rThe Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Paul Hamler

Added to museum: 1/28/03

Miniature vintage woodworking tools and rifles

(Left) Paul displays one of his miniature tools at the 2003 Cabin Fever show in York, PA. (Right) Paul holds up one of his recently finished 1/3 scale Kentucky rifles at the NAMES show in Southgate, MI in 2011. (Click photo for larger image.)

The best of the past brought back to life in limited editions of finely crafted miniature tools

From an article for the Tool Shed, the newsletter of CRAFTS (Collectors of Rare and Familiar Tools Society)

By David J. Nowicki

I was first introduced to Paul Hamler and his miniature tools in 1990 at the MW-TCA Spring meeting held in Reading, Pa. I had seen hand-made miniature tools before, but never like these. Paul's were amazing in both their quality and detail.  He had truly elevated this craft to new heights. These miniature works of art are actual working tools, constructed with an exactness that is unexpected in something so small, and truly have to be seen to be believed. 

Paul comes from a family of craftsmen, his father was a carpenter and according to Paul, could work in any craft and fix anything. As a teen, Paul began a lifelong interest in the game of billiards and developed his craftsmanship by building billiard tables and selling them in order to, what else, acquire more tools. When asked how he got started with miniatures he relates a story familiar to most of us— "after I collected most of the common stuff, I started collecting the exotics…." And when faced with the financial realities of owning some of these rare tools, he decided that making copies of them might be a way to "own" those he couldn't afford. His first miniature was a plated brace he had seen in an old tool catalog that just happened to be illustrated in one-third scale. It was completed in 1980 and he brought it to a tool show in Memphis, TN where he showed it to Don Wood, another miniature toolmaker. With Don's assistance, Paul picked up the essentials that a budding tool maker needed to develop his skills and it was at that time that Paul realized there might be a market for his miniatures.

When Paul began making his miniatures one of the first things he had to learn was investment casting, better known as the "lost-wax" process, to create some of the metal parts. While deciding on a list of items he would need, a chance call to a company who made casting tools and supplies connected him with the company's president. The ensuing conversation resulted in a visit to Paul's shop and where Paul got a first hand education in the art of casting and further inspiration. 

Lost wax casting starts with the creation of a rubber mold of the item to be copied. The mold is filled with a special wax that takes on all the detail of the original model. An additional piece of wax, called a "sprue", is added to the wax mold to create a channel through which the molten metal can be poured. This assembly is placed in a flask into which the plaster-like investment compound is poured and left to cure. The wax mold and sprue are removed under high heat, which melts the wax but leaves the detail and creates the final casting mold.  Although very labor intensive, this method of casting provides an extremely high level of detail.

As for materials, Paul uses brass, bronze, silver and gold for casting, steel for blades and screws, with ebony, rosewood, boxwood, beech and ivory, all used just as they were in the original tools.

In addition to his miniature tools, Paul has crafted three full-sized planes. The first was a copy of Stanley's No. 212 scraper plane, which can be identified by the HT (Hamler Tools) logo in place of the Stanley logo. Next, was the exquisite John Mosely ivory plow plane, which was thought to have been created for the 1855 Paris Exposition. The original was "discovered" in the workshop of the Record-Ridgeway Tool Company in London, and was put on display in the company's main office only to disappear again a short time later. This plane was made from elephant ivory and elaborately engraved along the body, wedge and fence. Also, sadly, somewhere along the way the arms had been shortened on the original, probably so it would fit into a toolbox. Paul made five full sized copies and two 1/3-scale miniatures, all using pre-ban ivory with sterling silver fittings. 

The third plane, a working copy of Charles G. Miller's No. 50 plow plane, patented in 1872, is certainly one of the most beautifully detailed planes ever manufactured. Paul's limited edition of 500, in bronze, are actually nicer looking than the originals since the details in his castings are deeper and have better definition. The Miller's Patent plane took Hamler more than 18 months to develop, working mostly from photographs. 

A short-list of the miniature tools he has made are: marking gauges, in both ivory and ebony, a rosewood plow plane with ivory tips and nuts, the Marcus Tidey beveling plane, a Stratton Bros. brass-bound level in rosewood, a number of Stanley planes, including transitionals. The Sargent "lady bug" plane, a Sandusky center-wheel plow plane, the Millers patent plane and a Marples "Ultimatum" brace in ebony are all part of his output. Paul's most recent work includes two Davis Level and Tool Co. inclinometer levels, the 12 inch "filigree" and the familiar "mantle clock", both with working inclinometers.

With each new creation Paul seems to challenge himself further by "raising the bar" to increase the quality of his work and as Paul says, "the fun part is figuring out how to do it". At the recent Brown Tool Sale and Auction in Harrisburg, PA Paul displayed prototypes of three of his recent projects: a Kinney's patent marking gauge, consisting of 35 individual parts, a Disston and Morss, Fisher Patent bevel with 32 parts and a very elaborate foot powered scroll saw, based on the Seneca Falls "Fleetwood" model. 

