The Finescale Illusion

Every once in a while a modeller comes up with a brilliant idea to improve finescale loco kits. All he has to do, he thinks, is to make a kit which consists of exact scale replicas of all the parts of his chosen machine and people will flock to buy it. So he invests in a new computer, CAD software, buys some GA drawings from the NRM and spends a not inconsiderable time drawing all the components at full scale. In time etchings and other components are produced, a test build is done and photos taken of it. And eventually boxes are filled, orders received, cheques cashed and everyone is happy.


As soon as the first adopters start work on building their models, then it is obvious that there is a problem. And the reason is not hard to find. Full sized mainline locos are designed to negotiate a minimum 4½ chain radius curve dead slow. Running lines less than 10 chains radius have to be fitted with checkrails. That is 1.2 m (3’11”) and 2.6 m (8’8”) in 4 mm scale. There are just not that many people with this amount of space, most layouts seem to have a minimum radius somewhere between 3 and 4 feet. Kit designers who ignore this fact leave the builder to face an awkward and time consuming rebuild of the frames just to enable the loco to run on his layout. Of course the model will look the part and many will be taken in by the photographs, without bothering to ask how easy it is to build or how well it will run. The problem goes much deeper than a few difficult kits. There is a perception amongst many modellers that finescale, and in particular P4 modelling is more difficult, more hassle, than the modelling they indulge in. For the most part this perception has little basis in reality, rolling stock is the same in all 4 mm scale gauges, track work is not very much more difficult to build in P4 than in OO, but loco kits? It seems to me that whenever a new ‘museum quality’ loco kit comes on the market, one look at the sheets of etching and instructions is enough to put off a large proportion of potential new recruits to finescale modelling.

There is a widespread belief amongst many in the hobby that players in the cottage industry part of the hobby should not criticised. It is particularly strong among magazine editors and those who run internet forums and does a disservice to both modellers and manufacturers. For modellers there is a well known phenomenon of the ‘maturing cabinet’. This is where a kit is bought and the modeller does not have enough confidence in his building skills and so it remains unbuilt. Or worse, the kit is started and work stops when some problem in the construction which stems from a design flaw in the kit is interpreted as a lack of skill by the builder. Given that the vast majority of complex kits are not going to be finished for many years this can lead the more naïve manufacturers into perpetuating less than ideal design work long after it could have been improved. In addition cynical manufacturers have been known to exploit the fact that kits are not built quickly, in order to put on the market products which have had very little chance of ever being able to be built.

One of the things I was taught at Art College was that the only way to improve your design work was to be able to handle criticism. That meant not only to take cognisance of criticism of your own work but also to be able to make constructive criticism of that of others. In this way, so the theory went, everyone would use the collective wisdom of the group to improve their designs. In the model railway world, criticism, constructive or otherwise, is positively frowned upon. This leaves any manufacturer with very little incentive to improve designs or innovate. What is not helpful is ‘the chorus’ with their ill-informed praise for just about anything that comes on the market. Comments from those who are confident enough to be able to work through any problems they find are only useful in catching execution errors. The information that is most useful to the kit designer is why and at what point did this person give up on this kit, because this can point to errors in the design philosophy. Armed with such information a designer can then usefully modify his work to mitigate such failures. If there is any truth in the belief, common in the trade, that only about 20% of kits ever get finished, then there would seem to be a massive deficit in the understanding that designers and manufacturers have in the ability of their customers to deal with problems involved in building their kits.

In a climate where criticism of products is freely given and acted on by manufacturers, then, contrary to received opinion, those manufacturers who do act on the criticisms will see their sales increase, because if the customers have the confidence that they can build any of the kits they buy in a reasonable time, they are more likely to make repeat purchases.

Just as one door opens…………

This is a quote from a posting on the Shapeways forum:-

WSF is just Nylon 12 – I believe since Shapeways use EOS machines it’s
probably PA2200. I imagine though that right now PA2200 is becoming
very hard to come by for Shapeways since a factory explosion in Germany
about 2 months ago decimated worldwide stocks of Nylon 12 for all
industries, and afaik, EOS has now completely run out of PA2200.

There has been no response from Shapeways about this. So I don’t know what the situation will be, whether they will offer a substitute material or just withdraw WSF. It is likely that the German factory will be out of production until around October, so the supply of the new underframes & bogies is going to be uncertain until then.

