Machine tool bases

I spent a couple of hours in the shop this morning, and built some bases for my Sherline tools.

Lathe base

Mill base

Over lunch at Big Fat Burrito recently, my friend Ryan Mendell recommended that I top my bases with a layer of Ultra High Molecular Weight plastic (UHMW). He reasoned that oils and swarf would clean up nicely – and since he is the most talented machinist I know, I followed his advice. On Thursday, I made a trip to Plastic World, a local supplier where I buy styrene sheet, and had them cut me two pieces of 1/8″ thick UMHW to the base sizes recommended by Sherline.

On the way home, I hit a local building supply company for a sheet of 3/4″ MDF, some wood, and a selection of hardware, including rubber feet. (Sherline recommends the rubber feet to dampen vibration … and they do!)

Lathe base - underside

I used the UMHW and the dimensional lumber to lay out the base sizes then cut them with my track saw. Glue and screws secured the wood rails to the MDF. I used dimensional number of various “1 by” sizes – being careful to choose sizes that were as high as possible to help contain the mess, while still low enough that they would not interfere with tool components such as hand wheels. I also ran strips of 1×2″ underneath the MDF base to raise it slightly off the table, and mounted the feet to these. This gives me enough air space under the machines to easily slip my fingers underneath to lift them by the bases.

Lathe base - top

The UMHW is held in place by the bolts that hold down the machine tools, so that I can remove and replace it if need be. I used the tools themselves to lay out and mark the locations of the bolt holes. Machines are secured with washers, lock washers, and nuts from below.

(Thanks for the advice, Ryan – I’m really pleased!)

Machine tool accessory storage

My workshop is built using kitchen cabinets from IKEA, so naturally when it came time to think about organizing the drawers, IKEA is at the top of my list. Yesterday, I made the trek to the big blue and yellow box in the burbs, where I picked up a sampling of drawer organizers in the “Variera” line, including the two approaches shown below:

Variera plastic bins

These plastic bins are sold in pairs (one green, one white) and do a good job of holding small pieces, such as cutting tools and tool posts. Their one drawback is that they don’t fill the drawer completely, front to back: they leave a gap which becomes wasted space (unless I build a styrene tray to fill it, which is a possibility). I have not tried them in different-width drawers. I’ll need to do that. But they hold 90 percent of the machine tool accessories I have. I’d like some larger bins – the size of two of these, together – for bigger accessories.

Variera wooden insert

The wooden drawer organizers use the full space and I like the look – easy on the eyes, and the tools. They don’t provide as many bins, but I could cut and install additional dividers as required. (For wider accessories, I will have to experiment with cutting away a divider between two bins.) They do offer longer spaces for things – which may make them more appropriate for hand tools such as knives, pliers, hammers and so on. They also provide more room for larger accessories such as the lathe’s thread cutting gear shown at left.

I suspect I will eventually deploy a mix of storage options. IKEA has a one-page handout in the kitchen section that shows how the various drawer organizers fit into various size drawers, so I will have some homework to do…

Machine Tool Task Lighting: Jansjo

Good lighting is critical to doing good work, and sometimes you want to aim a light exactly where you need it. Like this:

Tool lighting - Jansjo

While wandering in IKEA yesterday (as one does…), I stumbled across these neat little LED lights. The “Jansjo” lights were about $15 each, so I picked up a pair of them. As the photo shows, they can be positioned to put the light exactly where I need it. If you care about these things, they come in a variety of colours. I bought the silver, because they were on sale and because I think the finish will be easier to keep clean.

Jansjo lighting from IKEA

I’m really pleased with my find.

A turn for the better

(Some assembly required)

Yesterday, I picked up my second Sherline tool – a 24″ lathe. Through my experience with Andy Malette on the CNR 3737 project, I’ve learned that I’ll probably get even more use out of this lathe than I will out of my mill. It should come in handy for air tanks and other turned bits for a number of current and future projects.

I ordered this back in November, but between the Christmas rush (yes, people buy machine tools for Christmas) and wildfires in southern California (where Sherline Products is located), it took a couple of months to come in. I picked up this lathe from Atlas Machinery – a venerable Toronto-area dealer – and had a great experience. Their Sherline expert, Mike, is very helpful.

