Thursday, December 29, 2011

Virgin Railhead 01

The folks on the Railroad-Line have laid down the gauntlet and challenged me to making a railroad in ON30 (now that I have a locomotive).

I am taking the next few days in the sketchbook, as the workshop is being utilized for other purposes at the moment: a good chance to draw and take a break.

The first version of the Virgin Railhead is an inglenook. Street running might seem odd, but the streets were very wide in "Plat of Zion" towns like Virgin, a style of town with which any Utah History buff will be familiar.

Virgin was the first Well established town in the area, predating most of its neighbors. It may have still become a large town, and, people with holdings may not have wanted to yield ground to the railway; hence my backstory for the street.

Industries would include a team track and animal loading, a pickling plant. A merc. And several iconic structures of the area. I want to get the open but orderly feel of the "cultural" landscape while at the same time inventing the railway from whole cloth.

It is all drawn to be switched without a run-around, and designed to fit a hollow core door for portability. Don't want to re-invent any wheels here. The goal is to get to scenery. Just in case, I will build interfaces for the ends. Here is the first plan sketch.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Corrugated Metal

Tonight was a big night of miscelaneous work.  I moved the windows forward on Uncle Paul's, but before I did I started doing some tests on some Rusty Stumps Corrugated metal siding:  I have wanted to make some models in corrugated metal, and use it in a few places--but wanted to do so in a way that did not involve making the entire structure a mess of rust!

 You can see the original siding on the left.  One thing I was not prepared for was that the corrugations were not quite aligned with the sheet-so, in the future, I will have to adjust the cut.  I cut my sample pieces to 4'x10'.  Not sure if that size is accurate for old structures, but it is a common modern size--on my own home I used sheets of 4'x20' cold rolled corrugated.  Needless to say, I have a good example of how corrugated ages.
 I hit the surface of the metal with abrasive grit--though, I am frustrated by the distortion--corrugated tends to stay straight. All the same, the grit took the shine off the aluminum, and gave the material tooth to accept a water color wash.
 It also gave it more of a sparkly/dusty look, appropriate to zinc galvanizing.

So far, so good.  Though I want to see if I can do this without so much distortion.  I weathered the bottom heavily with acrylic--as if water splash up had corroded the bottom.  That was done with ink, burnt sienna, and raw umber.  The holes were picked with a needle.


Well, I managed to finish (more or less, save for the driver) the Gnat--a Backwoods Miniatures kit:  Today was a sweep up day.

I am pretty happy with the Gnat over all, but feel the weathering is a tad heavy--good practice all the same.

The backwoods kit is excellent: the warp in the castings was added by me, and the Bachmann mechanism runs very well.  The only major deviation, save for details, was re-shaping the Bachmann chasis on a belt sander to more closely follow the profile of the Gnat body.

Detail changes included converting it to run on oil--not very prototypical for the kind of loco it is.  I imagined the loco as doing service in my little town of Virgin in the early part of the 20th Century--Oil was found here--thick, difficult to use oil, but it was oil all the same--that, and I could not see any place in the Gnat to add a firebox door. .  .

Heading back downstairs to see what else I can finish up!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Dad

This is the first Christmas without my father--and I miss him dearly.  While there is so much still up in the air, one of the things that has come back to me is a live steam traction engine I bought him half a dozen years ago for Christmas.  In his life he never had a chance to light it up--so my wife and I took it out of the package, and lit it up in his honor.  In short order we had the cylinder oiled, and our valves in order.  We made forward motion, and electricity.  Big smiles all around.
Dad, we miss you, a lot.

More fuel is ordered, and, though I think of my father almost every day, something tells me lighting and running this steam locomotive will become a tradition.  Dad, we love you, and, we miss you--you are here in all of our hearts.

Laser 02

I was starting to prep a file to cut, and realized that I should take a step back and photograph more carefully--I will see if I can do it on the Christmas Holiday.  Work has a way of shrinking my free time--and, because work is creative (designing buildings in 1:1), it often leaks into what might otherwise be hobby hours--that has been happening over the past few days.

A few people have asked for a closer look at the laser. . . .

The guts of the thing are very simple:

Lifting the control panel reveals the back of the switches and the power supply.  The enameled metal box in the front covers the USB card installed by Full Spectrum.  You can see the USB cable emerging on the lower right--only complaint here is that the USB is vulnerable to being bumped, and, this can put stress on the cable or board--I will probably make a guard for it at some point soon.  The duct tape that snuck into the frame on the right is necessary item for cutting painted or laminated paper, as sometimes the paper has a subtle warp: taping it down can really help.

