Papercraft (Part 1)

I spent part of my weekend building the Metcalfe Goods Shed, one of three cardstock kits that I recently purchased. I made a few mistakes on this kit because I was working quickly, but I was still impressed with the results.

When I started thinking about the buildings I would like to have on my Inglenook, cardstock kits immediately came to mind. I did a fair amount of research and finally committed to trying out a few Metcalfe kits. My adhesive of choice is Deluxe Materials’ Roket Card Glue. A bit expensive, but I’ve used it before and it spreads very well without much dripping, adheres very quickly, and dries as clear as Elmer’s Glue. Plus, the applicator extension comes in handy when gluing in hard-to-reach areas.

So, without further ado, here is the first kit I’ve built.

The kit came in an envelope that was about the size of a comic book. In the image of the shed you can see one of the drawbacks of these kits: the edges of the card are glaring white and they leave the whole thing looking like… well… paper. To get rid of these white edges I ran colored pencils around the edges and along the folds. In my haste, though, I missed a few spots. I also slipped a few times, leaving colored lines across the face of the model. These couldn’t be erased without damaging the print.

With a few details and some weathering the Metcalfe kits could look pretty good. In particular, I would like to find ways to hide that line where the cards meet above and below the central window.

I particularly like the little office in the back. The details in the chimney, with the rolled-paper stacks, really drive it home. The staircase was a bit awkward because I couldn’t quite get the fit right, and the landing is tilted downward as a result.

Spackle and Paint

In the past few days, I’ve experienced a couple of failures. Fortunately I didn’t take pictures of either of them, but I assure you: they happened.

I tried to research techniques for filling gaps between the tracks and layout surface but really didn’t find much. So, I experimented.

I have a bag of Sculptamold which has been sitting around for the better part of a decade, so I figured I would give that a shot. For those of you who don’t know, Sculptamold is something like pre-mixed papier-mâché. You add water and get a fairly lumpy paste which is great for modelling, particularly for covering and filling surfaces. However, it was not good for filling in the gaps between my track and the surface of my layout. I ended up getting more Sculptamold on the roadbed and track than I was able to press into the gaps, no matter what tools I used. After a couple of inches of that, I gave up.

The following evening I decided to try something a bit more familiar: spackling paste. That worked beautifully. With a putty knife, I was able to fill the gaps in less than half an hour. Here are the results:


I left a slight depression on each side of the track, which I hope will help when I fill out the sides of the roadbed with ballast.


I also spackled a slope to transition from the layout surface to the frame. The whole layout is like a very shallow dish.


I was extra careful not to fill the manual turnout switches with spackle. When it comes time to ballast, I will have to stuff something into these to keep the tiny grains from falling in.

Well, I thought this was just fantastic. It was an easy, fast, and satisfying project. I really felt like the whole thing was coming together nicely.

Then I thought, hell, why not make another evening of it and paint over the surface to give the ground some ‘ground-like’ color? I had seen this done on old Kambalch Model Railroader videos (I used to subscribe to that magazine, and sometimes they had DVD inserts), and it looked very easy. I remember that they used flat latex paint in those videos, and that they used green, tan, light brown, or nutmeg colors. This was essentially a ‘base’ for the ground foam, sand, ballast, or whatever else would later be spread over most of the surface to provide texture and vegetation.

As I think I mentioned in a former post, we recently painted our living room. We also painted our son’s room, and for an accent color he had chosen ‘Glazed Pot,’ which was almost the color of terra-cotta. We had plenty of that color left over, so I figured I’d use it.

I did a beautiful job painting the surface: I brought the paint right up to the roadbed without actually painting the molded ballast, and the very edge of the layout was a nice crisp line. I was a bit nervous about how bright the color was, though, so I decided to experiment on the second coat. Bad idea. My thinking was this: if I painted a second coat of ‘Glazed Pot,’ then quickly went over that with black paint using a smaller brush, I could create an irregular dark brown color by mixing in real time.

Never do this. I was assuming that latex paint would mix and flow like oil paint, but it wasn’t even close. The whole project got very sloppy and the paints didn’t blend well at all. Unfortunately, I had covered the entire surface of the module before realizing how awful it looked. By then, of course, the paint was already drying.

Aside from my brief struggle with the Sculptamold, everything up to this point had gone exactly as planned. Now, the layout was covered with a thick, tacky, ugly layer of paint. It had gotten on the tracks and on the sides of the frame, and had dripped down one of the legs. I had to remove the paint.

