Thursday, December 3, 2020

Applying Dry Transfers... With a Q-Tips

I didn't post a lot recently not by lack of modelling to show off or ideas to share, but due to a severe case of workload. The kind that leaves your mind numbing and unable to write anything. However, I did work on a few Bachmann diesel kitbashes (mainly my Central Vermont and Maine Central locomotives), a caboose, several kitbashed CP 50ft double door boxcars and a bunch of cheap Accurail and Atlas Trainman hoppers.

I've also built a module for my basement layout... which proved to be a huge mistake. Too large, too overwhelming and not very useful. I'm glad to have tried it because I now know better how the room can be used and I'll revert back to my original idea under the IKEA cabinets. More on that on a next post.

Modelling kept soothed my mind and I thought it was about time to finish my 50ft CP boxcar project started 4 years ago when I entertained modelling CP Tring Subdivision. Let's just say I'm still debating what and which era I'll model but the Quebec South Shore theme is strong, mainly the early 1980s, but also the colorful late MMA-CMQ era.

Most of these cars are decorated with old CDS Lettering dry transfer. To be honest, I hate dry transfer as much as the next guy, but truth to be told, CDS did an amazing job providing so many design back in the days. Dry transfers are a pain to apply, but they cut on a lot of steps and you don't get silvering. The big issue though is making sure you rub them correctly in the exact position. The later point can be dealt without too much problem using Scotch Tape, the former is a little bit tricky. In the following picture, misses are underlined in yellow. From a certain distance, they are hard to notice, but even with a decade of experience, I still have a hard time to get perfect results with most recommended tools.

Dry transfers applied with a dulled pencil (about 4 to 5 passes)

Dry transfers applied with a cotton sawb (about 2 passes)

Over the years, I've tried mechanical pencils, worn pencils, ball-pens, metal point, plastic scraps, blending stumps, burnishers, etc... and always got less than perfect results, particularly when dealing with smaller lettering. Whatever you do, it seems you always miss bits here and there. Worst, after rubbing the transfer a few times, it often no longer want to stick to the surface. Over rivets and irregular surfaces, forget it, pencils are too hard to follow the complex pattern.

Then, it occurred to me a paper shaft from a cotton swab could do the job. It is relatively smooth yet sturdy, has a larger burnishing area, can conform itself to many intricate surfaces and can be reshaped easily. It worked wonders! It is faster, requires less passes, you can easily see where transfers are applied and where they aren't yet, and better, they do a great job with small lettering!

Basically, I cut the cotton buds at one end and then I use a hobby knife to shape the end in a roundish-pointy end and voilà! Now, I have a second life for my cotton swabs I use for weathering effects.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Hindsight 20/20 5.0 – Virtual Railway Prototype Modellers Meet

Hindsight 20/20 Virtual RPM is back on schedule again. On Saturday, December 5th. As always, it is an interesting event to participate and a great source of motivation and inspiration.

I'll by back as a clinician to cover the second and last part dedicated to Modelling with Paper. Subjects covered will include asbestos shingles and corrugated sheets, heavy duty hybrid building cores and rolling stock.

Don't forget to register in advance at As always, the event is free but donations are accepted to help it to grow.

Friday, November 6, 2020

My New Friend...

 As life goes on, you lose a few friends and make new ones. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.

Up until now, my single tool for measuring was my old trusty clear acrylic ruler. It was handy, but on many case, it was somewhat hard to determine exact dimensions due to parallax errors, geometry or simply because dark numbers on a dark object can barely be read. Also, when dealing with small scale project a small discrepancy - let's say 0.1 to 0.25 mm - can make a huge difference between a part that fits perfectly and one that needs putty and shims.

So, late last summer, I took my bike and rode to the local home improvement store to purchase an electronic caliper. Nothing fancy, got it in sale for about $25. But from day one, it completely changed my workflow and made it more efficient. Nowadays, I barely use my ruler, only for general dimensions. Most of the time, I use the caliper. Obviously, it is a great tool to measure diameter or inside dimensions. But it is also quite useful when you need to calibrate the thickness of a scratchbuilt profile or check the gauge of various materials, even wheelsets. Also quite handy to figure out if the general dimensions on a car or locomotive are prototypical.

I've found many other uses, including placing correctly decals and tracing parallel lines. I've been impressed by the many new uses I discover everyday. I can now be certain many parts will fit snuggly, that my scratchbuilt effort are perfect, I can know I need one or two more passes with a file to get the correct dimensions on a part.

It basically eliminated a lot of guesswork, meaning I no longer waste time guestimating dimensions, I waste less material and get more precise cuts. It's also a great tool for aligning parts, which makes the process faster. I also found I could use it as a marking gauge if handled carefully. A light scratch on a plastic surface is much more precise than a pencil line.

