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Sunday, 1 March 2020

Laser Cutting Learnings Part 1

  I have had the opportunity to have access to a laser cutter not far from home. Ray a friend of mine has been mentoring me. The cutter is an Epilog Zing 16 that has a 16"x12" work area so it is a high quality cutter. Epilog  The comments I make here are based on building HO Scale things. I will cover drawings, materials, scale limitations, operation and conclusion.

  I have been drawing in 2D Cad for years and use it to design and print my projects see How I Build my Scratch Projects. I currently draw with a program called LibreCad and the files are saved as .dxf  and this format is more compatible to programs than the .dwg format. Drawing for the laser is different in a few ways, when I drew in the past I could make changes to the drawings on the fly as construction moved along and now  I must  have the drawing complete before starting to cut. When making my E Class Station it was the first time I had drawn windows and doors as opposed to buying commercial parts. When drawing on paper if there happened to be two lines one on top of the other it didn't matter now  with the laser you do not want this because it will pass over the line a 2nd time but not really cut anything. Now if the laser was at my place I could fix things on the fly but not when I have to travel to Ray's.  If  I had a laser here it would read right from my drawing program and read the dxf file direct. The other thing you have to keep in mind is having tabs on small parts so they do not blow around once they are cut. You also have to consider the order you want things cut in and how it is laid out on the page so there is a minimal amount of waste.

 The laser has the capability to cut a lot of different materials. The only ones that are of interest to me at this time are styrene, card stock, laser board, paper and wood.

I normally build in styrene and would like to keep on doing that but it does have some limitations when cutting. I like styrene because I find it easy to glue and paint because it is stable and has different types of scribing available and is easier for me to buy. The problem with styrene is that if you have cuts that are close together (<.03") it will/may cause the styrene to warp due to the heat from the laser. If you are cutting .01" it is almost too thin and .06" is almost too thick and requires more heat to cut. So you really can't place lines closer than scale 3" even then you may run into trouble. However cuts like building walls are amazing and everything fits just like it would in the drawing. If I was going to add holes for grabs on a freight car they would all be perfectly sized and aligned.

Card stock cuts nice but is a little harder to glue and paint. It may have stability issues over time due to changes in temperature and humidity. I know lots of people still use it. When we cut the E Class Station we did it in card stock first because I can get it for almost nothing and I wanted to see what mistakes there might be that I had not anticipated. I also wanted to see how the roofs would fit. I glued it together surprisingly fast and did find a couple of things that needed to be changed.  I now cut all new projects in card stock first so I can test fit.

Laser board is like a thin laminate, almost like arborite or a thin veneer, I do not know how else to describe it. It is very stable and you can cut it as thin as .01" and it has good structural strength with small pieces like the diamond harrows below. It has to be ordered and has a cost to it.

Paper is easy enough to cut, so on the next 2 E Class Stations we will cut out the sandpaper that will be used for the stucco finish. It will be glued to the styrene walls. This requires drawing two sets of walls. One for the styrene and one for the sandpaper which is easy to do. You can also cut out stencils for signs with 60# paper and use an airbrush to paint it on. For this I use a program called Inkscape which is a free graphic illustration program.

Wood is something that can also be cut and you see lots of wooden laser cut kits. I just have not had a chance to play with it much yet.

Scale limitations are still something that you have to adjust to and this really applies to doing drawings for 3D printing. I can draw anything to the exact dimensions but they do become unusable in some cases because they don't have any stability left. You can only go so small and so thin. In the drawing below of the station  I had to make some adjustments. The window parts and the front dormer walls had to be cut to minimum of scale 3 " depending how close other cuts were done because of heat. That is getting really thin. If you have a scale 8' 1x4 it will bend in the middle if you hold it at the end, which does not happen with a real 1x4. I had to increase the size of  some of the parts so that the cut lines were not as close together for the reasons that I had mentioned above. We could use card stock or laser board but would have had to laminate pieces together to get the right thickness which I really do not want to do but it can be done because each part will be exactly the same. The window parts for the stations had to be adjusted slightly larger for the above reasons. The good thing is that most of the time no one will ever notice. To help you understand this, Ray would hold up his caliper set at .01" or .02" saying can you really see the difference. In fact you really need back light to see the space of .01".   This theory applies to things you may even be building by hand. I have had comments that a wall on a structure looks too thin in .04" styrene which scales out to ~3.5" where the real wall would be 4.5" with 1/2" sheeting on each side which comes out to ~.05". You see the point if you hold up the caliper set for .01".  No one can see .01" at any distance without using a caliper. Why do I use .04" -  because I can't buy .05" and .06" would be too thick and is harder to cut by hand and keep your accuracy and it requires more heat from the laser. So in some cases like with my 16" cultivator shovels it is just easier to cut by hand out of .005" styrene! Also while we are talking about scale we have been conditioned to see things that are out of scale but have become so accustomed to it that they look correct.

