Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tools, oh the joy

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I imagine most model railroaders like tools. One of the reasons for having a model railroad, is to use those little jewels. One of the lessons I learned from my Dad was to buy good tools. They never let you down.

So, I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences with tools for the layout. To start it off, I will share three things I have learned or discovered as highly useful during my layout benchwork phase:

1 - The Black and Decker dust buster battery powered vacuum is my most used tool, next to my electric drill. $35 at Walmart By the way, it keeps my wife much happier with the condition of my train room. (I had to buy her one for the kitchen too.)

2 - I have read that cutting 3/4 ply with a sabre saw is cake, well never in my life was it. My old Cheap, Skill 35 special beat me to death cuting anything and it was never straight or square, in any direction! So, last week, at HD, I looked over their selection an decided to try a Bosch 1587AVS and WOW! Where has this saw been all my life! And, it cam with a free orbital sander too boot, about $140. Cutting 3/4 is like cutting on a band saw. Nice, smooth, no flopping around.

3 - Been using dremels and die grinders for 30 years, could not live without them, wore a couple of dremels out and use my big Makita for bigger jobs. Then I saw the new Dremel Lithium ION Cordless, put a chuck on it and it is a very useful tool, especially when nailing track, I can easily pre-drill holes to push nails into even the most subborn hardwood. Just like your old dremel, but with no Cord! HD 70 bucks. This is a very handy tool!

4 - I am a bit of a tool nut, so when I was told about Xuron nippers, I purchased a new pair right then. I received the obligatory "these are for cutting rail ONLY" speech. OK, I said. Well, these 'dikes' are about as sharp and precision set of side cutters I've ever owned, so it only took a few days for me to abandon my other dikes. (For that one person on the planet who does not know, dikes is slang for diagonal side cutting pliers.)

Remembering the admonition to only use on rail, I started wondering if these were actually kinda cheap pliers that would quickly dull and loose their effectiness at cutting rail. So, I bought a second set and put them in the tool box over a year ago as a 'spare' to be used when the first pair became sloppy at cutting rail. Well, the new pair is still in the package. Brand spankin new!

I use my Xuron rail nippers for everything BUT cutting spring steel and if I think it might be like spring steel I don't use them, meaning I don't cut nails, screws or the like. But I have cut a few thousand pieces of wire, flash, pulled rail nails, even clipped my toenails, ((just kidding)! ;;)

So, I shared some of my new tool choices and discoveries with you, how about sharing yours with us? You can do that by adding a comment to this entry!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lessons Learned - Lenz LH100 Quick Reference Guide

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This item has been moved Lenz LH100 Quick Reference Guide

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Soldering and unsoldering train things. . .

Tips on soldering and unsoldering train stuff. . . (updated 12-24-2007)

The issue is usually how to unsolder something. Almost always, the problem with unsoldering something is the lack of flux in the existing joint. This is where a bottle of liquid flux is invaluable. In the electronics repair business, we typically paint the old joint with some liquid rosin flux with a small brush.

Using a larger iron is better for unsoldering. A smaller iron takes longer to heat the object, that time translates to heat migration and the area gets overall hotter than using a larger iron. I use an iron of 45 watts for everything. Remember, with soldering, the object is to get in and get out quickly. By the way, I never burn ties.

It is kind of like a house painter, they will use a 4 inch brush for things you and I would use a 1 inch. They have the technique and skill honed to use the larger tool. Soldering is an art, you have to develop and practice the technique.

Liquid soldering flux
From GC Electronics Completely non-corrosive liquid solder flux consisting of a solution of special rosin in alcohol. Contains no traces of acids or chlorides and is completely safe to use on even the most delicate electronic equipment. For electronics applications. $6.95

Here are the tools I use to solder everything from a decoder wire to an HO rail. There is NO adjustment on my Iron, by the way. The advantages of the station is the thermostatic control and the sponge. Simple soldering irons typically have poor or no thermostatic control and get hotter and hotter the longer you use them as evidenced by their burned up tips. The tip in my Iron is 5 or 6 years old. It does not burn up, and is easy to re-tin. I cannot tell you how many times I left it on all night. My soldering station is an old TC202 Weller. They can be had on Ebay, I recently purchased a spare in near mint condition (compared to my old unit) for less than $40 including shipping. The tips are still available.