For himself, Paul is constructing a miniature working model of a Bridgeport milling machine, which when completed will stand only nine inches tall. Also he's just completed a miniature of the elaborately engraved Colt Firearms powder flask for a friend who makes miniature Kentucky long rifles.

The days of tedious filing and fitting, once required to finish the many pieces which make up his miniatures, are coming to a close since Paul introduced Computer Numeric Controlled or CNC machines to take up the slack. He has three lathes and three milling machines run by two computers along with a Computer Aided Design or CAD program to provide the fixturing and machining chores. A total of 22 separate machines are housed in Paul's shop, which is less than 600 square feet.


Paul's 600 square-foot workshop in the Georgia woods is packed with tools and materials. On the right is Paul's new 1800 square-foot workshop, which will soon be the new home for his operation. (Click each photo for a larger image.)

Paul Hamler has developed a significant following for his limited edition miniatures and most pieces sell out very quickly.  He's the only tool collector I know of who can boast of carrying his entire collection in a briefcase. He also hosts a blog on miniature tools at www.hamlertools.blogspot.com.

A new passion: Miniature Guns

The Kentucky Long Rifle

In about 2009, Paul notes that his passion for making miniatures had cooled. He was looking for a new miniature venture and turned his interest to Kentucky long rifles. He purchased an early Lancaster kit by Jim Chambers and spent the next 18 months making parts and tooling that will enable him to produce miniature versions of the rifle  much as he used to do with the miniature woodworking tools. Like the tools, the rifles are made in 1/3 scale.

Paul chose the Lancaster rifles made in 1770 to 1780 because of their fully developed style representing the finest architecture with high, straight comb, slender wrist and forestock and wide, flat butt plate. Lancaster rifles were used all along the American frontier in Pennsylvania before and during the Revolutionary War and were carried west into Ohio and Kentucky and south into Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas after the Revolution. The Lancaster is authentic with either a brass or sliding wood patchbox in the stock, and Paul is reproducing both versions.

As noted by miniature gunsmith Michel Lefaivre, 1/3 scale is a good choice for a miniature gun. Any larger, such as 1/2 scale, and a large gun like the Kentucky rifle appears too large to be considered a "miniature." It is more of a scale model. Much smaller than 1/3 scale and details and function of the gun become extraordinarily difficult to reproduce and even to see if they are reproduced. Scaled engraving becomes hard to appreciate without benefit of magnification.

See a selection of photos below, or go to Paul's photo site at https://hamlertools.smugmug.com/ to see even more photos of how the guns are made and engraved.

The Colt .45 "M1911" Automatic Pistol

Continuing his interest in miniaturizing significant guns, Paul has this time chosen one of the world's best known pistols. Colt pistols have long represented the gold standard in magazine-fed, semi-automatic handguns. Modern semi-auto pistols all trace their roots to the Colt M1911 pistol. Designed by John Browning, it was the standard issue U.S. military sidearm from 1911 to 1985. It's use spanned from World War I through World War II, the Korean War and included use by servicemen during the Vietnam era.

Paul's 1/3 scale version includes all the functions of the full-size weapon. Paul used the knowledge he has gained in making his miniature tools to create very detailed lost wax castings of the various major components. From there, many manual and CNC operations are performed to bring the parts to final size and finish. As of 2015 he has also been working with a company that can provide a perfect representation of the original blued finish on the appropriate cast parts. An initial run of 25 is planned in 2016.

Paul has also introduced a new skill to his many talents. After a week of intensive training by master engraver Steve Lindsay, Paul is now working on engraving as an option on the pistols. See the section on his web page at https://hamlertools.smugmug.com for photos of both the production of the  pistol and the engraving process.  We have also posted some of the photos from that site below with Paul's permission.


Here are several examples of Paul Hamler's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

Miniature Woodworking Tools

Paul carries his models to shows in a custom made wooden attaché case.
Here's a recent shot of the same case at the Cabin Fever show in 2003. Note the saws tucked into the flap on the lid of the case.
A closer shot of the same case.
A Davis level atop a dollar bill gives a good idea of the small size and level of detail of Paul's work.
A John Mosley plow plane exhibits a lot of engraving detail. Obviously this type of tool comes from an era when a craftsman was really proud of his tools. This is one of only five 1/3 scale models Paul made from pre-ban ivory.
Powder flasks in various sizes are compared to the Davis level from a couple of photos above.

A plane made from brass and dark hardwood sits among many tools in Paul's case.

