Honeycomb Block

I finished soldering up the frog assembly for Comstock Road’s runaround turnout previously mentioned here. Getting things lined up, holding them in alignment and applying the soldering iron requires more than the usual number of hands issued to humans. And that is before we worry about our fingers lack of heat tolerance.

My solution for this challenge was to use my honeycomb block. This handy little bit of ceramic is something I picked up years ago at a jewelry supply store. Alternatives include fiber pads and charcoal blocks but what they all have in common is that they are heat resistant and you can stick pins in them. The holes in the  honeycomb block would also allow you to run wire through the board and wire things down. I haven’t tried that yet but I can think of cases where I should have.

Here is everything ready for the iron. Not shown is my holding down stick that I use to make sure that the work piece does not move vertically when I push sideways with the iron.honeycombblock

Tools, Fancy and Simple

In order to measure and transfer the correct angle for the joint support of the sloped back track, I used one of my more esoteric tools, a sliding t-bevel. This tool is handy for taking an angle and either marking something else or setting a saw angle. I did the latter to produce angled cuts that precisely match the slope of the plywood. I have no idea what the actual angle is and I don’t need to.

On the simpler end of the tool spectrum, I picked up (no project is complete unless I get to acquire at least one new tool) an inexpensive plastic adhesive spreader on one of my trips for yet another length of 1×3. This turned out to be a great deal! In the past, I have used scrap bits of wood or popsicle sticks to spread glue over large areas. It worked, sort of, but there always seemed to be too much or too little and my fingers got goopy. The spreader lets me quickly and evenly apply glue which reduced some of the anxiety about glueing down the main Homasote piece. I plan to get even more mileage out of it when I glue down ties.gluespreader

Brick Stencils?

A link to this Brick and Stone Stencil product page happened to appear in my Pinterest feed. Having never heard of such a thing before I found the idea quite inspiring. The smallest scale available is 1:48 as this is an overlap with the dollhouse scales. I must come up with some project to justify trying it out.

Many years ago, I produced a 1:12 dollhouse for my daughter that included drawing on the bricks with a paint pen. This process looks like much less work although probably not as durable under playroom conditions.

I Can See (Again)

visiondevicesBuilding models and appreciating the work of others requires that one be able to see what one is doing. Like most people, I am getting more farsighted as I get older. I have reached the point where getting the scale rule into focus means holding at arms length. This happened gradually and, although I plugged away, I realized that I was spending less and less time actually doing hobby things. I credit a particular episode of TrainMasters.tv, Eyesight and Modeling Part 1 with giving me the kick in the pants I needed to do something about it.

The episode revolves features Pat Lawless a modeler who is legally blind and yet produces work of a quality that anyone can admire. Using everything from Optivisors to USB microscope, Pat gets things done despite his poor vision. I made me realize that my vision had (mildly) deteriorated and that that was a sorry excuse for not enjoying the hobby.

I came away from episode with two concrete action items:

  1. Get my Optivisor fixed and get a lens of the correct focal length. With a 14″ focal length, LED light frame add-on and new tightening nut, I was back in business and more comfortable.
  2. Get my eyes tested. The test determined that I need +2.50 or 250 magnification for close work. I acquired several pairs of dollar store reading glasses to use for tasks where the Optivisor headset was inappropriate. At a dollar or two a pair, I can treat them as consumables which they very nearly are: I sat on a pair the other night and dropped a pair last week.

The only downside other than the steady attrition in reading glasses is that I worry about looking judgmental when I whip out a pair of readers and nose right up to layouts at train shows.

When the Loan of the Sander Comes Early

What habits and mental tricks do you use to keep at a project? Some people promise themselves a reward, some keep a visible to-do list and cross things off, and some just seem to keep going and going. I have used all of the above except the latter and I have found another one: Ask to borrow a tool and get it before you are ready to use it. Now, if I stall before using said tool, I may not be done when its return is needed. Better I should get ‘er done.

I didn’t make much progress this week except to acquire plywood for the subroadbed and meet up for lunch with my friend Trevor Marshall. Trevor is the creator of the S scale Port Rowan branch and also the creator of the Edmund Fitzsander, a sanding block for leveling ties prior to spiking rail. Trevor kindly lent me the Eddy for sanding the ties on Comstock Road. Now all I need is some ties glued down to sand.eddymakesport

With that motivation, I got the plywood layer cut out today and have begun splicing the end piece on. I just traced the shape of the Homasote layer onto one of my 2×8 sheets of 1/2 inch ply and jigsawed away. End and splice pieces were cut out using a circular saw. I did discover that the ends of the Homasote are not flat. It looks like both end curled during the years long storage and I failed to notice before gluing things up. I will have to cut back the ends and replace them with new pieces. Printing replacement templates for the replacement bits I can do at home.endcurl

Bending Bars


Bending bars are a tool that I learned of in Simon Bolton’s excellent Scratch-Building Model Railway Locomotives. It is one of those things that I suspect most UK modelers take for granted but are not widely known on this side of the pond. The concept is simple: a pair of precisely matching steel bars joined by hex bolts at each end that you can clamp a sheet of metal between. Obviously, you can then make a straight bend in the metal. (Bare brass sheet for illustration purposes, one normally marks out a line using marking die or such)

Bending is not the big thing as far as I am concerned. Simon details a method of making straight breaks by repeatedly bending back and forth on the fold line which is first scored with a utility knife. This is very close to the styrene score and snap method I have used for years. And it works remarkably well! Much better than my initial efforts at soldering large pieces of brass, for instance. The resulting pieces are straight and the edges requires only a little draw filing. Both those techniques are described by Simon in videos on his Youtube channel.

