Introduction: Haunted Treehouse Miniature From Commonly Found Stuff
This is a fun stuck-at-home project for kids and grown-ups alike, made from stuff that you probably already have, or could easily acquire at a grocery store. The aesthetics were inspired by Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
Hope you like it!
- Cardboard from empty cereal box or similar
- Bamboo skewers
- Wood glue
- Masking tape
- Black dye
- Rock about 3 inches across
- Several sheets of printer paper
- 2 cups of Magic Paste (more on that in a minute)
- Wheat flour
Black paper, or a black marker
(Optional) Various household spices (black pepper, baking cocoa, etc.)
- (Optional) Watercolor paints (drug store quality is fine)
Ingredients for Magic Paste
- 1/4 cup corn starch
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups water
- Sharp Scissors
- Paint Brushes (I used a 2-inch and a 3/4 inch)
- Whisk or Silicon Brush
- Sauce Pan
- Brush with stiff plastic bristles such as veggie scrubber or hairbrush (Important!)
Optional, but helpful tools and materials:
Step 1: Make Your Magic Paste
I discovered (and named) Magic Paste a few weeks ago while I was experimenting with homemade wallpaper paste. It works as a glue, a glaze, and a varnish. It's also nontoxic and dirt cheap to make. What could be better?
Place 1/4 c of corn starch and 1/4 c of sugar in a sauce pan.
Stir the powders together with your fingers, then add 2 c water.
Place on stove over medium-high heat, stirring with a whisk or silicon brush.
At this point it looks like plain water. I discovered that a technique of 5 second stirring, 5 seconds resting, speeds up the cooking process. Stir, rest. Stir, rest. Several minutes may pass where it seems as if nothing is happening. Keep going.
A warning: as soon as it starts to thicken, it will also start to bubble and before you know it, your plain water will turn into a pot of spattering, volcanically-hot goop. Please be careful.
Keep stirring as it thickens. Once it reaches the consistency of pudding, take it off the heat and let it cool.
Magic Paste will keep about a week. Storing it in the fridge will help it last longer, but will also make it lumpy. Give it a little whisk to smooth the lumps out somewhat or warm it back up to make it smooth again. Smoothness yields a better result when you're on the "wood paper" step. Otherwise, the lumps don't matter.
Step 2: Make the Framework for Your Tree
For this part, you'll need the masking tape, bamboo skewers and your rock. Before you begin, please blunt your bamboo skewers. They're really sharp! I used wire cutters, but you can also wrap the ends in a little masking tape.
Pro Tip: To save time, tear off about a dozen 1.5" lengths of tape and stick them to the edge of the table to use as you need.
Your tree should be relative to the size of your rock, so think about that and plan ahead as you start to construct your framework. Start with a single skewer. This is your first tree branch. I didn't have an exact shape in mind when I started, but you can use a picture for a reference if you like.
Decide where the first bend of your first skewer should be (e.g. where the trunk of the tree curve out and becomes a branch). Wrap that section with a 1.5" length of tape, then bend it to the desired shape. If it breaks, don't worry, just add more tape and fix it. Warning: Never bend/break a skewer without taping it first! This will result in the production of about a billion sharp splinters. Keep 'em covered!
My tree had four branches of various lengths, with various bends.
Pro Tip: Depending on the thickness of your skewers, you might need a pair of pliers to make a bend that is less than two inches from the end.
Gather two of your branches together. When you're happy with the placement, put a short length of skewer between them for a "spacer", then tape together. Add the rest of your branches, wrapping the "trunk" with tape, leaving about three inches uncovered at the bottom for your roots. Determine the number and placement of your "roots." Wrap and break off any extraneous skewers. Wrap, then bend the remaining skewers to fit around your rock.
Step 3: Adding Thickness to Your Framework
Snip off about a dozen 1/4 inch slivers of tape and stick them to your sticking place (i.e. table edge.)
Tear one of your sheets of paper into 1 inch wide strips.
This is where your skewers start to look like a tree. Adhere one of your strips to the base of a branch with a piece of tape, wrapping the paper about a third of the way up. Tear off any excess, then secure it with another piece of tape. Repeat this step with your other branches, and then the place on the trunk where the trunk meets the branches.
Cut an 18" length of yarn. Do the same with the yarn, starting with one single branch. Branches are always thickest where they connect to the tree, then taper to a narrow point. It might take several layers of yarn at the base to build up thickness. (Double up the yarn to speed up the process.) This is where you'll be glad the skewers are no longer sharp! Wind the yarn around and around moving up to the end, making little "knobs" of thickness, especially at bends for a more realistic look. Cut if necessary, secure at the end with tape. Repeat for each branch, down the trunk and around each root. If you don't have yarn, continue using strips of paper, experimenting with different widths to achieve the tapered effect.
Step 4: Putting the Bark on Your Tree
Take 1/2 c of your (hopefully cool by now) Magic Paste and put it in a bowl. To this add:
- 2 T wheat flour
- 2 T glue
Stir the mixture. It should be the consistency of a milkshake. If it's too thin, add another tablespoon of flour.
Now for the color.
