About secondsub

I'm me.

Hell freezes over

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.

dry test blocked out crop

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.









Some Felt

some felt grass

A bit of felt enhanced with yarn, paint, sawdust, jute and ground foam. Wet matte medium also features prominently.


I had a sprawling bit on using felt as a grassy material but I’m not sure I agree with all of what I wrote when I was putting the piece together. It’s been a while. The main take away is that felt is cheap. The material can also be teased up to represent leafy plants layered and nested along the fast growing right of way.


Crappy Little Tree

EDIT: This is an old, unpublished post that has sat around for a number of years.

So our local train show came and went. I didn’t participate much, just fun Friday ops at Coquihalla man’s KVR http://kettlevalleymodelrailway.blogspot.ca/ where I held down the Brookmere operator’s position and then two hours at the Craftsman’s Corner to close out the weekend. I’ve always loved the idea of live modelling on the floor of a general hobby show and petitioned the committee I was on to take up the idea but since we we’re pretty bare bones at the end and I was already tied up with BC RPM the task was left to the late Jim Peters to formally  set up an informal schedule of modellers for a table on the main floor of the Cameron Rec Centre.

This year, with Jim’s passing, Doug Hicks organized us into formation. For my part I went with an old standby and showed folks how to make leaves and forest floor from sifted sawdust and paint. In the hours before the show while I was going through my boxes of supplies I came across some conifers sunk in Styrofoam at the bottom of a box. This is one of the more  garish ones that I left home:

Crappy little tree. Too green, needs some trimming but about the right shape for a 20-35 footer with lots of exposure.

Crappy little tree. Too green, needs some trimming but about the right shape for a 20 footer with lots of exposure.

By itself the colour isn’t too distracting. The shape is decent for a young tree with plenty of exposure but there is still some trimming to go. I was aiming for something small and hemlockish  that had grown along the cut line beside the tracks. Dunno how successfully- but it satisfied some other criteria – hence the post. Much of the Great Northern mailine through the Cascades  was realigned during  1927-29 and again in the early 1960’s so the trees tended to be quite small in the era I’ve chosen and these 1 – 2.5 inchers are necessary in great quantities with plausible anatomy.

Fortunately they are quite easy to make. All you need is wire, yarn, spray adhesive, something to flock with and (spray) paint.

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The yarn I used is some synthetic stuff sold by Phentex at Michael’s. I believe it is intended for slippers. It happened to be brown and stays fairly straight when you unwind it. I have a tree winder but these armatures were twisted between a vise and a pair of pliers. For more substantial specimens a layer  of tape can be added to hold the lower fibers in place during winding but that adds too much bulk to small trunks. Loose fibers are applied to the top of the trunk with super glue and left to dry. Once dry you can thin things out with a small pair of scissors and start the branch forming process. Once painted the desired shade they stiffen up a bit and further refining can be done right through the flocking process. The little paper thimble is used to shield the tree top from excess spray adhesive or hairspray. Without some care the tops can become matted and lose the delicate features that make the tree airy. I tend to mange my scenery colour by airbrushing with fluid acrylics, shooting down from the top in most cases.

The armature stage goes pretty quickly, especially with a winder or lockwire pliers. Total finished time depends on what you want and how skilled you are at getting it. Nothing new there. In the finished state they’re suitable along a cut line and don’t distract too much from larger, more prominent trees with twisted loop branches.




Blog Update

The past few years haven’t generated a lot of posts. To clear up my wordpress ledger I’ve decided to dump some of the unpublished posts onto the blog. Most of it is boring but someone somewhere might find a particular item to be of interest.


NAMES 2017 rapidly approaching

I should be writing this from a T.H. in Barrie, Ontario, but I’m not. Events conspired to keep me on the West coast for the second time in three years. Hopefully next year… If by chance you happen across this wayward blog while you’re within 20 hrs of the Detroit area I’d strongly suggest making the trip. I’ve never been to a better model meet. Nothing comes close.


On the plus side I’ll have an extra weekend to get ready for Makerfaire, June 10-11.


Vancouver mini maker faire this weekend

Just putting it out there that the show is this weekend at the PNE Forum. BCSME  has three tables. I’ve commandeered one to run a small lathe and mill from. Not sure how that will go with two machines but I’ve got a bigger safety screen this time around so maybe I’ll work more and yack less.

See you there,



Grassy Diversion

I’ve been wanting to get a better idea of what things will look like along the North edge of the Grotto plant module. Most of my recent efforts have concentrating on leveling out the roadway and the area surrounding the depot. The area needed a lift of about .025″ and luckily the prototype depot had boards placed all around the perimeter which made a nice socket to both locate the structure and provide something to butter up to with sculptamold.  With that dried, I repainted the terrain with some buff and raw umber acrylic paints and began gluing down the felt to represent grass and weeds.

