Build Miniatures by Recycling and Upcycling

Thinking with your crow brain

It can be easy to miss, but everywhere around us there are opportunities to make build miniatures, with everyday items that are laying around. To see all the potential and the possibilities, what we need to do is get in touch with our inner crow. It’s a little voice in your brain that – when you’re about to toss out a piece of packaging – tells you no. Keep it. When you open a bottle of wine, it says goodAnother one for our cork collection. To listen to your crow brain is to recognize easily dismissed everyday items for the treasures that they are. To collect them.

As you might imagine, the crow brain is a very useful mindset for a miniature maker. It helps you find lots of useful – and free – materials to recycle and upcycle for the hobby. So read on as we share our list of 21 everyday items that you may have lying around, which make for great miniature building materials.

Build miniatures by upcycling waste

Our number one category of everyday items to build miniatures with, are the ones you typically find tossed in the bin. Recycling and upcycling these materials saves them from the sad fate of being discarded, and is the most economic way of making miniature art. The results can be pretty epic too. Take a look at Studson Studio’s miniature creations, for example. Below, we’ve listed a couple of common “waste” materials that are worth keeping an eye out for.

1. Popsicle sticks

When summertime comes around, so do the popsicles. Ever since we got into the hobby miniature making, we’ve gotten in the habit of following up every popsicle treat with washing the sticks and adding them to our stash. Popsicle sticks are a great choice of material when you need tiny wooden planks or boards, for making furniture or wooden floors for a DIY miniature house.

2. Egg cartons

With their egg hugging shapes, egg cartons often come in handy for recycling and upcycling purposes. Depending on the type of egg carton, the shapes on the outside and the inside of the packaging offer several possibilities for making dollhouse miniatures and other minis. For example, when the cups on the inside are rounded in shape, you could make a bathroom sink out of one. Some ideas for the remaining cups are to turn them into miniature lamp shades, or planters for your mini plants.

3. Plastic sheets

Plastic upcycling is another great way to build miniatures. Next time you get a packaging box with a transparent window in it, be sure to keep the plastic sheet. It’s perfect for making the glass panes in the little windows, doors, and picture frames for a miniature dollhouse.

Everyday items used to build miniature greenhouse with a wooden floor, plants and a watering can

4. Paper

Much of the paper that we receive in the mail can prove to be quite useful for repurposing in miniature projects. When sorting through the mail, you can cut the unprinted parts of letters and the blank parts of envelopes, and put them aside as craft supplies. Paper can be used to make things like the leaves on plants and vegetables, miniature books, and even a tiny watering can.

5. Paperboard

When you’re building something boxy but very tiny, using wood can often be a bit too thick and bulky of a material. In these cases, we’d recommend using paperboard. So from now on, make sure to keep your cereal boxes, as the packaging is a clean and sturdy material to work with.

6. Wine corks

If you like to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, or know someone that does, you might want to get in the habit of snatching the corks before they get thrown in the trash. From cork, you can make a couple of things for your miniature projects. For starters, you can cut a round slice to make a cork lid for a little jar. With a rectangular slice, you could make a pin board. And by hollowing out a wine cork, it can be turned into a planter.

While we love our little strategy of collecting popsicle sticks – as it comes with tasty benefits – it can take a while to gather enough of them to be able to tackle an actual miniature project. So unless you’re planning a big summer party with lots of popsicles to go around, it’s probably more practical to kickstart your collection with a store-bought set of craft sticks.

Build miniatures with kitchen items

Our next category covers simple household items that you’re likely to find in your kitchen cabinets. They’re the disposable kind of items that normally serve a small function, sometimes for a mere few seconds, before they are tossed in the bin. Let’s look at a couple of ways to repurpose them, as building materials for miniature creations.

7. Skewers

Wooden skewers can be used for all kinds of miniature creations that involve wooden rods and round sticks. For example, you can use them to make the back of a spindle back chair. But they also make a great broomstick, as well as wooden handles for miniature gardening tools.

Mini garden bench and aluminum bucket made with everyday household items

8. Coffee stirrers

Coffee stirrers are similar to the popsicle sticks we mentioned above, only more narrow and thin. They are therefore also perfect for projects that you need tiny wooden planks and boards for, only narrower ones. For example, you could use them to build a miniature garden bench, or some board and batten walls or doors.

