Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Lighting the way

In my last post I showed the light sconces I had made for the customer service side of the North Pole Postal Service. After painting them white, so they would "pop" against the red walls, I went looking for something to use as "glass" inside the sconces. Since I didn't want the "glass" to be completely clear, I had a number of options running through my head. I thought that perhaps I could use clear acetate then line that with either parchment paper or waxed paper to provide an opaque look. So, I went to my stash to first find the clear acetate. Yes, I had lots of small pieces but....look what I found:

Isn't that perfect??!!?? I always knew there was a perfectly good reason for buying cookies in the bakery section of the grocery store. Sure - that's why I but them - for the mini supplies!

So - most of the rest of this post is to discuss how I hooked up my lights - for the benefit of anyone out there who is new to the hobby and would like to learn how to do it themselves. For those of you who have been doing this for a while, hang in there - there will be some eye candy at the end of the post!

So, I now had my sconces and the faceted acetate to line them with. I gathered all the supplies I needed to bring on the light. I had already planned (yes, I know that's not a concept you hear from me very often) where the lights in the front room were going to go. I drilled small holes from the inside of the walls to the outside to feed the wires through, and I used my Dremel tool to create channels from the holes down to the bottom of the wall so I could run the wire down the channels.

I purchased several LED nano chip lights from Shelley at Freedom Miniatures for the sconces.

These lights are very tiny, although they provide a good amount of light. What I really like is that several can be connected to a single 3V button battery/switch. Here you can see the light (the tiny yellow dot at the end of the wire I am holding) and the battery that will be used to power them.

To hook things up I was also going to need some additional wire, some heat shrink tubing, and a Sharpie marker. Yup, a Sharpie - you'll see. I know I have a coil of dollhouse wire somewhere and it will show up when I least expect it but, for now, I used what I could find - a package of dollhouse "extension cords".

Again - for any beginners out there - to remove the "plug" end of this wiring, all you have to do is pull out the 2 brass pins. The way the plug works is that the wire is fed up through the centre hole of the plug, separated and the ends stripped a little bit to expose the wire for a connection, then bent back on itself with one side each being fed back into the holes on either side of the centre hole. When those two brass pins are shoved into the side holes it allows an electrical connection to form once connected to a battery or power source.

I mentioned that I had drilled holes (Okay - I asked my DH, Bruce, to drill the holes) to feed the wire through from the nano chip lights. These lights are so tiny that they could easily pull right through the little holes drilled so the first thing I did was to feed the wires through a tiny clear seed bead. The bead was just big enough that it wouldn't go through the hole and small enough that the nano light wouldn't pull through it. Then I fed the wiring through the hole to the outside of the wall. In the following picture I have the building on its side and you can see the wires from one of the lights sticking out at the bottom of the channel I made for it. Although it is hard to see, if you look closely you will see that there are two wires for every light - a red wire and a black wire. The red wire is the positive wire and the black wire is the negative wire. This is very important!

The battery pack also has red and black wires so that makes it really simple, right?? Not necessarily! In my case, I needed to add length to the wire, hence the white wire from the extension pieces. There is no "positive" or "negative" to this wire until you hook it up, then it is important to identify it, hence the Sharpie!

Once I removed the plug end, I used my jewellery wire cutters to cut the additional length of wire I was going to need for each light. I split the wire for an inch or two using the very clear division between the two halves. Then I stripped some of the white covering from both ends of the additional piece (2 pieces on each of the two ends) in order to expose the bare wires. Now you need to designate which half of the wire will be which. I use a red sharpie and colour about a half to one inch on one half at the end of the wire. Then I very carefully follow this half of the wire to the other end and colour it in the same way. Before you colour the other end, make sure you have not mixed up the two halves of the wire or your lighting will not work.

So, the steps to attaching it all together:

1. I attached the white wire extension to my light by first cutting an inch-long section of red shrink tubing (it doesn't matter what colour you have as long as you keep the wires identified), and slipping it onto the red wire from my light.

2. Then I twisted the wires sticking out at the end of the red wire from the light, to the wires sticking from the side of the white wire I had coloured red.
3. Once twisted together I folded the wire back onto itself (in the direction away from the shrink tube, then I slid the shrink tube down to completely cover the section of twisted wire. Using the flame from a lighter held a little way below the shrink tube, I heated the tubing so it would form itself to the wires it is protecting.
4. I then repeated those steps with the black wire and the other side of the white wire at the same end already used. I used a small section of black shrink tube slid onto the black wire from the light before I started to twist the ends together.

