I did a lot of research on dollhouse kits before making a purchase and getting ready to dive into a new project. Cost was a big factor for me because I'm building on a budget. A second factor for me was the ability for the kit to be customized or "bashed" because this project really is more about exercising my creativity than following a set of instructions so it looks just like the photo on the cover of the box.
So we'll start with the least expensive kits... Die Cut.
It is exactly what it sounds like. A sheet of thin (typically 1/8") plywood is punched by a die which perforates the wood with the pieces. If this was a sheet of paper, the kit builder would simply press out the perforated pieces to produce the parts of the dollhouse for assembly. Alas, this is a sheet of low-mid grade 1/8" plywood. Therefore the purchaser then has to use and X-ACTO knife or some similar cutting tool to to liberate the pieces. Following that, one has to sand the pieces smooth. These kits don't come with sometimes the long list of tools they require for assembly so be prepared to purchase separably.
Die Cut kits also include long rods and/or dowels of wood that need to be cut, angled, and fitted to size by the purchaser in order to create details like window sills. Usually flooring and siding also come in long strips that need to be sawed, sanded, and fashioned by the purchasers before they are manually applied to the walls or floors. Unfortunately older Die Cut kits may be lacking features like tongue-and groove assembly so the purchaser has to be careful to measure and create their own markings to make sure everything is the right size and in the right place.
Clearly, a kit for someone with the time and wood working DIY spirit to put in this level of work. Die Cut kits also come with a fair amount of trim and lots of architectural detailing that buyers find appealing. As for the cost factor, these kits are the least expensive and easiest to find. Die Cut kits are available in abundance on Craigslist and Ebay for buyers looking for a bargain.
Next we have... Laser Cut.
It is exactly what it sounds like. A sheet of plywood (or MDF) is cut by a laser which cuts the wood with the pieces. The photo above offers a visual of the difference between Die Cut and Laser Cut. To the right, the Laser Cut produces a clear, clean, edge that doesn't require sanding and comes out of the sheet ready to be assembled. Certian Die Cut kits may include rods or dowels of wood that need to be saws and sized to fit. Shelling out the extra cash may be worth it for the builder not looking to spend their time sanding and sawing or cleaning up the mess that sanding and sawing is bound to create. Greenleaf has rolled out a line of their classic Die Cut kits in Laser Cut. Laser Cut kits also come with a fair amount of trim and lots of architectural detailing that buyers find appealing. As for the cost factor, these kits are a bit more expensive than Die Cut. Laser Cut is still somewhat new and these kits may be harder to find at bargain prices.
Then we arrive at Saw Cut...
It is exactly what it sounds like. A sheet thick of plywood (or MDF) is cut by a saw to produce the pieces. Thicker sheets of plywood mean the end result is heavier, so you may want to prepare a dedicated place for these houses. On the other hand, heavier also means more durable and able to handle heavy play by little ones. The pieces are then shaped, angled, and cute to size as required. The purchaser simply has to put the pieces together, per instructions, to produce a fully assembled dollhouse.
Above is a MDF kit by Real Good Toys (RGT). Wow, that was simple! The manufacture has experts do the work so you don't have to and doesn't come cheap! Expect to pay double, triple, and even quadruple, for what you would spend on a Die Cut kit. Also, these kits tend to lack trim, gingerbread, and other pomp. If that's important for you, expect to purchase these items separately. Similarly these kits are often boxy, so if you are looking for something more cute and fancy, with lots of eye catching architectural detail, you may not find these quick assemble kits very appealing.
Last, we'll look at Premium/Select...
Premium Kits, weather Die, Laser, or Saw, usually offer a better grade of plywood or high quality MDF (medium-density-fiberboard). Premium/Select can also include other upgrades, but it's usually all about the wood. Below we see a comparison of a completed Greenleaf Select with a standard Greenleaf Kit.
So, all these factors come into play when picking out a dollhouse. When it comes to cost, also factor in the cost of tools, adhesive, wall paper, wood stain, paint, lighting/electrical, any upgrades, additions, and eventually furniture and dolls. When it comes to time, be realistic about how long it will take you to complete a kit. As the saying goes, don't start something you can't finish. When it comes to architecture and design, think about the look that you would be proud to display.
My DuraCraft San Franciscan 555 is Die Cut, I purchased 2 kits at a bargain price online because of upgrades and changes I'd like to make. The price and the architectural details made this kit right for me. I know this is going to be a lot of work and take a more time than some of the other kits. This dollhouse is not for a child, so the thinner wood isn't an issue for me. It's a project that I'd like to get lost in and display with pride when it's finished.
Ultimately it all boils down to knowing what you truly want, and then getting it.
Thanks for reading!