Making headway with the Cricut on cutting walls

Well, since the first tentative steps with my newest tool on the weekend, I have been experimenting and reading others blogs and watching youtube videos, and learning. The good news is, that I have identified things I did wrong in preparing my first cuts from drawings exported from my 3D modelling software. This is good as it means I likely won’t have to re-draw my models in the Cricut Design Space software.

Learning in importing images to the Cricut Software. Select Complex, delete the areas that are not part of your part, and you get a solid silhouette, the software reads this as a part.

When I imported my first image exports to cut, I didn’t bother to read anything in terms of instructions or manuals, and just assumed how things were supposed to be done, and I got a weird double line cut from the Cricut. When I redrew the parts in their software, I got the result I expected. That said, I wasn’t willing to give up and assume I need to do double the work. In looking at other model railroaders commentary, I realized I deleted too much material on the image import. You need to leave the areas that you want as the part filled in, so it creates a solid shape when it finishes the import.

With that knowledge, I had been continuing to mess around with making cuts and the software, it was time to go big as it were, and start experimenting/working on the large wall of the Hinde & Dauch Paper building that was daunting me and drove me to looking at the Cricut. This wall alone has 37 openings, most of them doubles with a thin lintel connecting two larger windows. This was, in the ways I’ve been manually cutting openings, was a monster of a task. With a few days experimenting and learning with the Cricut, nothing says madman like leaping in with both feet and just giving it. Styrene is cheap. I would rather learn by doing than think myself out of things. Worst case scenario if something doesn’t go right, I’ll hopefully have learned something and give it another go later.

Getting set on the kitchen table with the 12″x24″ mat and a large sheet of 0.030″ Styrene. First attempt on Card Stock for checking scaling, then after some adjustments, onto the styrene. This cut took over 6 hours to run and get the windows 90% cut through the styrene.

The setup for the cut said it was going to take close to 6 hours for this large wall of windows. After watching about 2/3 of the process, it was time to go to bed and just let it run and see what awaited me at breakfast time in the morning. The results, were pleasant in that it was exactly what I was expecting. I knew the settings I was using would need a final score with a knife blade to pop out the openings, which is fine by me. I know going forward it will be possible to have the Cricut cut all the way through by doing extra passes at the end of the regular cuts. I will experiment with some small cuts to find out who many extra passes it takes to go all the way through 0.030″ styrene sheet.

Looking at the Cricut cut wall, getting openings popped out and seeing if the resin windows I’ve cast fit, and looking at the whole wall ready for bricking.

In the course of an hour at lunch and my work breaks today, I had all the windows scored and popped out of the main wall. It would have taken me hours to do this wall manually, and that would have made a mess of styrene off cuts (I am constantly finding little bits of styrene across the layout room/office/workshop). The other part of manual cutting the windows was the mountain of tiny bits of styrene from the nibbler or shaving openings with a blade and sanding. I still will have to cut all these windows out again once brick is laminated on, but the brick sheet is very thin and cuts easily, unlike the cores which are thicker to provide structure to the building.

I am really really pleased with the decision to purchase the Cricut, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of what it can do. I am excited to see what else in terms of model making I can come up along with all the other crafting and decorating projects this machine can do. Onwards with building. Time to get casting the windows for this phase of Hinde and Dauch!

Tuesday Train #287

Union Pacific foreign power in the snow. Above CN Train 397 runs downhill at Mile 30 on the Halton Subdivision, with UP8961 (an EMD SD70AH) as the trailing unit. Shortly after, I caught CP Train 141 climbing at Canyon Road (Mile 37) on the Galt Subdivision, with UP 7182 (a GE AC44CW) as the trailing unit. A good pair of trains with unusual for my area locomotives to end a chilly day out trackside.

A new Cutting Tool for the Workshop

So, in response to my bemoaning how much cutting I am doing, I made a decision, to look to add a tool to my arsenal. In a perfect world, I’d have all the space in the world for a big permanent workshop and buy a laser cutter, but I don’t have that kind of space (nor do I have a space in the house where I could set up a 3D printer with proper ventilation for working with the resin for them which is nastier than the casting resin). So I have gone for the next best thing, a Cricut Maker 3 cutting machine. I have seen people call them a “Poor Man’s” laser cutter online, which I think is derogatory to what they can do based on what I’ve seen online and others I know with them, and they certainly aren’t cheap either to be perfectly honest! After spending most of my Friday humming and hawing, I placed an order around 4pm for curbside pickup of a Maker 3, the Knife Tool, and the material mat 3 pack (the light, standard and heavy grip cutting pads so I can experiment). Amazingly, it was ready within about an hour, so off to the store I went to collect it and get it home. New Toys still make me giddy, even when I’d spend the past 8 hours mulling if I wanted to spend the money or not!

Unboxing my Cricut Maker 3 and running a first test cut of my design on regular paper. Nice and quick to see what the machine thinks of my CAD work… not a lot it turned out, the export from my 3D modelling software read as each cut was a double line cut.

