Introduction: Vintage A-Frame Dollhouse (collapsable)
A few years ago I stumbled upon this blog post on Dinosaurs and Robots. Now that I have a daughter, I was reminded of this post and decided take up the project and build it for her as a christmas present. Being a fan of instructables.com I decide I would document the project here too, but this is my first instructable so bear with me!
Because the original drawing was published in the American Sunset Magazine (December, 1961) all the measurements are imperial. I live in Germany so I first had to convert all measurements from imperial to metric. While doing so, I also had to take the standard measurements of wooden parts that are sold here in Europe, into account. I made new drawings based on these metric measurements, but you can of course still build one using imperial measured parts. The fact that I had to convert everything made me to build the whole house in my head in advance. This was actually pretty useful, because I didn't have any major problems or surprises while building it. According to the old plans:
The house takes dolls of a common size, ¾ inch to one foot in scale.
Which means a scale of 1:16. In my version the ground floor has a hight of 150 millimeter which would be 2,4 meter in real life. Pretty good I would say. For 1:12 scale interior or dolls the house might a bit too small.
Cool thing is the fact that the two roof parts can be folded out creating a lot of room to play in and around the house. Afterwards you just put all the toys back in the house, flip up the roof parts and pick the whole thing up to put it a side.
I drew out everything on the computer in 1:1 scale for easy measurement. Using the few dimensions that were given on the initial plan I worked out detailed plans for the two different A-frames (two on the outside, one in the middle), the roof, the walls, the ground and first floor. The whole dollhouse will be made up of just a few parts:
- Plywood: 5 mm and 6 mm thick
- Slants: 15×5 mm and 20×5 mm in different lengths
- Dowel: Ø 5 mm and 180 mm in length
- Piano hinges: two pieces of at least 600 mm (I used a brass one with a width of 32 mm)
- Scraps of the dowel and plywood can be used for the stairs
Apart from that you are going to need some tools and other material:
- hand saw (a japanese saw –dozuki or ryoba– works wonders too!)
- jigsaw (or laser cutter)
- drill and small drill bit for wood
- some small nuts and bults for the hinges (I used brass M3×10 mm countersunk bolts with matching nuts and washers)
- wood glue
- carpenter's square, ruler and a pencil
- maybe some paint or varnish
Luckily I have a FabLab in my neighbourhood (Die Dingfabrik in Cologne, Germany) where I could have the walls and all the plywood parts cut out and even decorated with a laser cutter. Sadly, by the time I wanted to do so, the laser cutter was out of order so I had to do them by hand: I used my japanese saw and scrap piece of wood as guides. Worked like a charm!
Step 1: The New Plans
I cannot tell you to go out and buy 5 pieces of this, 2 pieces of that and 10 pieces of that, because of all the different ways the wood is sold. I have made a list of all the pieces I needed and you can figure out yourself how much you will actually need to buy.
I — EXTERIOR A-FRAME (2 PIECES)
- 15×5 mm in different lengths; 167 mm (2 pcs.), 267 mm, and 283 mm (4 pcs.)
- 20×5 mm in 439 mm length (4 pcs.)
- 5 mm plywood gusset
II — INTERIOR A-FRAME
- 20×5 mm in 439 mm length (4 pcs.)
- 5 mm plywood gusset
- 5 mm plywood wall (No. 1)
III — GUSSETS (5 mm plywood)
- 140×144 mm (3 pcs.)
IV — RIDGE POLE
- Ø 5 mm and 180 mm in length
V — WALLS (5 mm plywood)
- 405×150 mm
- 325×150 mm
- 244×150 mm
- 155×150 mm
VI — LOFT FLOOR and BOTTOM (6 mm plywood)
- 252×375 mm (Loft Floor)
- 405×910 mm (Bottom)
VII — ROOF (6 mm plywood)
- 456×810 mm (2 pcs.)
VIII — HINGES + MOUNTING PARTS
- Piano hinges of at least 600 mm in length (2 pcs.)
- Proper nuts and bolts for the hinges (20 pcs. of countersunk M3×10 brass bolts with nuts and washers)
Below you will find the PDF documents of all the necessary parts and some drawings to see how everything should been put together. You can use these drawings and print them out (do not scale them) to use them as guides.
