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Plastikard Modelling - Great Eastern Signal Box - Scratchbuilding. - More Practical Help - Your Model Railway Club
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 Posted: Sun Oct 14th, 2007 09:17 pm
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Perry
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Many years ago I used to enjoy scratchbuilding buildings for previous model railways and thought that something along those lines would be suitable. To this end, I decided a signal box wouldn't be too ambitious a task on which to renew such skills as I already had.

The years have taken their toll, though, and the hands are not as steady and the eyesight not as keen, but I still thought I would have a go.

I chose to make a Great Eastern Signal Box.

The chosen prototype, as it stands today:




PREPARATION AND PLANNING.
I decided that I wanted to model an actual prototype and didn't have to look too far for a suitable example. One of the few remaining Great Eastern boxes, now almost derelict still stands a few miles from my home. I decided to base my model mainly on an old photograph I found on the internet that shows the box in the buff and green colour scheme. It is now grubby white and green. Some details have changed and the model is an amalgamation of the old and newer features. Digital camera in hand I paid it a visit. I photographed as many different viewpoints and details as I could manage and upon returning home, set about working up a rough plan drawing. This wasn't a detailed plan by any means, but it enabled me to work out the approximate dimensions of the structure. I reckoned that the door was probably about 6'6" high, about standard size. I could see on the photos that there were 13 of the boards used to clad the box equalling the height of the door. Therefore, each board averaged about 6". Simple! From there, and using a bit of crafty cutting and pasting in a graphics program on the computer, I was able to work out all the major dimensions. Windows were also plotted out by the same method. It's not 100% accurate, but it looks near enough to me.

This link shows the box as it was some time ago, and this image was used as the basis for the model.

http://www.signalbox.org/gallery/e/wroxham.htm              Defunct link 


   https://signalbox.org/gallery/e/wroxham.jpg                 Alternative Link


MATERIALS.
The choice of material was easy. I have always liked working with Plastikard, finding it quick and easy to cut and join, so that was to be it. I still had a small stock of sheet and strip Plastikard from years back and a visit to a local model shop soon bolstered supplies.

TOOLS
All that is needed to work this material is a sharp knife; I use a scalpel-type craft knife. Blades need to be really sharp though, so don't skimp on them. Some people like to use the heavier Stanley knife type of tool, but I find it a but clumsy for this kind of work. It encourages one to try to cut through the material in one go  something you shouldn't do, because it can distort the plastic and the blade can slip with the increased pressure  which can be dangerous.

I use a 12" steel ruler to cut all straight lines. Don't use plastic or soft metal,  the knife will damage it. A small woodworkers or engineers square is invaluable for marking out and checking during assembly.

Marking out it sometimes done with a pencil, but I find this tends to become inaccurate as the pencil becomes blunt. Too hard a pencil won't mark the plastic properly and too soft a one gets blunt too quickly. I prefer to mark out using a light touch with a sharp metal point; a school compass needle or the like. Don't score the material too heavily though. For repetitive marking out of pieces of the same size, I find a pair of dividers indispensable.

A couple of small drills and a needle file or two completes the tool kit.

Joins are made using a liquid solvent applied with a brush. There are several brands on the market and any good model shop will stock something suitable. I use an old sable brush that's too worn out for painting. It still comes to enough of a point to allow me to put the solvent exactly where I want it. The solvent dries (evaporates) almost instantly, so it's easy to tack pieces in place with a couple of spots of solvent, then, when you're happy it's in the right place, run a brush-full along the length of the joint. Capillary action will make it flow into the join and make a surprisingly strong job of joining the parts together. I also keep a tube of polystyrene cement (kit glue) to hand. I use this for reinforcing joints where they are likely to be rather more stressed. Don't squirt it on straight from the tube; it makes a hell of a mess if you get too much on. Squeeze a small amount into a suitable throwaway container and apply it with a small spatula made from wood, or a wooden cocktail stick, or something along those lines.

THE MODEL.
I constructed the main walls, floors and roof from 040 (1mm) Plastikard sheet, taking care to cut the parts out nice and square. I find it easier to cut the window and door opening out BEFORE I cut the walls to size. Cutting plastikard is simple. Run the point of your knife along the edge of the steel ruler, not pressing too hard. Two or three light cuts are better than one heavy-handed gouge. Once cut part the way through, gently bend the Plastikard away from the cut side. There will be a little click as the material snaps cleanly along the cut line. Take care at the corners of door and window cut-outs; make sure that the cut goes right into the corner, otherwise you'll end up having to trim them all afterwards.
When I had cut all the walls out, I scribed them with a steel point to represent the cladding boards. I used pre-cut Plastikard strips of various widths to represent the metal framing and glued these in the appropriate places on the exterior of the walls.