Feel free to experiment. Baking cocoa yields a nice rich brown, cinnamon a lighter, more reddish shade.
For mine, I used 1 tsp of cinnamon and a pinch of black pepper for texture. It seemed a little too light, so I added a drizzle of black dye. It dried significantly darker than it looked at this point, so be aware of that. Next time I think I'll throw in a dash of potting soil, just to see what happens.
Using a small paintbrush, smear the goop onto your tree. It covers and sticks really well, so this is a pretty quick process. Once it's coated, set it somewhere warm to dry. After 8 hours or so, it'll be dry to the touch, but spongy underneath. Even on a really hot day, mine took a solid 24 hours to dry completely. It will be rock hard and smooth when it's done. You should have left-over goop. Store it in the fridge. You'll need it later.
Step 5: Making the "Wood" for Your House
Lay a sheet of printer paper on a protective layer such as newspaper or plastic wrap. Brush on a thick coating of Magic Paste using your 2" brush. (Didn't take pictures of this. Clear goop on white paper wasn't very interesting.) Make sure to cover the entire surface.
Take your stiff bristled brush (I used a veggie scrubber) and drag it over the surface of the paper, the long way, in one sweeping motion. Repeat, overlapping slightly until you've gone over the entire surface. You can't see it now, but you are making a wood grain pattern on the paper. Make two more sheets and let dry. (Completely dry. Don't rush this step!) If you used a brush (such as a hairbrush) that you want to keep, rinse it now.
Mix a couple tablespoons of dye with an equal amount of water. This is where the magic of Magic Paste comes from. Brush the mixture over a test patch of the paper, revealing your wood grain pattern. Experiment with dye/water ratios and brushing techniques until you're happy with the result.
My black dye looked brown on the paper. I added some charcoal (burnt wood ground to a powder and mixed with water) and liked that result a little better. The charcoal mixture by itself was also pretty interesting. I also tried tea, coffee, cocoa, cinnamon and water colors. The water colors yielded a so-so result. Cocoa mixed with coffee was also more or less workable. The others were a bust. Oh well.
For this project I used two sheets of the black dyed paper.
Step 6: Making Your House
While your wood paper dries, make your house.
So I thought about the house a lot. I looked at pictures of cottages and castles and cabins. I tried to draw a prototype, got discouraged, and decided to scrap this whole project. Then I had an epiphany. A house is basically just a box with a roof. Any child could draw it. I would make a simple box type house with 4 walls and a roof. To make it spooky, I would distort the shape of the front and back. Everything else remains the same.
Using your tree as a reference, cut a pointed rectangle that will become the front of your house out of your cardboard/cereal box. Distort the shape as pictured, with your scissors. Trace your shape, front to front, on another piece of cardboard, then cut it out to create a mirrored version. It's important to keep the plain side out.
Using your house front as reference, cut a rectangle that is as tall as one side of your house and as wide as you want your house to be. Now cut a second rectangle that is as tall as the other side of the house and equal in length to the first rectangle. Label your pieces as pictured. Repeat with the roof, keeping in mind that the roof will overhang the sides. Mine does so by about half an inch.
Line up a dozen or so inch-long pieces of tape. Lay the house front and one corresponding side (plain side up) flat on your work surface, edges butted. Tape them together. Now do the other side. Tape the back of the house edge-to-edge to the correct corresponding side. Now stand up the pieces and fold them into your 3D shape, using tape as needed to secure.
Drag the roof rectangles over the edge of the table to curve them. Secure them to your house with tape.
Pro tip: If the cardboard starts to misalign and slip as you work, stick your finger inside to brace it from behind.
Once you're happy with your shape, secure every joint and the edges of your roof with more tape.
Lay your house on your tree. If you'd like one of your branches to come through the side, as I did, cut a slit with scissors, then several more slits radiating out from that one in a circular shape. (Check the picture for clarification.) Poke your branch through the slit. Do it again, with another branch if needed. Pat yourself on the back because that looks really cool.
Step 7: Embellishing Your House Design
Once I got this far, my confidence was built up, so I decided to make my house a little more complex.
Make another house shape, roughly 3/4 the size of the first one, this time with straight sides. The roof on one side of the "little house" needs to be flush, with no overhang in order to fit against the "big house."
Cut a triangle shape out of one side of the roof of the "big house" that corresponds to the size and shape of the peak of the "little house's" roof. (Again, check the pic for clarification. It's easier to show than describe.) The bottom edge of each house should be flush, as should the back sides.
Because the "big house" has such a wonky shape, the "little house" doesn't fit evenly against it. That's okay! For the roof part, cover the gap with tape. For the front, patch it with a little strip of cardboard and more tape. Nobody will know the difference!
Plan where your house will fit in your tree, making the appropriate slits for tree branches.
Step 8: Adding Your Wood Siding
Going against the grain of your wood paper, cut the sheet into strips. Mine were about 1/3 inch wide and gluing them on took me more than two hours. If you're fine with that and like the look, make yours that size. If you want it a little speedier, make your strips wider. Don't worry if they're not perfectly straight as you cut. The more crooked the better.
