My WWII dollhouse disaster! or a Review of Bromley Craft Productions realistic brick compound

When I got back from my trip to Miniatura in Birmingham, 3 October, I was totally up for charging on with my dollhouse. During my conversations with Richard Bromley, at Bromley Craft Products, I explained and showed what my dollhouse looked like and told him what I wanted for it. That I wanted to create a brick house look and I was more or less told what to do, in order to achieve my dream. It sounded easy enough, and after various conversations with paint shop people in Sweden, I settled for a chalk paint from Panduro hobby shop, to get that matt finish, which mortar has. Since you can read about all of my preparatory work, in my previous post on this topic, called “The destruction of Copenhagen”, I will not mention it here. But I will say, that the surface I painted grey, had been sandpapered in order to get all glue off (from the plaster details that had been attached to the house).

First try, leaving the bottom to paint white with texture.

First try, leaving the bottom to paint white with texture parts.

Happily, I followed the instructions and painted slowly and carefully. I had taped all windows shut with masking tape, and I waited extra hours before putting second coats on. I was rather pleased with the look and anxious to start the brick finish, but the can said, to wait two days, before putting any pressure on the paint, so I interpreted that to mean, do not meddle with the paint for two days, in any manner, shape or form. Finally, it was time to start making brick. But then, I started hesitating. Bromley kept saying “make a test first, make a test first”. So, before I started, I painted the only piece of wood I could find here at home, a creation of one of the children’s, which was some sort of bizarre car. I told everyone that it was for a good purpose! I painted this untreated wood piece twice, waited two days and got the template out to make bricks on the piece.

I have tried to ignore the costs. But I am going to be honest and tell everyone, who is interested in covering their new dollhouses with brick, that this method, sold by craft-products.com is not a cheap one at all. You pay £8 for each bag of compound yes, but you need a couple to at least cover three sides, which is what most people do. One side facing the wall, not needing this luxury treatment. But then you have to add tools. You can buy their plastic set of spreading tools, but you can get away with using your own spreading knives from home. What you do need is the template though, and I am starting to suspect, that you will have to get more than one, even though they say that it is reusable! That cost £6.95. Then you have to get repositionable spray. I had to run around all over trying to find this and the only place which sold it in our town of Lund, was an artist shop. At premium price. One can costs 148 :- (£13) and this is not cheap, since I also suspect that you will have to use quite a lot of it and maybe will need a second can.

Mixing the compound without exact directions is NOT on the plus side, for Bromley Craft Productions' realistic brick compound

Mixing the compound without exact directions is NOT on the plus side, for Bromley Craft Productions’ realistic brick compound

When I sprayed the template as told, it did not get sticky at all. It took up to four sprayings, before it was sticky enough to stick to imagethe test piece. Then came the next annoying thing. Bromley craft sells a compound, a powder, with no instructions as to how much water to add. YOU are supposed to test that yourself. In other words, you will get uneven mixture on the entire house! My daughter and I stood there and added more water and then it became soup, so we added more powder, and then it became too thick to spread, on with more water, and it got too loose again. And I got so vexed over this, because you can’t just tell your customers that it should feel like cake icing! It would have been so simple to have said, add 1 dl powder and so and so much water, for perfect mixture. But this they have not done. So there will be a lot of waste! I made too much. All that said, I started to smear it over the template and it looked very nice. I let it dry and then I started the dirtying down process of it.

Richard Bromley had told me to get acrylic paints in a hobby shop and make soot/mold/dirt on the bricks with that. But the people at the hobby shop warned me about this and asked me, how on earth I would be able to do this and make it look real. I had already thought the same thoughts. You take a brush, dip it in say black and then put the brush to the brick.Chances are that it will not look like soot at all, but it will look like some painter dropped a paint can on the brick. Instead they told me to get Tim Holtz distressed stamp pads, and these little make up looking sponges, called sponge daubers. With them, I can stamp on ink, which will give a mild colour/stain without looking painted on. But of course this meant further delay. I had to go on eBay and send for the distressed ink pads and the sponges. I will not bore you with prices, but yet another cost…

I sent for three different stamp pads, not knowing which would look the best. And not wanting to pay shipping more than once. Plus of course, not wanting to sit and wait over and over, for merchandise to arrive. I bought the colours Tea Dye, to just stain the brick a tiny bit, Black Soot, to create the sooted look all houses have in London, thanks to them having used coal fires, and then Peeled Paint, for the green mold look. The colours work well enough, the black a tiny bit too black to my taste, but it will have to do, since the stamp pads were not cheap!

