Begin by deciding what materials you’ll be using. Spruce is a great cost effective option and if you can find a piece that’s free of knots it’s perfect. Consider whether you’ll be painting or staining the wood. If you’re staining the wood you can ignore the knots, but with painting it’s a little more of a hassle to fill in the knots and paint over.
To avoid the knots altogether use ¾” shop grade plywood. The knots on this will be limited to one side and will already be filled in. If you’re planning on painting this is definitely the easiest option (this happens to be what we pick). Be aware though that the spruce is only about $20 whereas half a sheet of the ¾” plywood is around $30.
Once you’ve made all the artistic decisions it's time to begin construction:
The doorskin that will make up the back wall of the dollhouse needs to be cut into quarters. You will only need one quarter for your house. You can ask the salesperson at Dunn Lumber to have this cut for you when you purchase it.
If you decided to use the shop grade ply then you’ll want to purchase half a sheet lengthwise, that is 2x8 not 4x4. Next you’ll need to strip* it into three 8” wide pieces. If you have a table saw (and the skill necessary) you can do this at home, or you can ask your local Dunn Lumber to strip it for you.
*Strip: to cut a board lengthwise.
Out of one 8’ board you’re going to cut the two outside walls and the two roof pieces. Set your saw to 33.75°. This is what we’ll be making all the angled cuts on. The outside walls will be cut flat on the bottom edge and angled up towards the middle on the top. Decide which side of the board you want on the outside and cut so that the length from the top of the angle to the flat bottom is 28 ¼”. Cut the roof pieces to 13” with angles on both ends in the same direction (both side should end up the same length like a parallelogram). These roof pieces can be adjusted later.
Note: Be very careful cutting the ¾” plywood. I found that it had a tendency to break off and fly up whenever I was cutting away a small piece. Wear safety glasses and keep your head on the side of the saw away from smaller pieces.
Next from the other board you’ll be cutting the four floor pieces. To get an exact measurement subtract the specific thickness of the walls from the exact width of your doorskin. For us this came out to 16 9/16”. Cut four of these lengths.
Next it’s time to draw a layout of the dollhouse on the doorskin. We’re going to cover this up with paper later on so feel free to mark it up all you want! Outline the outside walls on either side. Measure and draw a line vertically down the middle of the doorskin. Next you’re going to want to calculate where to place the four floor levels. I wanted the attic room to have a little section of wall before the roof started. You can adjust your floors to whatever you prefer, but if you want go the easy route you can use the measurements that we used:
11/16” – 8 5/16” – 9” – 16 5/8” – 17 5/16 – 24 15/16
Mark these measurements along either side of the doorskin and then use a straightedge to connect. Also mark these measurements along the edge of the walls. This will help you make sure that the floor pieces are level.
You should now have the layout of your house minus the roof, but we’ll get to that. Start to lay out your pieces on the doorskin and get a feel for your dollhouse. Use clamps to hold the pieces upright. Place the roof, lining up the seam with the center line on the doorskin. Hold one of the pieces in place while you carefully trace it. Readjust the pieces if necessary and trace the opposite side. This is the perfect chance to evaluate the look of your roof and trim down if necessary.
It’s time to cut out the doorskin. Place the line of the roof along a piece of scrap wood and using a utility knife begin to cut just below the top line of the roof. This will take a number of passes before breaking through. Turn around and cut through the other side of the roof. With a piece of sandpaper soften the edge of your cuts to protect little hands from splinters or scrapes.
This is a good time to add dividers. We added a full divider and one half divider in our houses. If you’re following our plan the distance between your floors will be 7 5/8”. Cut some pieces to size and fit in to the levels to see what look you like best.
This next step is optional, but if you’re using plywood is highly recommended: while everything is laid out it’s a good time to add trim. Following the same cutting pattern that you used for the 1x8 cut out the screen moulding. For the roof cut out two 8” (or 7 ½” if you’re not using ply) pieces for the bottom. For the length of the roof cut a piece that will cover the roof and the width of the trim added onto the bottom. This will add a lot to how clean things look. Make sure you cut out trim for the dividers too! Fit trim onto dollhouse as you cut to ensure it all fits together well. Trim as needed.
Now that all the cutting and math is done with it’s time for the fun parts! First up is sanding. Using 150 grit sand paper sand the corners and edges of the pieces and with the 220 smooth out the surface. Your pieces are now ready for staining and painting.
It’s time to get creative. For our two girls we built two different doll houses. For house #1 we stained the floors of the rooms and painted the walls, ceilings, trim, and outside white. For house #2 we stained the floors, ceilings, roof, and inside walls. We then painted the outside blue and the trim white. For both houses we wallpapered the back walls.
So whether you’re staining a lot or just a little, staining is the next step. Lay out a drop cloth; when staining I prefer to use an actual cloth versus plastic because it soaks up the stain and keeps it from getting everywhere. Following the directions on the can paint the stain on the wood following the grain of the wood. If you’re using trim don’t worry about staining the edges of the wood. Wipe off the excess stain if necessary and allow to dry. It generally takes 24 hours for stain to dry completely, though at the cost of smudging your painted surfaces you can handle it much sooner.
After staining is painting. Outdoors or in an open garage lay out a large piece of plastic or a lot of newspapers. In multiple light coats paint your wall/floor pieces and your trim and allow to dry. Again 24 hours is best to let the paint dry, but if you’re in a rush you can use it sooner if you’re gentle.
While stain and paint are drying you can work on the wallpaper. Pick out paper for each room and cut to size. The diagram on the doorskin will help with this step. After cutting comes gluing. There are many ways to adhere the paper to wood and if you’ve done decoupaging before you probably have a favorite technique. We used spray adhesive which worked quite well, though if you’re not careful it can get very messy very quickly. I would recommend having a stack of newspaper to lay the paper on for when you spray the adhesive and after each use fold it back and use a clean sheet. This way you will avoid getting adhesive on the front of your paper which is really terrible. Make sure to press down each paper carefully and firmly. After the spray adhesive dried you can use a matte gel to seal the paper. I used this once successfully and once not. I believe the key is having the paper smooth and flat on the wood. Otherwise the gel wrinkles the paper where it’s not firmly connected.
When the paint and stain and wallpaper are dry it's time to start construction. Line up the pieces on top of the doorskin again and clamp in place. You may need to make some fresh marks on top of the wallpaper or you can just eyeball it.Screw the floors to the walls. You can predrill this step, but it’s not necessary. With the house on it’s back put one screw through the top of the wall into the screw. Use a measuring tape to make sure you put the bottom screw through the same plain. Put a couple screws diagonally into the top and bottom of the dividers to hold them in place.
Next secure the roof. You can screw the roof to the walls or you can nail it. The nails will make it less sturdy and you’ll want to avoid lifting the dollhouse by its roof. Turn the house upright and secure the seam of the roof with finish nails.
Lay the dollhouse down on it’s front and fit the doorskin on top. Nail the doorskin in place.
Place the trim and hammer in place with finish nails. On the last couple strokes of each nail use a small cloth to protect the paint on the trim.
The last step is optional: filling in the screw holes. For the painted surfaces you can use DAP Alex Fast Dry. This is a fast dry caulk that will blend in well with the white paint. This product also worked well on the blue paint, and it only takes 30 minutes to dry. Overfill the holes with caulk and after it dries sand down. Tape plastic over the front and roof of your house and cover up the caulk with a couple coats of paint.
For the stained surfaces you can use a latex wood filler that matches the stain you used. Overfill and sand down just like you did with the caulk. Add an extra coat of stain to really hide these holes.
And that is the final step! Congratulations on your new dollhouse, that was a lot of work!