Archive for the ‘Scratchbuilding’ Category


It turns out that modern freight wagons are deceptively complicated

Having assembled the 192 tiny parts to make the uprights on this wagon, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until someone on the NGRM Online forum pointed out that I now had to paint them all.

I really should think about these things more.

This is somewhat important on this stage, the ‘rust’ layer. Once everything visible is dark brown, I can probably get away with missing a gap or two when I add the ‘final’ colour by pretending it’s supposed to look that way. I can’t get away with that with light grey primer.

My plan was to do this in stages after work, but what you see took about 20-30 minutes of painting, rotating the wagon and trying to look at every section from any possible angle, then going back again when I inevitably found a bit I’d missed.

That’ll teach me to get all excited about a wagon in a photograph and start building with no plan whatsoever…


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Every now and again I decide I’m going to get more disciplined, which usually means I’m going to try and focus on making stuff for the Körschtalbahn. Occasionally I even manage to follow through on this for a few weeks.

Of course the thing about deciding to focus on a challenging project is that you don’t do it just before the start of the annual silly session at work, while simultaneously trying to finish a final dissertation and make an elderly mountain bike into a  ranndoneur/touring bicycle. last week I realised that I was getting into the usual vicious cycle of coming back from work tired, so not making anything, then feeling more tired because I hadn’t done something productive all evening.

This obviously couldn’t go on, so I decided that it was better to make something than nothing at all, even if it was a fairly random tangent.

A while back a seriously excellent model maker and semi professional mold builder on the Lead Adventure Forum said that you can make almost any kind of model out of card, at the same time as making a rather spiffy monowheel, out of whitemetal, so I decided to try the theory out.

I may have turned up the Bonkers Factor in my version.

To start with I made the circle of card seen above, started with one strip around an old aerosol can lid stuck down with a bit of masking tape, then added two more pieces to make it solid. This is what passes for technology on my workbench.

Next step was to make a rather rough tread, which I’m sure will look fine once it’s painted and weathered and viewed from a distance. Quite a considerable distance admittedly. It probably looks worse to Frederick.

Then I added an equally rough ‘gear’ or possibly ‘rack?’ on the inside of the wheel, which took a bit of fiddling about with superglue to stop the layers from separating. I need to find a better way to do this. I’m told Shellac is the stuff.

‘Colonel’ Oliver is taking an interest, which is Probably a bad sign. Frederick remains unimpressed.

The crowning loopiness so far is the drive unit, which is gradually taking shape. I have a sneaking suspicion that switched on it would rotate inside the outer wheel while producing absolutely no forward motion whatsoever, but we’ll ignore that.

More silliness will undoubtedly follow, but hopefully I’ve now broken the model making block and can get on with some more ‘serious’ models…

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Finally all 196 pieces of the uprights are together, the uprights are in place and not just that, they are in fact upright.

Mostly. If you don’t look too hard.

It took several evenings to achieve this, making 1 or 2 uprights per evening. It turned out that the blocks I’d carefully glued in ready to hold the uprights were not as accurately placed as I’d thought and I had to use several 0.3mm pieces as packing. Of course the packing pieces turned out to be too thick, so they needed to be sanded back, checked, sanded a bit more and then fitted.

Now they still aren’t perfect but they’re passable from normal distances and angles, so I’m calling it good.

Next we have detailing, painting and weathering which means I really need to decide what colour it is going to be…

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Huzzah and three rousing cheers, the deck is completed.

The boredom factor was dealt with by the discovery of the excellent “Revolutions Podcast” which I recommend to anyone with a long and repetitive job to do. As an added positive I learned a lot of new things about the revolutions of 1848 and 1871, which I’m sure will guarantee me plenty of personal space at any future parties.

During the celebrations* surrounding the final decking piece being fitted I remembered that this was supposed to be an operational model, and that I therefore needed to fit bogies that could rotate. This caused an extra problem: I use nylon press studs as pivots, and I needed a good three millimetres clearance above the hole. This wasn’t a problem on the van because you basically have the entire van interior to hide the stud, but on this wagon I’d forgotten to take that 3mm into account.

Adding 3mm below the frame made the wagon sit too high.

Eventually brain engaged and I realised that if I made the connector for the stud 1mm from the underside of the deck, I could make a recess in the deck itself to give the required clearance for the bogie to turn.

