Architect’s Scales–A Brief Intro and How-To


If you collect issues of The Scale Cabinetmaker, you’ll find that many of the projects’ dimensions are given in full scale measurements, and it’s up to us to translate that into the scale we want to work in.

You can either do math (divide everything by 12, or 24, or 48, for 1″, 1/2″, 1/4″ scale), or you can save yourself the trouble and purchase an architect’s scale.

An architect’s scale is a triangular ruler with six different scales listed in inches. (Note it is different from an engineering scale, which is metric–get the one with inches, or you’ll be doing a heck of a lot more math).

Photo of my scale from the top (Click pics for larger versions):

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Here it is, looking at the 1″ scale side (sorry it’s a little blurry):

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How does it work? See the 1 there to the right of the 20? (ignore the 20 for now). That’s the one inch mark–there’s exactly one inch, or one scale foot, between the zero and the 1. To the left of the zero is an inch (a scale foot) broken down into 12 scale inches. (3 inches, 6, 9, 12).

So, if I’m looking at plans for the deck chair, and it shows that one piece is 50″ long, I think, “How many feet is that?” (OK, so you have to do a tiny bit of math).

50 inches = 4 feet, 2 inches (right? I’m an English major).

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I place my scale ruler on my piece of wood, count over from zero to 4 (it’s four real inches, or four scale feet). Then I move the ruler to measure from the left of the zero mark the last two “inches” (scale inches), and there I have my measurement. I have no idea what the actual measurement is (4 1/6 inches I guess it would be), but I don’t need to know that. I know it’s 4 feet 2 scale inches.

It took some time before the lightbulb went off for me. Get a scale, find some projects with real-size dimensions, and practice figuring out how to translate the measurements into one-inch scale.

The great thing about learning how to do dimensions using the architect’s scale is that any project in the Scale Cabinetmaker can be resized for 1/2″ or 1/4″ scale as well! (If you want to do some of those things that small!)

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This is the half-inch side of the architect’s scale. The one scale foot mark is the 10 (because the ruler has six scales, some of the marks are from the scale going the other direction, which drove me nuts at first, until I learned to ignore it). The 2 is the 2 scale feet mark, the next mark is 3 scale feet, and so on.

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Here is the 1/4″ scale side. Ignore the 92, etc, and just use the 2, 4, etc.

Thus, if something is four inches on a side in real life, instead of trying to figure out how big is 1/3 of an inch, you can use the marks on the architect scale to count 3 scale inches and not worry about it.

Clear as mud? It’s clearer when you practice with it. One motivation in making the deck chair and the chest was to see if I could figure out how to mark the dimensions.

Last–The Scale Cabinetmaker does have some fairly easy projects. I look for ones that don’t need a lot of power tools, or have straight lines or rectangular carcasses. The projects contributed by Bill Miller can be done with hand tools and intermediate or even beginning woodworking skills (he also lists his dimensions in inches, so no need for the architect’s scale). I made a backgammon table and 1/2″ scale pool table he designed, and both turned out well!

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Fun projects #2 and #3


More fun. This time two simple projects:

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Again I found these plans in The Scale Cabinetmaker. This lounge chair is made of straight cuts of wood with a little drilling and pinning. It really folds and unfolds, and the back can be adjusted (note the grooves in the bottom back where the rung fits.)

I did not make the grill–it’s there for effect!

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These pieces are from the Realife Miniatures Victorian parlor kit from ages and ages ago. I’d made it as a teenager and the set went in the first version of The Big House. When I was able to afford better furniture, they of course got put in a box.

I decided to see if I could salvage them. I took off the kit’s original fabric, refinished the outsides, and reupholstered in some nice jacquard-like fabric. The rocking chair’s fabric is a little different (a cotton paisley), but the pieces look nice together.

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For the table, I had to bend a new piece of 1/32 basswood, and refinish everything. But now the table stands square (it rocked before), and everything looks lovely!

Now I have a nice furniture set, and no house to put it in. Hmm….

Fun Project #1


I’ve been working on some fun projects since I last posted.

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I made this trunk on stand from scratch. Found the plans in The Scale Cabinetmaker, I believe volume 4, issue 1. I’m always looking for unusual things to build, because I figure the usual stuff–chairs, couches, tables–I can find commercially. I thought this project wouldn’t be too difficult. (It was and wasn’t.)