After going through the first five or six stages of grief, I retrieved a roll of paper towels, a toothbrush, a sponge, and a couple of gallons of water, then set to work scraping and smearing the paint off. It took all night, and I wasn’t able to get all the paint off the roadbed. The signs of my failure will forever be visible (but probably not noticeable).

After that failure, I took a break for a couple of days. I watched some television and read a couple of short stories. Yesterday, though, my remote turnout switches arrived in the mail, so this afternoon I figured it was time to put a final coat of paint on the module. It’s not as perfect as it was the first time around, but it isn’t bad. Here it is, still drying:


Note the remote turnout switches in the lower right. For power, Kato switches can connect directly to the power pack and to each other, like Lego.


I bolted a 1×3 across the front of the benchwork and screwed a couple of corner brackets into it. Then, I simply cut a length of 1×6 to fit. Viola! A shelf for my power pack, which only cost about $2 in hardware.

I will probably add a couple of brackets to hold the power pack from sliding around, but I will wait until the remote turnout switches arrive, as I’m not quite sure how they will fit.

Looks pretty slick.

Benchwork (Actual)

I received a Kato power pack and a Bachmann 0-6-0 in the mail yesterday, and I realized immediately that I couldn’t wait any longer for benchwork. The layout, sitting on two T.V. trays, was far too low and required me to sit or kneel to run trains. I wanted to bring the level of my layout up to the height of my chest so I am nearly eye-level with the trains.

I ran out to the hardware store and picked up some 1×2 and 1×3 pine boards, as well as 12′ of flat pine moulding to use as braces. I also grabbed a few carriage bolts and wing nuts to attach the layout and the braces to the legs. This will allow me to dissemble the benchwork easily. In addition, I got some threaded feet, to adjust to our old, uneven floors. All in all, I spent another $60 on supplies.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take too many pictures of the process. There are some pretty good tutorials online already, but of course it also depends a great deal on what your priorities are. In my case, I wanted something that could be assembled and dissembled fairly easily, without the need for tools. Also, I wasn’t too concerned with ‘finishing’ anything below the frame of the layout itself. I essentially used the ‘L-girder’ method, with the only real difference being that I designed it in such a way that the tabletop can be easily removed for independent operation. I did this because I might want to bring the Inglenook into my kitchen and set it up on the table there, or I might want to bring it to my office sometime, where I can set it up on my desk (if I can ever get through all the stacks of paperwork).

Overall, building the benchwork included a lot of trial and error, a lot of measuring and cutting, some design mistakes (trying to drill bolt-holes through screws, for instance) and a lot of cursing. Don’t get me wrong; I loved every step. I immerse myself in these kinds of projects. Cursing is just part of the fun.

The hardest part was installing the braces. I had to make sure that the legs were aligned with each other and squared before even measuring the braces. Because of our very uneven floors I really missed the mark a number of times, and spent over an hour trying to get it right.

The benchwork isn’t finished yet. I still need to make some kind of shelf to hold the power pack, which will require another 1×3 to run horizontally from one leg to the other. For now, though, the train runs great, and the height of the layout also deters our cats from jumping onto it (for now).

The outside of the L-girders.

And the inside.

The benchwork in place. The shelf running across the middle wasn’t planned, but I might put a permanent shelf there because it seems pretty useful.

Another angle. The power pack will sit on a shelf several inches below the removable top, but will be fixed to the benchwork.

The underside. In these pictures, I hadn’t yet drilled holes to bolt the top to the base.

I left the feet on the ‘tabletop’ so that portion can be removed and set up on another surface without any trouble.

Adjustable feet are 100% necessary in our house for almost all furniture, especially for an item as tall as this benchwork. Sturdy construction is nothing without a level stance.

And here’s the little Bachmann 0-6-0 Baldwin locomotive. It runs great with its all-wheel pick-up (including pick-up from the tender), and it can really crawl. I will post a video later. I have ordered Micro-Trains Magne-Matic replacement couplers to take advantage of the magnets at the head of each siding. Eventually, all rolling stock will be likewise equipped. This loco could also use a bit more detail (painting the bell, for starters), and I’m a little disappointed that the lights are only dummies. The detail is pretty good otherwise. I know that the sloped tender isn’t prototypical for a USRA-supplied 0-6-0, but I couldn’t care less about that. After all, the Little Snoring line itself isn’t prototypical, so I can take whatever liberties I want.

Goods and Not So Goods

What sort of industry will this Inglenook serve?

