My Maker Faire Experience: 2015

It’s been a month and my voice has returned so maybe some thoughts on VMMF2015 wouldn’t be out of order.

Having been to three or four editions of VMMF this was my first crack at the display side as part of the BCSME entourage. We were rather unprepared, in  fact several of us remarked in unison that we hadn’t really read the display guidelines – this while we were setting up on Friday evening… In any event we scraped through and had a fun time doing so.

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BCSME’s display featured some steam locomotives, a handful of stationary engines built in one of the club’s machining courses and a variety of typical model engineering tools for public use and display. Our fearless leader (Ian) led members of the public through the various steps involved in making low melting point metal castings while Holly and James showed members of the public how to use drilling jigs and perform basic turning. Later in the weekend Bruce had a crowd watch while he worked to diagnose a jammed cross slide on the club’s EMCO Compact 5 lathe.

For my part I attempted to make N scale brake cylinders with a stereo microscope equipped lathe. Here’s one of the handful I made:

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In the end I only managed to make a truck’s worth of cylinder blanks for two days work which is a decent hourly wage for sure but not really what I was aiming for. I spent the bulk of my time getting the lathe to work having spent the previous night raiding my parts collection to put the lathe together. As these things go I opted to steal a headstock/drive unit from a servo mill, and well, it didn’t mesh favourably with the metric(yikes!) tailstock’s centreline so that made drilling difficult/ impossible. By the time I had found one of my offset arbors to put that problem to  bed I was realising I ‘d forgotten to bring along the mirror crucial to reading my test indicator when it is upside down. And it just kept going like that until eventually the weekend ended. The funniest moment was after lunch on Sunday when I noticed my shadow affecting the display on  the laptop screen. Suddenly the part I was machining was visible to the general public! I assume that they had assumed that the part was just too small to render correctly. All that was needed was a 1″ piece of masking tape…

Oh well.

On the upside we had a constant stream of traffic. People seemed to be actually interested in what we were presenting in spite of our lack of preparation. Folk of all descriptions were interested in the melding of microscope to machine tool and what did what. I got a lot of questions about whether it was CNC or not which I guess goes with the maker territory, but hey, I’ll take it. locally it is the closest thing I have to a proper model meet where the people displaying stand a reasonable chance of being the originators of the work they show. GEARS is real but it is out of country, so I tried to make the best of the weekend. I must say it was really refreshing talking to folk who work locally be they engineers, artists or artisans. There was a sense of things happening, of work being done, and a recognition of relevant histories. Those sorts of things are important for me and frankly critical if I’m to maintain involvement in any public arena.

Next stop up is likely Oregon GEARS. I’ve already resolved many of the oustanding issues with the lathe and started to put together a little jig borer from the bits I have left over so hopefully parts can be made in a matter of minutes. A didactic has been drafted so that should help flush out the step by step nature of the job a bit better for those unfamiliar with the core concepts. One doesn’t want to leave the wrong impression about manual machining. Not these days.


I’ve included a couple of pictures below of the basic set-up I took to maker faire last month. You’ll have to ignore the micrometer thimble currently being lined and instead imagine 8 mm collets doing the work holding. As can be seen in the second image, the cross slide is a busy place! Worried onlookers need not be concerned that the microscope will fall over. In practice the stand is angled and a second clamp cinched down. For those interested, the stand is one of John Bentley’s designs and intended for the Taig lathe’s 1″ cross slide T-slot centres.  See the sidebar for John’s excellent work.






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Making ties the hard way: Basswood

These are the tools and material I use to make 3/4 depth N scale ties.  Clockwise: cutting board, 1/32" basswood sheet, adjustable strip cutter and chopping tool.

These are the tools and material I use to make 3/4 depth N scale ties. Clockwise from top: cutting board, 1/32″ basswood sheet, adjustable strip cutter and chopping tool.

Any handlaid track system that uses PC board ties in critical areas also requires suitable filler ties.  Lacking an affordable and reliable source of 3/64″ PC Board ties turned me towards homemade 1/32″ PC Board ties. These are essentially 3/4 the depth of the real thing which is neither here nor there in my application as you rarely get to see the tie bottoms. And while you can build PC board track remotely, leaving the copper clad ties dangling from the rails and shimming the bottoms, I think it makes some sense to use filler ties of a similar depth that can then be secured with a reasonable amount of glue without having to resort to any shimming..

