revisionist history

However long it takes, I will gradually be moving all tool and workshop related posts from this blog to a new blog, Artem Factotum.

This blog will slowly return to model railway themed content.




I love books.

I have a lot of books, though not as many as some, it's true.

So far 15' L x 6' H of bookcases. And some bankers boxes. And some Rubbermaid tubs.
Need another bookcase, I guess.

Most of these books are technical in nature; not a lot of fiction left after the big purge of 2001. Just the favourites were kept.

Books about machining, steam engines, woodworking, sand casting, cooking, furniture repair, surface finishing, World War I, model building, blacksmithing, railway history, programming, robotics, telephones, web technolgies, chemistry, anatomy, sleep medicine, home renovation, operating systems, electronics, etcetera.

I've been talking about getting rid of things. I've been talking about that for a long time. I am getting rid of things, but not books. My fiction library is a mere shadow of its former self, and I doubt it will get any smaller. The technical library will, if anything, continue to grow.

"Isn't all this stuff available on the Internet for free?"
Show me comprehensive coverage that will never suddenly disappear overnight without warning and I'll get rid of that printed reference work. Honest.

"Why don't you just scan these books into your computer?"
Not a trivial task. It would take a couple of years. And I'd likely destroy some (or all) of the older books in the process. Bit of a sacrilege, frankly. Technically, I'd still have to keep all of the books (the primary source) in order to do that legally. So no real gain there.

I do have some commercially produced electronic collections which replaced more than a few shelves of periodicals. The image quality is not as good as the print versions. Some fine drawing elements are blurred. I recall seeing at least one badly scanned page. At least I can search the contents to find specific references. I even have some digital publications that are not available via any other medium; I use a 7" tablet to view these.

But there's something about holding a real book and flipping the pages that can't be replaced by a digital experience.

Can't explain it; just prefer it.


Getting stuff sorted out means (to me) lumping it into four broad categories.

  • Stuff to keep (needed and still works)
  • Stuff to sell (no more need for it but in good shape and still worth $)
  • Stuff to give away (likewise in good shape and still useful but of little $ value)
  • Stuff to trash (just junk OR not economical to fix OR no real need for it even if repaired)

I've now been collecting stuff for 30-odd years. Opportunity, interest, and discretionary funds coincided on many occasions. However, I subsequently have too many kits and planned projects to complete in my statistical lifetime. Owning stuff that I'm never going to use is taking up mental bandwidth and physical space that I could use more effectively. Time for some of it to go.

As far as the trash category, I've managed to move a decent chunk of that already - still more to go, no doubt.

Surplus, gas-powered garden equipment is starting to get some interest. Extra tools (not many of those) and electronic equipment are also on the block.

Kijiji and Craigslist suffice for some items but, in general, a lot of specialty goods and materials do not get the right kind of exposure through those conduits. Despite past success, I really detest garage sales; can't be bothered to do these any more. From the model end of things, my attendance at the bi-annual Model Railroad Flea Market was an utter waste of time; this venue does not seem to attract buyers outside the standard-gauge HO crowd - and it's been almost 30 years since I've owned any of that equipment.

There's an improptu Narrow Gauge gathering next week. One set of my niche-market items is already sold; I'll get to pass along that batch to an interested local modeller - very pleased that these UK models will finally get built, even if it isn't me building them.

I'll be taking along anything else I can scare up that is appropriate to the NG theme. Not that I expect to sell it all, but the right people should be aware that it is available in order to move it along.

Every cubic foot I gain back a worthwhile step forward in my eyes.
It will mean fewer things to think about,
It will mean a few dollars in my pocket.
It will mean more space to move.
These are all good things.

Too bad I'm so slow at this process...


non-standard rant

I've always been wary of manufacturers who insist on incorporating non-value-add, proprietary features into their products.

It took a long time to warm up to Apple, but their peculiar way of doing things ended up as actually useful to me in practise. Sony and Korg are both on the fecal list thanks to unnecessarily special power cords on devices I own; I won't be buying any more of their products simply because making something very slightly different from a readily available stock item in order to force customers to buy otherwise low-cost spares ONLY from them is just unacceptable "dickgineering" behaviour. Compaq long ago won a Boot To The Head nomination thanks to a few of their unique (form factor, pinout) PC expansion cards. You can, no doubt, think of your own examples.

