Make Scale Miniature and Dollhouse Bottles From Recycled Plastics

  • 01 of 11

    How to Heat and Stretch Recycled Plastic Into Miniature Bottles

    Plastic bottles in miniature scale made from recycled plastic rods, and straws.
    Range of solid and hollow miniature plastic bottles made from recycled plastic straws, tubing and rods. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Plastic bottles and jars are a popular miniature for display scenes, often needed in fairly large numbers. The following tutorial shows a simple technique you can use to turn recycled or purchased plastic straws and rods into a range of miniature bottle styles. The method can be scaled to a range of sizes. Bottles shown here are in scales from 1:48 to 1:12, but larger and smaller sizes can be made with the same method.

    To make your miniature bottles, look for plastic rods and straws with the...MORE diameter you need for the basic bottle. The bottle necks are drawn to shape with gentle heat over a candle flame. Rigid plastic straws and hollow cylinders (pen barrels and other shaped plastic) with thick walls, either colored or clear are good materials for your first attempt. Heavy plastic straws sold as balloon or candy holders work well, but with skill you can also use thinner plastic drinking straws. Plastic supply houses sell rigid acrylic tubes and rods which can be used as is, or colored with fluid acrylics or glass paints. The acrylic tubing and rod may bubble when heated, so practise your techniques on recycled materials before you purchase plastic to stock your miniature wine cellar or pantry.

    In addition to your plastic source you will need:

    • Files or fine sandpaper or micro mesh sanding pads to finish the edges of your bottles
    • Glass Paints, glaze pens or fluid acrylics (artist's fluid acrylics, not craft paints) to color your bottles if desired.
    • Plastic Welding Cements if you want to add bases to hollow bottles in order to fill them.
    • Warming Candle - to gently heat your plastic across a narrow band.
    • Razor Saw with fine teeth to cut your bottles or jars free of the plastic residue after shaping.
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  • 02 of 11

    How to Heat Plastic to Make Miniature Bottles and Jars

    Heating rigid plastic tubing over a candle to make dollhouse miniature bottles.
    Rigid plastic tubing from a pen casing is warmed over a tea candle to the point where the plastic begins to soften, in order to stretch it into a miniature bottle shape. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    See the list on the previous page of this tutorial for the materials used to make bottles from recycled plastic

    To shape the plastic rods or straws (or pen barrels, makeup brush handles, or other sources of plastic) you will need to hold your plastic over a narrow heat source ( I use a candle flame) until the plastic slumps or softens. Begin by holding the plastic high above the heat source, then move it down carefully towards the flame, twirling or rotating it so the heat is picked up evenly...MORE around the rod or tube. You will feel the plastic soften, and the moment that you do, you should move it away from the heat source (see photo next page). The time this will take, and the distance you will need to be from the flame will be different for every type of plastic. Thin straws will need only moments to soften, while thicker rods may take several minutes of careful working.

    Make sure you work only in a well ventilated area. Keep your candle away from drafts to make sure it has a steady, narrowly directed flame for the best results. This is not a suitable craft for children.

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  • 03 of 11

    Draw or Stretch Heated Plastic to Shape Necks for Miniature Bottles and Jars

    Stretching heated plastic tubing to form the neck for a dollhouse miniature bottle.
    Plastic tubing, softened over a candle flame, is quickly pulled to stretch it gently into a neck for a dollhouse miniature or model scale bottle. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    As soon as you have removed your heated plastic rod or straw from your heat source, gently begin to pull evenly on either side of the area of softened plastic. Keep Your Fingers Away From the Heated Plastic to Avoid Burns!

    As you gently draw the ends of your rod or straw away from the heated area, the straw or rod will narrow. If you are making a series of bottles which need to be roughly the same shape and size, you will need to draw or stretch your bottles out against a ruler so each section is...MORE pulled apart by roughly the same amount. You will also need to start with a standard length of straw or rod. Experiment with your technique, you may need to gently turn the plastic straw or rod as you pull it out, to prevent the neck you are forming from slumping to one side of the rod or straw. As much as possible, you want to keep the narrowed column of plastic centered on the main width of the rod.

    When you have drawn the plastic out to a neck length and thickness which suit the type of bottle or jar you are making, carefully hold the plastic under the same gentle tension until the neck area cools and sets in place. When the plastic is cool enough to set, leave it aside to cool, supporting it evenly on both ends.

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  • 04 of 11

    Cut the Base of Your Miniature Bottle Free From the Plastic Rod or Straw

    Cutting a recycled pen tube stretched to form a miniature milk bottle.
    Once cool, the stretched plastic pen tube is trimmed at the appropriate point for the base of a dollhouse scale milk bottle. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    When your plastic has completely cooled, use a fine toothed razor saw, and possibly a miter box to cut the base of your new plastic bottle free from the rod or straw you used as the plastic source. Make sure you cut the base as square as possible, so it will stand flat on a surface. Instead of a razor saw, you can use a sharp craft knife, but it is more difficult to cut evenly across the bottle base using a knife. If you are using a knife, turn the plastic gently as you cut, so that the cut...MORE surface spreads, otherwise you could risk stressing the plastic and causing cracks.

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  • 05 of 11

    Finish the Base of Your Miniature Bottle

    Sanding the base of a plastic miniature dollhouse bottle.
    The base of the dollhouse scale bottle is sanded against a file or sandpaper after cutting to make a clear, squared base that allows the bottle to stand on a shelf. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Lay fine sandpaper or a fine file on a flat surface and hold your partially trimmed plastic bottle so the body of the bottle is at right angles to the sandpaper. Gently rub the trimmed bottle base against the sandpaper or file in a figure 8 motion so it sands evenly on all sides. Test the bottle by standing the plastic on the base to see if the bottle base is square.