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I modified the lid, because I didn’t have the right thickness of wood. The plans called for the lid to be carved out of a 5/8 piece, both inner and outer sides carved. I didn’t have the tools either to do this, so I built a regular lid with four sides, soaking and curving a 1/32 piece of mahogany for the top of the lid. Then I covered it with “leather.” (How I made the faux leather below.)

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The trunk opens to reveal an interior with a lift-out tray, which I covered with scrapbooking paper (the paper looks a little like a Monet painting, and pasted in, it looks like old leather).

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I drilled holes and put in every single one of the brass nails (from Houseworks) in all four sides myself. Front and back had 15 each, sides 9 each.

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I’m proud of the stand because it actually worked. I had grand intentions of making the cabriole legs myself, but then I found premade legs of the exact size I needed (I mean exact) in my stash. I figured the universe was telling me to use them, so I sanded and shaped them a little.

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The back legs, however, I cut myself on a scroll saw. I’m pleased that they turned out right and both the same!

I am also pleased because the plan called for the bottoms of the sides to be rabbeted and the bottom fitted into the groove. I’d never rabbeted joins before, so I learned a new skill! I think the added work on the joinery made the stand solid and sturdy.

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The plans called for real leather, but I didn’t have enough, nor did I want to waste it if it didn’t work. So I made a lot of faux leather, very simply.

The base is mulberry paper. This can be found at art supply stores or other places that carry handmade paper, or online. This paper is thin and inexpensive.

I laid out a large piece of mulberry paper on waxed paper. I mixed burnt umber oil paint with artist glazing medium. (I used water-cleanup oil paints which are both cheaper than oils and dry faster. The glazing medium is a common commercial brand I found at Michaels.)

I painted the paper (one side only, because the other side would be glued down), and hung it to dry overnight. The paper turns out soft and supple, looking and feeling like leather.

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The hasp and loop for the lock I cut out of a .005 brass sheet. My first time working with brass. Fun. The hinges were Houseworks.

I’m very pleased with the result!

Shoe House, Outside

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The shoe house in progress. Click images for larger pics.

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Stuccoed the outside using the torn-up tissue method. 1) Take facial tissue (the kind you blow your nose with) and separate each two-ply sheet into two very thin sheets. 2) Tear each sheet into quarters. 3) Crinkle up each quarter sheet then smooth it back out. 4) Paint surface to be stuccoed with a layer of acrylic paint in your choice of colors. 5) While paint is still wet, place one piece of crinkly tissue on the painted surface. 6. Dab with stiff-bristled brush until tissue is absorbed and it looks like stucco. Cover entire surface of house (or wall or whatever), let dry, then give it another coat of paint in your color choice.

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Painted the walls of the house Americana Warm White. The timbers and trim are pink, because Mrs. Mouse (who is decorating this house) likes pink. I started with Delta Ceramcoat Touch O’ Pink, but it wasn’t bright enough for Mrs. Mouse. I colored over it with a Prismcolor marker called Ballet Pink, and this made the color pop better.

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Scroll down for more pictures of the completed exterior. Roof shingle sheet comes with the kit. I painted it Neutral Gray, then aged with by dry brushing burnt umber and black green around the shingles (wiping off if it got too dark).

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Porch more or less done. The basswood post on the right corner is just to prop it up until everything is done. I’m thinking about making walls below the porch to both support the porch and conceal the wiring.

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The kitchen will go in this small space in the shoe.

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This is all that will be seen of kitchen once the shoe is together (I plan to find a way to not have to glue house down permanently, so kitchen can be viewed).

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Must finish hiding the wiring and doing the interior decorating. Mrs. Mouse is rubbing her paws waiting to get started.

A Different Kind of Mini Project

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Click photos for larger versions!

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This “room box” is a shallow diorama type box, which fits into a 1″ deep frame. It’s a kit by Ginger Landon Siegel She taught a class at last July’s NAME show; I didn’t take that class, but I thought it was a cool project (the facade of a house). This one is similar, except an interior rather than an exterior (obviously).

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When I saw this kit on her site, I was intrigued. I’m always looking for different projects to do. The kit starts with a photograph, which is then manipulated and enhanced. The result is a cool-looking diner interior. She provides the frame and everything needed to complete the display box (including the lighting).

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I’d never done a project like this, and I wasn’t sure about it as I was doing it, LOL, but it taught me a lot about perspective and fool-the-eye techniques.

