Make a Fantasy Tree House in Miniature for your Dolls House Garden

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05 August 2013
imports_HAC_main-pic-smaller_63247.jpg Make a Fantasy Tree House in Miniature for your Dolls House Garden
Gerry Welch of Manorcraft shows us how to create a fantastic miniature fantasy tree house for a Wizard's Retreat. ...
Make a Fantasy Tree House in Miniature for your Dolls House Garden Images
You will need:
  • Stanley knife
  • 1/8” (3mm) balsa wood
  • 1/32” (0.8mm) balsa wood
  • Pencil
  • Metal ruler
  • Acrylic paint – chocolate brown, cream, white
  • Super Glue
  • PVA or wood glue
  • Paint brush for applying glue
  • Soft fine brush for painting
  • DAS modelling material (is there an alternative option)
  • Dark oak wood stain
  • Veneer pin for door handle
  • Small piece of clear plastic (from household packaging is fine)
  • Imitation lead relief liner
  • Imitation moss
  • Driftwood or a substantial tree branch
  • Suitable piece of slate
  • Screw to attach the slate

Cutting list:
From 1/8” (3mm) balsa
  • X2, 4” x 4” (100mm  x 100mm) for the front and back
  • X1, 3-1/2” x 3-1/2” (89mm x 89mm) for the base
  • X2, 2-1/4” x 2-1/4” ( 57mm x 57mm) for the sides
  • X2, 3” x 2-3/4” (76mm x 70mm) for the roof
  • X4, 3-1/2” x 2” (89mm x 50mm) roof support brackets

I’ve chosen balsa wood for for this project, mainly because it’s very easy to work with - all you need is a good Stanley knife. But a word of caution - if the blade is new be careful, it will take a little longer to finish with a great big bandage on your finger! My local model shop sells balsa sheets at lengths of 4” x 36” (100mm x 914mm). You will need 1/8” (3mm) thick sheet, and 1/32” (0.8mm) thick, which is about the thinnest they sell.

Step 1

Cut out the main parts of the house from the 1/8” balsa. Because the wood sheets will bend in-line with the grain, make sure to cut the two roof panels so that the grain runs side-ways across.

Step 2

Take the base pieces and start to shape as shown. Curve the two back corners, and leave the right-hand front a bit longer, because that’s where the door will be.

Step 3


Mark the centre point across the top of the back wall piece and then measure 2” (50mm) down on each side. The easiest way to get a curve is to use an ordinary dinner plate about 10” (254mm) across. Finally mark in 3/4" (19mm) from each side to form the narrow bottom. Cut away the excess.

Step 4

Follow the same procedure for the front and then mark out a small circular window, as well as a slightly larger doorway. It just so happens that the pots of acrylic paint I’m using have a base of 1-1/2” (38mm) and the lid is a bit smaller, so I’ve used those as templates.

Step 5


Start by gluing the back panel in place about 1/4" (6.5mm) from the back of the base - I prefer to use a good quality Super Glue, mainly because you can progress without waiting for long periods, unlike the long drying times of wood glue. Then glue both sides and the front in place.

Step 6


Taking the four roof support brackets we’re going to make two by gluing two of each together, so they’re a bit thicker. Hold in place as shown and mark out, including the semi-circular part to clear the window and cut out.

Step 7


Mark out on the roof panels where the brackets will a go. Measure inside and between the front and back panels and Super Glue the brackets so they’re just inside.  Brush the roof with a PVA or wood glue - this will seal the surface and is needed in order for the clay tiles to adhere later. Put to one side to dry.

Step 8

With the thinner balsa wood, rather than cut strips just bend along the grain and it will snap into nice rustic strips. These are much more effective and have the right look for a tree house.

Step 9

Start at the bottom and on the back, and lay the strips overlapping each other. Continue right up to the top and we will trim the edges later.

Step 10


Cover the front and both sides in the same way. You can now trim all the edges and cut out the window and doors, with a sharp knife. Hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am!