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  • 06 of 11

    Cut the Bottle (Jar) Top Free of the Plastic Rod or Straw

    Cutting a stretched section of plastic tubing to make the top of a dollhouse scale bottle.
    Trim the stretched section of pen case at the point where it narrows, to make the top of a dollhouse miniature bottle. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Examine your plastic shape carefully, measuring if necessary to determine where to cut the neck of the bottle free from the base plastic. Use a razor saw with fine teeth, cutting the same way you did the bottle base. Take care when cutting the top as the plastic is much narrower and may break easily.

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  • 07 of 11

    Shape the Neck or Lip of the Miniature Bottle or Jar

    Plastic heated, then pressed against a smooth metal surface to make a lip on a miniature bottle.
    To shape the top of a miniature bottle, the neck is heated until soft, then pressed against a smooth flat surface and allowed to cool. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Many styles of bottles and jars have distinctive rolled necks or lips. To shape the neck edge of your bottle, soften the neck edge in your flame, then quickly press the top of the bottle or jar squarely onto a flat metal surface (I used the blade of a table knife used for crafts). The more firmly your press your bottle neck into the metal, the wider your lip will be. Be gentle with your shaping to avoid completely collapsing your bottle at this stage.

    When your neck is the correct shape, use your...MORE sandpaper or a fine file and micro mesh or other automotive finishing pads to polish the top of the bottle to finish it.

    The bottle being shaped in these photos is a miniature milk bottle, with a short wide neck and thick rolled edge.

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  • 08 of 11

    Polish or Finish a Miniature Bottle

    Dollhouse scale milk bottle with cap, made from a recycled plastic pen barrel.
    The dollhouse scale milk bottle made from a recycled plastic pen tube / barrel can be left with or without a cap, or it can be given a base punched from clear sheet plastic. If a base is glued in place, the bottle can be used to hold tiny items. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    The miniature milk bottle is shown here hollow with no base. If your bottle has scratches you can polish the bottle with automotive sanding pads, like the micro mesh pads. Alternatively you can coat the bottle with a thin layer of clear acrylic floor polish to fill in any small nicks or scratches.

    Experiment with various types of plastic, you can make bottles from colored plastic for baby bottles, or from white plastic, the can be colored with glass stains to make them appear transparent. Cracks...MORE in clear bottles may be due to pressure applied to the plastic when cutting it free of the main stock. Bubbles may be due to your method of heating the plastic, you may be heating it too quickly or too much./p>

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  • 09 of 11

    Add Bases or Caps to Miniature Plastic Bottles

    Dollhouse milk bottle cap punched from lightweight card
    A 1/8 inch circle punched from photo paper or lightweight card is used to make a simple cap for a dollhouse scale milk bottle. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    At this point you can finish your miniature bottles with caps or stoppers and leave the bases open, or you can cut or punch a small circle of recycled sheet plastic (clear or colored to match your bottle) and glue it to the base of your bottle using plastic cements.

    Test your glue on scraps of your material before you use it on your shaped bottle. Some glues will "craze" or fog clear plastic, ruining your bottle finish.

    To make simple paper and foil caps, you can use a suitable sized paper...MORE punch on card or foil and glue your paper cap into the opening of your bottle, or across a solid bottle at the top of the neck. On my milk bottle I used a 1/8 inch (2mm) circle punch and lightweight card to make a plain bottle cap.

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  • 10 of 11

    Creating Colored Miniature Bottles From White or Transparent Plastic

    Miniature bottles for the dollhouse tinted with acrylic paint or glass paints.
    Dollhouse bottles made from stretched plastic can be tinted with Pebeo Vitrea glass paints or fluid artist's acrylics to create a range of coloured miniature bottles. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Realistically colored soda and wine bottles can be made using fluid acrylic paints, glaze pens, or glass paints. The Pebeo Vitrea 160 markers are easy to use and lay down sheer even coats suitable for all scales of bottles. If you don't have access to these, Jelly or Glaze pens, like those used for miniature stained glass work well, as do artist's fluid acrylics in colors which do not have a chalky white base (craft paints have too much pigment to be realistic). Test your paints or...MORE markers on leftover scraps of your materials before attempting to use them on finished shaped bottles. Make sure your bottles are free of oil from your hands before you attempt to paint them. Alcohol wipes are an easy way to clean the surface.

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  • 11 of 11

    Make Miniature Wine Bottles From Thick Plastic Straws

    Recycled balloon holder straw used to make a dollhouse scale wine bottle.
    Miniature plastic wine bottle made by heat shaping a stiff plastic straw used to hold a balloon. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    As you make miniature bottles using the heat and stretch method, you may find materials you didn't think suitable for a particular purpose work well for the shape, but are the wrong color. The 1:24 scale wine bottle on this page began life as a section of the type of thick plastic straw used as a handle for a balloon. With their thick walls, these straws are easy to shape, but as they are almost always white, they don't seem ideal for making colored bottles.

    In this case, I inserted a...MORE toothpick into the neck of my finished bottle, and dipped it into Golden Fluid Acrylic Paint in Phthalo Green (Blue Shade) color. This high gloss colored finish gives my white plastic bottle the look of a deep green glass wine bottle. A round toothpick, cut and inserted into the bottle neck gives me a suitable 'cork' effect. All the bottle needs now is a paper label.

    Experiment with this technique to enlarge your miniature bottle collection. You may find sources of plastic in odd places, like makeup brush or toothbrush handles, plastic picks or other items. This is one of the easiest ways to make bottles in smaller scales for 1:48 scale displays.