Get a handle on things

Lots of handles, in fact:

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I’m one step closer to being ready to unpack my workshop into my new cabinets, with the installation this afternoon of 31 handles.

The handles came from the architect/contractor who worked on our house last year. They’re from a German design firm and they go beautifully with the drawer fronts to create a very clean, modern image. They have a recess on the underside for one’s fingertips, which can be seen in one of the photos above.

I find the offset positioning pleasing to the eye, and the IKEA drawers are built solidly enough that the offset position doesn’t result in racking when opening the drawers.

Getting the handles lined up consistently demanded that I create a drilling jig. I cut pieces out of 3/4″ plywood and mounted drilling inserts and screw-in bushings from Lee Valley Tools to accommodate the spacing for short and long handles:

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The bushings were a great investment – not that expensive, and they ensured that the fixture wouldn’t become worn out as I used it.

For more information on the bushings, click on the image, below:

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Once again, I was reminded of the joy of using good tools – and I’m really pleased with the results of this afternoon’s work.

Next up, I’ll turn my attention to mounting power bars and routing the cords. Then – finally – I can start to load the drawers.

Workshop counter: “Roadbed”

I’ve made more progress on the storage cabinets in my workshop – and there’s a good reason why I called my previous post about this project the “subroadbed” phase…

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Having used plywood – a classic subroadbed material – for the base of the counter, I topped it with classic roadbed material: Cork. Specifically, 12-inch square cork tiles. These tiles are intended for creating cork boards in an office and I picked mine up at Staples. Similar products are likely available at any large office supply chain.

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This may seem like an unorthodox choice for a counter in a workshop, but keep in mind that this is not a workbench: It’s a large bank of drawers for keeping tools and materials organized. When I’m building projects, I will work on a bench in the middle of the room. The surface here will be used in several ways:

– As a spot to put tools and materials as I’m collecting them out of drawers, preparatory to moving them to the work bench;

– As a place to store larger modelling tools, such as my soldering station, sensitive drill press, and so on, so that they’re ready to be moved to the work table;

– As a place to store projects while I work on other things – for example, I might set aside a painted boxcar to dry or a coated tree armature to cure.

With these uses in mind, I wanted a surface that was forgiving to tools:

If I drop a chisel on it, I’d rather nick the surface of the bench than nick the chisel.

I also wanted a surface that I could replace if it got damaged. The cork tiles are ideal for this: I can scrape off any damaged tiles and simply install new ones.

Finally, I just like the look of cork.

Before adding the tiles, I sanded the top of the plywood. I also painted the walls behind the cabinet to clean up the appearance of the room somewhat.

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The tiles came with double-sided foam tape squares to mount them. These were insufficient for several reasons, but the biggest problem with them was they let the tiles float on the plywood. I knew that in no time at all, the springiness would bother me and – most likely – tiles would get damaged.

A better system of applying them to the plywood was in order. This was a job for No More Nails:

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I was amazed at just how much No More Nails was required. I applied a thin coating to each tile and spread it about – but the job still required three caulking tubes of the stuff.

I started in the corner of the L, at the front of the counter, and then worked my way out to both ends, aligning the front face of the tiles with the edge of the plywood.

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Next steps, in no particular order:

I will add a trim piece to the front face of the counter to tie everything together, hide the rough edge of the plywood, and protect the front edge of the tiles.

At the ends, I left the tiles longer than the counter: I’ll cut them back with a knife after the No More Nails cures.

I will add an elevated ledge along the back of the counter – a backsplash of sorts. I’ll have power bars mounted on each leg of this. On the long leg of the L, the ledge will support test tracks in various gauges. I’ve already planned out this project and I’m just waiting on some materials and time.

I will install cabinet hardware: I just purchased some nice drawer pulls through an architect I know. They’ll go very nicely with the modern grey drawer fronts. I will have to built a drilling jig for these.