The other day I tentatively added my new/old Engravograph machine to this personal list of infamy as I found a "security" set-screw at a (what appeared to me to be) no-brainer adjustment point. Unbelievably I do not actually own the matching tool to loosen this fastener; it's not Phillips, nor Torx (not even pinned), nor Allen, nor square. I needed a magnifier and the Internet to determine the true ID, then some patience to form the right cross-section for a temporary tool.

Turned out it is Bristol Wrench spline, 4-flute. Indications are that this is somewhat of a standard application within the print and engraving industries. It was recessed in the part so slotting it was not possible. Once I had filed up a workable tip on a tool-shaped object, I considered removing it in favour of an Allen version, but I went looking a bit further.

The Maker's Bill of Rights essentially states - no special fasteners without a darn good reason - and I have to agree.

Reading up on the subject throws some light on why this set screw might different. Very small cross-section Allen sockets tend to cam out and round off if you use them a lot and this IS an adjustment screw that would (in production use) get loosened and tightened fairly frequently. It needs to be really tight on the cutter shaft, which again increases the risk of cam out in the smaller diameters.

I've come to the conclusion that I should order the new driver bit in this case. If a self-replaced Allen-head became unusable due to stripping the hex corners, I'd be stuck with a cutter I couldn't adjust, and left with the choice of trying to drill it out (likely destroying the brass surround) or buying a complete replacement.

Or, you could chalk it up as an elaborate excuse to buy another tool.

it's alive!

I recently acquired a late 1970's "Engravograph" I-LK II manual rotary engraving machine.

It was in very clean condition, but was missing the critical drive belt and cutter bit (well, there were bits of a shattered bit lying about). A little cleanup, a few spare parts and some judicious testing later and it is now back in working order.

 Kudos to the manufacturer (who is still in business) and offers (some) support for these older machines through their dealer network.

Many (many) years ago, I spent a couple of weeks working with a very similar unit. I had a sheaf of type-written alphanumeric codes that had to be turned into engraved ID tags for two industrial buildings worth of electrical cabinets and control panels. Just the thing to assign a nerdy, detail-oriented kid.

This particular machine came with two sets of capitals-only fonts, extension posts for tall items, an auxilliary clamping vise, and three typeface carrier strips.

Supposedly you can perform light duty profile milling if you have the right cutting bit (small scale model locomotive frames?). I do know that circuit board traces (for a Launchpad device?) can be outlined if you are able to create a template to follow with the stylus. I've heard that free-form templates can even be hand-cut from heavy linoleum sheet...

which (switch)witch is which?

Didn't think I'd taken a photo of this - on film no less!

One quick scan and a digital cleanup later...

About 15 years ago, I had made up a demo control display for the Erin Mills Model Railroad Association using N scale track and turnouts.

The top "Inglenook" was controlled by a single capacitor-discharge circuit (which I thought came from a plan at Rob Paisley's excellent circuitry site, but didn't) that routed power via a diode matrix to a set of Atlas #200 "Snap" relays which, in turn, routed power to a set of Tortoise machines under the plywood. This was slow motion control of three turnouts with sinlge-button route selection. The snap relays had pretty low current draw and virtually no mechanical binding, so a single cap-D was OK. A bonus was the ability to manually slide any snap relay lever and control each turnout separately if required.

The bottom ladder used Peco PL-10 twin-coil solenoids supplied with current from one-per-turnout TTL input capacitor-discharge circuits made from plans at the TracTronics site (see SwitchWitch), also via a diode matrix. Instant and reliable snap-action regardless of how many turnouts move simultaneously, without routing heavy current through the tiny Radio Shack 0.5 Amp momentary N.O. pushbuttons (which would then arc internally and weld themselves 'closed'). Brilliant, low current control circuits for use with something like a Launchpad micro controller? Hint hint...

I added a momentary on-off-on toggle switch to the leftmost TTL input cap-D (on the lower ladder) to show individual (local) control of turnouts in this option as well. The SwitchWitch circuits can be built active-high or active-low to suit your driver output configuration. The toggle merely grounded either input.

