Wednesday 19 December 2012

Getting lettered

No, that's not a Christmas euphamism...

Add caption

I'm slowly getting there...  Lining is next!


Monday 17 December 2012

The trouble with tall people... that when you use them as crew in a locomotive, their heads stop the roof from sitting properly in place...

Observe the gap on the far corner where the roof doesn't meet the body.  That was because my somewhat aloof driver had an interference with the lead sheet that was hidden inside the cab roof for extra weighting.

The lead is now removed, and all is back to normal.  If only I'd discovered that _before_ the photo session was completed...


Thursday 13 December 2012

Making contacts

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted anything, or indeed had chance to do any modelling.  However when I was on the Scalefour Society stand at Warley (and thank you to all the current and new members that took the time to say hello and chat) I had my little Pug running up and down on a metre of plain track - just for something to do.  Whilst it ran well, it could have run better.  It stuttered occasionally at low speed...

So when I was back at home and had the chance to wield some wire and a soldering iron, I made and fitted an extra set of pick-ups:

You should be able to see that the forward wheel now has pickups both front and rear.  The outboard ones are the new ones, and they slide between the bottom of the frames and the brake rodding.  The white rectangle behind them is a small piece of cartridge paper that is epoxied in place.  The purpose is to prevent an accidental short against the frame.

Buoyed by the success of this, I went on immediately to put and extra set on the tram locomotive:

I haven't had chance to perform a test run of either of them yet, although I may just get time to do so this weekend.


Friday 7 December 2012

"Welcome to the 2mm Scale Association"

After joining at the Warley Show, a small but perfectly formed package landed on my doormat this morning.

An initial inspection shows that there are lots of tips and techniques that will be very useful for P4 modelling.  I'm going to enjoy this :-)


Wednesday 14 November 2012


And after deciding that it was simply not possible for the "interchangeable" DCC chip set-up to fit inside my tram engine, this is how it ended up:

The chip is simply sitting on top of the motor, held in place with a small layer of blu-tack.  Who said that solutions needed to be over-engineered?

I've set up a "programming track" and successfully driven the locomotive back and forth.  I haven't attempted to read or to program any of the CV values yet, as I want to get it running on a slightly longer piece of track to see what the ZTC unit does with the default values on the chip.

However I am mildly pleased that it all worked first time.  Thanks to everyone for the advice on chips and DCC in general.


Monday 12 November 2012

Lessons in CSBs


Lessons in the use of Continuous Springy Beams #17

When you load your tram locomotive up with lead sheet, so that it now rides too low...

Although it's easy with CSB's to pull one out and replace it with a stiffer one, it helps if you make a note of what gauge wire you originally put in it!

I *think* that it was 11 gauge, and I'm going to try it again with 13 gauge :-)


Saturday 10 November 2012

Chips with that?

Not an Arts graduate job at the Sign Of The Golden Arches... Instead, my first attempt at fitting a DCC chip to a locomotive.

This is where I've reached before breaking for lunch:

Chips 005.jpg

This is following exactly the excellent article by Chris McCarthy in Scalefour News 174.

The most fiddly bit so far is fitting the heatshrink tube to the bare wires. Despite using the smallest size (1.5mm) that Maplin stocks, there is still an awful lot of tube to a very small piece of wire.

However it all seems to fit, and after lunch and a trip to the cinema with a twelve year old to watch Skyfall, I'll be carrying on with it.


Monday 29 October 2012

Coffeepot - the solution

Having been stumped in my previous post, I asked the question on the Scalefour Society Forum.  Almost immediately I received a couple of very helpful replies:

Will L wrote:
It just worked for me. I have this feeling that despite what you said, you haven't followed the instructions... yet. The bit about filing down the back of the cross head in the filing guide provided. Could be that the pin will be a lot thinner when you've filed the cross head down to the correct thickness.

davknigh wrote:
What Will said. My Neilson had no problems either. Have you had a look at the crosshead from the end to see if the pin is a bit mushroomed? Filing down could be the cure, failing that I'm sure Chris could furnish another casting if you asked nicely ;)

Well, no matter what Will (or my manager at work) may think about my ability to follow instructions, I had indeed been following the instructions... Not that it is a chore, with instructions of the quality of Chris's.

