Tag Archives: cheap thrills

Free Box of Awesomeness

I’ve been in London for a few days now and having a wonderful time. Our first full day here turned out to be rather horsey, as we saw Stubbs’ Whistlejacket at the National Gallery and went to the Household Cavalry Museum. As promised, here’s a belated post from earlier this week.

I did some light garage saleing last weekend and came away with some excellent surprises. I found some things to buy, but the best finds were in the free boxes! I got everything in this picture for a grand total of $1.25.

garage sale finds

huge bag of leather scraps, full container of glue, nice tan leather piece, and paint palette

I was so excited to find that bag of leather! It’s got to be about $100 worth of scraps. I have always made my tack out of reclaimed or recycled leather scrounged from old purses, wallets, and clothing. But now I have enough leather to probably last me the rest of my life- all for free!

On the way home, I swung by Goodwill to pick up a nice plastic tub to organize all my new leather (and my old leather) in. When I got home, the first step was the sort the leather. A lot of it had pretty big grain- too big for miniatures. I separated out the large-grain leather and put that in a separate bag. Next I took all the leather I wanted to keep and sorted it by color. And my, were there colors!

sorted leather

This photo has terrible lighting, but you can at least see the variety of colors

I’ve never seen so much colorful leather. Before, my colorful leather collection was in a small zip lock bag. Now I have just as much in fun colors as I do in the regular leather tack tones. I’d better get to work on some gaming sets!

To keep things organized, I kept things sorted by colors and bagged each color group. All the bags fit into the plastic tub, so now all my leather is together and super organized.

bagged leather

It was immensely satisfying. And I get to give the larger grain leather to some horse-loving kids so they can make some model horse tack too. What an awesome find!

Easy-Peasy Make Your Own Scale Poles

As far as prop making goes, making ground/jump poles is just about as simple as it gets. It’s a great started project because it’s easy and because a set of poles gives you a lot of options for performance events. I’m making these for use in trail and gaming classes, but they have a myriad of uses in set ups.

Here’s how I went about making my new set of poles.

First, materials. Poles are really just dowels that have been cut and painted. You’ll want to make sure you buy the right size dowel for your scale. For 1/32 scale (Chips/Stablemate) I’m using 3/16 inch diameter dowels from a hobby store. Before you go, you’ll want to calculate how many pieces you need. They’re generally sold in 36″ lengths. I wanted my poles to be equivalent to 12′, which in 1/32 scale is 4.5 inches. I increased that to 5” just to be safe, multiplied that by 8 (the number of poles I wanted) and got 40 inches. So I bought two 36″ pieces. To do my scale conversions I used this handy scale calculator.

In addition to poles, you’ll need sand paper, a saw or dremel, masking tape, and acrylic paint. I also used sealer (Krylon) and play-doh (an idea adapted from Friesian Fury Studio’s post on using play-doh for masking).

Next, you’ll want to measure out the poles on the length of dowel.

I left a bit of space between each poles length so the dremel would have room to cut. You wouldn’t need to leave so much if you use a hacksaw (and/or aren’t such a klutz like me).

You end up with poles a little over the intended length (in my case, 4.5 inches). If your poles are close to that, you can probably just move right on to sandpaper. Since mine each had several millimeters to lose and I had the dremel handy, I used that. You have a lot more control with the dremel when you can cut straight down, instead of at an angle as you have to do when cutting a long piece. That allows you to get a lot more precise and get the pole just a hair over the goal length.

Then a bit of sandpaper on the ends will take off any roughness and get them to a uniform length. You might want to sandpaper the whole piece, depending on how rough your dowels are. Keep the ruler handy so you don’t overdo it and end up with a pole that’s too short (I just plan ahead for failure and start with extra poles. I need seven, so I’m making nine).

Once your poles are all cut and sanded, it’s painting time. Poles come in just about any color or combination that you can imagine, but mine are going to be a relatively staid blue and white stripe.

I start with doing a layer of white. I do half a pole at a time, and stick the unpainted end in a lump of playdoh to dry.

Once those are dry, simply paint the other half. To make the stripes, I taped off the areas I wanted to remain white and then painted blue over the exposed white. There are a lot different striping styles out there, but you will want to measure out the taping if you want the poles to match.

This is blue tape with blue paint, but hopefully you get the idea. The ends and middle of each poles are taped up to keep them white.

You may need to do a couple layers of color. Try not to put it on too thick or it’ll look funny later. Once you pull the tape off, you may need to redo some of the white where it bled through or the taping was off. And then you’re done!

For longevity and durability, you may want to seal the poles with a matte fixative. I did mine using the same playdoh base technique, one half at a time. For some scenes, you might want old weathered poles. Handily, they’re pretty easy to make so you can create a whole arsenal in different colors and conditions, a pole for every possibility!

Goodwill is My Oyster

When I moved to Portland after college I was excited to be within driving distance of my horse so I could ride more often. But even so, he’s an hour and a half away and I’ve only managed to visit him for the occasional casual ride. Those rides are lovely, but I have really been missing regular riding, where I can actually improve my skills and train my horse.