Obviously, I need to assemble the lathe. There are lots of bits and bobs to attach, and a thick assembly guide to get my head around before I start. I also need to mount the lathe on a base to help contain the swarf it’ll generate. (This is something I have to do for my mill as well.) Finally, I need to add some task lighting to the machine tool section of my workshop. But I’m looking forward to putting these tools to good use!

Mill and Lathe

Pack the trunks and set up the refreshment trolley…

Baggage Wagon and Waving Ladies

I have a busy travel schedule this year, with a number of hobby events already booked across North America. Maybe I’ll see you at one of the following?

Burlington, Ontario – February 10, 2018
Once again this year, I’ll be helping my friend Brian Dickey to exhibit his 7mm Great Western Railway layout, “Roweham”, at the Burlington Model Railway Club’s annual Winter Model Railway Show. (You can search this blog for “Roweham” to learn more.)

Ottawa, Ontario – March 13, 2018
I’m the after-dinner speaker for the monthly meeting of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders (OVAR). I was a member of this amazing group in the 1990s when I lived in the nation’s capital and it’ll be great to catch up with many old friends from the hobby. I’ll be speaking about my layout.

Brampton, Ontario – April 28-29, 2018
Once again, I’ll be helping Brian exhibit his “Roweham” layout – this time at the Great British Train Show.

Enfield, Connecticut – June 1-2, 2018
I’m attending the New England/Northeast Railroad Prototype Modeler’s Meet – my second time at this event. I’ll be giving a clinic on being a prototype modeller in a minority scale, and the opportunities and challenges this represents. I’ll use my layout as my example.

Austin, Texas – June 13-17, 2018
I’m the banquet speaker at The Austin Eagle, the NMRA Lone Star Region annual convention. I’ll be offering suggestions on how to make railway modelling an appealing hobby to millennials – many of whom rarely see a real train. I will also present a clinic on my layout.

Collinsville, Illinois – July 20-21, 2018
I’m attending the St. Louis Railroad Prototype Modeler’s Meet for the first time. I’ve been asked if I would talk about S scale as a viable option for prototype modelling and naturally I’ll be using my layout as my example.

I’m looking forward to meeting many new people, and catching up with friends (including those I’ve only ever met online). My trunks are packed and there’s a fresh pot of tea on the refreshment trolley, so I’m ready to go!

Refreshment Trolley

A visit from the Brothers Harper

Yesterday, I hosted Bob Harper, his brother Gerald Harper, and my friend David Woodhead for a layout visit. There are many interesting connections between us.

I first met Gerald when I hosted members of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers for an open house back in April of last year. Gerald got in touch recently to let me know his brother Bob was coming to North America from the UK – and bringing his exhibition-style Maine two-foot layout with him. Could they come for a visit? Of course!

Naturally, Bob and I had a lot to talk about – from the mechanics of packing a layout for a plane voyage, to the paperwork required, to how he ended up modelling a Maine two-footer. (I know how that goes – I did it myself, before embarking on the Port Rowan project.)

After a tour of the layout, we retired to Harbord House for dinner. David could not join us, unfortunately, but he did take a few photos when Bob and Gerald were at my house:

Bob Harper at Port Rowan
(Bob inspects a freight extra about to leave Port Rowan)

Gerald Harper at Port Rowan
(Gerald snaps a photo of a CNR self-propelled unit, running on M233’s schedule)

Subsequent to the visit to my basement, Bob and Gerald took Bob’s layout – Franklin in On2 – to the annual Railroad Hobby Show in Springfield, Massachusetts. You can read more about that trip on the MaineOn2 FAQ website.

If you missed Franklin there, you have a couple more chances to see it on this side of The Pond: Bob and his layout will attend the annual Ontario Narrow Gauge Show in Schomberg, Ontario in April and the National Narrow Gauge Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota in September.

Leedham’s Mill construction :: 3

It took a while, but I’ve finished all the battens on my model of Leedham’s Mill:

Leedham's Mill - Red Battens

Since this is a foreground model, I applied individual 1″x2″ strips over the 1″x8″ boards. I stained the boards before adding the battens, but left the battens unpainted. Then, when I brush painted the structure (using “Pure Red” from Army Painter – a wargaming brand), the battens came out brighter. This helps emphasize the relief on the structure. I like the look.

