When my daughter was about eight years old, we heard about some mysterious fairy doors that existed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Each summer when our kids were younger we visited Sault Saint Marie, Michigan where my in-laws have a cottage. We decided to stop in Ann Arbor on the way up north on one of our trips and investigate these fairy doors. We had done our research online and found the fantastic UFO Site. UFO stands for Urban Fairy Operations. This site is the all-inclusive site that helps visitors to Ann Arbor find the fairy doors in town and has a ton of other assorted information about building your own door and much more.
You can download a map that shows where each of the fairy doors are located. It was tremendous fun for all of us to search the streets for these unique and fascinating little doors.
Some of these doors open, some of them also have windows and several even had electricity inside them. To say it triggered our curiosity is an understatement. We went home and immediately purchased and painted our very own Fairy Door. We mounted it at the top of the stairs. You can imagine the fun we had with the door as we invited fairies to move in. My wife and I had enjoyed leaving trinkets on the step for our kids to discover. They went as far to write notes on tiny pieces of paper, left gifts and special decorations for the holidays.
My daughter is now in college and the door has come down from our hallway. I recently saw some images on Pintrest that fired my imagination.
I started thinking about how cool it would be to have a fairy door, maybe even a fairy house in our school library! I knew I could ‘hook’ the girls, who are already fascinated with fairies, both Disney and otherwise. What would be harder would be to find a way to link the boys to the sense of wonder. More on that later.
It just so happened that our community’s giant rummage sale was taking place and a parent had emailed me and asked if we needed any items for the makerspace. I asked her to be on the look out for some ‘big books’ and I sent her the above picture to explain why. She found some and dropped them off and I immediately got started making my very own fairy house. I looked online for a tutorial on how to make one out of old books and I couldn’t find one. So, I hope that this step by step tutorial will help those of you who are as eager to create one as I was.
Step One: Find some great old books that are tall and thick.
Step Two: Cut the covers off with a razor knife.
Step Three: Use glue (I chose wood glue because I had it on hand) to cover all four edges of the book’s pages. I discovered a bit later that if you have a cup of warm water, it helps keep the brushes bristles a bit more pliable. I also added a bit of the hot water to the glue and that helped make applying it a bit easier too. I would also recommend that you put the books on wax paper or cardboard when doing this step as well. I didn’t have any wax paper and thus had some cardboard that stuck to the edges a bit.
Step Four: Stack and place heavy objects on the books to help compress and set the glue. Let it sit for 24 hours. If you are impatient like me, this will be the hardest step!
Step Five: Mark the book pages so that you can begin ‘hollowing’ out the book. You don’t have to do this step. Many have just added the doors to the books in other ways. I wanted to have a physical ‘room’ inside the books for the fairies to live, so I decided I wanted to hollow them out. This ended up being a much harder project then I originally thought it would be as you will see below.
Step Six: The book ‘blanks’ are now more like a chunk of wood than a book. I added another layer of wood glue several hours after the first and that made the book ‘blank’ even more solid. Make sure that you mark the book blank so that you are ‘cutting away’ the area that includes the spine. This is so that the book will still look ‘whole’ when the fairy house is complete. I was able to initially begin cutting the blanks with a saw. In hindsight, what I should have done was cut several ‘slit’s in the book and then notched them with the chisel. See the next step.
Step Seven: After you have cut the two sides, you will use a chisel to begin chopping away the interior of the book. This is a very messy step. A heavy hammer and a very sharp chisel are essential. This could also be done with a razor knife, but the chisel worked much more efficiently. It is possible that a band saw or a scroll saw would have worked. I tried using my scroll saw and it cut crooked and did not work well with the texture of the book pages. I do plan on trying my band saw for the next project.
Step Eight: When you have completely hollowed out the book, do this for as many books as you wish to have in your house. I found that putting a piece of plywood under the book gave me a firmer surface to be able to hammer. Plus, then I didn’t have to worry about damaging the tabletop.
Step Nine: Stop and clean up!
Step Ten: Purchase and prepare your doors and windows. I found these at our local Hobby Lobby and painted them with regular acrylic paint.
Step Eleven: Cut covers to fit the window and door sizes.
Step Twelve: Dry fit the window and door.
Step Thirteen: Glue the window and door into place.
Step Fourteen: Electric? I’m going to start with one of those candle lights that you can use in place as a tea candle light. I might add a 12 volt power supply at some point, but for now I think just the notion that there is light inside the house will trigger the imaginations of my students.
Step Fifteen: Invite Wonder!
I knew I could ‘hook’ my girls. They are devouring every ‘fairy’ type book I could put on the shelves, but how to hook the boys? That was more challenging. Then I remembered back to when I must have been ten or eleven years old. I would visit my step-sister, who was much older than me. I remembered that she had this one book on Gnomes that fascinated me. It was a whole world of tiny people. I poured over that book for weeks, filling my head with wonder. There was just enough ‘naughty’ talk about trolls and farting and other silly things to get my 5-10 year old boys hooked for good. If I could get them to believe that it was possible that we have a gnome living in our library, I think I might be able to get them to set aside their doubt and ‘wonder’ with me! I’m building a bibliography of excellent ‘fairy’ and ‘gnome’ books. If you have a recommendation for one, please let me know in the comments section below.