Model Building

Simple Structure Lighting

It’s been a REALLY long time since my last post, since I got caught up in several other things after I started this review. I also planned to do more real-world testing with the lighting system reviewed here. I haven’t found time for that either, but I kept procrastinating on posting hoping I’d find a spare weekend. I didn’t. So I’m going to post what I have, and I expect I’ll eventually do a follow-up when I’ve had a chance to light a couple of buildings.

Woodland Scenics came out with their Just Plug building lighting system a couple of years ago, and I’ve been meaning to take a look at it, and see how useful it would be ever since. On the surface, it appears to be a dead-simple plug-and-play method of lighting buildings that you can power off any low-voltage AC or DC supply, such as the AC accessory outputs on a DC power pack or a simple “wall wart” power adapter. And it is.

It’s not cheap. A pair of stick-on LED lights with wires sell for US$10, the basic hub goes for US$17 without lights, and the expansion unit for a similar cost, and they’ll happily sell you a 1 Amp power supply for US$20 (about three times what you’d pay from a good electronics shop). A large system, with two expansion hubs, eight light hubs, and 32 lights would cost about US$348, or US$10.88 per light (with power supply). You could build the same thing yourself for less than a tenth of the cost. Except for two things.

Detailing A Viaduct Station I

After a fairly long break, I’m working on a model railroad again. I’ve returned to work on the One Point Five Meter Line, my compact (1’ x 5’, or 30 cm x 150 cm) light-rail line layout for displaying my structure models. See that page for the track plan. See my Display Layout link for other musings about this layout. See my Urban Station page for a detailed construction log for this building.

The first order of business is to get the track down, but to do that, I need to install the station at the “urban” end of the layout that supports the track on a Viaduct. This is a Kato Viaduct Station Entrance building with one of the associated “shops” buildings, supporting two lengths of Viaduct Platform 248 mm (9 3/4”) each in length. While you can buy a large set for this (23-125) it has parts I don’t need, so instead I’m using two smaller sets (set 23-230, the Viaduct Station Entrance, and set 23-231, the Viaduct Station Shops).

These are pre-assembled structures, but I want to detail them, which includes adding lighting, interior details Kato omitted, and paint. I also need to modify them so I can run wires through them up to the track, as well as to the underside of the viaduct they support.

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.

Central Station I - Design

After initially thinking I’d build my own viaduct for the One Point Five Meter Line’s urban station, I’ve decided instead to use Kato’s Viaduct Station Entrance building (I had a spare one), possibly supplemented by one of the Station Shops buildings, as seen above. This will be fine even though I’m using Tomix track and station platforms, since the viaduct station simply creates a flat base for track, and isn’t specific to Kato’s track. The height would be, but I’m not connecting it to Tomix viaduct track, so that doesn’t matter.

Apartment Building Complete

It’s taken quite a bit longer than I expected when I started, but the first Kato Apartment Building is done. This really wasn’t as hard as it sometimes seemed. I probably spent the most time trying to decide what photos would go on the inside. I had the building painted and the interior wall units assembled in late March, then I got distracted by other things. Finally, after doing up most of the Bike Shop work, I decided it was time to start putting the Apartment Buildings together. The other one is less complete, and will likely be procrastinated over for a few more weeks while I work on other things, but getting this one done felt like quite the accomplishment.

Bike Shop II and May 2012 Status

The nice thing about the “Bike Shop” is that it’s a small model, and hence fairly quick work (by my standards a month really is quick). I’d written about this model a couple of weeks ago. At that point I’d finished the structural work, and given it several coats of paint from spray cans, providing a solid flat black layer to make it light-tight, and then a white interior layer for reflectivity, followed by a colored outer coat to give the “stone” a concrete look. Read More...

Bike Shop

It’s been a while since I started working on the buildings of the “village” section of the River Crossing scene, and progress has been slow, but not non-existent. I’ve built and painted the interiors for the two Kato apartment buildings (well, most of them, I’ve one left to finish) and have been working on collecting images to glue into them. I’ve also started work on what will likely become a bicycle shop, starting with a Bachmann Plasticville Drive-in Hamburger Stand (#45709). Read More...


