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Grandma and Grandpa Rummer's house in Wichita was furnished with an interesting mix of antique
furniture. There was an Eastlake bedroom suite, a veneered sleigh bed, a Jenny Lind twin bed on the
upstairs sleeping porch, an oak washstand in the big upstairs bathroom with the clawfoot tub and much
more. All of it had been carefully repaired, refinished, and restored. So many memories of growing up
were connected to their furniture. There was the time I got my finger stuck in the carved lion, or
spinning on the swivel chair until we had vertigo, the feel of the scratchy upholstery of the living room
sofa when we watched the Ed Sullivan show, and family dinners at the big dining room table. Grandma and
Grandpa were pretty intentional about tagging their furniture (literally) for distribution after their
passing but the problem was there was only one oak washstand and there were seven grandkids.
Grandpa's ingenious solution was to start making dollhouse furniture copies for everyone.
It started with a 1/12th scale version of the washstand. Then, each Christmas, we would all get additions
to the miniature furniture collection. Sometimes it was versions of pieces they owned, sometimes it was
furniture they remembered or wished they had. The collection grew to include a four-poster bed,
dresser, side table, kitchen table, pie cupboard, upholstered sofa, braided rug, dining chairs, grandfather
clock, cradle, lots of accessories, and the washstand that started it all.
Figure 1. Miniature versions of full-scale furniture at Grandpa's house
Grandpa really enjoyed the challenges and creativity of building miniatures. He came up with an
indexing fence for the tablesaw so he could safely rip 1/16" thick strips (the 1/12th scale equivalent of 3/4"
stock). His drillpress served as a "mini-lathe" for turned parts like legs and bedposts. For the washstand
he used 3/8" staples for pulls and handles and made small magnetic latches to hold the doors closed.
Hinges were made from fabric glued to the wood. He used a hole saw to cut out the circular frame for the
mirror on the walnut dressers. Then he turned the pile of walnut disk cutouts into tabletops for side
Grandpa's miniatures are on the borderline between playable dollhouse pieces and display shelf art.
Over the holidays I had a chance to see masterpieces of miniatures at the National Museum of Toys and
Miniatures in Kansas City (see the link below). With over 70,000 objects in their collection, NMTM is the
world's largest collection of fine-scale miniatures. The exhibits showcase craftsmanship in metalwork,
woodworking, painting, carving, printing, and ceramics.
The challenge of fine-scale craft is to see how closely you can replicate something at a tiny scale. Many of
us have made Chester County spice boxes and practiced cutting dovetails for small drawers. These are a
challenging exercise for intermediate to advanced woodworkers. However, there is an example of a
spice box in the NMTM collection that is just over 1" tall -- with fully functioning drawers, dovetail
joinery, and tiny metal hinges! There are over 100 pieces in this miniature version made by Bill
Figure 2. A 1/12th scale spice chest at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.
Made by Bill Robertson
I do some marquetry (and aspire to do a lot more). Consider the craftsmanship in this secretary that is
less than 8" tall. I went from piece to piece in the museum with awe and wonder.
Figure 3. A secretary with marquetry panels in the collections at the
National Toy and Miniature Museum.
As I wandered through the NMTM there were several things that came to mind.
- Paul Schurch, a master marqueteur, once talked to our Guild about the difference in precision
and craftsmanship required on large casework (intended to be viewed across a room) and small
boxes (where people will look closely at your work). He called it "6-foot work vs. 6-inch work."
Miniatures invite being viewed through a magnifying glass! I worry about gaps in my joinery on
full-scale pieces, but miniaturists strive for invisible joints.
- The craftsmanship and creativity of master miniature woodworkers is amazing. They need to
know everything about how full-scale furniture is made, and then they have to invent
techniques to replicate it all at small scale. Their wood selection is not just about finding species
that are workable, but also finding wood that looks like the small-scale version in grain and
- Miniatures are often playful. They invite the viewer to be surprised by something, some detail or
hidden feature. "Can you believe that little key actually works?" Grandpa made a cake cover out
of an old pill bottle and then made a tiny chocolate layer cake to go inside. All of that was hiding
inside the pie safe!
- There is a wide range of things you can do with miniatures. You can make individual pieces of
furniture. You can build dollhouses. You can make shoebox rooms with lighting and wallpaper
and windows. You can make things meant to be played with or things to display on the shelf. In
the NMTM collection there is a miniature luthier's shop built inside a full-size violin. High-quality
miniatures can sell for as much or more than the real thing. Do an online search for "fine-scale
- How do you learn how to do this kind of thing? There are books and classes and workshops if
you look around. Visit a toy or miniature collection in your area. Grandpa started out buying a
kit and then quickly decided he could do better just going into the shop and making some
sawdust. Buy a large magnifier and be creative!
At first blush you might wonder why anyone would spend so much time and effort making tiny things.
Grandpa loved making tiny furniture, maybe as much as making the full-size versions. He was always in
his basement shop working on something. When I listened to Bill Robertson's TED talk I was struck by his
comment that his pursuit of craftsmanship and mastery is a continuous journey of discovery. When
people ask him what is his favorite piece, his answer is, "The next thing I make." Isn't that what draws us
all back to the shop? Whether it is miniatures or woodturning or casework or whatever--to make the
next thing, to make something better, to use the new skill that we have learned or to try something
different. I don't think I will ever say that I have had enough time in the shop, that I am done. My
journey of discovery goes on every time I open the door.
Frankl, Paul. 1928. National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.. 5235 Oak St. Kansas City, MO
Gilsdorf, Bob. 2009. International Guild of Miniature Artisans.. Check their listing of Fellows to see more work by masters
Bob Rummer lives in Colorado and is a part-time woodworker. He can be reached directly via email at email@example.com. You can see his shop and some of his work at www.JRummerSons.com.
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