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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #032-- "Getting Organized Again"
August 15, 2009
August 15, 2009

At Long Last—Getting Organized

My wife said it and she’s right. Your room is a mess, referring to my model RR room/office which occupies a third of our apartment—“I can help you clean up and manage it, but in three days you’ll be right back in the same mess. The myriad of N Scale Detail parts, stripwood, sheet wood, plastic, glues, paints, clamps and scenic materials accumulated while building a layout and scratch building can actually blow your mind. And then there is losing critical parts or buying 2-3 unneeded duplicates of detail parts, paints and adhesives just because you can’t find what you’ve already got.

It makes working on any facet of your layout more expensive, more time consuming and even more frustrating than any other hobby one might choose for relaxation.

Yet there are few guides, tutorials or clinics on how to better organize storage for your layout and deal with the mounting clutter on the workbench that always seems to spill over onto the office desk.

It’s the problem we all sweep into the corner when looking for online help and it is the giraffe under the blanket we carry with us from train show to train show and tactfully fail to bring up in any clinics we might attend.

But when your 2’X4’ workbench turns into and available work space of four inches by five inches—that’s a pretty cramped space even if you are only building an N Scale outhouse.

Enough Already, Let’s Fix It

My wife suggested the starting point “categorize what you’ve got”. I ran with it.

Starting with a brand new database I built in MS Works, the program everyone has but seldom uses.

I actually prefer this program for database development because it is simple, can be used quickly and has a minimal learning curve.

It also is available on most PCs as it is included in the standard setup software library.

I am surprised it doesn't get more use.

You can grab a copy of the template for this database in the Download Center at Remember, the password is BEAGLE all caps.

In case you want to develop your own, the fields I chose are:

1. Category
2. Subcategory ( to more closely define)
3. Storage medium (bottle bag, box etc.)
4. Quantity On hand
5. Maximum Unit Size (Space needed for largest category item)
6. Present location
7. Space Needed (Estimate total space for category
8. Notes (Further define category or suggest new storage method)

This is my KISS database for categorizing everything in my hobby room.

This was a rather simple process, but it led to an idea for re-organizing this room, making it a lot easier to work in and help me get more enjoyment out of my hobby activities whether on the layout table or at the workbench.

In a Nutshell

Pegboard! My workbench happens to be located in a corner alongside my desk and the wall space is hardly used at all. I have a paint rack on one side and the space in front is for dedicated tool space such as knives, glue, clamps and scratch building materials.

This represents less than a third of what the resources I need and use which results in piles of “stuff” on my work area. But if I placed two sheets of pegboard from tabletop to ceiling to the left and in front of the bench, I double my available storage space, increase its functionality and in short, make it a lot more practical.

There is a wide variety of Pegboard accessories that increase the storage options for this board material.

The baskets are ideal for storing bags of scenic materials; face-out hooks will store varying lengths of stripwood. In addition to supporting shelves of varying lengths and widths, the peg hooks tools, squares and clamps. These peg hooks will be augmented by glue-backed magnetic strips to hold utility knives, Xacto tools and hobbyists’ files. The shelving is ideal for cans and bottles (adhesives and paints) along with weathering materials and boxes of detail parts.

I should have my workbench area updated by next month and I’ll show you the results.

Bodywork at 1/10th Scale

So the knife slipped on your brand new $250 1/10th scale Lexan racing body which covers that pulsing 2-speed Nitro RC Road Racer and left a gouge the full length of the hood..

Is that what’s bugging you Charlie?

Admittedly, depth of the cut is a major consideration, but such a problem can be successfully resolved with patience and perseverance.

Materials you will need:

-Various grits of Wet/Dry Sandpaper like 220*220, *320, 400, 600, ^800, ^1000, ^1500, *^2000 (*optional and based on project needs; ^recommended for minor scrapes)

-rubbing compound (3m rubbing compound usually found at automotive store) or plastic polish (same thing) Toothpaste is an economic alternative.

-polishing/rubbing cloth...very fine...very soft...I personally use an ultrafine microfiber cloth which I also use for cleaning my eyeglasses. piece of eyeglass cleaning cloth, I've found two decent sized ones in a pack for under $3.50.

-Meguiars NXT wax liquid or any other modern polymer based liquid wax (OPTIONAL)

This is the process involved:

1. Begin by giving your car or other styrene article a good cleaning with dish soap and a piece of tee shirt cloth. If they are fine scratches, you may be done.

