Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Modeller's Apprentice

It's now been a month since I last posted and over a month since I last did any modelling. This isn't for lack of interest but rather a serious lack of time. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future either, so you can expect posts to be slightly more sporadic than usual.

Some of you already know why I've been busy, but many of you won't so here is a clue....

That photo was taken on Sunday when I introduced my three week old son, Toby Arthur, to his first steam train -- I didn't even have to go far as this was another running of the Tin Bath railtour along the line at the bottom of our garden (see here and here for more details)

At the moment any "free" time I might have is probably going to be spent catching up on sleep so it's unlikely I'll get much modelling done for at least a few months. I'm also probably going to be more careful about the use of paints and chemicals in the house so some things may need to wait for me to tidy the garage and for some warmer weather (there is a light covering of snow outside as I type this). That being said I've got a couple of new models I'd like to have a go at designing and some articles to write, both of which I can do on my laptop in short bursts of a few minutes here and there between nappy changes and cuddles.

Of course there is also a flip side to all this, in that as he grows up I'm hoping I'll be able to interest him in trains which would mean days out to preserved railways, train sets (as opposed to model railways), as well as models I could build him. Clearly having called him Toby I'm going to need to build an LNER J70 at some point, and while only a minor character maybe I'll need to find an Ivatt 2MT 2-6-2T as well. Before we get to Thomas the Tank Engine though I'm going to start by reading him Ivor the Engine from a book that was read to me when I was small, plus I've always fancied building a model of Ivor.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Figure Painting

So in the previous post I mentioned I'd used a new painting method. Technically it's not new, but it's not something I'd tried before and that is stain painting to colour the figures.

All the figure painting I've done in the past (either recently or when painting Games Workshop figures in my misspent youth) has followed the same approach of block painting colours and then either picking out the highlights with dry brushing or emphasizing creases using thin washes. The problem is that this can be quite time consuming and more importantly finding complimentary colours for highlights and washes can be tricky. This new, for me, approach inverts this process. If you want lots of details then I followed the suggestions on this web page, but essentially you can see the whole process in these four photos.

The first step is simply to paint the entire figure black. This is followed by dry brushing with white to pick out the highlights. Colours are then added using paint diluted with water (to a consistency like milk). Rather than completely covering the underlying areas this essentially stains the lower layers allowing the creases and highlights to show through. A quick waft of matt varnish to helps tie everything together to give...

This is of course a rather cruel close up being many times life size, but you get the general idea. As I said at the start it's not a new idea, but was something I've never tried before, but from this brief test will be something I'll be doing a lot more in the future.

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Display Model

While I've painted numerous models for myself, one of which even did well in a competition, and built a model as a commission, until recently one thing I hadn't done was produce a display model. As I won't be going to ExpoNG this year and I didn't fancy risking any of my completed Hudson-Hunslet models in the post, I decided it would be good to have a display model that people could see on the Narrow Planet stand to entice them into buying a kit.

As a display model it doesn't need to work so it doesn't contain a motor or layshaft etc. This is partly as I built it around a misprinted brass chassis that won't hold the layshaft, as well as some gears on the axles that I damaged during building of the first prototype model. Of course none of that matters when it's simply being viewed on the display stand. So if you haven't had the chance to see one of these Hudson-Hunslet models in the flesh yet, have a day out at ExpoNG and hunt out the Narrow Planet stand for a good look.

As well as being fun to build I also experimented with a new painting technique but that can wait for another post.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Lamp Brackets

With all the pipework now sorted I think I'm down to the last two details I need to finish before I can think about painting; lamp brackets and the smokebox door. The smokebox door will be covered in another post but today I've fabricated the lamp brackets and fitted the rear one.

The original cab moulding had empty lamp brackets at both the botom corners of the rear sheet, and a lamp in the middle just below the windows. I wasn't happy with any of these and so they were all removed quite early on. Having looked at old photos I've settled on a single lamp bracket on the rear of the cab, and as you can see have used a whitemetal casting for the lamp itself (this is actually a 3mm scale casting from 3mm Scale Model Railways). Of course the loco would usualy only carry a single lamp positioned at the front or rear depending on which way it was travelling, so I've made the lamp removable so in theory it can move between the rear and front lamp brackets.

Here you can see the fitted bracket, along with the lamp (modified with a locating loop), and the tool I made to form the brackets. The tool is simply a piece of brass with a slot in it, but it allows you to easily bend a strip of brass for the brackets. Not much to show I know but I think it's a nice feature. I might find I glue the lamp on because it's more hassle than it's worth but for now having the ability to remove it should be a nice touch.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


After a lot of hunting through old photos (thanks to everyone who helped me find them all) I finally managed to get enough of an idea about the pipework alongside the dome to produce a passable representation.

It's not perfect but from normal viewing distances I think it will do the job nicely.

Monday, July 25, 2016

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

Over the last couple of months my modelling has been featured, one way or another, in three different magazines. First up was the June issue of British Railway Modelling, then the July issue of Railway Modeller, and then the most recent issue, number 107, of Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling REVIEW. The mentions have all been very different but they've allowed me to reflect on whether or not the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity is really true or not.

Let's work backwards through time starting with the article in the REVIEW. As you can see from the cover this was a locomotive builders special issue and the editor, Roy C. Link, asked if I could write an article about the Hudson-Hunslet model I built that became the Narrow Planet kit. In a slight departure from other articles I've written this one is essentially a set of photos with extended captions and runs over six pages. It's been beautifully laid out by Roy and I think gives a nice overview of the whole process from initial idea through to the release of the kit. The whole magazine is stuffed full of wonderful modelling (as it always is) and hopefully readers won't think I bring down the tone with my modern 3D printing approach.

