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David's Workbench

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David Holman

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Following the muse

 One of the many nice things about our hobby is that you don't have to follow convention, or even your own plans. Thus it has been over the last week or so, when after doing the ballasting & in particular working on the baseboard joint, it felt like it was time to do something different. So, I split the boards to gain a bit of space and have been focussing on the right hand one, in particular the right hand end of this. There are two main structures here, the travelling crane [more of which anon] and the warehouse.



The first and third pictures show that this has grown a bit, with the gable end section gaining an extra storey as I felt more height would balance the scene better. This was then rendered with DAS clay, like the rest of the model and, once dry, the process of scribing in the stonework started. Inspiration comes from the rather splendid set of buildings on Ramelton Quay, not far from Letterkenny, photos of which I found via an internet search. They appear to be built from random stone & then cement rendered, only for some of the latter to crumble away.

DAS is ideal for this sort of work. I don't worry much about applying it flat or smooth, for though I do sand it back, I also leave humps and hollows which help create variety. The hollows in particular are where I've scribed the stonework, plus along the base of the building, as per the prototype. The tools required are minimal, just a scribe and an old toothbrush - the latter essential to see where you are going.


 The building [a warehouse on my layout], also has some very nice looking doors, which have clearly seen better days. The ground floor one is both patched and very worn at the base, while the upper ones appear to have been repaired with corrugated iron. All fairly easy to do with plastic sheet and strip and certainly a lot simpler than making windows.

 As for the crane, I had this in mind as a way to hide the square corner at this end of the layout. A full scratch build was a possibility, but then I remembered the Dapol [ex Airfix kit]. This must be at least 50 years old, probably more, but represents the sort of thing I am interested in, standing high on long legs and running on rails set about 4-5 metres apart. Thus far, I've used the wheel units, along with the the cabin base and boom. The two legs have been made from 60thou plastic sheet, with the crane cabin from 40thou. A lot more detailing is required, but it seems to fit the scene, though the corner of the back scene will need some sanding to make a small radius curve.

 As things stand, I've got four structures of different kinds under way [crane, warehouse, platform store and the Puffer], so plenty of variety if/when I get bored with more mundane things!


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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been tinkering with the crane, on and off, over the last fortnight and thought I was getting on quite well. Unfortunately, in trying to work out how the cables and hoist gear was rigged, I came across a lengthy thread on RMweb, which shows that the Airfix/Dapol crane kit is, well, wrong...

 It is all to do with luffing, apparently, which to the uninitiated like me, means the jib needs to be able to move up and down via a supplementary set of cables, separate from the ones to the lifting hook. All to do with the angle of the dangle when lifting cargo from a ship's hold.

 Anyway, for me, it was a case of 'do I scrap the whole thing and start again', or persevere onwards? Given that Northport Quay is very much a cameo and the crane is really just a view blocker, half hidden behind the warehouse anyway, I decided to plod on. There is another issue though, because am fairly certain this type of crane would have been powered by electricity, so a model isn't really appropriate for the early 20th century. 1950s should be ok, though by all means tell me I'm wrong!

 I won't mind, because it has been an amusing little project to adapt and reconfigure the old Airfix mouldings. After making new legs and a larger cabin, it was obvious the platform needed some safety railings and this meant raising the cabin on a piece of tube made from several layers of 20thou plastic sheet. Inside the new cabin, I fitted part of the Airfix one, to act as a kind of engine room - maybe diesel power? I also added some white metal levers from a signal box kit, together with a seated driver. The outside of the cabin has been clad in Slater's corrugated iron sheet, some of which also forms the roof.

 Thus far, the model has been sprayed with rattle can primer and given these things seemed to be mainly grey anyway, it could be that some weathering coats on top of this are all that is required. By and large, it looks the part, though far from prototypical - but as I said earlier, the layout is very much a cameo, so liberties are most certainly being taken.






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  • 4 weeks later...

It's competition night at the Chatham Club the week after next, so nothing like a deadline to get something finished! Don't know what other clubs do, but we have five categories: Locos, Coaching Stock, Wagons, Buildings and Miscellaneous. The latter is the one the crane will be going in, which has in the past been won by everything from ships to scenics to road vehicles. Members vote on each others' models and so it is a bit of a lottery, but equally also mainly a bit of fun, so we are hoping for a good turnout after missing the last two years.

