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Scale Modeling Tips & Tools Monthly, Issue #029-- "Hobby Costcutters"
May 15, 2009
May 15, 2009

Make Your Hobby Make Money

Make Money Modeling

Given the state of the economy and the number of hobbiests now out of work it is time to take a look at how you can help yourself by revving up your ability to make money at home. 

With unemployment approaching double figures there are a lot more people looking for work they really don’t enjoy than those who will take the time to come up with a plan to produce quality hobby products people will buy.

We have all developed skill sets whether it is teaching others to fly Radio Control helicopters or running a trackside tune-up bay for Nitro racers. Maybe your interests lie in developing scratch built detailed cross- sections of a famous warship, or producing a line of N Scale structure kits. All can and are making money today.

You will find there is demand re-motoring and re-gearing locomotives as well as installing DCC to be sought after talents. Many modelers do not want to take the time to learn the processes involved, nor do they want to expend the time.

Repairing Nitro racing engines is also a sought after service you will often find advertised on CraigsList.

The nice part about working for yourself is the ability to charge rates that hurt no one. You can charge just what your costs are, build in profit or get paid enough to make your work worthwhile. The object is to keep your costs rock bottom.

The good thing about hobby related businesses is the fact they can be conducted from home. As a home-based, even apartment based business, you can get started with minimal expenses.

For instance you can begin by reducing expensive start-up costs such as leasing space, lease hold improvements, utility and phone deposits and major office equipment. You also have the advantages of earning an income with the flexibility to work when it is best for you and take care of family and other responsibilities that often arise throughout the work day.

SCORE offers these 10 tips for getting started:

 Determine local and state requirements for licensing and zoning regulations. Be sure to check with your local zoning office to find out how the zoning regulations in your area may affect your business plans. Determine if your business requires any licenses and file the necessary forms.

 Rent a post office box and use that address on your promotional mail and stationery, doing this will make it less obvious that you are working from home. The professional image you portray is very important to your clientele. ( Not necessary to start) .

 Install a phone line in your home dedicated to your business. (Consider a cell phone to eliminate most telemarketing calls).

 Use an answering machine for incoming business calls.

 Organize your work space with great care. Make sure that you have sufficient space to meet your needs.

 When scheduling appointments with clients, consider meeting at your client's office or renting a conference room to maintain a professional image.

 Establish contacts with your competitors and join associations pertinent to your business. Have your clients suggest possible new clients and ask if they will recommend you. (The more you can do online through forums, Facebook and the like, the more you save).

 Keep excellent records of entertainment and travel expenses. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tends to audit home-based businesses more frequently—especially when they are writing off a variety of expenses, including the percentage of the mortgage or rent for your office space. There are several good record keepers such as Day Timer®, Franklin Quest® and Day Planner that will help you keep track of your expenses. Your accountant, a CPA is recommended, can advise you on deductions you can take and records you must keep for the IRS. (Quicken or Quickbooks can be a big help).

 And above all, put some of your earnings into a savings account for those times when your business is in a slump . . . and it will happen.

 Discipline yourself. You must be a self-starter and follow a routine, just as if you were working for any other business. In many cases, you are the only person you can rely on to get the job done. Unless it's an emergency, do not baby-sit or chat with your neighbors.
Get a client list that can afford and appreciates your work.

Look for forums where you can post your services (advertising at no cost).

You can make a good living being a professional model builder.

It often starts by authoring a how to book on your chosen niche. This can often build name recognition and set your up as the expert in your field.

Decreasing Your Model Railroading Costs

Model Railroaders have a passion for doing something they love, and often take the time to help others often without pay. Model railroading (regardless of scale) is a wonderful way to blow off steam, master a craft, spend a rainy day, and it can become money-making opportunity.

Interesting looking game However, for all the good in life a modeling railroads can accomplish, it can also cost a lot to participate in a hobby. For many, it is those costs that make many people feel unjustified for their splurges. There are ways around it though and for true enthusiasts, a little patience and research can do your railroading budget good.

Here are a few ways you can enjoy your hobby without stressing out about the cost of having one.