Starting at the bottom of your house, use Magic Paste to glue down a strip of paper. This is easiest if you coat both surfaces, then smear some more over the top. Don't worry about making a mess, it will dry almost perfectly clear, leaving a mild satin finish. Leave about a half inch over hang on the corners, then cut to size. Repeat, overlapping the next strip. Because this is an old, run down house, the siding looks better crooked. Keep that in mind as you work.
Pro tip: use a shortened skewer to position the strips as needed. Try not to touch them with your fingers, as they will stick and pull away.
For the front of the house, I did each side separately, trimming the edges neatly. It took forever and I started to get impatient, so for the back and sides, I wound the strips around, as far as they would go, wrapping them over the edges. I can't really tell a difference. Go with your gut.
Once you're finished, re-cut your slits by looking for them from the inside, then reposition your house onto your tree so it will dry in the correct shape. The Magic Paste will make it stiff when it dries.
Step 9: Add Your Roof
Once your siding is dry, take your house off the tree. Cut another sheet of wood paper, this time with 3/4 inch strips that go with the grain.
Using more Magic Paste, start by gluing strips to the underside of your overhang on the smaller section of the house. Wrap them over the edge the long way. Move onto the top of the roof. Start with the peak, and glue down a strip the meets the long edge, leaving an inch long overhang at the end. Fold it under, so that it looks like a wooden board. Do it again, overlapping the next strip. Fold it under at a slightly different length from the first. One you're finished, move on to the roof of the main section, folding under and overlapping those strips on top of the first ones you laid, so that it looks like a real roof. Over coat with Magic Paste.
Save your leftover wood paper. You're going to need it.
Step 10: Anchoring Your Tree to Your Rock With Cinnamon Paste
The reason I chose a rock for the base of this project was pretty simple: rocks are heavy. Well, heavy and easy to find. Plus it looks cool.
Double over a piece of plastic wrap. (If you don't have plastic wrap, use a throw-away plastic container.) Pour a little puddle of glue about the same size as your rock onto the plastic. Add an equal volume of cinnamon. Fold the plastic over into a little pouch and squish to mix the two together. Elmer's brand wood glue works the best for making cinnamon paste. I don't know why, but it yields a result more clay-like and less sticky than other brands I've tried.
Check your paste. It should be stiff enough so that when you drag through it with a stick or a butter knife, it comes away clean. If it's still thin, add a little more cinnamon and knead. If you used Elmer's brand, you should be able to roll it into a clean ball. If not, avoiding touching it with your hands. Use a skewer or stick to smear it.
Determine where you want your tree on your rock. Consider the angle of how your house will sit. Mark it with a pencil, if you like.
Put a little wood glue onto the bottom of your tree roots, then a thick layer of cinnamon paste. Squish it firmly onto the rock so that you get good adhesion. Move it around to position it if you have to. Once you're set with the placement, neaten the cinnamon paste by pushing it under the tree roots with a popsicle stick or skewer. If you like, add a little extra taper to your roots with more cinnamon paste. Scrape off any excess paste from your rock, then coat the roots with your leftover bark goop. Clean up any mess with a wet brush.
Let dry overnight.
Step 11: Making Doors and Windows
Take two leftover strips from the roof wood paper and glue them in half the long way with Magic Paste. Fold them in half again the long way and glue. You will now have two thick, but narrow strips for making the frames of your door and windows.
If you have black paper, cut a one inch strip a few inches long. If not, color a section of white paper with a marker, pencil or black paint, then cut it to size.
Decide where you want your door and windows. I held the strip of paper against the house, eyeballing the size of each, snipping at the squares until they seemed right. Remember that windows on the first floor are always bigger than windows on the top floor. You will be gluing your window/door frames to the black paper, so keep that in mind as well when sizing your squares. Notice that I made my door match the wonky angles of the front of the house.
To make a window, cut a 3 inch long strip of your prepared wood paper. Coat a black square with Magic Paste. Lay the strip on one vertical side of the square, leaving a space at the top that is the same size as the width of two strips. (Huh?? Check the pic, it'll make sense.) Snip the strip flush with the bottom edge of the black paper square. Cut another strip the same length as the first. Glue one strip to each vertical side, then size another piece of strip to fit along the top. Repeat with the bottom. I swear, this was by far the easiest way to do this. Lay your finished square to dry on a piece of plastic wrap. It will stick to anything else.
Repeat with each square. When they are dry, glue them with more Magic Paste onto your house. Again, don't worry about the mess. It disappears when it dries because it's... MAGIC.
Note: My door went over a slit that I had cut for one of my tree branches. Because of this, I had to make the final adjustment to the position of my house at this point. When you're ready, do the same. It might require a little extra snipping here and there. If you cut slits that aren't being covered by a door or window, tape them together on the underside, and paste them down with extra siding paper.
Step 12: And You're Done!
Paper over any mistakes/tears/breaks. If you like you can do a light, brown watercolor wash to bring out the wood grain even more. Use a darker color on the roof.
This was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun, too. Hopefully now I can get the theme song to Pee-Wee's Playhouse out of my head.
Thanks for looking at my Instructable! Please post a picture if you make one yourself. I'd love to see it.
Participated in the
Glue & Tape Speed Challenge