After I coughed a few times and put on a long face I was granted a day pass to work on my Z20 today. The labrador has another 3 weeks before she’s due so the whelping box can wait a couple more days. What I wanted to achieve by the end of my modelling time today was to have the three parts I was working on (the two sand or oil boxes and the brake cylinder) made and bolted to the side of the chassis. I’ve managed that and the photo that accompanies this post illustrates this stage.

The distinction between the two brass shapes bolted onto the side of the chassis is very clear in this photo. The one on the left was primarily made on my mill, the one of the right on the lathe.

The distinction between the two brass shapes bolted onto the side of the chassis is very clear in this photo. The one on the left was primarily made on my mill, the one of the right on the lathe.

I cut the boxes in half (I’ve sort of come around to the idea that these boxes are actually for a lubricant, the feed line exiting the bottom looks too small for sand in my opinion) and got them bolted on last night so today it was time to take the big step and make the brake cylinder on my lathe. I’ve owned my little Sherline lathe for a couple of years now but I haven’t actually used it. Personal circumstances and a new job put paid to my plans regarding how I was going to use this machine, but nothing seems to prompt the use of machines like these so much as a project: you don’t just make “parts” in a vacuum, you only start to make use of the machine when you have a project. Scratch building a locomotive or a piece of rolling stock is a perfect excuse to use a mill or lathe.

The lathe has been sitting on a lower shelf on the work table I have in the garage so I lifted it and placed it on the table top, after I’d cleared it of 18 months of accumulated junk of course! ūüôā These lathes are small but perfectly formed and they are a quality product. Even to my untutored senses I can tell they are a superior product to the cheap mill I own. As is usual with me, I spent about 2 hours fiddling about with a component on the lathe and drawing a plan until I finally decided it might be a worthwhile exercise to actually trying turning some metal. I cut a 25mm long chunk of brass from a length of round bar I’d purchased a couple of weeks ago and got turning. I faced off one end (I love that kinda talk ūüôā ) and shaved the section down until I got it to the shape you can see in the photo. I then milled off a very small flat spot on the rear side and drilled and tapped a 12BA hole which accepts a 1/4″ long brass bolt passed through a hole I drilled in the chassis. I also fixed a mistake I’d made in soldering the spacer you can see in the photo in the rear, so all in all this was a very productive day.

I’d give myself 6/10 for this little part. I did plan it out but I lack the skills to get it perfect and managed to cut the ring at the base of the cylinder a bit undersized. By the time I’d discovered the mistake I’d already removed the scrap I’d used to hold it at one end so it was much too dangerous to make any changes. It means I don’t really have enough of a “ledge ” to add the bolt head detail that can be seen in the prototype photo I posted last time. This bugs me but not enough to make me go back and make a new one ūüôā I’ve already checked the swing of the bogie and it clears this hanging piece of jewellery, so everything is sweet.

The next steps will be the application of brake shoes, angle braces, some detail around these shapes and quite a bit of pipe work. After this is all done I’ll probably paint the chassis with a basic black coat and then apply pickups and put the wheels and motor back on. And of course I still have to make the leading pony truck.

Two Steps Forward…

When you build a kit of any sort – locomotive, rolling stock or structure – it’s incredibly easy to be critical of the designer and/or manufacturer when something doesn’t go quite to plan. We pay our cash, read the instructions, make a start and if something goes wrong then we all know who is to blame don’t we? So who’s to blame when something goes wrong with a scratch-built model? The person who drew the plan? The goose who sold me the nickel silver I’m building it from? ūüôā

This photo shows the parts of the chassis after I'd decided to start again. The spacers are salvagable but the rest is land fill.

This photo shows the parts of the chassis after I’d decided to start again. The spacers are salvageable but the rest is land fill.

After I had reached the stage shown in the photo I posted last week I decided to assemble the side rods for the loco. These were a set of very nice NS etchings. I was already unhappy with a couple of elements of chassis V1, not the least of these being the thin projections on the frames I mentioned in my previous post. After I’d assembled one set of rods I realized that I had measured the wheel spacings incorrectly, a mistake that was too serious to overlook – I would either have to shorten the rods (which were actually the correct length for the loco I wanted to build) or chop up the frames and lengthen the distance between the slots to match the rods. The rods are a set I purchased from DPMS which is no longer in business, so there was no replacing them if I stuffed up as I was altering them. However there were also a couple of other features in the chassis that I’d left off V1 that really would be better included and this was pushing me in the direction of starting over.

