Thursday, 3 July 2014

1:12 scale Key tutorial

For this tutorial, I will be making a simple key, with an oval head. All the heads were made by wrapping wire around needles. The oval is a more common key head, though you can get keys with circular heads. The fancier key heads are created using finer wire, with some of the loops opened out, by pushing a bigger needle through, to create "C" shapes which were then positioned to create trefoil shapes, etc.

You will need:-

  • Gas soldering iron
  • Wire
  • Solder
  • Flux (I used Templers Telux in a tin, the only flux in the local hardware shop :D )
  • Pliers
  • Tweezers
  • Tapestry needles (aka big needles)
  • Superglue
  • Card
  • Cutting blade

Before doing anything, run the wire through some wire wool, or lightly sand it with sandpaper. Bend the wire across the back of the needle as shown. Wrapping the wire around the Eye of the needle will create an oval shape.

Use pliers to gently squeeze the wire ends, so that they cross over, as shown.

Either use the nose of the pliers or your fingertip, to push between the wires so that they cross as close as possible to the eye of the needle 

The way the wires cross will dictate which way to twist the ends. Twist the ends tight and close to the needle, one or two turns is sufficient.

Clamp the wire loop between pliers to secure the bend, and to flatten the loop.

I took this photo before doing the clamping. After you have clamped the loop, snip off the excess as shown.

Finished loop.  Could have snipped that a bit more neatly......

I used a Dremel Gas soldering iron. This one is a Dremel 2000-6 Versatip. I use it without the tips. When I bought mine, I found the instructions a little hard to follow, especially refilling it. So here is a really good video showing it being filled. I was still a bit confused though, as my cigarette lighter fuel can came with lots of nozzles! You don't use any of the nozzles. Just stick the "straw" into the hole at the base of the Dremel.  I think all hobby gas soldering irons require you to use the lighter refill gas, I used Swan universal gas lighter refill, which has a lovely picture of a swan on it :D

Regarding soldering tiny things, here is another good video. My method was quite a bit different, but I did find her explanation useful.

You can also see how I made a bracket, using a gas soldering iron, in this post.

P.s. I am not a soldering expert, far from it. Anything I am doing has been picked up from others on the internet. I still can't solder using a tip, but the gas soldering for me, is working very well, so if you're worried about "not being good at soldering", don't!  And the flux IS important!

I painted a bit of flux onto the back of a baking tin, to help hold the pieces.  I then positioned a piece of straight wire, with the oval at the top. All the wire that you use, must be washed in soapy water and dry before this stage, then use a paint brush to lightly coat with flux. I have a paintbrush that I use for flux. Just set the wire down on the tin, dab the paintbrush with a bit of flux and dab the wire.  I find flux quite difficult to remove from the paint brush, however using an abrasive cleaner or something like Cif removes it from this stainless steel baking tin.

If you have straight wire, use it. If you don't have straight wire, tools will be needed. Awhile ago, I saw a youtube video for straightening wire with a drill and a vice, I have both, so I gave it a go. I used my dremel rotary tool as the drill.  You put one end of the wire in the dremel jaws, and the other end in the vice, pull tight-ish, and switch on, briefly. AND WEAR GOGGLES. The wire occasionally, snaps and flies off somewhere, never to be seen again. If you have neither a drill device or vice, you could probably just straighten the wire with pliers. Such a small piece is required, you could probably get away with it.

Using a sharp cutting knife, slice a tiny bit of solder off the solder wire, about the size of a grain of "granulated" sugar, and carefully place it over the join. This is easier said than done.  I use a needle usually, a bit of a knack to it. You can use your flux paintbrush, but its quite hard to get the solder bit to transer, when you're working this small. It needs to be lightly picked up. Persevere, you'll get the knack! If it drops off in the wrong place or it moves the two pieces, just use a needle to push everything back into place.

Switch the gas soldering iron on at full blast, and come in at the piece slowly. I heated from a short distance, so that the flame wasn't visibly touching the piece, then as soon as I saw the solder "blob", I moved the flame in quite close, until the solder flowed into the join. I also moved the flame about as though I'm using it as a tiny hairdrier. I don't know if that affects anything, but it feels right! :D Once the key body is finished, wash in soapy water and dry, before gluing and painting.

