Building A Room Box – A Sort of Tutorial

After looking long and hard for a tutorial to follow and coming up empty I just sort went ahead and started building on my own. I have no background in woodworking or carpentry and anything I do is a process of trial and error. I wanted to share what I have been doing and plan to do for others who may also be looking for some help. Just be aware, this is just what I’ve been doing and it seems to be working ok for me but it’s by no means a professional tutorial.  There are times when I may use the wrong term or not know the correct word for something.  If you’re confused about something I’ve said please ask and I’ll do my best to clarify.

Materials:

  • Wood – I would go with something like birch or pine.  You may be able to get it from a hobby store but if you’re building for a larger doll you’re probably going to need to go to a hardware store.  They sell particle board or what they call “craft board”.  You may find this is not the easiest wood to use if you plan on using nails however it is very strong and sturdy
  • A Saw – If you need to cut large pieces a table saw would be easiest.  A small saw like a jigsaw will be very handy.  You don’t want to saw the pieces with a hand saw because it will be too hard to keep the lines straight.
  • Nails
  • Wood Glue (Carpenter Glue)
  • Wood Filler
  • Masking Tape *optional
  • A Drill *optional
  • Paint, paintbrushes, wallpaper or any other supplies you want to use to decorate

The first thing to decide is how big to make the box. The size is going to come down to a few things, first of all, of course, the size of your dolls but then more practically speaking, where you want to put it and how much room you really have for it.

One thing that may help you in determining the size you’ll need and it’s something you can do even if you don’t have your doll or furniture yet is create paper shapes in the sizes of your doll (just a rectangular box in the shape of your dolls height and width) and the furniture. This will give you a very concrete look at how much room you’ll need to do what you want to do and you can use it as a guide when measuring out your pieces.

While I can’t give measurements for every doll I can give you some tips at deciding on the right size for your doll. Things to consider:

  • Do you want your doll to be able to stand up? If so, you’ll need the height of your room box to be at least 2” higher than the height of your doll. 2” is not a lot and I would recommend going taller than that because you want to be able to photograph the doll in the room without having to worry about the top of the room showing. Sure you can always crop it out later but wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t have to? Adding 4-5” is probably the safest way to go. If your doll wears tall hats, measure out the doll’s height with a hat on and add your 4-5” to that measurement.
  • Next is to determine the width of the room. How much room do you want to have across the back of the box? This is where knowing what furniture you’ll be putting into the room comes in handy. Personally, I want the room to at least be as wide across as the doll is tall. Take your doll’s height and add at least 2” to that. Or, take a look at what furniture you’ll want to put in there and add up those measurements. Make sure you add an inch or two of breathing room unless you want everything to be touching!
  • Depth is something you’ll need to give some thought. Where is your room box going to sit? If it’s on a shelf you don’t want it to be hanging too far over the edge or it won’t be stable. But you also want to consider the furniture and your doll’s height. You don’t want their legs to be hanging out of the room when you sit them in a chair. I wouldn’t recommend going any shorter than 15” in depth but if you’ve got a large doll you may want to go much bigger than that. 15” is about the standard for Playscale (1:6) so if you’ve got an SD sized doll, take that into consideration.

Once you’ve decided on the height (length), width and depth of the room, it’s time to cut your pieces. You can decide whether you want your room box to have 2 walls or 3. It’s up to you. If you want to stack your box you may want to give it a roof but realize that putting on a solid roof will cut out the amount of light that goes into the box for pictures. My personal preference is to go with no roof.

When it comes to selecting the wood, you’re going to want to know a few things. First you need to know the length and width of the pieces you need so that you know how much wood to get. Be aware that you will probably have to get these at a hardware store and they probably won’t cut each piece out for you so you’ll have to add up your measurements. Wood tends to come in sizes like 2’x2’ or 2’x4’ and larger. The other thing you need to know is the size of the wood. My recommendation is to use ½” wood for at least the floor. You can use ¼” pieces for the walls but you want the floor to be sturdy and stable. If you’ve got a bigger doll or if you plan on putting on a roof or stacking the box in any way, use ½”. You’ll need to factor the depth of the wood into your overall measurements if you want everything to be nice and flush.  So if you’re attaching the walls to the outer side and you want them to be 12″ high and you’re using 1/2″ wood, you’ll want to cut the piece so that it’s 12.5″ long.