I’ve got  a sheet of a drab green colour from the craft store that works alright when torn, cut, teased and painted. It’s often less than a dollar a sheet and half of one did most of what was needed. I’ll need to straighten out the grass right on the very edge of the module and cut it off  while it is teased up to remove the offensively curly bits but other than that I’m OK with the direction things are going in. Although not shown in the pictures below, I added a final very thin layer of sculptamold through the area and glued down the mowed grass behind the depot. The tuft in the foreground of the last image is where a “Grotto” sign for the back of the depot goes to alert highway travellers of their location, the highway being just the other side of the fascia. Where that sign, several sets of depot windows and countless other details are is TBD and the focus of an ongoing search.







NAMES 2016 in the bag

After missing out last year I made sure to take in this year’s edition of the North American Model Engineering Society meet. I’m sure glad I did. With the Portland GEARS show getting canceled late last year it meant I hadn’t been to a proper model meet in two years, which is rather longer than I’m built for. In any event, the show lived up to the hype with some truly first class efforts and some work that I’m almost certain I will never see eclipsed.

For those who have never been to such an event, model engineering encompasses a wide range of disciplines from telescope making to internal combustion engines to toolmaking and most things in-between. And of course these items work – why wouldn’t they?



One of the highlights  was getting to pour over construction photos of Ian Wynd’s  (Hamilton, Ontario) Bristol Mercury. Seeing the pair of milling machines and pantograph he constructed to enable him to pick out points in space on this rather beautiful radial engine proved just as interesting as the actual series of engines he is constructing. In the hour or so I spent there I learned a great deal from some one who actually had a lifelong career in a field relevant to the work at hand. That’s one of the big selling points for me – actual knowledge!



Another bright spot was finally getting to see Jerry Kieffer’s almost finished Harley-Davidson. It was only out in the wild for a few brief minutes but I will never forget seeing the bike. It is built to scale – 1:8. Quite simply it is the greatest model I have ever seen in person. It kick starts, has prototypical gauge flutter, tyres with scale valves, a tyre gauge that pumps what is needed to sit correctly and reads what it should prototypically. When you can make .009″ bolts/taps/dies at 500 odd TPI as described in his landmark micro threading article then this is what becomes possible.



And then there were the young folk, the three or four of them that I recognized from before. One of them, Marco Terenzi, (marcoterenzi.com) had a beautiful workshop displaying the working 1/4 scale hand tools he makes for a living. He casts, machines, brazes, does it all really – just like the others but he’s almost 10 years younger than me a lot younger than the rest. That’s got to be a good sign and some exciting prospects. I know I’ll be keeping tabs along the way.

For a few additional meet photos I’ve linked to  my flickr account here:



They’re under the NAMES 2016 heading.









The light workbench

Dean O’Neil was asking about workbenches on the NPModelersyahoo group and I’ve had a post in the wings since summer, so, belatedly, here it is:

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I’m running a split shop with all of the heavy, dirty stuff happening at my father’s shop and the light, clean stuff at my place.  My most recent workbench is plain and functional,  built using regular 2X4s with a decent 3/4” ply top and 1/2″ ply backboard to keep things from rolling down the back or splashing against the wall. The need for some modularity meant that I screwed and bolted everything together  versus gluing and stapling or gluing and screwing the top as I would normally. With cross bracing the table is sturdy enough for my light work. In the recent Victoria shaker everything jiggled around for forty seconds (I must be on top of a garbage dump) but otherwise stayed put. I was very relieved that the feet (visible near the stool in the picture above) did their job and kept my stuff upright.

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I stand for much of my work  and opted for a higher top and that in turn allowed the use of some 60 year old furniture for under table storage. I had thought about placing tools on the backboard but they just rattle around when I run machines or hacksaw so I keep them in the drawers for the most part. A fairly old laptop is mounted flat on the backboard, mostly for CNC use, but it also sees duty as a picture display and a CAD viewer. As the computer runs a machine it is air gapped but this is mostly a formality as I don’t have internet access. The front two inches of the table are unsupported and this allows easy mounting of small vises and blocks for swing-arm mounted lighting. Being able to clamp clear across the front makes the arrangements customizable to the task at hand.RIMG0065 copy

Those magnifying lights that everybody sells are very, very handy and, I would say, a must have for anyone doing small work. Quite often the difference between acceptable and unacceptable work on my part is related to how much light I have on offer. It can be night and day in terms of results so whatever you can spend on lighting is money well spent in my books. Something else I do whenever I can is to paint everything in the work area white. I’m not picky about sheen and I don’t need an off-white as many people recommend. The bench pictured hasn’t been painted yet and I regret that decision quite often. Inertia is the only thing holding up the paint job.




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