1. Narrow it down – There are many facets to the model railroading hobby from operating trains to scratch building structures, from painting to kitbashing, from electronics to collecting from planning and research to miniaturization and forcing perspective. Supplies for this type of hobby can cost a fortune over time so it helps if you pick a niche and stick with it instead of buying all different types of supplies.

2. Consider your goals - If you already know you want to generate either a full or part time income from your hobby, or maybe just enough to cover your hobby costs - start listing your goals on a piece of paper or in a computer file. Planning ahead can help you understand what you intend to accomplish and where you are looking to take your talents.

3. Learn to Do-It-Yourself – Instead of rushing to the hobby shop every time you need a “fix”, look around for a low-cost alternative. People are quick to spend money for quick fixes, which is bad for the budget, especially if the store-bought solutions do not work. Take a look around for fellow hobbyists in network forums willing to pass along an inexpensive resolution.

4. Work at it – Model railroading takes practice, it will take time for you to get better and it takes practice for you to get great. If you are passionate about your hobby then committing to it shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you find you are easily frustrated or often not in the mood to work on your railroad, consider looking for something new to do and not waste any more time or money on something not worth your while.

5. Don’t believe everything you hear – You will find your model railroading niche is catered to by specialty stores, but be careful when asking for advice. Many retail associates will be happy to talk you into spending more money in the shop. Get to know them first, or if someone does make a suggestion to improve your craft or technique and that advice means spending money, go home and do some research. See what others in the know have to say about the suggestion.

6. Gather a group – You will soon find model railroading requires many specialized tools supplies; it gets expensive to go out and buy a tool or a gallon of Environtex when you really need only two ounces. You may want to consider starting a local meeting group one night a month or more where people can get together and borrow supplies and equipment. Plus the bonding opportunity with people who share your passion can be invaluable.

7. Don’t buy new - If there is a need for an expensive piece of equipment for a hobby, such as the equipment needed for photographing your latest scratch built structure, it may be well worth your time to research and locate used equipment online eBay or Craigslist) or in newspapers. You will have to know what you are looking for but can typically find a huge discount opting to buy used.

Ready For The Professional Modeler Niche?

The power of a scale model in a financing presentation is well known by architects and contractors alike, the people who don’t realize this are most hobby modelers.

All over the Internet you will find galleries of photos of successfully completed scale modeling projects whether they are structures, vehicles or dioramas, they only lack marketing to be professional grade.

Many of the most talented have made their hobby a profession by building a paying client list for their talents, many on a repeat basis.

These patrons, if you will, don’t have the time or talent to complete the model themselves, yet they have a favorite building, vehicle or scene they would like commemorated in miniature.

Most often these are scratch building projects but they can involve kitbash, kit repair or building from a set of plans. Models tell a story and it begins the moment the viewer comes in contact with your creation. The power presentation models possess is the reason why so many models are used effectively in sales and public relations.

Models also help contractors, engineers, and architects in several different ways. A well-built model is a functional and informative tool designed to answer questions and solve potential problems. Revisions in development and design can be derived from an accurately detailed model.

There are many uses for a professionally built scale model:

Trade Shows Boardroom Presentations
Sales Office displays Public displays
Court Room evidence Conventions
Advertising Sales and Leasing
Fund Raising Project Inspection Before Build

Tree Making Makes The Scene

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.

One thing I didn’t want was the puff-ball looking trees, you know the method of creating an all covering forest by spreading “Clump Foliage” or the alternative, rolling polyfiber into balls, spraying with cheap hairspray and dunking them into colored foam turf. The balls are then glued to the ground looks unrealistic to me.

Of course being in New England and able to look out the window at real life tree groupings makes you realize the necessity of trunks and limbs.

The assumption is these puffs will look real because most viewers will see you layout from a position above. In reality trees have an airy look and you do see limbs and trunks beneath the foliage as your trees further back into the layout.

Instead of cheap hairspray, I used 3M Super 77 spray adhesive as it has more holding power and foliage ingredients quickly stick to the WS armatures. To be safe, I usually spray them a second time to lock the leaves in place while I insert them into holes drilled in the landscape.

