My name is Patrick Acton, and for the past 44 years I’ve used over 8 million ordinary wooden matchsticks to make over 75 large models that are highly detailed. My hobby-gone-mad is now a full-time job. AMA
What started out as a hobby making matchstick models as a pastime has become a passion, so much so that I currently make models full-time. Over one-third of my matchstick models have been commissioned by Ripley’s Believe it Not, and many others have been purchased by individual buyers.
I started in 1977 by building a small model of a country church out of 500 Ohio Blue Tip matches purchased at a local grocery store. At the time I used nothing but a bottle of school glue, a utility knife, and a piece of sandpaper. Every year the models kept getting bigger and more intricate. I have now made dozens of models including Hogwarts, Millennium Falcon, Apollo 11, the Dodge Charger from The Fast and the Furious, a Two-Headed Dragon, Notre Dame Cathedral, and many more. My latest is a true-to-life scale model of the Mars Rover Perseverance and helicopter Ingenuity, which is constructed from 880,000 matchsticks and 28 gallons of wood glue.
By 2003 I had no room to display or store my collection, so the local community opened a museum for my models here in Gladbrook, Iowa. Many of my models can be seen here. More than 25 of my larger pieces are featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditoriums in North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe. The Perseverance rover was commissioned by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Here’s a video that I did with the channel “Coolest Thing l’ve Ever Made” that shows some of my models as well as how I build them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyuE1XnYO0I
Here’s a link to my museum page where you can see more pictures and information about visiting the museum: https://www.matchstickmarvels.com/
Heck, yeah! It's fun that so many people are interested.
How long did it take to make the biggest failure?
Eg. You spent 10 hours and it just fell apart and restarted. Or you were delivering it and it fell of the cart, completely destroyed. Hours/days/ months of work
Well, I have to laugh. None so far luckily.
How do you make money and how much do you make?
The thing is, it is primarily a hobby, but a hobby that has become quite lucrative. Here are a couple of things to consider. If someone were to ask me to make a 3/4 size model of a new 2021 Mustang, that person could probably buy the actual car. There are 2040 regular hours in a year (52 wks X 40 hrs = 2040) and at minimum wage that would be $14,790. Many of my larger models take between 2000 and 3000 hours to build. Let’s just say I do not work for minimum wage… LOL! Cost is negotiated when a piece is commissioned
Hmmm...but as someone who spent 25 years self employed as a graphic artist, I can attest to the fact that the IRS does not view our "hobby" as being such! 😉
So true. They seem to get your $ one way or another. I'm glad this was never my primary source of income.
Have you ever accidentally set one on fire?
No, but I accidentally dropped one of my ships and broke the side out. Fortunately, it was in fewer pieces then than when I started it.
You might want to put this in response to the biggest disaster question. :)
Your point is taken, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a big disaster. LOL
What an odd coincidence. Only yesterday I saw a piece on TV about this gentleman who has now also run out of space and is in search of a museum: http://streichholzhaus.com/ I wonder if you happen to know each other. Is there a community and/or competition between matchstick architects?
No, this is total news to me. I correspond with a gentleman in Argentina who does some fabulous work with matchsticks, and I have repaired models for Ripley's that other people have built, but we are few in number.
That's astonishing! Such a huge passion and commitment shared by so few people who are spread across the globe.
I think the German fellow still cuts or burns every single matchstick. Maybe you need to tell him where to get sticks without the sulfur heads. (Just because I like the idea of y'all becoming friends.)
I'm not going to be much help. The last provider of bulk wooden matchsticks in the USA, Jarden Home Brand’s Diamond matches closed in Cloquet, Minnesota, in 2017. As far as I know wooden matchsticks are only available now from Asia and must be ordered by the metric ton (a large shipping container, plus shipping costs). Wooden matches are a simply a thing of the past.
I did order 5 million wooden splints the year that Diamond closed to assure I could continue building for a few more years.
I live in Europe and we still very much have and use wooden matchsticks
Wooden matches are still sold here in the States, but I do not believe they are used in the great numbers.
What's the hardest detailed model you've made so far with matchsticks?
Different projects require difference designs so it is hard to say what was the most difficult. These tiny wooden sticks allow me to incorporate amazing detail Notre Dame in my models that is simply not possible with ordinary wood. Plus, I enjoy every step in the process starting with the initial idea, and then the researching, planning and construction. I begin with a million identical tiny wooden pieces and a few months later I'm gazing at a huge Steampunk Locomotive model that measures 23 feet long and 8 feet tall, or a 15-foot-long model of the Millennium Falcon or a huge scale model of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Minas Tirith, inspired by the White City from "Lord of the Rings." Well, it simply feeds my soul. I make a lot of scaled-model replicas of machines and architecture, but I also love making my own designs like the Crooked House, Two-headed Dragon or the Gun-Slinging Cowboy. To know that my models will last for years after I am gone gives me a sense of accomplishment. I like to tell everyone that “matchsticking” is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle… and I love a good puzzle.