Another Dead End

After telling everyone I met at S4N that I was intending to produce coach kits consisting of etched sides and ends, and printed seat units, roofs underframes and bogies, I though it would be a good idea to get some costings. So using the LMS all third that has served as a guinea pig I drew a new seat/floor unit and uploaded to Shapeways to check the price. Unfortunately the total retail price came out at around £100. This I considered to be too much, so I have reluctantly had to shelve the whole idea. So all my future bogie coach kit are going to have resin bodies and roofs

Coach kits

I’ve had a prototype of one of the promised coach kits to work on over the last couple of weeks. It has taught me some interesting things about the sintered nylon I used. Basically while it will make acceptable underframes and roofs, getting the good finish needed for a coach side is all but impossible. So it’s one step back and one to the right and I’ll have to go off in a slightly different direction until the technology catchs up with me.

I had an enquiry this morning about some SECR coaches, and it may be worth posting much of my reply here to show everyone the way I’m thinking.

I’m working on a system to provide complete kits for most of the etched
coaches in the 4mm catalogue. This will consist of the body etch, more
or less as supplied at the moment, a roof, a floor/seat unit and one
piece underframes and bogies. Leaving the modeller only to supply
wheels, paint, glue etc. The price is likely to be in the region of
£70-80 depending on the prototype.

I’m also working on a alternative version of this system that uses cast
resin sides and ends instead of the brass ones. This has the potential
to be offered painted and ready to run, but is somewhat further away.

This latter item is the way I’m intending to produce the lits advertised in the coach kit section of the main website.

BUF025 GCR 60' Underframe

Brighton Bogie

New Stuff

Instead of scratching my head trying to thing something clever to write, i’ve decided to take the easy way out and just post pictures of things I’ve been working in recently.

Bridge Plates

Bridge Plate Rendering

These are for a skew bridge on a customer’s new layout. The dimensions are 35 x 7 x 2 scale feet (140 x 28 x 8 mm in 4 mm scale) They are being produce at the moment an the price will be £64 for a pair.
Similar bridge plates can be produced with different dimensions. Please ask for details.

LNER O4/5 Boiler
BLK0500/5 LNER O4/5 boiler/cab 4
BLK0500/5 LNER O4/5 boiler/cab 3
BLK0500/5 LNER O4/5 boiler/cab 2
BLK0500/5 LNER O4/5 boiler/cab 1
This is a complete replacement for the boiler/cab unit on a Bachmann Robinson O4 2-8-0. This on will produce the O4/5 variant of which there were 9 examples lasting from 1932 to 1959. These boilers can be produced with or without firebox hand holes and washout plugs and with or without vacuum ejectors.
The prototype drawing is finished and will be sent for production shortly. The expected price will be about £50.
Other replacement units are contemplated, both for the Robinson O4 and other Bachmann locos.

All the pieces on this page will be supplied unpainted and direct from the manufacturers.

Six Wheeled Coaches

A recent thread on the Scalefour Society Forum has reminded me that there is a much easier solution to the ‘side-play on the middle wheel’ problem. On the original full sized coaches the springs for the centre axle were supported in long j-hangers with either with links or rods and rubber secondary springs. The axleboxes were modified so they and the axle could move axially in the w-irons. We can’t actually make the axleboxes move like this on models but we can get very close to it. This is how:-

Materials Needed

A pair of wheels, almost any make will do.
A length of brass tube 2 mm OD x 1 mm ID x 22 mm long, for P4 or EM, or 20 mm long for OO
One ExactoScale pin-point axle 1mm diameter


Cut the tube to length and make sure that both the outer an inner edges are well de-burred.
Remove the wheels from their axle and mount them on the brass tube. Check and adjust the back-to-back.
Slip the mounted wheels onto the 1mm axle and mount the combined axle in the sprung w-iron in the usual way.

There you have it. Quick, simple and without the usual contraptions or inside bearings. THis method will give enough side-play for your six-wheeler to go round any curve which doesn’t produce buffer locking.

Here we go again

It’s some time since the last posting, and much has happened in the mean time. As far as the business was concerned, There was major calamity when I managed to wipe my hard disk and lost a number of drawings. Most of the damage has been repaired, but there are still things I look for, only to realise they have dropped into the great bitbucket and are gone for good.

Thinks have moved on, though. The first of the resin wagons is in production and the first batch has completely sold out. The second batch has been ordered. You may notice that there is a new set of pages on the main site which details some new coach parts. These will simplify construction, especially of underframes and roofs of pre grouping stock. I’m not going to repeat what is written on the introduction page, suffice to say that the new materials and production methods mean that all sorts on new possibilities are opening up and the face of kit design and building is going to change radically in the coming years.

Of course, all this high tech stuff doesn’t always go to plan, though. I have a whole range of small lineside pieces, barrows, barrels, pallets etc. which I would like to put into production, but my supplier will be reviewing the way he supplies one of his materials this autumn. Until he has finished his review and the prices and design rules become permanent, I don’t really want to chance putting these things into production. I’ve been told that the review should take a month or six week and the material will be available after Christmas.

Which just gives me time to do some more amazing designs.