The demo board can be seen here sitting on top of my 2.5'x5' N scale portable layout which was made for DCC and two-cab control clinic at the Erin Mills club. For some reason, I have long since disassembled both of these units and scattered the components to the four winds. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

A lot of modellers at that point (and probably still now) had trouble "getting" some of the electrical concepts I was talking & handwaving about. In the end, it was easier to build up some working demo units that could be mulled over in real time. Not sure how many people acted on any of the stuff I presented, though.


a horse of a different colour

I've been able to enjoy another great day of woodworking with Steven Der Garabedian (Black Walnut Studio) as he lead a class at the Lee Valley Tools Toronto west location.

The subject was a James Krenov style saw horse, similar to this one (from the Lumberjocks forum):

The material we used was straight-grained ash that Steve had picked up at A&M Wood in Cambridge. Steve pre-milled the rough stock to size to allow us to concentrate on the joinery.

My goal in taking these courses is to learn better techniques while getting feedback during the process from someone who actually makes a living with this knowledge.

This project exposes the novice to a drawbored blind mortise-and-tenon at the leg-to-foot joint, a wedged through mortise-and-tenon at the lower stretcher-to-leg joint, and a simple lap at the top rail-to-leg joint. The top rail itself is retained with two screws, as this piece may eventually have to be replaced due to wear or damage over time.

I used a striking knife instead of a pencil for marking-out the tenon shoulders to ensure crisp edges. Nicely sharpened chisels were available in class to deal with the lap joint notches in the hard ash. Shoulder planes were used to clean up the tenons for a light press fit in the mortises.

I did make one mistake during my layout of the top rail's lap joint (D'oh!), but it won't prevent me from finishing the project to my satisfaction. I can turn the error into a visual feature with little effort.

Of course, I need a second sawhorse to make a pair -
or I could just apply a light finish and use it as a quilt rack...


a touch of cliché

I associate certain aphorisms with my grandfather's generation. I've come to adopt a few over the years as life reminds me of the consequences of poor choices, and I'll even admit to uttering one or more of them in public. However (as I age) I find several of them more pointedly apt than I'd like.

For example:
  • "Haste makes waste",
  • "Measure twice and cut once",
  • "Penny wise and pound foolish", and
  • "Look before you leap",
for starters. 

As a result of a variety of recent events, I offer the following observations.

Don't skimp. When making multiple pieces of the same cross-section from your milled bar stock, leave enough material between each piece for proper parting off and cleaning up of each end. Otherwise you'll suffer from a poor finish and/or undersized parts. After all, one of the reasons you're making all this stuff by yourself is because you want it to look and perform in a superior fashion to the store-bought imported crap, right? Saving .030" of material here and there is not going to break the bank.

Check your setup; again. Yes, take the 12 seconds to walk back to the workbench to get the square you absent-mindedly left on it to check the alignment of the tool. Don't kid yourself - it's not "close enough" for parting off. If it just happens to be correct, you can chalk that up to luck rather than as a result of attention to detail and best practice. Professional results flow from professional behviours.

Sort out your $#!^. Nothing wastes time like hunting for the right Allen wrench or chuck key. Plan out the upcoming job in your head before you start. Get the necessary tools ready (and ONLY the necessary ones) and have them accessible when you are standing at the machine. There are good reasons why doctors have a tray (or two) of specific items ready for each operation; it speeds the process and reduces mistakes. If you find yourself frequently looking for tools in the middle of each job, it's a good sign that you don't fully understand the process(es).

Make a list, check it twice. You need a few items; raw material, a replacement drill bit, a new bulb for the gooseneck lamp, cap screws, or what have you. Write them down in a list. Go through the upcoming job(s) in your head (see above) and add the items you just realised you ALSO need to the list. Now go through your shop and make sure that the components & tools you THINK you have are actually there. Add these missing ones to your list. If you're located outside of a town centre I'd even go as far as to check the store(s) that you're planning to obtain the items from to see if they've got the requisite parts in stock before starting the car.

And, yes, there are one or more stories behind each observation.



Blog reader Simon Dunkley from the UK pointed out that the wooden wagons I recently acquired through an estate sale were actually made by Roy Link for the 2nd version of his Crowsnest Tramway layout.