Lesson Learned
Soldering iron tips wear out much faster when you use acid core solder like when hand laying track

Too bad we don't have a video of the time I sat on my soldering pencil in a computer room about 20 years ago, burned a hole in my pants and my butt!

These are the primary tools I use to do all the soldering on my layout. The two larger rolls of solder are there for illustration purposes. I only use the tiny stuff on the left. The yellow disk is solder wick, a copper braid useful in removing excess solder from a board. Been years since I used it.

The most useful tool for soldering that I have is this marvelous tool.

A brass solder sucker, only time I use this is when I am removing a part from a printed circuit board, or I am cleaning up excess solder on track joint or feeder I removed.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Battery powered soldering pencils

In 1975 or so, when all of my electric drills had cords, not battery packs, I purchased a battery powered soldering pencil. In a nut shell, it sucked:
  • Took too long to get hot,
  • The tip was hard to keep tinned,
  • My finger did not like staying on the power button,
  • If I used the switch latch to keep the iron on all the time, it got too hot,
  • And, battery technology in 1975 was not quite where it is in 32 years later.
In Home Depot the other week, a soldering pencil, battery powered, portable, caught my eye. And, it was a Weller brand. Yes, I remembered 1975 right away. But it was only 15 bucks. Only my 1/2 hammer drill has a cord these days. Why had I waited so long to buy one of these, I thought?

At home, I was too busy to do anything but put the iron on the charger so it was the next day before I got to use it. I needed to solder a couple of 16 gauge wires together in a splice somewhere under the layout. Ah, I thought a perfect opportunity to use the new iron. And it is fully charged. I grabbed it and headed under the table. Boy did I get upset. Remember all of those things I said were wrong in 1975? Well, none of them had been fixed! But there was a difference this time, I took this one back and got my 15 bucks, instead of letting the batteries go to ash and ruin the bottom of my tool box like the last one did!

You'd think someone actually made a battery operated soldering pencil that works properly. Maybe I am just spoiled to my Weller soldering station that works perfectly every time.

Go figure!


Monday, January 1, 2007

John Widmar's Royal Gorge & Western

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What a Joy, Friday (12/1/06), this past, I had the honor of a personal tour of the Royal Gorge and Western. I can tell you that no pictures do it justice, and few words can describe what we saw. I said we, as my lovely wife Jeanne came along. Oh, how glad I was that she came.

Mr. John Widmar, Master Model Railroader

Link to John's Layout Pictures

Here is a taste of John Widmar's amazing work! These pictures do not require Words. John excavated a hole in his train room floor to build a step down eliminating the need for a duck under! At 6'2" I only had to nod my head to easily clear this masterpiece. The Colorado Royal Gorge in N scale is the theme of John's 15' X 20'

I have included these pictures more as evidence that I have seen this place. John has hundreds of pictures of his work posted at this Site Address.

By the way, there is no fake or misleading Photoshop action in these pictures, what you see is what he built. John is the real deal.

How does he do it? Is it patience or skill? It must be both! These pictures show John's amazing Air Museum. The quality surpasses anything you would expect in any museum, and it is in N Scale. Go inside, you find a completely detailed snack bar with donuts for sale on the counter. Too bad the camera I had that day did not have a macro lens!

John's Air Museum, N Scale of course

Here we get a view of the cafe on the left. Of course, there is a roof! Joe Daddy just forgot to take the picture!

Notice the tiny Wright flier on the right. A work of art all unto itself, lost in the beauty of this piece of art.

It is hard to see, but this museum has two floors, the second being what I would call a mezzanine with open air between them.

I know I have used the words amazing and unbelievable over and over, but I can tell you they are the right words. I am going to go back with a better camera and take more pictures. What a fellow this gentile man!