Leedham's Mill - Red Battens

Meantime, I’ve also clad the office extension.

Leedham's Mill - Office cinder blocks

I was unhappy with commercial cinder block sheets – I found the mortar lines to be too large – so I made my own from styrene sheet. (My comment on commercial sheets is a personal opinion: if you have something that works for you, then more power to you!) The wall turned out a little rougher than I’d like it – so I may revisit this. I will paint and weather the blocks, and test the model on the layout, before I make a final decision.

I know that Monster Model Works offers some laser cut concrete block in S scale that might work. It would require rebuilding the office entirely, however, as the product is laser cut on 1/8″ thick sheet. It’s also something that I’d probably like to see in person before buying and paying shipping on it – so it’ll likely have to wait until I get to a show where Monster Model Works is exhibiting.

In the meantime, I can continue to work on this structure. I have doors, windows, platforms and other details to build. And there are other buildings to tackle in the Leedham complex.

Yes, more tech problems

Hi everyone:

Yes, there’s a bunch of stupid code showing up at the top of my blog. No, I don’t know why.

My blog is created using the WordPress engine, but hosted on my own ISP’s servers (not the WordPress servers). Last night, WordPress automatically updated its software and while my other two blogs are fine, this one is having problems. Perhaps it’s something to do with the size of the blog… there’s a whole lot of data here.

I have an email into my ISP’s tech support group. Meantime, I’m thinking of just getting rid of the blogs – they’ve been nothing but extra work this past year, due to technical issue after technical issue. And frankly, there are more useful and lucrative ways to spend my time…


UPDATE: Thanks to Jarrod Daley, who suggested I turn off the “web stats” plugin. I don’t even remember turning that on – but it’s not needed anyway since I get stats through the WordPress “Jetpack” suite. So, it’s off – and it worked! Onto the next techsplosion…

Leedham’s Mill construction :: 2

Leedham's Mill - Office Building - Battens

Work stalled last summer on my model of Leedham’s Mill in Port Rowan, for a wide variety of reasons. But the first building for this complex – the railway’s former freight house, converted into the mill office – has been sitting in my home office since then, in plain sight. I could feel the waves of guilt emanating from it every time I sat at my computer…

On the weekend, I decided to do something about this.

I like board by board construction, particularly for foreground models, because I find that commercial siding can look too perfect, making the resulting model somewhat sterile. (It’s a personal opinion: your milage may vary.) Unfortunately, it means I’d hit the tedious – but necessary – step of applying individual 1″x2″ battens to the walls.

I cut a stack of strip wood into scale 16-foot lengths, which was a nice compromise between speedy construction and adding some joints to battens to further build character into the walls. I also framed out the windows with strip wood of various sizes. As the photo above shows, I’m almost finished the final wall. (I’ve also added the office on one corner of the freight house – it can be seen on the right side of the lead photo.)

The good news is, I’ve been setting aside a little bit of time each day to work on this project – even a half-hour makes a difference – and I’ve managed to make progress three days in a row. This feels very good, and is a habit I’m going to try to cultivate.

The opposite of extreme

These days, there’s a lot of discussion in the hobby devoted to extreme weathering of locomotives and rolling stock. We’ve all seen examples, I’m sure – but if not, Google is your friend.

Some of the models I’ve seen are stunning. But I’ve never been tempted to put any such models on a layout. Weathering styles are a personal preference, and what looks great to one person looks awful to another. Regardless, if you’re building a realistic layout I feel it’s important to develop a uniform weathering approach – a palette of colours and media – and stick to it, so that individual pieces of rolling stock blend into the scene you’re creating.

I achieve this blend by employing a limited selection of acrylic paints – a grey-black, an earth colour, and a light grey – and applying them with an airbrush. My goal is to create cars that are sporting a bit of road grime and smoke – I model the steam era, after all – without looking like they’re ready for the scrap yard. Here are some examples:

CNR 462085

BAOX 378

CNR 209503

Note that the palette can be adjusted to suit specific models. In the following two examples, I’ve added additional colours to my weathering set – white for cement dust, and rust for the interior of the gondola:

BO 530382

NYC 399574

In this example, I’ve modelled a snow plow that has recently been repainted. (That’s often done in the summer, when they aren’t needed.) The plow has very little weathering on it, because it’s fresh out of the shop. In fact, the paint is even still a bit shiny: that’s the story I want to tell. But the plow has already acquired some weathering on the blade – including some green tones where it has been pushed through the weeds and grasses that grow on the shop tracks:

CNR 55303

Even so, the basic palette is prominent, and is applied using my standard technique and pattern: Smoky grey-black near the top of the car, light grey and/or earth colours along the bottom to represent dust and dirt kicked up from the right of way, and so on.

