Thinking About 3D

I read in a recent newsletter that the NMRA is currently grappling with the issue of how to judge “scratchbuilt” models that were made using parts from a 3D printer. The issue for them is how to fairly judge when someone creates their own parts versus simply printing and assembling designs made by others. My two cents is that this shouldn’t be too hard, since the issues are exactly the same as use of commercial castings (e.g., for a window frame) versus making your own from strip styrene or similar. There is an honesty aspect to it: someone could lie about their source. But you could address that by requiring the modeler to submit their part files as part of the entry process if they claim to have created them. It’s important not so much for the issue itself, but rather as the author of that piece noted, as a measure of how technology is changing the hobby.

Kato DC Power Pack

Several years ago I investigated several DC power packs, including one of my Kato packs (I have three of them). At the time I was reluctant to take one apart because the screws are hidden under the glued-on feet. But a question on the JNS Forum spurred me to investigate the circuitry more closely, and so I took one apart. And in the process, I discovered that some of my old information was wrong.

November 2013 Status

Work on the layout pretty much didn’t happen in November. Partly that’s down to other distractions, and partly because I was trying to work out how to paint things in the winter, since my usual method of spray-cans depends on the outside air being above 50°F (10°C). And, unfortunately, most of what I’m doing now depends on painting models.

Even the “one point five meter line” needs the station building painted before I can lay track, and I didn’t get that done in October before the weather turned cold.

I spent much of November working out what to do about a new airbrush, with the intent that I’d use some indoor-safe paint with it. The problem I ran into there, which finally brought everything to a crashing halt, was that there’s really no such thing. All of the paints I’d like to use probably requiring thinning (I really have to try an experiment with non-thinned acrylic though) and may of the “water-soluable” acrylics use alcohol as part of the formula. And both of my likely painting locations are near ignition sources (gas stove in the kitchen, furnace or water heater in the basement). Use of anything that puts a flammable liquid in the air isn’t in my plans.

I may figure out some way to rig my spray booth in a bedroom with an exhaust tube to a window. That will allow painting away from flames and vent any potentially problematic substances outside. This will require some planning, and a bit of carpentry, so it hasn’t happened yet.

But for the moment, I’m a bit stuck.

Airbrush III - Plan A

Before every “Plan B” there is a Plan A. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not done yet, but I decided I wanted to try a Plan A that might cost a bit less than where my thoughts had been heading. So the idea is to see just how well my decade-old 20 psi (1.4 bar) Badger compressor would work as a supply for a simple, bottom-feed, wide-nozzle Paasche airbrush spraying modern acrylic paint.

I’m not expecting much, honestly. The bottom-fed airbrushes are reported to need a lot of air, since they have to suck the paint up rather than letting gravity feed it from below. That’s probably why they have large nozzles: medium on this is 0.7 mm, roughly twice the diameter and 4x the area of a medium nozzle on a gravity-fed airbrush. And acrylics are likewise noted for being heavy, and needing more air to spray. On the other hand, they throw a wide spray of paint, and for the kind of priming and color-coating I’m going to do, at least initially, that’s what I want to have. And some online info suggests you can paint with this stuff, suitably thinned, at pressures below 20 psi.

Airbrush II - Hoses and Adapters

The first airbrush was patented in 1876. You’d think after 137 years people would have figured out one “right” way to hook one up to an air supply. Alas, “people” are never that sensible.

In the course of researching airbrushes, I bumped up against the fact that there are a number of different methods for connecting airbrushes to compressors, using different sizes of connectors and incompatible connectors of the same size. Some of these are multi-vendor, some appear to be unique to a single vendor. Most appear to derive from national standards from wherever the airbrush is made, or marketed.

And they’re not well documented: you’ll run across terms like “Badger adapter”, but adapter from what? I decided I needed to figure out just what was in use. This plethora of connectors apparently wouldn’t keep me from mixing any airbrush with any compressor, but to do that was going to require knowing what kinds of hoses or adapters would be needed. Plus, thinking about this gave me more time to let the question of “which compressor and which airbrush” bounce around in the back of my head.

Airbrush I - Compressors

About fifteen or twenty years ago I bought my first airbrush, I forget exactly when. It was (and still is, see above) a Badger 350 (current retail about US$45). Shortly after, I bought a cheap, simple compressor: a Badger Whirlwind 80-2 (no longer sold). The compressor puts out 0.4 cfm at 20 psi. It wasn't really a very good choice of compressor, being both noisy and underpowered, but it served well enough for what I did, at least at first.

An airbrush is a very useful tool for modelers, and you don't need to be an artist to use one (I certainly am not!). My first use was to paint the rails of my HO flex-track "rust" after it was nailed down to the cork (yes, I was still using nails). To do that you just spray a 2" (5 cm) wide swath of color before ballasting, masking off whatever you don't want painted, and then wiping the tops of the rail with a cloth lightly soaked in thinner before the paint can set. I had to mix my own rust color, which turned out to be easy. The 'brush worked so well, and so intuitively, I was sold. I also used it for painting large swaths of color on plastic buildings.