The main lid has a simple magnetic safety interlock.  This interlock shuts down the laser, but not the other movements.  A little test confirmed this--lifting the lid interrupts the cutting, but all other movements continue--so, there is no tie between the interlock and the software, it is a simple shut off switch for the laser.

The field of play is about 9-1/2" x 14-1/2".  I have this platen drawn in all of my cad files.  Since I draw at full scale, I simply multiply my frame by the scale factor that is appropriate: 48, 87, etc. 

This is the business end of the laser.  The angled cylinder holds the mirror (you can see the diagonal mirror in the background), and the conical portion of the the head contains the lens.  The laser tube is in the back of the unit, and reaches the cutting area by way of the two mirrors shown here, and, another shown in the back.

The small tubing entering the cone is the air supply from the compressor--which is the "air assist" that blows down inline with the beam to facilitate vaporization and combustion, and reduce burning in the work piece itself.

You will also notice a little red dot laser pointer: it gives an approximation of the location of the cut, but it is not precise.  If one uses a beam cominer, the laser pointer can be moved to another location, and will show through the lens, and therefore be more precise--but as I said before, I have yet to need this.  When I need to align cuts I use templates and jigs--since that is more precise than lining a dot.  Registration can vary from session to session, so I find if more useful to create registration marks in the cut file, and fire them from the laser, then align the work piece.  It gives me exact registration each time with incredible precision- again, more on that later.

Here you can see the diagonal mirror with its adjustment screws, and the drive belt.  You can also see the carriage bars and their bushings.  In my travels on the net I have seen one person have a problem with this after "crashing" the laser into the end stops--not sure how they did it--but they had one of the parallel belts that drive the y axis (as conventionally understood) skip a tooth, which resulted in slightly skewed cuts.  After reading this I take care with the belts and the carriage.  The carriage moves freely providing that the laser is on--when it is powered off, it is locked stiff, and I never attempt to move it.  I also keep an eye out for any soot on the moving parts.  When it comes to any piece of equipment, cleanliness seems to count.

The plastic exhaust fan is very quiet--I did create a cardboard gasket between the fan housing and the machine, and used foil tape to hold it in place.  This gasket improves suction from the unit.  With the exception of the blue flex you see here, the entire path out of the building is through hard pipe that is sealed.  The duct is shared with a kiln that is nearby, so, I have a second fan available should the fumes be perceptible in the room.

Extraction in this case is about more than your health--you do not want smoke or soot to collect on the optics, so it is best to get them out of the theatre efficiently.  You do not necesarrilly want to super power the fan, as a draft could create havoc with a cut too--you just want a continuous negative pressure in the cabinet.  Fresh air is drawn into the unit through various cracks.

Removing the fan, and opening the back compartment reveals the laser tube, briefly discussed in the last post.

The surgical tubing is for the previously described cooling system--a bucket of distilled water and an aquarium pump.

The focussing is similarly simple--four screws that raise and lower the platen, connected by a toothed belt.  I checked level at set up.  This is controlled by a "knob" at the bottom, and distance set to a particular part of the equipment using a template.  Attaching the knob is about all the assembly you have to do when you get the unit, save for making any needed adjustments to the mirrors.

I will cover more specifics, and a couple tips when I get to running a cut file.  Questions are always welcome.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laser 01

Laser cutting is easy, and anyone can do it. . . . 

I have received more than a few inquiries about the laser I use and how much it cost.  Without further adieu, I will share the setup with you.  I have been interested in "rapid prototyping" for some time, especially the ability to create fast visualizations for my architectural practice.  I have used various lasers, and have owned more than one CNC Mill.  In my opinion, physical models have the most utility when they can be realized quickly and simply.  Delays or complications in production interrupt the design process, and drive up costs. For those reasons, I favor simple, proven technologies.

The laser I chose for my own use is the 40Watt Deluxe Hobby Laser by Full Spectrum Laser in Las Vegas, it sells, ready to "rock and roll", for $2350.00 direct from their site: .  I chose to pick mine up in Las Vegas.  In addition to the laser, you will need a PC running Windows 7.  If you do not have a CAD or drawing program, you will need one.  Several free packages are available.  I recommend Draft Sight: .  The Full Spectrum Laser handles both vector and raster well, though I tend towards vector due to my CAD background.  I did purchase a beam combiner, but in the end felt it was unnecessary, and took it out of the machine--preferring to keep the laser path as simple as possible.

