Modelling Fences, from Chain Link to Board to Corrugated Steel

I wrote some time back about my learning to and making my own HO Scale Chain Link Fence. I finally got around to finishing and installing the first two segments of it, and I am really pleased with how it is looking as the layout scenery starts to progress.

The first segments of my scratch built chain link fence in position on the layout.

The next two places I need fences are not however locations for chain link, so I get to build something different. The first is the south side of Liberty Street across from the Brunswick Balke Collender billiard table factory. This site from the information I have and the aerials was the lumber yard for the factory across the road. That makes sense, as its close, and the factory filled most of the block, and I suspect in its prime it went through a lot of lumber making billiard tables and bowling alleys and such.

The small triangle that is the north edge of the lumber yard serving the Brunswick plant across the street on my layout.

My first thought on this was to re-use some fence I had salvaged when I tore down my layout in my parents house in Georgetown when they moved out. Its a perfectly nice laser cut wood fence, maybe not super well painted by me when I made it a decade ago, but re-usable. The problem was, the longer I looked at it, the more it was clear it was not the right fence for the job. An industrial site would have had a taller fence (the one I had was 5′ in scale), and it would have been a heavy board privacy fence to keep people out. So after looking at it for what seemed like days, the old fence is on its way back to the recovered scenery tub, and I built a new fence on Friday night. An 8′ high heavy board wood fence, something that feels much more right for the space when I look at it on the layout now, even unpainted just getting it into position.

Recovered fence vs. scratch built. Even unpainted the scratch built stripwood looks better and tells a stronger story about the area than the other fence would.

The second place that I need to build a fence is for the Mercer Reformatory, the women’s prison that was in the centre of Liberty Village (and along with the men’s prison to the east, part of why Liberty Street got its name, not because of war production as many think, but because its where prisoners were released to, getting their “liberty” back). I am not modelling the prison building, it is too far to the north, all that appears on my layout is the south end of the yard, and the perimeter fence.

The Mercer Reformatory area on the left, and looking at how a 10′ tall corrugated metal (or styrene) fence will look. These are also the only two trees on my layout in the corner of the prison yard!

I haven’t built the prison fence yet, it’s in my weekend work program along with getting the ground cover down (its the largest grassy area on the layout, and most of it will be out of view behind the fence!!). I’m going to get the ground cover down this afternoon, and work on building the fence on the workbench. I’m happy with the appearance, and in going back and forth with a fellow modeller of the 1950’s, the heavy metal fence tells a story about the prison being somewhere people really don’t go vs a wood fence. I don’t know what the actual fence was, any pictures I’ve found are either too far away, the wrong end of the site, or aerials where all you can tell is that its a sold fence. Therefore, modellers license, I can build the style of fence I want, and should I discover I’m really wrong in the future, its easy to take it out and redo.

Every now and then…

You write something believing it to be the truth, only to find your memory really really sucks.

In a recent post, I said:

I’ve been using a modified technique for ballasting, based on something I learned from my friend Trevor Marshall, and using thinned Weldbond Glue (why in 20 years of modelling has no one ever told me how much better this is than normal white glue before now!!).

Then, I was searching for a photograph of something else in a box of pictures, and came across a photo of my old “layout” from my high school and early university days. I don’t know the exact date, just that it’s pre May-2000 as that’s when I moved out of the house for the first time to move to Toronto for a Co-op Placement, and my parents moved out of the house and this layout was torn down for good while I was working in Toronto that summer.

WaterlooLayoutWould you look at that, a bottle of Weldbond on the end of the layout next to my workbench…

So yeah, turns out I just have no clue what I have and haven’t done! Also, yeah, I have no idea what this layout was trying to do at the time! Other than the Lima Class 156, Hornby HST, Tri-ang 2-6-2T at the front, and Tri-ang Transcontinental coaches by the Weldbond, everything in this picture is gone from my collection.

In the interest of fairness, this photograph is of the peninsula extension of my first layout, a 4×8 plywood pacific seen below that served from around 1989-2000 and from Chatham Ontario to Dartmouth Nova Scotia and back to Waterloo Ontario.

The Plywood Pacific in earlier guises in Chatham and Waterloo, love that chandelier layout lighting I had! I’m pretty sure it had a circular fluorescent tube in it!

Its always nice to look back a little, which is what I was doing when I found the first picture today and had that “huh, I have used Weldbond before? Who knew?” moment!

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.

Building Building Foundations

Any project that starts with a new tool has to be a good one right?

IMG_2421New Milwaukee M12 Cordless Jig Saw, clean, clearly not used yet!

Thanks to the kindness of friends in coming to my house with portable tools and access to the woodworking shop at The Toronto Railway Museum where I volunteer, I was able to build all of the benchwork for my layout without owning any power tools other than an Impact Driver/Drill combo set. That’s great for the heavy construction, but I still need the ability to do things myself at home, especially now in an era of Social Distancing where we can’t get together with friends and build benchwork together.

As I am building the layout, one of the first phases of the structures, is building foundations so that I can work on scenery, but have bases for the buildings to eventually get mounted on, these will largely be buried, but will be visible here and there, so I wanted to make them out of MDF using a technique I picked up from a friend.

Getting set to cut foundations for the buildings on the layout from 1/4″ and 5/8″ MDF fibreboard.

Basically, the MDF is cut to size, sanded, and sealed with a “Sanding Sealer”, basically a varnish. Because MDF can absorb moisture when it is cut because it is pressed board, you need to seal cut edges. I learned this mistake the hard way myself as one of my dioramas built on an MDF sheet cut to fit into a shelving unit has curled at the two cut corners. Nothing I can do to save it now, it is what it is, but I can’t have that on the layout.

