No Extra Credit for Doing it the Hard Way

Lesson Learned:

There’s no extra-credit for doing it the hard way.

This was easily the most important lesson I learned building this dollhouse. While details are (almost) always a net positive, that doesn’t mean you have to build things the hard way.

When I was in High School, I remember the easiest way to get a better grade was to just use more words. In Math class, I just needed to write out every step of the problem. In German class, I could make mistakes on the test as long as I did a quick verb conjugation on the back. In High School, if you do more, it rarely matters how good your work is. More often than not, you can get extra credit by just doing more. (This doesn’t work in college, or grad school.)

When I am building a dollhouse, no one but me knows how ‘hard’ it was to build an element, or how many times I had to sand that step to get it to fit just right. If two things look, feel, and function the same, there is no difference between my took-three-months-to-build-half-scale-Chippendale couch, and the one I glued together out of sawdust and toothpaste. (Nor is there a difference between the master-craftsman-artisanal miniature couch, and one that I bought at K-Box SuperCraft.) If the artisanal couch looks better, or holds up better, or feels better, (it will) than the K-Box SuperCraft couch, then it might be worth doing it the hard way. But, there is no extra-credit given simply because you did it the hard way.

I already wrote about building the windows, they are perhaps the best example of this lesson in practice.

Here’s how I built the (one) first window (steps 1-9 in the graphic below):

  • Step 1) Cut a hole in the front of the house.
  • Step 2) Cut the rounded edges off of a bunch of 1/2″ popsicle sticks.
  • Step 3) Measure the height of the left-side of the hole.
  • Step 4) Cut the popsicle stick to that height.
  • Step 5) Measure a popsicle stick to height of the right-side of the hole.
  • Step 6) Put the two popsicle sticks in the hole, and measure the distance from the inside of the left popsicle stick at the top, to the inside of the right popsicle stick at the top.
  • Step 7) Cut out the popsicle stick that will go between the left and right (at the top).
  • Step 8) Repeat steps six and seven for the bottom popsicle stick.
  • Step 9) Glue the popsicle sticks together to create the window frame.
  • Step 10) Dry-fit the frame in the hole.
  • Step 11) Sand the outside of the frame and the hole in the facade until the frame fits snug.
  • Step 12) Repeat steps three through eight, this time using 1/4″ x 1/4″ wood, and measuring the inside the popsicle stick frame.
  • Step 13) Glue the pieces cut in the step above to the inside of the frame.
  • Step 14) Glue the frame to the hole in the window, so that part of the popsicle stick frame juts into the room, and part juts out past the front of the facade.
  • Step 15) Cut another popsicle stick to lay flat on the top of the window frame.
  • Step 16) Cut a triangular pediment to sit on top of that.
  • Step 17) Cut a popsicle stick to lay flat on the bottom of the window frame.
  • Step 18) Cut a 1/2″ by 1″4″ window-sill to lay flat underneath that.
  • Step 19) Glue the items from 14-18 onto the facade touching the window.

When I looked at the finally installed window, I realized that it looked just like I had simply glued a frame around the hole that I had cut out. So, all that work I did measuring to the hole, and mitering the edges of the interior window, and sanding and sanding and sanding, ended up being unnecessary. I could get the exact same look and function by gluing the popsicle sticks around hole, and call it a day.

With that in mind, here’s how I built (all eleven) remaining windows (steps 10-12 in the graphic below):

  • Step 1) Measure the height of the window frame I just built.
  • Step 2) Cut 22 popsicle sticks to that height.
  • Step 3) Measure the width of the window frame.
  • Step 4) Cut 22 popsicle sticks to that width.
  • Step 5) Cut all of the popsicle sticks in half, lengthwise.
  • Step 6) Cut out 11 holes in the facade where these windows will go. (This hole will be 1/2 inch smaller than the hole I cut for the first window).
  • Step 7) Glue the popsicle sticks to the facade, around the hole, leaving a 1/4″ gap between the popsicle sticks and the hole.
  • Step 8) Cut 11 pediments.
  • Step 9) Cut 11 popsicle sticks for the top and bottom of the windows.
  • Step 10) Cut those popsicle sticks in half (half for the top, half for the bottom.)
  • Step 11) Cut 11 window sills for under the window.
  • Step 12) Glue all those pieces to the front of the facade, and the back of the facade.


Depiction of two ways to build windows
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong the first time.

Doing the windows this way took me less than an hour for each remaining window (500% faster). I could have built every window way I did the first, and spent an extra 55 hours on the dollhouse. But that extra time would have served absolutely zero purpose. Instead, I saved myself a ton of time by building the windows ‘the easy way’ and ended up with the same result.

Honestly, now that the dollhouse is complete, I really can’t tell the difference between the window that was built ‘the hard way’ and the ones that were built ‘the easy way.’ (I only know which window was built first because of the photos I took.)

Almost every post about this dollhouse is in some way, an in-depth examination of how I built an element the first time, and then how I built it the second time, the third time, and the seventy-eleventh time. If there is any thing to be learned from these posts, I hope it’s this.

There’s no extra-credit for doing it the hard way.

Shot of all 12 windows
The ‘hard way’ window is on the second story, second from the left. Compare that to the ‘easy way’ window on the bottom right.

What others have to say:

Here are a few other people who talk about doing things the easy way:

  • MotherEarthNews has some pretty general advice on how to build a dollhouse
  • Let’s Build a Dollhouse has a lot of great content on how to build a dollhouse, don’t let the tables steer you wrong, this is some good info.
  • CoolDollHouses has another one of those good (though very general) articles on how to build a dollhouse.
  • Jenni’s Miniatures has some great inspiration, and a ton of links to places you can buy miniatures.
  • Meaningful Mama greets you with a full-page popup, but beyond that it is some really great content, and DIY tips.

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