My initial idea was to model another coal mine. I had researched the heck out of coal mining while I was working on  my old layout, so it was the easy choice. Then I started thinking about what kind of rolling stock I would need: hopper after hopper after hopper. Not much variety for a shunting puzzle. Besides, I didn’t like the idea of putting a coal mine on such a flat module. I just wasn’t feeling it.

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about my next batch of oatmeal stout (brewing beer is also something I do) and it hit me: why not model a brewery? A brewery would require a wide variety of boxcars and hoppers for incoming ingredients and fuel and outgoing products. The Goods and Not So Goods (GANSG) website has an excellent section on modeling breweries (and just about any other industry you could imagine), and it has given me plenty to think about while waiting for my power pack and engine to arrive (both are scheduled for delivery tomorrow).


Steamers serving Truman Black Eagle Brewery, Brick Lane, Spitalfields, London.

How to Overcome Your Fears While Managing Your Wires

I just completed the stage that I dreaded most: wiring.

I should mention that Kato makes wiring really easy by offering a number of ‘plug-and-play’ components which technically require no soldering. The problem is that all of their wires are too long for a little shunting puzzle. Of course, I could have simply plugged them in and stuffed the mess of wires up against the bottom of the layout (or found some way to wrap them up) but there are several reasons why I didn’t want to do that.

First, we have cats in our house, and one of those cats has a serious addiction to chewing on thin wires. I cannot leave out headphones or chargers because of this, and I certainly don’t want a stray feeder wire falling down just far enough for her to sink her teeth into.

Second, I like nice things. I spend a lot of time creating and curating in an effort to make things ‘just so.’ Really, you should see my bookshelves. Flush spines, organized by publisher then author. I am nothing if not organized. In my old layout I built a drawer to hold the power pack and the tangled miles of wire, which was a convenient solution at the time. This layout will be modular, though, and I want to be able to remove and transport each segment without worrying about the underside (as anyone whose ever tried moving a layout knows, there is plenty to worry about on the topside).

So, I decided to cut excess length from the wires and join them back together with solder. I have never soldered before so I was pretty intimidated at first. I had what I needed: a 30W soldering iron and some ten-year-old flux solder. I did run out to the hardware store to pick up some shrink-tubing, and I found some pretty neat zip-tie mounts that ended up working really well to secure the Kato 3-way extension cords. I also found some feet for the underside of the layout, so it won’t be sitting on its frame anymore.

I spent a couple of hours watching YouTube videos on soldering, and then I took a my snippers and strippers and set to work. After I snipped the first wire my fears melted away. I won’t say it was easy, but it was certainly easier than I had anticipated.


Before. It doesn’t look too bad in this picture, but there are also two three-way extension cords that power the feeders, adding about six more feet of wire.


Giving the wires some direction using 3/16″ black insulated staples.


Running the feeder before soldering. Note the feet nailed into the 1×3 ribs.


These zip-tie mounts were perfect for securing the three-way extension cords to the bottom of the layout. Just peel, stick, screw, then slip the zip tie through.


This was my first stripped wire, before joining and soldering. In the background, you can see a zip-tie mount doing exactly what it was born to do.


Three feeders trimmed, soldered, and insulated with shrink tubing (I shrunk the tubing by passing a grill lighter under it a few times).


After. Overkill? Definitely, but I will rest easier knowing that my cat won’t use the wires for dental floss. I left some slack in the wires that pass through the hole in the frame (these will connect the power pack and switches) but even when they are drawn up completely they don’t hang down below the frame.

Once all of the wires were tacked down, I flipped the module over. Then I gently pried up whatever lengths of track I could (being careful not to pull up on the wires beneath) and applied Loctite silicone adhesive to the surface beneath before laying the track back down over it.


Remember those wooden stir sticks in my last post? When I placed them flat on the surface of the Inglenook module, they were just thick enough to reach the bottom of the rail ties. Almost the perfect thickness to raise the level of the ‘ground’ closer to the track, which will hide some of the plastic roadbed.

I’ve read forum posts that suggest using N-scale cork roadbed to raise the ground up, but I tried that on my old layout and hope I never have to touch that stuff again. I found it too floppy to make precise cuts and too crumbly to handle without making a mess everywhere. Also, it got expensive very quickly. I gave up and simply filled the space between sidings with Sculptamold. I applied it too thick, though, and wound up having to repair cracks every other day. This time around, I will opt for something a bit more solid: basswood and a filler of spackling paste.

This afternoon I brought one of the stir sticks down to the big-box craft store, A.C. Moore, and compared the thickness of the stick with the various samples of basswood that they had in stock (it was easier than measuring). The 3/32″ sheets were pretty close to what I was looking for. Perhaps a bit on the thin side, but I can easily make up the thickness by sanding and spackling. One large sheet and two smaller sheets cost me about $7. Mind you, I hate supporting box stores like A.C. Moore, but it is the only store within a ten-mile radius that stocks basswood.