I had put both of the crossheads into the filing jig to reduce the depth of them. This is yet another bit of clever High Level design, and you file the thickness of the casting down until it is that same as the slidebars...
crosshead jig 002.jpg

However it does indeed appear that I have not quite filed down far enough. When I looked end-on to the casting, as suggested, this is what I saw:
Mushroom 001.jpg
That is literally 0.1mm of metal remaining as a "cap" that made the pin look much thicker than it actually is.

So the instructions are correct, I can carry on, and the Scalefour Society Forum once again proves its value! Thank you gentlemen...


Friday 26 October 2012

Stumped by a Coffeepot...

For the first time since starting the build of the Coffeepot, I've hit a genuine, can't-see-how-this-works, problem that re-reading the instructions won't solve...

The crossheads are two very nice lost-wax brass castings. After cleaning them up, and straightening the piston rods, they are united with the connecting rods by passing a pin in the back of the crosshead through a hole in the end of the connecting rod, and then soldering a backing plate, well, on the back.

However, this is a picture showing the pin and the hole:

Crosshead 004.jpgC

You will see that the hole in the connecting rod is far too small for the pin. Indeed the pin is almost as wide as the rod-end itself... By way of scale, the total length of the crosshead is 14mm, so I don't have a great deal of metal and room to play about with.

My initial thought is to grind out (as I can't get a file on it) the pin at the back of the crosshead. Then I will drill a (say) 0.4mm hole through it, and use a brass lacemaker's pin to make a new pivot point.

Before I get out the heavy engineering tackle, is there anyone here that has either:

(a) built one of these Coffeepots or a similar Neilson and got this arrangement to work as designed, or
(b) can tell me that I've missed something blindingly obvious, or
(c) can suggest an alternative solution?

This isn't a deal-breaker by any means. The parts are all still beautifully formed, and this is the first difficulty I think that I have had and it's nearly at the end of my second tiny High Level locomotive. Knowing how good Chris Gibbon's instructions are, I do still wonder if I've missed something somewhere. Anyway, as he's now a Scalefour Society member, perhaps he can chip in on the Society's Web Forum and tell me where I've gone wrong...

Oh, and when I have it all sorted out, I've already made the clothes peg clamp to hold it all together to be soldered...
Crosshead 005.jpg


Thursday 25 October 2012

Return from Missenden Abbey

It's been a couple of weeks of being back at home and work after a wonderful weekend away modelling in the beautiful surroundings of Missenden Abbey. And the food wasn't half bad this year as well...

I didn't feel that I did as much modelling over the course of this Autumn weekend as I did in my last couple of visits on the Spring weekends. This was mostly due to a large amount of socialising with the other course participants! However the enthusiasm for modelling remains. I have had a good sort out (tidy up!) of my workbench on my return, and tonight I settled down for some heavy duty metal bashing.

I had taken a number of projects along to Missenden, but mostly worked on my Coffeepot. I had stopped working on it at home, in the evenings, as I knew that the next task to be done was to make up the two sets of brake rigging, and I didn't the three or four hours of time to sit down solidly and knock this off in one session. However Missenden is perfect for this sort of task and I soon had it cracked out. That was followed by miscellaneous fittings, and the slide-bars and cylinders.

This was the point at which work at Missenden ground to a halt, as I knew that I would need my little vice and an assortment of bars to roll the forms of the cylinder covers. These are both small and a tricky reverse curve. However I cracked on, and this is the result:
Missenden Oct 12 004.jpg

Missenden Oct 12 005.jpg 
There has already been some tidying up of the soldering (I was in a splodge-it-on strategy, to get them firmly in the correct places without moving) , and tomorrow night will bring the cylinder end covers into place...