Step 2: Get Cracking: the Frames (pt. 1)
I started working on the exterior A-frames because they are the most complex parts and after they are done, practically half the dollhouse is done. I chose to use beech wood (instead of pine), because the wood is harder and denser. So it will have prettier edges, fray less and will not get dents as fast as the much softer pine wood.
First I bought enough slats and cut them to length. Because the frames are basically two upside down V's with a few parts sandwiched in between, I made the two V's first. Using the gussets as guides I glued the V's together and added the crossbeams and the other parts. You can also add some clear plexiglass for the windows, but I wanted to keep this all wood, so I didn't.
As you can see in the drawings most of the slat ends need to be angled, but in order to get all those angles right and tidy I glued the frames together first. After that I cut off those tiny parts by using the other frame parts as guides. The cut-out for the ridge pole is made after all the frames are done. That way you get a nice straight edge and it will fit together much better in the end.
Lesson learned: Attach the outside slats on one side first. Then glue in the slats in the middle and after that the other outside slats. That way you don't have the problem of trying to get the middle slats in between the other parts without smearing wood glue all over the place.
Step 3: The Frame (pt. 2) and Stairs
After I made the two exterior frames and prepared some parts for the interior frame it was time to get that last one done too. To do so I first needed one of the walls to put in between the two upside down V's I prepared in step 1.
The wall (No.1 – 405×150 mm) replaces the bottom and top cross beams. Together with the gusset and a wooden dowel it all gets sandwiched between the outer slats and glued together. In this case I already added the angled sides to the wall because removing them after glueing it all together would be too much work and I would run the chance of ruining the shape of the outside beams. Also, Leaving it angled was easier to get it sawn from the whole plywood board.
From scrap pieces of the wood I used for the gussets, I created the sides for a small staircase. As steps I used scraps from the dowel. I drilled through the sides and glued the dowels in place. With enough glue I stuck it all together and sanded the edges smooth.
Step 4: Finishing the Frames, Adding the Walls and Laying the First Floor
So, now you have three solid A-frames (see what I did there?) that need a little bit of prepping before they can be attached to the base plate. To give the whole house more stability the frames will be connected at the top by a ridgepole. To make sure all three recesses line up nice and straight I clamped them together and cut out all three at once.
After that I glued the frames to the base and the ridgepole to the frames. Using a carpenter's square I made sure all walls were straight. At the bottom on the outside of the frames I used small pieces of a quater-round rod to give the walls a bit more surface to be glued to.
After the three frames were in place, I glued in all the walls. If you use a laser cutter for the walls you can create tabs and slots to glue them together and get them aligned well, but I just glued them with butt joints. Again using the carpenter's square I drew out lines to get it all nice and straight and in the right position. With all the walls in place I added the first floor, put some books on top and let it all dry overnight.
Step 5: Nuts, Bolts, Hinges and a Roof
The whole house on itself is ready yet, but it still needs a roof. For transportation and for storage. The two plywood parts used for the roof need to be the exact same thickness as the baseplate. That way the hinges won't get destroyed the second your kid crawls over the folded out roof parts. I had the parts roughly cutout at the hardwarestore and made the angled edges at home using a jig saw.
For the hinges I went with simple brass piano hinges and attached them using brass M3×10 mm countersunk bolts with matching nuts and washers. Before attaching them to the baseplate the hinges needed some work to get around the middle A-frame and one wall. Using a small hacksaw I cut out the two pieces and filed off the sharp edges. Then I layed out the hinges and drew out where I needed to drill. I used a 3 millimeter drill bit and countersunk every hole in the baseplate from the bottom and attached the hinges. Same procedure for the pieces of roof.
With the roofs attached the dollhouse is practically done. You can paint it, stain it, or just leave it bare. I decided to only paint the roof (with a spare can of rustoleum I had lying around) in a dark red/brown. If I had known I would leave it all blank I would not have used a ballpoint to mark everything, because I needed to sand that all away. Also, I would not have used putty to close some gaps in the frames. All in all I have learned a lot and if I ever make another dollhouse it will be much better.