Enter sheet basswood. For the cost of a balsa stripper, a chopping tool and a sheet of material you can actually make your own filler ties with very minimal wastage. A couple of years ago I figured I could make 1000 ties for a Canadian dollar plus my time and wear and tear on my tools. The cost (to me) of a .04″X4″X24″ sheet of Midwest Co. basswood has risen slightly since that time but I still get over 900 ties for a buck. Compare this with over $20 per 1000 at my very well stocked local hobby shop. Such savings can not be discounted among those modellers on the lower end of the income scale.

In case anyone is wondering, the reason I went with the 1/32″ stock when 1/16″ is even more readily available is that doing so  a produces a rectangular tie with a very pronounced top/bottom and sides. Not only is 1/16″ sheet more inconsistent and harder to cut, the resulting ties are virtually square (.061″X.056″) with one side very easily confused for the other during the track laying hour. As these things go, it is of course only after a neat layer of ballast and contrasting tie stain that one realises the difference. By then the effect of a decently kept western mainline has already slipped and we’re back to where we started off with ties a touch too wide.

Anyways, enough shilling for Midwest – here’s my wood tie regiment:


The strip cutter is used to cut half way through both sides of the basswood board.

The strip cutter is used to cut half way through both sides of the basswood board. I set up the cutter to cut a little undersize. Inevitably over the course of a tie making session, cutting from both sides creates a parallelogram when the ties are viewed on end.  By starting small the ties don’t “grow” in width once they are seated, sanded and stained.

Once the strip is cut both sides it is parted with the stroke of a hobby knife.

Once the strip is cut both sides it is parted with the stroke of a hobby knife. If the edge of the sheet gets ratty for any reason I sand it very lightly with my 30″ aluminum tie sander.


The ties are then cut to .638" (8'6") three at a time in a chopping tool. The piece of brass is a hard stop. The various pieces of masking tape had been used as a soft stop to prevent angled tie ends but over time the tape moved leading to ties of the wrong length and the setup was changed back to a hard stop.

The ties are then cut to .638″ (8’6″) three at a time in a chopping tool. The piece of brass is a hard stop. The various pieces of masking tape had been used as a soft stop to prevent angled tie ends but over time the tape moved leading to ties of the wrong length and the setup was changed back to a hard stop.

Several hours later you’ll have a couple of thousand ties. Time flies when you’re having fun… or something like that. Just think of the forty bucks you saved!


Small distractions: making a rail bender for under $10

Things have been  a little slow on the blog front of late in part because my hobby time has been spent elsewhere and because I’ve been making tools to help my cause which naturally takes away from actual layout construction. One such gizmo is the rail bender. Essentially an item older than the hobby itself, I remember seeing one of these in my very first issue of Model Railroader magazine. In that article they used an Orr bender to produce very neatly radiused bends for a traction layout. The opportunity to poke at a Fasttracks bender got me out of the arm chair and pouring through boxes looking for appropriate bearings and hardware. While I wasn’t able to find the right bearings I found most of the materials  in my stack of off-cuts. A trip to Princess Auto gave me everything else and left me seven dollars lighter.

The design chosen closely follows the Fasttracks model with accommodations for manufacturing process and personal skill level. Three bearings are employed, two fixed with a third bearing race moving between the fixed pair. I used a piece of 1/2″ 6061 aluminium plate for the body with a 3/8″ X 3/8″ slot up the middle to take a movable steel die block and on it the third bearing. I kept the tool body square rather than spend time making it a more ergonomic shape. Doing so makes it easier to machine and makes it easy to hold in a bench vice. The die block is captured on the top by an 1/8″ piece of plate with a slot just wide enough for the bearing spigot and bolt to pass through.

Rather than employ a spring to hold the die block firm against the leadscrew,  I opted to make a T-slot in the die block that slides over a correspondingly T-shaped end to the leadscrew. I’ve been exploring this method for use on another type of miniature bender and figured it was worth it to try it out here as well. Here you can see the die block (Cold rolled, 1018)  and cutter( W-1 drill rod). Some other construction photos follow.


hardened T-slot cutter and along with bottom face of the die block

Un-hardened cutter

Un-hardened cutter


Boring out slot ends in the top plate to .440″. Slot will be completed with 3/8″ slot drill running first up the centre and then each side; necessary for the non standard slot width.