I have to adjust the alignment of the drawer faces – something that’s relatively easy to do with the IKEA system, but which will require some time and possibly a second set of eyes.

I’m getting very close to the point where I’ll be able to start loading the drawers with tools and materials. This is the first time I’ve had such a dedicated space for a workshop and I look forward to putting it to good use!

Workshop counter: “Subroadbed”

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My friend Doug Currie came over yesterday afternoon, and together we cut and installed the “subroadbed” level of the counter for my workshop cabinets.

“Subroadbed” is the perfect term for this, since I used a popular subroadbed material for my counter: 3/4″ plywood. I actually used two layers of 3/4″ ply, with each layer staggered to overlap the joints between sheets and the layers glued to each other with “No More Nails”.

For this project, I had the lumber yard cut 4×8 foot panels into 2×4 sheets, which were the perfect depth for the counter and easier to swing about the shop – it’s spacious, but not that big. A track saw and my work table, which is drilled for bench dogs, made short work of cutting panels to length.

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As the above photo shows, the plywood lines up with the front face of the drawers: I’ll add a nice trim piece along the front edge of the counter, which will provide a small overhang. Before I do that, I’ll repaint the walls above the cabinets and then install my replaceable surface (the “roadbed”, if you will).

Finally, I’ll built a raised shelf along the back of the counter, on which I will be able to lay test tracks of various scales and gauges. And I have a pair of power bars to mount – one above each leg of the L.

Meantime, I’ve already started to move some tools into place to get an idea of how I can set up the counter:

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The corner (at left) will be home to the Sherline Mill I picked up from a friend back (gulp!) in 2012. It’s well past time I started using the thing – and once I have the space set up, I’ll be able to do that. Other items that will find space on the counter include a sensitive drill press and a tap holder, a sharpening station, a sanding station, soldering station and resistance soldering unit, plus in-progress projects and … well, you get the idea. Now you know why I wanted such a larger counter.

With the notable exception of the mill, it’s expected that most of these tools will be moved from the counter to the work-table when needed. My friend Chris Abbott and I are already planning how that table will be set up as a flexible work space.

(Thanks for the help yesterday, Doug – much appreciated!)

Rolling stock storage redux

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(Filled to overflowing – again…)

A couple of years ago, I built some storage drawers under the sector plate to hold my growing collection of S scale rolling stock. Well, I’m sure there are railway modelling enthusiasts who can limit themselves to a set number of pieces of equipment – but I’ve yet to meet them, and it sure isn’t me.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, I seem to abhor empty trackage on my sector plate. Once again, I’ve filled my staging area to overflowing – and the storage drawers are full. What to do?

I realized that my home made storage drawers are not the most efficient use of space while I was assembling and installing the drawers for my new workshop:

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(Click on the image to read more about the workshop project)

The IKEA kitchen cabinets I’m using are well designed to maximize useable drawer space within the cases. And it occurred to me that the drawers just might have enough clearance for S scale rolling stock. Sure enough, I measured a drawer interior and came up with just shy of 4″ height – plenty of space for S, as a quick test proved:

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With rare exceptions (e.g.: a crane with boom raised), I should be able to fit any S scale equipment into a space with 3.5″ clearance, which gives me some space underneath the cars to add acoustic foam padding to protect details and keep cars from rolling about. I would also build dividers, similar to the ones used in my existing drawers:

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I did my test in an 18″ wide drawer, which would hold anything up to a baggage car:

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More likely, though, I would use the 36″ wide cabinets, which would give me the greatest amount of flexibility for storing equipment. I sense another trip to IKEA in my future…

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Leonard Lee: 1938-2016

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(Click on the image to read the company’s tribute to its founder)

I was sad to read today of the death of Leonard Lee. He wasn’t a railway modelling enthusiast (not that I know of), but he did so much to make my hobby more enjoyable.