Operation of this laser is not difficult but we are using a top of the line machine. What it has taught me is that I doubt I would be happy with a $500 machine. You may need an air supply, possibly water depending on the machine and exhaust system to the outside. The laser setup is really like setting up a printer and some of the commands look the same, as if you were printing. There are 2 types of line types you use Raster and Vector. Vector are the lines that you are going to cut and Raster are the lines you are going to engrave in  the material. You have to keep these 2 types of lines on different layers in your drawing. So with Raster you can take a plain sheet of styrene and Raster lines for boards on each side making the floor of a flatcar much easier to build for only a fraction of the price. You can not buy  this type of product from Evergreen. Now Raster works best if the lines go horizontally across the drawing. If you draw something like this | | | | | | |  the laser will go from left to right and only does a dot at a time on each line, each pass. If you were paying for the cutting this would cost a lot. Your printer would print the lines in the same way and also take far longer then say printing one long line across the page. When it is cutting it cuts vertically and horizontally. This laser is interesting to watch as it cuts because it jumps all over the place and you think it has missed a bunch of lines but what it is really doing is reducing the amount of heat to any one area, very smart. There is a given amount of waste and can be limited by how you lay out the drawing for cutting. When I am  cutting by hand there is very little waste just something else to consider. Lots of things to learn and I have found it very interesting.

In conclusion I am just trying to point out some of the issues with using a laser and these issues really come to life if you are going to send out something across the country to get cut. Now having said that, its capabilities are amazing and it simply speeds up construction and accuracy.  I really appreciate the time that Ray has spent with me. Ray is an NMRA MMR and has done lots of fantastic models and has produced his own runs (250) of construction models in his own shop. Thanks Ray for all the help.
I will do a 2nd post with more examples in the future.
Here is a picture of a diamond harrow that we cut out. I have to add the teeth on the holes and add chains to hook it up to the drawbar. That is just a regular wood pencil beside it

This station is all cut on a laser

3 Wood grain bin parts floor, roof and walls
Here is a picture of car sides cut with the holes for grabs, widow and  door

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

My Ops paper work and aids

Paper Work and Aids

Ops sessions take a reasonable amount of paperwork to have trains run on time and make it seem more realistic. Here are some examples of the paperwork and aids that I use or have for operators. Some of the aids have come about from discussions with operators that have been here and and are new to the layout. Everything is always clear to the owner but will not always be clear to operators that are already maybe feeling a little anxious. The brown book at the bottom of the above photo is a CN rule book.

All trains must have a clearance form before they can move. This gives them permission to be on the line. 

All extra trains will also receive orders and can't move without them. There are times there may be special instructions for scheduled trains also.

The paper work for the train crews such as manifests and switchlist for yard crews is covered in this post JMRI for Operations

This train lineup shows at a glance what trains are going to be running for the day. There is a different one for (Mon, Wed, Fri) (Tues, Thur, Sat) and another one for Sun. This is useful to the yard crew as they can see what work they may have coming and when they need to try and be clear of the main. It is also used by the staging yard operator so he also knows what trains will leave and direction. His job is to mostly assist newer operators in getting the right train on the line on time.

This sheet is also used as an aid in staging. Ops can find what track their train is on and the number of the lead locomotive number which is not always easy to see.
This is the map of the yard that hangs above the yard in Melville.

This is the map of the layout so ops understand where they are coming and going to.

This is the CN system map and the little highlighted area is where we are operating and then I can also point out the 1cm piece on this map that is actually modeled.

