Tools of the (tiny) trade: Abercrombie hobbyist cuts working world down to size
ABERCOMBIE, N.D. - Mike Hagen is the go-to guy if you have a little job to do. It might be a little plumbing. It might be a little planing. It might even be a little horseshoeing. Emphasis on "little." Hagen, a 74-year-old retired mechanic, quote...
ABERCOMBIE, N.D. - Mike Hagen is the go-to guy if you have a little job to do.
It might be a little plumbing. It might be a little planing. It might even be a little horseshoeing.
Emphasis on "little."
Hagen, a 74-year-old retired mechanic, quotes with delight a neighbor's observation on his hobby of making miniature tools: "People like you, most of them are in Jamestown."
But if Hagen belongs in a mental hospital, so would most artists. That's what he is, although he doesn't describe himself that way.
Hagen's creations, kept in display cases around his house, are tiny, working versions of various tools.
There is a tiny monkey wrench. There are miniscule jacks. There's a Lilliputian carpenter's router. A small wooden box contains a tiny die set of the kind used for threading machinery pieces.
His masterwork, a onequarter-scale Stanley 55 carpenter's plane that took 150 hours to make, sits in a display case on an end table, with 28 one-quarter-scale blades arrayed in holders around it; a short distance away sits an actual specimen of the tool.
They're the kind of tools used by men who made a living by getting their hands dirty, but there's something immaculate about the replicas. Most are made of brass and wood - oak and cherry are favorites - and look like tiny, elegant items from the workshop of a Victorian dollhouse. Holding one, you can feel the heft.
It all started with a hammer.
Some time back, Hagen picked up a small, metal anvil at a flea market. Then in 1994, four years after he retired, he decided to make a tiny blacksmith's hammer to go with it. The hammer, a bit more than an inch long, has a metal head and a wooden handle.
"It escalated from one thing to another," he says.
His carpenter's plane is by far his most elaborate miniature and a good example of his working method.
He took apart an actual tool, studied each piece and fashioned a tiny replica without measuring. In fact, he doesn't measure any parts; it's all done by eyeballing.
"I can't use pictures, because that doesn't give you dimensions," he says.
Each working piece is fashioned by hand, using a hack saw, files, drills and buffers.
He makes most of the parts, although there are exceptions. For a small bubble level, he took the glass bubble container out of a real level. For his replica of an antique plugtobacco cutter, he used a straight-razor blade to fashion the cutting edge. The wood for carrying cases is built from scraps cut at a local hobby shop.
Most of his works are tools of one kind or another, although he has made other miniatures. A bit of a Civil War buff, Hagen made a tiny replica of an 1860s howitzer, reproducing one that used to be at nearby Fort Abercrombie. He made a replica Civil War-era horse's bit, from which hangs a tiny set of spurs, complete down to their leather straps. In all, nearly 70 examples of his handiwork are on display in his house. He does most of the work over the summer, since his cluttered workshop is in the rear of his unheated garage. That's his getaway - an important spot for any male hobbyist. "When he's starting a project, I just leave him alone," says his wife, Leone, with a chuckle. Not that he gets grumpy. Like any artist, he's just singleminded. "It's really a challenge," he says. "I go looking for odd tools, to see if I can make it. Each time, I look for something more complicated. ... If you put that much time into it, it gets to be part of you."
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