Step 11


Now for one of my personal favourites, the quirky roof tiles. I prefer to use Das modelling material, which is a self-hardening clay. Roll several small balls, about the size of an average pea then flatten them between your fingers. Start at the bottom on one side of the roof and press into place. Continue upwards, overlapping as shown.

Step 12

When you’ve finished both sides, make a few larger ones to cover the top tiles. Finish off with a little chimney by moulding a square-sided piece in your hands until you’re happy with the shape, and press into place. Now the whole roof will need to dry overnight.

Step 13

There are a few stages to go through to finish the exterior, starting with a base coat. I’ve used chocolate brown acrylic paint but you could also use tester pots from DIY stores. Brush the whole exterior, making sure the paint goes into all the lower parts between the strips and while that dries, we can paint the inside. For this I have used a cream colour acrylic.

Step 14


From left-over bits of your 1/8” (3mm) balsa, cut out a small floor to fit inside. Using any sharp tool, scribe a floor board effect. To finish the floorboards, paint them with dark oak wood stain.

Step 15


When the first coat of paint has dried on the outside we can start ‘dry brushing’. Place a small amount of cream coloured paint onto a piece of scrap balsa. Using a soft, fine brush, load it with paint and then wipe most of it off. Brush lightly over the boards in a downward motion. Go slowly, bit by bit, until you’re happy with the effect.

Step 16

Now we are going to make the front door. Hold a small piece of 1/8” (3mm) balsa behind the opening and mark and cut out.

Step 17


From the thinner balsa cut two strap hinges, and glue in place. I’ve also bent a little veneer pin to form the handle. Brush with dark oak stain and wipe away any excess.

Step 18


Because we only require a small piece of clear plastic, instead of buying an A4 sheet I managed to rummage through various household packing and found a box made of clear plastic. With a little bit of care and attention I cut out an almost perfect circle, just a bit bigger than the window opening. Make a type of jig as shown. Mine is from a piece of scrap balsa, with raised pieces at the top and bottom to raise the ruler up a bit. Hold the circle of plastic in place with a few blobs of tacky wax. Squeeze the tube gently and run from top to bottom at an angle, moving ruler to the left a little each time. When fully dry (normally after about thirty minutes), simply adjust the angle of the ruler, and make lines forming the diamond shape seen in many old houses. When fully dry glue in place behind the window opening.

Step 19

Check that the clay on your roof has fully dried. Mix some black acrylic paint with a small amount of white to make a dark grey. Add a little water to thin it out a bit and paint the roof one side at a time. Make sure it goes into all the lower parts of the tiles. Wipe with a damp, but not wet, cloth in a downward motion. Paint the chimney brown, and if, like mine, yours has fallen off, glue back in place.

Step 20

Mix up a bit of PVA wood glue with a little water to make the mixture slightly runny and apply, with a brush, in the places where you want your moss to be. Carry on over the whole roof, but really it’s up to you how much moss you would like.

Step 21

I decided to treat the walls as well using the same method. And now all that remains is to raise the house skyward. I’ve show two ideas for a base. One is a great piece of driftwood, and the other is simply a suitably pruned branch from the garden.
The slate for the base needs a hole to be drilled in the centre, and a screw used to make it secure. Then a couple of little shrubs from the local model shop finish it of nicely.

I really hope you’ve enjoyed making this great little tree house, as much as I have. If you want to learn more, make sure you visit our website at for the chance to see more great step by step projects as I take you through the building of The Wizards Retreat. This new video series looks at all the stages involved in the build and takes you through each process in an easy to follow step by step format. Each episode is only £2.99, alternatively you can purchase the entire series for £19.99 and have access for 30 days, or if you need more time at £49.99 for one year’s unlimited access.

Gerry Welch, Manorcraft

This feature was originally published in Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine. If you like making miniatures, why not buy yourself a copy of the magazine. Or better still take out a subscription so you never miss an issue. For fans of Facebook and Twitter, or to email, print or comment on the feature, please use the buttons above to share with your friends.

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