Featuing Extra Photos!

The craftsman featured on the pages linked below has produced a large volume of extraordinarily high quality work. We have provided more photos than normal as a teaching experience. Certain craftsmen set the standards in their area of expertise, and studying the details of their work can be helpful for anyone wishing to follow in their footsteps or take their work to the next level. Not every viewer will want to enlarge every photo, but those interested in achieving this level of craftsmanship will find doing so instructive and, hopefully, inspiring.

The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Jerry Kieffer

Joe Martin Foundation "Metalworking Craftsman of the Year" award winner for 1997

A model engineer who insists on total perfection and building every part "to scale"

Jerry Kieffer is not a professional machinist. He recently retired as a field representative for a Wisconsin power company, and most of his skills were attained by trial and error, but his home shop turns out some of the finest and smallest examples of model engineering to be found anywhere in the world.

Click on the slide to see a PowerPoint® slide show of a selection of Jerry's work. (Once opened, click on screen to advance to next slide. Right click screen to select "full screen" or to end show.) Don't have PowerPoint? CLICK HERE to download a free PowerPoint viewer from Microsoft.

Discover Channel (Canada) Video features Jerry  Kieffer

February, 2012—See http://watch.discoverychannel.ca/daily-planet/february-2012/daily-planet---february-13-2012/#clip618305 to view a segment on Discovery Canada from a show called The Daily Planet. The "Garage Guru's" segment details Jerry's work building a 1/8 scale Harley Davidson. (It is the second segment starting at the 8:00 minute mark.)

About Jerry Kieffer

Jerry Kieffer is not a lifelong machinist. He has developed his skills in many areas simply because he was not satisfied with the work of others and felt he could do the job better himself. He has applied his skills to watch repair, gun repair, clock making and model engine construction to name just a few. The project that first brought him attention was a 1/30 scale Corliss steam engine model. The tiny bolt shown below was a 1/30 scale version of a 1/4-20 bolt used as an actual fastener on the model. Jerry developed a system of taps and dies to produce these tiny fasteners so that the model would be completely scale down to the smallest detail. He was making the model because he had been told by others that a running engine could not be made completely to scale at that small size. Jerry's has built a 1/6 scale running model of a 1947 Harley Davidson "knucklehead" motorcycle engine. Now he is working on a 1/8 version that will be included in a fully functional motorcycle model. His goal is to be able to kick start it and have all functions down to the speedometer work. He has also completed a running 1936 John Deere tractor in 1/8 scale as well as several other clock, miniature machine tool and engine projects. See the bottom of the page for links to individual projects.

Many of the projects Jerry takes on are driven by a challenge, either from himself or from a friend, and this was no exception. The following magazine article details the project and also gives a good insight into what makes Jerry tick and how he goes about tackling a project.

The tiny bolt and wrench shown above where what first brought Jerry's skills to the attention of Joe Martin. (Click on photo for larger version.) The .009" diameter hex bolt and nut are used as functional fasteners on Jerry's 1/30 scale Corliss steam engine. (Jerry also turned the knurled brass display bezel for the bolt and wrench.) The following magazine article which was published in The Home Shop Machinist will tell you a lot about Jerry and how he works.

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Sometimes "good enough" just isn't good enough

One modeler's quest for uncompromising accuracy leads to a magnificent model and a $1000.00 prize

A photo of Jerry's 1/30th Corliss engine. At the bottom, a U.S. 25-cent coin can be seen to give scale. Tiny handles, oilers, oil lines, fittings and other details are perfect, even under strong magnification. (Click on photo for larger image.)