I found this the case with the ridge which slashes through my layout and needed a tree covering. By planting individual trees I was able to add varying tree heights, a mixture of thinness and textures as well as a variety of colors.

The bulk of my trees were created by bashing the Woodland Scenics “Forest Canopy” kit breaking many of the dried weed armatures into smaller pieces for 40 to 60-foot N Scale trees.

This easily nets 150 to 200 N Scale trees.

I was lucky enough to score 6 “high quality” sage brush pieces for use as foreground trees.

They resemble old oak trees and lend character to the layout.

Make Mine Ground Cover Simplicity

No matter whether you are modeling a special forces diorama set in the early 40s, a Do-It-Yourself Lemans for slot cars, or a shelf layout for a model railroad, you are going to create a lot of real estate you should try to make realistic.

There are two things the world around us has in common, it doesn’t come in standard off the shelf colors and seldom is it flat.

Here are a couple of economical ways to address both.

Take the Flat Out of Tabletop
Most of our modeling (with the possible exception of slot car racing) takes place above the waist, frequently on a n entirely flat surface, table, desk, or the ever popular model railroad shelf layout.

But if you ever walked more than 50 yards along a real railroad line or a similar distance alongside a raceway, you know ground is not like glass.

Too often modelers take a flat surface. Strew on a little ground foam and call it earth-like.

Make your terrain stand out by making portions of it stand up above the tracks and depress other portions to below the action level.

Take a pebble and sink it into the surface of your model layout so it looks like a boulder that couldn’t be removed and had to be worked around.

Bushes grow from unkempt weeds and trash collects on fences.

Construction workers often leave a cache of polls, boards, steel piping. Even rusted out cranes can create “bumps” in your landscape.

Speaking of Land
The first ingredient of ground cover is dirt. Yours doesn’t have to be dirty to work. Some, modeling in real small scales can get by with colored Plaster of Paris or Sculptamold. These materials are best dyed instead of painted. A molded surface that has been painted has a frequent habit of baring white spots when chipped.

Mixing a Rit dye into the water portion of your mold mixture results in a ground texture that is the same color all the way through. You can get your dye in all of the earth tones, but remember, a little bit goes a long way.

As you move up in scale, your basic ground cover needs to increase in size. Many prefer to keep their dirt cost minimal and scoop up a coffee cup full just outside the door. This is then strained through different sized strainers to get to a fine powder.

Before applying this to the surface where you will be running mechanical models take the time to pass a magnet through your “dirt” to make you aren’t including minuscule metal fragments that can foul electrical motors.

You can also find Art Sand used for sand painting or sculpting at your local Michael’s or AC Moore stores. The advantage is uniform color and consistent size.

Dry leaves which have been run through a bullet-shaped coffee grinder a couple times make fantastic, multi-colored ground cover.


• Collect leaves in the fall getting different sizes and shapes.

• Take a handful and crush them in your hands removing twigs that are unattached to leaf pieces.

• Deposit leaf pieces in the business end of the grinder, close the cover and plug it in and let it run.

• Shut off and unplug. Open the cover to examine the results. (your are looking for multi- sized pieces of varying colors about the size of a pebble. Separate out the twigs but do not discard. You will want them for limb material later.

• Grind again until material approaches grain-of-salt size.

• Spread liberally and start another grind. You will be surprised at the durability of these grinders, hopefully you can find one about to be discarded that still runs.

You will find a mixture of these materials will give you a most realistic “dirt”.

River Rock Rocks

My wife came into my office yesterday with a bag of River Rocks (Decorative covering for potted plants) and asked me if I could use them on my N Scale layout. They are about the size of a silver dollar, egg shaped, smooth and shiny.

It was this last element that made their use doubtful as either an N Scale cliff or even a field boulder, (I am modeling an area which features a granite quarry), the surface was nowhere near rough enough.

But river rock, even boulders in a river are often worn smooth by decades of being over-run by the water.

Two or three would look natural in my riverbed as the Envirotex floods the river basin and leaves the rocks protruding from the surface.

Works for me.

Until Next Month...

Make It Your Best Effort!

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