The minuscule:
  IS NOT a funny way of spelling the name of a chain of daycare centres
IS an imaginary academy of miniature learning, to be found at the web site www.francesarmstrong.com
and sometimes APPEARS TO BE produced with   the cooperation of the inhabitants of Lostlingland.

Topics covered range from the usefulness of a toothpick to
the question of whether you can miniaturize literature.

 
 
Frances Armstrong
LITTLE LEARNING
The miniscule
Littleness and language
Littleness and miniaturization
Miniaturist mathematics
New projects
A  little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep  . . .      --Alexander Pope
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Some uses for toothpicks (for the advanced miniaturist:)
   
1. The toothpick glue test
    
2. A toothpick jig
    
Coming soon:
3.  Measuring by toothpicks
4 .Making things from toothpicks:
Toothpick dolls
Toothpick bowls and vases
Toothpick candlesticks                                                                     
I wrote this in February, having noticed that the toothpick was patented on February 20, 1872.

To make sure we are all thinking of the same thing, a toothpick in the modern sense is a skinny piece of wood with a sharp end which one may choose to use to remove after-dinner debris between the teeth.  Different societies have different attitudes to this kind of behaviour, so it might be safer to use toothpicks for the kind of purpose I will suggest.

Different societies also call these pieces of wood by different names, "cocktail stick" being the usual label.  Spearing little sausages or pieces of cheese with these little sticks is certainly more civilized than publicly cleaning your teeth, but "toothpick" is a shorter word, so I'll stick ( pun intended) with that.

Toothpicks come in many different forms, so you will need to become an expert.
1.  Flat, rounded at one end and pointed at the other.  Not very useful except for applying glue.
2.  Square for most of the toothpick's length, but round near the tips.  I can't comment on these because they seem to be found only in the USA, not in Canada where I live.
3.  Round like a dowel, pointed at both ends.  The best for my purposes.  This type takes several forms:
  (a) Bamboo.  Good for splitting into very thin strips.
  (b) Other woods which can vary a lot within one package.  I find the best ones have a special sheen to them.  They are hard and your fingernail won't dent them easily.  They don't easily snap in two. The softer ones that are easily dented are easier to cut but also likely to break.  The worst for most purposes are those with the grain running at a diagonal.  They will snap diagonally very easily,  which is something  you generally do not want to happen.
  (c)  The kind--Japanese?--that have a few little turnings on one end.   These are  eagerly seized on because of their potential for making toy soldiers, salt shakers, and dolly bed posts.  The turnings vary from brand to brand, so you may be able to choose the most suitable shape.  But don't feel bound by the turnings provided on the toothpick.  With a metal file, sandpaper, or a rotary power tool you can easily  make dents and ridges of your own.
  (d)  Fancy toothpicks include those that come individually wrapped, or flavoured with mint, or coloured bright colours.  I'm inclined to treat these with suspicion, but you may  wish to be more broad-minded.

The toothpick glue test

This isn't a project, just a way to test different kinds of glues.  This is something we each have to work out for ourselves, because the way glues work depends on the climate and the methods of gluing and the age of the glue or just how long it's been out of the bottle.

Good gluing is vital for micro-scale workers, because we don't have much surface area to glue, and yet if we compensate by over-gluing, the messy leftover glue will be much more noticeable because of the close attention given to the miniature we made. 

Collect together a selection of glues, and a bunch of toothpicks.  (Any kind will do, but try to use all the same kind for a test.)  Also have pencil and paper to record your results.

Obeying the instructions on the bottle (at least for a start--you can experiment later), glue two toothpicks together at the tip.  Leave the pair for a few seconds, then try to pick the pair up by holding only one of the toothpicks.

If you value a glue that graps quickly, you will want to use the glues that enable you to lift the toothpicks within a few seconds.

Next. after about a minute, try manipulating the pair of toothpicks gently.  Make a wide V or a skinny one.  The glue should hold for this kind of activity.

In real life you might now want to give the joint an extra squeeze or clamp, and leave it to set.  For testing purposes we will be stricter.    Wait a minute or two and try wiggling the toothpicks more and more violently, until they come apart.  This will give you a sense of when the he glue you are testing can be put under stress, the kind of stress that a glue join must meet as it becomes part of a piece of furniture.

When you've noted the results, examine the joint under a magnifier to see how much glue is still visible.  Then try to break the joint apart.  If you succeed, check to see whether the glue gave way or whether one of the toothpicks actually broke.

Of course, you don't need to have one glue do well in all the tests.  If you are planning a project which involves clamping every step, you may not need the glue to set quickly.  Sometimes (as with a wooden chair) some flexibility is necessary at the joint.  Sometimes you actually want to  be able to break the joint.
A toothpick jig
We use  toothpicks as materials as well as tools,  so we sometimes need to drill into them or shape them in various ways.  This simple jig will keep a toothpick straight while you drill into it, and keep your fingers out of the path of the drill.

You will need three round toothpicks, some glue, and a sturdy piece of wood about 1/4 inch thick and big enough to take the three toothpicks comfortably when they  are lying down together.

Before you lay them down, sand a flat surface along each toothpick, the surface running from tip to tip.  This will help you to glue these toothpicks fairly solidly to the piece of wood.  Lay three down side by side, but only apply glue to the  "edge" toothpicks.  Remove the middle toothpick before the glue has anchored the toothpick on each side, making sure that the two on the sides remain where they were.

Once the glue is firmly dry, you can use the space between thejusoothpicks to hold a toothpick that you are working on.  For a project where you need lots of identical pieces, mark on the glued toothpicks the places to glue and cut.
Toothpicks and glue

Toothpick jigs
home
Littleness and language
Littleness and miniaturization
Miniaturist mathematics
New projects
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<---

The minuscule:
  IS NOT a funny way of spelling the name of a chain of daycare centres
IS an imaginary academy of miniature learning, to be found at the web site www.francesarmstrong.com
and sometimes APPEARS TO BE produced with   the cooperation of the inhabitants of Lostlingland.

Topics covered range from the usefulness of a toothpick to
the question of whether you can miniaturize literature.

 
 
TOOTHPICKS (also known as cocktail sticks)
Measuring by toothpicks

There are two ways in which you can use toothpicks to measure things.  In each case you will have to choose  your toothpick carefully, because they aren't always the same size.

The first way is not really very useful.  Take a dozen of the thinnest toothpicks you have, and line them up side by side.  You are hoping that exactly twelve of them will make up an inch, because that would mean that each toothpick was 1/12 inch wide, or one foot in 1/144 scale.

Why not just use a ruler?  First,  because maybe there is no ruler handy.  And why should there be a toothpick handy when there is no ruler?  Because you keep one in your purse, and not all purses can hold a ruler.  Also, toothpicks are sometimes available free in restaurants, though probably not the kind of restaurant where you are making miniatures on the tablecloth.

The toothpick measure is also useful as a quick guide to keep you on track.  Many household objects are about a foot long: a shoe, a large book, a standard sheet of paper, a dinner plate, \
a frying pan, a wooden spoon . . .  When you spot a bead or some other oddment that you hink may come in useful, measure it against the width of the toothpick.

(If you work in 1/12 scale, a toothpick would be an inch wide,)

The other way is to make a toothpick person, who will check out your designs for comfort.  (More to come on this useful person.)