Now you have your light connected to any extended wire you need, you just have to repeat these steps to attach the other end of the extension to the wires from your battery pack. Make sure you slide your shrink tubing onto one of the wires before twisting! I forget to do that every once in a while then have to take the wires apart again so I can get the shrink tubing in place.

So - there's a lesson on how I wired the LED nano chip lights. I also had two more nanos that I used in the bathroom which I fed across and wired along with the three lights on one of the side walls to a single battery. Remember the smaller sconces I couldn't fit in the bathroom before? I came up with a different solution. First, I found a small wooden channel piece, then I sanded a groove at the back of the sconces and at the back of the baseboard in the bathroom. You can see how things ended up when we get to the pictures at the end of the post.

But first, I wanted to talk about the lights for either side of the front door because these were a whole different ball of wax. I bought two really nice, bright red lanterns from Grandpa's Dollhouse, to go on the exterior on either side of the front door. I love these little lanterns however, the day after I was just trying them out to see how they would look, this is what I found on the hallway floor as I came out of my bedroom in the morning.

Luckily, once I spliced the wire back together the light worked fine. Good thing or there was going to be one sorry little kitty in this house! Well, probably not since she would have no idea why I was upset. Jodi H. from My Miniature Madness was absolutely correct when she said that God made them so cute so we wouldn't kill them!!

So, while new technologies have opened the door to all kinds of new little LED lights that take very little power and can run on a variety of different kinds of batteries, many dollhouse lights, especially those with removable bulbs, are 12V lights and should not be hooked up to battery power - - unless you do it right! These lights are normally wired to a power bar which is wired to a transformer which plugs into a normal electrical outlet. This is certainly a more bulky solution and one that requires your project to always be placed near a power source if you want it to be lit. But, there is another option. In the picture below you see two different kinds of batteries:

On the left is a standard AA battery. These batteries are 1.5 volts. You don't need a lot of math skills to figure that you would need 8 of these batteries connected to supply 12V of power. Yes, you can get a battery pack that would hold that many AA batteries but it would be quite bulky - not easily hidden in your room box. And that is for one light only. I had two 12V lights going on the front of the post office and do not want to be committed to plugging into a wall outlet. There is a solution! The batteries on the right of the above picture, even though they are much smaller than the AA battery, are actually 12V each. In a double battery pack, pictured above next to the batteries, that is 24V - exactly what my two front door lights add up to. Now, I won't go into the issue of the slight loss of power over the length of wiring, or by operating singly or in tandem. Truth be told, any reduction in available power would not be significant enough to worry about for the purpose of wiring these two beautiful lanterns. I did have to order the holder for the batteries online through amazon.ca as I couldn't find a local supplier. The battery pack has a switch already attached as well.

So I had already created two channels on the outside of the front wall, on either side of the door, to fit the wires into. LIke the wires from the indoor sconces, I used a technique that Lea Frisoni describes in her book, The Big Book of a Miniature House. She describes how she runs a channel for her wires then covers them by laying a strip of tape, sticky side up and covers that strip with two strips sticky side down that meet in the middle of the central strip. What that leaves is a non-sticky area directly over the wire channel which allows for the wire to be pulled out if it needs to be fixed or exchanged. Of course, you would attach the new wire to the end of the old one before you started to gently pull so that it would pull the new wire along the channel while the old one is being pulled out. Does that make any sense?? If not - get the book. You really should have that wonderful book anyway! It's my favourite.

Back to the lights - I temporarily taped the lanterns to the wall since I can't install them permanently until the outdoor wall finish is completed. I ran the wires into the channels and used the masking tape technique to cover them. Then I painted the whole wall, including the masking tape area, white since I will be applying white blocks to the wall and I worry about little bits showing through occasionally. You can see the tape to the right of the door. It is painted over on the left.

Since the bulbs in the lanterns are replaceable, they were held together with little sticky white foam circles on the bottom of the lantern to allow easy access to pull out the bulb if necessary. Since the lantern will be hanging, not sitting, I replaced the white circles with red foam squares instead. Much better.

So, now to the pictures of the inside lamps in place:

As for those little sconces for the bathroom - I couldn't fit them on either side of the wall cabinet so I had Bruce drill 2 holes through the floor on either side of the door, painted the channel I showed you earlier so it would blend into the wall and hide the wires, and hooked the lights up on that wall instead. I like it!

I hope I didn't bore too many of you with all the description about lighting. I do hope anyone reading this post who is newer to the hobby has learned something - which was my aim this week.

Until next Tuesday, I will be thinking about what to use for lighting in the back part of the building. Hmm - got my thinking cap on now! Until then, keep safe, keep healthy and keep on mini-ing! TTFN - Marilyn D.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Hitting the wall...