That’s because Leonard was the founder of Lee Valley Tools, one of those rare companies that, for me, does everything right. Lee Valley Tools offers high-quality products … excellent customer service … and a truly useful e-commerce site for shop-at-home convenience. It has always stood behind the products it sells: I’ve returned a few (mostly, because I realized I needed something different) and returns were always hassle-free. Like a good hobby shop (and for wood-workers, that’s what it was), Lee Valley Tools holds course and seminars to help its customers learn new skills. And it researches and develops new or better tools under the Veritas brand.

Yes, I could have built a layout without Lee Valley – but not as easily. Not as painlessly. Because when I needed an answer to a construction challenge, chances are I would find it at Lee Valley. And if I did, I could always buy with confidence.

What is less obvious about Lee Valley Tools is how it treats its employees. I’m sure there are examples of workers who were unhappy at Lee Valley – you can’t please everyone – but I have never, ever been in one of their stores or on the phone with an employee and had anything but a terrific experience with someone who is obviously knowledgeable and happy about doing the job that they do. Maybe I’ve been lucky. But I suspect the real reason is the work environment that Leonard Lee created – one that he described in a 2013 Globe and Mail article about executive compensation thusly:

You get tremendous loyalty from employees if they enjoy their work and they are participating in the income and they have the authority that they need to execute their job.

Written like that, it seems like a simple concept. But in the case of Lee Valley, this isn’t just HR lip service or PR bafflegab. And what a difference that can make.

Thanks, Leonard, for creating Lee Valley Tools (and opening a store a 25 minute walk from my house!) – I’m so glad that you did. You will be missed.

Workshop drawers

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(Ready for handles and a counter top)

Having hosted a successful work session on Monday to build and install cabinets in my new workshop, I followed it up with a drawer-building session on Tuesday. My friend Chris Abbott joined me and together we tackled the most challenging components – the 36-inch wide drawers (at right in the above photo) that I’ll use for styrene and strip wood storage, and the corner cabinet with its double-hinged doors and carousel. We celebrated our progress at Harbord House. (That’s twice this week! I should buy shares…)

Yesterday, I wore out the dogs at a herding lesson, and while they slept it off I spent the afternoon finishing the drawers. I also installed one end panel (at left in the photo above). I have another to add to the right side of the cabinet, and then I can move onto installing handles and adding a counter top.

Meantime, I had a general plan of how I would use this storage but now I can plan out what goes where in more detail. I have 30 drawers – 18 at 18″ wide, six at 24″ wide, and six at 36″ wide – plus a corner cabinet. That should hold all of my hobby tools and supplies!

I also have a mountain of cardboard. Too bad I don’t model The Rockies…

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(Thanks for the help, Chris – always great to spend time with you!)

Workshop cabinets

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(Mission accomplished! Doug surveys our handiwork)

Thanks to my friends Doug Currie and Ryan Mendell, plus my eldest dog Mocean, who joined me yesterday for a workshop-building party. The four of us accomplished a lot in my new work room in surprisingly little time – a combination of working well together and all being able to follow IKEA instructions.

I’m pretty impressed with IKEA’s system, so far. Doug and I assembled the cabinets and once Ryan joined us after work the three of us started mounting the hanging rails to the walls. A tripod-mounted laser level definitely helped here:

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(Doug and Ryan securing a mounting rail to the wall)

The walls in my workshop room meet at an obtuse angle, which required a fair bit of shimming when we mounted the hanging rail along the longer leg of the L. Once the rail was in place, the moment of truth arrived: Would the corner cabinet hang properly from both rails?

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(Lifting the corner cabinet…)

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(… and setting it in place. Mocean “supervises”)

Yes, it did – and the rest of the cabinets did too. Access panels were cut in two cabinets to reach the power sockets on each wall, and power bars added to bring electricity to the countertop height. The cabinets were screwed together and levelling legs were added along the front of the assembly. In all, the work took about five hours, after which I rewarded the guys with a meal and drinks at Harbord House.

Thanks guys!