Assembly starts with screwing the leadscrew into the lower body piece , dropping the die block over top of the screw followed by the top plate, then ancillaries such as bearings, spacers and bolts.

Functional rail bender

Functional rail bender

The rail roller is functional but unfinished in the following picture. The 33″ radius curved rail having just been formed.   Items that need seeing to include shortening of the stationary bearing bolts , finding or making a die block bolt with appropriate shoulder, drilling and tapping for top plate fixing bolts. A leadscrew knob is also in the cards though it’s a bit up in the air whether I’ll knurl it or machine grooves. Some form of marking would also help quicken set up and aid repeatability.


Making a cutter to make a part to finish something…

Sometimes while making a bunch of parts you realise things could be done differently. Today while making additional end of module track supports I took stock of everything and decided to make a cutter and see if it wasn’t possible to mill all of the gullets in the code55 rail. I got started by mounting some .125″ W1 Drill rod (water hardening tool steel) in my trusty Taig lathe. The photo below shows the beginnings of an end mill mounted up in my four jaw. I turned the rod down to .072″ which just so happens to be the same amount as the space between ties on the mainline.

IMG_8912 While I was rummaging around for my torch I found a cutter similar to what I had in mind that was already filed down in thickness and with all of the cutting edges backed off. It was hardened to boot so I stopped looking for the torch.  These cutters work very nicely in brass and I wanted to see how they would perform in nicklesilver which while soft requires a very keen edge,  keener even than for brass.  This particular double edged (can’t really say it has flutes…) cutter was a little larger than the one in the chuck at .082″ IMG_8915 copy

It worked! My setup wasn’t all that rigid and the rail’s unique profile didn’t help matters but it DID cut. I think I’ll finish the other cutter and when I do I’ll maybe mill it to give it less rake rather than just filing it in the vice. Still for a quickie cutter it saves time.

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Rail support at module joints

Here’s the end-of-module joiner that needs installing before the position of BR No.388 can be finalized. The rails get soldered to the PC board, the PC board gets epoxied to the wood and the wood glued to the ply roadbed with carpenter’s glue. Five are required before the trestle can drop into place. The rail in this instance is HO code 70 (Micro Engineering I think) that will sit just proud of the wooden ties and provide  a nice flat surface to solder to the base of the code 40 running rail. I’ve used this method before, inspired by something similar in an old issue of the P87 journal. Having gone over to milled acrylic for my switch sliders the stacked rail method is still  a robust method of maintaining alignment through module joins.

Prior to soldering the running rail, three piece wooden ties are be added and the works filed to height. Once the height is fixed the rail will be scalloped wit a keen file to allow daylight between the ties and running rail. In the past I did them with a moto-tool and abrasive disc but I find the effect much more pleasing when worked by hand.  I start with a triangular file and then move to a rectangular one to clean.



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Weathering the trestle with Vallejo acrylic paints

Here is an updated picture of the painted goings on one week after the fact.


Note the artifacts above the last bent. I flooded too much paint into the corner while painting the X-bracing. Easy enough to correct but tough to get enough light into the corner to see what is going on.

Most of the work was on the piles and got obscured by glare from the gloss black I ended up using. Seems my Vallejo setup was missing anything darker than grey-black so Golden fluid acrylic (gloss) black was used in its place but the effect is not the same. I’ll need to tone it down when I play with the final sheen. I’m still working from the far end to the near but it is starting to look better. Touching on the sheen once more, it isn’t simply a matter of spraying one thing and it is done. Doing so would negate a lot of the nice boundaries formed through multiple layers of the Vallejo paint. Instead, the outer piles will be hand painted with some very light glazes.

A black and white version of the image above.  Monochrome images can be used much the same as a painter or draftsman might use a mirror, the "flip" allowing the modeller to see something they might otherwise have missed.

A black and white version of the image above. Monochrome images can be used much the same as a painter or draftsman might use a mirror: the “flip” allowing the modeller to see something they might otherwise have missed.


Painting the trestle


Nicely weathered X-Great Northern BR 68.08

Painting is one of my favorite activities so it is a shame in a way that I don’t do more of it. It just happens that I like fabrication as much or more and so I naturally spend more time working towards painting than actually pushing it around. With BR 388 finally stuck together it is time to start painting but before that can happen I decided to look at some local X-GN bridges for inspiration.

