Friday, April 20, 2012

Tutorial: Simplest way to electrify a dollhouse

The title is important. This post is about electrifying a dollhouse, not really wiring one.
If your dollhouse is already done on the interior (or comes with pre-decorated panels), save for electricity, this is your post.
If you have unfinished walls/ceilings/floors, read no further (You should do things properly, and tape/round wire your dollhouse prior to adding paper/paint/flooring). And hang tight, I'll do a tape-wiring tutorial when I can.

I've heard from many of you that the idea of wiring and electricity is overwhelming/scary/intimidating. You're just psyching yourselves out for nothing. I knew nothing of dollhouse wiring prior to "I'm a Giant", and now I feel I'm unstoppable. All I did was read the manual that came with the wiring kit cover-to-cover before I started touching anything.

But no doubt, some of you have finished houses and wish you could take it a step further with lighting. I hear ya. As long as you aren't as into the exterior appearances as much as the interior, we're safe here. This method is best suited to wire a dollhouse that will live with one side against a wall. This would have worked for my dollhouse, since it's just a plywood box with no exterior finishing except for a coat of paint and some window trim. (And until me and my saw, had no windows or doors on the back either).

It's possible to minimize the eyesore, and I'll help however I can with ideas.

First off, I'm not particularly adventurous when it comes to brands. Once I find a product I like, I generally don't stray too far. I use mostly cir-kit (and cir-kit compatible products). Sometimes as you'll see, in the absence of a cir-kit product I use the made-in-China knock-off equivalent. I haven't had any problems yet.

This is going to be a very short tutorial, here goes. I'll be using Lilly's dollhouse as my example.

Pick up a transformer that is sized appropriately for your dollhouse/lighting needs. Keep in mind, the 'volts' and/or 'milliamp' (ma) draw for each fixture. There are tables like this one all over the internet to help with that:


Cir-Kit Concepts (*circuit breaker protected)

 I scraped this table directly from Cir-Kit's website, so I think it's safe to trust the data. I'm sorry if it was illegal? I recommend choosing a circuit breaker protected transformer.
If you go this route for wiring, be sure to use only 12V and 16V bulbs in your fixtures. Do not buy/use anything labelled 1.5V (unless you do 1:24 scale). Those micro-bulbs are cute, but don't be fooled, they need a special transformer.
When I do any light fixture tutorials, they'll involve 12V screw-base type bulbs (unless otherwise noted in the tutorial). One or two of those is enough to light any (reasonably sized) 1:12 scale room.

(Only recently have I started dabbling in 16V GOW/GOR bulbs. Probably should explain that...
GOW: Grain of Wheat bulb. The smallest bulbs (that I'm aware of) used in 1:12 wiring.
GOR: Grain of Rice bulb. Slightly larger than a GOW bulb, same draw on current.)

You may have seen these in the last post, sorry to re-use pictures. But they're relevant:
I selected this transformer for Lilly, because her dollhouse has about 5 or 6 rooms, and I knew we wouldn't exceed 10 fixtures. Easy choice, nice price ($17).  
The power strip connects directly to the terminals on the transformer. Once you have them connected (the only tool required is a screwdriver), you're halfway done. Crazy, right?

The powerstrip shown above was about $11 at a local shop. It's fuse protected, and has a sliding on-off switch. The toughest part is figuring out where to put it on the dollhouse. This one has double stick tape on the back, and since Lilly's house is 4 feet tall, I tried to locate it centrally on the back of the house so all of the wires on the fixtures would reach.

Once you stick that to the house and plug it in, you are officially done wiring your dollhouse. See how easy that was?! Told you so.

Then there's the fixtures. I make all of my own. So I guess I can't tell you if store bought fixtures come with a compatible plug. I can show you the plugs that fit, but after that, you're on your own. If the fixture package says cir-kit compatible, plug-in, tape-wire, or any of that crap, you're probably safe. You can purchase the plugs that fit directly from cir-kit.
Here's what they look like:

You can add fixtures one-by-one, room-by-room. Here's how you do it.

Choose/make your fixture, and decide on its location in the room.
Hand-drill a very tiny hole (I use a(pproximately) 1/16" bit) in an inconspicuous area near the ceiling/floor that will leave the shortest amount of wire in the room. 

Here's the general appearance. You can even adjust the height of the fixture, as long as your wires are long enough. I don't think it looks too bad, especially since it makes it so easy to change fixtures from room to room. You could change your kitchen pendant, as often as your shoes. Think about that. Ladies.

If it's a ceiling fixture, I recommend drilling the hole as close to the ceiling straight behind the fixture on the back wall as possible, if possible. That way, everyone's eyes will be on the light, and the wires will be mostly hiding along the ceiling then disappear through the wall. Like friggin' magic.
 To hang these fixtures, I've used small 3-M command wire clip thingys. They look like this:

Practically invisible. Cheap, too.

