Merry Christmas

Santa Comes to Liberty Village! Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. I hope this finds all who read and follow my blog well and in good spirits with loved ones as we near the end of another challenging year. Its been a long one for me for many reasons, but as I celebrate Christmas with my family, I also think of my friends who read my blog, and those of you I’ve never met, and I hope you are all well.


Every Day a little bit forward, and a little bit better

This weekend is the “Civic Holiday” weekend in most of Canada, the first monday in August is a holiday for most workers in most provinces. I took the Friday off to extend it into a four day weekend. I was, feeling a bit mopey and not all that motivated yesterday, yet I found myself putting in a half hour or so at the workbench, picking up a project I’ve been ignoring for a while, construction on the Hinde and Dauch paper factory.

Working on resin casting windows from my 3D printed masters. On this one wall alone there are 19 windows and one door to go in the bottom right corner. This building has a lot of windows, and this is the “simplest” wall!

In my constant quest to improve my building technique, I decided again to try something a bit different, sort of combining techniques I have used to try and come up with a better way of marking and cutting out window openings. This remains one of my banes when it comes to scratch building structures, you get ten or twenty openings into a wall, and a careless cut or slipped blade can ruin hours of work, sometimes irreparably. It’s a task that requires patience, and time, not one I can do in a five or ten minute work break, but one I need to have actual blocks of time and calm headspace for.

Working on cutting out window openings, a never ending task when scratchbuilding large factories.

My latest combining of techniques is seen in the pictures above, using a printed paper template with the windows cut out, I then used a black sharpie to trace out the openings onto the styrene wall. With this done, I then tried two techniques, for the square windows I did what I have been doing of late, and drilling corner holes with a #66 bit. Then using a knife and ruler to cut between them until an opening is made. Once the opening is made, I use a file to expand the opening to fit. The second technique on the lower windows was to drill a large centre hole, and use the nibbler tool to open them up. I had gotten away from the nibbler as the small mountain of off cut bits gets infuriating in my office/workshop, but it also offers a lot of control that I don’t find I have with the knife.

This is one of the smaller walls on this building, but that doesn’t make it simple. The majority of the windows are arched at the top, which means careful trimming out then sanding. So far, so good with the few I have done. This is definitely a be calm and take time task. Fortunately, for this wall there are vertical columns of brick that bracket the window columns which will hide any mis cuts along the sides of the windows, so as long as I get the top and bottom tight, it will be fine. I now need to get back to casting some more windows as I haven’t actually done them for the main walls along the rails, where there are a lot of much bigger windows to make and install, and where there are no vertical columns to hide any mistakes.

A week off work full of small projects

I’m a busy body. I’m not good at sitting around and doing nothing, and last week, I took a week off, which normally means I would have gone somewhere or done something. In 2020, that isn’t a thing, so I stayed home. I sat on the patio with some late fall warm days listening to music, I watched Remembrance Day Ceremonies and documentaries, and I worked on a variety of layout tasks.

Painting and scraping, making small steps on many projects.

First up was some time in the paint booth, putting primer on the first of several National Scale Car mini-kit conversions of Intermountain 10′-6″ AAR boxcars into accurate Canadian models, along with starting to turn the styrene tube into wooden telephone poles. I need them to be hollow so I can wire streetlights, so using actual wood was out. Instead, using styrene tube, and a razor saw blade, I can create the appearance of wooden poles. They don’t look like anything yet, but once I get some paint on them, they will. This will be an ongoing project and sooner or later I will write a more fulsome blog post about them.

The other thing being painted, as you can see are 3D printed Fire Hydrants. I went out in the summer and measured actual Toronto Hydrants, these are accurate including the “Toronto Water” TW cast into them, though it’s virtually invisible on the prints. I am super happy with how my hyrdrants turned out, and once they are done being painted and installed, I’ll probably write more about them too.

Finishing the first pass of ballasting the layout. All track now has some ballast, touchups and additions may be needed here and there as I go.

Next up was some actual layout work, ballasting track. The image above shows the last stretch that wasn’t ballasted after ballast and glue were applied. It is a nice feeling as it is a “milestone”, all of my track is now ballasted, it may need to have some more added, but it is now ready for me moving on with finishing the base scenery between the track, roads and building foundations. The last bits of pink foam that you can see will soon disappear!

And another building appears, this time a compressed version of 60 Atlantic.

The next building to move from card/foam mockup to styrene is 60 Atlantic Avenue. A building that spanned the block between Atlantic Avenue and Jefferson Avenue on the north side of the tracks. I have the full block, but it is about half the actual width to fit on my layout, so I am trying to capture the feel of the building through selective compression. I am happy with it, I know what Building it is immediately, and I think others who know Liberty Village will as well when they see it. It’s now ready for paint, trying something different, trying to paint the walls and windows separately, to save a lot of masking and pain that I will have with some other buildings where the windows are already installed. We shall see in time which approach works better for me.