... but in a good sense!

I started this week's work by examining the post office from all angles to determine where it wanted me to go next. For a few days it was apparently not speaking to me - I must have done something to tick it off! Then, finally it relented and told me it would like to see some progress on its interior. Apparently it was feeling naked and frumpy and needed a pick-me-up.

So, after painting some baseboards and other trims strips white, I started to dress those poor naked walls. First thing - I papered the walls in the back room. I wanted them to look very different from the front of the shop so ended up with a paper that reminded me of an aged, worn wall with character and patina.

I really liked the look but the post office was keeping its feelings to itself for the time being so I moved on to the walls in the front room. This is where I remind you about my aversion to pre-planning. I immediately glued in the baseboard and an upper trim at the height I thought looked "right". Then I put vertical trim down the corners between the two horizontal trims. At that point I stood back to have a look and thought there was something missing. So I decided to give it a little bit of "Arts & Crafts" style. Instead of planning out the grid, I took 3 of the larger squares from a bag of "Woodsies" and used them as spacers on top of the baseboard so I could glue a middle trim horizontally across the wall. It looked good. Then I used one of the squares as a spacer to put small vertical pieces in between this new trim and the baseboard. Again - looked good...however...the space between the middle and upper trim seemed too large and unbalanced. So I used the square as a spacer again and put in another horizontal trim and repeated the steps for the little vertical divider. Hmmm....now I was left with a very small space between the two top trims. Okay - that looked weird. But what would happen if I cut little pieces to go in this space from one side to the other? Let's see. YES, it worked!!! I really liked it and so did the post office. It asked me to hurry up and finish the other side wall. Here is the end result after painting, etc.

When I really looked at what I had done, I was so surprised to see that the little pieces at the top actually ended up with one in the middle of every vertical divider below. How did I manage to make that happen?? I attribute it to that golden horseshoe I was talking about in a previous post. So, I repeated the treatment on the other wall and did a little happy dance. I am back in the good books with my post office now.

While looking at this new wall treatment I tried to visualize what kind of wall sconces would look right in the front office space. I did some searching online through life-size lighting options and found one I thought would look best. I gathered materials and got to work. I made a single sconce as a trial, liked how it worked out, and made 5 more. I will be installing 3 on each side, after all, we're talking the North Pole here. While it is called the "Land of the Midnight Sun", that is only for 6 months of the year. The other 6 months is perpetual night so they can use all the light they can get!

I started by taking the middle size of "Woodsie" and cutting it into two equal pieces. These will be tops for the wall sconces.

Then I cut 1/8" square stripwwod into the following sizes: 4- 1" lengths; 3- 1/4" lengths; and 3- 11/16" lengths. The 1" lengths formed the four corners of my sconces, the 11/16" are the spacers between the front and back corner pairs(2 between the front uprights, 1 at the bottom of the back uprights). The shortest lengths are the side spacers and the small vertical piece in the front. When putting it all together I made sure the back frame was even with the back of the top, leaving a hang over section on the two sides and the front.

Here I am during the process....

and after I had finished all six and had them painted white to stand out against the red wall.

See the two little, unpainted ones at the top of that picture? I liked the sconces well enough that I thought I should make two similar, narrow ones for either side of the mirror cabinet in the employee bathroom. Of course, in my typical style, I just went ahead and made them. Then I found out they won't fit!! There's not enough room between the cabinet and the wall. I will have to find another place to put them but that shouldn't be a problem, I hope.

I still have to decide what to use for the inner "glass" in the wall sconces before I show you the finished pieces and how I will be lighting them up. That should be next weeks post, if all goes well.

I'll leave you this week with just one more little thing. I needed door handles for the employee bathroom doors and for the mail cabinet in the front office space but couldn't decide what to use. I wanted something a little Christmas-like and fun. In the end, I took small pearls on the end of bead pins, covered them in glue, and rolled them in red, green and white sparkles. When they were dry I glued a seed bead under each "knob" to act as a spacer. After that, I poured some clear nail polish into a top from an old pill bottle and dipped each knob into the nail polish to coat the sparkles and add a clear finish to them. I was quite happy with how they turned out in the end.

I installed them on the bathroom doors and on the mail cabinet.

I set the cabinet in place to test it out. I like it!

On to another task. In the meantime, I hope you are all enjoying some mini time yourselves. I don't want to be the only one having fun here! Keep safe, keep healthy and keep mini-ing! TTFN!!! - Marilyn D.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Flush with possibilities!

