February 26, 1925—April 23, 2016
Machine Shop Tools in Miniature
Building a Career Out of a Fascination With Miniature Machines
Al Osterman was born in 1925, and made a living in metal working from 1949 onward. Though his early years were spent primarily doing farming and nursery work, Al had a change of direction in his twenties. His love of metalworking took him on a new path, eventually making a living out of his own shop. Al’s shop included lathes, milling machines, drill presses, a broad range of hand tools, and both welding and heat treating equipment.
Now, Al’s main interest was in older machine designs. Most of his work was made to order for customers. Occasionally, Al would make a machine that really caught his interest personally, with the plan to sell it later on when he found a buyer. One such project was his “Little Giant” power hammer. Most of Al’s models were built at a scale of 2”:1’ or 1/6 scale.
Al Osterman’s work was recommended by Ralph Koebbeman, who puchased one of Mr. Osterman’s miniature machine shop models. Photos of that 1/6 scale machine shop are featured on this page.
When it came to authenticity, Al was a stickler for detail. He insisted on using the original materials for every part of his scale models. If a part was brass on the original, it’s brass on the model. If the original was cast iron, so is the model, and so on. None of the parts were actually cast, because it wasn’t practical to make molds for a single casting. To duplicate the shape of parts that were originally castings, Al machined them from solid cast iron stock.
In terms of training, Al learned his craft by attending night school, and also observing work in progress at local machine shops. During that time, he admitted to asking, “a zillion questions.” Al started working on miniature models late in his career, and had no firm plans for the future. Even while making his scale models, Al was still working full-time in his machine shop—he never tired of the work at hand.
The work pictured on this page is from a project Al built of a full machine shop in 1/6 scale. The miniature machine shop includes tools from the late 19th century, and was made for Ralph Koebbeman of Illinois. Remarkably, all of the scale machines are functional, although the small size makes demonstration difficult. Mr. Koebbeman noted that the shop would have likely been powered by a gasoline engine; however, he already had a nice steam engine of similar scale. So, Mr. Koebbeman fitted the steam engine to power the overhead shaft and leather belt drive system. The steam engine sits outside the shop, and is not visible in any of these photos.
An abundance of small details give the shop a lifelike quality. You will not only see beautiful machines, but also barrels for trash and scrap, hammers, vises, drills, and a clock on the wall. It took Al about a year to build this scale model machine shop. An article about the project, written by Mr. Koebbeman, appeared in the Miniature Arms Society newsletter in July, 1998. We regret to inform that Al Osterman passed away on April 23, 2016. We thank him for his dedication to exceptional miniature craftsmanship.