9. Aluminum foil

Aluminum foil is another material that can be useful in more ways than one. When you scrunch it up and mold it into shape, it can serve as the structural core for a miniature object. However, as opposed to using aluminum foil for the hidden inner bits, it can also be useful for cladding a miniature object. You could make a bucket out of paper, and then cover it with aluminum foil to achieve a metallic appearance. Pro tip: treat the aluminum foil with some scratching and touches of rusty brown paint to make the bucket look like it’s been well used.

10. Straws

Drinking straws come in different varieties, several of which can come in handy for miniature projects. For starters, the classic plastic bendy straws are perfect for when you’re making a pipe with a bend in it. Like the chimney pipe for a miniature wood stove, or the periscope for a mini submarine. Another type of drinking straw is the thick and sturdy paper kind. These are useful for making any kind of cylindrical objects, like tiny storage tins and drinking mugs.

11. Dry coffee grounds

How do you make your coffee? If you use old-fashioned, ground beans to prepare your cup, you might want to steal a little spoon of coffee grounds now and again for miniature creations instead. Unused coffee grounds closely resemble dirt, so they make a perfect filler for planters in a miniature house and borders in a tiny garden. A tip for sticking the grounds in place: mix them with white glue!

Gathering materials to build miniatures with is step one of the equation. What you’ll also need, is a set of tools to shape them and achieve all the finicky details. We recommend getting a miniature tool kit that has a handy selection of precision tools. For example, a pair of curved tweezers to pick up and place all the little individual leaves of a miniature plant. And a variety drill bits small enough to make a hole in the handle of a miniature gardening tool to hang it on a wall in a tiny garden shed.

Build miniatures with crafty thingamabobs

If you’re like us, you have a couple of boxes stuffed with supplies for crafts that once seemed like things you’d totally want to do but have escaped your mind ever since. An assortment of beads for instance, half of which might not even be quite your color or style. Doubly so if you’re a parent, what with all the supplies for the little one’s creative activities. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably sitting on a treasure trove of materials for making miniatures. Because even the cheapest, simplest craft items can have very useful shapes, and become building blocks for an awesome looking creation.

12. Yarn

If you have some fine crochet yarn, there are several little objects you can make. Even if they’re just short leftover pieces of yarn. For starters, by weaving along a frame of wires you can create a basket or a wicker chair. And by attaching a bunch of yarn to a stick, you create a tiny mop.

13. Beads

If you watch a miniaturist create an interior for a mini home, chances are that you’ll see them using beads in many of the little handmade objects. Beads are ideal for making natural looking ends to all sorts of pipes and rods. Like the tip of a kitchen tap’s spout, the end caps of a curtain rod, or the rounded tip of a wall hook. Other times you’ll find beads used as a central, transitional element of an object. For example, you can use beads to create ring pull handles for miniature drawers. These examples all take advantage of the bead’s hole, by sticking something in or through it. But that’s not always the case, such as when using beads as the little wheels of an office chair. With a bit of creative thinking, you’ll probably find many more uses.

Common craft items used to build miniatures in a kitchen setting

14. Googly eyes

Anyone with kids probably has some googly eyes laying around for making fun little creatures. Next time you’re about to retire one of these creations to the bin, make sure to keep the goofy eyes. These you can disassemble to obtain just the transparent bits: clear, curved circles. Preferably in different sizes! Glue a stick to them and use a stippling painting technique to create a set of frying pans. Or, paint them with nail polish for a shiny ceramic finish and you’ll have yourself a lovely set of miniature soup plates.

15. Jewelry charms

If you have an assortment of jewelry charms, it can be worthwhile to look through them and see which ones have some potential for featuring in a miniature setting. For example, you may find some pieces that remind you of the decorative brass ornaments on antique furniture. Others might be perfect to embed into an ornate frame for a miniature painting or a mirror, or a fancy candle holder.

16. Buttons

There are all kinds of different buttons, and therefore all kinds of ways to use them for miniatures too. You can hide the button holes by filling them with glue, followed by sanding and painting. Then you have a round disk that can be repurposed into different things, depending on their shape and size. Larger buttons, for instance, can become the seats of bar stools. The ones with a beveled edge can be turned into picture frames and mirrors. With curved buttons, you can create miniature plates. Small buttons, on the other hand, can become the feet under a little couch. And then there’s the snap button. You can make use of the “ball and socket” parts by snapping them onto a bar, creating a functional axis for a pair of wheels. Perfect for a little serving trolley.