The machine does so much more than just cut styrene for model railroaders. I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can do, and how we will find ways to use it. In our circle of friends and family, we have schoolteachers who make decorations for their classrooms, a friend who runs a card making business, and someone who manufactures fishing lures and uses a Cricut machine. Once I figure out how to best optimize the settings for different thicknesses of styrene and levels of detail, we will be able to do so much more than just cut plastic! My initial tests were with the art for a building I have not started to build yet, might as well work with moving forward while I learn how to use the machine. I was drawing it as I do so I have cutting templates, but also to figure out what windows I can use so I can order them. Thanks to having this, I was able to export from my 3D modelling software to the Cricut Design Space software. I was reading from others experiences online, so I included a 1″ square to give me something to use as a scale in the Cricut software to get the sizing right. This worked, and I quickly had my art sized to HO scale. I duly made my first attempt at cutting, on plain white paper, as it would be quick, as this was a good way to test with a cheap material.

The first cut was, a qualified success. It was to scale, and it cut all the parts, but, because of how dated my 3D modelling CAD package is, the only file type I could get it to export that the Cricut software would open properly was a JPG. While this image file worked, it read the line work as double line, so it made two cuts for each opening. Clearly not what I was wanted and this would not be useful when it comes to cutting styrene given the thickness of it and the need for the machine to make many passes to cut a thicker materials. So, after a bit of playing around, the Cricut software is, to be kind, best described as clunky. I was however, able to quickly re-create the simple shapes of a wall core by taking dimensions and measurements from my 3D modelling package and creating the shapes in the Cricut to the dimensions needed. This works fine where it is large rectangular openings to add windows to and brick sheet over top of, I will probably need to find something better if I need to cut complex shapes. The second run on paper, was much better, so I moved on to the next intermediate material I had. I for some reason have a stack of 110lb cardstock for the printer. No idea why, but I do, so it was something thicker to cut. This too worked well. With that, no guts, no glory, I loaded up a sheet of 0.040″ Styrene, and the Knife Blade, and gave it a go.

Loading up styrene sheet for the first time and watching the cuts slowly appear. It made 18 passes and took nearly an hour to cut out three walls.

The Cricut does not have Styrene plastic as a material setting within it. I had to look for something close. It does have Basswood and Balsa Wood at multiple thicknesses. So based on what I’d read of others experiences, I chose Basswood and 1/32″ thickness. My other potential was Basswood and 1/16″, but that runs the risk of it cutting all the way through and into the mat. That may be an OK outcome eventually as I learn the device and how it cuts, but that seemed like a bad idea on the first pass cutting Styrene on the first day with the machine.

My first cuts did not go all the way through, but the software allows you to keep making additional passes. The default for the material is 18 passes with the knife. I did one extra. It did not get all the way through 0.040″ styrene, but it was more than enough that edges could be snapped as if I was scoring sheet styrene, and a few passes with an xacto in the nice deep cut that was made, and the window openings popped right out. It took about an hour to cut out three wall sections from a 7″ x 12″ piece of sheet. The Cricut will do sheets up to 12″ x 24″ with the right mat. I bought the 12″x12″ mats to start as I am treating this as a test, to see if I like the machine and can make it do what I want. I still want my buildings to have the charm and imperfection that comes from my hands, or else I would have looked at sending things out to be laser cut or manufactured, but, with this tool, I can maybe hopefully improve one of the aspects where my hands are letting me down, getting good consistent clean cuts on the core of buildings, as everything else flows from this. If I am not getting frustrated with hours of cutting and nibbling leading to little mistakes, I can spend the time happily building and detailing and focusing on the quality of the of the finish being done, rather than the time in the seemingly endless cutting. While this will inevitably speed aspects of construction if it works out, that isn’t the only reason for this, as having nice consistent starting point will hopefully make the buildings look better when finished.

The first “Building Core” cut with my Cricut Maker 3. It’s not perfect, but that is more in the CAD work than the machine. What it did in under an hour is better than I could have done free hand by far.

I chose this building as the dimensions of the windows I want to use are online on the manufacturers website, I just need to order them! There are several other buildings that I am able to do with commercial windows, which means with the Cricut I can now get them drawn and the cores cut, and let me move on with them in the coming months. I’ll need to get some windows and brick patterned styrene ordered, but the initial returns from a couple of hours on a Friday night after getting it home from the store are that its feeling like a good investment. Now I just need to make more tests and see if I continue to feel that way.

So Many Windows

Why oh why did I have to fall in love with an early 20th Century Industrial neighbourhood? So many windows to cut out. While I have a good number of buildings, mostly they are shallow along the front edge or rear of the layout. This is a good thing, as I have discovered, it takes a long time to cut out window openings by the dozen when you are scratch-building structures. I have been working this week on the Hinde & Dauch Paper Company factory again. Looking to make some progress in the second of the smaller segments, before the remaining large portion gets started in earnest.

Working on the walls of Hinde and Dauch. Getting the western most portion done, and counting out how many pours of resin I need to do to cast the windows for the last wall I don’t have them cast for yet!