I spent a Saturday a bit back drawing all the outlines for the foundations in preparation for this, with copies made and them all cut out and pieced together, they were transferred onto the MDF and away I went with the jig saw to cut out the pieces.

Pieces cut out, sanded, cleaned and painted with sanding sealer on the edges to keep the MDF from absorbing moisture and expanding on the layout.

With my new saw in hand, and a nice weekend last week, I got set up on my patio terrace, and spent an afternoon cutting, sanding and sealing pieces of 1/4 and 5/8 MDF for building foundations.

Checking the fit of foundations after cutting to see if they need any trimming before sealing them.

I’ve since painted all the the ones that are small enough to paint in my spray booth other than two pieces that need to be re-cut, and three pieces that are too big for my booth. These will get painted outside on the terrace when the chance presents itself. I am really happy with the look, now just need to get motivated to take the next step of gluing them down and starting scenery around some of them. Onwards we go.

Sometimes you buy the wrong supplies

Sometimes, you buy the wrong thing. I’ve started doing scenery, and one of the products I’ve bought and really like is a crushed natural stone from Scenic Express for creating dirt areas. What I didn’t like, was the fact that in a feat of not paying attention in the hobby store, was that I bought “Coarse” grade material, instead of “Fine”. This means, that even though the shaker tub looked like it was all fine material, when I started using it, there were some pretty big boulders coming out. Not at all useful for modelling yards in industrial areas, especially in HO scale!

So, what to do, my best guess was that about 80-90% of what was in the container was fine material, and before spending another $18 on a shaker of fine, plus shipping and waiting, I wanted to see if I could filter out the stone myself. Putting my thinking cap on, I realized I still have a huge supply of tulle from chain link fence making experiments and for future fence construction. The tulle material is not super fine, but I thought it might be fine enough to catch the boulder sized material in HO scale and let the useful material through.

Sifting the boulders out of my soil with tulle fabric into a spare container.

And what do you know, the tulle was actually the perfect size to sift what I needed out of it. In about 20 minutes of sifting and separating, I was able to do a couple of passes, and separate out the big stones that were causing me grief in the staging area (I’d been picking the worst ones out by hand!), and now I have effectively fine material. I will need more to do the whole layout, but now I can advance a bunch of scenery where there shouldn’t be giant boulders around but where there should be dirt!

Success! About an 80% full shaker of now fine material (I’d already been using it before sifting), and a corn starch tub of larger rubble.

I’ll hang onto the larger rubble, you never know if someone else I know will want it, or if I ever do a future scene it would be perfect river rock. The moral of the story, read the labels of what you are buying!! I knew I wanted the Scenic Express Stone, I didn’t pay any attention to the grade. At the end of the day, this “mistake” didn’t really cost me anything, but it taught me an important lesson, to remember to pay attention when buying supplies!

Mixing up Ballast for the Layout

For the staging yards, I have been using up old ballast from past projects, no point in spending money on things when I have materials I can use sitting around taking up space. For the staging in the closet, I have been using Woodland Scenics medium size grey blend. Its maybe a bit big for HO even though that’s what it’s sold as, but I’m OK with that, as it provides a visual difference from the staging/fake yard area to the operating part of the layout.

For the operating part of the layout, I am again using Woodland Scenics ballast. I know it’s not well regarded for some of its behaviour (it likes to float away when you glue it because its not actually rock), but it works for me, and is easily obtained, so away we go. I’d love to experiment with the highly regarded Arizona Rock and Mineral Ballast real stone, but its hard to acquire in Canada, and I’m not going to the US anytime soon!

IMG_2350Working on a test ratio of cinder black and grey blend fine ballast.

For the main part of the layout, I am using fine ballast. the tracks in liberty were lightly laid, and the right of way was beaten up and overgrown. Even the ballast will get blended into the surrounding dirty landscape once its laid. My first passes of scenery and ballast are a bit separate just on work flow, but once its in place, then I can go back and add colour and more ground cover.

For the ballast, I want it to look dark, it will help to blend it in as being almost just in the dirt and overgrown as I go, so I am using black cinders with a bit of grey blend mixed in. Before going all the way in to mix, I made a small sample and tested the look.

Switching from medium grey to the blend as track enters the layout. I’m going to be going back to add more black/cover to blend the transition, the switch head stocks were just a convenient transition point.

Once I was happy, I’ve mixed up a big batch of ballast. It turns out, 4 Cups fills a shaker, and my mix of 3 Cups Black to 1 Cup Grey Blend has given me a healthy supply of ballast to move on with ballasting track. Now I need to get the airbrush back up to the layout room and get some more rails and ties painted before I do that!

IMG_2353Blended and filled up into an empty shaker for use on the layout.

I’ve been using a modified technique for ballasting, based on something I learned from my friend Trevor Marshall, and using thinned Weldbond Glue (why in 20 years of modelling has no one ever told me how much better this is than normal white glue before now!!). I’m actually, shock of shocks, somewhat pleased with my ballasting to date. Its going down, its staying in place when it gets wetted and glued, and I’m not having clumps of ballast float up and dry in all kinds of unwanted places. I’m not even messing around now with trying to put soap or rubbing alcohol in the water to break the surface tension. Using an olive oil misting sprayer for straight water, followed by the thin glue is getting me the best scenery I’ve ever done. I’m actually happy looking at where things are, and thinking about what I want to do when I go back to blend and finish the detail for the scenery.