If you don’t have heaps of unused craft supplies lying around, we would recommend getting a jewelry making kit. A kit like this contains many of the materials we mentioned above, like an assortment of beads and charms. Moreover, it comes with a variety of strings and a selection of tools that will also come in handy when making miniatures. Not to mention a very useful storage system for the tiny supplies!

Build miniatures with items from the junk drawer

Ah, the junk drawer. The place stuffed with random things that weren’t relevant enough to have them somewhere at hand or in sight, but not quite useless enough to get rid of either. Things mostly forgotten about, a hidden mess we prefer to ignore. Till now. Because who knows what you might find in there that could be repurposed to build miniatures?

17. Old watches

If you have a cheap old watch that isn’t quite reliable anymore, or isn’t used for any other reason, open it up to find some really cool bits to craft with. The inner clockwork is perfect for making a miniature wall clock in an industrial style, with its gears visible. For the backing for this clock, you could use a button. Thinking beyond clocks, you could also use the little dials and gears to create some other kinds of contraptions in a steampunk scene.

18. Tissues and fabrics

Other materials that can be repurposed for mini creations, are tissues and pieces of thin fabric. These can be useful in case you want to make a miniature version of a fabric object, like a tote bag or a kitchen towel. However to pull this off, not only should the object be small in size, but its material should also be thinner and finer in texture than the reference fabric, to mimic its shape and appearance in miniature scale. That’s why a paper tissue might actually look pretty convincing when posing as cotton fabric. Meanwhile, you can actually use cotton fabric to achieve a different effect. For example, you can use a cotton handkerchief to make a little sack out of. Dye it with coffee or black tea, and the cotton fibers will resemble the coarse texture of miniature burlap!

A miniature hanging flower basket and a burlap sack with apples in front of a miniature cottage

19. Chains

If you find a cheap old necklace or some keychains, their metal chains could come in handy. With them, you can build miniatures featuring hanging flower pots on a porch, suspended lightbulbs in an industrial interior, or chain link fencing in a city diorama – to name a few examples.

20. Earrings

Do you have any earrings lying around that are hopelessly waiting to be reunited with their long lost other half? Or perhaps you have a set of different earring studs, that you only got for one particular cute variety, the rest remaining unworn. Or maybe a pair of earrings that seemed really nice turned out to be really itchy for your ear. In our experience, it’s all of the above. But that’s okay, because earrings have lots of potential in miniature making. For example, the cone-shaped backs can be used as a part of a door handle, earring hoops can be turned into wall hooks, and the studs themselves work great as knobs on drawers.

21. Toys

The last item we’ll cover here, is perhaps the most versatile one. If you have little kids, then you’re probably no stranger to the many toys that came to colonize your home along with them. Now, some toys you wouldn’t dream of touching, they’re too precious. But there are probably some that could be quietly dismembered and they’d be none the wiser. Especially if these toys already ended up in the junk drawer. How to build miniatures with them? That depends on the possibilities the toy offers. If it’s a plastic doll, you could sacrifice a bit of blonde hair to make the bow for a miniature violin, whereas her lace dress could be turned into a cute sun umbrella. A discarded plushie could become a rug or a set of nice soft miniature pillows. We’d keep the eyes too, for mini purposes yet to be found.

If you’re a fan of the steampunk aesthetic, there are really cool things to be crafted with the little gears from watches. But chances are that you don’t have enough shabby old timepieces to be sacrificed for such a project. In that case, we’d recommend getting a whole stash of antique watch gears from Amazon. You’ll get a variety of different shapes and sizes to work with, and they come with that nice old-timey look.

That concludes our list of household objects and everyday items you can use to build miniatures. From repurposed waste to upcycled jewelry, recognizing the materials for their potential takes a bit of out-of-the-box thinking at first. But as you get the hang of it, you’ll likely discover a couple more yourself.

About the author

Hey there, I'm Aimee. I have this thing for tiny things, that has grown ever since I started dabbling with miniature crafts in 2018. I started this blog to create a space for ideas and resources for making miniatures, so that they may inspire others and lead to the crafting of many more little worlds within our own.

Link to Aimee River profile on Pinterest

Aimee River

Join our li'l club!

Subscribe to the newsletter to fill up the tiny cup you didn't know you had, with an occasional dose of miniature goodness in your inbox.

Optimized by Optimole
Scroll to Top