Friday, June 21, 2013

Holes In The World

As you may remember from my initial track plan for Jerusalem, the line will emerge on the left from a tunnel and then exit under a road bridge on the right. You've already seen the bridge in a number of the mockup posts (here for instance) but I've now built the tunnel mouth as well.

These are both built from kits (specifically this and this). The tunnel mouth was really easy to build and went together without any problems at all. The bridge, however, is actually my third attempt and it's still not perfect. The problem is fitting the arched roof. I found it almost impossible to follow the instructions without destroying the printed pieces. In the end I figured out an easier way; instead of attaching the two main sides together and then fitting the roof, I used the roof to join the two sides.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Modelling With Lasers

One of the reasons I like using 3D printing to help produce models and parts for railway modelling is that I can spend hours tweaking a model on the computer, knowing that I can easily revert back to a previous version. Once I'm happy I can then print as many copies of the model as I want, safe in the knowledge that each will be identical; not something I could guarantee if I was building the model from a kit as my modelling skills aren't that accurate. For the same reasons I've been thinking about using laser cutting for a number of projects. In a future blog post you'll see what I was actually wanting to create, but here I want to show you what I did with the off-cut of acrylic.

When I opened Penistone Railway Works I designed the logo to follow in the age old railway tradition of makers plates. These were usually made from brass and bolted to the cab side of each locomotive to record when and where it was made (very useful for knowing who to contact for spare parts) and the tradition lives on with many modellers producing etched brass versions for their models. So turning the logo for Penistone Railway Works into a physical item seemed like a good use of the spare corner of acrylic. It's difficult to judge the size from the photo but it measures 5.4cm across and I had acrylic left over as the online service I used, RazorLAB, offer each of their materials in one of three sizes; 7, 15 or 31 inches square. I was using the smallest size but I didn't need the entire sheet, hence the makers plate.

I had used InkScape to draw the original logo as an SVG file so that I could easily scale it to produce different sized versions (SVG does stand for Scalable Vector Graphics after all), and RazorLAB uses SVG files to guide the laser cutter so it was the work of only a few minutes to tweak the logo for cutting. Just as with Shapeways, for 3D printing, the process is very simple; upload the file, select the material, pay, and then wait for the postman. I choose to use the 3mm black acrylic as it fit perfectly with my main usage (which will get blogged about at some point), but they will also cut corrugated card, felt, mountboard, plywood, and MDF with many of the materials available in different colours and thicknesses which would open up a range of interesting possibilities.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Other End

While the first side of the factory building I'm currently constructing took a full weekends worth of modelling, the other end, although more complex, came together much quicker. Once you get the hang of how sections are constructed the repetition is actually quite helpful.

I did manage to catch the bottom of the brick work with the modelling knife which was a bit of a shame, but I've covered over the mark with a brown felt-tip pen to hide the worst of the damage. When I bed the model into the surface of the layout (so it doesn't appear to hover), I'll find something to hide the damage behind; probably a clump of weeds or something. Anyway I wouldn't want the factory to look pristine so a little bit of wear and tear is fine. Given that it's supposed to be a dark satanic mill I'll need to add some soot over the whole thing anyway which will hopefully help to hide any small blemishes.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Better Ballast

Following on from the previous ballasting experiments I've now tried out a better mixture of the two Woodland Scenics grey ballast products I tried before. I didn't measure out precisely but I was aiming for a mixture of 90% gray and 10% light gray. Hopefully you'll all agree that this looks much better; it's fairly dark but with some subtle variation.

One thing I still have to work on is painting the rails. While the acrylic RailMatch paint works well on the plastic sleepers it doesn't seem to work so well on the metal rails. It goes on fairly well but when I try and clean the rail top (to ensure electrical connectivity to the locomotives) it peels off the sides in chunks as well. I don't really want to have to prime the rails but I might have to unless I can find a better solution. I've picked up a bottle of RailMatch enamel sleeper grime to see if it behaves better than the acrylic version so there will be more experimentation.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The 39 Steps

Okay, so there are actually 39 parts not 39 steps but, ignoring a rushed bit of ballast experimentation, this represents the sum total of the weekends modelling progress; the outside facing of the simplest of the two smallest walls of, what will become, a dark satanic mill (actually the factory model from One simple wall might not seem like a lot to show for a weekend of modelling but I'm fairly happy with it.