I'm even more pleased to own these items now!


lost and found

In the course of moving all of this stuff around the basement, I have mislaid the few finished (or partially finished) pieces of a single-cylinder steam engine that the local crowd of Model Engineers undertook as a group project a number of years ago. It's always bugged me that I didn't finish it at the time and, naturally, the bits quickly became buried in my vast collection of other stuff that I've been dragging around for years. Last summer I finally located the package of parts and instructions and set them aside so it wouldn't get lost again - which it has - pending the workshop's rise from obscurity. 

I did, however, find some time to work on another overdue item (I have lots of those). I've long lamented the lack of good T-nuts for the Taig mill. A while agao I had marked out and started to mill some aluminium bar stock to make a set of six T-nuts with more substance than the stock offerings. Since I can now see what I'm doing in the shop, I cleaned up around the mill, checked the markings, centre drilled (because I found those), and drilled for 10-32 thread. I want to slightly countersink the top edges of the holes before tapping but, naturally, I can't find my countersinks. So that step will have to wait until I can find some more time.

a little lighter

I have added a third fluorescent fixture to the workspace. Each of the three machine benches now has proper overhead lighting. It's a massive improvement that I will enjoy throughout the long winter months which are even now racing towards us in the Northern Hemisphere.

Specific task lighting is still to come; there are some great ideas percolating around the Internet. One particular adapation using Ikea fixtures done by my friend Dave Underwood is really well executed.
LED lights for the Taig mill

Dave's site, Tooling Around, is populated with useful machine tool-oriented workshop ideas. His own shop is neat, clean and (importantly) well lit. Take a look when you get the chance.

The Emco lathe has an ancient gooseneck (desk?) lamp attached to the splash board behind the chuck & headstock. It works fine, except that the bulb blew as soon as I switched it on the other day. It's a 40W S11 incandescent, quite a bit smaller than the usual household lamps. Luckily, the local hardware store had a couple in stock so I grabbed both. At some point I guess I'll have to switch to and LED or fluorescent to shine extra light at the workpiece. Sadly, the days of the incandescent are numbered.

I do have one of the Anglepoise magnifiers with a fluorescent ring lamp surrounding the lens. I may make a couple of new base mounts for this to allow me to attach it to any tool at will. Not quite sure if it will get in the way when trying to use the mill, though.


I couldn't find my

centre drills.

I knew I had some. Several, in fact. 
Must have had them; used them at school and at home.
Different diameters. Some with a black oxide finish.

But not to be found when I needed them.

Naturally, I went out and bought some more. Just a few. When I came home, I carefully placed them in a small drawer, and labelled the drawer using one of those portable electric label-making thingies. 

Shortly thereafter, I went looking for my brazed carbide tool bits. These were easy to locate. They resided in a little, round tin with "crbd ctrs"scrawled semi-legibly across the top in fat magic marker. Inside, as expected, were the cutters. And, of course, a small stash of 

centre drills. 

Dutifully, I extracted these intruders and placed them in the freshly labelled centre drill drawer.

Later, I felt a need to spend some quality time re-familiarising myself with the controls of the Emco lathe. It has many more features than my Myford, with power cross feed, quick change gearbox, and assorted levers for all manner of speeds and feeds. As I was poking through the accompanying trays of accessories for this lathe looking for a special metric wrench I came across some

centre drills. 

After a moment's reflection, these were carried to their new home - the newly marked tray in its cabinet of similar trays, each bearing their own tiny cache of useful bits & bobs, all sorted and stored for future retrieval and subsequent employment.

One feature on the Emco gave me a bit of grief - the high speed motor control setting would not do what I expected it to do. In a fit of rationality, I went to look in the manual (apparently, I am constantly "letting down the side" by actually reading these documents instead of stabbing randomly at controls, hoping to retain the same number of fingers I started with). The manual sat astride the top of the cabinet of tiny drawers, drooping slightly forward due to the weight of its binding. When I lifted it up, I noticed it had been obscuring the top row of drawers, one of which had been carefully labelled

centre drills.

I shall leave it to the reader to guess what was inside.

let there be light

Things continue to trend higher. The slope on the chart may not be very steep, but it's still going up.

