a certain amount of fiddling and trimming to get it to fit around the complex angles.

The small windows were a bit fiddly as well - these are the two second floor windows on the front, and the two on the side (although I am only using one side window as I didn't punch the ground floor side window opening). The instructions say to glue-laminate the three layers of external trim to form the window frame, aligning the top of the window opening. The implication is that you then achieve four matching window frames that appear as a solid unit along the edges such as the top edge and the sides of the window opening. Certainly in the box picture these look like solid one-piece windows.

I found that none of my three trim layers exactly matched each other on these small windows on all edges. And I don't mean they were a little bit out - it was more like a 1/8th or 3/16th inch difference on several edges. So for example, instead of the top of the window appearing like one solid edge, I have three distinct edges from the three layers, with perhaps the middle layer sinking inwards by 1/8th inch and the top layer protruding more. On the middle 'strut' of a couple of windows, the second layer is significantly narrower than the first layer.

I decided to just leave the separate layers showing, in a kind of 'carpenter gothic' effect. Where layers were almost the same (such as on the very tips of the wings of the upper flared part) I did sand to one level, but otherwise I just painted them all the same trim colour and sanded the individual edges smooth.

The other item that requires a bit of fiddling is the windowsill. On these small windows, the window sill fits over the three 'legs' of the window, and then fits into the actual window opening to form the sill. All of my window sills required customisation to get them to fit over the 'legs' of the window (slots needed widening) and into the window openings (tabs needed trimming). And in order to have the sill fit tightly against the window (i.e. no gaps beween the 'legs' and the back of the sill slot), I had to trim width off the sill on all the inside edges.

On the side window, I also had to trim length off the sill on one side because it was obstructed by the corner trim.

When gluing the small windows onto the house, I found one window opening was too tall - if I aligned the tops of the window openings, but glued the sill onto the bottom edge of the opening, it left a significant gap between the sill and the bottom of the window trim. I filled this with a bit of coffee stirrer - now that it is painted to match, it looks like part of the 'carpenter gothic' effect.

Now that all the windows are on, I am gearing up for the clapboard and have started painting clapboard pieces after giving them a spray of sealer on both sides. This is a tedious job, thank goodness for podcasts to listen to while I do it.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Still painting trim, porch, starting to install windows

I've put in several hours now on painting and installing trim / windows, but there is still so much more to do. I keep thinking something is done, then when I look at it from a slightly different angle, or with better lighting, I see more spots that need a touch-up, or a fill, or sanding down.

Step S - (install porch assembly) - the instructions say to lay the house on its back but I didn't do this - I found it easy enough to just slightly lift the roof piece and slide the porch trim assembly into place. I had previously checked that a) the slots in the roof were wide enough to accommodate the tabs on the porch assembly, and b) that the tabs going into the wall from the porch assembly were going to fit into their slots. I also trimmed down the wall tabs so they just went into the house wall, and wouldn't protrude too much on the other side (particularly in the stairwell where it is practically impossible to get at them. I applied glue all around the top of the assembly but was worried about the base adhering to the porch floor, as the tabs are quite loose in their holes. So while the assembly was clamped to dry, I also fitted the Porch Base Trim (step S.3) making sure to glue it to both the porch post and the porch floor, for some extra adhesion. I let it dry all night, then took the clamps off, holding my breath in case the whole assembly popped back up off the floor, but it didn't. Whew. I then added some additional trim to the post bases with coffee stirrers, giving a panelled effect that also covers up the raw edges.

Step S.2 (Porch Roof Trim) - I dry-fitted this and drew a pencil line around the inside then removed the trim. I used the pencil line as a guide when spreading diluted glue and sprinkling with bird sand. Once this was dry, I removed the excess and painted it black for a 'flat roof' effect. Then I glued on the painted Porch Roof Trim. I made sure to trim the tabs so they wouldn't protrude too much into the house.

Step V (brackets)- the majority of my brackets disintegrated when I punched them from the plywood sheet - the interior seemed to just crumble to brown dust, leaving me with two pieces of veneer skin. I may try to recreate some for the roof trim, but for the porch I decided to substitute some dentil trim that I had, which I think looks quite shoplike. Once painted, I think it gives a good profile.