I prepared a template for the windows by laying the wall section with the window cut-outs on a piece of paper and drawing round the inside of the holes with a sharp pencil. Putting the wall aside, I then taped some 010 clear Plastikard over the paper template, making sure I had enough to give me a border I could use to glue it into place afterwards. Make sure that the window will still fit between the walls that you have to fix in place later. It's a pain having to try to trim it after it's been glued in place. I wanted white glazing bars for these particular windows, so I was able to use ordinary white PVC adhesive tape (insulation tape). If you want a different colour you can just paint the tape before cutting it into strips. I cut a few inches from the roll and stuck it down lightly onto a pane of glass. This held it firmly enough for me to be able to cut strips about a millimetre wide with the craft knife and steel ruler. These strips were then picked up one at a time with tweezers and the point of the craft knife and laid in place onto the clear plastikard, using the paper template as a guide for the position of each one. It's painstaking work, but worth getting right. You can always bin it and start again if you're not happy with the first (or second) try. I binned my first one; the glazing bars looked too thick, so I just cut some finer ones and started again. Once all the windows were completed I secured them in place behind the window openings using 5-minute epoxy glue. These windows aren't going anywhere! The epoxy also ensures that the ends of the PVC tape strips can't move.

Doors are easier. I cemented plain scraps of Plastikard behind the door openings and built the door panels up using tiny strips of the same material. Don't forget the rain strips at the bottom of the doors!

Some painting was done at this stage, as it is easier than trying to do it all when some of the finer detail has been added. The metal framing was painted green. The trickiest bit was painting the edges of each strip! There are a lot of them. The ground floor was left empty and the room painted matt black inside as it was discovered that with the light coloured paint used on the exterior walls, light still shone through the plastikard. A small plastikard box was also made up and painted matt black. This was fixed behind the ground floor windows and prevents the room from looking too big and empty.

Basic assembly involved cementing the four wall together, using two false floors, one at the base, and another where the lever equipment will be situated later. The whole thing was checked for square, checked again and then rechecked, just in case. Nothing looks worse than a building on the skew that isn't meant to be, in my humble opinion. That's also why I like to assemble buildings on a sheet of glass  it's nice and flat.

The little bothy at the top rear corner was quickly constructed from a few small pieces of Plastikard. It's the little jobs like this that make it worthwhile throwing all your Plastikard off-cuts in a box. There's no need to waste pristine sheets of material when you only need two or three small pieces. The bothy was glued in place, along with the platform at the main entrance to the box.

The steps were next, and I must admit, I'm not fond of building open staircases. They have a nasty habit of turning soggy and collapsing if you use too much solvent at once. Having counted the number of steps on one of my photos, I drew up a rough sketch plan. This enabled me by some simple arithmetic to work out what the gap between each step would need to be. This decided, I made a small spacer from scrap plastikard. This would hold each step in place above the previous one when I commenced construction. I made up some angle-iron for the main supports from microstrip (pre-cut plastikard, available in various sizes, in packets). The steps, including a few spares in case of mistakes or accidents, were cut from one strip of plastikard that was made the WIDTH of the steps. That way, they all end up the same width and will fit between the side supports. The depth of the step isn't quite so important and can't really be seen once they are installed. Don't make the mistake of trying to cut each one to length individually  it's almost impossible to get them even sized. Right then. All parts cut and ready. Cement two small spreaders between the side supports, one at the top and one at the bottom. Give them a few moments to firm up, and then lay the prepared spacer I mentioned above on top of the bottom spreader. The first proper step slides in above this and the ends are brushed with solvent. (Don't stick the spacer to the steps!) The step will set in few moments. Carefully slide the spacer out, taking care not to disturb the already-glued step, pop it on top, slide the next step in place and repeat until you reach the top. If your calculations were right, they should come out evenly spaced, with the right number of steps. The railings around the edge of the little platform were made from microstrip and glued in place. Likewise, the braces beneath the platform were constructed. I decided to brace the staircase with a support fixed to the base of the box. This is purely because the stairs are quite delicate and I felt they needed more strength. This support will be disguised when the scenery is added later.

I now need to make eight small brackets to support the other platforms that run round the front and far end of the box. On the prototype, these brackets are triangular with a circle set into each triangle. They are not very big, but I considered then quite distinctive and worth trying to model. I cut 10 pieces of 1mm square microstrip 6mm long, 10 at 7mm long and another 10 to form the hypotenuse. (I ALWAYS make spares!) Using my sheet of glass as a flat base again, I cemented the 6mm and 7mm strips at right angles to each other. When they had set, I added the third side, trimming each one to fit. The completed brackets were glued to the walls using small packing pieces where needed, as on the prototype. The little circles turned out to be 2.4mm diameter. I had nothing suitable in the materials or spares boxes and tried various solutions such as drinking straws and biro refills. Nothing fitted. However, a few days later I was lucky enough to find some plastic tube in a model shop that was more or less right. I only needed 8 pieces, each 1mm long, so it didn't take too long to open the bore up with a round needle file to get a better section. The tube turned out to be a sliding fit in the brackets and the eight little slices were stuck in place with epoxy glue. Solvent would have melted them, and in any case, the brackets had already been painted and I didn't fancy trying to scrape the paint off. The railings around the platforms are supported on the ends of the brackets, so I cut and glued 8 short lengths of plastic rod vertically to them, as well as to the outside faces of the kick boards. The rail along the top was a little bit tricky. It was made from a single length of plastic rod, bent to shape in hot water. I tacked it in place on the top of each vertical rod with solvent. When it was dry (overnight) I reinforced the railing joints top and bottom with epoxy glue. This also gave the appearance that the uprights wrap-around the horizontal rail, as in the prototype.

