How can I shingle or surface my scale model house?
February 5, 2013 6:04 AM   Subscribe

My daughter and I are building a birdhouse that is a scale model of our real house out of 1/4" plywood. I have the pieces cut, and could assemble them now if I wanted to. I'm waiting because I want to reasonably replicate the siding, and I'm not sure how to proceed.

Our house has painted 6" cedar shingles, and asphalt roofing. Lets concentrate on the shingles, but throw in ideas for replicating and asphalt roof if you have a separate idea.

The closer I can get to the ratio dimensions of the real shingles to the house, the better it's going to look, right? The greatest realism would probably give the appearance of 70 or so shingles per row on the long side of the house. So how do I proceed?

-Could I find pre-cut something that would at least decently mimic the occurrence and lie/thickness of the real shingles? I'm not hopeful, but perhaps you have a different perspective.

-Is there something I could surface the wood with and then sculpt it to give the appearance of painted shingles? We do plan to put the birdhouse outside, so this would need to both tolerate New England weather and be paintable.

Ideas? Thanks!
posted by Mayor Curley to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
You can buy these things as dollhouse items, and maybe they'll be durable enough? Otherwise, cut down Popsicle sticks? If you're using your own house paint, that will protect them well enough. And I'd just use real asphalt roofing - if it's durable for your house, it's probably good enough for the birdhouse.
posted by peagood at 6:13 AM on February 5, 2013

I'm pretty sure Plastruct will have what you're looking for. Their on-line catalog sucks, but the .pdf is fun to page through.
posted by Floydd at 6:17 AM on February 5, 2013

I'm not sure of the exactness of the scale, but it would be very easy to work with that thin polyfoam craft sheeting that you can get at Michaels/JoAnn/Hobby Lobby (link is to a multi color pack, but I would actually recommend getting single sheets that are close to your final color). Cut it into shingle-y shapes (or better yet into strips of shingle-y shapes), mount it with glue or staples, and paint. That stuff holds up surprisingly well to the elements, and it cuts like butter.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:27 AM on February 5, 2013

The closer I can get to the ratio dimensions of the real shingles to the house, the better it's going to look, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Building it to scale would look good from very close-up, but at a distance all the fine detail might be almost invisible. If you have to climb a ladder to appreciate it, you might be better off exaggerating the smaller features.
posted by jon1270 at 6:28 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

BTW, it would help if we knew the scale you were using.
posted by jon1270 at 6:29 AM on February 5, 2013

This is a job for the hobby store. What you want to do is find the place near you where train enthusiasts go for supplies and chatter, and ask people. You might luck out and have a nearby dollhouse and miniatures place, too. (Try the Dollhouse Miniatures Merchants Association!) If nowhere nearby is evident, try tabletop game stores, and ask about miniature wargame painters. I'm not sure of the ratio, but people who play Warmachine are going to have a better scale for this than dollhouse people. Trains, I'm thinking, might be too small?

If you can give us some dimensions to work out the scale, it would help people figure out what would work best. But there are definitely products out there for scaled shingles, as well as asphalt roofing. It just depends on how much money vs time you want to spend.
posted by Mizu at 6:32 AM on February 5, 2013

I concur with Floydd -- I'd go Plastruct if you're OK with not using wood. Many artist supply places carrying Plastruct (Blick, Utrecht, etc.), if you want to see it in person and buy locally -- although the artist places will tend to just carry their styrene stuff rather than their sturdier ABS line.

If you're going to order online, order directly from Plastruct rather than via an Amazon reseller. The resellers tend to ship slowly and have inordinate shipping charges, whereas Plastruct themselves are quick and have comparatively inexpensive S&H.

Otherwise, and I'm not entirely clear on the scale you're working with so perhaps none of this is relevant, consider something like the Easy Cutter Ultimate (~$20?) and a bunch of basswood strips (you can buy the basswood at artist supply places also).
posted by aramaic at 6:39 AM on February 5, 2013

Good answers so far! I had the scale in there, but accidentally deleted it in the editing. it's approximately 10" by 6". There isn't a proper ratio scale-- I just did outline tracings of the house from photographs, matched the height of the walls and scaled it to the approximately 10" long that I wanted.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:01 AM on February 5, 2013

Depending on the scale and how accurate you want it, I might cut the shingles from tongue depressors, which you can buy cheaply on Amazon. Cut the round ends off and overlap each layer like real shingles. You could cut individual shingles or just score the wood every inch or so to give the impression of shingles. Then paint it all the right color.

You could do the same thing on the roof and just paint it black or whatever color your roof is, maybe mixing in something gritty (fine sand or talcum powder) to give the texture of asphalt.

If tongue depressors are the wrong size then just head out to a craft store such as A.C Moore or Michael's and get some thin balsa wood. Cut it with an X-Acto knife to size.

As others have said, the ideal way would be to go look for shingles made for dollhouses or train layouts. That might take more time and/or money to order.
posted by bondcliff at 7:03 AM on February 5, 2013

Model railroad supplies.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 AM on February 5, 2013

If the dollhouse shingles are not the right size, you could try dollhouse trim, as it will be smaller though it would be more costly. The shingles can be split, though, so I might go with those.

Probably best to visit a dollhouse store and a train store at this point.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:10 AM on February 5, 2013

Could you cut some Cedar Veneer or edge banding in strips about the width you want for each shingle, and then just cut or score the separations with an XActo knife but leave them altogether like a strip of fringe (think teeth in dentures, but not loose teeth). Then layer the long fringe strips underneath each other like shingles. In other words, you are creating 7 or 8 strips instead of 70 or 80 little shingles.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would recommend dollhouse supplies. The tools they have would be perfect.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2013

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