Realistic Miniature Smouldering Fireplace




Introduction: Realistic Miniature Smouldering Fireplace

About: For 30 years I’ve been software developer. About 7 years ago i moved from large software projects to smaller games where i could express my artistic desires and have more variety in my work. At some point …

Today's build is eerily realistic old stone fireplace with smouldering embers, charred wood and ash.
Using same technique you can create realistic and eye catching campfires or fireplaces for your dioramas, miniatures or dollhouses.

Building it is much easier than it seems, and has very low cost.


* Styrofoam/polystyrene foam
* PVA glue
* Acrylic colors
* Wood dowels or wood stick/rod
* 4x4 ws2812b LED matrix, or red/yellow/amber LED's
* Microcontroller for smart ws2812b LED's. (attiny85,ProMini etc.)

Step 1: ​Styrofoam - Main Shape

Let's create basic shape for the fireplace from styrofoam. I used random old piece i had laying around. You can cut and glue pieces together to form rough shape of your fireplace.
I use hot-glue as my goto glue, works fast and I’ve never had problems with it in later steps. At the moment i don’t have wire cutter, so i use knives, saw or exacto knife to make my cuts.

Step 2: ​Styrofoam - Draw Details

Use pencil to draw your main details and stone directly onto styrofoam. My fireplace is fairytale/fictional styled so i drew stone's accordingly. Don't worry too much just draw stone shapes as they come, they can be crooked, irregular and random.

Step 3: ​Styrofoam - Cutting

Of course we need to cut/gouge out firebox area. I used knives and bit by bit gouged it out . Rough texture inside firebox looks actually good and realistic, so don’t worry about it too much.

Next, using exacto knife add bevel to the edges. Also cutting in some cracks, gaps and cutting out stone corners will add more realism to finished product.

Step 4: ​Styrofoam - Make Stones Pop

Next lets make stones pop, more 3 dimensional.
* First use make shallow cuts along all drawn lines using exacto knife. This will be helpful for the next step.
* Use pencil to make deep grooves along previously cut lines. Cuts make this step easier. This step will make the stones really pop and look realistic.
* Lets use real stones to add realistic texture. Just use random stones, press them hard against the styrofoam imprint their texture to our fireplace. To add more variety you can press harder on some parts and lighter on other.

Finally give the whole thing some sanding. Sanding will help paint to adhere better as well as smoothing out rough edges.

Step 5: Paintjob - Base Coat and Seal

Lets add protective coating. This will be our base coat, primer, as well.
Just mix PVA glue with some acrylic paint and water. It's better to make it a lot darker than the final product will be. Watering it down will help filling all the cracks with our paint.
PVA will add hard protective coating to the whole thing. Let it dry overnight!

Step 6: Paintjob - Stippling

First let's mix our base color. Again mix it little bit darker than the final color should be. For grey stones it's good to add a drop of yellow or brown, or you can try adding some blue instead. Small shade will give more realism.
Old sponge or rough cloth would be great for applying the paint.
Sometimes I’ll tare off some chunks out from sponge, this will add more variety to the texture. After mixing the color start applying it to the stone using stippling motion. Start with very little paint and make some tests on some surface before stippling on the rocks. For the first layer i usually cover most of the surface, but not all. Try to hit the stones using downward motion, so the upper parts and edges will have paint more likely on them.

For the next step add some white paint to the existing mixture and mix it well to get lighter version of your color. Then start applying lighter color using the same stippling motion, but cover less area and give it more variety (stipple on some places more than others).

Repeat same procedure (add white, mix, stipple) for couple more times, until you're happy with the result. Let the paint dry after each layer, water based acrylic paint dries very fast.

Step 7: Paintjob - Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is really cool technique to add lot's of realism to your miniatures. It has really impressive effect and yet it's easy and fun to do.
I like using some older, worn, stiff and flat brushes for this technique.

* Load some white(lighter) paint onto your brush, you really need tiny amount!
* Wipe almost all of it into a rag or paper towel. Brush should be dry and almost without any paint on it after this step.
* Start applying the paint to your rocks using light downward strokes. Just lightly hitting the top sides and raised edges.
* After paint dries you can add another layer of highlight.
This will take your stones to the next level, they will look amazing!

