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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #030-- "craftsman-kit-mods"
June 15, 2009
June 15, 2009

Modifying Your Craftsman Kit


I’m sitting here looking at a piece of cardboard which has been laser cut to produce N Scale facsimiles of wooden doors, a loading dock with supports, an intricate rooftop sign and a dozen pallets…

I don’t believe.

I tried painting the doors with their etched boards and the etching drowns in the brown paint, the material is too thin to even resemble the thickness of a 2X4 used in pallet construction. The supports for the dock are so skimpy, they would never support the dock let alone any load.

Their version of the 60-foot smokestack is represented by a piece of solid quarter-inch wooden dowel.

The laser cutting of the model’s wooden walls is excellent. The wood takes paint well without burying the slits which mark individual boards. The window holes are a precise fit for the plastic windows.

Roofing is another matter. As you might suspect, he main roofing pieces are again cardboard rectangles while I am expected to transform a piece of lined paper into a reasonable facsimile of rolled roofing.

I invested over $60 for this “Unique Small Industry Design” kit delivered in a gallon-sized Zip-Loc bag. According to the advertising it combines our Custom Laser Parts and Cast Super Detailing Parts.

The promised detail includes several gears to be arrayed on the loading dock. They are laser cut from 1/32nd sheet wood (this material would work well to replace the cardboard parts). The instructions provide no suggestions on how to make the wooden gears look like metal.

I was planning on using this model for an up-front feature structure on my layout because of the promised detail but I’ve never been a big fan of white metal castings. The rest of the details whether cardboard or wood don’t hold much promise for a feature structure.

So I’ve got some work to do and hopefully this issue of “Scale Modeling Tips and Tools Monthly” will help you make modifications to a kit to conform to your expectations.

Stack Your Own Stack

Even in N Scale, a dowel makes a pretty ridiculous looking smokestack even after painting and weathering so when you find a ¼-inch dowel in a $65 fine scale structure kit is quite disappointing, but then again it is a chance to do it your way. A quick trip to the local hobby shop (even small plastic purchases helps in this economy) and I came away with Evergreen ¼-inch tubing and I also picked up some angle material for the corners of this building.

When you research smokestacks on the Internet (Google Images is a big help) you will find metal tube stacks were not just one full length tube like the old wood stove, but were made up of sheet metal sections which appeared to be welded together. They often have ridges circling the tube at each joint.

I replicated these using green floral wire wrapping it around the tube, pulling it tight and clipping with wire cutters at the joint. If you insert the wooden dowel into the tube it will hold the round shape. I then dabbed the ends with “Quick Grip” and setting it aside to dry. I masked these joints with a 1/16th tube which I saw on some smoke stacks. I fantasized mine was used to dispel inert gas used in the manufacturing process.

This gas line was offset from the main stack by about 1/32nd of an inch.

An added detail for my stack is a circular topper offset from the tube top with three wires. I have been unable to learn its purpose but it is clearly evident in some stack pictures. I just like the looks of it.

For the stack’s base I used a cover from an old eyeglass cleaning solution bottle. I drilled a pilot hole in the center and enlarged it to a tight fit for the end of the dowel. Then I painted it inside and out with a coat of concrete paint. The stack and gas tube are painted asphalt grey and the inside of the tube top is blackened with pure black acrylic.

When you set the stack alongside the building, its height will overpower the structure but these smokestacks were built so high to safely expel hot flue gases and smoke to make their disposal less hazardous to humans.

For A Distinct Change, Tape-A-Roof

Mimicking the appearance of an aging roof constructed from rolled roofing for me previously meant finding imprint-less toilet paper, cutting it into N Scale three-foot strips, ,gluing the strips to a roof surface and then painting it an appropriate color, most likely black, the color of my mood when trying to accomplish such nit-picking work.

Then I discovered my wife’s green floral tape and I’ll never go back to the bathroom for scratch building supplies. This stuff comes in half-inch rolls in lengths of 40, 60 or 90 feet at a under ¾ of a cent per foot, or 67 cents per roll. You could probably cover your whole layout with 90 feet of half-inch tape.

But for an N Scale roofing job this material is ideal.

• It sticks to itself and not to you.
• It can easily be worked around rooftop impediments.
• It will conform to valleys in the roof.
• It takes glue well to stick the first course (I use Elmer’s) and for the final course.

In between the courses, the floral tape sticks to itself well and allows you to easily raise the occasional edge to depict wind damage.

I try to keep the strips at half-a-tape width to resemble a three-foot roll, typical or roll length material.

For realism, I use a blade to raise an edge or two and in some places tear edges and lay on a patch or two to stop imaginary leaks.

One of the things I find surprising about this roofing method is the fact the tape strips seem to take on their own weathering vitality of their own. It picks up surface defects on its own from whatever it covers whether it is a bump or a dent.

Once you get the roof rolled the way you like, let the glue dry overnight and then hit the roof with a coat of asphalt-colored paint.