Model Railroad Photography IIIb - The Camera

Well, that didn’t take long. After my post a couple of weeks ago about the advantages of cameras with smaller sensors, I continued looking at what was available, and quickly discovered that RAW-capable point-and-shoot cameras were much more common now than they had been even two years ago. At the same time, cameras with tilt-and-swivel rear LCDs were rather rare. And then I stumbled across the Samsung EX2F. And what I found was compelling enough to get me to buy one (it helped that they’re on sale at present, significantly marked down perhaps in advance of a new model).

Now Samsung isn’t a name that comes to mind when you think about cameras, or at least not when I do. They’re a big company with a lot of different lines of business, but I think of them (outside of major appliances) as a smartphone company. And many of their point-and-shoot cameras are smartphones-without-the-phone with better lenses.

But the EX2F is something different, although it clearly shares that genealogy. It has a number of features aimed at “enthusiast” photographers, and its performance (in RAW anyway) has been rated very highly by professional photographer reviewers (like this one). Nothing is perfect, particularly in a device that’s as much of a compromise as any small-sensor enthusiast-oriented camera has to be. The camera has both good and bad. I think the good parts outweigh the problems or I wouldn’t have put down close to US$350 for the camera, memory card and accessories.

Model Railroad Photography III - Cameras

Once upon a time, I thought I understood layout photography. Throw a bunch of light, point the camera, and take a picture. I seem to know less now than I did then. And while that’s probably a good sign that I’m learning, I do feel like I’m going backwards.

My current concern is depth of field. Without getting into the technical definition, that’s the extent of the region in a photograph that appears to be acceptably in focus. While it would be nice to have the entire image in focus, typically either the nearest or furthest-away portions will be somewhat out of focus. In the photo above, the wooden ruler close to the camera is out of focus, as is the far end of the red ruler, so my depth of field here is somewhat less than 12” (30 cm). And that’s viewed from a distance as a ~660 pixel-wide image. Seen in larger form (e.g., the 800 pixel versions I post in my photo album), the depth of field should appear even more shallow.

Model Railroad Photography II - Basic Postprocessing

In the previous installment I wrote about actually taking the photograph. Today’s post is about what to do next. You can, of course, use the JPEG just as it comes from the camera. But in most instances, that won’t give you the best photograph. What I do varies from image to image, and most require very little work, but “very little” isn’t none. Read More...

Model Railroad Photography I

Most people build layouts to see or run trains, but increasingly we want to share that with people who can’t see the layout in person (or we want to hide the messy bits and show off the good stuff). But taking a photograph of a model railroad layout isn’t as easy as pointing a camera and clicking away. It is, of course, easier with a good camera. But mostly it depends on you understanding what the camera needs to take a good picture, what you can do the take the best picture, and what you can do after the fact to clean it up. Today I’m going to write about the first two parts: preparation and taking the photo. I’ll have a subsequent posting about image processing.

Standards, The NMRA, and Japanese Trains

I recently renewed my NMRA membership, and that set me to thinking about their role in standards-setting, and what it means for the hobby, and about the application of standards to the Japanese-prototype Model Railroading I do today. I’ve been an NMRA member for 20+ years, and the reason I originally joined was to get access to their standards, back when that meant buying a three-ring binder full of paper. Today, those Standards and Recommended Practices are available online, free for anyone to download (the Data Sheets are still members-only, but those are less critical although full of useful information), and I think that’s one of the best things they’ve ever done, even if it does give people one less reason to join.

Work Table and March 2012 Status

Work on the village buildings continues, although it’s been slow recently due to other demands on my time taking me away from layout work. This weekend, however, I found time to build a small work table. Read More...

Not Your Every-Day Power Tool

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been waiting for a new saw to continue work on the Expressway. It arrived this week, and while I haven’t done much with it yet, what I have done is living up to my expectations. The saw, shown above as I was unpacking it, is a Byrnes saw. This is made by a modeler, for modelers, and intended for accuracy, as well as the ability to cut small pieces of wood or plastic (with the right blade, thin aluminum, brass or other soft metals would probably be fair game also). It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the money, at least to me.

The top is machined from a chunk of aluminum 10” x 12”, and the base appears to be aluminum also (as are the bulk of the accessories). Several options are available: I added the extension to the rip fence (above to right of blade) that makes it about 1/2” thick instead of just a few mm (this is removable) and added the extended-length arm to the miter (seen taped down above). I also added the metric version of the micrometer (right corner) that can be used to advance the fence for cutting precise-width strips of material, and I bound the “Rip Taper Jig” which is another accessory for holding things at a specific angle for cutting.

July 2011 Status - Expressway and Website

The month of July largely went to work on the expressway as part of the JNSForum’s 2011 contest, described on my page for the contest. The results so far can be seen in the photo above: one 6-inch segment of what will ultimately be a four-foot section of elevated expressway. Still missing is the guardrail down the median.