So, I decided last week to ride him every Sunday. Not only that, but I’ll start riding in a saddle again and really work on my (and his) jumping skills. I love riding and jumping bareback, but it doesn’t do much for my equitation, so it’s back in the saddle for me. I had a ball on Sunday riding and jumping with new excitement and purpose. Unfortunately I also took off several layers on skin on my inner calf where my jeans met the saddle.

I’d rather not wound myself on a weekly basis, so I decided I needed to get some breeches, and a pair of boots to replace my cruddy barn sneakers. But of course, cheapskate that I am, I didn’t want to run out and spend $100+ at the tack store. So I headed to Goodwill first.


These healed boots and a pair of breeches cost me only $14, and I found a little Breyer foal as an added bonus! With new breeches starting around $25 and boots around $40, I saved a nice bundle. Now I can spend that money on sushi and Dull Cote!

Play-Doh is Fun Again

Sara Gifford of FriesianFury Studio did a lovely blog post about using Play-Doh way back in February, but I didn’t have a reason to try it until recently. My resin drafter has a nifty little acrylic rod in his hoof to help him stand, and I needed to protect it from primer.

So off I went to the store to get some play-doh. At first I only found the big packs with many different colors, but then I found this handy zip pack for only $1.99.

I took a little piece of play-doh (man, even this small bag is going to last me forever) and smooshed it over the acrylic peg so it was completely covered. Then I primed him like normal.

After I was done priming, I simply pulled off the play-doh, with the acrylic rod safe and sound and clean.

I won’t have a frequent use for play-doh, but I’m really glad I got some. It’s one of those tools that is the perfect choice when you need it- you just don’t need it very often. But I’ll definitely never struggle with painter’s tape again. Those days are over!

Thanks for the great post, Sara!

Playing with Dirt

As of last night, the arena base is finished! I’m moderately pleased with it. I think it would look better if the dirt covered the whole base (which wasn’t possible due to fence measurement requirements) and if I’d found a way to keep the cool little hoofprints I made in the dirt (alas, they were destroyed by the fixative). But for anyone who would like to use nice, free dirt in a diorama, here’s what I did.

First, I marked off the area I wanted with blue tape. If you’re doing the whole top of a base, you would only need to tape off the sides. I put toothpicks in the fence post holes to make sure no glue or dirt would clog them.

Then I slathered the area in modge podge, making sure to cover the whole surface thoroughly.

Using a sifter, I gently shook fine dirt onto the modge podge base. The dirt should be thoroughly sifted before this step so you don’t end up with big clods which are out of scale. Cover the base in a thick layer of dirt to make sure you haven’t missed anywhere.

Dump off the excess dirt. I would probably be better to do this outside than on the dining room table like I did.

The last step is to fixative the dirt in place. Leave the blue tape on for this step to avoid fixing dirt or dust in the wrong place and to keep the rest of the diorama uniform. For fixative, you’ll want something stronger than the stuff you use on horses. In this case, being gentle will get you nowhere because the dirt won’t stick. I use hairspray- the cheapest, nastiest stuff I can get. It smells awesome but it sure does the job. Use several coats. I finished my base with a coat of Matte fixative over the top to reduce any glossiness from the hair spray.

Here is the finished base with the arena fence (above) and the dressage fence (below). Sorry for the bad late-night photos- but you get the idea. Thank you to Caryn Peck of Mountain Home Models for the interchangeable fence concept.

I couldn’t resist adding my dressage letter and flower pots.

Christine asked what the dressage fence is made of. Here’s a close up:



It’s pretty simple- the rectangles are just 1/4″ square dowels cut to size with a hole drilled in them and a toothpick in the bottom for a peg. The chain is white 2mm oval cable chain from Amazon. The chain is glued into the two end fence posts and just slides through the middle two.

It sure is nice to have that crossed off my list. In fact, my to do list for the show is getting delightfully short. I have a halter to make (that’s this weekend) and some odds and ends, but nothing else major until packing day. Hurrah!

How to Make a Simple Light Box

Last July I decided, all of a sudden, that I wanted to make my own simple light box (or light tent). A light tent is a three-, four-, or five-sided box made out of a thin material (such as fabric or tissue paper) that diffuses light, used primarily in photography. Using the tent helps get rid of distracting shadows and reflections, and evens out the light within the space so that your camera’s white balance setting can do its job.

I wanted to make one that was more sturdy than cardboard, but still cheap, and also collapsible and easy to use. My plan was very successful and has helped me take much better photographs. The finished product is simple but effective.

There are a lot of tutorials out there for building one (most miniaturists have a need for good, well lit photos of tiny things) and I read through a bunch and then cobbled all the ideas together to make my own version. And now, only eight months later, here is How I Made My Light Box.

Step One: Make a plan. Here’s one my husband drew when we were designing it.

Hopefully this one that I just made will be a little more useful to people wanting to make their own:

As I said, this is a very simple design. It is only three pieces- two supporting sides and a top- but it’s functional and easily collapsible. It collapses flat and is thus easy to store. Many light boxes have a back too, but since I will always be using photo backdrops it in I found it unnecessary. If you wanted to add one you could use the same basic technique in this tutorial to add another piece of frame.