The man is in case you need a flagman for your train to watch a crossing or the back of your train. There are the 3 coloured flags. The red is put out if there is track damage or work crew is on the track. The blue ones are used if personnel are working on equipment on the track. One would be placed in front and one at the rear of the work. The green flags are if you have to apply brakes for spotted cars.There are places where the grade will allow the car to roll so you can put this through the coupler and apply the brakes. The tiny white and green flags are spares for Extra or Section trains.

These are my layout rules that I expect/hope people will follow. They are posted in 3 different places so operators know what my expectations are.

Here is my Bad Order Sheet that hangs on the facia in the yard. I encourage operators to fill it in for things like couplers missing springs, cars that are acting up, locomotive problems, track issues and any other gremlins that come along. I can then go back and fix the items and sign off on them. It has worked very well to date.
I also have whistle signs across the layout so engineers know when they need to blow and the point to start their signal.

 95% of all my turnout controls are straight out from the switch throws and are labeled so they are easy to find. Boards with lots of switch throws on them with the little map are really not that intuitive especially to new yard ops that are already feeling rushed. It is a small thing but it really works. Little labels with numbers at the turnout that match to numbers on the panel works well especially in staging areas.

These are the engine cards that each operator is encouraged to take for the engines they are running. I have 4 different types of sound decoders. Most are Soundtraxx Tsunami, there are 4 ESU, 2 Tsunami2,1QSI and some of the above that have special or different configurations like ones that come from Rapido. Even I have trouble remembering what the differences are at times. One of my requests is that ops will make use of the sound, lights and braking. On the back side of these cards is some data on the engine for some light reading when you are waiting.

Here are what one of my timetables look like. The notes are not a 100% complete yet. The coloured section is what is modeled and the red are meets. This just makes it a little easier for new operators to understand.

I also have 6 carpender cloth aprons for operators to store things in as they move around. A lot of the guys also have their own now.

There are also clip boards for all the train crews if they like. This one is for the yard crew and hangs on the facia.

I am also moving to using Cell phones as throttles by having my old desktop connected to my Digitrax system through JMRI and then use the Engine Driver Throttle app on my Android devices. There is an app for Apple also called  Withrottle. My system also has it own router that is not connected to my Wifi network. This get you a few things. 1 it runs off my wifi network instead of the Digitrax radio. 2 you do not need to be plugged in to acquire engines. 3 it is easier to acquire an engine off the list on the screen, 4 you can easily access all 28 functions or more as they expand, 5 if the wifi is lost your or you receive a call your engine just comes to a stop, 6 is way more intuitive for new ops or ones that do not normally use Digitrax, 7 the battery in the phone is rechargeable by design, 8 almost  everyone comes with a phone nowadays, 9 you have a Digitrax system and get caught between to two versions there are less problems and lastly you can buy a cheep smart phone for less than the cost of a throttle or sending one away to be fixed. This phone does not need data or a carrier just the ability to get wifi which they all can do. There is no reason why you could not also use a tablet either. As each person connects to the network the name of their throttle appears on the computer screen. andshows what engine number  they are running.
Now this does not fix all the quirky things that happen even when you use a Digitrax throttle those are inherent to Digitrax and they have never been fixed. The new versions of either ap let you use the volume buttons on the phone to control speed. The next thing is if your computer goes to sleep then you loose the connection to the locomotives.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Using Textures and Pictures

Textures have become very easy to find on the internet these days. What do I mean by textures,  google "wood plank textures"or go to  Now most are free which is good. You can take the picture and scale it to your needs. Make sure when you are scaling that you keep the aspect ratio on so it does not become distorted. If you are making signs you know how big you want it so you can put in the numbers for either width or height. I have pictures of stone and brick walls, floor boards, room interiors, and even a wall with boards and studs. I have also used some for signs or designed the signs on my own and printed them . When I want to make  signs I print them on 20lb paper and cut them out and highlight the edge with a pencil or marker to cover the white. I then glue them with a kids glue stick to a building wall or to .05 styrene for signs that are mounted on posts. I printed the building interiors on  60lb paper. Not all will work as some will not repeat well when you join them together.What I  mean by this is if you have a sheet of plywood with a big knot in the middle it will repeat the knot which is ok unless you are doing a wall. Here are some examples of textures that I have used and played around with.

It would be next to impossible to weather ceder singles  to look like this in Ho scale

Here is a brick wall. Now you would maybe want to crop out the stain at  the bottom or flip the picture if you are going to start joining them together.

