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Meet model-maker Tom Whalley

Man with doll house
When he's not busy building furniture for his home, Tom excels in projects that are small and highly detailed.

Tom Whalley

When I was growing up in Pella, Iowa, my neighbor had a tablesaw in his garage, the first power tool I ever saw. My 8th grade math teacher introduced me to a planer. While I was in high school, my parents had their kitchen completely redone by a friend who became one of the strongest influences in my "woodworking life." When I got out of the army in 1972, I bought my first power tool—a radial-arm saw that I still have. My projects are driven mainly by need or a curiosity to see if something can be done.

I have never focused on one technique or one specific tool. Every project has become a "mini-education" in mastering the techniques required for that project. Woodworking to me has never been cutting boards apart and assembling them in a different configuration, but rather opening a board and looking for opportunities.

The diversity of my projects is what I like the most. I create my own designs and patterns and have designed and built unique decks, millwork, wall systems, cabinets, furniture, models, and toys for my grandchildren. Some of my more exotic projects have been the models of a Peterbilt 379 and Cottrell Stinger auto transport, a 31 Chevrolet Cabriolet, a marble roller coaster (below), and a model house (above).

Roller coaster

Kitchen furniture

Tom works tiny

I built the auto transport (below) because it represented one of the most complex trucks I had ever seen. The truck led to the car. From the ground up, these models are as close to the real thing as possible. Additionally, everything works. The truck is about 52" long and the car is about 7-14 " long. They are built on a 1:18 scale.

Truck Machinery

Wooden car

The roller coaster for marbles is constructed from hard maple to look like a steel roller coaster with a series of legs and curved track. About 500 pieces were cut and sculpted to form the track on which 52 marbles roll down from the wooden hopper above to the catch tray below in approximately 16 seconds.

My most recent creation is the model house pictured at top. Built on a 20" by 36" base, the house is divided into 4 components: the roof, the third floor, the second floor and the main floor. The roof and each floor are removable to allow for easy access. The scale of this project is 1:12. The refrigerator, for example, is 5-14 " tall and features adjustable acrylic shelves and curved trays in each door. Other unique features in the kitchen include two working lazy Susans in the corner unit, a pull-out rack in the stove, and two pull-out racks in the dishwasher. The entire kitchen was made from tiger maple. The "tile" on the backsplash is cherry with maple "grout" and is about .058" thick. The kitchen floor is cherry. The floor in the bathroom was cut from pieces of poplar cut to .82" square and sliced to match the .085” thick hardwood throughout. The other floors are made from hard maple strips cut to random lengths. All the strips are .205" wide and .058" long. The house design was influenced by a Chicago home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Built from leopardwood, the bedroom furniture is very similar to the quarter-sawn oak bedroom set I built for my own home. The living room furniture is African mahogany with maple cushions. The boy's and girl's bedroom furniture was influenced by an Italian design and constructed from walnut, bird's eye maple, and purpleheart. Both sinks as well as the toilet bowl were carved using a Shark Pro CNC machine.

Wooden flute rack

Man with doll house
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