Wednesday 19 September 2012

Making progress... 4 of 5

Just a short update on this locomotive.  It's an M&L GWR 1076 (or "Buffalo") saddle tank.  It was also the first or second P4 locomotive that I built, at the age of 18 or so.

Over the years it has got a little battered, so it is being "refreshed".  That includes doing a decent job of painting the cab fittings.  I found an excellent picture on the website of the GWS, and used that to prepare the cab.  The cab itself is now and authentic green, which I never knew at the time that the model was built!

This will never be a "state of the art model" but I really like it for sentimental value :-)


Monday 17 September 2012

Making progress... 3 of 5

Whilst I had my weathering paints out (or rather the Citadel washes) I made a start on the ex-L&Y Pug that will be an industrial engine.  

I did the cab area, in the first stage of an exercise to tone down the colours to match the weathered state of the brick red livery that I have in a photo of a similar saddle tank from the 1960s.

The first picture shows it with the cab off, and the firebox and back of the boiler made suitably grubby.  This was by using black washes to sink into the textures of the castings and leave the highlights just a little duller.

The second picture shows the challenge that I will have when I finally bring the body and cab together.  Because this is an RTR model, the cab simply clips into place.  That means that there is quite a wide join that I will have to fill and disguise.  I'm thinking that creeping decrepitude means that the vertical sheet meeting the footplate will probably be quite rusty and grimy.

However the join is less obvious when viewed from the side.

It's got some way to go, but I feel that it is starting to look the part...


Monday 10 September 2012

Making progress... 2 of 5

Readers of a certain stamina may recall that I had a small disaster when previously trying to weather the timber upperworks of my tram locomotive.  The weathering mix that I applied had dried glossy, and I was concerned that I would have to strip the paint off and start again.

My success with the Citadel washes meant that I was willing to give them a try on this model, before turning to something more drastic.  And this is the result.

Much more matt, and a convincing settling of grime into the grooves.  I've also used a more reddish colour ("Raal Red" - no, I don't know what a Raal or raal is either...) on the inside to bring out the planking.

Although not visible here, the floor has also been made grubby.  I nearly became carried away and did the roof as well.  However common sense saw the better of me, and I'm going to wait until I have studied a few colour photos to see how the weathering patterns can be made more realistic, rather than just my impressions of the effects of smoke and rain.


Sunday 9 September 2012

Making progress - 1 of 5...

It's time to move things along.  I have too many pieces of rolling stock that are sitting around waiting to be finished, and I'm dithering from one to the other.

So early on Sunday morning, I bit the bullet, picked up the paintbrush and had a really good session of getting to grips with my work in progress.  The first thing that I went for was an LNWR wagon.

This is the Ratio plastic kit, fitted with MJT rocking W-irons to provide suspension, and an etched nickel silver brake lever which I think came from Ambis.  This wagon was basically completed, and I can't remember how long ago it reached that stage - ten, fifteen, twenty years?    Anyway, it had been battered a little bit in moving from house to house, and it needed some paint chippings repairing, and the rather mangled Sprat & Winkle couplings replacing.

When that was done, it was time for some weathering to reflect the reality of late Victorian/Edwardian railways.  This was done with a mixture of Citadel miniatures washes, which really do work as well as others describe.  I think that it was Craig Welsh that first brought them to my attention.  I think that there will still be room for "traditional" weathering techniques, such as described by Martyn Welch.

Anyway, this is how it turned out.  The load is an assortment of packing cases from an old packet - made by Knightwing, I think.  I still have a lot of them to go through!  The pale grey sheets are actually lead sheet, folded and glued into place to add weight to the plastic kit.  They started off dark grey - normal lead colour - and have oxidised to this colour over the years.  An illustration that acts as a warning to support those tales of exploding boilers!

Anyway, I'll try and keep this one safe this time, and not get it damaged again...