So once you have your wood you’re probably going to need to cut out the actual pieces for your room. Unless you got very lucky and managed to get the pieces in the measurements you need you’ve got one or two giant pieces of wood. Measure out the pieces on your wood. Draw lines on in pencil to use as a guide and remember to make sure they’re straight. If you have very large pieces you may need to find someone with a table saw who can help you out or who will let you use it (unless you have your own table saw of course). Otherwise a jigsaw is a handy tool and you can use that to cut out your pieces.

Jigsaws aren’t all that expensive. I think I paid around $50 for mine on sale at Canadian Tire. If you think you’re going to be doing any other projects using wood it’s probably a very worthwhile investment. They’re easy to use, just make sure when you’re using it you keep the guide pressed flat against the wood, otherwise the saw will start bucking and chew up your wood (and could possibly lead to an injury). No one showed me how to use the jigsaw. After several tries involving a bucking saw and splintering wood I realized the saw was meant to be flat on the wood. So that’s a good thing to know!

Now you have your pieces cut out. You need to decide whether or not your box is going to have real windows or a door. If it is, then you should cut these out BEFORE you put your box together. If you’re using pre-fabricated dollhouse windows and doors make sure you look at the OUTER measurements of the window/door and cut your hole to that size otherwise the hole won’t be big enough. If you have a bigger doll or you just don’t want to buy pre-made windows and doors you can just decide how big you want them to be and go from there. Draw the shape onto your wood with pencil. You will need this to follow for cutting lines.

Here’s where you’ll need a drill. Drill holes into the corners of your shape. Why are we doing this? We need to make a spot to slide in the jigsaw blade. Make sure your holes are big enough to fit the blade and slowly and carefully start cutting out your shape. Try to be as exact as possible but don’t panic if you make a small mistake. You can see in my photo that I made a little mistake.That’s ok. After we attach our window we can use wood filler and fill in that hole.

So now you’ve got your pieces all cut out. You’ve got any doors and windows cut out. You may want to sand along your cuts to remove any roughness. I just use whatever sand paper I can find around the house. Medium will work. So will fine. We’re not sanding much, we just want to make sure there’s no rough edges and that our room doesn’t give us splinters when we touch it!

The trickiest part, for me, is putting the room together. Using a combination of wood glue and nails is probably the best way to go. Some people just use wood glue but I prefer to use nails. There are some pitfalls to consider here. First, while wood glue, once dry, is very strong, your walls still won’t be as sturdy as if you used nails. Also, you are going to want to make sure it’s on there perfectly straight and that it will stay in place while it dries so you’re going to have to hold it for a little bit. Not the entire drying time but until the wood stays in place on its own. You may want to put on some pieces of masking tape to give it some extra support while drying. These will NOT hold it together so make sure it’s stable first. The tape will be especially helpful where you join the walls.

Using nails will give your room a lot more stability but you want to be very careful when you’re putting them in. If you have a nail gun you’ll probably find it MUCH easier. I don’t have a nail gun yet so I had to hammer them in myself. The problem here is keeping them straight. If you have ½” pieces of wood you’ll probably have an easier time. What you don’t want is for the nail to go in at an angle and split your board. And yes I did this several times! A word on nails: Make sure you use a good size nail for the wood you use. It needs to be long enough to go through your first board and well into the second and wide enough to keep it sturdy but not too wide that you can’t easily put it into the board without it splitting the wood. This is going to depend on the size of wood you use. Do NOT use the nails you use for hanging pictures. They are not sturdy enough. Also if you’re using particle board you may want to think about drilling holes and using screws as particle board is going to be way too hard to nail into like that. Make sure you nail just inside of each corner and then you’re going to want a nail every couple of inches. How many you use will depend on the size of your box but you want to make sure it’s nice and stable.

If you’ve used glue (and glue along with the nails is advisable) then you’ll need to wait for it to dry before you do anything else. Give it at least 2 hours but it won’t hurt if you leave it overnight. Next you’ll want to do any painting. I give my rooms a prime coat of white before I’ll do anything else with them. If you want to stain the floor DO NOT paint it white first.