I have decided that the main culprit in this tale of woe was yours truly: I didn’t read the plans correctly, I tried to fudge a couple of elements clearly shown on the plan (the fact that the bottom of the coal bunker sits slightly higher than the height of the rest of the footplate is one of these) and the fact that I’d failed to assemble the rods before starting on the frames were all contributing factors. However what really made this an unmitigated “learning experience” is the fact that I had rushed things. And I can’t even blame that on other people: there’s no pressure on me, not even the great 20 class challenge ūüôā I don’t want a free lunch so much that I’d waste quite a bit of metal and about a dozen hours work to get the project finished. It was simply that I was enjoying myself immensely as I dug the hole I was in ever deeper.

I made a half-hearted effort to alter the chassis. I pulled it apart with the application of a good dose of heat from my 80w iron and chopped the frames in half, but it was at this stage I made the decision to salvage the spacers, go back to square one and cut some new frames becasue straight away it became apparent that I was simply throwing more effort at am already doomed venture. To make the new frames I needed a sheet of .7mm stock long enough to let me cut two new blanks. In trying to make the now abandoned alterations I had cut two short blanks I was planning to use to repair the chassis from the end of the only sheet of .7mm NS I had on hand. When I came to measure what was left it turned out that this sheet was now too short to provide the material I needed. At about this point I decided to give up model railways and join the local scrap booking circle! ūüôā

This photo shows the new frames in an early stage of development.

This photo shows the new frames in an early stage of development.

Luckily, in anticipation of just such a “learning experience”, I had ordered a batch of NS from Eileen’s Emporium in the UK to replenish my quickly diminishing stock. The only problem was that I had placed this order almost three weeks ago and the package still hadn’t arrived. So you can imagine my reaction when I got home from work on Friday to find a thin but exceedingly heavy parcel in the mailbox. I have a feeling that parcels with my name on them are diverted directly to customs for checking: not because they think what I order is suspicious but more because it allows them to have a laugh and ponder what the heck I might be up to ūüôā

This time I decided that I was going to do what I should have done in the first place; take my time, utilize my mill to accurately cut out certain sections of the frames and ensure that I incorporated some features of the prototype frames into the model which had been missing from the first version. In the photo above you can see the slight rise in the top of the frame on the right hand end. This part of the the footplate is under the coal bunker and is a feature of the batch of 20s converted from the 19 class, one of which I am modelling.

This is a photo of 2029, a preserved 20 class at Thirlmere. The slight rise in the footplate below the coal bunker is clearly discerned above the tank.

This is a photo of 2029, a preserved 20 class at Thirlmere. The slight rise in the footplate below the coal bunker is clearly discerned above the tank.

The front and middle axles now have the correct placing of 7′ (exactly 49mm) and this exactly matches the rods. As I have now finished assembling the rods I could check this before I made a single cut, what I should have done on V1. The cut lines are in red to make them stand out but there is a mistake in one of these lines on the right hand end. I’ll fix this before proceeding.

Even at this early stage I’m happy to have scrapped V1 of the chassis. I don’t like wasting time and effort any more than the next person, but this is intended as a learning exercise: you don’t learn unless you work to correct mistakes when you make them. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! ūüôā

More Frames

Things have been fairly busy for me over the last couple of weeks but I have managed to make some progress on my NSWGR (Z)20 class in 1:43.5. While things are moving more slowly than I’d prefer, I thought it would be worthwhile to do a blog update as I’ve now taken what I consider to be an important step. Before getting down to a detailed description I feel I should mention the range of Greg Edwards Data Sheets available to local Australian prototype modellers. Without this resource I’m not too sure such a project as my scratchbuilt 20 would be achievable. While the sheets are made available as standard in HO scale, they can be purchased in 1:43.5 if you contact Greg via the link. Buy the sheets if you’re building models and support Data Sheets. It’s an extremely worthwhile service.

This is a fairly low quality scan of the plan I'm using from the extensive Greg Edwards range of plans. I've overlaid this plan with some basic dimesions that I've used to order parts from UK suppliers to give them an idea of the spaces available.

This is a fairly low quality scan of the plan I’m using from the extensive Greg Edwards range of plans. I’ve overlaid this plan with some basic dimensions that I’ve used to order parts from UK suppliers to give them an idea of the spaces involved.