You've got "Name of the model – Match Stick Marvels" embedded all over your reply... did you just cut-n-paste from an article about yourself?!?
No, I'm a novice on here and tried to embed links to my website, but it didn't work.
I fixed it. Thanks for calling my attention to that! :-)
Ah, fair enough! I'm not sure how things work on "new reddit" but if you want to add them manually the method is as follows:
[text you want people to see/click](web address to the thing you want to link)
for example: Life-size Perseverance model
edit - p.s. I really dig your models!
You are the best. Thank you!
Wow, these are incredible! Do you have a holy grail? Something that you've always wanted to make but haven't yet.
Star Wars Imperial Star Cruiser and the Disney castle. There are always ideas that I haven't had a chance to start, but hope to soon.
I just watched the YouTube video you linked and I wanted to take a moment to say how impressed I am by your artistry and by the scope of your creations.
Most of your models appear to be representations of existing things. You must spend hours pouring over reference photos to get the details exact. Do you also freestyle and build items without working from a reference, too?
Yes, I do freestyle but I always draw plans for a model before building. Some examples are brontosaurus, bald eagle, gun-slinging cowboy, crooked house, and Paul Revere on horseback.
Maybe a dumb question, but do you actually buy full kitchen matches or do you have a source where you can buy them without the heads?
If you do buy them with the heads, do you do anything interesting with large numbers of them?
Really impressive work!
After nearly ten years of model building and cutting the heads off more than 100,000 matchsticks bought from the grocery store, I contacted the Ohio Blue Tip Company (at my wife’s insistence) and learned that matchstick splints could be purchased without the sulfur tip. After this discovery, I was able to work much faster, increasing the size of my models from inches to feet and from hundreds of matchsticks to thousands. The most fun I had with the heads was keeping them in an empty matchstick box and discreetly throwing them into the campfire late at night with friends. The sudden WHOOSH to the treetops would definitely wake people up.
When did you open the museum?
Are you interested in having models all over the world?
The Matchstick Marvels Museum opened in Gladbrook, Iowa, in 2003. There are models in Ripley's Believe It or Not Museums in four continents. It's always exciting when I'm contacted by people from all over the world who have seen one of my models.
If you had to pick a personal favorite model, what would you pick? Is that like asking you to choose a favorite child?
That's exactly what it's like! (Might be harder to pick a favorite child though.) Typically, the one I'm working on is my favorite. If I am forced to reply, I'd say the US Capitol.
But my wife says Hogwarts! I wonder what my kids think.
Have you ever begun a work...but after many hours into it, became completely uninspired and as a result, quit working on it?
No, I work on only one project at a time and I've never given up on one.
...then I wonder...
Do you ever work on a project that gets very boring...but you push through to the end anyway due to your ethic of discipline?
I seem to be a little boy at heart and typically only begin a project that I am truly interested in making. I love machines and architecture which are the primary sources of my interests.
I saw string on the life boats! Cheater!! But then it got me thinking, can you make rope from match stick fibers? Perhaps if you boil them they might be easy to pull apart. Anyways, no questions just want to say awesome work, I love all the little details
No, I do not believe this wood (Poplar and Aspen) would allow you to do that. It's not only string but sometimes even screws and bolts.
You caught me. I do sometimes cheat with string, screws, bolts and other hardware. Me bad.
Have your friends or family ever broken your models?
When my son was young, he was helping me unload my 12-foot-long ship USS Iowa, and it smashed into the wall of the truck, damaging the super structure on the top of the ship. When I used to travel to art shows and woodworking shows, they were more likely to get damaged but never anything seriously. These models are much more structurally sound than they appear.
How bad are the splinters?
Not a lot of slpinters (hee-hee)! Too much glue on my fingers for the splinters.
How did you discover that you could build things like ships with curved surfaces?
My first idea came from reading the book Chesapeake by James Michener back in the late '70s. He got very detailed about how ships were made. It made me think that I could use matchsticks to build a scale model, which would be similar to the scale model of lumber being used for ships. When I did start making models with shapes and curves, I would cut a single matchstick into 6 to 8 pieces and lay then in a curve like a brick layer would make a curved wall. This was slow and tedious. Later, I discovered that I could crimp and bend individual matchsticks into curved shapes using a needle-nosed pliers. No steam or water is used to bend the sticks. Once the curved stick is glued in place, it can be lightly sanded with no noticeable trace of damage to the matchstick. I discovered this technique while shaping sticks to build my model of Pinocchio.
Have you seen or heard about the french movie "Le diner de cons"? It is about a man who builds stuff with matchsticks, without really talking about his hobby. One of the best french movies of all time. I highly recommend it
No, I was not aware. I'll have to check it out on YouTube.
How much of your plan goes into structural strength, versus finished outline? Do you anticipate where the design might sag out of true and build it out of true the other way?
I put a great deal of time into the design to make sure that does not happen. Since I'm not an engineer, there have been times I've had to change some of the structural integrity inside the model.
Do your prices vary when it comes to who's ordering (i.e. everyday person vs city museum?)