It seemed like a fairly straightforward project when he started. Jerry Kieffer of DeForest, Wisconsin wanted to build a model of a Corliss steam engine, he wanted to make it in a smaller scale than usually attempted and he wanted no compromises when it came to scale. He saw the engine he wanted too model in a steam show in Sussex, Wisconsin, so he could get all the dimensions and pictures he needed from the original. The flywheel was ten feet in diameter, and he had a piece of 4-inch thinwall tubing from a truck driveshaft in his shop that would be just the right size if he worked in 1/30th scale. He had done some watch repair and had a selection of the smallest bolts, nuts and screws commercially available, so he figured when he got to the smallest parts, he would use those as fasteners. He had never liked other models he had seen where the builder compromised on the scale by using larger, non-scale bolts and pipes to represent the smallest parts. He wanted a running engine with everything to scale.

They told him it couldn't be done...

Though he had no formal training in machining and only about eight years experience as a hobbyist, he was always good with tools and enjoyed working on very small projects. He built the flywheel first and then parts of the cylinder. Working his way down from the larger to the smaller parts. By the time he had about a year and a half in the model and had told several friends of his project, he found that the smallest screws from a tiny lady's wristwatch were still going to be much too large. They were twice the size of a regulator shaft he needed to cross drill and bolt at a pivot joint. Rather than give up on the project or compromise on the scale of the smallest parts, he began to work on ways to make smaller and smaller bolts. The smallest bolts on the real engine were 1/4-20 size, which scaled out to a bolt smaller than ten thousandths of an inch in diameter with hundreds of threads per inch at 1/30th scale! There was nowhere to go for advice on making threaded parts that small, as his friends in the hobby told him working bolts that small couldn't be made.

...and they were wrong

After many efforts at trial and error and "just playing with things until they work", Jerry developed techniques of making extremely small taps and dies the size and thread count he needed. From these he could make tiny hex head nuts and bolts. There were no shortcuts, and many taps would be broken to make a single die, but once he had a die, making the little bolts was relatively easy. In fact, if you ask him if it is hard making bolts that small, he'll tell you, "Making them is easy. It was figuring out how to make them that was hard."

His motto tells a story of uncompromising quality

When drilling holes in a steam chest that will eventually receive a number of these tiny bolts, it is not uncommon to break off a tap in one of the drilled holes. When this happens, Jerry throws away the part and starts over. When asked why he doesn't just drill out the broken tap with an oversize hole, fill it with a dowel pin and re-drill rather than scrapping the part, Jerry replied, "Because someday, somebody is going to take this thing apart and they'll know I screwed up." He simply refuses to compromise his goals for perfection at any level...even if it will probably never be seen by anyone else. He would know the mistake was there, and that is enough to make him redo the entire part until it is perfect. Jerry goes on to say, "Most people are willing to do about 90% of the work on a project and then say, 'That's good enough'. I guess my motto would be 'Good enough just isn't good enough'".

The details are there even if they can't be seen

Each handwheel, lever and fitting is a miniature reproduction of the exact shapes of the original, and each presented its own problems and resulting solutions. Some details are not even seen once the parts are assembled, but they're there. For example, the model needed a very small, hollow oil line. Jerry finally located a company that manufactured hypodermic syringes and purchased some of the very fine, hollow tubing used to make the smallest needles. He bent that to shape and made tiny compression fittings for each end so that the oil line is functional. Just looking at it, there is no way to tell it is not just a piece of wire, but it is hollow and it does work, and Jerry knows that when he looks at his model.

The real Corliss engine uses vacuum dashpots to retract part of the valve gear. On virtually every model of this type of engine, the modeler hides a spring inside the housing that acutally retracts the rods, as no one looking at it can tell the difference. On Jerry's model, however, the dashpots actually pull a vacuum to retract the rods...another example of his total devotion to realism.

It looks great, but does it run?

Jerry lubricates the system with a few drops of light oil and attaches a tube from a small electric aquarium air pump to the input pipe, gives the flywheel a gentle push and the little engine springs to life. Delicate adjustment with the tip of a finger on the regulating handwheel of only a few degrees produces an instant change in speed. It operates smoothly and almost soundlessly as low as just 3 RPM! The tiny "banjo oiler" on the main bearing seems to hang suspended in space as the shaft rotates around it. The rods and valves circulate in an intricate motion as the cylinder pumps back and forth. It runs as perfectly as it looks. This model has made believers out of a number of "experts" who told Jerry it was impossible to maintain scale sizes down to this level and still have an engine that works.