Finally installed some new lighting in the shop space. A pair of 4' fluorescent fixtures with two, 32W tubes each. The tubes are 75CRI 6,500K Daylight Ecologic T8 from Sylvania. Illumination is even and the colour of the light is very good. Fixtures are American Fluorescent Performance Plus shop lights from Lowes. These are equipped with 3-prong cords and pull cords; even the hanging chains are included.

One end of the shop has had only a tacky chandelier left over from the previous owner. I cannot conceive a suitable use for such a fixture in a basement scenario, save perhaps an illegal apartment. I took some delight in de-lighting that part of the room. A commercial grade receptacle was installed in the octagon box, and the two fixtures were connected.

This approach will allow me to quickly reposition fixtures as my usage of the space changes and, having them connected to the existing overhead circuit, allows me to shut off all the lamps at once via the switch near the shop entrance when I'm done for the day.

The ability to see what I'm doing in there has improved so much that I'm going to grab at least two more of these fixtures for this space. Ultimately, one fixture will be installed over each workbench. A slight amount of rewiring will be necessary to support the higher current load.


by special request

A size comparison of the 16mm wagons.

For props I'm using an original 80Gb iPod (not the "Clasic" re-release) in a clear Griffin wrapper, and an Argyle "Bantam" 16mm scale loco (gauged at 45mm, so it's very slightly canted away from the camera). The track is Peco SM32 flex.

Michael, do I qualify for the bonus points?

scratch 16mm

I was very fortunate to recently obtain some items via an estate sale.

I was told that the late Mike South, a talented modeller in the Calgary area, scratchbuilt these 16mm scale (1:19.1) 32mm gauge (2') wooden 4-wheeled wagons. Little latches & catches, hinges & hooks abound. I am unsure if there is a prototype for these little gems.

A counterbalanced arm is fitted under one end of each car, equipped with magnetic chain to be pulled down to allow for hands-free uncoupling. I have not been able to try them out in a moving train, and I am a bit worried that they may be too delicate to survive a typical live-steam outing.

Some minor repairs needed to be made due to damage from shipping, and examination revealed that many of the finer details are not applied in a particularly robust manner. They may offer an incentive to create a small, operational diorama using a battery-powered critter. 

up and running

As of last week, there there are now two operational lathes in the shop!

One is an Austrian built, Emco Maximat V10P,

and the other is a UK built, Myford ML7 Tri-Leva.

Please note that the 80s era, faux wood panelling was already in the room when I took possession of the property. It's not even 70s era, real wood veneer. Shameful...

The Emco needs a little more work; its 4-speed milling head is not currently functional. During the tear-down and move from the original owner's shop to my own, we cut the power cable between the headstock and milling head. It's only a 3-wire hookup, and I wanted an inline disconnect anyway. Just a slight inconvenience and delay.

Ultimately, there will be only two lathes in the shop; this Emco and a diminutive, US made Taig fitted with a variable speed, 90VDC treadmill motor for very small work. The Myford shown, plus some other equipment, will be going to new homes at some future point (hopefully sooner rather than later). 

It was difficult to chose between the machines - they are products of different design ideals and each one offers a distinct list of pros and cons. In the end I decided that the power crossfeed, quickchange "speeds & feeds" gearbox, and sump style headstock oil system made the Emco a more appropriate fit for my anticipated needs. 

I had long coveted a Myford lathe of any kind so, when this one became available (freshly rebuilt), I jumped at it. It has proven more than adequate so far and, given the number of magazine articles dedicated to improvements and accessories for this machine, I've no doubt that it will continue giving good service for decades to come. It is merely that there are a few features I miss having on the Myford which I found handy on the machines I used during my time at school (see note above). I don't really have room for both big machines so one of them must go. 

Now, if I ever found a Hardinge HLV-H in good condition locally, changes would have to be made...

looking after things

It is said, in some circles, that your possessions own you. The more stuff you have, the more stuff you must maintain, repair, store, etc. Your either resign yourself to invest the time in regular upkeep or, when you actually need to use the item, you find that it's not in serviceable condition.