This being a high precision engineering job I used the digital method: I put my finger on the top of the deck and twisted a drill bit from the other side until I could just feel the movement through the plastic.

This is why I will never be an engineer.

I tested the theory by stealing the bogies off the big van. The turn all right but then I discovered the bogies will be trapped between the side bars. It looks like I’ll have to use large radius curves, or possibly smaller bogies.

*One large glass of Ginger Ale and a whole slice of cake: Never let it be said I can’t have fun.

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Humpf, look at this. The plan was for a simple fun project making some buildings for a tabletop game to bring a bit of variety to myself and my loyal reader having tied myself in knots cutting bits for the wood wagon.

Looks like I managed to forget the pretty obvious point that clay tends to shrink when it dries.

I ignored the problem for a while, until I had a day when the family were out and I could make a mess of the place without causing domestic contention, and made a rescue attempt, while trying to bring the other buildings up to speed as well.

Rather then get all ambitious I just filled in the cracks with fresh clay. I also remembered to make a ‘base’ around the building, which is a new experience: model railway types tend to expect buildings to stay put for the foreseeable future, whereas in tabletop games they will be moved about for every new game. The holes in the tower will be for the rungs on a ‘ladder’ in case some hero has a sudden need to climb on the roof.

I managed to sort out the mess and get the models out onto the windowsill to dry before before family members began turning up. Notice that the darker models which are still drying have cuts in the surface to allow the clay to shrink and control the cracking.

To my absolute lack of surprise this did not work. Will have to try a different type of clay next time…

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I am a terrible hoarder when it comes to model making. After all, if I don’t carefully store that vital part I’ve just found/been offered, I probably won’t have it to hand when I need it for a project.

I’m probably worse than most because I’m not working in a normal scale so I can’t rely on big companies and supply chains, so lot of what I use is hard to get or ‘found’ stuff, like guitar strings and bits of Chinese takeaway boxes- I even have some fine veneer scrounged from the packaging a long forgotten meal eaten in a Japanese hotel, but which will one day reappear as the side of a van or something. Probably.

In the meantime I’ve labelled things carefully in a random set of (also scrounged) containers and squirrelled my treasures away in a growing stack of cardboard boxes in the loft.

Unfortunately I then promptly forget where I’ve put everything.

So imagine the excitement this week when I went up to the ever growing pile and found a carefully labelled box of ancient bogies*. In fact, I discovered two boxes of ancient bogies, some equally ancient HO scale coaches and wagons, a lot of er… bits, about three miles of guitar wire (never refuse it), and some 12mm gauge track which I vaguely remember ordering by mistake about a decade ago.

The bogies worked on the goldilocks principle. One set too big, one set too modern, and the other set just right, or as near as made no difference with a hacksaw. The white area on the top of the bogie is a thin strip of plastic to hide the crude surgery and support the almost invisible press stud that forms the bogie pivot itself.

Now all I need to do is dig in the Box Pile until I find the coupling parts hoarded in there some years ago, and I’ll nearly be done.

If anyone wants a few 12mm gauge points let me know. No guarantees how fast I’ll find them, mind you.

*I briefly considered “a box of ancient bogies” as the title of this post but I decided I didn’t want hits that much…

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This week I’ve been working on all the lumpy bits of the newly covered wagon, and my goodness but there are a lot of them. The fascinating thing to me (and it’s my blog so you’re getting this too) is that the lumpy bits act as a frame holding the entire wagon together.

This is probably obvious to people who understand these things but it was only this week that I realised that it is not simply that the sides don’t hold up the roof: the rest of the van has to handle the not insignificant forces of the entire door sliding along the length of the van and slamming against the other end, again and again and again.

My word but that’s awful grammar. Keep up at the back there.

I’m guessing that while the Complicated Van sliding Door Department were at work, in the office next door the Mahoosive Frame Design Committee were scribbling away at ideas to make the rest of the van solid enough to work without it sinking through the track. The wagon is essentially a thumping big frame with the chassis, ends and central pillar taking all the stresses of the load. Even the roof is a bit of an afterthought between the load bearing girders. And I thought they were just big gutters.

All of which makes this nondescript van a very impressive bit of design, especially when you consider that a set of curtain sides would have been a far simpler solution.

Which leads to another thought: all the pictures I can find of these vans shows them trundling through alpine meadows and past the occasional happy cow, so why the heavy security? What do the designers know about rural Switzerland that we don’t? I think we should be told.

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