Sometimes I envy my good friend Louise who plans out every aspect of her project before she begins any of the build. Once she starts, she zips through the process because she knows exactly what her next step is. Unfortunately - I'm more of a "one-step-at-a-time" kinda gal. I have the general idea for my project in mind to begin with then I just follow where each step leads me. That way, I'm just as surprised as everyone else as the project unfolds!! *smile*

So, having finished the floors of the North Pole Postal Service, I took a few days to look at it to see if it would tell me where it wanted to go next. I finally settled on the smallest part of the build: the employee bathroom. The floor space of the room is only 3" x 5" so I needed to plan the location of the bathroom fixtures and the door very carefully. For that, I needed to put together the Chrysnbon toilet, sink, cabinet and heater that I planned on using so I could play with the layout. Now, these Chrsynbon pieces go together very easily but, let's face it, they're just inexpensive plastic, and they look like it. The first thing I did after putting the pieces together was to paint the brown toilet seat, water tank, flush handle and wall cabinet white. The sink and toilet were white plastic, not brown so I left them alone at first. Once the paint was dry, I sanded the roughness and painted a second coat. After sanding again, it was obvious that this was going to look like crap! (No pun intended!)

What I wanted was for the fixtures to look like high gloss porcelain. The easiest would have been to use a high gloss spray paint - which I didn't have and I did not want to jump in the car and drive anywhere to get some. BUT - I did have a small bottle of "Mr. Touch Up" - a product used to repair nicks or scratches on your white kitchen appliances.

I don't know how old this is because it's been a long time since we've had white appliances but I figured - "What the heck, it's worth a try!"

I tried the toilet first - and with 2 coats of this product here is what it looked like:

Now we're getting somewhere!! Then I painted the sink and the water tank, the toilet seat and lid. I LOVE it! It looks just like what I was going for and I didn't have to waste my time, my gas or my patience having to go to find a different product!

I left the pieces to dry for 24 hours and the finish is as hard and shiny as real porcelain. I'm really happy with it. So, I attached the sink and cabinet to the back wall of the bathroom area to check the amount of room I had. I had put together the walls for the bathroom but hadn't put them in place yet but it was already obvious that I would not have the room for the swing required for a full size door.

Looking at the pre-hung door I already had, I wondered if I could just cut it in half vertically and have it open from the middle. I went ahead and cut it and it worked perfectly. Then I pin-hinged the half door that was now free and had a perfectly working double door that would swing out instead of in and would not take up much room. I was ecstatic.

In this picture you can see where I tried the walls in place with the door and a few of the fixtures to confirm that yes, it will work just fine! I haven't glued on the wall mounted water tank yet but you can see the pipe that it will connect to. Through the door you can also see that I have finished the wall on the other side of the workroom. You'll get a better idea of the paper in future pics. Keep in mind that there is another 7" side wall that will run down the whole length of the post office. I have left that off in order to have more room to work and probably won't glue it on until I am finished with everything else.

The next morning, before getting back to work on the Post Office, I took the time to read through some of my favourite blogs and, guess what??? On the Studio E blog from a few days before, Elizabeth had also cut a door in half for her bathroom. I thought that was so funny!! If I had read her blog the day before I wouldn't have felt so nervous about cutting my own door. Well, it worked out in the end.

With that done, I then cut out the sill plate of the door and realized that, by doing that, I now didn't have any "door stop" for the doors to close against. Simple fix for that - add a little door stop across the top. Also, there was a little space between the doors when closed, left by the width of the saw cut. Now, what self-respecting elf wants to be sitting on the toilet knowing that anyone can see through that gap? That required me to apply a trim to one door, hanging halfway over the edge so when the two doors were closed, the gap would be covered. Privacy restored! I painted both sides of the doors and trim with 2 coats of white.

Here is a picture of the outside of the door that clearly shows the trim that covers that space between, before I painted the doors. It also shows what the walls of the workroom will look like. I haven't decided yet what I will use for the doorknobs. I have a few possibilities in mind.

The inside of the bathroom is painted red, as is the outside of the front door.

So now I will take some time to sit and watch paint dry before I get on to the next steps.

I hope you've enjoyed this part of the process. I wish I could tell you what I might reveal in next week's post but, with the way my mind works, I'll probably be the last one to know!! Until then - keep safe, keep healthy and keep making minis! TTFN!! - Marilyn D.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Introducing...The North Pole Postal Service...

...or at least the beginnings of it anyway. In my last post I mentioned I had started a new project. Yes, I am aware that I have many unfinished ones but that's what Finish Fridays are for, right? Any of you who have been following my work will know how much I love all things Christmas. My past Christmas projects were a couple of my favourite pieces to work on. So, the idea behind the new project has actually been percolating for several years now.

