Introduction: Steampunk Giant Cardboard Letter Dollhouse

Cardboard and hot glue. Steam, rivets and a sense of adventure. Ok, you don't need the steam and rivets but you can make this cool monogram initial display piece.

Spin it around to reveal the dollhouse for miniature figures inside. Steampunk Polly Pocket.

Great to make for young aspiring lady engineers and tinkerers. Where else can you be inspired to work on the electrical or mechanical systems of a dollhouse?

Personalize the giant letter with the character of your choice and "emboss" the name on the base.

Step 1: Cardboard and Glue and Paint...

etc., etc., etc.,

If you are of the scientific mind, the following should not be hard to procure...

You need:

cardboard - I just reused the shipping boxes that I had ready to recycle. The nonglossy print boxes are preferable for salvaging material from since that takes paint and glue better without any further prep. Do remove any stickers or plastic packaging tape.

glue - I used a hot glue gun and regular craft of white glue.

paint - I used acrylic paint for easy cleanup.

I used some plastic bendy straws to make the detail pipes.

I used some plastic bottle and juice container caps rescued from the recycle bin to make the hubs for the steam engine drive arms.

and you need a dowel or pencil stub to use as the pivot rod for the piece. I used one of those IKEA pencils, oops, I forgot I had a few in my pocket...wait, a few? and those measuring tapes too...

CAUTION: Scissors and other sharp instruments involved. Hot glue can burn. Have a cool wet towel around for emergencies.

Step 2: Build Up Your Character...

You can make your giant letter as fancy as you want. Just look through some images of your letters online in an ornate or plain style to get an idea of what you want to make.

Sketch the outline of the giant letter out on your cardboard. I used the size of the mailing box as limits of how big the finished letter was going to be. You can make it larger or smaller. The outside outline of your character is easier to make if your reduce the number of breaks or angles you include.

Cut out two copies of your giant letter. Use a utility knife or heavy duty shears. Be careful.

You want to glue laminate them together for a thick panel. When the glue dries, it will become stiffer. You can actually conserve on materials by using pieces cut to fit next to each other and gluing as the second layer.

Cut out strips of cardboard that will be the thickness of your giant letter.

I used the default width of the sides of the shipping box. They were already creased on the lines and it was a good place to cut the cardboard when scavenging the box.

Get the hot glue gun ready and go around the edges by applying glue and pressing on the side to fit. Go slow and bend the cardboard strip to fit. Crease the cardboard where you will have a sharp break or bend. A pair of pliers helps as a quick bending tool to get a straight line. Overlap and glue one strip to the next so you have a continuous wall for your giant letter.

You can glue in a second layer of cardboard to reinforce the walls that were already glued on.

Go back in and put a bead of hot glue at the joint all around as a reinforcing fillet. You may need to find that you have to reload your glue sticks often as this project takes a lot of hot glue.

Step 3: Make Sure You Have a Good Foundation...

Yeah, yeah, probably not an official use of an official USPS Priority Mail box but it was going into the recycling bin.

I was going to make a real wood base for the giant letter but I thought why not make it all out of cardboard.

Learn to appreciate what the shape of the box tells you. Flare out the sides a bit, glue and trim flat to get a nice beveled base piece.

Reinforce all the sides and top plate by gluing on a second layer of cardboard inside the new shape.

I stacked several layers of cardboard and glued them into a block under the center where the pivot pin will go through.

Cut out a few cardboard circles to build up the mounting base and glue them on. I used a compass to mark out the circles on the cardboard.

Use an awl to start a hole in the center and then push the stubby pencil to fit. You can hot glue one end either to the giant letter or the base. Test to see that it pivots nicely.

Step 4: Look Out...

I had another piece of plastic that I found in the recycling bin.

It would make a nice model window and seemed to fit the shape of the serif on the letter.

Trim so that you have a mounting tab or edge all around the plastic piece.

Cut a hole to fit and finish any exposed raw cardboard edges by hot gluing smooth.

You can make the hole just large enough so you get a good snug press fit when all painted.

Step 5: Get Your Gear On...

I didn't have any spare gears or cogs laying around.

Cutting out a few without a laser cutter or making some with a 3D printer would have been tedious.

The next best thing was to put on a set of drive shafts similar to what you find on a steam engine.

Wait, why does this look like the Valve Steam logo?

To add to the illusion of metal work, we will add on some banding. Cut out thin strips of non corrugated cardboard or thinner layer cardboard. Use a hole punch to punch out holes along its length. Save the dots that you punch out. Glue on the bands on where it looks like a barrel needs to be held together. Dab on dots of glue to adhere the cut out cardboard holes to make rivet bumps. When the bands and dots are set, fillet around with glue to fill up and even out the surfaces.

On the base, sketch out some designs and then go over with hot glue. When painted, they will appear like embossed designs on metal. I like to call this the antique NCR cash register style. I guess you can take the time to really build up the the pattern and to see if you can make something as ornate as acanthus bundles. If you trace the design all at once before each part of the hot glue cools off and hardens, you risk getting a blob when it all pools together.

Be sure to partition out your giant letter like you are subletting a NYC a lot of roomies.

Step 6: Go to Town and Paint Your...

When painting, always prime your pieces with a base layer of primer paint and let dry so the rest of the color finish coats have something to grab onto and will not just soak into the raw cardboard.

Hot glue and glossy surfaces need a dried primer coat first so that any additional paint will stick to it.

I just used the acrylic paint that I seemed to have a lot of. The green I had actually works out well as the patina that shows through on aged copper.

I layered on metallic gold paint and then randomly dry brushed on copper metallic paint to give it the reddish brass hue.

Metallic paints always take a few coats to get a nice even finish.

Hot glue in the final details like the pipes. I used an awl to punch in holes where the pipes were mounted and a pencil to ream it out to fit the straw.

Now furnish and decorate accordingly.

And there you go, make one as fanciful as you like.


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