Another close-up of tools in Paul's case.
A separate glass-covered display case houses some of Paul's spokeshaves, powder horns and an ornate slotting plane.
A Charles G. Miller Patent plane sits in the display box with a quarter for size scale at the Cabin Fever show.
Here's a photo of the original full-size Miller Patent plane for comparison. Considering its tiny size, the model above captures an amazing amount of the original's fine detail.
A wooden block plane.
A pattern master for casting the brass fence for the Miller plane.
Some of Paul's past products.
More past projects in another case.
A folding ruler is exhibited next to one of Paul's planes.
Paul's newest piece is the beautifully painted 7.5:1 Dirago treadle scroll saw. The original was manufactured in Maine in 1854, and Paul's small model captures every detail of the fine castings despite the fact that it stands only about 5" tall.
Another treadle scroll saw by Fleetwood of Wilmington, DE from about 1884 also shows fine casting detail, this time left in natural brass and wood. This model is also in the scale of 7.5:1
A Stanley #45 Type 4 multi-plane is modeled after the full size original which was used to shape wooden mouldings. It was aparently named the #45 because it had 45 differnt shapes of cutters that could be used with it. T
Paul's model of the Stanley Type 4 is done in 1/3 scale and captures all the fine detail of the original full-size prototype.
This view of the Stanley Type 4 is from an angle often shown it catalogs when the original was advertised. In those days a good craftsman expected his tools to last a lifetime, and the care and ornate decoration put into them reflect the importance he put on quality in both his tools and his work.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Paul presented the Foundation's collection with one of his fun pieces, which he calls "the Original Rabbit Plane." It actually is a tiny functional plane, and while it might not be very ergmetric, it is certainly charming. A quarter shows the small size.

Miniature Kentucky Long Rifles

Photos showing two of Paul's new Kentucky Long Rifles were taken at the 2011 NAMES show in Michigan where Paul had them on display.
Here are two detail shots of the rifles taken at the 2011 NAMES show.
The firing mechanism of the rifle is seen at full size, 1/2 size and 1/3 size. This photo dramatically illustrates how much smaller 1/3 scale really is compared to 1/2 size. While significantly increasing the challenge of making the small parts, the smaller size yields a final product that is small enough to be considered "miniature" while still representing all the detail and function of the original.
Following are some photos taken from Paul Hamler's site. He offers many more photos at http://hamlertools.smugmug.com for those who wish to learn more about the production process. Seen here is a partially completed gun with the mechanism being checked for fit in the stock.
The machining process begins on the wooden stock.
Paul pours raw metal to cast some of the parts
A "tree" of cast brass parts ready for trimming.
The flintlock mechanism with engraving. A dime is used for size comparison.
(Left) A selection of pneumatic engraving tools. (Right) A large selection of hand tools are also employed for carving and engraving in miniature.
The molding and casting process shows the full size part, the scaled down mold, a model of the part, a wax of the model and a final cast piece.
The setup for engraving includes a stereo microscope to provide visibility for the fine detail and a pneumatic engraving tool.
The silver piece to be inlaid is shown in the first photo formed over the pattern. In the second photo, the metal is pressed into a slot carved into the final workpiece.
The engraved patchbox cover in place on the stock
A brass butt plate installed on an unfinished stock
Several models are shown in various states of finish prior to the stock being stained and finished.
Decorative carving on the left side of the butt of the stock
Three finished miniature Kentucky long rifles on display

Miniature Colt M1911 pistols

Once a master pattern for each part to be cast is made, molds are made so the part can be made in wax. The pink wax seen here has the sprues attached. (A spru is the pathway for metal to flow into the mold.) The wax is then incased in a plaster mix which, when dry is heated and the wax flows out leaving a detailed cavity. The cavity is then filled with melted metal. Once it cools the plaster cast is broken, leaving the metal part. This is called the "lost wax" process, and while slow, it produces very detailed, high quality parts. The second photo shows some of the wax parts compared to their full-size counterparts.
Photo 1 shows sets of wax parts.

Photo 2 shows some cast metal parts still attached to their sprues.

Photo 1 shows a finished cast frame and slide.Photo 2 shows an assembled 1911 pistol with grip.
A full-size original 1911 frame (black) is shown under a 1/3 scale cast frame (bronze).
The first step in making the magazine is to bend sheet brass. The second photo shows the sheet metal magazine plan shape.
  A lathe is used to wrap wire around a piece of rectangular metal to make the magazine spring.
  Finished magazine loaded with dummy rounds.
The engraving process starts with marking where the design will go. The major shapes are then cut.
The main pattern is filled in with hand-engraved details
Sets of castings and parts to make up one Colt .45 and a finished miniature Colt in a display case. Before the final assembly is completed, the actual miniature weapons will have the appropriate parts finished in either a blued or nickel  plated finish. Other options will include different grips and engraving.

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