I tried my stamp pads out on the brick created on the sample/test piece. And it looked well enough. I was quite impressed with the result. But then you must remember that the wood was untreated before I started and I never moved the template to see what that is like.

imageNow, I had mixed too much brick compound thanks to not having any instructions of how much water to add. Instead of throwing it out, I decided that it was time to test it on the real thing, on the house, because there was nothing more to wait for. So, I tried to put the template on to the house and understood at once what Bromley had said when he said that it would be better to take out the door and windows before trying to apply brick to the front. Now, I do not have that alternative. I can’t take out the windows since they are too fragile. If I try, they will break and then I will have to pay over £100 for eleven new windows. The door is already gone, since it broke off by mistake, when I laid the house down, in order to get the wallpapers off, inside the house. The template did not want to lay flat because of the windows. Bromley had suggested that I do the front last and cut off the surrounding frame on the template, to be able to move it about as I need it to, maneuvering between he windows etc. But, I have to start with the front! In order to make sure that I have enough brick compound for at least that side of the house. So, I had to be brutal with the template and press it down.

On the video it says that you do not need to be in any hurry what so, but can take your time. This is not true. The compound

You can see how the compound has dissolved the paint behind, in between the bricks and how the compound has not stuck to some parts.

You can see how the compound has dissolved the paint behind, in between the bricks and how the compound has not stuck to some parts.

gets grainier and grainier, the slower you work. You might have the perfect mixture when you start out, but a minute or two later, it is no longer perfect and it gets worse and worse the more you try to fix the ugly look on your house! I managed to put on brick compound on both sides of the door, but when I started to inspect it, after lifting the template, I noticed imperfections. Like it not having got attached in spots, so that you could see the paint through. Now, the video says, that this is alright. That you can just put the template back and fix the ugly spots. Sorry, but this is a lie. When I did this, the compound smeared so you no longer had the crisp lines with mortar between the bricks. I got so upset that I decided to get a wet rag and wipe off the compound and try again. This is when true disaster struck. When I wiped off the compound, I also wiped off grey paint and parts of the yellow paint!

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In other words, I quit. I was ready to take the dollhouse to the city dump. I screamed and cried, because the house looked awful and I just thought about all that money wasted. And I cursed my husband who would not let me get a kit and build from scratch. Then I would not have had all the hassle of not knowing what the lady had painted with previously and glued with. I drove over to the local paint shop, even though I knew the man over there washes his hands of anything smaller than an ordinary house, not selling test cans and not wanting to talk about dollhouses. I took my chances anyway and showed photos of what had happened. He just told me, that the yellow paint must be the culprit. He ordered me to sandpaper down to the wood and then put on a primer.

In my desperation, I wrote Bromley Craft and the owner wrote me and said that he doesn’t use any special paint at all, just regular paint used on British indoor walls and then a solvent based varnish on top of the bricks. He told me to look for latex paint or emulsion paint. So me on to the phone and every paint shop I spoke to said “Latex paint? Never heard of it. Emulsion paint? You are talking about plastic paint and that is the worse paint possible, noone wants that. We don’t sell crap like that!”. So what to do? Once again, I wanted to drive the house to the city dump. What was the point of keeping it? What I wanted to create was not possible!

Then I drove in to a place which did not answer their phone. Flügger paint. Finally I ran in to a woman who knew what she was talking about. She could not understand why latex or emulsion paint would be recommended, since nothing grips on that. She told me to get rid of as much paint as possible on the house, then paint with this primer which gives a matted look. It acts like both primer but also paint, if one wants that. And she thought it would be great since it was just going to act mortar. So, I bought the paint from her and she added a grey tint to it, to make it look like mortar. During this time, I was desperately trying to sandpaper the dollhouse, but not having the physical strength.

For some reason, I headed to a place called Biltema, which I think originally sold only car products. The name tells that story anyway. But now they sell bicycles, toys, garden things, tools, as well as the car items. I headed down there after researching tools on the internet. According to the internet, what I needed was a sander, a sander called a sander mouse, because it resembles a computer mouse. But when I got down there with my two youngest boys, I realized that the sander mouse was too big. It would not fit between the windows of the house nor really between the different floors of the house. So, I went to talk to the staff.I stood and talked to this girl for about an hour, the boys being miserable,  discussing my options and my problems with the house. And then she declared that she was not the expert. And that I should talk to her colleague. But he was not interested in talking to me what so ever. He was arrogant, patronizing and snapped at me! He was more interested in unpacking products and just told me to get a paint remover for the house and buy the sander mouse. He was not even listening to what I tried to say!