After making some slight adjustments to a slice from the above plan and using this as a cutting guide to allow me to produce the frames, I glued the appropriate part of the plan to the .7mm thick nickel silver sheet I’m using to make the frames and cut them out. I detailed most of this in my last post. I completed the cuts over a week ago and then I started doing some evaluation of things like the motor/gearbox combination I’d planned to use and what other materials I wanted to use in this part of the project. I had a Slaters motor/gearbox combination on hand but I came to this conclusion that this was too big for my 20 class. I visited the website of the UK firm ABC Gears and made contact with them to see if they could provide me with a motor and gearbox to suit my needs. I sent them the above plan with the dimensions overlaid on it and the proprietor got back to me and recommended one of their Mini-S gearboxes and I chose to go with a Maxon coreless 2.5W motor. I’ve read rave reviews of ABC’s products and the slow speed running of the Maxon motors is second to none, so I’ve heard. So I can’t wait to test these claims out and decide for myself. I’m assured that these motors are suitable for DCC. I also purchased some more NS sheet in various sizes from Eileen’s Emporium, purveyors of all things useful for the model railway hobbyist.

Over the last few days I completed the frames by drilling a series of holes where the brake hangers would be located and the Slaters plunger pickups.

This photo shows the frames separated and cleaned up: I've removed the paper plan overlay, filed off any stray solder and cleaned up the surfaces with wet and dry paper (600-1000 grit).

This photo shows the frames separated and cleaned up: I’ve removed the paper plan overlay, filed and scraped off any stray solder and cleaned up the surfaces with wet and dry paper (600-1000 grit). The large holes are for the pickups.

After some measuring and figuring I finally cut out the rectangular slots for the horn guides I plan to use. I have decided to stick with the Hobby Holidays ball race guides but found that these need a 10.5mm wide slot to allow the ball races to move up and down. This amount of gap is considerably wider than the prototype slot and in spite of being careful I seem to have miscalculated the amount of material I cut from the surrounding area of one of the slots (the one on the right in the photo). As a result one of the slots has thinner projections at the base of the slot than would be ideal. This will be behind the wheel and really won’t be apparent on the finished model, but I’d have preferred if they all looked the same.

Before separating the frames I decided to mill out the edges of the slots. All three were slightly under width (from .5mm to 1.2mm too narrow) but this was deliberate as it’s easy to remove material, much harder to add it back on after you’ve cut too deeply. I could have done this final removal and clean up with a file but it was a simple matter of attaching the frame sandwich to a block of wood using self tapping screws (utilizing the holes I’d drilled for the pickups), bolting this to my mill bed and accurately milling them out. It took all of five minutes to do this job whereas removing 1.2mm of material (about .6mm either side of the slot) from just one of the slots would have taken considerably longer.

Once I got this work completed it was finally time to separate the frames. In my last post I seem to remember saying that I’d “tack soldered” the long, straight, top edge of the two frames together. I used just a little flux and a small amount of solder. Well I also used my 80W soldering iron and I’ve discovered that solder loves NS! In past projects, after cutting out the shapes needed in the frames, I’ve been able to separate the frames using a bit of simple pressure from a Stanley knife. Not this time! The solder had migrated wonderfully well between the two halves and the only way they were coming apart was with plenty of heat, applied with the same 80W iron, and a bit of heavy pushing with the Stanley blade. In the end the halves separated but I’ll be a little more judicious with the solder next time ūüôā

After applying some rivet detail to the frames the next step will be the cutting of the frame spacers out of more NS sheet. I’ll probably use some more .7mm sheet but I may decide to go with something thinner, say .55mm. This will make the bends I’ll incorporate into some of the spacers easier to make. I’ll do some testing and decide what I want to use when the time comes. I also need to check all my calculations around what width the spacers need to be before I make the cuts. At this stage my calculations say they need to be 19.2mm wide but I may vary this ever so slightly. I’ll make those checks as the time for cutting approaches, possibly over the coming weekend.