Undoing work I’ve done to correct mistakes

The final task was undoing something I have done. I’ve been laying gravel driveways around buildings, and I made one critical error. Railways would never have allowed gravel to be laid between the rails, even on a private crossing in an industrial area. It moves, and gets pushed up against the inside of rails and causes derailments. The same thing happens in model scale, putting ballast between the rails high enough to be a driveway creates spots where derailments happen. So, using some warm water to soften the glue, I soaked the gravel between the rails and scrapped it away back to level with the rail ties. Now I will be able to go back and add wood board crossings, a much more realistic crossing.

All in all, it was a good week. I had thought I would get more done on the layout, but, at the end of the day, I let how I was feeling drive me. When I got up in the morning, I relaxed, listened to music and started to work on the layout when I felt like it late morning or early afternoon. This is a long term project, and I was never going to finish it in a single week off work, but it was nice to clear the mind and get away from things, knowing that the layout was there waiting for me when I went to my layout room, instead of my work computer and job waiting for me. I’m back to that now, but hopefully the good feelings of relaxation last a few weeks and we can make it to my next break at Christmas.

Urban Wildlife in HO Scale

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I dabble in 3D printing and selling prints of my designs through Shapeways. One of my friends and a fellow modeller in Toronto Bernard Hellen, has taken this a step further and gone all in on his own business selling 3D printed animals and critters of his own designs. His company is Miniprints, where he has used some downtime in the Pandemic to start a business selling 3D printed animals for scenery and working to fill a niche in the marketplace. We’ve been discussing if there are opportunities for him to help me with printing for my layout with parts I’ve drawn. He kindly offered to send me some samples of the Raccoon’s he has designed, as my layout set in Toronto in the 1950’s would most definitely have had some of our City’s legendary “Trash Panda’s” hanging about.

Yup, they are tiny HO Scale 3D printed raccoon’s, all ready for painting.

The models are simple, but they don’t need to be super detailed, that is the trick in HO scale and printing, too much detail in the print sometimes actually hurts the model, the detail is better created through painting and detailing. I chose to paint these by airbrushing a thin coat of white primer, then building up colour from there using Vallejo Washes (pre-thinned paints). I applied a light grey wash, then picked out the eyes and tail stripes in a full strength black, then applied a black wash over top of that. This to my eye captured the grey/white fur colouring of a raccoon without getting too dark.

After priming and fully painted. They certainly look like Raccoon’s to me.

I will definitely be buying some of the raccoon’s when I am ready to start adding little details like this into my scenery, and Bernard has a growing range of critters in different scales and to suit different parts of the world people may be modelling. Its certainly worth a look if you are working on a model and looking for some wildlife to add into your scenery.

Windows for the Hinde and Dauch Box Factory

As I am starting to make real visible progress on scenery on the layout, my mind has started to turn back to the buildings and next steps on them. The Brunswick Balke Collender factory buildings are basically built and waiting on me starting to paint them, so I needed to decide where to go next. I settled on its next door neighbour, the Hinde and Dauch box factory. This way, if I build this building next, I will be able to have an area that extends from the CPR staging in the closet, about 5′ out of the closet into the actual layout room, where I can have scenery moving towards finished, which will be nice for photography and appearances when people come to visit.

The first step for me, is drawings and working out how I am selectively compressing the building. The factory is a big building, and in its entirety it wouldn’t fit. Fortunately, I have over the years obtained surveys and drawings that helped me figure out how to compress this building. For the western 4 storey portion and the central 2ish storey portion, they are about 40% of the actual building. The eastern part is about 60% of the actual size. To my eye, and hopefully visitors when you compare it to pictures of the actual factory, this feels right. It also gets around the same number of loading docks in the same locations functional with 40′ boxcars in HO scale.

Going from a matteboard mockup to a digitial mockup.

I am using my old reliable modelling software Form Z 6.5 (which is ancient dating from 2006, I recommend a more modern package for your 3D Cad work if you’re getting into this. I’m used to my software’s limitations, and quirks, and just keep plugging on despite them.

Moving forward with the western block of H&D, working on the western wall, then looking at that section basically done in digital form.

Because I am compressing most of the buildings in some way, rather than just drawing the window parts, for at least some buildings, I’ve decided to draw the whole buildings in 3D, this lets me see what they look like virtually, and print out renderings to cut out and attach to the matteboard mockups to see how they look. That way, I can go and adjust the spacing or make changes if they don’t look right to the eye for the cost of a few pieces of paper, rather than find out after hours of work building the structures and when they reach the layout, having them look wrong!