I got angry but grabbed the bottle of paint remover. I did not get the paint scraper he pointed at, but decided that my stove scraper would work as well, and I went to grab the sander mouse. But then I looked at the spare sandpapers for it and another tool called a multi tool and grabbed that one instead, since the area of the sandpaper was so much smaller. I drove home and got it out of the box, and decided for once, to read the manual. As I did so, it said that I must wear a protective mask and eyeglasses which I did not have of course. And then it said that I had to attach it to a suitable vacuum cleaner. What on earth is that supposed to mean? The staff did not say that only certain vacuum cleaners will fit on the tool, nor did it say so on the outside of the box. The box was hermetically sealed in the shop, so you could not open it to see what you were getting.

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What I bought

What I bought

I tried to attach our vacuum cleaner to the tool, my daughter tried, my husband tried and then we just had to take the machine back. But I could not do that, on that day. So I decided to attack the house with the paint remover. I smeared it all over the front with a brush and boy did that smell foul! I let it sit for 45 minutes, instead of the 15 recommended. It said that it could take hours for tough paint to dissolve. After the 45 minutes, I tried to scrape off the paint layers. But nothing worked! So, on with more paint remover and I left it for about four hours, the smell almost killing us all. THEN I could scrape off SOME of the paint. What on earth did this woman who built the house, glue with and paint with? I have never seen anything like it. I scraped as hard as I could and managed to totally ruin the wood in two places, getting under the surface of the wood, so my husband had to put putty there. When I had scraped the house, there was still lots of yellow paint left, so I had to put on a new layer of paint remover which turned really soupy this time, when the paint layer was not as thick. After this second scraping was finished, I had to get a wet sponge and wash off all the remover. The entire house of course got wet and I had the fan going the entire time, to try to dry it as fast as possible. When the house was dry, I started the sandpapering. From morning to night, day after day, I was sandpapering and my daughter with OCD hiding my things as soon as I walked away from them for a minute. So, every sandpapering session starting with me spending an hour searching for all my “tools” and things. She is driving me totally insane with her OCD and this is an entire different post I’m afraid.

When we were able to, we drove back to Biltema to ask for our money back. The girl in the returns said, that it fits all vacuum cleaners and I told her that this is not true. A co-worker then came up to me and said “No, it is meant for an industrial vacuum cleaner”. Now, I ask you: 1. Why does it not say on their site or on the box, that “this tool can ONLY be used together with an industrial vacuum cleaner”?. How honest is it to sell a tool like this without that warning. 2. How many professional builders owning an industrial vacuum cleaner, will drive to a crap shop like Biltema and buy cheap tools there? Biltema’s market is amateurs and hobbyists! They do not have the money to buy the real tools for the real money, since they do not need the tools for work, but for home repairs and hobbies! The man told me to get this mini multi tool, which he owned himself, using it for model making. He told me the aisle and then he left with the words: “Did you tell the man you talked with last time, that the paint remover was for a dollhouse?”. – Yes! “That stuff can’t be used on a dollhouse. It will run off looking like soup!”. I said no more!

Happily I grabbed the tool he had told me to get, in order to sandpaper the house with. And when I got home, I wondered if he had tried to be funny or what? The tool only work sideways! So wasted money. But I realized that I could use it for working on the door opening. The door I ordered from jandasupplies.co.uk did not fit even though I gave them precise measurements. I needed to work off a little bit of wood, on the corners among other things. So, I set out to do this. Just working on one little corner, wore out three of the attachments entirely and I who had planned on using this tool to maybe work on dollhouse furniture. The best attachments are now gone. When I went back to Biltema to get a protective mask, eyeglasses and thin work gloves, I asked this girl, where spare attachments could be found. She laughed at me and told me that I was an idiot. That their tools are so cheap since you can never have any spare attachments for them and you ought to understand that they are crap products,  when you buy them. I drove home very angry indeed. But then, that girl will always be a looser, working in places like that and no make up and bleached hair is going to alter her intelligence. I drove back, a smart, intelligent person, who might not be the best dollhouse renovator, but I still have lots of other things that I am VERY good at.

