Double-Duty Dollhouse

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This article is from Issue 69 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Flip-up floor panels. Pressing the back edge lifts the front, revealing secret storage in the base.

A not-so-big home for dolls or books, with a secret storage spot

The problem with kids isn’t just that they grow up so quickly, it’s also that they quickly outgrow the gifts you build for them. Here’s a dual-purpose project designed to pass the test of time. In “play” mode, you have a fully functional dollhouse with rooms sized to hold commonly available lightweight boxes. But this multi-colored mansion can easily serve as a bookcase when its dollhouse days are over.

Like any good dollhouse, this one has enough architectural detail to inspire fun play time: brightly colored rooms, windows, doors, and multiple levels. Construction materials are pretty basic: plywood, iron-on edging, solid wood trim and a few pieces of clear acrylic.

Online Extra

For complete SketchUp drawings, including the jigs used to paint the walls, go to and select the “Project Plans” tab.

House raising: walls, floors, windows & doors, plus paint & trim

Though the joinery and materials in this project mark it as a bookcase, architectural details make the construction process a little unusual. Follow these construction steps:

1 Cut the base, walls, floors, and compartment bottom to finished sizes. Leave the tilt-up bottom floor panels (see page 53) for the very end.

2 Apply the iron-on veneer to the front edges of the walls and floors, as shown in the drawing.

3 Cut the dadoes where the walls and floors join. Test-fit the wall and floor joints for snug, square assembly.

4 Cut the window and door openings. Sand the bottom edges of all door openings flush with the floor dadoes (see photo on facing page).

5 Cut and assemble the mitered casings for all the windows and doors. Rabbet the casings to fit the sawn openings.

6 Prefinish the walls and casings with spray enamel, masking the edges of the openings as shown at left. Top off the pieces with a coat of clear lacquer.

7 Install the door and window casings on interior wall openings using glue.

8 Assemble the case (see photo, below).

9 Paint and install the back of the case.

10 Assemble and then raise the roof (see page 52). Paint, then install the trim.

11 Cut, score, and install the acrylic windows. Then, attach the exterior window casings.

12 Install the tapered cleats for tilt-up floor panels. Carefully measure and fit the tilting floor panels on the first floor.

Eliminate alignment errors. After applying veneer tape to the front edges of the walls and attic floor, cut the dadoes using a miter gauge outfitted with an auxiliary fence and a stop.
Smooth the sill. Trim covers the rough-sawn edges around the windows and doors, but the bottom edge of each doorway remains exposed. To sand the bottoms flush with the dadoes, set a pair of scrapwood guides into the floor dadoes as shown.

Mask, then spray. Finishing the rooms is easier now than after assembly, but you’ll need to mask off the rabbets, grooves, and dadoes to ensure a solid glue bond. Custom-made masking blocks keep paint off a 3⁄16" strip around windows and doors.

Prefab window & door casings

To start, mill about 40' of 1⁄2 × 1⁄2" trim stock. As you tape and glue the mitered window trim pieces together, make certain that the joints are tight and the assembly flat. After the glue has cured, sand each door and window frame smooth, and then paint the three outer faces. Rabbet the inside (bare) edges of the window and door frames. Adjust the depth of the window casing rabbets so that the acrylic fits between the inner and outer frames. To make a pair of door casings, saw a double-length door casing assembly in half, using a miter box and model saw.

Final framing: adding the back & roof

Made from 1⁄4" plywood, the back stiffens the case assembly when glued and nailed to walls and floors. After installing it, cut the roof panels to finished size and groove their rear edges to fit over the back’s top edges. Join the roof panels together by screwing and gluing them to the ridge cap. Then install the back, screwing into outer walls, as shown below. When adding the decorative cornice and rake board trim, feel free to develop your own design and color scheme.

Tack the back. After cutting the back to fit, and painting the front to match your rooms, attach it to the case using glue and pin nails. Mark the locations of the floors so that your pins don’t miss their target.
Square peak. I temporarily set a piece of 1⁄4" plywood in the roof panel grooves and used a shop-made right-angle brace to make sure the roof panels were aligned and perfectly square before joining them to the ridge cap.

Block-guided drill bit. To secure the roof to the outer walls, I needed to drill angled pilot holes through the roof and into the outer walls. Using a 3⁄8" pocket-hole drill bit I started the holes perpendicular to the surface, then used an angled guide block to finish the hole. After installing the screws, plug the holes, trim them flush, and sand smooth.

Window glazing

The last few steps qualify as “punch-list items” in carpentry parlance–small details that make a difference–so take your time.

To create kid-safe windows I used 1⁄8"-thick acrylic. After cutting the acrylic to fit, I cut shallow grooves to simulate muntins, using a blade that cuts a flat-bottom kerf. Fit the acrylic in the window opening, and then install the exterior window casing as shown.

Muntin maker. Using a pushblock for support, cut 1⁄64"-deep kerfs (just enough to score the surface) in the acrylic panels to simulate muntins.
Press-fit windows. Insert the acrylic windows with the grooves facing inward, and glue the outer window trim assemblies in place on the outside walls.

Secret stash: fitting the flip-up floors

In order for the compartments to be a secret, the floor panels must fit perfectly. Measure the floor openings and then subtract just 1⁄16" from the dimensions to size each floor panel’s depth and width. Allow for solid wood trim on front edges, with 1⁄4 × 1⁄8" rabbets to fit over the top edge of the base.

Take a moment to fill in any remaining gaps. I plugged the dadoes in the underside of the roof and on either edge of the compartments with filler strips and then dabbed on a bit of finish to match the surrounding wood.


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