When I realized I needed to make some of my own miniature furniture for my dollhouses, because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in mini shops, one of the first things I made was a bench.
This is the bench, something rustic and old world for the cottage I had just built.
Let’s start however, with a basic style.
This is as simple as it gets, a seat, 2 supports and underneath a structural piece.
This particular bench was made of balsa. I use a band saw to cut my wood. I had a scroll saw, back before I got into miniatures, but it broke, and I’ve never gotten around to buying another one.
Generally, you can sand balsa pretty well, except for the grain, which shows up no matter how much you sand. If you have a Dremel, or similar tool, it makes sanding curved cuts so much easier. These benches are pre Dremel, but it’s ok, they’re rustic and a somewhat rough look is quite appropriate. On the other hand, don’t leave your rustic furnishings too rough. You need to decide just how much you want to sand to give things the look you want.
When designing a bench like this, just decide on how wide, long and high you want it to be. This particular bench is 1 & ¾” high. The seats of chairs and benches should be around 1 & ½” to 1 & ¾” high, with 1 & ½” being the most common used height.
Once you’ve decided how long and wide you want it to be, cut out a simple rectangle for the seat. With the supports, you can stay simple or get a little creative. I tend to lean towards curves, some people like straight sides. Look around at benches for sale in stores, or pictures in magazines and catalogs for looks you like and adapt them.
My favorite tool to draw curves for furniture is a anything I have in my kitchen. I have a compass up in my studio, but I find I do most of my planning while I’m in my kitchen. When I kept the compass in my kitchen drawer, I always found I wound up needing it up in my studio. I suppose the smart thing would be to buy another compass for the kitchen drawer, but I keep forgetting to. Anyway, as long as my kitchen is full of glasses, lids and coins, I can make a curve whatever size I want.
I’ll start designing the supports by drawing a rectangle that’s as high and about as wide as I want the support to be. As an example, here I drew a rectangle 1” wide and 1 & 3/8” high. Assuming that I’m using 1/8” thick wood for the seat, that would make the finished bench 1 & ½” high.
In the upper illustration I drew a curve with a red pencil using an item I had on my desk. In black pencil, I drew another pair of curves using a larger cup. The smaller stamp holder is 1 & ¾” in diameter, the cup is 2 & ¾”. You can see how the curves differ.
Note also, in the lower illustration, that I marked off the bottom and top of the curves. I’d cut those little tips off when I cut the bench support. Those tips tend to break off eventually.
The final piece you need to cut is a brace that helps hold the bench pieces together, and here it is.
Below is another bench, made just like the blue one, only it’s longer. Notice that there are 2 braces, one at the top, one lower down. You need extra bracing to make a longer bench a sturdy piece of mini furniture that won’t break into pieces the first time you drop it.
By the way, use wood glue to put it all together. Wood glue is formulated to hold wood, and is a basic woodworking tool.
Also, sand your pieces before you glue them together, it makes things easier.
Finally, lets talk about the paint.
I painted the bench, then sanded it smooth. Paint will raise the fibers of the wood and make the piece seem very rough. The sanding takes off quite a bit of paint. Use an emery board to sand your curves and edges. If you have a small rotary sander like a Dremel, that’s great, however, use the Dremel to sand before you paint, not after, it will take every bit of paint off.
After sanding, I painted the bench again. This time I sanded gently, to give it a worn look. I used very fine sandpaper and the finer side of the emery board. Another great sanding tool is a foam sander. They come in various grits, in blocks or in sheets. I’ll cut smaller squares off sheets of foam backed sandpaper to sand my miniature pieces.
I’ve seen lots of pieces of miniature and real sized furniture that were sanded to give a worn effect. The problem is that many over sand and/or do it in the wrong places. Places that get handled or kicked will show wear and tear. Places that are constantly rubbed will eventually loose some paint color. Edges get worn before anything else.
Don’t wear your paint down willy-nilly, give it a bit of thought and you’ll be glad you did.