This uniform appearance is so important to me, that even though I have my friend Pierre Oliver build and paint many of my resin freight cars for me (so that I can focus on building my layout), I always tell him I will do the weathering myself. He does a fine job of weathering – but his style is different than mine, and that would be immediately apparent if his weathering jobs were placed on my layout.

I thought that my aversion to extreme weathering was primarily because in order to maintain my desired uniform palette, I would have to weather everything to the same extreme degree. But recently, my friend Bob Fallowfield wrote a superb piece about why he too avoids the extreme look – raising an issue to which I hadn’t really given any consideration. Here’s his story, reposted here with permission…

Bob Fallowfield's CP Rail boxcars

One trend I’m seeing in the hobby is that of extreme weathering. This is where the model is completely “ratbagged” with heavy oils and often covered in various tags with sometimes only the reporting marks being the only legible lettering. While this treatment may truly represent the specific prototype of the subject car, it ruins another illusion.

Consider this: I don’t have to tell any of you about the frustration of compression. We compress track miles, structure size, train length and even time. The other thing we compress is the North American freight car fleet. Our railways are presumabley linked via interchange to the continental rail network and thus have potential access to a myriad of cars from all over. Even the size of our home road fleet is shrunken down to often a few of each AAR type. I submit that we often ruin this illusion by applying extreme weathering to our fleet of cars. That is, we make it obvious that we are limited to certain cars and not a vast fleet.

Take the once ubiquitous CP 40’ boxcar. I have approximately three dozen of them in varying schemes. Let’s say I have ten in action red. If I weather those ten in a garish, extreme, outlandish way, they will quickly become highly visible and instantly recognizable. As a modeller already fighting the constraints of compression, this is exactly the effect I don’t want. I want those ten boxcars to represent a fleet of hundreds.

Thanks for letting me share this, Bob!

(If you don’t know his work, Bob has a wonderful HO scale layout on which he is faithfully re-creating the activities of the CP Rail Galt Subdivision in and around Woodstock, Ontario in 1980. He doesn’t have a traditional blog, but is a prolific author on the Facebook page he created for his layout. This piece came from that page – Bob Fallowfield’s Galt Sub. You can also see Bob’s layout, in action, in a two-part feature on TrainMasters TV. The tour is definitely worth the modest cost of a subscription.)

Now, this doesn’t mean that extreme weathering has no place. Locomotives – especially smaller ones used on branches like mine – tend to draw the same assignment day after day, so a distinct weathering characteristic isn’t an issue. If you really must have an extreme weathering example on your layout, a branchline locomotive is a good choice – just make sure the foundation is built up using the same palette you apply to all of your equipment. The same rationale applies to vans (cabooses) and branchline passenger equipment.

My personal preference is to use the same palette throughout – as seen on this combine that’s used on the mixed train to Port Rowan:

CNR 7184

I will even apply my consistent weathering palette to unusual cars, such as this flatcar of tractors headed to Potter Motors in Port Rowan:

WAB 181

My rationale here is that even though this is a distinctive car, Potter Motors may receive several loads of tractors over the course of a year, and I don’t want to suggest that they’re all arriving on the same flat car. They are, but the car is weathered without any distinguishing marks that would draw attention to that.

Extreme weathering tends to be applied to more modern equipment – diesels, modern boxcars, and so on. This is in part because the paints used on the rolling stock from my era were a lot tougher, and withstood the elements better, so they didn’t chip and rust like modern cars. But Bob’s thoughts on the value of creating “forgettable” cars applies equally to things found on my steam-era models, such as chalk marks for classifying cars: Make them non-descript.

This also applies to the consistency of a weathering job – if, for some reason, it turns out with memorable patterns, perhaps it’s time to repaint. I have a couple of boxcars that developed odd weathering patterns on the running boards, so I repainted the running boards and took a second run at weathering them. I’m happier that I did.