Getting What You Want

Am I¬†alone¬†in growing up¬†in a family that believes it builds¬†your character to put off getting what you want¬†until you can afford it,¬†that saving for something is preferrable to borrowing and that no one ever died from having to wait a little while¬†to get¬†some of the personal possessions¬†they want? I talked about and planned on getting a woodworking router for over 15 years before finally making the purchase. Ok, I’ll concede that¬†putting off the purchase of a tool for 15 years is¬†possibly taking my parents’ dictum¬†a little far but at least no one can accuse me of rushing decisions ūüôā

Last week I achieved a long-term goal¬†when a small¬†Sherline¬†metalworking lathe arrived by courier from the US. For me the interesting feature of this purchase¬†is that it was¬† originally¬†prompted by my consideration about whether or not to purchase a 1:43.5 brass model of a NSWR (C)38 class Pacific from Precision Scale¬†about 2 years ago. At least it didn’t take me 15 years this time! ūüôā At that time I decided to put a bit of money aside in a savings account and add to this when possible to allow me to make the purchase if and when I decided I wanted one of these locomotives. To be honest, I¬†couldn’t in any way justify such a purchase on the “operational”¬†needs of my current layouts or any I’m¬†likely to build in the foreseeable future. They just didn’t run Pacifics up the Morpeth branch!¬†But this was never going to be about practicality and the operational needs of my layout: it was about the purchase of a model of a favourite prototype from a company that produces outstanding products.

So if¬†this decision¬†was about the owning of a beautiful thing, as opposed to the practical needs of my hobby, how come I ended up with a lathe, which I’ll admit is a fairly practical purchase? Thinking about whether or not to spend so much money on the loco actually clarified for me that the area I really wanted to take my hobby was into the scratchbuilding of O-scale locomotives. Perverse I know, but our¬†needs and desires rarely run along straight tracks. The reality is that the needs of my career has required me to move all over the state over the last quarter century or so and to some degree¬†this has prevented me from settling in one place long enough to accumulate the machinery I’ve always wanted to allow me to get into scratch building in a big way. So to summarize, my thinking ran along the lines that: ok I’d like a 38 but what I’d really like to do is build one myself. Result? I¬†decided to buy¬†a lathe and a mill! Simple ain’t it? ūüôā

Luckily for me PSM took a lot longer than expected to release the 38 and so my savings accumulated to the point where I could easily purchase the lathe I wanted with some left over. Well ok more than some, I have enough to buy a 38 as well. Am¬†I going to buy one? You’ll have to wait on that, I’m yet to finally decide. The real point of this post is not to boast about my capacity to follow my mother’s advice and save for what I want but to emphasize that you should aim to follow your interests in¬†the hobby and not apologise to anyone for making the choices you do. You only get one shot at this, life is not a rehearsal. Don’t let the fact that you know nothing about a topic stop you from going out and getting involved in it: I know virtually nothing about metal work and workshop machines but that’s probably the main reason I’m so interested in this side of the hobby.

So to the lathe itself: why Sherline and why this model? After research, talking to people who know about these things, looking at endless YouTube videos, working with my Chinese manufactured mill and agonizing over the final decision for ages I came to the following conclusions:

– If you’re talking small, table top lathes the choice really¬†comes down¬†to three options:¬†cheap(ish) Chinese machines, extremely expensive (but gloriously accurate) German machines and middle of the road US machines. In the end I didn’t feel I could justify the cost of a German lathe (even though I was sorely tempted) as my first machine. In addition I’m not convinced that the quality of the readily available Chinese machines is worth the money charged. If you have to spend the purchase price again upgrading the thing then where’s the price advantage? The Sherline¬†seems¬†to me to be¬†a good balance between price and quality. I haven’t¬†turned a single piece of metal on it yet and I can already tell it’s quality knocks the quality of my Chinese mill into a cocked hat!

– The Sherline has the great advantage of being light enough to allow you to mount it on a base and lift it off the work table for storage. I built the workbench you can see in the photos specifically to house my mill and lathe but this doesn’t mean I can’t use it for other purposes when I’m not using my lathe. None of us has unlimited space in our workshops so this is a feature that should not be overlooked.

– The packages available from Sherline make it easy and cost-effective to get into this area of the hobby. The company¬†seems very aware that many of the people who buy their machines are just like me, they know bugger all. I bought a package that included everything I need to start turning metal. This does not mean that I won’t have to buy lots of accessories but at least I can use the machine. My mill arrived with nothing but a chuck and some spanners so I spent weeks researching what I needed and buying a wide range of expensive parts and accessories.

– I was able to get a lathe with a factory installed digital readout. Take my word for it, if you’re thinking about buying a lathe or a mill, get one with a DRO no matter what the brand.