Installing windows - looking at other pictures of Greenleaf houses, I can see that many people apply the painted windows on top of the house wall, leaving the house wall showing as a different coloured 'filling' in the sandwich of the exterior and interior window trim. I didn't think this looked very realistic, so I have been painting the inside of the window cutout to match the exterior trim. This sounds simple, but the reality is a lot of rough wood so sanding and filling. Also, most of the exterior window trim is not an exact match to the profile of the window cutout. I debated sanding the window cutout to match the exterior window trim, but was afraid of distorting the opening. So painting a little 'surround' around the window cutout, to match the exterior trim, disguises the fact that it is protruding a bit. On the front dormer window, I also painted a little 'surround' in the green body colour where the balcony was going to go, as it will be impossible to get in there to fit clapboard or paint after the balcony is glued on. So far I have glued on the two bathroom windows, the dormer windows and am working on the kitchen bay window.

Step M ( Front Dormer Gable Trim) - this assembly took an incredible amount of sanding - in fact it was more like sculpting at some points. The cut-outs have quite rough edges, but also, when you place the trim over a contrasting colour, you notice right away how irregular and unmatched they are. It took quite a bit of fiddling to get them to an approximately similar shape. I don't know what shape the cutout on the very peak is supposed to be, mine was just a rough opening. By the time I finished sanding and filling, it looked a bit shell-shaped so I left it at that. There was quite a bit of filling/sanding needed on the outside edges, and to cover up crevices where bits of ply had fallen out, etc. In the meantime, I decided to finish the sides of the barrel roof in clapboard, which I painted green. I found when I fitted my Gable Trim that it did not fit entirely flush against the front of the house on one side, so I was careful to leave my clapboard protruding slightly from the house on that side to fill in the gap. I also painted a ring of green where the cut-outs of the trim would show through to the layer below, and at the top where the Front Dormer Trim/Back would go, so that I would get a three-layer paint effect. The Trim/Back I painted in the dark blue trim colour. Clamping the Gable Trim turned out to be almost impossible as you can only get a clamp on at the very top, so I used Quick Grab glue and clamped with hand pressure for a few minutes.
Step T (Balcony) - I found that I had to trim down the 'tabs' on the balcony a little bit with my Dremel sander before it would fit into the opening, and also slightly adjust the back of the brackets so they would fit flush against the house. Then I glued it on, with lots of glue around the 'tab'. You can see how I clamped it on by using my clamps through window openings and some scrap wood.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Painting at last

I cannot believe how long it has taken me to choose colours. I have literally been out several times to buy sample pots and craft paints, and ended up with at least a dozen of those as I paint index cards and try to decide. I think it is because the colour really makes or breaks the house - it doesn't matter how nicely you built it, if you don't like the colour then you won't like the house.

After trying all sorts of colour combinations, I came to realise that I did have my heart set on a blue house, or at least blue as a strong component. I have ended up using the original Soldier Blue, but as the trim colour rather than the body colour. For the body colour I am using Anita's Dusty Green. The roof I am still not sure about but I think it is going to be either dark green or brown. The foundation I'm not sure about either.

So now I have spent hours painting, all the trim, the windows, the porch, balcony, etc. etc. The moment you paint these things and the paint dries, you see more rough patches that you should have filled or that need sanding, so I think it is a bit of a moving feast. I'm concentrating on the porch so that I can get that finished and the front doors on. You can see in the photos that I applied a lattice effect along the porch base, using coffee stirrers.

I discovered that having painted the dormer window, and the test clapboard that fit around it, that post-paint-job, the window no longer fits into the cutout left in the clapboard. I guess the moisture from the paint was enough to slightly change the sizes of either or both. I think now I am going to permanently affix the windows and then cut the clapboard to fit around, but painting the ends of it with the final colour before gluing it on. Then once it is all on, I can give a final body paint job to the clapboard.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Porch stairs and trim, colour choices

The book I have been waiting for has finally turned up. It is "Victorian Exterior Decoration" by Roger W. Moss and Gail Caskey Winkler. It has a lot of information on historical paint schemes, with original illustrations from the period, and a list matching historical paint colours to modern manufacturers. However, it hasn't been a magic answer and I am still dithering. I guess I was hoping to open the book, spot a picture of a paint scheme that I liked, and just copy it. Instead I had to read the whole book, discovering that the Willowcrest is an example of Second Empire architecture from c. 1870, and also discovering that most historical paint schemes from the 1870-1880s are not to my taste. They went in a lot for rich bland colours like drab, olive green and straw. The blue house with white trim scheme pictured on the Willowcrest box is actually historically inappropriate as blues were not commonly used in this period and trim was almost always darker than the house colour. Blue with white trim came later in the colonial revival and onwards.