2. Consider these words to the wise before you start sanding:

o Sand face of entire surface, not just the scratched area...this creates a smoother finish that is free from depressions.
o it is preferable to wet sand under a light stream of water which is better than simply wetting the surface and the sandpaper.
o When going up in grit number (finer grit) wash surface, preferably with dish soap to make sure the surface is free of lower grit particles.
o When switching from one grit to the other...sand in a different direction (up and down, now left and right)...this way you can easily gauge your progress in removing the lower grit's sand lines. To view these lines while wet simply hold surface at an angle to the light.
o Use room temperature to cold water temps for wet sanding.
o On flat surfaces it is easier to wrap the sandpaper around a smooth wooden or hard plastic block...this gives you more leverage and can give a more uniform surface in the end on flat/square pieces.
o With plastics, BEWARE of the cutting power of will be amazed how easy it is to sanddown plastics.
o Wet sanding will cut less efficiently than dry sanding but produces a better finish and is all but required on 600 grit or higher sanding work.
o If dry sanding...remember to fully dry the surface to sand for the best results.

3. With Medium to deep scratches start with 400 grit paper, wet sandpaper and surface and begin sanding in whatever way feels comfortable. After only 15 seconds or so look at the scratch(es). If they are starting to soften or are even completely gone...keep sanding until they are gone. If no progress was made at all go to step 3a.

3a. Major scratches or plastics/resins that are exceptionally hard will require more time/effort and so starting at a lower grit sandpaper will reduce that time/effort. Jump down to 220, scratch for a few seconds, check, scratch some more, check. When the scratches are gone...IMMEDIATELY clean the surface and move up to 320 grit...different direction until the 220 scratches are gone. Then move back to 400 wet and use until 320 scratches are gone.

4. Work your way up slowly...from 400 to 600 to 800 to 1000 to 1500 and then to 2000 if you choose. Make sure to complete sanding the scratches left at a specific grit before going to a higher number!!!! otherwise you'll have to go back down and re-sand all over.

5. Now that you have a smooth finish that has a very light matte are almost done :)...make sure to wash THOROUGHLY before the next step and wipe dry with a very soft cloth and give it a couple of minutes to let it air dry.

6. Take out the rubbing/polishing cloth and Rubbing Compound. Squirt a bit on the surface and a bit on the cloth. Begin to vigorously rub the compound on the surface as if you are sanding...rub until product completely disappears or dries out...apply some more and rub some more until there is a PERFECTLY clear surface or Mirror shine, flawless finish on a colored plastic.

7. Lightly dampen the other end of the polishing cloth and wipe off excess rubbing compound from surface...again dry with soft towel and let dry for several minutes.

8. (Optional) Apply a layer of Meguiars NXT wax to really shine things up...let haze...and polish off, then let wax coat harden by letting the surface dry for a couple of hours.

What a difference a sign makes

I have always found it easy to use my computer to generate banner-type signs for my N Scale Structures and it clearly lends more life to the scene I am trying to emulate on my layout.

Sign-less With Sign

It is a simple process to generate your own signs in any scale. I use a program called "Net Studio", a banner making program used in another life, but it is still handy.

Its primary purpose is producing web banners for use on the Internet.

Its primary purpose is producing web banners for use on the Internet.

These banner making programs easily produce signs you can use to identify your business building(s) you built from scratch or kitbashed.

Once I have created the “banner” in Net Studio, I use a program called SnagIt to do an image capture of my proposed sign and save it in my “My Signs” folder without altering the size. The more pixels in your image, the clearer the sign will be.

I then open a graphics program line Paint Shop, or any of the counterparts. I open my sign image in the graphics program.

Now, in inches, measure the actual space on your building the sign will occupy.

In your graphics program, go to the resize option (usually displayed in both pixels and inches. Match the inches of the image to the number you measured on your building.

I like to use PaintShop Pro as it allows me to produce a Print Layout sheet so I include 2 or 3 copies of my sign in various sizes for end walls or back loading docks on the same building.

I then print the sheet on the thickest stock which will go through my printer and then cut and glue the appropriate signs.

Get Your Act Together
To Extend Paintbrush Life

Every now and then, I find an irresistible idea in "Model Railroader" magazine that actually works out to be a major improvement over my current techniques.

