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Dollhouse Wiring Lessons from an Inexperienced Miniature Electrician

PHOTO OF A DOLLHOUSE SCONCE LIT

I’m not ashamed to admit that I hardly know anything about dollhouse wiring or lighting. 

So why am I writing this, you ask? Because as the old saying goes, if I can do it so can you. You probably have a ton of hesitations or questions around wiring. I did and I still do. My intentions with this post are for you to learn from my inexperience in hopes it makes dollhouse wiring a little less scary for you.

The Lightbulb Moment

When I reembarked on my dollhouse journey a few years ago, I decided I was going to use all battery-operated lights in my houses. It’s the way of the future, I told myself. But in all honestly, wiring was daunting and I was looking for a loophole to get around it.

In my real-life design projects, I select the fixtures and locations, but the task of making it work is always handed over to the professionals. Doing the actual wiring was uncharted territory for me. I had dabbled with it a bit, but was still unable to grasp the concept. I did, however, know how to change a battery and would consider myself a professional at that. 

It wasn’t until my awesome roommate at the Guild School, Sherry, (who was basically a lighting pro in my opinion) asked me, “So what – you’re going to go around turning all the lights on in your house one at a time?” that it all clicked as if someone just flipped the switch.

Instantly I had a vision I was surrounded by a group of dollhouse admirers who were eager to see my creation and I had to ask them to wait a moment while I got everything ready. Like when the woman goes into the bathroom in the middle of the steamy sex scene. Definitely a mood-killer. 

I then decided I had to learn this electrifying thing if I was ever going to be the dollhouse aficionado I desired to be. I was taking a class on replicating an 1800s chandelier from scratch, taught by Tim Kraft, which was a good start. In class, I learned some basic lighting techniques, soldered for the first time, and walked away with a decent working light fixture. Ta-da!

But now what do I do with it? None of my dollhouses were wired. 

A Bright Future

Fast forward a year and here we are. I’ve watched numerous YouTube videos, read the books, purchased a soldering iron, and got the basic Cir-Kit wiring kit from Santa, but my houses still sit in darkness. I consider myself a ballsy do-it-yourselfer, but I also like to know the right way to do things. The best way for me to learn something new, especially if it is complex like dollhouse wiring, is with traditional teacher-student hands-on instruction. I thrive in a school-like environment where you can ask direct questions and get direct answers and then implement. The internet is a great resource, but it can’t replace a physical person. 

As luck would have it, the President of our dollhouse club, Pamela O’Brien, recently assisted in a class on wiring taught by Carl Sahlberg in Chicago and she generously offered to teach our club the basics. I jumped at the chance and immediately invited her over to the workshop.

I whipped out the Corner Kit I purchased from HBS Miniatures and was determined to make some progress on it. A while back Pam and I actually began on the electrical but stopped when we got to the part where I had to make decisions. 

I know it sounds crazy, but when it comes to making design decisions for myself, I am like a deer in headlights. I freeze. I want options and I want the ability to change my mind on a whim. Yet, when it comes to making design decisions for a client, I can pull the trigger and hit a bullseye without hesitation 90% of the time. Analysis paralysis is definitely a self-inflicted disease, but I was determined to move forward this time. 

So when Pam asked me where I wanted lights and which I wanted to use, I pointed to a spot, grabbed a light fixture out of my stash, and made a decision. Sweat started to trickle down my back, but I chalked it up to the Florida summer heat in the workshop (aka my garage) and not my fear that I chose incorrectly. F-it, let’s do this, I told myself and we proceeded.

And So It Begins

The first step was to locate the main connector and run the electrical tape to the general area we were going to position our lights. This was relatively easy since the kit is a corner space and the backs will not be seen. We added a horizontal strip along the foundation and then a secondary strip perpendicular that wrapped down through the foundation and up to the featured side of the house. We added two brads, one on the black, one on the red, and diagonally from each other. Then we put in the main connector, attached the transformer, tested – and voila – the red light on the tester came on indicating we had power. 

PHOTO SHOWING BACK SIDE OF DOLLHOUSE WIRING AND MAIN CONNECTOR.
BACK OF THE STRUCTURE WITH THE MAIN CONNECTOR AND TAPE STRIPS

Now for the light. I opted for a sconce between the window and the front door. In an effort to keep it simple and not daunting for you, I have listed the steps in an easy-to-understand bulleted format below. There are also photos you can reference as well. 

Lighting Steps Simplified

  1. Cut a piece of clapboard siding (or whatever) to fit the space and openings. 
  2. Make a hole in the siding for the wires of the light fixture. 
  3. Glue light fixture to front of siding. Remove any existing sticky tape and add a bit of old-fashioned Elmer’s with a dab of super glue. Important – do not get this on the wire itself. Tape the wire flush to the back.
  4. Glue siding to the structure. The wires will be between the siding and the structure.
  5. Run wires down to the electrical tape. Try to keep the wires as flat as possible. Hold them in place with clear tape to keep them secure and keep out moisture (more on that below).
  6. Insert two brads – one in black and one in red, diagonally – as before. Side note – Carl sells an awesome tool that he invented called a Bam-Bam that makes this part really easy. 
  7. Split main wires into two parts and expose ¼” of internal wire. The plastic casing on the wires can be removed by either using your fingernail or by holding the end of the soldering iron over the wire for a few seconds and then pulling the wire out (do not move the iron). Both ways work well. I like using the iron because my fingernails are usually nonexistent. 
  8. Fold one end of the exposed wire into a “U” shape and stick it into a brad. Black goes with black. Red goes with red. Add some soldering over the top of the brad to secure the wire in place and make a strong electrical connection. 
  9. Test. 
  10. Do a happy dance. 

Once you have finished and tested all of the connections, cover them with clear packing tape. This will keep moisture out of the connections and away from your wires. As we all know, liquids and electricity don’t mix. And since exposed electrical wires are not a current design trend, they will need to be hidden by wallpaper or exterior coverings – which use glue and which can cause your wiring to malfunction. Tape limits this from happening so don’t forget this crucial step. 

Troubleshooting

Not everything goes perfectly, though. After we had done all of the steps above we hit a snag on Step 10 – the Happy Dance. We hooked up the transformer and flipped the switch, with our dance moves at the ready. But nothing happened. No light came from my light fixture. 

First thought – Dang it, back to batteries it is! 

But just as I was about to rip it all out and start over, Pam put on her thinking cap and retraced our steps. Using the tester tool, we verified we had power on some wiring tape strips, but not others. Specifically, not the one going to the main power. She grabbed the Bam-Bam and gave the first brads (at the back by the main connector) some firm taps. Then we tried again as I held my breath. 

And it worked! Cue happy dance and high-fives. 

I think when I was adding the brads that the sconce wires went into, it loosened the brads on the main connection. So by hammering those in a bit more, it reignited that connection and solved the problem. 

So there ya have it – dollhouse wiring lessons from someone who doesn’t know how to wire a dollhouse. 

Or should I say didn’t?

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I know I have a ton more to learn about dollhouse wiring.  Either way, I hope you found this helpful in your own wiring journey. The next stop for me is to have two lights, #loftygoals. I want to add café lights that will float above the yard, but first I need to build a pergola for them to hang on. I’ll be sure to update you when that magical event happens.

Until then, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

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