This wall will have the chimney attached to it, hence the lack of windows, which is why it was the simplest wall to build and hence the one I started with. Even so each panel is made up of at least 3 layers and the window obviously includes the etched brass window frame from Brassmasters and frosted filthy glass (the glass is actually tracing film which isn't completely transparent). The number of pieces explains why it took a full weekend to finish (modelling wasn't non-stop but there was a fair amount of it).

The time spent constructing the wall is well worth it though, as the multiple layers really add depth to the model. In N gauge adding relief to the brickwork is probably overkill (unless the wall is made out of very large blocks), so the depth imparted by the layers is really important if you don't want to end up with a simple cardboard cube.

Hopefully I'll be able to get on with constructing the other four walls soon, although possibly not this week as I travel to Edinburgh for a project meeting on Wednesday and won't get back until the end of the week. Given the amount of work I have to do to prepare for the meeting I doubt there will be much more modelling before the weekend. Fortunately I have the basis for a number of posts so hopefully I'll blog about something or other railway related later this week.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Question of Ballast

While progress in the layout might have stalled slightly this week (long days travelling into work to teach on a training course), I did manage to spend a little time yesterday experimenting with track painting and ballasting. I was going to do a post on what colour to paint the rails but after an initial experiment trying four RailMatch paints; sleeper grime, light rust, dark rust, and oily steel. There really was no contest though as only the sleeper grime looked at all convincing. The added bonus is that I was already intending to use it to paint the sleepers so using a single colour for rails and sleepers will make the job much easier. Having fixed on sleeper grime I repainted all the rails (although not very well as you can see the light rust peeking through) and then set about experimening with different ballast colours.

As you can see from the photo I've tried three different approaches (I did this in a bit of a rush hence the ballast isn't very neat):

I used two different colours of Woodland Scenics fine ballast; gray and light gray. The gray ballast is on the left and the light gray in the middle, while on the right I used a 50/50 mix of the two. Personally, none of these looks perfect. I think the gray looks the most realistic as the other options are two light, but it shows almost no variation in colour which isn't really very natural. I'm thinking I'll try another experiment using a 90/10 mix of gray/light gray to introduce a small amount of variation to the gray ballast while maintaining the darker colouring, but I thought I'd ask what you, my dear readers, thought of the different options.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Disused Pit Of Gloom

I'm doing a lot of teaching this week, so there will be little time for any real modelling until the weekend. Fortunately I have another history post to keep you all entertained.

While looking into the history of the railway in Penistone I've seen a number of brief references to there having been a turntable not far from the station, but it wasn't entirely clear where it had been positioned. During my research into the apocryphal cow I spent some time looking at old maps, at which point the location of the turntable, just south of the station, was easy to to spot (this specific map dates from 1931).

By 1965 the turntable had disappeared from the maps and I so I assumed it had been filled in or built over, especially as I'd never seen any sign of it while walking to and from the station. It isn't always easy to relate old maps to the current terrain, especially given how much the area around Penistone station has changed since the maps were drawn, so imagine my surprise last winter when I almost fell into the turntable pit.

There are actually two footpaths along the railway linking our house with the station. Originally there was just a path right alongside the line, but a couple of years ago a second path was added a little further from the line side to give better pedestrian access to a new housing estate. During the summer this new path is full of interesting wildlife and plants, including a fantastic display of lupins and some interesting caterpillars. During the winter it isn't quite so interesting but it is slightly shorter, so on one icy day I followed the path hoping I'd reach the station without falling over. A combination of the snow highlighting things differently and the lack of undergrowth meant that suddenly there was the turntable pit. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera on me so I had to go back a few days later for some photos.