Next we have the July issue of Railway Modeller, which included a short item, about a third of a page, on the Lynton and Barnstaple detailing pieces available from Narrow Planet, which includes the chimneys and finials I designed. We had sent the magazine some samples, and while the item was short it was very positive, and probably explains the sudden surge in orders for chimneys I've had to deal with recently.

Which brings us finally to the article in the June issue of British Railway Modelling. The story behind this article goes all the way back to ExpoNG last year when the Hudson-Hunslet kit first went on sale. One of the kits sold on the day (rather than as part of the pre-order) was bough by Ben Jones the editor of British Railway Modelling. I had a really nice chat with Ben and he took a number of photographs of my prototype model (the red one). No promises on an article were made but I made it clear that if he wanted any more information or needed any help with the kit he only had to ask. So when I heard that there was an article on the kit in the June issue I was full of hope. Unfortunately, as I alluded to in a previous post, hope turned to disappointment very very quickly.

Even before I'd managed to get my hands on a copy of the magazine I'd heard rumours that the article was problematic. Unfortunately this proved to be true, but the situation was a lot worse than I feared. In the magazine the article ran over three pages; one page of build photos and captions and then a double page spread mostly taken up with a single large photo and a column of text. Taking a model that is so small and printing a photo across a double page is always going to be rather cruel, but it helps if the model has at least been put together properly. Unfortunately the body and chassis clearly hadn't been fitted together correctly as the axle boxes and axles didn't line up; probably only a mm both vertically and horizontally but when blown up it was glaringly obvious. Plus the locking handles on the bonnet panels hadn't been fitted (even though they were mentioned in the text of the article) leaving odd holes in the model.

The article itself is fairly positive and the build sequence is nice and clear. Unfortunately, Ben admits to having "hit a brick wall" assembling the chassis and having to ask Phil Parker for help, and then states that the supplied figure is "too large for the seat". Yes the driver is a little large but exactly how to make him fit is covered in the instructions, which Ben suggests "reading thoroughly before you start". The issues with the chassis are then covered in a 3 minute video on the accompanying DVD. Essentially once Phil had got it working rather than writing an e-mail he filmed a quick video for Ben never expecting it to be published. Unfortunately it comes across as Phil simply listing things wrong with the kit:
  • Mounting pins in the wrong place: no they aren't I'm guessing when Ben added weight to the body he got it in the wrong place so the two halves won't mate properly. An issue highlighted in the instructions and which would explain why the axle boxes and axles don't line up in the photo.
  • Replacing the phosphor bronze wire as we only supply a tiny amount: we actually supply three or four times more than necessary so I'm not sure where the extra went.
  • That the etched brakes can't be fitted as they would interfere with the pickups: it's clear in the video Phil is trying to fit them to the mounting pins between the wheels not the ones on the corners of the chassis. Again covered clearly in the instructions.
  • A general lack of weight: getting weight into such a small model is hard which is why we supply a whitemetal driver figure so it's a shame it wasn't used.
Now I wasn't expecting a glowing review but as you can imagine, when you add all those things up, I was rather disappointed with the article. Of course the magazine is free to run the article as they see fit. After all it wasn't an advert as Ben had paid full price for the kit (he didn't even ask for a discount), and I'm not trying to denigrate either Ben or Phil's modelling; I read Phil's blog on a daily basis as I enjoy his modelling output. Mainly I'm disappointed as pretty much all of the issues come from not having read the instructions carefully, and I could have helped solve them with a single e-mail had I been asked.

The article raises a wider issue though. Having seen how misleading the article is (in my eyes at least) how can I, or anyone else for that matter, trust any other kit reviews in the magazine? If I'd read the article with no prior knowledge of the kit I'd probably have thought it was badly designed and wouldn't have bought one. Is every other bad kit review I've read similarly misleading? What about good reviews how accurate are they? Of course I'm not talking just about British Railway Modelling here but magazines in general.

I understand from talking this through with some other people that the REVIEW avoids mistakes like this by often running a copy of the article past the kit manufacturer before publication. This probably explains why it's such a well respected magazine. Maybe the main high street magazines should follow suit?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Whistle While You Work

Unfortunately there hasn't been much time for modelling over the last couple of weeks, but yesterday I decided to find a few minutes to produce another of the small detailing parts for the Skarloey conversion, specifically the whistle. On the prototype the whistle is mounted on top of the dome, but the plastic moulding on the model is very coarse so I decided to replace it with something knocked up from styrene strip, phosphor bronze strip and a turned brass whistle (I already had this in stock, a purchase from 3mm Scale Model Railways when I fitted one to the Quarry Hunslet, so didn't feel the need to turn my own)

There isn't really anything complex or interesting in the modelling here, apart from the way I shaped the styrene strip to be a tight fit into the hole in the casting. I used some 0.8m by 1.5mm strip which is just a little too big in both dimensions for the slot in the casting. Instead of trying to file it down, I simply flooded the hole in the casting with plastic weld, and then gently pushed the strip against the top of the hole. The plastic weld essentially melts the styrene and so I was able to gently work it deeper and deeper into the hole adding a bit more solvent with a brush as needed. Once it was all the way in I left it alone so the plastic would harden then gently pulled it out and trimmed off the flash that had formed. After that it was just a case of fitting the bit of strip metal trimming everything to size and drilling a hole for the whistle to fit.

In the photo all the parts are simply resting in place, which explains the gap between the cab and the casting, this will disappear when everything is properly screwed together. I think the only thing remaining now is to decide if I need any pipework around the dome, otherwise I might be able to move on to painting.