The July 2009 issue had just such an idea fostered by Dave VanderYacht of Pinckney, Michigan.

Thanks Dave!

You see, I've been fighting the constant increase in prices for paint brushes because I am too lazy to get up from the bench, walk to the kitchen and rinse out the brush before either using another color or ending my painting for the day.

The result has been "contaminated" brushes with either off color chunks of paint or worse still, small pieces of matter which have the habit of popping off the brush and onto the glass smooth surface I am working on.

This usually means throwing away a bunch of brushes and making a trip to the crafts store for some new ones.

Frankly, I never heard of a flip-top plastic bottle with an in-the-neck reservoir that allows me to dispense fluid into the little neck cup that won’t backwash into the main bottle’s contents.

That is the case for a few of the bottles used for Johnson and Johnson Act brand mouthwash. Yes, I bought a whole bottle of mouthwash solely for its bottle.

It is an otherwise clear plastic bottle resembling a myriad of mouthwash containers except for the barely visible whitish reservoir in the neck of a few.

The purpose of the reservoir in a mouthwash bottle was to provide the precise amount of the product (10 ml) to correctly get the job done.

Guess what, 10 ml is exactly the amount of the water/Windex mix needed to clean a brush. I just squeeze the bottle to fill the little holder to the fill line, swirl the paint-filled brush in it and then dump the contaminated cleaning liquid.

The secret to this neat cleaning system is the unique neck of this particular brand of mouthwash. It allows you to use just the right amount of cleaning solution for the brush or brushes you are using at the moment.

Now cleaning brushes is all but automatic and I don't have to pick up five or six new ones just because I happen to be in a craft store.

Since I primarily use acrylics(Crafts stores like Michaels or AC Moore) at about $1.50 a bottle, I find cleanup is a breeze using a mix of one third Windex/ two thirds water.

The testy part is readying the bottle for its new purpose.

1. Firmly grasp the reservoir tip with a pair of pliers and pull until it pops out.
2. Dump the mouthwash (I put it in a plastic water bottle for regular use).
3. Fill the Act jug with your regular wasH liquid (Since I use water-based acrylics, I do not know how the bottle will react to turpentine or more stringent cleaners needed for oil-based paints).
4. The reservoir is a press fit in the bottle’s neck and you will probably need to resort to the pliers again to put equal pressure on the plate below the reservoir tip to settle it onto the shoulder of the bottle’s neck.

Once it is done, you’ll find it real handy for cleaning modeling brushes and it takes up very little modeling real estate on your workbench.

An added benefit: I accidently clipped it with my elbow and spilt toe contents on my bench the 10 ml wasn’t enough to run off and onto the carpeted floor. If that had happened with my former cleaner container we’d be talking about at least a cup of the liquid most likely mucked up with different colors of paint.

Try explaining that to the wife.

Thank you Dave VanderYacht.


There are elements of building construction, both today’s and 50 to 100 years ago that seldom show up in scale models of buildings (despite the scale) used in model railroading, most of these are confined to rooftops.

For the model railroader, that is an important consideration. Embellishing the roofs of buildings can do a lot to enhance your layout’s appeal as rooftops are the most frequently observed and they seldom standout from a bunch of drab, black or grey roofs, mostly flat.

So what makes a standout rooftop? What separates it from the mass of asphalt, tar and rusty tin that populates most model railroad layouts?

Unusual detail.

You can create a lot of interest in your roof styling when you start with a realistic base. Many flat roofs are covered with tiny rocks and pebbles. These are easily replicated with black or brown sandpaper sprinkled haphazardly with grey or tan chalk dust to represent dirt accumulation.

Roll-top roofing is another common surface for flat roof structures. It is also called tarpaper and is typically seamed and held in place by a strip of tar. I have had good luck painting tissue paper dark grey with an acrylic black while it is on a piece of glass. Carefully peel it off and allow to dry while hanging from a couple clothespins to keep it flat. Then cut it into scale 3-foot strips. For the seams I use glossy black paint.

One of my favorite ways of creating detailed variety in rooftops is to print out a variety of roof materials using a program called Model Builder.

The graphic above depicts 30 of the 60 roofing chips available to produce a roof surface of any size or shape and in any scale. This program is a real help when it comes to producing a variety of rooftops in a small village or industrial community.

Until Next Month...

Make It Your Best Effort!

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