One thing that stuck out looking at the bridges in question was the variety of colours on display. That should come as no surprise but it still sort of does. With that in mind I decided to spray a base coat of a burnt sienna and raw umber and go from there.


X-Great Northern Railway trestle over the Serpentine River


Here is the trestle after a night of spraying together with some early morning doodling with a paintbrush. The spray job turned out to be a bit more opaque than necessary but I’m working with it. As often as I paint I’m not surprised that things went a little sideways.  The upper right bent is the only area to be worked through but still needs a bit of ultramarine and Quinacridone to liven up the 6X12 ends. A few of the visible bents were stippled at high pressure (45PSI). Hopefully further treatment will bring this effect forward in places. Playing around with various types of mark making is one of the best parts of the process and thankfully doesn’t require a lot of brain power.


BR #388 finally ready for paint


10X eye loupe

After some deliberation I went back and added 500 odd bits to the top of the existing NBW which by the time I was part way done were more like plain washers. While not the best photo this shot through my mobile loupe arm shows some of the detail that was fixed and some work that still needs addressing. The little loupe arm really aids artifact checking, vital for model making in all scales. Due to my aversion to solvents I found it handy to do finish work on the NBWs right in the spraybooth. The arm was up to the task where my own eyesight fell well short.

The bolt/nut portion of the revised NBWs were made from .005″X.005″ strip cut from sheet and bobbed to length by eye. The little pieces were placed in location with a small paintbrush having loaded it with an appropriate amount of solvent. The washer was similarly wetted  with solvent. The resulting bond is actually pretty decent but just in case I decided to wipe the works with a small amount of solvent afterwards to ensure everything stayed in place.

A few of the NBWs were out of position by more than what was reasonable and in these cases I made new NBWs complete on a sheet of glass flooded with a small thin layer of solvent. Once the washer portion was dry I used the brush again to place the nut/bolt part in the middle. It takes some amount of practice but with a solvent licked No.11 blade the whole deal can be picked off the glass and placed on the model. Were I starting over (again!) I might have done all of them this way.

The little bit of strapping modelled was done with .002″ styrene. To get .002″ styrene you attack with a razor blade and scrape it down till it mics out and then stick sand it lightly to even things out. I cut it to width by eye with a scale ruler using the various ruler marks and my memory of scale sizes to get within range. Dipping the styrene in a small puddle of solvent and then brushing it lightly with a damp paint brush seems to do the trick. The process has a lot in common with decaling. A lot of folks seem to have trouble working with small amounts of styrene and solvent cements ( I use Testor’s in the glass bottle) but in most cases I get the feeling that the individuals in question tried it once or twice and went home. Like most things practice and forethought go a long way in achieving usable results. Try, make notes and try again. Most things are possible provided you don’t give up.



Going with the top rows for the 40' deck girder.

Going with the top rows for the 40′ deck girder.

This being a holiday, I took the opportunity to start in on BR 387. The bridge is a pair of open deck girders; one 85′ the other 40′. Umpteen years ago back when the GN goat yahoo group was the only source of info I had I posed a question regarding the bridge’s dimensions. Glen Haug very kindly provided me with most of what I needed to start the project. And so I did. You can see the result in the header. That was back in the days of my 4’X8′ layout. Sections of Atlas plate girder bridges were cropped and elongated to produce a model that fit the envelop.

Fast forward to today and I’m on version #3, version #2 being stillborn owing to poor technique. Using a modified Taig/NWSL riveter,  row upon row of rivets are easily embossed on what ever pitch and schedule I desire. Basically, If I can turn the punch and die I can emboss the rivet. No more trouble aligning rows or using registration rivets to work out offsets, the X-Y table, eliminates the need to ever reposition the workpiece. This new found utility does come at a price though for one needs to know what size rivet to emboss in the first place. Luckily there are some bridges available locally to inspect.  On my walks I’ve most often seen 1.25″ and 1.375″ rivets on bridges designed with similar load limits. If the rivets are to scale out after paint then best to make them a touch undersize. With that in mind I went with a .006″~ rivet shown at the top of the image.

First step will be to produce the top and bottom vertical chords and then fettle everything else into position.

Back to riveting,