I've had a couple of recent, age-related failures around the house. Some of the items are necessities; i.e. you can't live in a house without having them in working order. These things have to be fixed; no option. So out comes the chequebook and other plans change to accomodate the unexpected situation.

Other things break down and can, in many cases, simply be done without. Trivially, how badly does one need toasted bread vs plain bread for example?

Yet more are chronic conditions. Not really inoperative; you can get by with the semi-functionality that comes with decrepitude, but it's generally a pain in the arse. For most of these situations, I have bought the necessary widgets for the repair but have not yet yielded to the nagging pressure to "Do something about this annoyance!"

I'll note now that I'm glad I don't own a century home. As much as I like the visual aesthetic, I can't see physically dealing with all of the wild and wooly things that can go wrong in a 100+ year old structure. It's bad enough in this 50+ year old cracker box. My energy level and enthusiam aren't high enough to meet the former challenge.

As far as hobbies are concerned, a similar situation exists. Often you can spend more time preparing for the work (and/or cleaning up afterwards) than you manage to spend doing the work itself. For instance, I find the prep and cleanup for airbrush work to be more trouble than it's worth unless there is a pile of backlogged models to paint, though I have found an Iwata cleaning station and some new paints to try that may reduce my overall expenditure of time and tip the balance.

Getting to the point of this post, my workshop space had simply gotten away from me. I would buy some tools, stash them in the room for 'someday', and go on with something else - repeating this cycle several times since moving here. Last month I'd had enough of not being able to get in to the shop and move about in a purposeful manner. Without resorting to the seven basic ballet moves, I could no longer traverse the short distance from the shop door to my modelling bench. Enough!

And so, reluctantly, I began to apply the now corporately popular "5S" process to my home work space. Sort, Set-in-order (Store), Shine, Standardise, and Sustain. While progress has been slow, I can already see a measurable improvement in my access to tools and materials. Must get the first 4Ss done so that the 5th has a chance to succeed.

Now, I've said publicly many times before that I have been "cleaning in the shop", so why am I still at it? To borrow a golf term, it's a "lack of follow-through on the swing". My previous organisational efforts have been like inexpertly chopping at a golf ball without visualising the path that it needed to follow to make the green. Sure, the ball moves, but that's only part of the activity. So everything that was done merely accomodated a short task without dealing with the big picture; how am I going to undertake complete projects in this space?

I've set a goal of spending between 1/2 and 1 hour in the shop each day; whether working on projects, cleaning, determining what stays or goes, or creating improved storage solutions for the items remaining. Making it easy to get at your tools and materials pays dividends on ever task you undertake going forward. In the last 9 days I've averaged well over an hour each day, so I'm fairly pleased (for now).

As an aside, I strongly recommend thorough photo documentation for any machine teardown/rebuild that you find yourself involved in. Due to bad planning, I have manged to forget how certain things need to be re-assembled. When some of my machine tools were purchased and taken apart for transport, I assumed that I'd be putting them back together almost immediately upon delivery to my shop space. This turned out not to be the case for two significant pieces. One, I have finally managed to get back to 95% of as-bought condition while retaining what's left of my hair.With the other, I'm going to experience significant difficulty as I do not have a service manual or original paperwork. Had I taken the time to snap a series of digital pics during the teardown, I'd be far better off at the moment.

Back to the shop.


3D thoughts

I recently ranted (at some length) in a comment thread regarding 3D printing. While I am a huge fan of technology in general, I have reservations and observations in this case.

3D printing is constantly being presented as being "all things to all people". It slices, it dices, it makes julienne fries. Nothing is beyond its capabilities.

One industry big shot has even gone so far as to proclaim that owning a 3D printer will automatically make you into an Industrial Designer. Presumably it will work the the same way digital cameras & photo printers made everyone into Ansel Adams, and word-processors made everyone into Ernest Hemmingway. Pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Hey, I just bought some scalpels, come and see me for your next elective surgery! 
No, I won't hold my breath waiting for your arrival.

With the advent of 3D scanning requiring no special hardware, an STL file can be generated for (almost) any object outline. The ability to transmit files anywhere in the world at the push of a button means that (virtually) no shape is out of reach of any person or locale. The plethora of problems associated with music and video piracy will pale in comparison.

