Half Timber Buildings

This tutorial is still a work in progress (and has been for several years). I'll hopefully get some photos of the step-by-step process up here someday. If you are particularly interested in seeing any step, please let me know and it may help me get motivated to finish this tutorial. ;)

Half timber style buildings often come to mind when thinking about Medieval Europe. This tutorial will go through the steps I have found to make a fair miniature reproduction of the half timber style architecture.

Please feel free to print, copy, or reproduce this tutorial in any form. No fees of any kind are required, but a simple credit listing would be appreciated. Enjoy!

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[Materials] [Description of Materials] [Process Overview] [Detailed Process] [Resources]
Description of Materials

Foam board is basically styrofoam sandwiched between two sheets of thick paper. Other types of material such as corrugated card board could be used as walls as well, but using foam board has yielded far better results and is certainly easier to work with. Foam board can be found in a wide range of stores. Hobby shops such as HobbyTown USA or other local shops may carry it, but usually have a higher price tag than others. Michaels craft store is usually a better alternative to find it. Many other stores which carry school or office supplies (Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Office Max, Office Depot) may also have it as part of their presentation materials. 1/4 inch is the most common thickness available, but other thicknesses (mostly found in art supply stores) will work as well.

Balsa wood is used as the timber part of the half timber structure. Many sizes will work, but I have found that for the majority of the cross timber 1/8 x 1/16th inch works the best. Each corner of the structure will consist of 1/8 x 1/8 inch balsa wood. Balsa wood can often be found in hobby shops which sell remote control airplanes. HobbyTown USA is one place which carries balsa - they do tend to charge a bit more for their wares (40% more compared to Hobby Haven, another local hobby shop). The cost of a 36 inch strip is 20 cents at Hobby Haven compared to 28 cents at HobbyTown USA. Considering you will need on average 10 such lengths for a moderately sized structure the total cost of wood should be less than $3 no matter which route you take.

Elmer's Glue has been found to work very well for hobby projects. Other generic brands of glue should work also, but I have found Elmer's glue to be extremely strong and fairly inexpensive. I do not recommend buying the washable white glues which Elmer's and other glue manufacturers make. Although not personally tested, the washable types of glue may weaken due to high humidity conditions or may not be as strong to begin with.

Apple Barrel Colors is a fairly inexpensive line of paints put out by Plaid. This type of paint can be found at Wal-Mart in their crafts section. A 2 ounce bottle costs about 44 cents and will provide enough coverage to do an entire village. The exact choice of colors is not fixed, but I have found the above mentioned colors work well together.

Liquitex Wood Stain has been my preferred medium for treating the balsa wood. It does a very fine job of bringing out the grain in the wood and gives the whole structure the right 'look' in my mind. Unfortunately it is a bit expensive per bottle (about $6 if my memory serves), but it contains enough to coat the wood for a huge half timber village. I found this excellent stain at Michaels craft store.

Crackshot Spackle is used to give the walls texture. I prefer this type of spackle due to its consistency (very smooth), how easy it is to work, and its low odor. This particular brand can be found at Lowe's hardware store. Other brands may work equally as well, but others I have tried have a pretty bad smell (which could be minimized by working outdoors).

Most of my recent projects have been mounted on 1/8 inch hardboard. This material provides a rigid base and a uniform height so the pieces match up when laid out together.

Various types of brushes will work for the primary paint brush. The brush does not need to be of very high quality. Any smaller than 1/4 inch and it will take quite some time to paint a wall. Larger bushes will work initially, but later in the process some touch ups may be needed which require a smaller brush. Plaid has several fairly low cost, good quality brushes suited for this purpose. The drybrush I have been using has fairly soft bristles about 1/2 inch long. It sort of reminds me of a small finger printing brush used to 'dust for prints' - basically the same concept applies here. We are basically going to be 'dusting for detail' on the textured walls.

The sponge brush will be used to apply the wood stain to the balsa. Other types of brushes can be used, but the stain is kind of hard on brushes with bristles so an inexpensive sponge brush fits the role nicely. I picked up 10 of them for 10 cents a piece on sale at Wal-Mart one day.

Sewing pins help to keep the structure together while being glued. Pins with large plastic heads work the best due to the ease of getting them back out. Sewing or craft shops should have these.

Rubber bands will help to keep the structure together while being glued. A variety pack will provide several sizes for use with various sized structures.

An Exacto knife is an essential part of working with balsa and foam board. This type of knife can be found in the same types of stores as the foam board itself. Be sure to pick up some extra blades. The foam board can either be a pleasure or a nightmare to work with depending on how sharp the blade is. When the blades get dull the foam tends to get all bunched up inside the card and is very difficult to cut. Sharp blades cut through the board like a hot knife through butter. BE CAREFUL - the knife cuts though fingers nearly as easy as foam board. If you are unsure of your skills with a knife, please ask an adult, friend, or significant other for some assistance.

I use an plastic mixing pallet I picked up at, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. Any small, shallow container should work and, if cleaned promptly, should not be ruined in the process.

Any sort of ruler that measures down to at least 1/16th of an inch should work nicely. I will be using the inches scale on a small metal ruler for this project.

A mechanical pencil is much preferred over a standard wooden pencil. It always keeps a uniform tip and is just easier to use in my opinion. A separate eraser may be desirable - usually mechanical pencils have puny erasers which are burned off after one or two decent sized mistakes.

Rolls of paper towels come in many brands of which any will work. These will be used for wiping off the wood stain, wiping off excess paint in the drybrushing step, and cleaning up any spills which may occur during the process.

Process Overview
  1. Measure out the wall sections
  2. Cut the wall sections
  3. Measure out the roof sections
  4. Cut the roof sections
  5. Cut the door and windows out
  6. Glue the wall sections together
  7. Cut grooves out of the balsa strips
  8. Treat the balsa strips with wood stain
  9. Notch the corners of the wall sections for beams
  10. Apply spackle to the wall
  11. Paint the walls Antique White mixed with Country Tan
  12. Glue the corner beams into place
  13. Measure, cut, and glue the balsa supports into place
  14. Lightly paint dark areas near the corners of the support pieces
  15. Drybrush the walls with Antique White
  16. Touch up the ends of the timbers
  17. Add some finishing touches

Detailed Process

Measure out the wall sections As a general rule I use 2 inches as a height for each level of a building (excluding the roof section). The internal size of the structure will be 4x4 inches. Here are the measurements of each wall section:

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Resources Questions? Comments? Email me at: ryan@skow.org