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My Miniature Process Part 5: Putting it all together

In the last entry in this series, I’m reviewing my history working with miniatures and discuss how I finished my last work, which at this point has accrued over 500 likes on the IGMA: Miniature Community’s Facebook page.

In one sense, I’m very new to the “Miniature” community, but my journey creating goes back at least 50 years. When I was a kid my passions were all about making things. I avidly created models, mostly cars and airplanes at first, using classic Revell kits. I also tried my hand at balsa and tissue paper airplanes and my favorite “toys” were Erector Sets and electronic project kits from Radio Shack.

I was also obsessed with learning how things were put together. I took apart and reassembled almost everything I could get my hands on, which invoked the ire of my parents occasionally. I learned I could make money by getting broken radios, phonographs and anything else that had mechanical parts, taking them apart and figuring out what was broken and how to fix it, then selling the refurbished items.

During my childhood years I dabbled in many crafts. I got into rock tumbling, jewelry making, macrame, electronics, woodworking, photo-illustration, airbrushing, screen printing and other crafts. My father was always accusing me of never finishing what I started, but I was just moving on to the next thing I wanted to try. My mother took advantage of it though, asking me to put together most of the National Handcraft Society Fad of the Month Club kits she received in the mail.

By the time I was a teenager my most prominent skill was being able to draw photo-realistic illustrations. When I graduated high school, I studied graphic arts at a college in Chicago for just a year (no, unfortunately not the Art Institute). At the time I thought I would pursue a career in fine arts, but one thing led to another and I eventually became a computer technician and programmer. Although I continued to draw, I didn’t get back into crafts and woodworking for almost 20 years until my daughter wanted me to make her a dollhouse. I bought and built a commercial kit from Michael’s and eventually tried making 1/12 scale furniture. All my skills from the past returned and I found I was really good at it. Alas, that lasted less than a couple of years and major life changes resulted in being away from miniature making for almost 25 years.

My love for woodworking and making things never left me and around 15 years ago, I finally began putting together my dream workshop, eventually taking up our entire garage. For a number of years I concentrated on making cribbage boards until sometime last year when I rediscovered the joy of making miniature furniture.

At the beginning of this week, I completed the piece I had shown glimpses of in former entries to this series, a miniature dental cabinet:

This project began around March 4  when I began designing it in Fusion 360. Here are a few images from that process:

When I was ready to begin building this piece, I selected two 2″ x 2″ x 18″ Jobillo turning squares and sliced them into various thicknesses. In previous posts I outlined the steps involved – from the design phase to cutting parts. This project resulted in a little over 200 individual parts. Here are most of the used part sheets:

Getting from the design process to cut parts is only the start. Next comes the hard work of assembling it.

Every part has to be cut out and sanded on all six sides (at least with the rectangular/square parts). That can be quite tedious, and it wasn’t until after the first couple of miniatures I made this way that I realized I could sand the top and bottoms BEFORE removing them from the sheets. The sides of the parts are sanded on my True Sander

I didn’t realize until I was working on this one that what I basically did was make my own model kit from scratch. The parts sheets are just like what you get in a commercial Revell model kit, with all the parts on sprues that need to be cut off.

Attaching the parts is done with either super glue or translucent wood glue, depending on what type of joint and hold is needed. All the drawers had parts that needed dovetails cut into them using a custom modified micro chisel. Other details that could not be implemented in the CNC process had to be done by hand.

My initial plans for the arms on the swing out trays was to 3D print them. The first prototypes printed well and looked good, but they proved to be too brittle and would not have held up long. So I spent a couple of days doing research and testing, and found out how easy it is to solder brass parts together. The hard part is devising methods to hold them together while soldering. Toothpicks inserted into drilled holes and masking tape worked wonders for this.

I long dreaded making the curved rotating cover for the trays. At first I thought I would find some sort of small glass bottle or vial that I could cut. However I wasn’t able to find anything that either was the right size or thickness. While rooting around in my supplies I found some 1/16″ acrylic sheets. I remembered acrylic can be formed with heat, so I turned a form and wrapped the acrylic around it with a heat gun. The turntable rotates within two tiny 1 mm ball bearings. The mirror on the top is from an old camera I disassembled a few years ago. You can get all sorts of great parts from old cameras.

Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures during this build, but here’s one as I neared the end:

I finally finished it on May 11th. As with every piece I’ve made before, there are a couple things I would have done differently if I started over, but I’m mostly happy with how this turned out.