I have written several times about how I have been going about cutting openings and preparing walls. And frankly, the process has left me disheartened at ever finishing my layout and having it look as good as I know I can build. The longer I work on any given wall, the more problem cuts or bad window openings I create. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that I will make an ugly cut and really be annoyed at how something is looking.

That said, this week I have made some good progress. I’ve cast replacement windows for bad castings or ones I damaged trying to clean them for installation, and gotten through the last openings on the 2nd phase of the Hinde and Dauch factory. I am really pleased with how it is looking. I see spots that need fixing with some filler and such before paint and primer happens, but I think, sometimes you are your worst critic because you know where all the problems or mistakes you made are. I don’t think others will see them when they visit. I am sure all my modeller friends have structures or scenery on their layouts that make them crazy but which visitors are blown away by. Being my own worst critic is definitely a skill I wish I didn’t posses!

Getting the windows done on the western block, checking as I progress, the finished wall, and test fitting everything before assembling the block for painting.

That said, the slow and steady approach is working, but I know there are better ways out there. I’ve got something to experiment with this weekend, which is a long weekend here in Ontario, and I’ve taken Tuesday off to extend it. Before the weekend is out, I will have an update hopefully on a path to getting my buildings moving quicker. Hopefully I’ll move from being delayed by cutting out openings to delayed by not having drawn the custom windows I need to print and cast for some of the buildings. Time will tell, but for now, I am out on a windy Saturday morning to chase some trains in the freshly fallen snow!

Another Tichy Boom Car, but with a National Scale Car Mini Kit addition

I am working my way though my kit supply, slowly but surely of late. In 2020 I built a Tichy Trains steam crane and boom car for Canadian National to have an auxiliary train. Its not something that I need for my layout, but its a kit I have wanted to build for years. So of course, why have one set of equipment you don’t need when you can have two? I’ve started a second crane and boom car, this time for the Canadian Pacific. The real prompt for this was my friend Ryan making a cast resin “Mini-Kit” of fishbelly side sills for the Tichy Boom car to quickly change its look. I figured, why not? The Tichy kits are relatively cheap, and fun, quick builds.

Preparing and installing the National Scale Car “fishbelly” side sill mini kit on the Tichy Boom Car.

The resin sides in the mini kit are designed to be straight replacements for the straight sides in the Tichy kit. The instructions suggest how to build extensions on the cross members to actually support the deeper sides. You can see the white styrene extensions in the pictures above. These were capped with a thin strip, then had Archer Rivet decals added before painting. Will anyone ever see this? Not Really, but it pleases me to have done it right. If you really didn’t want to do this, but wanted the look of the fishbelly sides, it isn’t necessary to give the car strength.

I ran into one problem on the underbody, for some reason, the kit only had one of the injection molded coupler box covers. To remedy this, thanks to the fact that I have learned to cast resin, I quickly used the part I had to make a mold, and cast replacement coupler box covers. The are not perfect, but they more than do the job, and certainly beat waiting months for a replacement part to come from Tichy.

Assembling and adding details to a boom car. I flipped the B end to the cabin, added windows, grab iron ladders and a tar paper roof with a wooden walk.

For the cabin, working from photos of CPR cars, I added a variety of windows. Maintenance cars like these were not really built to a set plan. They were converted as needed from old flat cars, and were modified as needed by crews when in use. I added two side windows, and two windows on the deck end using Tichy work car windows set. I also, to be perfectly honest, messed up installing the side sills, and got them on wrong sided. Why is this an issue? Under the car, my brake rigging was pointing the wrong way. Being solutions oriented, after a few minutes being annoyed, I set forth to change the brake configuration and add a tall stand on the cabin end extending to the roof. Not the most practical for the crew compared to a brake wheel on the deck end, but it adds visual interest to differentiate the car from my CN Boom Car. For ladders and grab irons, I went with a variety of wire grabs of different sizes, and set up differently on each side of the car to help add that jumbled look.

I scrapped off the roof detail, and laminated on 600 grit sandpaper, my fake tar-paper of choice. I made a new roof walk from strip wood, added a smoke jack chimney with braces made from brass wire, and painted it.

Scenes from Painting and Decalling, yeah, I did this backwards. I should have painted the steel then masked it, instead of the other way around, but once its weathered the difference will be gone.

Painting and decalling and finishing is pretty basic same same. I think I managed to use the same oxide red on the CP car as the earlier CN car looking at them together. Doesn’t matter. They will eventually be weathered and dirty and never be seen beside each other on the layout!

Yup, I have a half dozen shades of oxide/boxcar red and I painted the two boom cars with the same one. Whatever, doesn’t matter. Weathering will take care of that when its done! Comparing the differences between the CN and CP cars.

The build is done. As with so many of my freight car kits, it will now inevitably sit around until a mood to do a bunch of weathering strikes me, but that’s OK by me, I’m quite happy to move things along and take one more thing from the kit pile to the tracks. I’ve made a start on the crane to go with this. Haven’t gotten very far, but its on the work bench moving along slowly but surely. Still need to figure out how much I am going to do on the crane in creating a fully enclosed cab like on the CN crane, but that is for another day.