Woodcutting techniques

I've put notes on handling wood in the Tools section and elsewhere, but here are some more suggestions, particularly for those who prefer to keep away from sharp objects.  You can practise handling knives and wood with no real danger, and, using your judgement of course, teach older children how to cut safely.

Start with whatever wood you can find--a toothpick, a skewer, a wooden pencil, scraps of pine, even dry branches--and get a good sharp knife (see Tools).  Try cutting the wood, not by a chopping technique as if it were a carrot, but by gently slicing sideways, as if peeling a potato very carefully.  You will soon find that some kinds of wood are easier to cut than others.  An ideal wood for our purposes at this stage will be one that lets you carve a small V or U in the wood without putting any heavy pressure on the knife.  There should be no danger of the blade slipping.  Of woods available round the house, toothpicks (known also as cocktail sticks) can be very adequate, depending on the brand.  Certain kinds of pine are very easy to cut, and others are rather hard.

To cut off pieces from a dowel, or from a fairly thin strip of wood, roll the wood under your knife blade, applying gentle pressure, until you have cut all the way through.  Watch out in case the cut-off pieces jumps away.

When you're tired of cutting, try sanding, with an emery board if you like, and notice how each kind of wood reacts.  If you have metal files, try them out.

As you begin to feel more comfortable, try harder woods.  Preferably not pieces of furniture, or beams holding the house up, but there are wooden spoons, clothes pegs, matches, crates, and twigs, all readily available.  Even cutting boards themselves, though you'll find maple a challenge. If the wood is hard, don't put more force into your cut.  Try a different knife, or a saw, or give up.  It's not worth cutting yourself.

Try making a 1/144 table leg, much thinner than a toothpick and about 1/4 inch long.  Just taper it for now.  Try different methods, cutting and sanding.  Make a few bedposts too, about the same size, and try carving or filing a little  ball at one end.

If you're getting ambitious and want to try some proper carving, you could use balsa wood but it's so soft that the results may be disappointing.  Soap is good to practise on!  Of the harder woods that are available in some dollhouse and model stores, cherry and walnut are quite good.  If you want to get really experimental, you can buy all kinds of wood cut to miniature sizes, for instance from S.H Goode's workshop.  Otherwise, make friends with woodworking professionals and hobbyists, and try to persuade them to cut you a few pieces of exotic woods, or pass them through their thicknessing sander.  You may have to offer to buy new saw blades to replace the ones they will blunt in the process.
Getting to know your glues
Much of the magic behind some remarkable microminiatures depends on skilful use of glues.  I''m not going to go into detail about every brand of glue, because the climate you live in and the age of the bottle of glue, for a start, will affect how the glue works.

You can buy shelves full of different glue brands, and use each for a special purpose.  But some people find that when they know a glue well they can use it in many different circumstances, and they manage with only two or three types.

Some requirements for a microminiaturist's glue:
--for woodwork:
The glue should grab quickly, before you drop the piece you're gluing.
It should remain flexible enough for you to reposition the piece if necessary.
Once two pieces are properly placed and glued, and left in peace for ten minutes, the joint should be strong enough to let you glue on the next part.
If possible, tiny joints should not need clamping (because they're so easily broken)
In most cases, the final object should be quite firm.
Excess glue should be easy to remove. 

Tacky or firm?  Squish or snap?
If you tend to drop little chairs and step on them, would you rather they ended up distorted but intact, or with some joints still as they were but some pieces of wood broken?  Perhaps more important, if you never drop anything but you want to move stuff around, do you mind straightening out little chairs that have been squashed by your fingers?

You may answer "none of the above," but if you want to use wood for 1/144 chairs, and have the chair look delicate, it will be delicate.  (I use paper instead sometimes.)  There is hardly any surface area to take the glue.  If you use a tacky glue, the chair may stay together but get distorted when you put pressure on it.  If you use a yellow carpenter's glue, the glued joint may be stronger than the wood.

It seems to me that a solution would be a kind of glue that permeates the whole little chair, but I  haven't found it yet.  Suggestions would be very welcome.

Some more requirements for a miniaturist's glues
--for fabric
If we insist on using fabric, the first problem is fraying.  There are fray-check products available, but if a dress is only 1/8 inch long,  even the tiniest residue is noticeable.  Running a line of fray-checking liquid along the raw edge is not really an option.

So far the best solutions I've found are these:
   --Spray the fabric with an acrylic matte sealer or fixative (ask in an art shop or a good craft shop).  Try on a small sample first.  Trim when dry.
  -- Use a tacky glue or Weldbond, smear on your finger first, then very lightly smear on the back of the fabric. Trim when dry.
  -- Get scraps of silk from an artist who paints on silk.  These don't seem to fray.

