During the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), material selection was critical given the extreme environment of space. Chances are that one of those materials up for consideration was not matchsticks. But for Pat Acton of Iowa, the idea of designing and building a complete scale model of the ISS out of matchsticks seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea.

Recently completed by Acton, the wooden ISS is as impressive in size as it is in detail. Comprised of 282,000 matchsticks, the 1/26 scale model required 8 gal (30 L) of glue and took roughly 1,950 hours to complete. Whereas the actual ISS measures out at 108.5 m (356 ft) wide and 72.8 m (239 ft) long, Acton’s scaled down version measures out at an impressive 4.1 m (13.5 ft) and 2.8 m (9.2 ft) wide. Solar arrays, trusses, communication components, and even the Space Shuttle Atlantis, are all there in intricate detail.

But in addition to the primary module and its related bits, Acton also went ahead and built two 1/13 scale models of astronaut living/working spaces. The two cutaway models show in great detail interior elements, including science racks and related work areas, the toilet, sleeping areas, storage spaces, computer stations, and other amenities found in the ISS modules. The Russian Zvesda module, along with the European Space Agency’s ATV cargo transport module, will be displayed on the floor, while the scale model ISS hangs from the ceiling.

Acton, who now sources his flameless matchsticks from the Ohio Blue Tip Company, learned that he could not only bend the sticks using needle nose pliers, but that it was possible to build sheets of the singular wooden pieces using a Plexiglas sheet and glue. Once the glue has dried, Acton peels the matchstick sheet from the Plexiglas and shapes it for larger surfaces or forms it into structural pieces.

Acton’s ISS matchstick model can be seen at the Matchstick Marvel Museum in Gladbrook, Iowa. In addition to the International Space Station, Acton has also built scale models of the Hogwarts Castle from Harry Potter, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the One World Trade Center and the city of Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings.

View gallery - 15 images