So there you are, another item¬†ticked on the bucket list. If you want to track down Sherline the company,¬†just Google the¬†name but if you live in Australia can I suggest you contact Ron Sher, the original founder of the Sherline company at My advice would be to make your purchase through him and not some of the more “sexy” online retailers. I saved a considerable amount of money buying my lathe from Ron and I highly recommend the service he provides.

Passenger StockPt II: The Body & Roof

While my last posting mainly dealt with the roof of the R car I’m currently building this one concerns the fitting of the roof. The photo that accompanies this text shows the carriage in its basic form: walls, ends and roof in place and sitting on the floor/undercarriage I was discussing in my last post.

Bogies Рthe bogies that come with this O-Aust kit are of the 2AA variety that were pretty standard on NSWR vehicles of this vintage and variety. The bogies come as a set of crisp, white-metal castings and are supplied with wheelsets. I found them relatively simple to assemble with low melt (Carrs) 70 deg solder. The wheels I used were from Slaters and it is wise to scrub the bogie after assembly with some cream kitchen cleanser and water straight away. Carrs red and green flux is extremely corrosive and will start rusting Slaters wheels almost immediately, so a slightly alkaline kitchen cleaner helps to neutralise the acid flux.

Sides and Ends –¬†As with the floor I wrote about a few days ago, I milled some of these components to ensure that the¬†edges that would be glued were¬†square and straight. The sides are butt jointed into the¬†ends and the corners need re-enforcement.¬†I used some square strip styrene to re-enforce the corners on the inside and used slow setting, super strength super glue with some zip kicker to glue these pieces¬†in place.

The Roof РThe roof is supplied as two over long castings that are intended to be butt joined and glued together. To get a straight join I clamped each of the roof castings to the mill table and milled one end to square it up and ensure it was clean and parallel to the other half. When I glued the two halves together I re-enforced the joint underneath with some strips of styrene, glued with the same super glue used on the corner joints. Once glued I milled each end of the resulting roof till it was a slip fit between the end castings. I did some very light sanding of the roof to ensure it sat correctly when joined to the body and then carefully glued it in place.

The only warping I’ve discovered so far in the polyurethane castings has been in the ends. There is a noticeable bow from top to bottom. This would barely show if left as is but this model is to have corridor connectors and when these are in place you can see a gap under the edge of the castings. Filler is not really an option so I’m going to have to put some thought into how to disguise this.

The next step is to attach some brass angle inside the body to allow for the floor to be screwed into place and retained.

Milling The Floor


Milling The Floor

This photo shows the floor screwed to its MDF support base and clamped in the mill. The tool I’m using here is a 6mm end mill which came in a set. As these tools are designed to mill steel, working on a polyurethan casting is hardly going to cause it much trouble. The mill’s table is shown at just about the end of its travel, this is why I had to stop half way through the job and shift the casting down so that I could mill the other end. Once this side was done, I unscrewed the casting and simply turned it around and milled along the other side.

Passenger Stock

It might not appear to be such a big challenge at first sight,¬†but I’ve come to believe that one of the more challenging types of rolling stock to build in the hobby of railway modelling¬†are passenger vehicles. I can think of a number of¬†instances where¬†I’ve been caught out working on passenger cars. One of the first¬†kits¬†I¬†assembled in HO, many years ago, was a passenger carriage and the exercise turned out to be far¬†more challenging than I’d expected.¬†I have vivid memories of struggling to¬†get the sides¬†assembled straight and true, the floor was slightly warped so that the wheels wouldn’t sit level on the track and finally, I’ll never forget the challenge of trying to get a thin piece of decal spaghetti¬†to sit straight along the side after the carriage had finally¬†been painted.

In spite of¬†all of these challenges I feel that, in retrospect,¬†I made only¬†one¬†real mistake: I blamed my modelling skills¬†rather than the kit I was building. I’ve since come to¬†realise that most¬†of the problems were in the¬†production methods used to produce¬†the kit and the way these were applied to such a long vehicle. The kit in question was injection molded styrene, however I’ve come to believe that¬†it’s not so much the materials as the process of casting itself that often presents the problems with long¬†vehicles such as passenger stock. In approaching the¬†assembly of¬†long passenger¬†stock I start from the assumption¬†that, if it’s cast, it’s likely to be warped in some way. As such I will have to address and overcome the issues this throws up as I assemble it. I’m sure there¬†is a mathematical formula to cover this but I’d wager good money that there’s a strong correlation between the length of a casting and the¬†likelihood of it being warped.