Saturday 8 September 2012


When I acquired the Ulpha Light Railway, I was fortunate that it wasn't just the baseboards, it included the whole supporting package - trestles, sub-baseboards, lighting rig, etc.  Until now, apart for a quick test assembly after I brought the layout home, I've done nothing with them apart from move them from place to place around motorbikes in the garage.

However as today's weather was so lovely, I had the opportunity (after painting half of the front garden's fence) to get started on renovating them.

Just as with most things on the layout, the underpinnings are a little "tired".  I've dismantled the trestle legs and scrapped all of the rather rusty fastening bolts.  Nice new stainless ones will be their replacements.

And to get rid of the wear and tear, each leg lower was cleaned by sanding it down on all sides, and drilling out the adjustment holes to a constant size to match the new bolts.  If I get chance tomorrow, they'll get a coat of paint.

And the sub-baseboards that sit on top of the trestles and form the foundation for the proper baseboards were a little flexible under load, so they have now had a good "glue and screw" to make them more rigid.

Unfortunately by the second one, I had run out of g-clamps, so it is currently resting under an assortment of cans from the garage!

If the weather holds tomorrow, and I get the time, I can start painting them.  Now this feels like making progress!


Saturday 1 September 2012

Chequebook modelling...

That's a phrase that I dislike.  

Personally, the whole reason that I do railway modelling is to create something.  The enjoyment is in the making, and not the purchasing (although a look at my stock of unmade kits may suggest otherwise).

However when I look back and realise that the last entry on this blog was four months ago, I realised that (1) I needed to find more free time to pick up a soldering iron or paintbrush, and (2) that the only modelling that I had done in that time was of the chequebook variety.

Waving a debit card at the RailWells show in August saw me come back home with one of these:

I have read many of the pros and cons of the ZTC 511 controller.  In particular, both Tim Venton and Gordon Ashton spent much time actually showing me the way that it is used, and I thank both of them enormously.

Finally, it came down to feel.  This is a tactile system to use.  It gets me away from the computer style of interface that I have to deal with all day.  To me, it looks "right".

So the next steps will be to get one of my locomotives that is under construction "chipped up" and see what it can do...  Oh and find some more time for Real Modelling!


Monday 30 April 2012

Saturday session

The non-stop rain in Hertfordshire meant that I was largely confined to home this weekend, apart from a spell in the garage to continue painting the floor, and a spin on the SS up to the garage where my car is, as I had to choose the colour of new carpets to go in it.

So on Saturday I had the opportunity to do a little more work on the Coffee Pot.  And what a joy it was, as the design quality of the kit showed itself again.  Below are a few pictures showing what I mean:

To make fixing the cab handrails easy, Chris has designed in a cross-brace that goes across the entire cab opening.   This means that there aren't tabs or flaps that can get bent earlier in construction, and the whole thing strengthens the cab whilst it is being assembled.

You then insert 0.4mm wire through holes at the lower end, and then solder it to the cross-brace.  As you can see, cutting the wire overlength, and then soldering it (messily but strongly) on the side away from the cab means that it is securely fixed.

And  this is the end result.  I'd already done the other side of the cab.  The cross-brace was first snipped in the middle with my best Xuron sidecutters, and then the remains of the cross-brace trimmed back.  The final touch was a few strokes with a fine needle file to round off the edges.  Looking at it in close-up, this one isn't quite perfect, as the rear rail comes in slightly at the end.  I always forget to use things like scraps of wood to set handrail depths so that they are absolutely parallel :-/

Next steps involve the buffer beams.  These are cast whitemetal, which has three benefits.  Firstly, it adds weight in a really useful place on the model.  Secondly, it allows for the proper prototype construction of steel-timber-steel to be replicated.

And thirdly, it allows for some really crisp rivet detail to be incorporated.  This just wouldn't be as fine  if the whole buffer beam was a single casting.  Just have a look at the detailing that is on the _rear_ of the bufferbeam.  This would hardly be noticed when the model is completed, and yet it is there...