Here is some  tread plate that would be easy to scale and join together

Here are the old green 3 tab shingles that were on most houses in 1959. This one would have to be cropped to work right when you join the side edges.

Here is a sheet of OSB that will work well for a wall because it has no knots. If you scale it and glue it to say .005 sheet you can have a single sheet of plywood that you can put in  the back of a half ton truck.

 Here is a nice stone wall that I will be using on the exterior of the next farm house I build.

 Now walls with studs are hard to find and I intend to use this for inside of my wooden grainery.

I used these wood planks for the floor in my E Class Station. You can also change the colour, darkness and the tint if you would like to.

Here are some of the signs and other details that I have used. The RBC, Barbershop, Co-op signs, the thermometer on the barbershop wall, the interior on each building, the curtains in the windows, the licence plate on the truck.

Here are interiors that I have used. You have to find very specific pictures for this to work. Then play around with the scale, print, test and try again. The interior in the Bakery is curved so you get the perspective that you are looking way back into the store. The awnings are ones that I also created and then printed.

This is the interior of an F unit and it is scaled down to fit on the wall in my camera car. I now have an interiors for a GP9 long hood forward, SD9, FA1 and an SD40. I have to make a change to my car so each slide can be changed more easily.   
I also use this process for all my station, flanger, whistle, mileage, flags, yard limit and road signs. The big advantage being that you have very unique details that are not for sale to just anyone.

Any graphic art program will work to scale the textures and pictures you may have. There are a few programs that you can use. I use Inkscape or Gimp which are free and at times have used just a word doc to scale a picture to the size I want. Corel also makes a program but you have to pay for it. These programs are easy to find with a quick search on the internet. For this purpose they are not that hard to learn.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Follow me by email Part 2

I thought I would do an update to the part one of this post. It seems that Blogger finally made it simple and reliable to follow me. I am up to 12000 page views but was never able to set up any type of follower before. It is now just one click on the top right for you to be able to follow me. Please follow so I can see how many people are interested in the blog. I am also going to start having some guest writers do a few posts on railway things the relate to my layout so you can look forward to that. If you would like to submit something to post on the blog send me an email or make a comment. I will not post your comments as I get to review them first.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

CNR Ash Pit

I scratch built this from looking at the remains at Big Valley, Alberta and froma a picture I had found on
the Internet. I did find a different photo once it was almost completed which showed that the rail on
the backside would have been on top of the foundation not on a support as I modelled it. Go figure!
The ashes are Woodlands fine cinders. The rail is code 55. The access to the ash pit for locomotives is
on a track between the coaling tower and the turntable. For the ash car, access is off the back of the
lead to the coal dock. The ash car is then sent out to be dumped on the Qu`Appelle sub so it goes to
staging and then returns back to collect more ash. The car was loaded and unloaded by shovel. All the
foundations and the sloped approach to the pit are made from styrene. I drew the slope sides in CAD
and then printed them on card stock and did test fits until I was happy I painted it in place with my
airbrush and weathered it with chalks and some paint.
They only thing that I may go back and change is to either make a recess for the coupler or move the
end wall back scale 6' so the car sits more centered to the pit. The only tough part of the build was
getting the slope on the track right.
Yes I realize I have an oil burner (CN1392 10 Wheeler from Van Hobbies) sitting there. It is about to fill
up with oil from the standpipe behind.
I have not completed the rest of the scenery because I have not really visualized what I want to do.

The little tool rack on the back right was scratch built to hold switch cleaning tools. The oil standpipe is from Tichy.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Tools from the cosmetic department

A walk through the cosmetic department will yield some different tools that work very well for a reasonable price. I am not recommending that you take any of these from your better half's bathroom but you can look and ask some questions :-)
In the picture below is a cuticle cutter. You can use this to remove details from cars or locomotives. I use it mostly when I want to remove molded on ladder rungs and grab irons. What is great about this tool is that it will not dig in and thus is easier to get close to the surface which will not need further touch ups. This is a result of the tapered V shape of the cutter.

On the left is a clipper that will cut just like a sprue cutter which if you build kits like Intermountain this tool is indispensable. This one is smaller than my other sprue cutter.  It works well when you do not have a lot of room or an awkward angle and want a clean cut. It is also incredibly sharp. On the right is a cuticle pusher and is also very sharp and can be used for trimming things off flat surfaces like rivets.