The dimensions I chose were based on my small scale collection. If you plan on photographing traditional sized models, especially in scenes, you’ll want to scale it up. Please note that for ease of description, I’ll be referring to the different pieces by the sizes and colors shown in the colored diagram above.

Step Two: Gather Tools & Materials. Have a plan before you go to the hobby or lumber store so you know how much wood to buy. I used 1/2″ square dowels for my frame. From my plan I knew I would need six 16″ pieces (orange), four 12″ pieces (blue), and two 18″ pieces (green). The dowels are usually sold in three foot pieces, so I used some simple arithmetic to figure out how many I needed and where I’d cut them.

Here’s what you need:
Enough wood to make three 4-sided rectangles for your frame
White tissue paper- enough to cover each frame
Masking tape or blue painter’s tape
14 small nails

You’ll also need a small wood saw, a ruler, scissors, and a pencil. And a nice, large flat area to work.

Step Three: Lay Out the Frame

Cut the wood to the proper lengths and lay it out like so. Make sure that you put the corners of the wood together the same way on each side, so that your 16″ pieces are on the outside and the 12″ pieces on the inside.

Step Four: Make the Attachments

The two frame sides will support the top “ceiling” piece and attach to it by a simple nail-and-hole. You make this part before attaching the frames together because otherwise you can’t hammer into the center of the wood (it would just break).

Take the 16″ short side of the ceiling piece (orange) and put a nail through the center. Then line it up with the piece of corresponding length from the side frame, (again, orange) and nail into that.

The point is to fix the nail into the wood of the ceiling piece but only to make a hole in the wood of the side frame. Then when you want to attach the pieces the nail in the ceiling piece just slides into the hole made in the side frame. This is how the three frame pieces will attach to stand up.

Wiggle the nail around so it fits snugly into the hole in the side frame but is easy to pull out again. Leave it stuck firmly in the side of the ceiling piece.

Make sure you keep track of these pieces! The piece with the hole in it needs to end up in the top part of the side frame, and the side of that dowel with the hole needs to face upwards when the frame is assembled. For that reason I marked it with pencil so I wouldn’t put it together the wrong way.

Similarly, the pieces of the ceiling frame that have the nails both need to point down so that the nails point in the same direction and both attach into the supporting side frames.

Repeat this step for the other side so that you should have two 16″ pieces with nails sticking out of them and two corresponding 16″ pieces with nail holes.

Step Five: Assemble the Frames. Making sure to keep your corners square and the nail and nail holes aligned as I described above, nail the three frames together. For extra strength, put a drop of wood glue between the two pieces before you nail them all the way together.

Here is one of my assembled side frames:

Once you’ve made your three rectangular frames, use the nails sticking out of the top “ceiling” piece to attach it to the two side pieces with the corresponding holes, like so:

Step Six: Attach the Tissue Paper.Take the frames back apart and lay them on a flat, cat-free surface. Lay white tissue paper over the space and cut to fit.

Using masking tape or blue painter’s tape, attach the tissue paper on all sides. I don’t worry about attaching it perfectly- when I inevitably rip through the tissue paper it’ll be easy to just tape more on. Just make sure the paper isn’t too wrinkly.

Once all three frames are covered in tissue paper, you can reassemble the tent and voila, you’re ready to take pictures!

Many people use a light tent with positioned lights (usually from the two sides and the top). I don’t have the necessary equipment, so I use the available lights in my kitchen/living room and the bounty of natural lighting coming in the windows. All of this light hits the box and is softened and made consistent within it. After that I use the camera’s white balance setting to make evenly lit photos.

Husband is teaching me how to work the big fancy camera

Nightfox's winning halter photo

My favorite thing about this light box design (besides the fact that it was dirt cheap- maybe $10) is that it stores flat and sets up in no time. It’s perfect for a miniaturist with limited space who wants to take good photos without a ton of hassle.

Antique Show Fun

This weekend I helped my aunt run her booth at the Portland Expo Antique Show. I love antiques and collectibles and it was a total blast for me to get to help and hang out. I spent plenty of time wandering around looking at the goodies too. Many of the booths had a few Breyers, but here’s some of the most interesting things I saw.

Two matching Appaloosas pulled this handsome carriage

Wowza. I’ve never seen a parade saddle in person, and this is quite a fancy one to start with. Apparently it’s one of five existing, three of which are in museums.

The saddle featured pounds and pounds of both silver and gold. It is the Ute Chieftain by Heiser, circa 1950. Estimated value $50-75,000.

Plenty of silver on the bridle and breastcollar, too

One woman had a booth full of cheap toys and I was entertained to find a bunch of micro mini knock offs, in addition to the micros they were based on.

I managed to keep my spending to a minimum, buying only a gift, inexpensive plates (which we actually needed), a thimble for sewing, and this cute little Safari pony (from the Ponies Toob Set).

I’d love to get started on him, or finish up my race horses, but I’ve spent the rest of the weekend being sick and can’t drag myself off the couch. It took long enough to motivate myself to blog!