Oh yes! The cautionary tale! Cause of death = Burnt house down whilst making miniature keys.

 Sometimes when soldering, the pieces will move away from each other, so to combat this, I was using a long needle as a tool for pushing them back together, or holding them in place, whilst using the gas flame. It was working fine, until I held it there too long. It doesn't take a genius to know that metal things can get hot! And it got I don't quite remember what happened next, but I know that when I jumped the soldering iron left my hand briefly, and twirled around, how I managed to catch it without burning myself, I have no idea!  I suppose as a lesson for the inexperienced, ACCEPT A FAIL RATE, and don't try to fix it, by coming in with metal tools to poke it about! :D  I am thinking about making a wooden handle for a needle...........non conductive! Anyway, I thought I should mention this, probably nobody would be as daft as I was, but you never know what you might do to save a miniature in the making :D

For the key teeth, I used a strip of card. This one is approximately 3mm high, the measurement is not compulsory at all, but I thought I should mention it, probably the smallest easiest size to work with. Using the tip of your cutting blade, cut two lines, easily done by just pressing the tip into the card.

Er......slightly off centre. Aim to have the tip of the blade in the middle and gently press down, in order to create a tiny cut to remove the excess.

So there are the teeth, looking a bit like a "C", which is fairly simple to achieve, a bit hurriedly done here though. You can make up your own, or just copy the shapes I made for the keys in the photograph at the end of this post. They reminded me of Tetris when I was making them, I even had the theme tune playing in my head when I was cutting them all out.

Dispense a small amount of superglue onto something unimportant...and carefully dip the "red" edge into the glue. It's important not to use too much as you can accidentally make the teeth stick to the tweezers, but enough so that it sticks to the wire. I applied too much and too little quite a few times. If it happens, try again, and again, and again, luckily it's only inexpensive card!

Another fun fiddly bit! Still holding the teeth in the tweezers, attach as shown. You can either try attaching it while the key body is laid on the surface just by sticking it to the wire and then using a needle to gently push it over so that it is flush with the work surface, or you can attach it whilst holding the key body and place the teeth tab roughly in the right place and then set it down on the work surface and gently push down the tab with a needle. There may be a chance it will stick to the table, once it's on the table, push the key body gently to ensure it hasn't stuck. 

Once the glue has set, you can paint the key. I used Humbrol enamel paint. If you want the keys to be rusty, you can use a bit of brown water colour paint on them, before they fully dry. Pastels would probably work too. If the paint is tacky it will hold the pigment. Once the key is dry, you can snip just below the teeth, and use paint to touch up the clean cut.

I made an Oz key for fun. Return to Oz is one of my favourite childhood films, I still enjoy watching it even though I am 30 (still getting used to that!). In the film, Billina the Hen (belonging to Dorothy), finds the key to Oz whilst scratching about in the yard. It had fallen to earth the night previously via a shooting star. Dorothy then uses a twig to poke the soil out of the holes at the top of the key, revealing the OZ monogram, which I always found incredibly satisfying!
My Billina is possibly an old Falcon miniatures hen, all I can be sure of, is that it was made in America.

I wrapped wire around a needle to create a circular loop and then set a tiny bit of wire diagonally, with a bit of solder at either end, to create the OZ monogram.
I made two of these, but I think this is the one that is in the photograph above, its a bit messy around the teeth here, I hadn't noticed the paint blob until later.

If you are really bored, you can play "Spot the Oz key" below :D


  1. Your tutorial is amazing! I love your keys oh the nimble fingers you must have! Perfection, ~J

  2. That is absolutely wonderful!! I had no idea you made all those their are perfect. I am so very lucky to have won a set!