Next up: I must assemble and install 30 drawers of various sizes, and cut and install a counter top. Then, I can begin to unpack all of my tools and supplies into the drawers.

I must also decide what to do with the corner cabinet. I bought a bi-fold door for it, and a two-tier carousel for the interior. But Mocean demonstrated that it would make an excellent spot to enjoy a nap. In fact, he used it as a dog bed while we assembled the other cabinets:

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Diaphragms

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Today, a big box of passenger car diaphragms arrived in the mail from “S”cenery Unlimited and, since I was in the mood, I immediately got to work installing them on some passenger cars.

The diaphragms are quite nice. They consist of a flexible rubber bellows, fitted with aluminum plates inside, and a brass striker plate on the end.

Some quick dry-fitting made me realize I would have to modify the stock diaphragms. For one thing, the brass striker plate includes interlocking tabs that connect adjacent cars. It also includes etched “Made in Korea” and “Scenery Unlimited” markings. Obviously, these are intended for passenger trains that run as units, without switching. On my layout, the exposed ends of the passenger cars would look odd with tabs and writing. Also, on my layout, the 42″ radius curves are a little tight for full, working diaphragms.

Once I decided how I would modify the parts, the work went quickly. I had four cars fitted in about two hours.

I started by determining that I would use the brass striker plate as the mounting plate for the car. That would require removing the two tabs designed to interlock with an adjacent diaphragm. I clipped these shorter with a side-cutter, then carefully filed away the remaining material:

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(Stock diaphragm on the left. Modified diaphragm on the right)

Each diaphragm has a bellows with three folds. They were too deep for my purposes, and I determined that I would have to remove one of the folds. I carefully sliced the rubber between two of the aluminum plates with a sharp knife to remove the fold farthest from the brass plate, then trimmed the rubber with a pair of scissors:

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(Stock diaphragm at left. Sliced diaphragm at right. Remove the aluminum plate from the sliced-away rubber and save it)

I repurposed the aluminum plate from inside the third fold as my new striker plate. I blackened the edges of the plate with a permanent marker. I noticed that one side of the plate has sharp edges, while the side is smooth. I glued the plate to the thinner diaphragm with CA, so that the smoother side is facing outward:

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(Stock diaphragm on the left. Modified diaphragm on the right, ready to install on a car)

I glued the diaphragm to the end of a car with CA, positioning the brass plate adjacent to the car end. At this point, I realized that despite removing one third of the thickness of the diaphragm, it still projected beyond the coupler. This, I knew, would cause no end of problems:

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(Asking for trouble)

Since I already modify all of my couplers, the fix was pretty straightforward. Normally, as part of my coupler tuning procedure, I replace the spring in the draft gear with a piece of styrene, as shown here:

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(Standard installation)

This prevents the coupler from sliding in and out of the pocket, thus minimizing the slack action. (There’s still a bit of slack, but it’s all in the coupler knuckles – not in the shanks.) I realized I could solve my diaphragm clearance problem by moving the styrene spacer to the other side of the draft gear post, as shown here:

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(Extended shank installation)

The coupler works the same as it did before, but it now enjoys a longer shank – and it now projects sufficiently to solve my diaphragm clearance problem:

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(All clear!)

In addition to preventing the diaphragms from pushing passenger cars off the rails on my curves, I’ll also be able to get a manual uncoupling tool into position between a passenger car and a freight car or locomotive.

In operation, adjacent diaphragms don’t quite touch. This photo shows two cars equipped with modified diaphragms, and with the slack stretched:

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(Mind the gap…)

I can live with that gap. It’s certainly better than the space between cars before the diaphragms were added. In addition, my mixed trains only had one passenger-carrying car on them, and I’m not sure the diaphragms would even have been hooked up between the combine and adjacent express car during normal operation on the line to Port Rowan.

I’ve now done the four passenger cars that I regularly run in mixed train service, and I bought extra diaphragms for future projects.

I think they look rather striking…