Then it was time to put on the outward facing overlays to the castings.  To do this, and make sure that they were in exactly the right place, I pre-tinned the etched brass and and held it in place using miniature clothes pegs.

 From a sightly different angle you can see how the sandwich construction of the bufferbeam is faithfully reproduced.  With the etching held securely in place, all that I had to do was to place a drop of flux at the edge and flash some low melt solder around it to fix it firmly in place.

This was helped by being able to stand the model vertically in my foam cradle, which grips it just firmly enough to be used as a "third hand" and unlike a vice means that there is no risk of accidentally damaging it by crushing the model.

Finally, the cast whitemetal dumb buffers were fitted, which gives more useful weight, and the whole thing was given a comprehensive clean to remove the excess flux.

I'm really pleased with the session's work.  Next, it's on to the boiler and tank fittings...


Tuesday 24 April 2012

Watchmakers' work

Apologies for the delay in posting - Blogspot seems to have had a funny couple of days :-(

One of the things that I really love about High Level Kits is that they are such fiddly things to build.  Not difficult, certainly not badly designed, but containing such a  level of detail that it really pushes the boundaries of your skill levels to do the job properly.

Last night was like that.  After a long and tough week at work, which meant that I wasn't able to join friends in either Hay on Wye or Wakefield for the weekend, for various other reasons as well, I determined that last night was going to involve some modelling.

The next thing on my list of instructions (I'm on page 7 out of 18, and this is for a kit that is under 8cm long!) was to fit the clips that hold (what I think are) the sandbox operating rods.  These clips go under the saddle tank, and are soldered to it.  Here are a couple of pictures of the work completed:

They are each made from a single small piece of etched brass, soldered in place and then bent over to form a clip. However to give you some idea of the size of the part, and the level of detail that is built into these kits, when you bend the half-etched part of the clip over, to ensure that it takes the correct shape you use a piece of 0.4mm wire as a former!

After this, there were a couple more brackets to be fitted to the front of the tank, and a couple of valves to be mounted on those, and it was finally fitted in place and soldered to the bunkers and smokebox. And as you would expect from everything that this kit has been so far, it fitted together perfectly...

A quick wash down with lashings of ginger beer, or rather Carrs Acidip, and a trip through the ultrasonic tank to clean it up, and it was looking lovely :-)


Sunday 8 April 2012

Tank shaped...

Here's a quick update of the completed (but not yet detailed) tank.  Not annealing the side panels and bending them in the approved manner doesn't appear to have affected the end result:

And here is the tank in place in a trial fit on the locomotive:


Friday 6 April 2012


Both metal, and the rules :-)

But more of that later...  First of all, this is how the saddletank has gone together so far.  It's a very clever design idea.  First you build a stout subframe that will keep everything square, and then you put the top and sides in place.  These are held in place with etched tabs whilst you solder it together, and then file the tabs off after all is done.

This is the subframe assembled with the panel of the tank top already in place.  This is located over vertical tabs which have been filed off leaving just the faintest of traces.

The horizontal tabs are left in place as they are used to locate the side panels of the tank.

This is the tank subframe from underneath.  The plate with all of the holes in it acts as a reinforcing piece for the assembly.  The multitude of holes is to enable you to easily solder it in place.  I used an RSU to join them together, so it was less relevant for me, but if you are using a conventional iron, then you can flood solder through the holes.

Now this is where I started bending the rules, as well as the metal.  Normally Chris's instructions in High Level Kits are absolutely spot on, and indeed they come with a sizeable health warning not to alter them and try to do your own thing.

However when it came to shaping the complex S-curve  that makes up the sides of the tank, I felt a little nervous.  The instructions state that you should anneal the panels prior to bending them.  I'm never comfortable at my ability to anneal brass evenly, and to the right extent.  Added to the facts that the panels themselves are already half-etched, and that I was not confident that the completed sides would not accidentally pick up dents in the softened metal, and alternative approach was needed.