After a lot of cogitating, I narrowed it down to a paint scheme I found on the Sherwin Williams web site on their Victorian paints page, then headed off to our local DIY store to see what I could turn up that would match. I came home with several match pots, and painted lots of index cards so I could see what the colours looked like when they dried, and when taped to the house in natural daylight. Most of them weren't what I wanted, so I went out again today and got some acrylic craft paint in a few more shades. Eventually I have narrowed it down to dark brown for the roof (two colours under consideration), a blue-green for the house (similar to the historical colour light blue stone) which I can only get close to in a kitchen-bath paint, and brown or terracotta for the trim. Please note that these are not my personal choice at all, but they seem to be a good compromise between historical accuracy and a scheme I can live with. This is such a big decision, as the colour will really make or break the attractiveness of the house. I'm still not sure about these colours, I am going to live with them for a few days and see how it goes. But I know the house will look more realistic, and less like a toy, if the scheme is accurate.

In the meantime, I built the porch steps (Step Q.f) and applied the porch foundation trim (Step S). I had to relocate the steps to the middle of the porch as that is where my shop door will be. They went together similarly to the stairs in the house, the only real difference being that you glue on all the risers first, then add the steps second.

Sunday, 18 November 2007


While I am (still) waiting for my book to turn up, I spent a day working on finishing the bathroom. The walls are 'tile' (purchased glossy card printed with tiles), and the floor is also a glossy printed card (which conveniently covers up the electrical wires from the kitchen lights below). The upper part of the wall above the tile is painted lining paper, and the blue tile decoration is cut from a different glossy card tile border set.

The toilet and sink are from a cheap set, which I improved with better taps from a different sink. Plus I cut down the old-fashioned cistern and mounted it directly on the back of the toilet for a more modern look.

Originally I had planned to put the toilet in the closet, which is why the closet interior is all finished, but when I tried the toilet in there with a doll in position (use your imagination), I discovered that any would-be toilet user would have to be a contortionist. I had wanted to leave room for a tub, but my husband says that a tub would look silly in a shop bathroom anyway. I was kind of thinking that it was a period house with its original bathroom, converted to a shop. But by losing the tub, I had room to move the toilet out of the cupboard. I've also got room to put a comfy chair for the customers in the corner.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

I'm still here

Just a quick update - not much happening on the house because I am still waiting for the book I ordered from Amazon about exterior colour schemes for Victorian houses. I've been drawing guide lines around the house for the clapboard, which has been surprisingly difficult. First of all, I should have drawn all these lines BEFORE I glued on the corner trim, which would have been a lot easier as I would have been able to lay the ruler flat. Trying to get the lines to match going around a corner has been challenging, and drawing a bunch of parallel lines has revealed deficiencies in the house's construction that I wasn't previously aware of (particularly a decided up-flip on one of the mansard roof corners).

I'm still gluing in cornice. Going around the inside of the bay window was challenging. I cut a cardboard template that fit the bay ceiling, then folded that to get an approximate angle for each corner, which I then drew onto the cornice moulding in pencil, then cut with a razor saw. There were still some small gaps but I was able to fill them and the end result isn't too bad. Probably if you had paid attention in Geometry at school you could calculate what these angles are but I'm not sure it would help you if your mitre box only cuts 45 degrees.

I proudly displayed my house to a visiting dh friend, and rather dishearteningly she looked at my painstaking interior paint job and told me encouragingly how nice the house would look once it was all wallpapered! I resisted the urge to say anything.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Step Q - Fascia and Corner Boards, and Base

I'm still undecided about colour, so I have sent away for an book on authentic paint colours for Victorian houses. While I am waiting for that to come, I am getting on with more interior trim, and preparing the outside for shingling and siding. I'm slowly marking all the pencil lines on the sides and roof as guidelines for applying the shingling/siding, and I've been working through Step Q - Fascia Trim and Corner Boards.

Preliminary step: you need to sand flush any protruding tabs on your corners or where you will be gluing the fascia strips, so that the trim will lie flat. Do this before you try to glue the strip on and get glue everywhere (ask me how I know this...)

Step Q.a - Main Roof Fascia - I haven't put this on yet because I'm not sure if I want it to go on top of the shingles, or have the shingles butt up to it.

