Playing In The Sandbox

I had plans today to get a range of jobs done however a dose of the flu really put paid to those so I decided to spend a couple of hours modelling. To be precise I spent the day cutting and shaping some “boxes” out of brass bar. The chassis of the Z20 has a number of boxes and gadgets hanging from it and the photos and plans I have show two slightly odd-shaped boxes between the rear driving wheel and the trailing bogie that I made last week. There are one of these boxes on each side of the locomotive and as such I needed two. Perhaps I should rephrase the assertion in the title that these are sand boxes: I think they’re sand boxes but I could be wrong. Luckily not knowing what they do on the real locomotive does not stop you making them 🙂

This photo shows the general shape of the sandbox I'm trying to reproduce. It's the big box in the middle of the photo with the curve on the underside.

This photo shows the general shape of the sandbox I’m trying to reproduce. It’s the big box in the middle of the photo with the curve on the underside.

For something like 25 years of adult modelling I’ve been happily working in styrene and wood and occasionally metals like brass and aluminium. It would have been simplicity itself to get a blank of the approximate dimensions made up from white styrene and file and scrape this by hand into the approximate shape I needed. I challenge anyone to tell the difference between such a shape made from styrene rather than a metal like brass from a casual glance once it is painted and in place on the locomotive. I met a modeller at a recent Aus7 Modellers Forum who was making a styrene model of a Z20 in 7mm. He was making it rivet perfect and to exact scale, both inside and out, and it was looking like an extremely impressive model. I will admit to being slightly dismayed when he informed me that he had no intention of making it able to run. What immediately ran through my mind was “why would you bother going to all that trouble and not have it run?” However, each to their own. I suppose the question I’ve been posing myself is: if I know I can make such objects as the sandboxes I began work on today from styrene, why have I gone to the trouble and expense of buying a mill, lathe and a metal guillotine to allow me to make this same object out of (in this case) brass? Solid brass to be exact.

Perhaps first and foremost in this thinking is the simple Everest response: why climb it? Because it’s there! I choose to do this, in this way, because I can and have the resources to do so. It’s because I know nothing about metal forming and tools that I’ve taken on this challenge, not because it’s comfortable and familiar. Secondly, I have a sneaking suspicion that I have an underlying snobbish attitude toward brass over plastic. Namely, that a model made from brass and metal is somehow “better” than one made from plastic. Brass; real, genuine, old school and “authentic” (whatever the heck this means). Plastic; modern, cheap, second-rate and causes problems for cute penguins (insert your own favourite aquatic animal here) as it builds up in the oceans. Very unfair I know but I’m convinced that this is an attitude secretly shared by a heck of a lot of modellers. So I’m guilty in company. Finally, I think I’m just ready to do this. I’ve been working on models for many years in a range of media and the work with metal has always been fairly limited in nature. The things I’ve made from metal have always been rather like jewellery; small details that hang from a model and act as a detail point. They haven’t been components that make up the “meat” of the model.

This photo shows the sandboxes before they are properly finished. I have a bit more cleanup and filing to do and they need to be separated into two halves before they can be attached to the locomotive.

This photo shows the sandboxes before they are properly finished. I have a bit more cleanup and filing to do and they need to be separated into two halves before they can be attached to the locomotive. I placed the 5c piece in the photo to provide some sort of scale to the brass shape.

So today I got to do some “real” metalwork. I started with a length of 10mmX10mm brass bar stock from which I cut a piece about 30mm long (just over 1″). The sand boxes needed to be about 9.75mm wide so I decided that this was close enough and left them at 10mm. However they needed to be about 7.8mm thick so I got the mill set up with a 12mm end mill and gradually shaved off just under 3mm from one side of the bar stock. I measured, marked and shaped the ends to get them to approximate the shape of the real boxes and then drilled and inserted a short length of brass rod centred in both ends to represent the filler caps. These were soldered in place using a butane torch and acid flux. I had to spend a little time filing off the excess solder and I still have a fair way to go with this job.

The next step will be to cut the bar in half, mill the two separated boxes to the correct length and bolt them to the side of the chassis. The better half has informed me that I have a whelping box to make for our pregnant Labrador over the next couple of days, so it looks like the flu excuse has run out of currency 🙂 The next steps will have to wait a few days.

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