If you're just talking about semi-functional representations of a real item, or as proof-of-concept, or as a development tool, then 3D printing is an acceptable route. When the finish level improves such that extensive secondary operations are no longer required, I'll adopt the technology for model-making. But I won't (for the foreseeable future) use it to make a hammer that I'd try to drive nails with.

It takes REAL skills and knowledge, that most people do not have and are not willing to obtain, to MAKE REAL THINGS. Any slack-jawed troglodyte can push a button to generate a COPY of someone else's work (see RIAA and MPAA note above).

People with the necessary skills are certainly out there making great things, but just owning a tool is not going to magically convey the hard-won abilities necessary for using it. 3D printers do not generate items with the true material properties of the original. In some cases, the resultant attributes may be sufficient, but not under all circumstances. 

Ultimately, making useful, functional and/or beautiful things depends on the talent of the maker, not upon the tools they use. 


just because I can

When I'm in Toronto, I often get a chance to visit the Harbord House pub.

Good food, a good selection of beer, good service.

What more can one ask for in a restaurant?


woody wins

Thanks to my penchant for digging through piles of mouldering, tool-shaped objects, I've recently met up with a fantastically talented artisan names Nigel who restores and makes his own wooden hand planes of all varieties. I was able to visit his shop and learn a pile of cool info that would have been hard-won through mere reading. Together, we attended an antique tool show in Pickering (the next one is in November) where I was coached in obtaining a number of hollow & round planes for making a range of mouldings. I also scored some necessary bits and pieces to repair tools that I've already collected. We are going to stay in touch as I move along in this fascinating hobby.

With respect to the digging itself, I found some treats.

(clockwise from lower left) A 1/8" side-bead moulding plane, a Stanley #4 with a very heavy bed casting, a 30 degree ovolo moulding plane, a Stanley #78 duplex rabbet plane, and a mill file clamp used when sharpening hand saws. A fence and rod for the 78 were located at the vintage tool show mentioned above.

Recently, Lee Valley Tools held a series of day-long demos on joinery. I was able to make it to their Toronto West location and speak at length with woodworker John Giancola about how he approaches various tasks. During our lengthy discussion, he recommended two books - one on dovetails by Ian Kirby, and the other on a complete course of hand tool instruction by Paul Sellers. I was lucky to obtain both, although the latter of the two was the last copy (the heavily guarded display copy) in the store. Amongst many other tidbits, John stressed:
  • cut the mortises first; it's easier to fit the tenon to the existing mortise
  • aim for a tenon between 30-40% of the thickness of a typical joint
  • divide tenons larger than ~4" into two, but retain the haunch
John also offered advice on how to adjust my rigid-frame coping saw to increase blade tension, and on upgrading some of the irons in my older, metal-bodied planes. It's great that Lee Valley offers this sort of unstructured event for Q&A.

time goes by

Yep, it's been a while since I made a post.

Events over the last couple of months (especially) trace out a line more like a roller-coaster than a steady trend of up or down.

The joys of a semi-rural locale have manifested as septic system woes (how serious and expensive has yet to be determined), random blackouts, brownouts, and sags in the power grid, and more water in the basement  than is healthy for wood and paper products. 

Lessons learned? 

  • A good UPS for the computers (check), 
  • spike protection for major electronics (check), 
  • candles & matches (check), 
  • LED flashlights (check), 
  • an old-school phone that plugs into the wall (check), 
  • no more cardboard boxes (in process), 
  • properly adjusted & tested back-up sump pump (check), and 
  • more than a little patience.

Due to moving things around in a mild panic during the flooding, I can't find much at the moment; pretty much everything is now in opaque plastic bins. Labelling is about to begin - if I can remember where the labelling materials went.

Speaking of bins, I was able to take a break from the chaos to help a friend move many bins of cool stuff to his new abode, discussing various aspects of storage, display and access to his collection. His library makes mine look tiny in comparison.

The recent weather has also proved troublesome. We've been experiencing wild swings in temperature and humidity, a particular combination of which resulted in an ice storm that damaged the two largest trees in our back garden. The willow lost three large branches, and the birch two. Had I actually gotten the garden railway track installed last season as intended, a large section would have been smashed by the willow's downed limbs. 