A close-up of one of the tiny brackets:




Rainwater downpipes were added to the building, along with some other miscellaneous plumbing. A lamp was made from a plastic-headed pin with scraps of plastikard added. The whole thing was stuck to a piece of copper wire and glued into a hole drilled in the front wall.

The roof was cut from two pieces of 040 plastikard and glued together at the ridge, using precut formers to ensure the angle was correct. Bargeboards and gutters, all made from plastic strip, were glued in place and painted. The tiling was done by cutting strips of 010 plastikard, 5.5mm x 3.5mm and slightly wider than the width of the roof. These were then bundled together with masking tape in two or three places, then cut two-thirds of the way through every 3.5mm, using a razor saw. When cemented in place and overlapped, they give a reasonable impression of slate tiles, particularly when painted. An old-style stovepipe made from plastic tube and a map-pin was added to the roof and the model was considered complete. The roof has been left removable as I intend to fit out the interior later.

The model. Complete except for interior and weathering.




The whole job took about 2 weeks from taking the photos to completion.

I tried to include all the information that had gone into the 'lost' previous posts, plus a little more detail. If there are any questions or things I haven't covered, please don't be afraid to ask.

Perry                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   B                   



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 02:46 am
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darrenscots
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Perry, I like the idea of the white insulating tape for the window cross-members. Have you attempted to do this on both sides of the window on any other build?

Do you see any pitfalls in using fine styrene strip as the window cross-members instead?



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 08:05 am
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Perry
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darrenscots wrote:Perry, I like the idea of the white insulating tape for the window cross-members. Have you attempted to do this on both sides of the window on any other build?

Do you see any pitfalls in using fine styrene strip as the window cross-members instead?


I haven't tried doing both sides but I can't see any reason why it shouldn't be done (except all the extra work that no-one is likely to notice! :? ) :lol:

The big advantage of using tape is that it is self-adhesive and therefore no solvent is used anywhere near the window transparency with the inherent risk of accidental damage.

It might be worth building a test window into a scrap piece of plastikard just to see how it all works out before tackling an actual building if you haven't used this technique before.

My way of doing it is not neccessarily the right way - just my way. :wink:

Perry



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 09:21 am
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Petermac
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That's great Perry - as ever !! :cry: :cry:

Just a question - you said you cut out the windows and doors first - how do you cut right into ther corners of the windows ? It's a bit I've always found difficult - cutting an opening with no contact to the edge of the plasticard. I have usually drilled a hole at each corner first then filed the "rounding" into the corner afterwards.

Your advice would be much appreciated.

Petermac



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 11:07 am
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Perry
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I hate to say this, but it's just practice. :?

Use a very sharp (preferably new) pointed blade in your craft knife, work slowly and carefully.

There is, as far as I'm aware, no special 'secret' way of doing this. Again I would recommend practicing on some spare scraps of plastikard first. Don't try to force the cut, or to cut too deeply. Several light cuts are far better than once deep 'gouge'. The first light cut will help guide the blade for subsequent ones - if you don't force it.

Perry



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 06:02 pm
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Gwent Rail
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Perry wrote:I hate to say this, but it's just practice. :?
Use a very sharp (preferably new) pointed blade in your craft knife, work slowly and carefully.
There is, as far as I'm aware, no special 'secret' way of doing this. Again I would recommend practicing on some spare scraps of plastikard first. Don't try to force the cut, or to cut too deeply. Several light cuts are far better than once deep 'gouge'. The first light cut will help guide the blade for subsequent ones - if you don't force it.
Perry


Once again Perry's answer is clear and (as far as I'm concerned) the best way :!:

I alwys make a window cut very lightly first using a straightedge and then several more that will automatically go deeper each time.

Just one tip to add:-
Sometimes because I've been so careful not to go past the join and into good walling, I find that one or more corners will still be attached to the sheet and so the opening is still covered by a 95% severed piece.
It's then best to start with your blade at the outside edge of where the cut should finish and work away from the good bit.
Then turn the workpiece through 90% and work back along the other side.
This way you make sure that you don't stray into the piece you want left whole.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 07:49 pm
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Perry
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One other little tip:

Try as far as possible to put the metal straight-edge you are cutting against over the material you will be keeping. That way, if the blade does slip, it should slip onto the waste piece. It's not always possible to do this, of course, but bear it in mind as a general rule.

Perry



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 08:30 pm
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Petermac
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Thanks - both of you :wink: :wink:

All taken on board - now I'm off to practice !!

Petermac



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 09:30 pm
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sparky
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I like the roof on the signal box perry, i think this is the sort of treatment that would improve the metcalf kits



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 Posted: Fri Feb 1st, 2008 10:37 pm
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vinny
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Good tips there. I'll be making some houses out of this soon,should avoid some mistakes hopefully thanks :D :D

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 Posted: Sun Feb 17th, 2008 02:12 am
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I like this signal box very much :D :D :D
Mike
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