The engine maintenance facilities on the Royal Gorge and Western railroad, the product and output of John Widmar, Master Model Railroader is nothing short of breathtaking. John believes the in the inside out theory of model railroading. He starts on the inside and works his way out! These facilities are as intricate and elaborate on the inside as they are on the out.

I will remind all that this is an N Scale layout. This is a layout you examine with your bifocals on full power and a flashlight in your hands so you can appreciate true craftsmanship.

Five stars to John Widmar!

The Roundhouse (my apology for this terribly underexposed foto)

The passenger car shop

The car shop

For my 2 cents, John is the master of the backdrop effects. He knows how to project 3D effectively. Actually it was this portion of John's layout that first caught my attention and was the incentive for me to seek an audience with the master model railroader. In talking with John, he had this advice for creating effective 3D backgrounds. "If you can have at least three different levels, you'll likely achieve your goal of depth." That is a lesson learned worth remembering!

His rendition of the City of Pueblo is nothing short of stunning. See for yourself. Click on the picture for crisp details.

Here is another picture of the roundhouse area with a corner of the city of Pueblo in the background.

Joe Daddy hisself

Copyright 2006

Commentary - Trains in Belgium

Meeting train people is, well not always as easy as meeting girls. . .

That's cheating, I know, but where do you find the train guys around town. Sure, they say, join a club. Clubs have their own issues, doesn't make no mind if it is a car club or a train club or a biker club, each has their own set of issues. Besides, the club scene
is a commitment of time. But even worse, it is a commitment of a schedule. And, oh, do I hate schedules!

I have a friend I do Bible study with every Saturday morning, least I get my Belgian waffle! Oh, and speaking of waffles, I am in Brussels right this minute and U think I could find a waffle here? Nope! Not one, I got close last night, we went to this neat little restaurant near the office. A place called the Cook & Book. It is a restaurant and book store combined.

Down stairs, books for adults, noo, not that kind, but the intellectual types, about travel and cooking and other stuff. They have an old airstream trailer in one room, the little one about 12' long. Polished like grandma's silver it is.

Upstairs, this is where it got really neat, the floor is raised like an old computer room floor with huge, thick glass tiles about an inch or so thick. The tiles must be 4' x 6' of course they measure in meters over hear but you and I know how big 4' x 6' really is. So big deal, Joe Daddy, where are the trains, what are you talking about! Patience! UNDER the glass, all the way around the room is a huge Marklin layout! It is built on something like old Astroturf, but it has tracks running everywhere and buttons about every 8 feet along the side of the frame on the floor. Press the button and the train takes off! My grandson Brandon would go nuts, course he would drool all over the glass as he laid there trying to get there. Stefan, the man I was with had told
his wife and 7 year old daughter that their visitor from the US loves trains. It was their daughter Colynn who suggested Dad take Joe Daddy to the Cook & Book! Of course I did not have my camera, not sure it would have done much good, but I can tell you it was a neat idea.

Back to the waffle, decided to forgo supper and only have a desert. There it was, Belgian waffles with fruit and ice cream! Oh, we discontinued that last month. Grrrrr. . .

I finally bought a 7-11 plastic wrap waffle this afternoon just so I could say I had one in Brussels.

Oh, should we be thankful we don't have the prices over hear, I'll never complain about the price for a coke in Manhattan again. 6 bucks a can in my hotel! Everything is outrageously high priced. Some of it of course is that I am trapped in the business man's circuit where escape even to something like a 7-11 is almost impossible. I did find a golden arches in the building next door. Hustled over there only to find it was the Belgium headquarters for Mickey D's, no restaurant at all!

Ok, back to meeting train people. Maybe I'll write about that later, b
ack to Brussels!

This is the view right out my overpriced hotel room window. The trains run all day and three things stand out as impressive.

  • They are brightly painted.
  • They are clean, spick and span and it has been raining all week!
  • They are quiet!
So, how to meet train people in your area? So far, I have met some very nice people right here on TrainBoard. Reach out, use the private message system, I still have to close the loop on one man I have reached out to here. It is how I got the honor of meeting John Widmar, which reminds me, I got to get back over and finish that write up on his incredible workmanship.

Copyright 2006