Step Q.b - Mansard Roof Fascia. Straightforward, apart from all four short pieces being significantly wider than the long side pieces, so I had to trim off a good 1/8th inch off their width. The two back wall pieces were also a bit too long, and had to be trimmed down.

Step Q.c - Corner Boards sub-assembly. I did not pre-glue these into an L-shape off the house (which is what the instructions say) because that just seemed highly unlikely to be successful. It doesn't give you any wiggle room if your wall isn't quite flat, or straight, or not 90 degrees at the corner. Instead I glued these directly on the house, one corner at a time. Where I had electric wires in the way, I used my Dremel tool to make a slight groove for the wire to pass under. Two sets were a bit too short, one board on another corner was slightly too long and had to be trimmed. Clamping these required a fair bit of creativity. Obviously lots of masking tape, and then some clamps hooked into nearby windows etc.

Step Q.d - Kitchen and Living Room Bay Fascia. Kitchen was straightforward - both side short pieces needed trimming in length. The Living Room Bay was a bit trickier. I bevelled with the Dremel tool again, but there were gaps that had to be filled afterwards.

Step Q.e - Kitchen Bay Corner Boards - straightforward, miniature versions of the main house corner boards.

Base - I decided (as I pivoted the house 360 degrees for the nth time) that the house needed a base to protect the foundation paperclay and give me an easier way to turn the house/move the house. I don't have a lot of room, so I kept the base fairly small, just slightly wider than the house on three sides and allowing for the porch steps at the front. My base measures 2 feet wide by 20 inches deep. It is 15mm MDF (multidensity fibreboard). I still want to be able to lift the house off, so I hot-glued some blocks onto the base (after tracing around the house with pencil) in strategic places to hold the house in place. These required a certain amount of fine-tuning, but luckily you can pry the hot glue off again if you get it wrong. Once I was happy with them, I put two chipboard screws into each block.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Foundations (Step Q.h)

I still haven't decided on a colour scheme. I applied clapboard to one dormer, and painted it in the deep Soldier Blue that I had bought, but dh says it looks too dark (it looks lighter in the photo than it really is). I've done a little research on the internet, and apparently Second Empire/Victorian houses were usually mid-to dark colour with dark trim. I've always like the blue and white scheme on the box, but my Soldier Blue is darker than that. They didn't have a nice blue at Hobbycraft when we went. I feel inclined to stick with blue and white even if it isn't authentic, but perhaps I need a brighter blue. With a bit of experimenting, I found that I had more success taping the window frame into place temporarily, and cutting the clapboard to fit around it, then removing the window frame to paint the clapboard. At first I tried just drawing around the outline of the window frame, but cutting to fit a pencil mark that your clapboard is actually overlapping just didn't work very well.

I jumped ahead to Step Q.h which is applying the foundation trim, and then applied a paper-clay masonry effect around the foundation. I used my Dremel tool to bevel the joins of the wood strips around the bay, so they looked more like mitered joins. I found one of the pieces on the right wall was about 1/4 inch short, so I filled the gap with a bit of scrap wood from another sheet. A bit of filler smeared along the top edge, and in the joins, makes these trim strips look pretty good.

This is the first time I've used paperclay - it is actually Das modelling clay because that is all they stocked at Hobbycraft - but found it quite easy to use.

I rolled out the clay using two scraps of wood leftover from the house to get the right thickness, and spaced them the correct distance apart to match the height of the foundation.

I used a plastic trowel to mark out horizontal courses 3/4 inch apart, and vertical 'stones' one inch wide. Some of the stones I split into two horizontal stones. I pounced all over with a stencilling brush to give texture. Then I applied a thin film of wood glue to the foundation, and pressed on the clay, using the stencilling brush to prod the clay onto the wood. The cellar windows were cut out of the clay after it was applied, while it was still wet. I also pressed the cellar sill and window frame into the clay to create depressions where I can glue them into later.

Friday, 26 October 2007

So many decisions...

Now that my shell is basically finished (and the last step was to glue on the roofs of the right and left dormers), it is decision time on decorating and color scheme. I need to finish all the tricky bits on the interior before installing the windows, so that I can still reach in through the window gaps to do things like install the cornice in the upper stairwell. That went fairly ok, but I think the cornice trim around the upper part of the kitchen/entry wall, with its not-45-degree corners, is going to be hard. I need to do that before I close in the porch.

