Building a Miniature Chippendale Breakfront

I was lucky enough to acquire a very rare miniature furniture kit from a favorite collector on eBay (foxgolly –  This kit hadn’t been opened since the 1970’s when it was manufactured.  I had always wanted to build this particular kit and I remember when these were first produced when I was a kid.

Breakfronts such as this one dominated the room in which it rested due to the shear size of this massive piece.  This piece is modeled after a popular 18th century design that was primarily found in English Manor houses and later in wealthy homes in Rhode Island.  The glass-doored top of the breakfront was usually used to display fine pieces of china and statuary, while the lower portion provided space for table settings and linen.

I started four weekends ago with the basswood parts – sanding them and assembling them into units that would later be stained and assembled together.

I always like to reinforce my builds of miniature furniture with some 1/16″ dowels placed at what I think will be key locations to facilitate the later assembly after finishing.  For the breakfront, I inserted two dowels into the lower base piece and corresponding holes in the lower cabinet walls.  Then a set of dowels in the base piece that separates the top from the bottom cabinet – two pointing down into the lower cabinet walls and two pointing up into the upper cabinet walls.  This later proved to be invaluable to easily aligning and assembling when the doors were inserted into small brass pins in top and bottom cabinet sections.

The following weekend, I applied some original House of Miniatures mahogany stain that I still have from the 1970’s.

Not much time on the third weekend – it was devoted to applying the first coat of shellac and van dyke brown patina from my only surviving original House of Miniatures bottle of glaze stain.

This brings us up to this weekend where I applied another final coat of shellac and then it was time for final assembly with 2 part epoxy.  I begin by replacing the original keyhole brass plates that came with the kit with brass knob and plates because I think it makes the piece look better and the doors are much easier to open with knobs.  I epoxied the “cut glass” into the empty door frames for the top cabinet.

It was time for the most difficult part of assembly – aligning all the doors with the brass pins and gluing the lower and upper cabinet subassemblies together with epoxy.

Then I glued on the top broken bonnet and back boards to complete the piece.

This classic 1970’s rare House of Miniatures kit provided me with over 30 hours of enjoyable building and finishing.

Finishing the Broken-Bonnet Highboy

Today I had some more time to finish the broken bonnet highboy piece that I started before the holidays.

To recount, I’m building a miniature Chippendale Broken Bonnet Highboy, which was popular during the early 1700’s in America.  Last time I finished the basic assembly of three sections of the highboy, the lowboy portion, the highboy portion, and the bonnet.  I had come up with some modifications on the original miniature kit by using dowels to secure the cabriole legs to the lowboy, and to eventually secure the three sections together after finishing.  I also finished final sanding of the pieces and applied end grain sealer and mahogany stain.

Today I completed applying the Van Dyke brown glaze stain and a final varnish.

Now I’m ready to assemble the sections into the final piece.  Before I do, though, I take some time to glue on the brass hardware on each drawer.  I use 2-part epoxy to glue on the tiny brass escutcheon plates and keyhole plates to some of the drawers.  After they are dry, I use a tiny drill to drill holes through the openings in the plates to insert tiny brass drawer pulls.  I use 2-part epoxy to secure the ends of the pulls in the drawer.

Finally the highboy is finished!

Building a Chippendale Broken Bonnet Highboy

I’m working on a miniature Chippendale Broken Bonnet Highboy, which in real life was popular in the early 1700’s in America.

The broken bonnet designation is descriptive of the pediment capping the main chest.  The highboy is basically a chest of drawers on top of a lowboy, which is a smaller chest of drawers usually with one long shallow drawer at the top and three drawers below it, one with ornate carving, and featuring cabriole legs.

This piece with a continuous straight or hooded top piece became popular during the William and Mary period.  The broken bonnet style became popular much later in the period, toward the Queen Anne period.

Chippendale embellished the pediments with finials and pieces like this one were built from solid mahogany.

I did some basic assembly of the lowboy portion and the highboy portion leaving the backing boards off each so that staining would be easier because I can get to both sides of the inner drawer casings with a brush and cloth.

The original design called for just gluing the finials on the top of the bonnet.  This makes for a fragile design susceptible to breaking these delicate parts off the bonnet when I’m staining the piece.  So I came up with a way to secure them on much more strongly using miniature medium rail spikes with the flat end snipped off.

I predrilled small holes matching the diameter of the rail spikes in the bonnet surface.  The rail spike in each finial serves to secure it to the top with much more strength than just a glue joint.  I will also finish the finials separate from the top and later glue them on with 2-part epoxy.

Likewise, I use 1/16″ dowels with predrilled holes in the lowboy underside where the cabriole legs are to be attached.  I’ll finish the lowboy and the legs separately, then glue them on the dowels in the lowboy later with 2-part epoxy.  The dowels will reinforce them so they will be less fragile.

I also use predrilled holes and dowels to join the lowboy to the highboy and the bonnet to the top of the highboy section, for added stability.

After a final sanding, I applied the sealer on all the end grains of the wood pieces, then I applied the base mahogany stain evenly over all the wood.  All the pieces are now drying overnight and tomorrow I should be able to work on applying the first coat of lacquer and glaze stain.


Miniature Disneyland Train

I just completed another miniature stainless-steel sculpture that is Disney-themed, in celebration of our recent vacation in Orlando, Florida at Disney World.  This time I decided to construct a miniature Disney Railroad steam engine, like the one we rode on at Disney World.

This sculpture took me about 6 hours to complete.

Magical Carriage

Last weekend I spent about 6 hours between Saturday and Sunday building another Disney-themed Metal Earth stainless steel sculpture kit.  This time it’s the Cinderella Carriage.

This kit was a little more difficult than the one I tackled last weekend, the Mickey Mouse Ferris wheel, because of all the very delicate parts that had to be precisely bent and connected.  Especially difficult was the central carriage pod which had to be partially rounded and then connected to the base.  I used a large roll of wide masking tape to form the curvature of each section before joining them and attaching to the base.

The wheels were also challenging because the “tread” was not connected together but only to the wheel rims, so care had to be taken to make sure nothing looked too crooked when it was connected.

All in all this was a very enjoyable and challenging kit to build.  I look forward to the next one.