Don’t forget to paint firebox black ;) I added some washed down black paint to the outer edges as well, simulating some soot around firebox.

Step 8: Firewood

Basically any pieces of wood will do. I cut some pieces from wooden rod i had, but you can use dowels or any stick.
Using knife i chopped them down as you would actual firewood. My 'firewood' was too smooth so i used random rock to give it a rough texture, just pressed rocks texture directly onto wood. Finally i chopped some pieces even finer to add more variety.

Step 9: Electronics

In this case let's use 4x4 ws2812b LED matrix (hw-WS2812B-16). It's actually quite cheap, easy to use and gives more freedom when animating smouldering effect later on. Of course you can just use simple red + orange/yellow LED's instead and the effect would be also great.

I was using ESP32 microcontroller while building, and Arduino ProMini in the final version. Connecting it is straight forward but i added couple of wiring examples as well. It's a good practice to place a 300 to 500 Ohm resistor between the Arduino data output pin and the input to module, but it'll work without it as well.
I have'nt written sketch for this project yet, but most of the neopixel flame/lava/plasma sketches i tried look good.

Couple of examples:

Step 10: Hot-Glue

It's time to play with hot-glue!
* Glue LED's on some kind of base. I used random piece of scrap acrylic.
* Layer down hot-glue on some larger log's. So that about 1/3 of log is made up from glue. It's easy to add it in layers, 2..3 layers will do. If placed on LED it gives the illusion that bottom part of the log is smouldering, red hot!

* Cover the LED's with layer of hot-glue, this will transfer diffused light and will give the illusion of glowing embers.

* Start placing firewood. Don't worry about the placement too much, set them more or less as you wold the real fire. Just don't overdo it, don’t cover too much of the LED's. If glue starts to set just add a drop more under the wood you're placing.

You can keep LED's running to see the result better while placing/gluing the wood.

Step 11: Charcoal and Ash

* First lets paint all the wood black. This will be our charcoal. You can leave splotchy and jagged edges between wood and hot-glue. Even add some random dark spots here and there on the glue.

* Mix up some grey to start painting our ash. Water the paint down a little, then it will have some transparency and will be easier to paint. Paint over all bottom parts of the firewood that are near hot-glue. More or less randomly, leaving splashes and splotches here and there.

* You can add some more layers if you wish. Try to create a gradient, so the ash is lighter near the hot-glue (glowing embers).

* Finally use pure white and paint only thin strip just where the wood and glue meet. Add some odd white splotches randomly on the wood and glue.

Realistic smouldering, with glowing embers is now ready! Glue the whole thing in fireplace or wherever you need it in your diorama and you are ready to impress yourself and others!

Step 12: Finishing Up

So here is my version of finished fireplace with all it's surrounding details. I used this in my window still christmas decoration and it is the coolest part on it.

Thank you for your view, i hope you liked my instructable and learned something new!

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    1 year ago

    That is so cool! I'm getting ready to build a dollhouse for my granddaughter, and this will be perfect for what I have in mind. Thank you for a great tutorial!


    1 year ago

    So very wonderful, both the project and the encouraging presentation.


    1 year ago

    You are so talented; what a beautiful creation.
    Thank you so much for sharing; the details are so helpful.
    Bob D


    1 year ago

    Gorgeous!! But as an admittedly low-technology person... I see that it has a wire going out the back of it… but what happens then? Does this go to some kind of battery pack or 12 V adapter or something it plugs into…? what provides the electrical current??


    Reply 1 year ago

    I touched the electronics part in "Step 9". There are a lot of possibilities. For me the micro-controller part is fastest and with most realistic result.
    You can add standard LED's or nowadays you can have fading LED's as well, they are actually quite nice. For powering them you need to do some calculations. Maybe I’ll add some simpler schematics and experiments later. All depends what size fireplace and how many LED's you want to have.

    In my case this fireplace was part of a window decoration that had almost 1000 LED's in it and was all powered with powerful 5v power supply.


    1 year ago

    So much detail! :O Really beautiful work.