Gluing the fabric to itself or to something else is another problem, especially if the fabric is fine, as it should be in this scale.  A thick glue is usually best, but it's likely to leave visible residue, even if the extra blobs dry clear.  Velverette is a good fabric glue, but if the bottle is an old one the glue can get so thick that it dries before you can get it on the fabric.  I like Weldbond, but it can "bleed" through.

The best solution is to plan where to put the glue.  If you've done 1/12 scale upholstery, you'll know how to put glue on the back of a piece, wrap the fabric around, and glue it again on the back, or underneath where it won't show.  You can use the same technique in 1/144 scale.

If glue shows through a doll's dress, give her an apron, or a sash, or long hair, or a shawl.  Lace can cover mistakes--it hardly ever shows glue.

Letting the glue show
Glue doesn't always have to be hidden.   A blob of glue,  perhaps mixed with paint, can make hands o shoes for tiny dolls, or knobs for drawers.  Glue that dries clear makes good water, in this scale, and saves you the bother of mixing resin.
Techniques for working in small scales
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Woodcutting techniques

I've put notes on handling wood in the Tools section and elsewhere, but here are some more suggestions, particularly for those who prefer to keep away from sharp objects.  You can practise handling knives and wood with no real danger, and, using your judgement of course, teach older children how to cut safely.

Start with whatever wood you can find--a toothpick, a skewer, a wooden pencil, scraps of pine, even dry branches--and get a good sharp knife (see Tools).  Try cutting the wood, not by a chopping technique as if it were a carrot, but by gently slicing sideways, as if peeling a potato very carefully.  You will soon find that some kinds of wood are easier to cut than others.  An ideal wood for our purposes at this stage will be one that lets you carve a small V or U in the wood without putting any heavy pressure on the knife.  There should be no danger of the blade slipping.  Of woods available round the house, toothpicks (known also as cocktail sticks) can be very adequate, depending on the brand.  Certain kinds of pine are very easy to cut, and others are rather hard.

To cut off pieces from a dowel, or from a fairly thin strip of wood, roll the wood under your knife blade, applying gentle pressure, until you have cut all the way through.  Watch out in case the cut-off pieces jumps away.

When you're tired of cutting, try sanding, with an emery board if you like, and notice how each kind of wood reacts.  If you have metal files, try them out.

As you begin to feel more comfortable, try harder woods.  Preferably not pieces of furniture, or beams holding the house up, but there are wooden spoons, clothes pegs, matches, crates, and twigs, all readily available.  Even cutting boards themselves, though you'll find maple a challenge. If the wood is hard, don't put more force into your cut.  Try a different knife, or a saw, or give up.  It's not worth cutting yourself.

Try making a 1/144 table leg, much thinner than a toothpick and about 1/4 inch long.  Just taper it for now.  Try different methods, cutting and sanding.  Make a few bedposts too, about the same size, and try carving or filing a little  ball at one end.

If you're getting ambitious and want to try some proper carving, you could use balsa wood but it's so soft that the results may be disappointing.  Soap is good to practise on!  Of the harder woods that are available in some dollhouse and model stores, cherry and walnut are quite good.  If you want to get really experimental, you can buy all kinds of wood cut to miniature sizes, for instance from S.H Goode's workshop.  Otherwise, make friends with woodworking professionals and hobbyists, and try to persuade them to cut you a few pieces of exotic woods, or pass them through their thicknessing sander.  You may have to offer to buy new saw blades to replace the ones they will blunt in the process.
Waiting for the glue to dry
This is the simplest of all techniques, and really useful in this small scale.  Just apply what you think is just enough glue, join the pieces, and leave them alone for at least ten minutes.  When you come back, the joint should be firm.  If not, try again (first removing excess dried glue).  Or try another brand of glue.  It's worth also buying a new bottle to check whether your old favourite brand has dried up a little perhaps.

Waiting for the glue to dry requires patience, but you can always move on to another task while you wait.  If this clutters up your table, try organizing separate areas for each project.

The glue may dry best if you put pieces in a jig, but there are problems.  The amount of excess glue that oozes out may be more than the amount required for the joint, and the wood may stick to the jig.  Clamps can be useful, but are often too strong.

Try the toothpick exercise to practise using the right amount of glue.
The toothpick exercise
This is like Pick Up Sticks, but easier.  Drop a few toothpicks on the work desk, and use another toothpick to pick them up--but you must pick them up by the tips, and you must use glue.  Try different glues, and see which lets you pick up a toothpick quickest, and which lets you collect several toothpicks together, and which loses its stickiness quickest.  Leave some of your glued toothpicks around, and after half an hour test the strength of the bond, and notice what dried residue is left.  Is the joint flexible or stiff?

I'll add pictures.  Toothpicks are called cocktails sticks in some countries.