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Laser cutting

A visit to the woodworking shop

I spent the early part of this week visiting my friend Tim to get the extra bits of wood cut for Brettell Road. With Scaleforum looking at the end of September I needed to turn it from a plaything to something that could survive on the exhibition circuit. My list was as follows:

  • 2 fiddleyards
  • Cassettes for the fiddleyards
  • New sides and ends for the layout itself
  • Fronts for the layout
  • Legs for the layout

The reason for the new sides and ends were that when I built Brettell Road it wasn’t supposed to be taken out. I used 3mm MDF for the backscenes and it was too weak The entire construction was MDF and while this is absolutely fine for small, simply shaped boards the design of Brettell Road was a little too ambitious for the material. So the 3mm MDF has been replaced with 6mm ply instead.Pictured above is the right hand side (as the viewer will look at it) fiddleyard. Quality control dog Earl doesn’t seem all that impressed!

Laser cutters can be quite hypnotic to watch. Here is the large cutter cutting out a test piece for the layout logos.

The logo test. the scratches on the acrylic were not caused by the laser but by yours truly cleaning the dust off with something a tad too abrasive!

As always, thanks to Tim for allowing me to take over his machines for a couple of days.


A technological rethink

A while ago I wrote about the benefits of using modern techniques and processes, specifically laser cutters.  However I have sort of come to change my view on this a little recently. You see, if you are doing more than 1 thing that is the same then laser cutting can offer a distinct time-saving. If however what you are doing is pretty much bespoke then the extra effort is, I have concluded, not really worth it. Take my retaining walls for Brettell Road. I did draw up the larger one but it took for ever. It turned out to be much quicker and easier to just get some sheets of embossed plasticard and get stuck in! I have to admit those that protest on forums that laser cutting is cheating really don’t have a clue what they are talking about because it’s a lot, lot harder than the old way. large-retaining-wallsmall-retaining-wall

These walls use Slaters bricks and I have done the top row by cutting individual blocks from evergreen strip and gluing them in place. Even taking the time to do this (Which isn’t exactly taxing but is long-winded) these walls didn’t take all that long to do.

open

Wagon building continues and I have amassed a fair few now (probably enough for Brettell Road if I am honest). This is a diagram 1/019 BR medium goods wagon from the Parkside kit which, as is customary for their stuff, pretty much falls together out of the packet. The usual extra bits and bobs have been added to the underframe. opens

On the left a BR 13 ton steel open again from Parkside while on the right a 13 ton sand tippler from Red Panda. I originally built this for Amlwch but never actually ran it on that layout so it can go here instead. It’s good to see that the small but useful range of Red Panda kits have recently resurfaced from Parkside. jinty-in-the-rain

Finally this is pretty much what I hope Brettell Road will be all about, dark and wet! It’s always been my intention to depict a rainy  night somewhere in the Black Country and this is the first time I’ve really been able to get an image that illustrates what I am looking for.


New(ish) technology or modelling witchcraft?

New technology, there are those who embrace it or those who reject it or seeing it as cheating in some way. It’s not a new phenomena or even restricted to railway modelling, I remember such discussions when digital illustration started to appear. With a hobby of course it’s up to you how you pursue it. Do you want the end result to be the best it can be or do you enjoy the route to the end result more? No one is ‘right’ in such circumstances but if someone choses to embrace new technology is it fair to accuse them of cheating in some way?

The finescale end of the hobby has always had a reputation for valuing the journey over the destination and for a long time detailed or converted RTR was frowned on as not proper modelling by those who scratchbuild stuff when in many cases the RTR looked much more like it was supposed to than the scratchbuilt stuff anyway. In reality though the finescalers have usually been the ones to embrace new technology and ideas first and the current crop of high quality RTR is largely down to people wanting something better. You hear it all the time, we’ve never had it so good and it’s probably true but things don’t get better if people just accept what they are given – they have to ‘want’ better too. It’s probably worth at this point mentioning that we never had it so good 20 years ago and we will probably still be saying it 20 years from now. Does anyone really believe that the current crop of RTR is the best we are ever to see?

So to the point – Laser cut buildings. Already people are saying that its cheating, that you just push a button and a building pops out of a machine but in reality it’s just a very very clever scalpel and while I believe the end result is better is it any easier or quicker?
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What you see above is a simple canal bridge drawing for Brettell Road. Its drawn in illustrator and while I have used some time-saving tricks like custom brushes for the arch and a custom fill for the brick pattern it seemed to take a lot longer than just getting a sheet of brick plasticard and cutting it out. The thing is though I could convert the pattern to lines (expand appearance for those interested) and then tweak it. For example I could easily recreate the half width header near the corners in an English Bond wall while doing so with plasticard would have been a massive faff. In fact I wonder if anyone has even bothered, I know I didn’t think it worth the effort!
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Above is the actual wall loosely positioned on its canal bed and towpath. The top row are routed and cut by Tim.
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However laser cut can be a bit clinical. For the towpath I wanted a cobbled section but also a dirt section to – the finished cut was attacked with files and sandpaper to roughen it up. Going back to the point of New technology and illustration, I always thought, if Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci had Photoshop would they have used it? Id bet that they would!