The key benefit of the Full Spectrum set up is their proprietary USB board and print driver--these seem to be native to Net Framework 4.0, and operates flawlessly on Windows 7.  I attempted an XP install first, however, I switched to Windows 7 in short order.  This set up allows you to "print" to the laser from most of the programs one would presume to use.  I put "print" in quotes, because what you are really doing is creating a .xps and opening it in the Full Spectrum software.  People with more costly lasers will take this for granted, however, the other imported lasers that look similar to the Full Spectrum unit do not sport this ease of use.

What the folks at Full Spectrum have done is to take a relatively inexpensive import, and have several upgrades made to the chassis, and as stated before, the interface.  The lasers use an older style of water cooled tube--Those tubes cost $300.00-$350.00.  Getting a new tube for a US laser, or having a US tube rebuilt is more on the order of $1000.00.  It might not be the newest technology, but it is entirely adequate. They also have physically brought the units to the United States; if you are located in the US, you are not having a delicate machine shipped from out of country. All of the units are tested and  calibrated in Las Vegas.  That is primarily why I chose to pick the unit up--I did not want to disturb any of the settings.

I have used the Universal equipment, and the Epilog Equipment (teaching at various schools of Architecture).  If I had $12,000.00 to spend I might buy a Universal.  The Universal Versa Laser is sharper and tighter machine--it is also at least four times the price.  I have seen samples from the Epilog Zing, and the distinction, to my eye, is not as great.  The difference in performance, by the way, makes virtually no difference for my purposes.  My choice was not between buying a Universal or Epilog (their Zing is $8,000.00) and a Full Spectrum; my choice was between Laser or no Laser.  True enough, one could do engraving on the side--but I already have a full and part time job--I don't need another.  I was able to buy this machine with cash.  Given the use of the machine, I saw no reason to incur debt.

The Full Spectrum Laser has filled an important market niche--essentially giving a lot of people who might never have afforded a laser a chance to own one--with a simple purchase process to boot.  I would gamble at least some of those people will go on to buy higher end lasers as they develop their businesses.

On to the set up:

In setting up my bench, I gathered all of the essential functions (cooling water, exhaust fan, and air assist) into a single power block, which also powers the laser.  This prevents any accidental firing without cooling water.  The other side of the power block powers the computer.  I power it all off at the end of the session. 

I keep a 5 gallon pail of distilled cooling water under the bench with a dust cover (I used a hole saw to make a tidy hole in a bucket lid).  I have made it a habit to check the return tube before firing the laser, visually verifying water flow.  I went to change the water after a month, however, the dust cover was so effective that water change was not necessary.  I also monitored the water temperature during my first few sessions--I am amazed at how effective 5 gallons of water is as a heat sink (James Joule, this one's for you!) Water is circulated by a little aquarium pump.  I made a more robust attachement for the tubing, as the included attachment did not seem entirely trustworthy--if you are handy enough to use a laser, you can make good connections.  "Aquarium Pump" might sound a little cheesy--but it works--and remember, the laser cost under $2500.00. . .

I was going to use the shop air compressor, but found the included compressor (visible hanging behind the Laser cabinet in the top photo) more than adequate, and the folks at Full Spectrum indicated that they found this unit was well matched to the Laser.  The only reason I might ultimately change is to get the noise of the compressor out of the room-it is the only thing that makes much noise.  Hanging it definitely cut the noise down, and it is not too offensive.

The panel is decidedly retro--and has more buttons than you actually need.  The air switch operates a controlled outlet on the back of the unit--I skipped using these at Full Spectrum's recomendation.  I like the power block set up I have as an alternative--no absent minded errors (I tend to be absent minded when I am focused on work. . . ).  The top two green switches pressed together will test fire the laser.  This is helpful for setting the power initially, and for testing alignment with a pin prick.

The current regulator knob sets the over all laser power.  Laser power should be limited to 15mA in order to ensure maximum tube life.  I set mine at just under, and leave it alone--checking it once in a while.  When cutting with the laser, you can control power as a percentage of total--a lot of my etches are at a fraction of a percent (in paper).  With these very basic settings, and manipulating the speed and number of repeats I can do everything from etching paper to cutting Masonite.  While Styrene is not a recommended material for the sake of the fumes and its tendency to glue itself back together I have found that I can in fact cut it by manipulating the cut order and passes--when I absolutely feel the need.  99.9% of the time I stick to paper and acrylic like materials.  A big part of cutting well in my mind, is thinking through the cut order, and setting up your drawing to cut well.