Luck or fate? I don't really care at this point - tardiness appears to be its own reward. Maybe I can salvage some workable raw material.

A visit to mum & dad resulted in me being trounced at cribbage yet again. Much good home cooking was consumed, and I was able to refurbish a handful of countersink drills for dad's own woodworking projects.

More on wood in a moment...


check, please!

If you decide to use commercial track products for your layout or modules, BEFORE you start laying these on the baseboard and pinning or gluing them down, CHECK the gauge of each and every piece with a proper NMRA (or other regulatory body's) measuring tool.


I have experienced at least a half dozen separate instances where the commercial product's rail are not in gauge, and can't be corrected. The latest instance involved removing a turnout from a ballasted right of way while making a minimum of mess. Not fun.

Every turnout, every crossing, every piece of sectional or flex track needs to be checked before it is installed. Items that are not in gauge need to be returned to their place of purchase as defective. These items are produced in batches and can vary as enviromental changes and mechanical wear occur.

While you're at it, verify the electrical arrangements of each turnout's point & stock rails with a continuity tester. This is especially important in DCC applications where the optimal situation is to have each point rail the same polarity as its adjacent stock rail to prevent shorting when wheelset's back-to-back distance might be a tad tight. I have had two turnouts where the short rail section after the frog had become isolated from the rest of the route (the wire bond underneath was broken) creating a dead spot.

Save yourself some pain and check first.


a-musing rehash

I've been meaning to update my series of posts "modular musings" on this blog for quite some time.

Recent events and discussions with other modellers reveal that portable layout design, DCC systems, and electrical wiring (in general) are all topics that could stand some review and discussion.

Over the next few weeks, I will try to update these posts with more observations and links to relevant information.

Stay tuned...

timing is everything

Lots of stuff going on lately.

Model Railroadish stuff, mostly.

A trip to the Amherst Railway Society's big train show in Springfield, MA offer ample chance to blow one's mind with possibilities. Add to that a heaping goodie basket of new things from the various vendors...

Travelling with local traction modeller extraordinaire Roger Chrysler was a real treat; I'd be more than happy to repeat the process for any train show I can think of.

However, unexpectedly, I had to debug the S Scale Workshop's layout on Friday afternoon. Due to time constraints, I was attending the show for Saturday only, and had not anticipated being able to enter the show grounds ahead of time. Through sheer luck & good timing I was in the same building as the layout late in their setup phase. Workshop member Andy Malette of MLW Services spotted me while I chatted with Jeff Adam of Motrak Models. Andy hauled me back to the layout to see what was going on.

The DCC system was giving the group fits. I found several things wrong over the course of the next hour or so:

  • three custom made, twisted-pair (Cat5?) LocoNet cables were causing the throttle buss to spasm
  • one LocoNet UP5 panel was not daisy-chained correctly
  • a rail gap had closed up at one turnout, shorting the track buss
  • a damaged Tortoise had been replaced but the frog power routing had been compromised, shorting the track buss when the points were aligned for the main.

The first three issues were isolated and sorted out fairly quickly by halving the layout's busses until the faults revealed themselves. The last item could not be readily repaired as that Tortoise is part of a complex control panel comprised of momentary pushbuttons and LED route indicators that doesn't lend itself to tracing wires unless that module set is laying on its side; which was not practical at that point in the setup.

One issue I should have dealt with was to ensure that the Command Station was centrally located along the track buss. The layout was about 80' in length this time around thanks to some excellent new modules built by member John Johnston. Our habit has been to hook the Command Station into the buss about 8' from one end. Not such a big deal when the layout is in the 40-50' range, but it gets much worse as track buss lengthens. Next time...

In the end, the layout was operational for the weekend. I was able to come back on Saturday after lunch and, while the rest of the crew ran trains, chat with the general public and other modellers who viewed the modelled scenes and trains. Some great questions were asked and many compliments were made.

It came as a pretty big surprise to the crew when the Amherst Railway Society's committee stopped by at about 4 PM and awarded us "Best in Show - Layouts" for 2013. We are certainly honoured to be recognised in this manner. Needless to say, spirits were running high for the rest of the weekend.