So I started off by putting the gentle curves at the top of the tank in by pressing the metal around a largish diameter metal rod on to the mouse mat on my desk.  Then I clamped the panel against the rod in my modelling vice, and used a further rod to gently ease it over, as in these pictures...

You can also see the gentle bend that I put in at the top of the tank from the pressure on the mouse mat.

Well, this may not be the recommended way to form the curves in the tank but I seem to have got away with it.  This is the first panel fitted into place on the tank, and held in place only by the locating tabs.

I've now done the second side panel as well, and maybe later tonight I'll get chance to solder them in place.


Great balls of solder...

Or rather, very tiny ones...

After the arrival of my vials of solder from Hong Kong, I couldn't wait to try them out.

This is the top of the saddletank of the Coffeepot about to be soldered into place.

- position parts for soldering on the RSU (which is why it is all silvery - that is tin foil used as the negative terminal)
- apply spot of flux using pipette bottle
- apply single 0.7mm ball of solder using tweezers
- place RSU probe, and press [on] switch

Zap...  and a very neat join with no cleaning up required.  I like this :-)

If anyone else is thinking of ordering these solder balls, I'll just confirm that for 4mm, the 0.7mm size seems just right.  Anything smaller is just too damn fiddly to manipulate easily, although I can see that "pouring" them into place will work well in certain circumstances with the very smallest size.


Wednesday 4 April 2012

The right tool...

Every so often, having the correct tool for the job makes life so much easier.

The otherwise excellent instructions from High Level for their Coffee Pot kit refer to using a piece of wood to bend the inner of the saddle tank squarely up.  Or you can do as I did and use a Hold-And-Fold tool.  

Very easy, very accurate, and you should get perfect straight bends.  It's one of those "investment tools" that you don't use every day, but when you do, you reflect on just how easy it makes things...


Monday 2 April 2012

Eastern promise

One of the joys of the internet is that it makes all sorts of things available to you from all sorts of sources, that you possibly never even knew existed before...

When returned on Friday from a business trip to Singapore, I found a package waiting for me...

Lots of pretty coloured stamps on the outside!  It was the contents of it that I was really interested in.

First up was a set of electronic tweezers.  These (apologies for the rather blurred shot) are unusual in that they have plastic tips on them so that they don't short out electronic components. I was curious what they would be like.  

They don't have as fine a point as I expected.  However the fact that the tips are made out of plastic will make them very useful when I file grooves in the ends of them to pick up what came out of package next...

These are an assortment of small - that is a one pound coin for size comparison - glass vials containing balls of solder.  I went for a "trial pack" which contains different size balls of sizes 0.75mm, 0.45mm and even 0.3mm.  And there are 10,000 of each size in each vial!

When I saw these, I was amazed at the possibilities for really precision, clean soldering either using a conventional iron or more likely an RSU.  These offer a really precise way to get as much or as little solder in the joint as you wish.  I have no idea what they are used for in the electronics industry, yet to me they offer lots of possibilities.

And finally to the real reason why I had been browsing on Ebay:

Small pipette bottles.  For the last couple of years, Tim Watson has used these during his soldering tutorial at Missenden to hold flux.  They allow it to be dispensed in a much more precise way than the traditional mucky paintbrush.  Even Tim says that these are getting more scarce for him to find through his chosen trade of dentistry, so I thought that I'd have a look and see what the internet could throw up.

These cost not-a-lot each, and I got four of them.  Each one comes with a variety of different sized nozzles so I'll see what gives the best control.  And they should be a lot less messy when the inevitable happens and they get knocked over on the workbench!

What was perhaps even more impressive was that I ordered these last Sunday before I left, and they were waiting for me on Friday when I returned home.  That's a turnaround time that many dommestic businesses can struggle to meet.  It just reflects the impeccable service culture that I have found all over Asia.