Thursday, 22 February 2018

Miniature wheelchair

Some time ago I saw a picture of a miniature antique wheelchair on the web. For some reason or other, I got fascinated by the idea and saved it in my project bank for the future.

For a wheelchair you need wheels, and I consulted my miniature groups, with variable success. Of course, you can buy anything from model shops, but that's not what I typically want, so I put the idea on a back burner.

Then I happened to pass by one of my favourite craft shops, Tiger. I always go in to see whether they have something interesting, and this is what I found:

Frankly, I don't quite understand the "build-your-own" aspect because all you need to do is add pedals, and I cannot at all see why you need four wheels, but since the only thing I wanted was wheels, I got four for the price of two. And a tiny screwdriver as a bonus.

I took the bike apart (this is when I again wondered about "build-your-own") and painted the spokes.

As we all know, acrylic paint doesn't work on plastic so I had to paint with enamel. I wanted the spokes brown, to resemble wood, but I didn't have brown enamel and wasn't confident to mix my own.

Enamel paint takes ages to dry. Meanwhile I made the chair itself. I used a kit from the House of miniatures.


I could have made a chair from scratch, but the challenge was the wheels, and I have far too many chair kits anyway. I will not show how I made the chair because it was straightforward. I used a piece of leather for the seat because I am not good at cushions.

What was less straightforward was attaching the wheels. My initial thought was simply to fix the wheels on a toothpick and glue to the brace, but of course the wheels would not turn, and it felt like cheating.


Back to the group again, and I hope my miniature friend doesn't mind me quoting the instruction in full.

"Take wire thick enough to fit through the wheel centre hole. Now, measure a piece that passes underneath the seat of the chair. On either side, bend the wire at a 90 degree angle towards the ground. Then, at the correct height to match the centre of the wheels, bend it outwards on both sides to lie horizontal. Place each wheel onto the two ends of the wire to check the height. This is where you decide how high off the ground the chair will rest. Then, if you can find a tiny washer or flat disc that fits onto the wire, thread that against the chair. Add the wheels. Now add another disc or washer against the wheel. Make sure the wheels can spin easily. Take cutters and gently cut off the wire close to the washers, leaving about 3mm. Glue a small bead on to the tip of the wire - not the washers and not the wheels - as they must still move. For balance, the best would be to add two chair legs in the front, so that the chair doesn't tip over. Then the nurse can tilt the chair back a bit, and push it forward easily. Unless you can find a miniature wheel for the back, to prevent it from tipping over".

Guess whether I was intimidated! This was by far the most sophisticated miniature I had ever made.

To begin with, the only wire I have is champagne wire. It was the right thickness, but of course it isn't straight and cannot ever be fully straightened. But it is easy to work with. I didn't have washers, but I made tiny spacers from card. So it was easier than it sounded, until I realised that I had no idea how to attach the axis to the chair. Back to the group and the same guru: 

"You will have to mark the position of the wire on the chair base. Then glue wood strips on either side of that, but leave enough space for the wire to fit in the middle channel. Once the strips are glued down, you can glue the wire into the channel, probably with E6000 or some similar strong glue. If you want it to look pretty, you can cover it with another strip of wood or toothpick, or even just paint it to hide the glue".

I don't know what E6000 is, but I used my usual strong glue, and it all worked fine. In my excitement, I forgot to take pictures. But I followed the instructions, glued strips, then glued the wire and glued a piece of coffee stirrer on top. When I painted the whole assembly you almost couldn't see it. I used a tube from a cotton bud to cover the worst uneven parts of the wire, and it looked even more impressive. 

Ideally, I wanted raising foot rest, but it felt a bit of an overkill. (Next time maybe). I don't know whether the foot rest raises on the miniature I first saw on the web. As I was rummaging through my supplies, I decided that sticks from Magnum ice cream would be most appropriate.


I didn't attach them yet, because first I needed to figure out how to make the back wheel. Again, I didn't have to, but having got that far I at least wanted to give it a try. I had the fork from the plastic bike, but it looked too coarse on the delicate chair. I didn't have small wheels with spokes either and didn't know where to get them, so if I ever find one I will replace, but what I had was a little wooden wheel the origin of which I don't remember so it had to do. And it took me several evenings to figure out how to attach it so that it could turn. 


I know it's protruding too far back, and I will make it better at some point (when I also have a better wheel), but at least it serves its purpose. 

I don't remember what the handle used to be, just some bit I had in my supplies. As usual: don't throw anything away, it may come handy. 


I am very pleased with this project. It isn't perfect, but it is one of the most challenging pieces I have made, and it is not unlike what I envisioned. I have no idea where it goes in my various environments.  Maybe I can put it by the stairs in the great hall, waiting for the poor invalid to come down. And I now need a nurse to push it.