At this point, I'm pretty sure you'll ask yourself why I'm talking about such a common tool as if it was a discovery. I've seen people using caliper in this hobby for decades. But I always thought about it as that tool for snobs or brass builder. As a matter of facts, I try to keep the number of specialized tools quite low on my workbench. A caliper always felt to me like one of these tools only used to measure diameters or sheet thickness. However, I was absolutely wrong and found out it was definitely more versatile. Better later than never isn't it!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Kitbashed CNR Drop Bottom GS Gondola - Part 1

Looking at foreign manufacturers to model a particular local prototype isn't generally the first thing I do, but years ago, I discovered a drop bottom gondola made by Brazilian model-maker Frateschi was strangely similar to a Canadian National car.

The original Frateschi shell

After comparing a few pictures, I was convinced I could do a decent kitbashed and decided to hunt down some Frateschi gondola on Ebay. It wasn't cheap for what I would call a glorified train set quality gondola, but that was fine by me to recreate an iconic piece of rolling stock. Unfortunately, many other projects came along and this model stayed on my shelves for years until last week when I thought the time had come to tackle the challenge.

Cut down shell on the table saw

While the Frateschi car had a similar look to my prototype, it became obvious it was at least 6 foot longer than the CN prototype, maybe a little bit more. However, I wanted to salvage the intricate door opening system since it would be quite hard to replicate. So after a few tries with a jeweler saw, I glued the shell top down on a piece of MDF and sliced it on my table saw, carefully removing the ribs. With an average cut of 1/8" for each of the seven ribs, I got the correct length.

Small strips of styrene to make sure everything is square

Each end drop bottom door latches then had to be cut and relocated as per prototype. The voids were then filled back with styrene to recreate the door profile. It went much easier than I first thought.

Moving the latches need precise surgery

Now, it was time to glue back together the parts. As expected, the table saw cuts weren't perfect. A lot of piece of styrene were glued to the parts and an intensive session of shaving and sanding took place to make sure everything was square and sufficiently smooth. I was too worried about the joints because the new ribs would cover the scars.

The new ribs were made of several styrene strips following a method presented by Ryan Mendell a few months ago at Hindsight 20/20 RPM meet. It seriously works well.

Starting to glue new Z-bar ribs.

The next step was to glue back the steel weight which was in all honesty, extremely light, even for a train set car. Fortunately, the was enough space between the weight and the underframe to cement enough steel shots to add a few ounces.

Steel shots glued in place using isopropyl alcohol and Future

The underframe itself was also reduced in length following the same method as the shell. It was cemented back together and I added a few styrene strips to add strength to the joints. The empty space was then filled again with steel shots, which gave the car a quite decent weight for good tracking. In the past, I discovered it was better to glue steel shots with acrylics rather than PVA. With PVA, some che

New ribs on car end

Car ends had to be completely remodelled. The original ribs were all removed and sanded down and new ones from square styrene strips were glued. When dry, I used a folder sandpaper to round them and get the correct stamped profile as seen on pictures.

New floor structure made of paper
New floor made of paper glued on styrene

Then, it was time to create a new floor since the original one was completely messed by the cutting process. Using pictures of drop bottom gondolas, I used paper and punched rivet lines with an awl until I got a decent steel frame. It was then glued to 0.5mm thick styrene sheet with solvent. The paper absorb the melted styrene by capillarity, which create a surprisingly secure bond.

Finally, I replace the sides top cord with a new styrene strips because puttying the old one wouldn't have yielded good results. Tichy hopper corner stiffeners were also added. Then the brake rigging, platform, grabirons and cut levers were added.

After some primer and paint, I was quite satisfied with the end result. The car won't be 100% prototypical, but it is quite close. It was also quite a fun project that took about a week. Fortunately, Black Cat Publishing has made correct decals for this cars, so I'll save myself a lot of work trying to piece together lettering from various sources. I've yet to decide the level of weathering this car will receive. This will depend if I make it a 1950s car or a late 1970s car. Probably the former I guess.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Modelling with Paper: Getting the Architectural Details Right

I'm glad to announce the "big day" is near the corner for the next Hindsight 20/20 Virtual RPM Meet. For the first time, I'll be presenting a railway modelling clinic based on my numerous experiments with paper and cardboard over the last two decades.

While it may sound less glamour than working with styrene, paper and cardboard can often better represent the real architectural materials used on the prototypes. Working with paper has been a staple of modelling in France, Germany and UK for more than a century to create masterpiece. Unfortunately, on this side of the pond, it is often considered a bottom tier material rarely used for anything serious.

The clinic will cover various materials, adhesives and techniques that can be useful to create realistic buildings, intricate architectural details, streets and even locomotive and rolling stock details. A few step by step case studies will help to go through the entire process of building several structures and creating different cladding and roofing pattern. I don't claim to be a master at it or to know every trick in the book, however, I've worked enough with these materials to know they are quite resistant to abuse, easy to shape and fast to build at a fraction of the price. Believe it or not, for less than the cost of a standard Evergreen styrene sheet, you can build almost half a dozen mid-sized structures... not to bad if you ask me!

If you are interested, don't forget to fill the registration form at