Edit: It’s been brought to my attention that I’m hearing something that isn’t there and that the identity of boomer dioramas isn’t who I was sure it was. At any rate go check out the channel if you are not familiar with it already. It’s really well done.
Several years ago Dassault announced it would be changing the way Draftsight worked (and ending Linux support) When my license was up for renewal I decided it was time to move to open source software for my drafting and CAM needs. The problem wasn’t that I was too cheap – it was that I did want to pay – and own the license on an operating system that I had some control over without the need to be tethered to the internet. As a one man band I don’t have the internet where I’m building and have no intention of getting it. Unable to justify a Solidworks seat, I eventually got around to learning FreeCAD and I’m glad I did. It’s quite a versatile program, allowing for drawing, parametric modelling, FEA simulation and modest but evolving CAM capability.
As a low level user I can’t say how well it will work for others but there are a number of very good Youtube channels some of whom are included below. Most of the issues I’ve encountered were solved by mining the FreeCAD forum when internet access was a thing. For the kind of of tool, model and furniture design I do it works quite well. Formal GD&T is lacking but you can monkey around in the Techdraw workbench labelling the 2D drawing with proper tolerances. Until I learn of better my drawings are manually altered this way. I use A2+ assembly workbench since that is what was best documented when I started but there are others. CAM is another area that is under development but a lot of the toolpaths are there to get milling jobs done. For turning and slotting I do my own thing but the dev group is working on streamlining lathe work.
Cross platform downloads are available at https://www.freecadweb.org/
He’s German and funny, makes small parts with lots of tool room/hardturning /hardmilling work. Some interesting fixturing on his instagram . Just an excellent channel. He’s into model engineering/mechatronics, tackling each in a very approachable manner. Learned a lot from watching him in the last five years especially around grinding carbide tooling.
Scale thickness switch stands don’t quite fly when you’re working in the 2 pixel range. That’s no surprise but I needed to confirm it for myself. The problem isn’t so much the two pixel minimum but ensuring your feature lands on more than one pixel when lined up on the build plate. I’ve gone back into some of my files and bulked up the minimum wall thickness to 3 pixels (roughly .0056″ if it lands right) and I’ll try that tonight. The GN Std switch stand (left) almost worked, but the other tall stand, the 112G (bottom right), was a complete failure. The yet-to-be-printed 22D (top right) was modified to have no fillets, exaggerated spike heads and ribbing twice that of the prototype. Fingers crossed.
If the 22D works out I can finish up dimensioning the 20C, 36XL, Hub 2 and New Century 51A. They’re all low target stands that should be easy enough to print since the centre of mass is pretty low and very solid. Handles might be a challenge to machine on some of them. When I made them for the 22D in 1:24th scale I used press tooling to cold form the offset. Something similar would be needed if etched parts were used in 1:160. It might be easier to make a form cutter and gang mill them given the handle size but then they still would need parting off.
Rail braces are one of the harder patterns to cast in quantity. In machinable wax they take about 25 minutes of cut time per brace. They’re nice and accurate, especially for 1:160th, but they are a hard casting to pull and I wouldn’t want to make them for others. When I first started in on my resin printer build they were at the top of the list to print and be done with. The 90lb ones will be available soon. I’ve only just started making and testing the adjustable braces.
It’s worth noting that these are fairly small autonomous parts that are easy to lose and sacrifice some ease of use for the sake of resolution and repeatability. The easiest way to get around this would be to print them with to a tie base. That way, anyone could use them regardless of dexterity.
Some pros and cons for both systems:
Free range rail brace
augments existing Code 40 empires
Very small part that needs de-spruing.
Integrated switch ties and rail braces
Ease of use. One piece with all of the static details incorporated.
No critical de-spruing.
More costly (consumables/print time/repeatability).
Long term gauging essential for to-scale applications is more difficult to attain without adding reliable gauging materials. PCB being one example.
Different artwork for every flangeway/switch length/tide chart.