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imageFinally, all paint gone and every little speck of sawdust removed, I started to paint with the primer on both the dollhouse and on a new test piece. The paint was much different in consistency than the chalk paint, bought in the hobby shop. Thicker than thick. And taking longer to dry. But I am not in a hurry, so I was ready to wait. I also put brick on the test piece. No problem. And stained the brick with the stamp pad ink. No problems so far. But before I started  on the house, I decided to go back to Flügger to get the varnish and do the entire process first, on the test piece. I got to talk to Jessica there, again, who knows the entire story, and we decided to follow Bromley’s advise and not use a varnish which one applies with a brush. No, spray can was the only way to go, since a brush can dissolve the brick compound AND perhaps smear my distressed ink. But then she discovered that their varnishes are not solvent based! Like he tells on his site that one should use. Now what? She went on the internet and looked at every place possible selling varnish in Sweden and solvent based varnish is just not sold here. Because it is bad for you, for the environment, does not really work with the paints sold, since it can make the wood raise up so it looks like orange peel. In other words, Brits don’t care about the environment as long as it is cheap and quick to use? Once again I got angry at everything. But I walked home with an acrylic varnish and we sprayed it on the test piece, making the entire house stink. Nothing happened! But then, the coat does not get very thick when you spray it on! I have no idea how I am going to be able to spray down the entire house with this stuff? Where to put it to dry for 2 hours, when it says it must be 15-25 degrees Celsius. We are in the middle of the winter now and it is about 0 degrees outside! Or less!

Top test piece, stained with different stamp inks. Bottom piece with the primer/paint right before staining and getting varnish on.

Top test piece, stained with different stamp inks. Bottom piece with the primer/paint right before staining and getting varnish on.

Today, I started to put brick on the house! And I am upset once again. The template had to be sprayed with repositionable glue again, TWICE, since it would not stick at all anymore. And then it had only been used four times before! I had the toughest time making the brick compound the right consistency and started on the left side of the door. It became pretty decent looking and then I washed off the template and felt that it needed more glue. I mean, that is not supposed to happen! When I had done the right side and washed the template, the next step was ahead. Align the template with the already existing bricks and move upwards with the rows. The video says that this can be done, very easily. Not so! The frame is in the way so the template will not lay flat! The new part looked horrible with smears, since air got in under the template! (The windows are no longer a problem since the paint remover and sandpapering took away the frames, sticking up!) No crisp lines there at all, just smeary looking bricks and by now the compound also had gone really grainy and thick, so when I tried to cover an area where it was not sticking, I made compound  come off in another place. I decided that I could not live with this ugly looking area, so I got a wet sponge and tried to remove the compound. The newest made part. But the sponge was too clumsy ruining everything. Finally I had to wet a corner of a nice clean towel and try to wipe off the compound before it started to dry. The white towel is now terracotta stained.

My feedback on the Bromley Craft compound thus far, will be one star. The head ache and tears it has given me so far, is not worth it. Does it become cheaper than buying bags of ready-made little bricks to glue on individually? I strongly doubt it at this point! And you have more control over tiny little bricks. Because you have no control at all over this brick compound. One mistake and you have to wipe it all off, the powder wasted and you having less left to work with. And the mistakes happen because your template can’t lay flat, thanks to its construction and because the compound dries too quickly. SO far, I have not found a good way to remove the mistakes without having to remove all my work, because as soon as water gets close to the “bricks”, they dissolve. I am trying one more thing now: Letting the area dry completely before I move the template on to the last two rows and making a new area. This garbage about you being able to correct your mistakes and put the template back while the compound is still wet, well that is not true at all. This is more time-consuming than it would have been to glue little bricks on and the result on my house will definitely be uglier. I am positive at this point that I will hate the end result and having wasted tons of money. And each little area will take an hour to make, since that is how long it takes according to Bromley, for the brick to dry. My next desperate thing to try, is to slaughter the template and cut off the frame work around it. That will make it less sturdy and will make room for more mistakes. I will let you know what happens. Maybe it will be a photo of the house having been thrown in the wood section of the city dump.

The area I thought looked alright, BEFORE it dried. On closer inspection, after it had dried and I had finished the post, It is far from perfect. If you study the lower row, you will see that the brick has evaporated somewhere? Where to? Since I had it all covered with mixture.

The area I thought looked alright, BEFORE it dried. On closer inspection, after it had dried and I had finished the post, it is far from perfect. If you study the lower row, you will see that the brick has evaporated somewhere? Where to? Since I had it all covered with mixture. Now there is just brick coloured stain left! Not the effect I was after!!! 😦 When does one accept defeat?

 

 

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