So I am spending a lot of time filling gaps, painting over the gaps, filling them again for a smoother result, cutting cornice etc. I have also started trying to decide my exterior colour scheme, which I think is going to be basically blue and white but possibly with some additional trim colours. I have painted the roof black in preparation for shingling, but even that involved several decisions as to what was part of the roof, and what wasn't. I've decided that the barrel roof will be clapboard, and also the sides and front of the dormer, but I will shingle the upper roof as well as the mansard roof. I think I am also going to shingle the back 'wall' piece that goes across the top back edge of the attic room. Internal window trim will likely be white - I've seen several pictures of Willowcrests with stained internal trim, but most of the period houses I have been in have painted internal window trim.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Lighting, & Step M (roof)

I've finished installing the lights now, and I thought it might be worth outlining briefly what (and how) I have installed. The choice of lights depended somewhat on what I had in my stash, because I only bought new lights for the attic.

Attic Level: I installed four matching ceiling lights whose wires go up through the foamcore ceiling and are brought together in the front right quadrant by drilling holes through the roof supports and feeding the wires through. The wire from a fifth light hanging inside the front dormer feeds up through the gap in the ceiling of the front dormer, and comes back to join the other attic wires. All of these wires were soldered into a makeshift connector strip from a couple of pieces of copper tape. The tape is soldered to a wire which feeds down through the barrel roof, through the roof cornice, to connect to copper tape on the right hand outside wall.

Upper Stair: a hanging 3-light fixture is positioned over the stairwell, so that its wire can feed up into the empty roof space outside the attic wall, and from there come down the same gap as the attic wire and connects to the copper tape.

Bathroom: an out-of-sight bulb inside the toilet cupboard has its wire feeding across the floor (which will have a tile covering) and out a hole drilled above the kitchen bay. A one-light ceiling fixture in the bathroom has its wire hidden inside a routed out path in the ceiling (which I will fill) which feeds out a hole drilled in the right wall. All these wires connect to the copper tape on right hand wall. The copper tape runs down the side of the house and in through the cellar window where it connects up to the terminal block (to which the transformer can be connected).

2nd floor main room: a ceiling fixture near the front of the room has its wire feeding up into the attic (where a piece of furniture will be hiding it) and out the front attic wall and out the front wall. There it is glued along underneath the cornice to meet with copper tape on the left-hand external wall. A table lamp at the open end of this room feeds through into the toilet cupboard and across the bathroom floor and out the same hole as the other bathroom wires. A table lamp on the external (left) wall of this room feeds out a hole to join the copper tape on the left wall.

Kitchen/office: two ceiling fixtures come up into the bathroom, wires feed out as above. A wall sconce on the very back wall, near the bay, feeds out and down the external wall, and into the foundation where it joins the copper tape inside the foundation.

Main ground floor: a five-light hanging fixture feeds its wire up into the 1st floor near the archway entrance, where it will have to be hidden by a carpet, then runs out the front wall, along the porch roof, and meets the copper tape on the right wall. A wall sconce on the left wall feeds out a hole to meet the copper tape on the left wall. A wall sconce on the back wall feeds out, down the outside, and back into the foundation space.

Porch/display windows: Two 'fluorescent' tubes are positioned, one above each side, and connected to copper tape running along the underneath of the porch roof. This runs along until it meets the right wall and splices into the copper tape run there.

Now that the lights are in, I can go back to Step M and finish installing the roof.

Step M.J.4 (Mansard Roof /Left etc.): I installed the first piece of mansard roof according to the directions, and the mess in the picture is the result. I discovered that it is VERY important to run a knife along the scores on the back of these pieces, connecting the cuts right to the edge of the piece and deepening them. Otherwise they will not bend (despite what the directions say) and will just splinter and snap unevenly so that you don't get a smooth curve. I made the cuts on the other three roof pieces and they went in no problem at all. I found a small hammer very useful, because once the roof piece is snapped into position it may still be bulging above the roof supports and not curving properly. If you lightly tap along the piece with a hammer, it will encourage the wood to break a little more along the score lines on the back of the wood, and it will hug in and curve to meet the supports. Use lots of glue.

Step M.L (top main roof): this was straightforward. I had to trim my left piece so it would go around my chimney (since I forgot to put it on earlier). I also had to trim the corners of my front and rear pieces to get them to fit in. Notice that the front piece fits under the little 'fingers' projecting from the barrel roof supports.

Step M.M. (Front dormer gable roof): these didn't fit all that well. I had to deepen the notch considerably on one piece, and the result is a bit wonky, but I think once it is all shingled, you won't notice it.