If it's a floor fixture, do the same but drill the hole along the floor on the back wall, and hide/minimize the wires to the best of your ability. If you care. The wires are to 1:12 scale, so they don't look bad coming from a floor lamp. Adds to the realism I guess.

Sconces are where it gets dicey. Sconces would need to be located on the same wall as the power-strip, unless you want wires everywhere. Either way, you would drill the hole at the sconce location and mount the fixture to cover the hole. Easy as pie. I love pie.

So you've got your fixture, and you've got your glory hole drilled in the wall, and a bunch of pictures of how good it can look... you're hoping I don't leave you hanging. 
This is the scary part, wires, and plugs, and splicing, oh my!

I gotcha gurrl. Stay with me.

For ceiling fixtures: You attach (semi-permanently, or eternally. your choice) your fixture in the desired location. Thread the wires from said fixture through the pre-drilled hole. Make sure that they reach the powerstrip (+2 inches or so). Then do the following:
Cut your wires clean, keeping them as long as possible. Thread the wire through the plug as shown. Splice the wires using an exacto blade. For best results, slice a small length (1/8-1/4") then pull the pieces apart to about 1/2". Make sure there's no bare copper showing yet.
Strip the insulation off of each wire, about 1/4". I use my fingernail to gently pinch and pull the insulation off. These wires are pretty fragile, and I'm like the hulk. I screw it up all of the time.
As you pull the insulation, twist it. This will keep your wires more manageable for the next step.
Bend one wire (it doesn't matter which one goes where) in each of the side holes, make sure there's distance between the two bare copper wires, or your system will short out.

Add the brass plug pins using pliers (if you care about your fingers).

You're ready to plug it in and turn it on! Boom.

It's not going to win any beauty pageants. 

I'll tame Lilly's wires once I decide which other fixtures I'll make. Lilly's dollhouse is going to live against a wall, I've been told. So there was no pressure to make it fancy and hidden.So there's my justification for that mess. Poor form on my part, but I'll fix it before I finish up.

I think that's it for this one. Next is the simple pendant tutorial, so you can make a custom fixture. So rad.

If you have questions, drop a comment. I'll try to reply as soon as I can.


  1. Seriously, too easy! I can't wait to give it a try!

  2. This is fantastic, will work amazingly with my Ikea LACK table stacks... the 'ceilings' are the underside (unpainted when purchased) of the tables and there will be a cavity between the front and back of the rear legs and the 'house' or stack of rooms will be against the wall too. I'm inspired thanks!

    1. Awesome! I was hoping this would work out for somebody. It really is a cinch, using this method for electricity, especially if you have the right kind if dollhouse and it sounds like you do! I'll work on some better titles for upcoming posts :)

  3. oh... PS may want to re-think a tutorial with the line "You're ready to plug it in and turn it on! Boom."
    in it.

    I was waiting for photos of a little mini fire

  4. this is so awesome Im totally the one you wrote about I was afraid of electricity and I couldn't figure out what type of light to buy (no one tells you these things) thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial and I'm a new follower


    1. Thanks for following! I love when that little number goes up. I don't post as regularly as I should, but I aim for quality over quantity.

      I'm going to do a real tapewiring tutorial eventually. I want to build/electrify a custom roombox to display/photograph my Etsy items (shop's not yet open), so I'll do it when that blessed time finally arrives.

      If you have any electricity/wiring questions, feel free to email me directly. I'll try to help however I can :)

  5. Hi there! Thanks for your great (and simple) tutorial. I'll be doing these with my 6th grade students after we design floor plans, and budget home construction costs. I want to clarify before purchasing that the Cir-Kit plugs will fit in the houseworks power strip?? Cir-Kit is currently out of their power strips and I need to order them soon. Thanks!

  6. IDsonix Socket Outlets from Bizarkdeal

    This is a great, high-capacity charger, with attractive and functional design, that accomplishes what it sets out to do.

    VISUALS: I tend to like pure white charging strips and cords, because they tend to blend into the white baseboards that most homes and offices have. It takes up less visual space in many/most settings.

    AC CHARGING: Having 4 AC outlets, rather than fewer, is a convenience; to have more than that, would result in a much bigger strip. This is a good compromise. The placement of the ports is unusually wise, with ample space, such that only the largest plugs will cover up a second outlet. It is a fairly big unit, because of the extra space it provides between the 4 AC slots. It is still reasonably sized, and I am happy to make that tradeoff; however, is space is a constraint for you, you could probably find a smaller unit.

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    OVERALL: If you want a white, 4 AC, 5 USB charger, this seems like an excellent choice. I am glad I bought it.