Saturday, 4 February 2017

Carboard chimney breast

It has been weeks since I touched the project - this happens to me sometimes.  I don't actually go off it I just seem to reach an impasse and find myself making all kinds of excuses for not moving forward.  This time it was how to deal with the back wall of the dining room.  I had an idea I wanted something like this but without the jib door.

It is a pretty easy construction to copy so I fiddled around with cardboard to see what I would need to get the cupboard cut for me or to buy and fiddle a ready-made into place.  Ultimately I decided I didn't like how much space it ate up.  You need a minimum of 1.5 inches from the back wall to the front face of the chimney breast, plus the one inch of hearth and fire surround in front of that so, in effect you lose 2.5 inches from the depth of the room.  My rooms are 15 inches deep so it seemed like they could sustain that - but - add in a large dining table and chairs and we are now decidedly squeezing past the chairs if we want to move around the room.  The other issue was the chimney breast needs to be 5 inches wide so the cupboards either side would need to be less than 3 inches wide if I wanted even a smidgen of wall around them.  Basically this idea was kyboshed and I went back to the notion of a simple chimney breast taking up 1 inch depth, plus the hearth and then furnishing the alcoves either side with something....??????? to display dishes and silver.

It did do me a huge favour though as I have ended up with what I hope will be a usable chimney breast made from cardboard.

front view

I was wondering about the stability of cardboard but two things convince me it should be OK.  Firstly I follow three wonderful miniaturists who build almost entirely with card-stock and mount board and there isn't a hint of any future problems with their work.  Secondly if I think about it just about every inch of my project is damp vulnerable from the MDF used in the house construction to the cardboard tiling and bricks and all sorts of paper products inside the house.  I have no intention of putting my house anywhere where it could be damp so I don't think there will be an issue with any of it, chimney breast included.

A mini friend gave me some foamboard (she does terrific stuff with it) but I haven't done all that well with it.  I can't seem to cut it with a decent ninety degree cut and I do seem to ravel up the foamy insides between the sheets.  I will persevere now and then when it seems useful but for a wall that I wanted to stand up straight, heavy cardboard seems to be the way.

I bought a large (22" x 32") sheet of stiff grey card - is it called ticketboard? - for £2.15 from Hobbycraft - in their mountboard section (mountboard is more than twice the price). Probably 1/16th inch thick and quite rigid. It cuts OK with a Stanley knife/box cutter as long as you remember the golden rule of making lots of small cuts and not trying to get through it with one or two slices.

I measured the fire surround mantelpiece; it was 4.75 inches wide. I didn't want the chimney breast to be much wider, so I added a smidgen to that making a five inch width piece of card.  The room is ten inches high but I don't want to be struggling with a tight fit between floor and ceiling so this time I knocked off an eight of an inch.  The ensuing gap with be covered with coving.  I made sure that any edges that would be standing on the floor were the already manufactured straight edges so that I would get a nice even base for the piece.  

I then lay the fire surround and fire on the chimney breast front that I'd made and worked out how large I wanted the fire box opening to be.  Measure, draw and cut out.  After that everything else was pretty much one inch strips of card.

gubbings behind

The exception being the piece that goes under the fire so that it stands level with the hearth.  This needed to be one inch deep plus the 1/16th thickness of the card so it could be shoved forward inside the front edge.

not a pretty sight

I used some off-cuts of wide coving just to ensure the sides were glued on at a neat 90 degree angle to the front.  At some point I realised they would be even more useful glued into place to do that job and would give the chimney breast some weight and substance.

Whilst making this I have also become a convert to Mod Podge. (made by Plaid)  Best to google it as there are so many variations.  I have just used the bog standard Mod Podge Mat finish and it glued great and sealed any hairline gaps really well and coated the edges of the cardboard and then it went on to be sanded down brilliantly.  Lovely medium for putting (cheap fuzzy) cardboard together but wanting a wood finish to take paper and paint properly.

People claim it is watered down PVA but I am not convinced.  PVA - the normal white craft glue - goes some way towards what this can do but I'd claim this did what I wanted much better than PVA would and for the small difference in price you may as well get the real McCoy.

Come back next week for the finished article.



  1. Hi Marilyn!
    I'm with you with regard to leaving a project when an impasse is reached and returning to it often weeks later with a fresh determination to continue. Your hiatus has served you well because the framework for the fireplace promises Great things ahead. I also AGREE with you about the wonders of Mod Podge, I have both the SHINY and the MAT but for a Satin sheen I just mix a bit of both together and it does the ticket.
    I LOVE the idea of glueing a bit of cove molding inside the frame to keep it straight and provide stability- a BRILLIANT method which I may have to borrow from you! ;P
    Can't wait for the next installment, now that you are back In The Groove!


  2. HI Elizabeth,
    I think when the mojo goes it is silly to keep pushing on as then something that was once a pleasure just becomes a chore. I have no time limit on this build, so I have the luxury of stopping and starting at will as long as I can find enough to write about to be able to blog each week. Needn't be coving of course just anything with a decent right angle. Onwards and upwards.... m

  3. Hello Marilyn,
    Great work and very clear explanations. It might not have been all that much fun, but it will make all the difference in the room. I have worked with card before and never had any problems...I doubt you will because your construction is very well done and looks like it will be quite solid. I have only used Mod Podge on painting to create brush strokes, but I will definitely try it for finishing the walls as you have. Keep up the great work!
    Big hug

    1. I know how much you do with card and the miracles produced so you were one of my 'comforters' when I set off on the cardboard route. Happy enough with the end results... and it is still standing! Mod Podge and I are now new best friends. M