You can also attach doors and windows at this point.  I’ve purchased a standard 12-light window in 1:12 scale.  The window does not come with interior trim so I will have to buy or make my own.

And there you go, you’ve got a room ready to decorate and have your doll move into!

Examples:

These are just basic examples. You can always go larger (or possibly smaller) depending on your needs. I’ve always found it helpful to see measurements people are using when deciding on my own measurements.

Lati, Pukifee and similar sized dolls:

Michaels sells wood in 12”x12” pieces and 12”x24” pieces. For this project I decided I wanted what is essentially a double room. I used one 12”x24” piece (1/2”) for the base. I bought two 12×12 pieces to serve as the walls. I chose to do this so I wouldn’t have to cut any pieces in order to make it.

I’ve placed the two 12”x12” pieces on the base and glued them on (and also nailed them). Now you’re going to want to consider the depth of the pieces of wood. This is what I’d call a lazy person’s room box. I didn’t want to have to cut pieces and I was ok with the inner wall not being flush to the outer edge and my walls aren’t attached perfectly on the outside. I was ok with this. If you want it to look more polished and professional you’ll need to factor the depth of the wood into your cuts and add it (or take it away as need be) to your measurements.

I actually find the length of the room to be too small and will probably end up making it into a play room and building an actual house for the dolls so I can fit them/their stuff comfortably.

This second box was meant to be for my Bisou dolls. It’s actually a bit on the large size and I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to use it. Right now I have some other dolls in it because it was a handy place to store them and some furniture.

If you look at the picture you can see what I mean about the height. The basic Barbie is standing against the back wall and there’s less than an inch between the top of her head and the top of the wall. Had I wanted to make a 1:6 size room, the walls would have needed to be higher. The height of the walls is 12”. I don’t know how noticeable it is but the wall she’s standing against is actually ½” thick while the floor and other wall are ¼”. That wall was meant to be the floor but I found it was actually not deep enough and the walls were much too high so I flipped it. This would have been a time when it would have been helpful to use ½” thick wood for all pieces. Oh well!

If I were to build a room box for my MSD sized dolls I need to consider that my DIM Alpon is around 19” (47.5cm) tall while my SoulDoll Kid is around 17” (43cm) tall. If I want to be able to put either doll in the room I’m going to have to use the DIM as my guide.
Given how tall the dolls are, a room box for them may not be practical if you don’t have a lot of room where you live. Creating a room you can take apart may be more beneficial. You can use foam board (though the bigger and heavier the dolls the less sturdy it will be) or even devise some sort of hinged method of attaching the walls that allows you to fold up your room.

In order to fit my dolls in comfortably I’ll probably go with 24” in height. The biggest reason is because I can easily find wood that is already 24” across meaning I won’t have to do any cutting in that direction and I’m lazy so that works out well. But remember 24” is 2’ and that’s a fairly tall room!
The length of the room is probably also going to be 24” across, that gives a good size across for furniture and should fit 2 dolls fairly comfortably if I choose to have them both in the room.

The depth of my room will probably be 15”. I have a ceramic tub that is 11” long and I want it to fit comfortably if I choose to turn it so it’s against a side wall instead of a back wall. 15” gives me some room so it’s not right up against the edge of the room which I definitely do not want.

So, my room is going to be 24″ Height by 24″ Width by 15″ Depth.  Since I know my pieces already come in 24″ I want to factor that into my cutting measurements if I want everything to be flush.  The back wall piece will be 24″ by 24″.  If I don’t mind losing 1/2″ to the floor (and I’ve given myself enough room for it not to matter) then I can attach all 3 walls to the outer sides of the floor.  Here are the cutting measurements:

Back wall – 24″ by 24″ (2’x2′)
2 sides – 24″ by 15.5″
Floor – 24″ by 15″

(This was written after my 2 rooms had been built.  If/when I build another I’ll take photos during the process and add them here.)

* Please note that all content on this page is copyright to me.  You may use it as a guide to build your own room but you may not recopy any part of the text or the photos either online or in print.  Please link back to this page if you want to share this tutorial with others. *

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