Back home, I laid the track out on some newspaper and traced around it with a marker. Then I cut out the shape and used it as a template on the basswood. I don’t have a jigsaw so I used a utility knife to cut the basswood. This required 5-6 passes for every line, and by the time I was finished I’d gone through three blades.

I fit the pieces around the track on the layout, did some trimming, and then glued them down with wood glue. I used a couple of clamps and a lot of books to keep the basswood from curling upward while the glue set. After a couple of hours, I removed the books and clamps and test fit the track again. It was almost perfect.


I used a brush to spread the wood glue onto the surface before placing the basswood.


Clamping the corners. Basswood is apparently hydrophobic and shrinks away from anything wet, including glue.


Fitting the turnouts required quite a bit of trimming, even after the basswood was glued.


Now the sidings look more like sidings.

After the glue was dry, I pulled up the track one last time (hopefully), and painted the entire top surface with some white primer that I had kicking around (because we recently painted our living room).

New Coat of Paint


I covered the visible screws with spackling paste and sanded the frame, then applied two coats of Behr Ultra black eggshell primer and paint.


Masking and painting the bottom lip of the frame. Overkill? Absolutely.


Frame painted. Here, I’m using stir sticks to visualize how much higher the ‘ground’ should be.


After the paint was dry, I sealed the entire project (top, sides, and bottom) with two coats of Zinsser Bull’s Eye shellac. That should help to mitigate some shrinking and warping. (Note: I sprayed the shellac outdoors. This photo was taken several hours later, after it had dried.)

Benchwork (Sort Of…)

With the track plan complete, I picked up materials for the benchwork and started working. Usually, ‘benchwork’ refers to the entire support system that keeps the layout off the ground. For now, though, I want to keep it simple and get trains running as soon as possible. So instead of building a table, I only built the tabletop. I will add the legs later.

The only materials I needed to purchase for the benchwork are as follows:

  • Two 6′ long select pine 1×4
  • One 6′ long select pine 1×3
  • One 6′ long select pine 1×12

I got all of this at Home Depot for about $50. Obviously, the 1×12 was the biggest expense, being over $30 by itself.

I don’t have space for power tools at home, so I cut everything by hand except for the 1×12, which I had cut in the store. The 1×12 was cut to 47 1/4″. I kept the remaining length for later use (I might use it as a shelf for the power pack after I build legs).

With a miter saw, I cut both of the 1x4s down to 48.75″ and then cut both of the remaining lengths to 11 1/4″. These would frame the 1×12, creating something of a fascia while supporting it structurally.

I then cut the 1×3 into three 11 1/4″ pieces. These would be the ribs of the benchwork. At this stage, I drilled 1/2″ holes in the center of each 1×3 to accommodate track and turnout wiring.


Materials for the benchwork of the Inglenook Sidings shunting puzzle.


First holes drilled. These will serve as pilot holes to screw the 1×4 frame to the 1×3 ribs.

Once I had created the frame and laid out the ribs, I simply dropped the 1×12 into the frame and screwed it down to the 1x3s. Then I drilled a 1/2″ hole just left of center on the ‘front’ side of the frame where the wires for the power pack and remote switches would emerge. I also drilled another 1/2″ hole into the right-hand 1×4, to save me the trouble later on when I want to wire up another module.


Viola. The 1×12 isn’t screwed down yet, but you can see the hole I drilled for a future extension.

As you can see, the 1×12 doesn’t sit flush with the tops of the 1x4s. This was expected, and will allow me to raise the ‘ground’ closer to the top of the roadbed, to make this section of the layout look more like a siding and less like a mainline.


The 1×12 screwed down. Here, I’m getting ready to drill 1/2″ holes near the end of each siding to run feeders through. You can also see that I’ve marked where two of the three sidings extend over the frame (getting the most out of the real estate, here). I carved these out with a utility knife and filed them down until they were flush with the 1×12.


Benchwork finished, except for the lack of dedicated legs.


Angle from the headshunt.


I left a bit of space between the end of each siding and the frame because I’m paranoid that the wood might shrink and cause the track to buckle.


The end of the headshunt extends over the frame and will eventually lead to another part of the layout. I filed down a gap in the 1×4 to accommodate.


The underbelly, showing the 1×3 ribs. You can also see the long wires streaming down. These tangle easily and will need to be managed soon.