I recently¬†offered to help a friend out by assembling a couple¬†of passenger vehicles he had agreed to build for a client. These were two carriages from the R car series by¬†the Australian company O-Aust.¬†As¬†I had encountered problems with passenger stock kits¬†in the past this may encourage you to question my sanity in agreeing to build passenger¬†kits in O where everything is twice as long.¬†However I have a couple of these kits in my own collection so I¬†figured if I was going to mess something up, I may as well practice making a mess on someone else’s model rather than my own ūüôā

I’ve spent about 3 weeks dragging my heals and taking my time preparing the castings for assembly and I’ve only just assembled the¬†sides to the ends and fitted the floor. The kits main body and roof components are of cast¬†polyurethane and thus far I’ve encountered little or no warping. However this is not to suggest that there have been no challenges in assembly. I’ve found that cast parts that emerge from RTV rubber moulds are rarely of a consistent thickness and this has to be adjusted for in the assembly by a bit of judicious scraping, sanding and filing. After I had cleaned up the castings of flash I took a good look at the floor and realised that, while it wasn’t warped, that I wasn’t happy with the rough edges of the casting. The edges¬†form the main lower support for the sides and sighting down the edge, much as you do¬†when purchasing timber, it was pretty clear I was going to¬†have trouble getting the sides to¬†sit straight when the floors edge¬†looked about as straight as a dog’s hind leg.¬†This looked like an opportunity to¬†give my¬†new milling machine¬†a test drive.

The first thing you learn when you’re working with precision milling machines is that you need to start with a datum point: namely an edge or a point that you can rely on. With a casting that has wandering edges this means that you need to work out¬†the centre-line and use it because you can’t rely on the edges. What I wanted to do was mill both ends of the floor casting down to a depth of approximately 5mm and I also wanted to mill accurately along the sides to give me a square and true casting that I could use to assemble the body around.

I started this operation by making up a 12mm think MDF base from two piece of 6mm MDF that I cut and glued together. I made the bottom layer of this sandwich about 3mm wider than the floor casting and about the same length. The top layer was about 5mm narrower so that when they were glued together I had a small step along one edge to give me a slot to mill in without MDF flying about. I marked a centre-line down the length of the casting and marked a similar line down the centre of the MDF support base. When these lines were matched up, one edge of the casting sat out over the slot allowing for easy milling. I drilled three holes in the floor casting and carefully attached it to the MDF base.

I clamped the workpiece¬†on the mill’s table¬†only to discover that it’s travel wouldn’t allow me¬†to¬†mill the full length of the casting in one¬†go. This meant that, after going to all the trouble of making sure the casting was held exactly parallel to the cutting tool, I would have to¬†do half the job and then un-clamp and move it. This is a recipe for making mistakes.¬†Anyway, to cut a long story short, the operation went quite well and I now have¬†a casting that is square and true and sits neatly into the assembled¬†carriage body.

When I purchased the mill several months ago¬†I had visions of turning out scratch built locomotives and shaping metal: thus far the jobs I’ve used it for have been mainly confined to adjusting kit parts and modifying¬†castings¬†during run of the mill (pun intended) jobs I do around the workshop. In spite of this reality check I’ve¬†already come to rely on¬†the mill¬†and I am starting to wonder how I ever got along without it. I’ll post a photo of the carriage¬†when I’ve made a little more progress on it.

Building Locomotives

As an adult I’ve been modelling for¬†a little over¬†22 years.¬†I’ve been interested in model trains¬†since I was a small boy, however¬†my involvement as an adult really started in about 1989,¬†when I was browsing in a newsagent and happened to¬†pick up a copy of the Australian Model Railway Magazine. I credit the purchase of this single issue of AMRM with the start of an enjoyable lifelong hobby, and an empty wallet. I gave up smoking in September of that same year so I was probably looking for something to do with my hands! ūüôā

The sheer variety of tasks one can undertake in this hobby, and the endless list of things I’ve learnt over the years, is probably what keeps me involved. However, like most railway modellers, I have a couple of¬†favourite¬†things in the hobby¬†I like to do.¬†I really enjoy¬†the process of designing and building layout benchwork and¬†I have a real passion for building structures but, if I had to choose¬†a single part of the hobby over all others, it would have to be building locomotives from scratch and through assembling kits. This may come as a bit of a surprise to those¬†modelling friends who know I’ve only built two locomotives in the last 10 years!