These emery boards work well and they do not cost very much. The type I use has corse on one side and finer on the other.

There is also a whole array of different types of tweezers that have very accurate tips.

I also have a bottle off flat black nail polish that I use on my brass steamers to cover spots where shorts on the frame may be happening. It is thick so it covers better than paint.

The makeup brushes I use for weathering with chalks also come from this department or older ones from my wife. They are soft to firm and work very well with the chalks.

Friday, 25 October 2019

CN Lime Stone Hoppers and Loads

I had a need for another train that didn't interchange cars and is just a through train. This helps to keep the amount of work for the yard crew manageable. I received information from Graham Wood as he was engineer on this particular train that ran between Hudson Bay, Sk and Regina, Sk. The lime stone was used in a cement plant east of Regina.

Here are the Accurail hoppers that I found at Walthers on a sale deal. I had another 3 cars that I had picked up at a swap meet that are not in the picture. I have space to run a 13 car train.

 I used my Badger air eraser to remove the lettering off the cars. I do not have pictures of these cars but I have pictures below of other cars I have done. I use baking soda instead of silica in my eraser. It is not harsh or dangerous to the respiratory system. Charlie and I had built a booth that is sealed that I use with the eraser.  The finish from this process is very smooth so re-painting is not a problem. To do either one of the cars below took about 10 min. 

The picture below shows the cars after they have been painted CN red #11. The Kadee #58 couplers have been re-installed. I  cut off the trip pins on all my cars as I have no need for them. All cars get a pair of Kadee air hoses. I could have painted them with the couplers on if I had wanted to as I have a piece of shrink tube that I cut off and slide over the coupler to keep them safe from paint. I chose not to do some of the modifications that were outlined by Stafford Swain's article on hopper cars.

I had custom decals made for these cars  by William Bellandger from Manitoba. The good part of having the decals made was I could change the size of the CANADIAN NATIONAL, built dates, re-weights, coal and stone levels and car number and data that was unique to each car. This made decaling the cars very easy. Took a little more time to set it up and check that they were correct before they were printed. As a result it only took about 15 min to decal the side and one end of a car because of the work done above. The cars were then weathered inside and out with chalks and then a shot of acrylic dull coat. The trucks were reinstalled with new code 88 metal wheel sets. 

Below are pictures for the loads. I ripped 1/8" hard board through my band saw and then cut them to length and trimmed the corners to fit the hoppers. Each piece was test fitted inside a car to ensure that it would go in and out without sticking. I then glued on 1/4" super magnets in the center. They are only an 1/8" high so they are easy to cover. They are laying on my garage floor in the sun letting the glue set.

I then laid down a garbage bag on the floor and painted all the load boards and magnets black. Just using a can of flat black paint.

Here you can see the lime stone glued to the board. I took real lime stone and put it in a bag and smashed it with a 4 lb hammer  to crush it down to size. The size of the crushed lime stone was up for debate but it looks good at the size it is. I then screened it. I had to pick out some of the larger pieces because I didn't have a screen size that would work. Still on the garage floor I poured the crushed stone on to the boards until I was happy with the load shape. I didn't worry if stone was on the sides of the loads, as I had done a test with my coal loads and found it is easy to break off anything that gets stuck to the side. I then sprayed them with water with a little alcohol in it and then used diluted white glue to glue everything down and left them again in the sun to dry. Once they were dry I broke off the stray pieces from the sides and then sprayed all the loads with a dull coat. To remove the loads from the cars I use one of the extra magnetic wands that I have from Rapido passenger cars. I used the same process to build my coal loads by just substituting stone for real coal.

Here are some pictures of the cars. Normal power for this train for now is 2 GMD1's and 1 GP7. This train leaves from Regina and goes on the Qu'Appelle sub to Melville and then on the Yorkton sub to Yorkton and on to Hudson Bay where it gets loaded and then returns back to Regina and is then interchanged out to the cement plant east of the city.

Below are pictures of the train.

Laser Cutting Learnings Part 1

  I have had the opportunity to have access to a laser cutter not far from home. Ray a friend of mine has been mentoring me. The cutter is a...