Coloring shingles: dye, stain, or paint?
We color the shingles with a reactive dye for the display models we make here in our workshop. It is easy to use, doesn’t have fumes or irritant vapors, and gives a warm color. The color variations you see in the photos on the Real Good Toys website are from the process I’ll lay out later in the post. There are two colors of dye that we have formulated for us: Dye-1 (redish-brown) and Dye-3 (grey), and they should be available from your local miniatures shop or in the “Bargain Basement” on this site. Don’t use fabric dye on wood; it reacts differently from the way it dyes fabric. I got a lovely purple from brown Rit dye - but not really what I had in mind for a dollhouse.
We batch-dye shingles well ahead of gluing them to a dollhouse. Batch-dying is quick and much less messy than dying shingles after they have been attached to a dollhouse (I don’t know if I’ve ever succeeded in dying (or staining) shingles after attaching them without dribbling some stain in inconvenient places on a dollhouse… down the front, onto the top-floor, into the grooves in a window… never a good time!). Batch-dying also gives a variety of color-tone that is very nice on a dollhouse.
We used penetrating stain for a lot of years until the concern for the long-term exposure to the vapors led us to find something else. We still use it occasionally for a different color from our dyes. If you do choose to use stain instead of dye make sure you have good ventilation and that no-one in the house has sensitivity to the fumes. The stain must be “penetrating” stain. Don’t use latex stain or any one-step product that has stain and urethane mixed together if you are going to stain before attaching the shingles. All the shingles will stick together in a big lump and you’ll have a gloppy mess! Penetrating stains are easy to find and there are lots of color choices. I have used Minwax Early American and Dark Walnut often, but make sure it says “penetrating”. I do not like the results of “Redwood” stain on dollhouse shingles.
This is best done after attaching the shingles, and letting the glue dry thoroughly. Mix the paint in a wash with water, 50/50. Turn the house up-side-down so the paint wash will flow up the shingle into the seam to the next shingle. This step gives the extra darkness at the top of each shingle that is characteristic of shingles on a house, and it keeps the wash from running down the roof (exactly what shingles are supposed to do.. you bet they will!). Brush the paint wash onto the roof; start with skimpy amounts of paint until you have a sense for the behavior of the wash. Keep the amount to a minimum – the moisture in the wash will make the shingles expand and warp, and less paint means less moisture.
The process for either Shingle Dye or penetrating stain:
- dye or stain
- empty gallon jug and a 1-pint bowl (co-op peanut butter container… perfect)
- at least 2 sheets of cardboard or lots of newspapers
- apron, rubber gloves, a big sheet of plastic or a safe place to work
Cut a gallon milk jug in half; the top half becomes a strainer and funnel, and the bottom half becomes a tub.
Give yourself extra protection from dyed skin by rubbing petroleum jelly on your hands, particularly your nails and cuticles, then put on rubber gloves (the dye comes with one glove which is enough, but a plastic bag over your other hand will keep you from accidentally splashing stain on that hand). Mix up 1 cup of dye or stain per 1000 or so shingles (one package of dye makes this amount). I’ve done a few more with one package, but it gets iffy toward the end, and I do like to have a little bit left over for roof edges and touch-up (I keep the extra in a labeled medicine jar in the refrigerator). Pour the stain in the soaking tub.
Stir the shingles again and pour them onto a fresh piece of cardboard, again, a 1-inch heap. Leave them ’till tomorrow.
One final stir, let them rest for 2 days or until you need them.
Clean-up. There is no substitute for protecting every surface before you begin. I have gotten dye and stain on my hands, and even with a bleach wash, I had the cast of dye with me for four days. The precautions are easy, but they are important.
That’s what I do, it’s easy and gives great results.