Craftsmanship Museum: Tiny Machines
We've spent years squinting at miniature things -- model railroads, little towns, flea circuses, scaled-down battle scenes. But it comes as a belated revelation that there exists an active community of engineers who build miniature versions of real world machines. The tiny engines actually run, like their full-size counterparts. No small feat, heh-heh....
These craftspeople often require special tools to make the machines in their diminutive universe. That's where Sherline Products comes in; a company specializing in precision miniature machine tools and accessories since 1974, owned by its founder, Joe Martin. He created the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum, part of a 16,000 ft. facility, operated by the Joe Martin Foundation, that opened at this location in 2011.
The museum serves as a bright, professionally arrayed showcase of the many forms of miniature craftsmanship. Some featured exhibits are there on loan, and the collection is constantly changing; in May 2014 a 1/4 scale model of the Wright Brothers flyer was added to hang from the museum's ceiling.
There are model wooden masted ships, matchstick versions of famous buildings, and teensy-weensy pistols and blunderbusses that will discharge itty bitty bullets. Tiny Augie Chopper motorcycles sport wheels the size of quarters. The museum's extensive website (which was online before the physical museum existed) describes many machines, along with one-of-a-kind items: "World renowned clock maker William R. Smith has donated his gold medal winning Strutt epicyclic train clock."
The typical miniature engineer works solo, toiling for months or years to yield a working internal combustion engine, outboard motor, or fighter plane. Louis Chenot built a 1932 Duesenberg at 1/6 scale -- the smallest and last Duesenberg ever built. It took Chenot ten years, and he crafted more than 6,000 custom parts. Everything in it is operational, though at the museum it is kept off the wee highways and displayed in a wood cabinet.
Each machine and model is accompanied -- and often dwarfed -- by an explanatory sign. Creators are identified, specifications given, scale noted (unlike model trains, there are many different scales in play).
There is a display of miniature benchtop lathes, a practical tool used by watchmakers and others. You'll also see tiny drill presses and milling machines.
The purest miniature craftsmanship might even require microscopic hand tools. We were amazed at a 1/30th scale wrench, so small it looks at first like lint or an eyelash. The display includes a photographic blowup of the wrench and same-scale nut and bolt, with a Lincoln penny for comparison. The craftsmen, Jerry Kieffer, made it so he could fasten the .010" bolts onto his 1/30th scale Corliss steam engine.
Machine Shop Demonstrations
Most of the machines are displayed under glass, but some featured exhibits will be turned on to show mechanical prowess in action. Tiny stationary steam engines chug and putter at the push of a button.
The working machine shop demos are an essential part of any visit to the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum. Dave Belt is a Master Machinist at the museum. For our small group, he cranks up several of the tiny devices, explaining how the energy principles and mechanical minutiae, who made them, and what challenges the machine presented.
Do Nothing Machine
One of the instant hits at the museum is the Do Nothing Machine. It's an elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque creation of interlocking belts and gears. Dave turns it on, and as it slowly rotates and hums along aimlessly, Dave tells the tour group all he knows about it.
It's not a miniature version of any working real world engine -- more of a curiosity among curiosities -- but it's way too fun and weird for anyone to object.
Dave clearly has a passion for all things mechanical and miniature. One of the perks of volunteering at the museum is that he can schedule time to use the precision Sherline shop machines and CAD/CAM systems on your own obsessive multi-year miniature projects.
Because sometimes an eyelash-sized wrench just won't do the job.