As far as sourcing bending bars, I was unable to discover a supplier in North America so I ordered a set from Vince Gibson. I am certain that there are other suppliers as well. One could also fabricate a set from scratch if suitable bar stock can be obtained especially if price is a factor.

Weekend Reading: Model Building with Brass by Kenneth C. Foran

modelbuildingwithbrassOne of the things all modelers should consider doing is looking outside their particular niche for methods and materials that might be bring something new to their repertoire. Model Building with Brass by Kenneth C. Foran was recommended to me by a modeler who knew of my beginning brass modeling pursuit. I second that recommendation.

As you can tell from the dust jacket, Kenneth Foran builds beautiful large scale models of various vehicles to a incredible level of detail and finish. The full-page and two-page colour photographs are a highlight of this book.

This is no coffee table decoration, however. Kenneth shares many of his methods in detail including tools, fabrication and finishing. Step by step examples give you an idea of what can be accomplished. Some techniques are not obviously applicable to model railroading. For instance I am not sure how I might use something like electroplating but I am ready if the occasion arises. On the other hand, Kenneth’s techniques for fabricating things like gas tanks and working brake pedals would easily translate into things such as tank car ends, brake rigging. diesel noses and cab interiors. If you want to model a prime mover right down to working pistons, this is definitely the book for you.

Model Building with Brass won’t tell you how to build railroad cars and locomotives but it can probably teach you are thing or two that will make things easier and improve your results. I consider the book a good buy for the sheet brass fabrication techniques alone.

Model Building with Brass is still in print and available through the usual online sources.


In preparation for cutting out roadbed and sub-roadbed, I have been creating the detailed track templates. General track planning software such as AnyRail which I use is good for general planning but does not produce templates for hand laying track.  For that, the go-to tool is Templot by Martin Wynne.

Templot is free to use although I bought it when it was a licensed product. It is a powerful specialized CAD program specifically for producing custom trackwork templates according to prototype practice.  If all of your turnouts are a standard, regular size then something like a FastTracks jig may be all you need. If, however, you need to produce more challenging track formations such as a yard ladder or a crossover on a curve, Templot can’t be beat.

That’s the good part. Not so good is that Templot, like other serious CAD programs, has a steep learning curve. It takes time to get up to speed which is an additional hurdle if you, like me, only need to produce templates every once in a great while. All of the terminology is based on UK prototype practice which also takes a bit of learning.

That being said, I have blown most of the dust off of my modest Templotting skills and am mostly done the tough bit of the Comstock Road plan.  Here is a screenshot of some of the work in progress.templottingwip

The lower right turnout is not a model railroad-esque right hand turnout with what should be the normal route going through the curved leg, it is a #6 left hand turnout diverging from a right hand transition curve.  And incidentally going straight into an asymmetric crossing. Once I had got back up to speed with the Templot interface and watch a couple of subject specific videos, the actual template creating didn’t take that long.

Still to do are:

  • spurs out from the crossing
  • assorted tweaking of ties such as those overlapping and/or too widely spaced around the crossing
  • check turnout motor locations against module boundaries.

Once everything is as good as I can make it, I will print out the whole thing full size on my home laser printer and there will then ensue a lot of trimming margins and taping sheets together. The whole thing then gets used as a template to cut out the Homasote roadbed and off we go.

Bench Pin and Saw Frame


A number of years ago I acquired a jeweler’s saw or saw frame along with some vast quantity of blades.  My attempts to cut brass sheet with it were not very successful.  Upon acquiring Simon Bolton’s books (Weekend Reading: Scratch-Building Model Railway Locomotives by Simon Bolton), I learned a bit about what I was doing wrong and determined to have another go.

Things I learned:

  • Get a bench pin.  This some sort of wood block that clamps to the edge of your bench and projects out allowing you to get right up close to the sawing.  Jewelers typically have high benches so they can get their faces right up by the work.
  • Pins are consumables.  You can customize for your needs, for example I cut a notch in the top face of mine to improve holding of round bar and tube I needed to cut.
  • Get the right size of saw blades.  I bought #4 blades, what I should have got is 4/0-6/0 blades.  These are much finer and don’t snag on thin .005″ brass stock.  A 6/0 blade can fit through a #79 hole allowing you to start a cut in a very small area.
  • Lubricate the blade.  Jeweler suppliers sell purpose made lubricating sticks.  I am making do with a surplus candle until my next order.
  • You don’t need to work hard to make a cut. Properly sized and lubricated blades cut very quickly.  Unexpectedly so, for me.  Thus the scrap metal pile did increase and learning took place.