I will cover the "printing" process, focusing and cutting  in a subsequent post.  While your mileage may vary, I can say that I am entirely pleased with the Full Spectrum Laser--and, you can see the quality of the results in the preceding posts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Uncle Paul's 04

I have been going back and forth on the color on Uncle Pauls--I am thinking it may have been a more orange brick--so I made the facade in several colorways, including an unlikely buff.  I am going to test a few color combinations. 
It's a Paul's parade.

I will check the color again in day light, and may do a little more dry brushing. . . on to making more windows and building bodies next. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shifty Shed and Shingle Shack 13

The last week has been very busy, but, I managed to squeak a few hours in on the Shifty Shack.  I carved the foundation from Balsa Foam and colored it with acrylic paint so that it looks like local red sandstone.

I photographed it outside on a fence post--I am looking forward to building more of a habitat for it--a little model railroad.  I have also been thinking about the night view--hence the little lantern made from the guts of a Christmas light bulb.

The Turkeys came to investigate while I was photographing the Shifty Shack--hmmm, who to choose for Christmas dinner? 

I was inspired by Greg S.'s recent posts on the Railroad-Line Forums, as well as comments from friends to make the little LED lantern.  The plan is to put it on a little laser cut table in the shed so that the light from the lantern will spill out between the cracks between the boards.

I started by burning a few LEDs out in order to determine the voltage--it seems they are rated for somewhere between 3-5 volts--they won't light at 1.5, and they burn out at much higher voltages.  I used a little brass wire for the handle and laser cut a base.  I replaced the LED leads with magnet wire.

The resulting lantern might not be what I want to put in a foreground situation, but it is not bad either, and should be convincing on the table in the shack.  I have some ideas for improving the next one.  The most difficult part of the entire affair is the physical handling of the magnet wire--that stuff is fiddly!

Managed to get the supplies I need to finish several projects--so the next week should be fun.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Uncle Paul's 03

Still waiting for Titanium White paint (for the Shingle Shed). I managed a rare weeknight hour on Uncle Paul's.  Here is where the facade stands, with the paper windows set in (not quite aligned).:
 I am currently wondering what color to paint the windows, door, and vent.  I think it is safe to say the vent would be white, but, I am not sure about the windows and doors.  I am getting excited about the "laser through" brick technique.  Here are some details:

 The Lintels are yet to be cut, but I am looking forward to getting them on.  I went ahead and primed the windows with my usual "Chocolate Brown" spray paint. . . . but that is a good base for both light and dark in my book.  The spray paint, when allowed to soak in and applied to both sides, does a lot to strengthen the paper.  Sealing the paper is critical--otherwise it will absorb too much water from the acrylic paint. 
Candidate colors for the windows, in no order: Medium Green, French Grey, Olive Green, Tan, White. . . I have been looking at historic paint chips to get the right tonality--but frankly, am all ears when it comes to suggestions.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Uncle Paul's 02

Well, The Shingle Shed and Shifty Shack are still moving forward--however, I am waiting for a few bits to arrive by mail (probably Monday): some lighting and paint.  I decided to light the Shifty Shed to show off the gaps in the boards--and, I ran out of some of my more used basic colors!  Silly me. 

In any case, I did have what I needed to continue Uncle Paul's.  The concept was simple, paint, then cut: the goal being a pre-painted, pre weathered brick wall.  My earlier experiments told me that if I had the settings just right I could get some white showing around a laser engraved line--

Here is where I am now, I will follow with the process:

The first draft has an alignment problem:

Fortunately, I printed multiple decals on a sheet (or as they say in Canada, "Deckels"):

The process began by priming a wall, I set up my work piece with stops in the laser cutter, so that I could use a template to guide my painting, and "Deckelling".

The process is pretty clear from the above--save for the coat of clear lacquer that does not show (it is clear after all), applied prior to decal.  You can see the evidence of the template in paint and pencil.  And, that is how we get here from there (twice).