 I've been searching for that little bit extra, in the hope of making the model more believable & managed to find a picture online of how the old Aifix kit had been adapted to have a pseudo 'luffing' arrangement. Hence did a  simple copy of this by adding a couple of plastic brackets to the centre of the jib, along with a couple of extra cables [fishing wire], via a pulley on a wire arm, as a means to move the jib up & down separately. None of it actually works, I hasten to add!


 The rest of the work has been about trying to tone down the plain [primer] grey paint. Did this first with an overall wash of 'Null Oil' [Games Workshop], followed by various applications of weathering powders to give a patina of rust. Being a harbour crane, am assuming the salty air would lead to rapid corrosion.

 Still need to get the cable to the hook straight. Could be I'll need to swap the fishing line for some sort of thread from the end of the jib.


 What I haven't been able to work out is how a 12" to the foot version of this crane would have been powered. Safe to assume that steam is very unlikely, so diesel or petrol the best bet. However, the kit doesn't come with with any sort of exhaust pipe, yet if it was electric, where would that source come from? Some dock cranes were hydraulic powered, but they were static. Either way, unlikely anything other than steam power would have been used much before WW1, so the model is only really applicable for after that, it seems.

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  • 2 weeks later...


 Decided it was time to grasp the nettle and tackle the backscene. Have done a few over the years, so here is my take on such things. My leanings are probably more artistic than engineering, being left brained and generally untidy, though working as a primary headteacher meant I had to learn how to be better organised!

 First up, materials and for me it is pretty much a case of anything goes, so lots of paint brushes, with the old school hogs hair ones favourite for blocking in larger areas. Paint itself is cheap acrylic, from places like The Works, where a big tube costs the same as a much smaller one from an art shop.


 For detail work though, pencils, pens and crayons are more useful, I find. 20 odd years ago, I bought a set of Berol Karisma water colour crayons [easy to see which ones are used most] which are lovely to use and they still have plenty of life in them. Felt pens of various types come in handy too - a case of finding what works best for you, while ensuring plenty of options.


 I often get people telling me that they can't draw or paint, but while there are obviously some people who are naturally talented  [look at Picasso's early stuff - he really knew how to draw], the basic techniques are easy to learn. When I was still a class teacher, there was a great art programme on TV called 'Look, Look and Look again', which pretty much sums it up - that and the basic rules of perspective. When I am painting a backscene, have found a few other things apply:

  • Start furthest back, probably the sky, and move forward
  • Distant colours are much more faded and become almost monochrome the further back you go
  • You'll need about 10 times more white than any other colour
  • Yellow ochre, burnt sienna and hooker's green are the other main colours, along with cobalt blue - and very little black
  •  It is best to build things up in multiple layers
  • Colours always seem to be darker on the backscene than they appear in the palette
  • No matter how hard I try, I always start off with colours that are too strong and have to tone them down!

 The rest of the pictures show progress thus far. Sky first - a fairly plain pale grey, pretty much as per the weather today, then the sea: a slightly darker shade than the sky, with a hint of blue. 


 The hills come next, mainly greys for the distant ones, with grey/green for the nearer slopes. A lot of work still to do here as I want to try and replicate rocky hillsides with patches of gorse and heather, so only an impression at the moment. 


 Another 'rule' is that it pays to just do half an hour or so, then stop for a bit. Chances are, what you thought looked ok will be less satisfactory when you go back, but you will get there in the end.



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Thanks folks. Hopefully it will provide the all important depth to what is a very narrow scene, but a fair bit of work still needed!

 Nothing wrong with using photos, Ken. Some can be a bit bright, but choose the right ones and they can be very effective.

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On Monday, spurred on by kind comments, I went to look at the back scenes and must confess they looked pretty horrible. The camera can and does lie, I'm afraid...

 The colours all seemed too dark and or dense, while what should have tried to present a three dimensional scene looked disappointingly flat. Hey ho, I thought, these things rarely work out first time, but Monday's work wasn't much of an improvement either, as the dull colours were still coming through the next coats of paint. I'd tried adding brighter tones and textures but, even brightly lit, it just wasn't right. Clearly a new approach was needed.

 Starting from the ground up, as it were, I painted in the areas of bare rock and then used crayons and felt pens to add detail to these areas. This looked better, so I continued with the felt pens, sticking to pastel colours as shown below.