  3. Thank you for giving this tutorial. They keys are fabulous. I hope to have a go at soldering at some stage as there are so many things you could make with that skill. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for sharing this tutorial. I wish I had your skills in handling the soldering tool. Your keys are wonderful and
    seeing how they were done was very interesting.
    Hugs, Drora

  5. Wonderful keys! Thanks for sharing the tutorial, even my skills are not enough to do keys.

  6. WOW, Sarah, what a fantastic and clear tutorial, thank you for writing it and sharing this tutorial with us all, it's very generous of you :D!
    Now I have to try this tuto once for making a whole bunch of keys for my canal house. I think I'll need lots of these...;o!
    Hugs, Ilona

  7. An excellent tutorial - lots of clear pictures (we all like clear pictures) although I think I'll be leaving this task to clever people like yourself. Such patience!

  8. Hello Sara,
    terrific tutorial. Your explanations and pictures are great.
    Big hug,

  9. Thanks for the wonderful tutorial. Your keys are fantastic.

  10. БРАВО!!!! Спасибо за урок!

  11. Un tutorial fantástico, gracias por compartirlo, besos:-)

  12. Привет, Сара!
    Я люблю ваши ключи! Я восхищаюсь вашей работой!
    Спасибо за прекрасный урок! Большая работа!!!

  13. thanks for the great tutorial and I found the Oz key :)

  14. Muchas gracias por el tutorial. Parece sencillo... aunque habrá que probarlo.

  15. Now I understand why they look so great!!....there is a big job behind it but worth all the effort. They are fantastic!!

  16. Hi Sarah! I don't think that I could make these keys are well as you do, if I lived to be A HUNDRED years old! There is such Incredible polish to your craftsmanship that is truly Amazing to see. Regardless of which medium you choose to use, the finished project(s) looks clean, professional and authentic to the original, and I have a great respect for the work that you do.
    These keys are tiny masterpieces, impressive in a group shot, or even as one, lost in the grass.



  17. Always a pleasure to see what you come up with next :D.
    Very good and usefull tutorial, the keys I've already bought will probably go out of the window now :) it is these details that make a room special.
    Thank you very much!

  18. Superbes clés !
    Vos explications sont très claires, juste une envie, essayer d'en fabriquer.
    Merci Sarah pour ce tutoriel !

  19. Muchas gracias por el tutorial, siempre me han encantado las llaves antiguas así que en cuanto tenga un ratito intentaré hacerlas.

    Un beso

  20. Thanks for sharing, I love your keys!! You make it looks so easy =) But I don't know if I dare to try, they are so small! =) Hannah

  21. Thank you for sharing!! I love you keys! They are so cute! Looks easy when you do it, but I don't know if I dare to try, but I have to save the tutorial (on my pinterest) for the future =)

  22. Thank you for sharing your tips and tricks. I love these keys. They look so realistic and effective. Excellent tutorial =0)

  23. that's a great tutorial, thank you... it reminds me now that I have got to grips with my dremel rotary tool, I really should start soldering - you make it look so easy!

  24. Just discovered you through glad I did! You are my kind of miniaturist! I love these! Just fabulous!

  25. Добрый день! Сегодня случайно нашла ваш блог и не могу оторваться от него! Спасибо огромное за ваши мастер-классы!

  26. That's a great tutorial for beautiful keys, thanks for sharing!

  27. The keys look great! I really need to get a smoldering tool; didn't realize the possibilities.

  28. Super results on the keys! Thank you for the fantastic tutorial, Sarah! xo Jennifer

  29. Many thanks for this great show! The keys are very good!
    It has long been admired your beautiful in your works!

  30. Gorgeous!! I saw your keys on Tatiana's blog. I am so impressed with all your miniatures. Everything is so perfectly done. Your attention to details is incredible!

  31. Thanks a lot for this tuto!!!


  32. Fantastic! Your keys are very real... A great job....Hugs

  33. Que paciencia tienes que tener para hacer estas cosas, yo no la tengo, te felicito por ello. Saludos. Jorge

  34. Butane soldering irons are used on torches when you want to use them on different applications such as electronics. They are high-quality torches, which is why people who need to fix and tinker with electrical components find using them a lot easier and more convenient when compared to anything else.


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