Making Miniature Dollhouse Furniture

February 22, 2020

We are in the process of remodeling a hand me down dollhouse for my daughter.  One thing it did not have was furniture so it was time to build some! I designed all the furniture at full scale in Fusion 360 with a flat-pack design.

Then using a laser cutter, all the pieces were cut out and covered with a wooden veneer.  Even if you don't have a laser you could use a similar process to create a template and cut out the pieces with a scroll saw or even a hobby knife

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Score
Making Miniature Dollhouse Furniture
The Good
The Bad
STEPS

Design Full Scale Furniture in Fusion 360

There are a bunch of different ways you can approach building miniature furniture. With the simplest being just starting to cut with an X-Acto knife and figure out the shapes as you go

Fusion 360 Flat Pack Chair

Since I’ve been working on a course for woodworkers utilizing Fusion 360, I knew I wanted to make the 3D models first. This would be a good opportunity to practice my flat-pack design skills as well as design several things quickly.

I won’t go into the full design process in Fusion 360, here is a good example of how I did that with an end table.

The main difference with the dollhouse furniture was how I sent it to be cut out on the laser cutter.

Create flat-pack profiles from scaled designs

Once the furniture (in this case a chair) had been scaled down to 1:12 scale it was time to lay it out flat to be cut. You can manually move the pieces around to get them organized how you like but an easier way is with the nesting script: Nester.

Use Nester to create flat pack designs in Fusion 360

Nester is a little old and doesn’t work completely right for me but it does allow me to select all the surface I want and lay them onto a pre-made sheet. I can then quickly move them around in a 2D space to organize them how I like.

You can check out and download the script from GitHub here.

Import profiles in laser cutting software

Once all the pieces are laid flat you can create a new sketch in Fusion 360, grab the profiles of the parts and export them as a DXF.

Import laser profiles in Lightburn to laser cut

Once you have the DXF, it is imported into your laser software to be cut. I love Lightburn and use it for the majority of my projects.

Cut out all the pieces

Once all the pieces were cut out on the laser it was time to remove them from the plywood sheet. I had my laser cut settings set up so they wouldn’t cut all the way through so I used an X-Acto Knife to finish them up.

Use an X-Acto knife to cut out all the pieces
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Assemble miniature furniture with CA glue

I first dry fit all the pieces and then used CA glue to attach all the parts.

Assemble miniature furniture with CA glue

Depending on how close you make your tolerances you could design the parts in a way that they would stay together without any adhesive, but mine were a little loose so the glue locked everything into place.

Finished plywood flat-pack laser cut furniture

Get all the surface profiles to skin the chair

At this point, you could paint or stain the chair but I wanted to take it one step further. I wanted to give the chair a hardwood look by using wooden veneers. These are thin pieces of wood you can use to cover cheaper pieces (like plywood) to make it look a little fancier.

To do this I needed to get all the profiles for every exposed surface on the chair. Using a similar process as before I created a bunch of new sketches in Fusion 360 and exported them as a DXF.

Get profiles for veneer skins in Fusion 360

Nest the shapes to optimize the laser cutting

Once I had all of those sketches I pulled them into a vector editing software (Adobe Illustrator) to combine the parts where it made sense. As well as cleaning up any of the vectors that weren’t closed.

I wound up with a bunch of surfaces!

Use vector software to merge all the profile pieces together

You could send everything to the laser at this point but I discovered a stand-alone piece of nesting software called Deepnest.io. It works on both Mac and Windows, it is paid but I’m still on their 30 day-trial.

Use Deepnest.io to create an optimized nest for the shapes

What is great is that automagically reorganizes all of your pieces so you use the least amount of material. This was a huge help when working with lots of shapes!

From there you could either export as a DXF or SVG and then import into your laser cutting software.

Laser cut wooden veneers

Now that I had all the shapes I cut them out on the laser.

Laser cut wooden veneers
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Glue wooden veneers to the plywood frame

All the veneers were glued into place with CA glue. Looking back I wish I had used wood glue since some of the CA glue would leak through the thing veneer and discolor the hardwood. This was especially true anytime I used an accelerant.

Glue wooden veneers with CA glue

Sand all surfaces and edges smooth

All the surfaces and edges of the chair were sanded up to 220 grit. I wish I had made the veneers slightly oversized.

Sand wooden veneers with 220 grit

While I was sanding, especially on the corners, I would go deep enough to hit the plywood. It would have been good to have a little extra material to work with.

Apply Shellac

To give a more polished look I applied a few coats of shellac. What is great about shellac is the drying time, so after a couple of hours I had several coats and the part was completely dry.

Apply shellac to miniature dollhouse furniture

Build a Dresser

I used a similar process to also build a table and dresser. There were a few things I had to do different on the dresser.

Laser cut dresser miniature dresser drawers

After cutting out the main frame of the dresser I needed to put together 6 drawers. These were all glued together with CA glue.

Use CA glue to attach dresser drawers together

They were a bit oversized so I used a combination of an orbital sander and disk sander to get them down to size.

Sand drawer faces to fit
Use a disk sander to sand dresser drawers to final size

The dressers all had a face frame in addition to the drawer itself that was glued on once they were able to easily slide into the dresser.

Attach face frames to dresser drawers

The entire dresser and drawers were spray painted white.

Spray paint dresser white

I applied wooden veneers to just the front face frame to finish it off.

Apply wooden veneers to dresser drawer fronts
Miniature dresser drawers

And that's it!

I’ve still got a good bit of furniture to knock out. But so far I’m loving how these turned out.

Custom dollhouse furniture

Also everything looks better with characters from Toy Story ;)

Toy Story sized dollhouse furniture


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