Inexpensive miniature machine tools used to make tiny parts

To complete the challenge to himself, Jerry made the Corliss engine using a Sherline Model 4000 miniature lathe and Sherline Model 5000 vertical milling machine that only cost about $500 each. This should be encouraging to those who think that you need both years of experience as a machinist and a big shop full of large and expensive machine tools to do good work. Jerry takes pride in letting people know that the projects were built with "less than $1000 worth of machine tools."

Exceptional craftsmanship nets a $1000 award

For his work on this and other models he has completed, Jerry was recently awarded the honor of "Metalworking Craftsman of the Year" for 1997 by the Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship. This annual award goes to craftsmen in various fields of miniature machining and is accompanied by a check for $1000. Jerry was the first person selected to win this award. Jerry is a marketing representative for a Wisconsin utility company and has only been working with machine tools in his spare time for about eight years, which makes his accomplishments all the more impressive. Prior to this recognition, Jerry says the only thing he had won was "a quart of oil for an entry at a county fair". Jerry's current work illustrates that some of the most interesting projects can be found at the small end of the size scale and require little more than time and the determination to do a really good job.

Magazine articles about Jerry's work

An excellent article about Jerry and his home shop can be found in the April, 1998 issue of Modeltec magazine, and an article about the Corliss engine was published in the September, 1997 issue. An article about his projects from the British perspective can be found in the April, 1999 issue of Model Engineer. Jerry has also written an article about how to make oak finger jointed boxes to protect and carry your metalworking projects that was published in the 2001 "Common threads" issues of both The Home Shop Machinist and Machinist's Workshop magazines.

Other impressive projects have followed

Since Jerry was selected as the Foundation's first Craftsman of the Year, he has gone on to bolster that reputation by building a number of incredible projects. These include two miniature Harley Davidson motorcycles, a 1/8 scale John Deere tractor, several other steam and gas engines, clocks and other projects. Links to each of these projects and details of their construction can be found below.

Here are links to sections on some of Jerry's projects:

(Click on photo to veiw a page on that project.)

1/8 Scale 1936 John Deere "D" tractor—This tractor is fully functional. Photos of its construction and video of it running can be seen by visiting this page. It is now completed and painted.
Machine tools in miniature—Jerry has made several small replicas of machine tools that include stunning detail.
1/30 Scale Corliss steam engine—The project that first brought Jerry national attention as the maker of the "world's smallest" nut and bolt.
1/6 scale Harley Davidson Engine and 1/8 Scale Harley Davidson complete motorcycle—This page includes the making of a running 1/6 scale 1948 Harley "Knucklehead" engine as well as work in progress on a 1/8 scale version that will eventually include the entire motorcycle.
Clocks and clock tools—Jerry also makes clocks and clock tools and teaches seminars at the NWACC clock school. See his "Ignatz" flying pendulum clock and other projects here.

Other engines and projects—Jerry has built numerous other interesting steam and IC engines, a cam grinder and other projects that are detailed here.

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New Submissions Welcomed

If you have additional information on a project or builder shown on this site that your would like to contribute, please e-mail mecm@craftsmanshipmuseum.com. We also welcome new contributions. Please see our page at www.CraftsmanshipMuseum.com/newsubmit.htm for a submission form and guidelines for submitting descriptive copy and photos for a new project.

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This section is sponsored by

Makers of precision miniature machine tools and accessories. Sherline tools are made in the USA.


Sherline is proud to confirm that Jerry Kieffer uses Sherline tools in the production of his small projects.

To learn how your company or organization can sponsor a section in the Craftsmanship Museum, please contact mecm@craftsmanshipmuseum.com.


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