 Various greens were used to add what looked like thicker foliage and low bushes around the rocks. Have since gone over some of these areas with a pale yellow pen, which has helped tone things down. In the course of doing this, I realised that by varying the direction of shading, I could better suggest contours on the hillside. A few more touches and we now have what what I hope is a more effective scene.


 Other work has involved further layers on the back ground hills and water, while I've also added a couple of trees to provide a bit more variety and [more importantly] help hide the join in the backscene.

 Although I've used flash, the shadow from the shelf above hasn't helped and in this case, the painting now looks better than there photo!



 Feeling a bit more pleased with myself, I've also started blocking in the buildings and foreground details. More felt pen and crayon work to come.




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Super stuff.  The roadway down by the cottages really works - what is most impressive is how it works from different directions.  Sometimes these backdrops will only work from one direction, but you really seem to be able to bring different dimensions to it.


Well done Sir....

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  • 1 month later...

Have wandered back to more specific workbench stuff, after what seemed like too much painting and ground work over the last few weeks. That's the joy of layout building for you - if you get fed up with one strand, there's always something else to do! 

 One thing that had been on the 'to do' list for a while was remote control of the starter signal. I could have gone along the electronic route, with maybe a servo or a solenoid, but it seemed easier to just make it mechanical and looking through my materials boxes, I found there were enough angle cranks and wire in tube to make that happen.  As can be seen from the picture, the wire in tube uses two cranks, one to make a right angled turn to go parallel to the track and the other to go vertically up to the signal actuator arm. Only a very small amount of movement is required, so I made a simple knob from a small bolt, by drilling into it so the wire in tube fitted inside. The actual wire itself comes out of the top of the knob and is bent over and soldered in place. [More than] a few rude words got uttered while I was working how long the wire in each bit of tube needed to be, but got there in the end and [fingers crossed] it all works nicely and without the rather small control panel getting too crowded.


 I also put an order in to Skytrex on Sunday for some all important scenic bits and pieces so was pleased to find a package arriving from the postman this morning. A mixture of boxes, crate, barrels and parcels  - some in cast white metal, others in resin. Spent a happy hour trying out some of them on the layout and then gave these a scrub  in warm water & washing up liquid before an overall spray of primer. I also ordered a set of white metal buffers, which, after drilling the beam to cope with the wider gauge has been posed on the siding, awaiting painting and bedding in.


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  • 2 weeks later...

 One project that has been very much in the background of late has been the large warehouse at the right hand end of the layout. Various bits and pieces have been worked on, such as making and laying the roof slates, but nothing of any great interest. However, with the left hand board now awaiting more fine detail, attention has moved to the other.

 The roof slates are fairly conventional 'old school' - strips of thin card, a scale 18" deep and snipped with scissors every foot, then laid [from the lower edge upwards] on PVA. Card was also used for the bargeboards, which are stuck to matchsticks just under the edges of the roof.

 Guttering is my standard dodge. Strips of 100 thou plasticard have one corner rounded off with files/sandpaper. Only the ends are fully profiled to represent a half round gutter - the rest becomes the soffit boards and the whole is glued to the top of the building's walls with contact adhesive.


 Most of recent efforts have gone into painting though. The DAS covered walls, partly scribed to show stonework showing through crumbling render, were first given a coat of Tamiya 'deck tan' acrylic. Next, the individual stones were picked out in light washes of more deck tan, tinted with either burnt sienna, ochre or grey. To try and add both texture and extra depth to the rendered areas, these were painted with a mix of deck tan and white, thickened with talc. At first, this seemed to work ok, but when I put the building on the layout, it looked far too bright and colourful, compared the the grey stone elsewhere, so gave everything a wash of grey, which seems to have toned things down fairly well.


 Roof slates are Precision 'slate grey' enamel, while the doors, shutters, gutters and downpipes are vermilion red acrylic. This probably needs a bit of weathering, as does the rest of the building, but I've posed my ex Timoleague & Courtmacsherry 0-4-2T on the quay, alongside the Clyde Puffer, which has had nothing done to it since Christmas, but hopefully its time will come soon!


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Posted (edited)

Excellent work David, as always.

Really like the effect of render crumbling away from the stones - very effective and adds a worn down effect to the building.

Edited by KMCE
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