I have many fond memories of the window displays in the Eaton's, Hudson Bay and Sears windows at Christmas each year when I was a child. We had moved from Prince Edward Island to CFB Borden in Ontario when I was 5 years old and lived there for 6 years before returning to the Maritimes. A couple of times during our stay there, my parents packed us in the car and drove us to Toronto for a day of Christmas shopping. I was so captivated by the Christmas window displays and they have stayed with me all these years. A few years ago I did a search for vintage Christmas window displays and reignited my desire to make some myself.

The projects I have planned are actually 5 separate ones - three of which will mimic ones that have existed in the past as Christmas window displays from the Hudson Bay store but the first and last ones are figments of my own imagination. With these 5 projects I will be telling a whole story. Of course, it might take 5 years to tell the whole story but what a fun 5 years it will be!! So - I guess we should get started:

#1 in the "North Pole Series" will be the North Pole Postal Service - an "authorized agent" of Canada Post. After all, it all starts with millions of letters arriving and someone has to sort them all and make sure they get to the right person!! Okay, the letters to St. Nick do outnumber the rest by about a million to one but still...

First stage - planning. In my little brain I pictured the North Pole Postal Service building to look like one of those extra large rural mail boxes so I went searching for sizes. Turns out, the size is typically 8.5 inches wide by 22 inches long by 11 inches high. I could work with that!! Although those are outside measurements, my building will have an interior floor space of 8.5 by 22 inches. I cut out a piece of Bristol board (poster board to some?) to try out floor plans. Notice the little piece with cubby holes that I will be using in the front part of the post office to hold incoming mail.

Yup - that size will work. The front 11 inches will be for the customer service side of things. Then there will be a dividing wall which will take up 1/4" so the back section will be 10 3/4 inches. In the back part we will have a desk for St. Nick, an employee washroom, a loading area where the big bags of mail will come in - and all the little details necessary to properly run this little post office.

My DH and I cut out the pieces from 1/4" MDF. The floor is, of course, 8.5 x 22 inches. The two sides are 7 x 22. Then I cut a front and back piece 9" wide (since they will go to the outside of the sides they are 1/2" wider) by 11" tall, I then placed them up against the sides and used a piece of cardboard to mark a curve that would start at the top of the sides and curve up to the 11" height. It seemed to work well, even if my cuts aren't the straightest. That's what my sander is for. *smile* The middle wall is only 8.5 inches but needed to match the curve of the ends so the clear plastic top will fit over the curves and the post office interior will be viewed from the top. Make sense? Don't worry - it will eventually.

I started planning the floors first. I had designs in mind and started by cutting 1" white squares and 1/4 " red and green strips from card stock. I also used my Cricut to cut out the logo for the North Pole Corporation. The customer service side floor started at the back where the employees will be waiting on customers. Their side of the counter will have large square tiles.

Moving into the customer area itself, a large inlay of the North Pole Corporation's logo will take front and centre. It was originally planned with 9 reindeer but Comet went off to find his feed bag and Rudolph went off to play reindeer games. Good thing too because 9 reindeer would not have fit into this section of the floor!

Front floor area done! On to the back. I wanted the three areas at the back to have different but coordinating designs. I glued a border around the outside walls and defined the loading dock and bathroom areas as well. Then I started again with 1" white squares but cut the strips of 1/4" green and red into 2 1/4" long strips so the main part of the floor would look like the red and green were woven over and under.

I used a simple "candy cane stripe" design for the bathroom floor and, for the area just inside the loading dock, I opted for the darker colours only so they wouldn't show dirt as much, what with all the deliveries that take place! Then I painted the inside walls of the end pieces, both sides of the interior dividing wall, and the top part of the walls in the customer service area a nice bright red. When these were all dry I glued the end walls, the middle wall and one side wall in place and glued the floors inside. Thankfully, they fit perfectly! Whew! - that was a relief.

The doors aren't installed here. I just set them in place to try them out. By the way - again, those of you who know me do understand how often I use the "fly by the seat of my pants" technique in my mini-making. Perhaps you will notice how the top of the mail cabinet is almost exactly the height of the side walls. Yup - I got lucky with that one!! Did not measure in advance. Did not even give it a thought. I must have a golden horseshoe stuck somewhere in my anatomy! All that said - I did plan for at least some of the lighting so have drilled holes where I expect to need them. The fitting of the lighting - or at least the wiring for the lighting will be my next step. Hopefully I will have a lighting success story to share in my next week's post. Keep your fingers crossed for me!! Until then, keep safe, keep healthy, keep making minis! TTFN!! - Marilyn D.