Not really. They do vary some based on the complexity. Everything in the museum is mine, there they have never been priced.
Do you want to keep a lot of models in Iowa?
I was excited when our community opened a museum in Gladbrook, Iowa, so there could be a big display of models in our state.
Does “going to work” ever start to feel old and you need to take a vacation?
Not at all. I am always happy gluing sticks. I might be a tad anal.
How often are you able to use the “no this is Patrick” meme on a regular basis?
Sorry I am so late responding. I had to google this. It definitely made me laugh silly. You are too funny.
Did I see your capital building at Disney World once?
No, in fact it is 1 of my own models that has never been out of the state of Iowa; however, it has been displayed at a number of woodworking and art shows in Iowa.
This new video, posted today, was created and produced by the talented Guy Georgeson. He produced the mini-video for his web series "The Coolest Thing I've Ever Made" has a terrific look into the process of constructing my projects.
Have you ever considered making Sleeping Beauty's castle?
I plan on completing Disney's enchanted castle in the near future, but I did build Hogwarts. Originally I was going to build a medieval castle but someone suggested Hogwarts and a lightbulb went off.
How can I find out which models are at various Ripley's museums?
You can click on the Models tab at www.matchstickmarvels.com and it will show a graph, listing where they are. For example, the International Space Station is in the Ripley's in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Steampunk Locomotive is in the Times Square Ripley's in NYC.
What do you think of the matchstick artists that keep the head of the match intact, only to burn it after completion?
I see it as artistic freedom. I've always preferred the plain sticks without the sulfur or burnt ends.
How much are they all insured for?
Great question! My models are all insured for the amount I believe I could reasonably expect to get if I were to sell them. Insurance premiums are one of the highest costs of operation for the Matchstick Marvels museum where 16 to 18 models are always on display.
I'm quite interested seeing the background of your picture there, the wooden stuffs. Assuming you made them out of matchsticks, those aren't seem to be glued. How can the final product be so clean? Any work of sandpaper involved?
I definitely make a lot of sawdust. I use every type of woodworking tool imaginable these days. When I was a little kid, I saw a news story about a man who fashioned a model of his farmstead buildings from wooden matchsticks. I never forgot it. It wasn’t until 1977, fresh out of college with little money and no woodworking tools of my own that I used 500 matches from the grocery store to build a small model of a country church. I used only a bottle Elmer’s glue, a utility knife, and a piece of sandpaper to build this tiny model. I was hooked.
Btw, every model you see is made exclusively of matchsticks and they are all glued! Go to matchstickmarvels.com and enlarge one of the photos. Then you can see.
Absolutely marvelous it made me speechless. The amount of dedication.... enormous. Outstanding work right there.
Thank you! It's definitely a work of love. I really appreciate your comment.
How do you decide what to build next?
I have more ideas than I do time. I love to base my models on history, machines, architecture, and sci fi.
Do you have other hobbies aside from making things out of matchstick? Also, what was the longest time you paused from making them (time between projects) or do you really make them non-stop since you started?
The longest period between projects was at most 2 or 3 months, caused mostly by the high humidity during the summer months. Despite running dehumidifiers, if the sticks are glued together with even slight bits of moister in them, they will split and splinter as the project dries out. On the other hand if you build the model when the wood is very dry and then expose the model to high levels of humidity they will remain unharmed. Generally speaking, over the past 44 years I have had no long breaks from model making (even while I was employed full-time professionally as a social worker).
My other hobbies are mechanics and classic cars. I am definitely better at matchsticking. LOL
If you were to pass on a single word of advice to a strangers trying to figure this out, what would you give?
Be patient and start small.
Do you make the models by visual reference only or do you get hold of plans for the real thing and scale it off that?. These are just amazing.
I do all my own scaling and drawings before, and in some cases while, building a project. For example in the case of building a fictional Hogwarts (based on the movie version), I built a small cardboard mock-up model first to visually assure that the scale of each building looked correct, and built my matchstick version off the mock-up. I used dozens of pictures from the internet to add all the fine detail. Sometimes I use plastic models to determine scale.
What kind of toothpicks? Flat or round? Do you get them wholesale?
My models are actually made of matchsticks, not toothpicks, but I have use thousands of round toothpicks for things like ladders and hand-railings on specific models. If you look closely at the the railings and peak of Notre Dame's roof you will see hundreds of toothpicks used for detail work.
Wow. Unbelievable creations!
How heavy do you reckon the biggest of your models is?
Of all of the really big models you've built, which one was the easiest?
Have you ever built a flyable airplane model?
Thanks and great work!
The Millennium Falcon, one of my biggest with over 900,00 matchsticks, weighed just over 500 pounds. I am uncertain that any were the easiest. Maybe the Saturn V rocket. Sorry, no flyable airplanes. LOL
Thank you everyone for the interest and questions. I had a blast.
Hey Dad! Just had to ask, do you consider having a Reddit AMA as an accomplishment to your sweet career? 🙃
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