No, I’m not writing about the ones from the 70s TV series. These are the electrical kind, Kato kit 23-401, which is actually a Heljan-produced model, although apparently not one sold directly by that company. The kit contains material for three high-voltage electrical towers of a common design. In fact, they’re nearly identical to those in a photo of Shin-Yokohama described as owned by JR East (see my Electrical Reference Images page). List price from Kato USA is US$19, but I’ve seen them for less. Frankly, they’re overpriced for what you get. Read More...

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...

Customizing Buildings III

I haven’t been making a lot of progress this week, but I thought I’d post a couple of photos and talk a little about what I’m doing. As usual, larger versions of these photos are available in the Village Photos photo album.

I’d mentioned last time my intent to use photographs for interior detail. This uses the same approach I use for sign-making: reduce images found online to scale size, print them on a 4x6 sheet of glossy photo paper on my inkjet, and glue them to a styrene backing. For the flooring I found some patterns for tatami mats, and assembled room floors by tiling appropriate numbers of mats. Downloadable versions of those were included in last week’s post.

But I’m also using that approach for some of the walls. This is a bit harder, as I need actual photos of walls, but not ones taken at a sharp angle (which is, unfortunately, typical of interior photos). Further, while some furniture is okay, it needs to be subtle, otherwise it’s obvious that the “table” is really a part of the rear wall of the room. With the large windows on the river-facing side of these apartments, the rooms are going to be quite visible (as seen in the test picture above). I ultimately found some usable photos (via Google mainly), but unfortunately they’re all copyrighted, so I can’t share them. Google for “Japan Interior Images” and you’ll turn up a lot of them.

Customizing Buildings II

Work on the buildings of the village continued this week, with more painting, some detailing and work on interiors, and the beginning of work on the village scene itself.

One thing I’ve been considering for a while is how to make the very large gas station fit the limited space. It comes with a sidewalk part that can be added to one side, and I was clear that I didn’t want to add that. But it also has a large sidewalk/apron area in front of it, and after much consideration I decided that needed to go. My street here is going to have a much smaller sidewalk, perhaps as little as 5mm, and putting this behind the sidewalk didn’t look good or make any sense. Building a custom sidewalk also means it can match the rest of the street, and have clearly separate entry and exit drives.

Customizing Buildings I and Feb 2012 Status

I’ve always enjoyed building plastic models. When I was a kid I made many, many models of ships, planes, tanks, spaceships, dinosaurs and whatever else caught my interest. This included some train car kits for my HO layout. Some I even painted moderately well. The less said about my decaling skills, however, the better.

But sometime in High School I lost interest, and it wasn’t until working on the first adult HO layout that I dusted off my skills for some new kits, and also did some customization of kits (commonly known as “kitbashing” in the model railroad hobby). But until this year, those skills had languished again.

Electrical Substation

It might seem like stating the obvious, but an electric railways needs a supply of electricity for the trains to run. I’m not talking about the model trains, but the prototype. A typical commuter train can use up to 1.5 MW (megawatts) when accelerating. A Shinkansen can use 10 MW. At any given moment hundreds of trains are operating in the Tōkyō area, with power demands larger than a small city.

Where does that power come from? JR East buys some of it from the local utility (Tōkyō Electric Power Company, or TEPCO). TEPCO operates fossil, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, transmitting power along transmission lines at up to 500,000 volts (500 kV). At substations this is reduced to much lower voltages (6,000 volts or less, according to wikipedia, although distribution lines can be higher-voltage) and sent along street utility poles to local pole-mounted transformers that step it down to 100 or 200 volts for residential use. Industries typically take the distribution voltage and have their own transformers as needed. Both Transmission and Distribution lines are typically three-phase AC power, with three wires (plus a ground, which is often not present on towers). AC is used because transformers only operate on AC, and higher voltages can be sent longer distances.