Tools that will help you work on very small projects

To hold tiny things while you work on them

Here I think the big-handed have an advantage--sure that they will drop or squash the little treasure, they devise tools that will do the holding.  I suspect that many of the dainty-fingered would find it useful to use these too.

"Alligator" clamps:  These are about an inch long, usually copper-coloured, and available in small packages quite cheaply at stores like Radio Shack in Canada.  They will hold almost anything.  There are larger ones with teeth, and you can also get them attached to wire handles.

Haemostats:  These are good when you really want a tight grip on something,
as long as that something cannot be squashed.  They lock firmly in position.

Double-sided sticky tape: Very useful to hold things while you're painting them. 
Find something flat and sturdy like a ruler, and stick one side of the tape to it,
then place the items to be painted on the remaining sticky side.

The simplest solution:  Let the piece you're working on provide its own handle.  When you have carved a doll's head and body from a dowel, leave the rest of the dowel there (if it's possible) as a handle while you dress and paint the doll.

Extra tip: If you have to hold in your fingers something you're painting or gluing, consider using the thumbnail of the holding hand as a palette.  This is specially useful when you want only a tiny bit of glue, and it seems to dry between the bottle and where you're trying to put it.  This may wreck your manicure, and I wouldn't try it with  "super" glues or epoxies or anything that might be poisonous.  And you always wash your hands before eating, right?

Toys in Miniature: Frances Armstrong
I'm going to assume that you are already familiar with some of the tools and techniques used by miniaturists who work in 1/12 scale.  Most of these will work with 1/144 scale as well, but here are some suggestions that you may find helpful if you're "scaling down."

I've grouped the tools according to function, and I don't hesitate to count eyes, fingers, and fingernails as tools.
These tweezers look good from a distance, but the tips don't meet.
(Enlarged view)
These tweezers have very tiny hooks on the tips. (Enlarged view)
To pick up tiny things

Many people say that their hands are too big for small-scaled work.  They are right, but compared to the hands of a six-inch doll, all our hands are too big.

Tweezers are an obvious answer.  For this scale I think the most useful are the needle-nosed, the ones that come to a sharp point.  Test them by trying to pluck a hair from your arm, and if it's not easy to get a firm grip on the hair, try a different kind.  Some pointed tweezers have a tiny hook at the end, used (I believe) by surgeons to remove foreign objects from eyes.  This kind can be a blessing or a curse when you want to pick up something tiny.  Just experiment.
          Some tweezers have flat tips, or long handles, or bent tips, and some require more pressure to use than others.  It all depends on how you use your hands, so keep on experimenting.  You can often buy tweezers very cheaply, and the price doesn't predict how comfortable you will feel using them.
          You can get tweezers that work in reverse, so that you squeeze them to let go.  I find this confuses me, but others manage fine.

Uncooked spaghetti is a remarkably useful tool for picking up something very tiny that is to be glued to something else--say one part of a chair to another.  Put the glue on one piece, then dampen the end of the spaghetti.  It will stick to the other piece, but when you move this piece to the glued spot, the glue
will grab the chair part more strongly than the spaghetti does.

Index to Help for Beginners

For cutting wood           Please supervise children in any activity involving cutting.

In small scale work you can use almost any tool for cutting.  Here are my own favourites:
For shaping small pieces  , a set of X-acto or Excel knives with number 11 blades.  I have several knives with different coloured handles, and I keep one of them always fitted with a new or nearly new blade.  When that blade gets dull (and that happens quite quickly), I move it to the number two knife, and put a fresh blade in number one.  You should be able to (gently!) shave a few hairs off your arm without any pressure.
  Safety note:  These knives can do a lot of damage if they fall off the table and on to your legs or feet.  Make a safe place for knives, near the back of your desk, and put them there every time you put them down.  I store my knives point down in a tall container, with a thick piece of styrofoam in the bottom of the container into which the blade can sink.
For chopping off thin pieces, like table legs or shelves, a single-edged razor blade.
For chopping of lots of identical pieces, a tool known as a Chopper, or a miniature power cut-off saw.
For cutting sheets of wood, for a 1/144 house for instance, a razor hand saw in a mitre box, or a miniature table power saw.
For carving, Excel or X-acto knives and a few carving tools and sharpened dental tools.
I also use a Dremel tool for a lot of things, especially carving.
Tools  you can make yourself

If you are having difficulty with a particular task, or if you have to make lots of identical pieces, it's worth thinking about special tools and jigs that will make life easier.  For instance, when I make a doll in 1/144 scale, I find that if I make the clothes first then I'll mess them up while doing the face and shoes, and vice versa.  So I have made a tool that looks like a pencil with a broken lead, using a 1/4 " dowell, and that acts as a dressmaker's dummy.  When the dress is complete and dry, I slide it off and put it on the doll.

To see what you're making

Eyes: Make sure that your eye doctor knows about your hobby.  If there are no problems, remember to change focus fairly often.  Don't fix your eyes on one thing for long--look across your desk or out of the window now and again.

Magnifiers: Try a variety of these, because your whole body may be involved in your choice.  Magnifiers that hang around the neck end up at odd angles on the fuller-figured woman; magnifiers that clip around your head may give you a headache or force your nose too close to the desk for the good of your neck.  The tiniest magnifier I've seen, a pair of lenses sitting on the bridge of the nose (pince-nez) needs a sturdy nose to sit on.  Cheap reading glasses (2.5 or 3 diopters) may be the simplest solution.
          Even if you feel no need of a magnifier, do take a photograph of your work and enlarge it ruthlessly.  If stray threads and crooked joints  appear, you may want to consider using a magnifier at least now and again to check your work.
Light:   Often we struggle with something small, thinking that our fingers are clumsy, until someone switches on the light.  You will need the best light possible.  Just what that means may depend on what you're making, so experiment.  I find working with sunlight coming over my shoulder is best.  Some people like lights that cast hardly any shadows, others find they need shadows to define what they're doing.  A perfectionist would also consider where the finished project is likely to be displayed, and check it over in similar circumstances.

Seeing with your fingers: We may never be able to read Braille, but fingertips can give a lot of information about smoothness and roughness, at least.  Usually your ring fingertip is the most sensitive, I've been told.
Tools for special tasks
Cutting wood
picking things up
To make plates (of paper or metal foil), I punch out circles and then use a set of plastic or metal rods and tubes to make the appropriate size dent in the middle.  The same set of rods can be used to curl paper or foil into a cylinder, for a cup or pot.  The basic rods and tubes are available in craft stores.  They fit inside one another, so you can easily make a double ended tool, like the one at the top of the picture.

The thing at the bottom of the picture is my version of a pleater.  It's only an inch or so long, and is useful when you just have one 1/144 doll to dress.  You dampen some silk ribbon, and use pins to press it into the grooves,  I do sell the tool, but it's easy enough to make from model railroad plastic strips.
Jigs can be very complicated, and don't always seem worth the bother.  But a simple one can be useful.  For instance, if you want to be sure all your table legs or railing spindles are the same length, you can use a jig which, by means of little fences, lines up your spindles evenly, so you can cut them all the same.

This page was last updated on: May 15, 2010

Enlargement of tip of Haemostat