The whole extent of the factory that will appear on my layout, growing virtually, an in software render, and then the windows pulled out for all the different patterns/shapes that will be 3D printed to be masters for resin casting for the model.

Being able to see how the compressed building will look with the windows virtually before cutting the first bit of styrene or printing the first windows to make resin castings from has saved me a lot of problems. I’ve seen some spots where things didn’t work and look right, or where a few little moves would fix spacing or appearance issues.

Brunwick Balke Collender power house and factory in the foreground, and Hinde and Dauch in the rear with printouts of the 3D model taped onto the building to see how it looks before building anything.

I’m now ready to get going with final tweaks on the 3D window file to get them printed so I can use them to make molds and cast the windows in resin. While I could theoretically 3D print all the windows, long run I think it will be cheaper to cast them, that said, you never know, I may find a way to print them for substantially less than through a commercial operation like Shapeways and be able to afford to do a test run of all 3D printed windows. Whether its H&D or a future building, we shall see as there is no shortage of buildings to go on my layout that need individual windows to be properly modelled!

Resin Casting on my Own

Almost a year ago I took my first tentative steps into the world of casting my own parts in Resin thanks to my friend Ryan and a Saturday at his place working on models together with him and Trevor. Sadly, Covid has caused this to become a more common thing, as a number of us now have a Saturday night zoom chat where we all sit at our workbenches in our home and work and chat and have a drink virtually. It’s easier than packing up and going to someone else’s place to work, but not quite the same.

IMG_2453A stack of new supplies from Sculpture Supply Canada for making molds and casting in resin.

I am starting this adventure with basic stuff, two part silicone for mold making, and resin, that doesn’t require anything more complicated than mixing equal parts of the two liquids in each kid. The mold material cures it says in half an hour (I’m finding better results at giving it 2 or 3, and the resin says it cures in 10 minutes (again, half an hour or more is better). The parts I am casting are basic parts, manhole covers and storm sewer drains for the streets on my layout. I have drawn the different styles that are on Toronto streets, they will be a subtle detail in the layout, but I will know they are there and not generic, and that means a lot to me.

My first mold made at home, from top left top row: The Mold Box, the Silicone parts, measured out & bottom row: gently pouring silicone, weighting down while curing to get a smooth back, ready to demold, and the cast part.

So, full disclosure, the first mold I poured in the picture above, failed, I didn’t give it enough curing time, and it was a goopy mess. Lesson learned, be patient, just let it sit and cure, there is no rush here other than my own urges to see if I have succeeded!

Subsequent molds, see how much nicer they look when you let them fully cure?

I have two styles of manhole covers (water/Sewer and Hydro), and storm drain covers. I need about 50 of each manhole, and about 70 of the storm drains, give or take. As I wasn’t sure I would get 10 of each from each mold (manholes I am, storm drains I’m getting 9 per mold from a couple of damaged prints. If I’d have been smart, I’d have made one mold box of 10 good parts, and made multiple molds from that, instead, I made two mold boxes and made 3 molds, each with one defective piece!

Mixing resin, settling the parts, and pulling out completed manhole covers.

The nice part about the fast setting resin, is that I’ve basically made all the parts I need now. I probably need to do one more run of the five molds to have extras, then I can sit down some evening and clean all the castings and prepare them for painting and installing onto the layout. I started the roads stamping spots for the covers, I’m not entirely happy with how that worked, as I’m going to need to go back and putty around them to fill gaps. I think it will work better if I pre-paint the parts, and sink them into the drywall compound roads as they are almost dry. It will let me blend them into the compound, and they can be painted around when I paint the roads/touched up later.

IMG_2528A manhole I 3D modelled, had printed, and cast in resin in the layout. Needs painted and you can see where the roads still need some cleanup!.

This is one of those weird ones. In theory, resin parts are cheaper than 3D printing, and if I did the math of going to shapeways and getting 75 storm drain covers cast, it probably winds up being more than the resin supplies, but what’s more important than the cost is the learning a new skill. I want to, no need to do a lot of custom windows for my layout, and at the cost of having them printed, shipped, and likely paying duties, having learned how to cast means that I can print a single window master for each different one, and cast as many as I need in resin. This is where the cost savings will come down the line, in doing bigger parts for my buildings, these small street details are really just my training wheels!

IMG_2537Five full molds. Yeah, you can see some nasty air bubbles on one mold. Most of the parts are actually ok, but learning as I go to be careful pouring and working to avoid wasting resin on failed parts.

For anyone still reading, this will be post 500 on this Blog since I started writing it in May 2016. I’ve come a long way and a lot has changed since my first post, but my love of the hobby hasn’t. I hope those of you who read enjoy my prattling on as I muddle through this adventure of building my prototype layout of Liberty Village.