Given the number of trees growing within and around the pit it's impossible to get a good photo showing its full extent, but from the left hand photo you should be able to get a fairly good idea of its size. I'd hoped to explore the pit a little more during the summer when it wasn't quite so wet and boggy looking, but of course as soon as spring arrived more shrubs grew up making it less accessible. When winter comes around again I'll try and take a better look.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


No I'm not setting my railway in Herefordshire, it just seemed the most apt post title.

At the right hand side of my layout the road runs right along the backscene and I needed something to breakup the join between land and sky. I had thought about a row of hedges but I don't think I've left enough room, so I decided to use a drystone wall instead.

On the way home from work on Thursday I had a look through the options in my local model shop. While they had a number of options in the end I settled for the Hornby granite wall pack. Having moved to modelling in N gauge I didn't think I'd be buying anything from Hornby again, but this item comes from their 9mm scale Lyddle End range. I believe that this small range was a "toe in the water" to test the marker which obviously wasn't very successful as they have now discontinued the range. In the pack you get 8 identical straight wall pieces and four corner pieces. Unfortunately, having got the pack home, there are a number of problems, fortunately none of them are insurmountable.

Firstly the colour is not right. Remember I'm modelling an area with a dark satanic mill so walls will be covered in soot etc. When I bought them I assumed that they were actually unpainted, but on closer inspection it appears that they are lightly painted (a dark wash in some of the joins, and green highlighting for moss). This isn't a problem as I'll simply repaint them when I paint other rocks on the layout so that it looks as if local stone was used to build the wall.

The more troublesome issue is that the sections of wall don't fit together very well. I only need a short section of wall (less than 2 pieces in length), and so I've chosen the two pieces that fit the best but that still leaves a rather large hole in the wall (you can see daylight through it even in the photo). Fortunately a little bit of milliput worked into the gap with a cocktail stick fixes this problem, and once the wall is repainted it should be fine.

As you can see I've already cut the left hand connecting piece of so that it will match up against the bridge parapet, but I'll wait to cut the other end until the scenery is finished to make sure it goes all the way to the edge of the board.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Those of you who have been reading from the very first post on this blog may remember that one of the issues with my childhood model railway was that it was completely flat. The track was attached to a 6 foot by 4 foot piece of chipboard that lived behind my wardrobe. This meant that I couldn't have any scenery or buildings permanently affixed to the layout. Of course the real landscape is anything but flat, and so I was determined that my new layout, even though it is small, would have a gradient of some form and a rolling landscape of some description.

The track gradient was easily achieved using the 4% risers from Woodland Sceneics, which I blogged about a few posts back, and now those are in place I can start to add the landscape around the track. This is still most definitely a work in progress, but I thought I'd show the small corner of the layout that I've started to landscape as it shows the different construction materials/methods I'm using.

Essentially I'm going for the age old approach of plaster bandage (the stuff that they used to set broken arms with) laid over damp crumpled up newspaper; this is how the hillside on the right was formed. I'm supplementing this with polystyrene and cardboard formers to to help guide the plaster. So for example, I've built up the road way from pieces of polystyrene cut to size which will then have plaster cloth laid over it to form a hard shell. To add some extra interest I've also been casting light weight rock outcrops that I'll embed into the plaster (you can see a small piece to the left of the tunnel). These are again made using products from Woodland Scenics. Because my layout is quite small (it's just 74cm by 54cm), I've found that a lot of the Woodland Scenics Learning Kits come with enough materials to cover the entire layout. As they come with smaller bottles of paint etc. they are a economical way of making the landscape. So far I've picked up both the rock faces and the landscaping kit which together should give me almost everything I need apart from trees. Once the plaster cloth is all in place, I'll then cover everything in a thin layer of polyfilla to give a smoother surface and to fill in the holes in the plaster cloth.

Of course making the landscape in this way is a messy business so progress will be slower than it has been, as I have to wait for a fine day where I can move the layout outside -- making up plaster cloth and polyfilla in my study doesn't seem like a particularly wise idea!