There are several reasons I work in O-scale and I’ve already discussed some of these in earlier posts. However probably the most significant is the¬†fact that¬†I’m drawn to the¬†weight and heft of standard gauge¬†locomotives in 1:43.5 and the way they move through pointwork. Because¬†the key driving force for moving into this scale was the desire to build locomotives with the volume and weight inherent in¬†this larger¬†scale, for me the issue of curve radii and building an empire was a secondary consideration. Building layouts in this scale has never been an insuperable barrier to me, they simply¬†became an¬†enjoyable¬†design challenge.

My locomotive building career started in the same place as many other Australian railway modellers: building a whitemetal and brass kit of Australian outline produced in the UK by DJH. My first loco kit happened to be a Footplate NSWR (C)32 class steam loco, quite possibly the biggest selling Australian outline kit of all time. When I think back on the crimes against metallurgy I committed upon that poor, unsuspecting kit I still cringe with horror, wondering how I ever got it to run: but run it did and it continued to run till the day I sold it on Ebay after switching scales.

It’s been 18 years since I assembled that kit and I can say without hesitation that¬†from that time building locomotives¬†is the one activity in this hobby that absorbs me like no other. However, while¬†I’ve learnt a great deal¬†in that time¬†and had a great deal¬†of fun doing so,¬†I’ve had a growing realisation over¬†the last¬†few years¬†years that I want to move into scratchbuilding locomotives in a serious¬†way and there are limits to what I can do with hand tools. I’d been considering upgrading my workshop through the purchase of some bench-top metal working machinery for quite a while, but this year I finally took the plunge and¬†purchased a bench-top milling machine. I have every intention of getting a lathe in the not too distant future.

I can’t say exactly why I decided to splash out and buy the mill now, but perhaps turning 50 in 2011 had something to do with it: none of us live forever! After a lot of Internet price comparisons and looking at Youtube videos I ended up buying myself a Sieg X2 minimill. This model is sold widely in the US under a range of brand names such as Grizzly and Micro Mark, but it’s essentially the same machine as the one I purchased through Ebay. I joined a Yahoo! group devoted to this machine and I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know it and set it up to try getting it to do what I want it to.

I started this blog with the primary intention of writing about the building of my new layout and constructing¬†locomotives: well the purchase and set up of this mill – and later the other machinery I intend acquiring – is a significant element in this story. Perhaps I should be up front and admit that the extent of my metalworking experience consists of one semester of high school metalwork in Year 7 in 1974. I’m a secondary¬†English/History teacher by profession, so when I say I know nothing about this sort of machinery I mean it! Has this stopped me? Not on your Nelly! If anything, the fact that I know bugger all is a good motivator to get in an do a bit of learnin’.

The quality of the¬†X2 mill¬†could at best be described as fair to middling: for the price I¬†wouldn’t really expect¬†anything else. Straight out of the box (look on Youtube, there’s a video of a guy unpacking one) it has some fairly bad habits that make doing the sort of precise work I want to carry out pretty hair raising. For instance, it has quite a bit of “play” (the model engineers call¬†this backlash) in the feed adjustment and this is a result of the less than perfect engineering standards incorporated into the mill.¬†The milling head¬†also has a tendency to drop a couple of millimeters at inopportune times¬†that¬†can be quite alarming,¬†leading to damage to¬†the part you’re working on and the very expensive cutting tools installed in the mill at the time.

But all is not lost: by working around some of the machines idiosyncrasies¬†I’ve¬†managed to complete¬†a few small jobs on¬†my mill¬†that have come out very satisfactorily and today I completed the installation of a fairly simple upgrade kit from an outfit in the US called Little Machine Shop. I’ll set up a link in the next day or so on my blog. This kit replaces the torsion spring that comes on the mill with an air spring that is attached through drilling and tapping some holes in the mill. I have to admit that this was a very scary exercise at first because there seems so many things that I could have stuffed up! But it worked out alright in the end and you can see the result in the photo I’ll post. The air spring sticks out of the top of the mill and carries the weight of the cutting head.

The improvement in accuracy was immediately apparent and the installation was a good learning and confidence raising exercise. I’ll make some posts later when I actually use the mill to do some modelling.