Make a collector’s cabinet

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Louise Bardwell explains how to show off your miniature natural history collection

To make the cabinet you will need: 

Sturdy box with hinged opening lid (approximately 2 1/4in x 1 3/4in x 1 3/8in)


PVA glue


Acrylic paint

Gold coloured pen

Gold coloured 2.5mm diameter beads (drawer handles)

1/4in fine brass pins

Clear acetate sheet

Fabric (for inside of lid)

Clear water based varnish

Candle (optional)

Making the carcass

  1. Measure the base end of the cabinet with the door closed. Cut a piece of mountboard to this size.
  2. Cut four 1/4in wide strips of mountboard and cut them to size to fit around the edge on top of the previously cut mountboard. Cut one edge of them with scalloped edging scissors if possible. Glue in place.
  3. Paint the whole piece to match the colour of the box or paint the box as well, then varnish when dry.
  4. Glue the plinth to the base of the cabinet ensuring you do not apply glue to the base of the door. Decorate the plinth with gold pen if desired.

Adding the shelves

  1. Decide how many drawers you will be making, which will depend on the size of the box.
  2. Measure the inside dimensions of the deepest part of the box. Do not make the shelves quite as deep as the box to allow room for the drawer handles when the door is closed.
  3. Cut the shelves from mountboard and paint them to match the box. My cabinet is black so I used a black permanent marker pen to colour all parts of the shelves and drawers.
  4. Apply PVA glue to the sides and back edges of the shelves and slot them into place in the box ensuring they are level. Spacing between shelves can vary, the lower drawers in my cabinet are slightly bigger than the top ones.

 Making the drawers

  1. Measure the spaces between the shelves and cut drawer fronts this size. Use a large needle to make holes for their handles.
  2. Cut drawer bases the same size as the shelves except make the depth 1/16in less to allow for the drawer fronts.
  3. Cut one back and two sides for each drawer, again making the height ,1/16in less than the drawer front to allow for the drawer base.
  4. Glue the pieces for each drawer together. Glue the drawer base to the back of the drawer front piece. Glue the back and sides on top of the drawer base. Paint the drawers.
  5. Put a bead onto a pin for each drawer handle. You may need to trim the pins down in length using wire cutters. Add a drop of Superglue to attach the handles.
  6. Rub a little candle wax onto the sides and base of each drawer to help it slide in and out of the cabinet more easily if necessary.
  7. Decorate the outside of the cabinet by gluing on a picture or using the gold pen.
  8. Cut a piece of fabric to line the inside of the cabinet door and glue it in place.
  9. Cut four strips of mountboard ,3/16in wide paint and glue them around the inside edges of the door to create a ledge for the 'glass' to sit on. Cut a piece of clear acetate sheet to fit.

To make the specimens you will need:

For butterfly display: tiny pictures of butterflies

For bird egg display: White coloured Fimo, acrylic paints and cotton wool

For seashell display: Tiny seashells, small piece of ribbon or fabric to line drawer

For insect display: Black/brown sewing thread, black shirring elastic, coloured embroidery threads, small piece of organza ribbon for wings, fine wire, PVA glue, ribbon or fabric to line drawers

For the butterflies, using sharp scissors and a very steady hand cut out the butterflies. Bend the wings up slightly and PVA glue the butterflies inside the cabinet door. Apply a little PVA around the edge of the acetate sheet and slot it into place. 

For the shells, line the deepest drawers with fabric or ribbon then arrange and glue the seashells in position.

For the eggs, line the drawers with cotton wool making small depressions like nests to hold the eggs. Using Fimo or other modelling clay make 10 groups of different sized eggs with four or five eggs to each group. Harden the clay following the manufacturer's instructions. Paint the eggs. I found it easiest to stick the eggs in their groups to double sided sticky tape and paint each group in turn. PVA glue the eggs into the cotton wool nests.

Make spiders using black/brown sewing thread or embroidery thread or shirring elastic. Cut four strands about 3in long, holding all the strands together tie them into a knot, cut off the excess either side of the knot leaving small amount for legs. Try tying one knot on top of another to make a slightly larger spider.

Make a fly using black sewing or embroidery thread. Take three strands together and tie three knots close together in a row. Trim off the excess thread. Glue two strands underneath the knots for legs and trim. Cut two tiny wings from organza ribbon and glue on top of the knots.

Make a ladybird from a tiny bead. Hold the bead on a piece of Blu-tac and paint it red filling in the hole with paint. When dry use a black permanent fine tipped pen to colour in the head, a line down the centre of the back for wings and dots on the wings.

Make dragonflies by applying a little PVA glue to some fine wire. Wrap the wire tightly in green or blue embroidery thread until ,,1/ of wire is covered. Trim off the excess wire and thread. Glue two strands of thread underneath the body for legs and two organza wings across the top.

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