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Doll House for My Sister’s Grandchildren – 2nd Phase

In our last doll house update, I know I left you “floored” wondering what my wonderful idea was for flooring this doll house.  Well as is often the case, the inspiration did not come just out of the blue but rather has a back story, one I had been pondering ever since I finished my Chris-Craft boat.

As I put all the left-over boat kit materials back in the box, I wondered what I should do with the left-over strips of real mahogany as they seemed too nice to just throw away.  The kit had come with quite an excess to ensure that there would be plenty in case some strips were damaged or warped (as some were).  When my sister said she wanted wooden floors to lay the rugs on, I realized here was a perfect use of that left over wood.  I told her I had an idea that would provide real mahogany flooring in at least part of the house.

I laid out the left-over strips on the floor just to get a rough idea if I would have enough to floor this one large room on the main floor.  I estimated the strips alone would not cover it all but with the addition of the large pieces of mahogany from which parts had been punched out, I thought I would have enough.  When I showed this idea to my sister, she loved it.

The boat kit had come with two different widths of mahogany strips, 1/2-inch and 3/8-inch and I needed to use both to have enough for this room (hereafter referred to as wide for the 1/2-inch and narrow for the 3/8-inch).

I started by cutting the wide strips into 2-, 4-, and 6-inch lengths to mimic real flooring with varying lengths of boards.  Once complete, I had enough to cover about 6.5 inches of the 14” X 20” room.

Next, I just laid out the narrow strips to get a feel for how much I would have to cut to finish the floor.

This gave me almost another 6.5 inches; about 2/3 of what I would need.

Then, just to be sure I was going to have enough to finish the floor, I laid out the large pieces of mahogany I had left.  I was confident even if I messed up cutting several times, I would still have more than enough.  But before I started cutting, I needed to figure out how many rows of wide planks and how many rows of narrow planks would be required.  For this, I realized I needed to resurrect a technique I learned in graduate school for optimizing solutions, given certain constraints—linear programming.

For my application, my constraints were that I had enough pre-cut strips to yield 17 narrow rows and 13 wide rows of planks.  But rather than digging out my old textbook (even if I still had it) and relearning the technique, I decided to eye-ball it.  I figured out that if I cut enough strips to yield 13 more rows of narrow planks and five more rows of wide planks, that I would have just enough to cover the entire floor.

This would give me a ratio of small to large planks of about 30:18 which reduces to approximately 3:2.  Thus, laying two rows of wide planks for every three rows of narrow planks seemed a reasonable and realistic mix of the two sizes.  But cutting these additional strips proved quite challenging.

I first tried using a rotary cutter and clamping down the wood to be cut under a straight edge.  But each time, either the rotary cutter suddenly followed the grain of the wood away from the straight edge ruler or the wood slipped under the straight edge.  Using an X-ACTO knife instead did not prove any more successful.  I explored buying a power tool such as a band saw that would give me more precise cuts (I always love buying a new power tool for a project) but could not find anything small enough for this application.  When I explained my challenge to my sister, she came up with two possible solutions.

The one that worked for me was a technique she taught her students to use in similar situations—to use a metal ruler with a cork backing to hold the wood being cut, to stand over the work surface rather than sitting to apply more pressure on the ruler, and to make repeated scores along the straight edge rather than trying to cut all the way through the wood in one pass.  It worked beautifully and in just a few hours, I had all the strips I needed.

Returning to my 3:2 ratio, I decided rather than using a random pattern, I would lay down two rows of narrow strips and then alternate one wide strip, one narrow strip, and then one wide strip yielding my 3:2 ratio.  Thus, every five rows would repeat this 3:2 pattern.

I began gluing strips down at the back edge of the house using a straight edge to ensure they were lined up with the rear foundation of the house.  I initially thought I would glue them down with Liquid Nails® but then opted to use Super Glue since it would dry much faster and speed up the flooring process.  As I progressed from that first row, I used my handy little clamps to ensure the strips were tight up against each other—at least until I reached the widest distance the clamps could span.

After that, I found I could lay my sanding block on the far side of the strip I was gluing and pull towards me to ensure a tight fit.

I progressed as such until I had laid down 25 rows (five sets of a 3:2 ratio) at which point, I ran out of machine cut narrow strips.  I measured the distance I had floored and came up with 11.75 inches short of the closer to 13 inches I should have achieved.  But then I realized I had glued them down much tighter together than when I had simply laid them out to make sure I had enough wood to do the entire floor.  I found I still had enough machine cut wide strips left to make three more rows, or another 1.5 inches getting closer to those 13 inches I had calculated so maybe I would just have to cut a few more narrow strips.

I continued working with the hand cut strips of wood, having to occasionally sand them to correct for any imprecision in my cuts, and once I had reached a total of 40 rows, I could see the end was in sight.

It took a total of 46 rows to reach the front wall and then I just had to finish the bay floor.  Turns out I had exactly enough strips without having to cut anymore.  Those small scraps to the left in the picture below are what I had left.

The next step was to sand the floor.  I used progressively finer sandpaper starting with my 120-grit sanding block and then followed that with my 220-grit sanding block.  I found some 400-grit very fine sandpaper and so finished the sanding with another homemade sanding block of 400-grit.

Since I did not need to stain the mahogany on the Chris-Craft boat I built, I skipped that step again and went straight into brushing on a glossy polyurethane.  Between coats, I sanded with that 400-grit sanding block.  It took four coats to get a nice smooth finish.

So now the dance floor was definitely ready!  But what about the floors in the other rooms?

     To Be Continued…

2 thoughts on “Doll House for My Sister’s Grandchildren – 2nd Phase Leave a comment

  1. David, the floor is absolutely beautiful. Your attention to detail is inspiring. I am sure your sister is thrilled with this floor. I wonder what subject your sister taught her students where she used the technique of the cork-backed ruler with several cuts to cut the wood? A cork-backed ruler is a great idea. I look forward to seeing the other floors. Thank you for this post! It reminds me of the saying that I try to live by, “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.”

    • Thanks, Betty. Yes we were both very pleased with how the floor came out. My sister teaches several art classes at a junior college in Northwest Arkansas. She has been a practicing artist for many years in a number of different medias.

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