A cool update on The Scale Cabinetmaker

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Meghan Dorsett sent me this note about ordering back issues of The Scale Cabinetmaker (which you can find at or

“After releasing all of TSC on cd-rom this past fall (2013), we decided to take one more technological leap. All of TSC is now available, by issue, as downloadable pdfs. Folks can go online to, choose the issue they want, and download it directly to the computer. No waiting, no shipping, now wondering if the delivery service is going to manage to deliver it in this lifetime. We made the move because the Postal Service and the other shipping companies raised their international rates to a level just this side of insanity.

We set the price at $6.00 per issue, which given what we include in an issues is a heckuva deal. We do still have some print issues available, so if folks write us and ask, we may actually be able to fill in some of the missing materials. Thanks for your support over the years.


I (Jennifer) now own every issue. The magazines are chock full of projects from easy to complex, and contain plans for complete houses, furniture, accessories, plus plenty of articles on how to use tools (both power and hand), how to hand carve, make dovetailing, mortise and tenon, and other joinery, metal minis, room box arrangements, and and ways of making minis you might never have thought of. Projects come in all scales: 1″ , 1/2″ and 1/4″ (esp the 1/4″ Italianate Victorian house that looks gorgeous).

When I lived in Germany, I would take TSC with me to the train station for my journey from the farmhouse into the bigger town, and read them cover to cover. Now I have the room and time to try to build what I could only read about back then!

Again, they’re at: or

Big House Music Room–Mostly Done

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I have mostly finished the Music Room in the Big House Remodel, so I will regale everyone with pictures! (Click for close-ups)

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First some general overview pics. The whole space is 16″D x 17″W x 12″, though I took away about 2-3 inches of depth with a false wall and French doors leading to a garden.

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I hadn’t started out to amass a musical instrument collection (figured I’d put in a couple of things), but I kept finding opportunities to acquire them. Took me a couple of years, but here they are. (More details on each below.)

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Beautifully made mandolin is part of a set of instruments I bought at auction. They were handmade by L.W. Norman.

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Zither is part of the L.W. Norman instruments. Most of the decorative items in the built-in shelves I purchased at the Mini Time Machine musuem’s shop (glass, silver wedding vase, ceramic quail). A couple of the pots I bought from Craig Roberts at a show, the top one in this picture is from Poco Pots (it has horsehair in it, mane clippings!).

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Two beautiful guitars from L.W. Norman.

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The guitar on the floor stand is by Nantasy Fantasy. I believe I bought this via Mainly Minis. I made the stand (as well as the hanging stands). How to make the floor stand baffled me, until I found a pattern for an easel and modified it.

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Banjo is the fifth and final instrument in the collection from L.W. Norman. Gorgeous! I also fell in love with this Knowle sofa made by Ron Hubble. I custom ordered it.

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This is a lovely music cabinet made by Shannon Moore. I’m annoyed that this photo came out blurry, but you can see the burle veneer on it–so pretty. The violin on top was part of a Reutter Porcelain set.

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The cabinet open. It’s beautifully made. Historically, the cabinet was meant to hold instruments, such as violins, as well as music books.

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A shot of the room via the front hall.

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The instruments I’ve bought are works of art in themselves. This is the Nantasy Fantasy guitar. Perfect workmanship.

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The painted harp is by Ron Kerr.

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This is a Ralph Partelow piano. I had in mind to buy a regular grand piano, but I liked this one because it’s unusual. It’s a box grand.

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Inside the piano. The detail is a little hard to see in the picture, but the stringing and soundboard look very real.

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Another thing I splurged on was this fine chandelier by Luminations by Mr. K. It’s hard to take pictures of it, because the camera spreads the light. This pic is a little dark, but easier to see detail.

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At this angle you can see it lit a little better.

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Some “through-the-windows” scenes for fun.

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Switching to the front hall, which is not quite finished, but getting there. I redid the floor in parquet to match the music room.

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Another shot. Sofa is hand carved by Susanne Russo. She describes how to hand carve like this in an issue of the Scale Cabinetmaker. When I saw the sofa at the auction, I recognized it from the article and decided to bid on it.

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Back to the music room. The chair is “vintage” Bespaq I bought from Mountain Miniatures. I figure the lyre motif went with the music room! The still-life picture is by Cezanne. (He didn’t actually paint this one! It’s a cut-out picture I framed.)

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This table is a brag. I made it in a class with the Boorums at the NAME convention in 2013. I had it mostly done in the class, but finished it at home. We learned how to taper the legs, router the top, do the inlay, and cut the rest of the pieces for the table. I finished it with paste wax. (They carved the drawer pulls for us.)

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An overview shot. I need a good piano bench or stool, and I’ll probably re-do the curtains, but I think I can put a fork in this one. It’s done.

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