OK, Time to put the animals (farm animals) to bed, and get on with Christmas Tree decorations!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Uncle Paul's 01

If it seems that there is too much going on, well, it's because there is.  I was stuck on the phone for a while today and managed to work up artwork for "Uncle Paul's Pawn Shop." I have been fascinated by a prototype photo of the building that has been posted in various places (including on the Railroad-line forums). I don't know where the image came from.  If anyone knows, I would love to learn more--and, if it is copyrighted material, let me know and I will take it down.  I suspect from its age that the image is likely in the public domain, but one can't be sure. 
I straightened the image, and did some work in photoshop, and am close to having the sign art done.

I had to do some re-working, first with contrast, and then filling in missing information.  Fortunately, I had already started an HO version--I just needed to make the art hold up at a larger size.  I am laying the various bits out to print as a decal sheet.  Currently scaled to "O": it would be fun to make this in any scale!  Just have the awning to finish up.  Have an "evil" plan for doing some neat work with the laser to boot.  I managed to make a cut file while on hold as well.

Now I am developing a healthy back log--so down to the workshop with a podcast for me, will hopefully tune into Model Rail Radio.  I'm going to refrain from starting too many more--it is just that I have had more free moments at the computer (20 minutes here, half an hour there) than continuous time in the workshop. . . 

Virgin Church 03

The clapboards for the church:  I drew the likely stud locations on the walls in order to plot the nail impressions.  The lengths are coordinated with the building facades, and there is a mix of straight and varied boards--it should work well cut from railroad board (.015), similar to poster board.

It seems silly to me that I chose to incorporate CAD drawing into my model making when I spend so many hours each day working on a computer.  Doing a little at a time, and keeping things simple seems to keep it from getting to be too much like work.  I am building up a raft of files to cut, so, I should be heading to the laser cutter soon.

Water Tower 01

In the past week I read a few posts on the Railroad-line forums that discussed conical shingles, especially the fact that straight shingle strips would not look good on a cone.  It seemed most people would resort to individual shingles.

The first thing I did was draw a developed (flattened) conical pattern based on an elevation, which is easy in a computer.  Where: D1 * 360 / D2 = the angle included.  Using this formula, you can determine exactly how wide the resulting "PAC MAN" needs to open his or her mouth. 

I staggered PACCY's mouth just a bit so I could overlap two sections and get a smooth cone.  I then drew custom strips of shingles to fit the cone.  Once one comes to terms with the radial situation, some clever mirroring and odd repeats can speed things along.  That said, however, it did take several small sessions spread over the last couple weeks.  It seems to me that one could develop a couple cones at common pitches--and the diameter adjusted by adding or removing courses. 

I am going to use this conical roof on a water tank for a building I think.  It is scaled to a sturdy cardboard tube that came in some art paper--the future core of the tower. 

I have added my "frets", so this one is just about ready to cut.

Virgin Church 02

Here is the Virgin Church under way as a CAD file.  The drawings for these models are quite simple, especially compared to those I might make for a construction project.  That said, even on "1:1 projects" I endeavor to make drawings as simple as possible, and suited to their purpose.  As someone who learned how to draw when drawing meant drafting with pencils on a drawing board, I maintain a sense of the purpose and scale of the ultimate output--combining such an efficient approach with the facility of CAD allows one to work very fast.  All of this is changing once again, as modelling and simulation supplant drafting....but that is another story.  I have the pleasure, fortunately, of being in that hinge generation that left school drawing with pencils, and entered the workforce using computers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Virgin Church 01

In addition to working on the Shingle Shed and the Burros this weekend (sorry Shifty Shack, you can't have all the fun), I managed a little CAD time.  I drew a compressed version of the old Virgin Church--one of the few public buildings constructed in this particular part of Utah during the Civil War.  It was finished so that it could be used as a fort to defend against attack by Native Americans--there was an increase in such attacks during the Civil War.

I am going to model the building in a more original state.  Although the building is an adobe structure, it is a unique form of adobe in which the adobe bricks are stacked between wood framing members.  The stucco is a 20th century addition.  The building was originally clapboard. 

The cracking in the stucco reveals the framing clearly--it also shows where an old transom window over the door was covered.  There are three large windows on each side, and similar to many LDS buildings, two doors in the back at the altar end of the building.

I also photographed a small house from Hurricane Utah a little while back, as it would make another good subject.
 The builder and his wife had. . . .gasp . . . seven children!

I am thinking that the clapboard of the church and the novelty siding on the house will round out my siding repertoire a little, and each will provide some welcome challenges.  I did some other cad work, but, I will wait until there is something interesting to show.  Doing it in little fits and starts makes it less like work . . . .