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Purchasing a Dollhouse

Purchasing a Dollhouse Kit?

If you purchase a real house, you wouldn't think of grabbing the first one you look at.  You take your time and chose a house with a style you like.  In some respects you should be just as careful when you purchase a  dollhouse as when buying a real house. Most folks live in more than one real house in their lifetime but many only choose one dollhouse per lifetime.

First, check to see how well your prospective dollhouse is built, compare prices, decide where it will go in your home, and how much space you have available. 

  • Is it for a child or an adult?
  • Will it be wired for lights?

Take the time to see what's available.  Choose a style which appeals to you.

Visit a shop dedicated to dollhouse miniatures only. Most shop owners started out as hobbyists. They don't just want to ring up a sale; they want to share their love of the hobby with their customers. 

Purchase the best quality house or kit you can afford. The house which is constructed well is a real investment, lasting for generations. Ones of lesser quality construction are more difficult to build and you may be throwing your money away if the house doesn't hold up.

If you don't have a full line miniature shop near you, be very careful buying online. The best dollhouses are constructed of 3/8” cabinet grade birch plywood and the house parts are precut for you.  Don't be fooled by a house kit which advertises a large number of rooms. Yes, you need to know how many rooms there are in the house you choose but, if two houses have an overall measurement of  approximately 12” x  24”, the same number of floors, one advertises it has six rooms while the other advertises it has ten rooms, guess what happens to the size of those rooms?   Everyone would like a mansion, whether it's in a real house or a dollhouse. But if the rooms in that mansion are too small to fit furniture, what good is it?

What Else Will You Need?

Not everything comes with your kit. Before you begin, make certain you have the following on hand:

  • A good, sturdy, flat work surface
  • Glues  (what kinds?  See the article:  STICKY STUFF)
  • A carpenter's hammer
  • A short square
  • Most kits include brads or finishing nails, but, if not, you must supply them
  • Masking tape
  • Painter's tape can be helpful for later, when you begin painting

What Kit Should I Purchase?

There are two basic types of house kits on the market, and any number of “build-your-own” plans, both good and not so good. Because 3/8” plywood usually has to be obtained from a lumber yard (versus mass-market distributors such as Home Depot or Lowes), building from scratch often does not save much money, although the house that Grandpa built from scratch has its own very special meaning to the recipient.  If you want to tackle building from scratch, our advice is to check very carefully to determine the proper size of available, ready made windows and doors.

Take it from the voice of experience, unless you wish to invest in a whole new workshop of miniature tools you really don't want to build your own windows and doors!  You will find they are not worth the time and effort required to make them unless you have some very creative and individual plans in mind.

Style is a personal choice and we leave that up to you. Just remember, the more roof lines there are in a kit, the more difficult it will be to assemble, not to mention the more expensive. Still, if your desire is a house of seven gables line up an extra pair of hands and go for it.

Die-Cut Kits:

For our purposes, the first type of dollhouse is the die-cut kit. Some folks like these kits, but most people don't.  In their favor, die cut kits are generally less expensive than similarly sized pre-cut kits and offer a variety of styles not always found in other types.  However, despite their inexpensive price tag, all it takes is one experience with a die-cut kit to convince many miniaturists they would prefer a pre-cut kit, even though it might be more costly.  Here are some of the reasons.

  • The wood in the die-cut kit is 1/8”  thick, luan mahogany, the lowest grade of mahogany.   
  • The pattern of the house and its parts are pressed into the wood which then must be punched or cut out prior to assembly.
  • It splinters horribly, warps easily, soaks up paint like a sponge,
  • is too thin to nail,
  • a near zero surface for gluing regardless of its slot and tab design.
  • Many of these houses are built directly onto the staircase, making them difficult to decorate and almost impossible to re-decorate.
  • In addition, pre-made doors and windows are intended for 3/8” thick walls, making this type of modification challenging.

Pre-Cut Kits:

Better quality pre-cut kits are constructed of 3/8” cabinet grade plywood, usually birch.  Some manufacturers may use 1/4 inch wood in certain areas, such as steeply pitched roofs where the structure increases the strength but it should never be used for floors or interior walls.  Other pre-cut designs are cut from 3/8” MDF (medium density fiberboard) a product which is heavier, denser and more brittle than the plywood models.

The thickness of the wood allows for nailing. This in turn allows you to use wood glue or carpenter's glue for assembly; a stronger glue than the quick drying ones required for die-cut kits.  All parts are cutout completely, all angles and bevels are accurate in these kits.  Most have thorough, easy to follow instructions and a "help line" phone number, just in case you have questions about the assembly. In addition, our experienced staff is available to assist even the most inexperienced builder.  We're only a phone call away!

A Final Note

Remember, just as in building a “real” house, it takes time to do it right.  Certain steps must be done before others, but many times, you can work at the pace and in the order you (and your budget) allow.  As you build your new dollhouse, consider creating a notebook or file to document your progress.  Include paint, wallpaper and flooring samples along with stock numbers if you have them.  Save copies of your receipts; at some point you may need proof of the value of your dollhouse for insurance purposes. 

If building from a kit isn't your "cup of tea," fear not!  We love to assemble pre-cut kits!  We can do the building for you - and you can take home a fully assembled, guaranteed not to fall apart house, with all of the walls "square" and straight!

Above all else, have fun!

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