Build Your Own Loading Dock

The idea of a paper loading dock held no appeal for me, even in N Scale. It measures only a quarter inch wide by 3 ½ in length (read that 3 N Scale feet by 46-feet with faintly etched “boards” , roughly 6” wide by 2 inches thick.

Even in a confined space, I believe a three-foot wide loading dock would be insufficient for this type of industry and the idea of uniform length, undamaged planks is unrealistic of reality. My loading dock will be double that width composed of individual stripwood boards

Yes, it is more work, but being able to mix board widths and put in a couple broken boards and boards of mixed length to me adds detail to the scene plus I get to vary the color of the boards. Getting organized for this sub-project is half the battle and makes the job a lot easier.

Just do the math.

I butted eight 11-inch pieces of stripwood across my N Scale ruler and found they covered five feet.

An 11-inch strip will produce 22 6-foot boards. They in turn will produce 15 feet of dock. Three strips of basswood should do it. This is a job for The Chopper, Northwest Short Line’s answer when it comes to consistent cutting.

I set up two lengths of stripwood as “nailers” 51 N Scale feet in length tapping them down onto my glass workbench cutting shield about four-feet apart.

I painted (rubbed on acrylic paint) one piece of stripwood raw umber (dark brown), another mushroom, another black and the fourth dark grey. After setting the Chopper to six N Scale feet, I fed in one after the other.

The next step was to confirm a perpendicular line to the two nailers and I set to gluing on the six-footers mixing colors and feeding in varying widths.

The loading dock wraps around the building’s tall end for seven feet to provide a walkway for the entrance.

The distance between the door sills and the ground beneath the building is three feet. I slipped the paper support beneath the glass as a guide for the dock feet I would need. I used a 75-foot stripwood longitudinal tapped lengthwise.

I set The Chopper for a 2-foot cut and chopped 25 footers for the loading dock which I glued to the dock’s baseboard.

It may not be perfect, but it is a lot more realistic looking than I could ever make the cardboard.

Furnace Filter Conifers

There is no question about it, trees are an important facet of any model railroad layout, even if they are only painted on the background, but in the Northeast, they are an imperative.

Take my St. J & LC reproduction—from most photographs I have seen, you would think it was running through a 100-mile in diameter forest. That is not the case, but the number of trees alongside the abandoned Right-Of-Way would make you think you are in a jungle, specially if you are afoot on the old iron pathway.

Emulating this arbor roadway on my N Scale version and still leaving room for structures, a river and cliffs is taking some careful planning and a variety of tree making methods.

I needed a canopy of trees to provide both “natural growth” covering, standout trees fore foreground growth and super green trees for riverside germination.

Plus there is a need for a large number of White Pine replicas, a tree prevalent to any Vermont landscape. I am still looking for a material to replicate the needle-laden limbs.

This was last month

Having a variety of trees running the length and height of this ridge makes the scene more believable to my eyes providing a background of contrasts. The tall tree is my first conifer

Don't Settle For Mediocre Foliage

I have spent a lot of time researching trees and the fact I have spent the better part of my 70 years within a rock throw of trees, woods and forests makes me an awful stickler for realism.

For my layout front trees I wanted something that jumps right out at you and says, "remember me?"

It seems deciduous trees are the types you run across in metro areas so they lend themselves well to model railroad industrial and commercial scenes.

I chose the most realistic "armatures" (these actually look like tree trunks and limbs) from culled sagebrush trimmings. Sagebrush is a coarse, hardy silvery-grey bush with yellow flowers which grows in arid sections of the western United States. It bears an uncanny resemblance to a miniature full grown tree.

For leaves, I needed something special. Everybody uses ground foam in a variety of colors. Don't get me wrong, I used plenty of trees built with the armature-foam method of foresting.

But I wanted individual leaves and no matter how you sliced the foam, it just wouldn't do.

In my online browsing, looking for believable leaves, I ran across Selkirk Scenery and believe me, this is a goldmine for timber realism--leaf material that really looks like leaves.

The Selkirk product called "Deciduous Foliage," when used with another called "Branch Netting," makes incredibly realistic looking trees that can be built quickly.

Combine this leaf and branch material with a sagebrush three trunk and limbs won't result in a perfect tree (only God makes perfect trees) but it looks pretty realistic. I'm still looking for a good supply of quality sagebrush. I was lucky enough to stumble across the few pieces I've got were obtained from a modeler who had lost his sagebrush supplier and was getting out of this phase of his business.

I used Selkirk's "Branch Netting" which is individual clippings of sisal to create networks of branches along each major limb of the sagebrush tree.

Then spray paint your "tree branches" with brown primer.

Give it a little drying time and then hit it with 3M Spray Adhesive.

Then apply Selkirk's Deciduous Foliage in small pinches. You can even apply single leaves if you want to give your tree a sparce foliage look.

Next time we'll tackle conifer trees.

Until Next Month...

Make It Your Best Effort!

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