That said, I do have switch ties ready to print for my display table so I will probably test with them as well.
Over the past five or so years I’ve picked up the series of books Jurgen Eicharrdt wrote on machining. His practice is centred around model ship building but his technique is very well suited to the small scale modeller. All four books in his latest series are in German but they are very well illustrated and anyone familiar with work of this nature will be able to follow along.
Eichardt is East German, built his own machine tools, has plenty of opinions and is a pretty skilled guy.
Here’s his website. Scroll down to see his evolving model of the USS Cassin Young.
One source of books – they’re also on the bay and amazoon.
If you’re young enough and are interested in learning how to make mechanical items properly Robin Renzetti is the most talented person I’ve come across on the internet. His IG and youtube channels are the best I have seen in terms of execution, reduction of tasks to basics and overall creativity. Truly a master.
I think a lot of people have come across Attilio Mari’s models but maybe less so his Youtube exploits or the book that features his model production throughout the years. If you haven’t run across him, he’s an interesting character making very neat models. I’m a lover of continental electrification and his 1/32 scale models never disappoint.
I don’t like where model railroading ended up but I do have a lot of Gcode – enough that I recently acquired a down on it’s knees resin printer to make hay. At the moment the printer is barely operational enough to shrink test with but early prints hold promise. I am muddling through a homemade scanner/printer/lost resin setup independent of this printer for my agricultural/architectural modelling projects with the hope that they will compliment one another. Time will tell.
Above is the first print – well the second actually – the first was in an area of the build plate that is completely non functional. It’s a poor image but the little nubs are 1-1/8″ NBWs for a GN water tank hardware kit that I drew up ages ago. The square nuts are .013″ across, look hex to the eye, but are actually pentagonal owing to some artifacts and failing consumables.
If I can get through the testing phase unscathed I have GN/NP FT and geep dynamic brake kits, GN/NP switch hardware and PNW caboose shell kits that will be offered in N scale for sale on insta.
Historically my interest has been with the the GN three phase system and the late 50s/early 60s end time period and so that’s what I’ll be flogging at first. More recently I’ve been dabbling in outdoor 1:50 and 1:32 and have printed off shells for some of the Skagit River Railway electric locos in N scale but unless someone shows interest in that, I think that those tiny prototypes are best left to better, heavier and much more costly manufacturing techniques in proper materials. Resin printing is a cost effective way to get a decent Z, N or TT scale model shell of a wooden boxcar, caboose, or a larger boxcab for that matter, but there are limitations to the process that demand better.
I got asked to finish up a backdrop recently and so I dragged out the dollar store paints to see if I might be up to the task. Given how little I paint and how bad I am I decided to use one of those rough and cheap 24″ panels that Opus sells. That way, if I am too awful, I won’t waste any time prepping.
More or less blocked out.
As it turns out, I am pretty awful but likely/hopefully still up to the task. I think with continued practice my draftsmanship will return somewhat and then I’ll just be fighting the acrylic. I draw very infrequently and almost never paint anymore but even at that I can tell that I should be using better materials for the finished job. Dollar store stuff is very inconsistent and in general a bad move when you don’t know what the next move should be. With decent materials you don’t get the haywire colour-shifting as the paint dries and there is some semblance of opacity.* The way it looked wet versus dry meant I spent a lot of time repainting things and still ending up in no man’s land. It is kind of like drawing with an HB pencil. Someone with skill can do it – someone without can’t. I’m no Helnwein.
The image I worked from was taken near Wenatchee, WA, around the east end of Appleyard, so not too far from where the second sub ends. I chose the scene because it is similar in form and colour to the area I’d be working on at the other layout but I also wanted see what it would be like with a little omaha orange mixed in. Even with just a shell I think the colour combo is quite nice. Makes me think of the Wenatchee-Oroville or Mansfield branches.
*Even good acrylics colour-shift and are somewhat translucent – just not anywhere near to the degree being discussed here.