Sunday, 29 April 2018

Sandy Shores - Grounded Carriage - Part 1

Oh boy. Sometimes you start a job and soon think to yourself; "I must be crazy.". Today has been a bit like that! To be fair though, I knew damn well what I was getting myself in for...

I was originally going to start work on building the beach up around the lighthouse, but due to the cold weather (that made the room that the layout currently lives in pretty chilly), I decided to make a start (at long last) on the grounded railway carriage. It's not based on a particular prototype, but rather an appropriation of pre-grouping 4 wheel carriages. At the end you'll see my mistake, but for now let's start the 8+ hour journey of building the basic shell!

Above: So, the first step was to begin marking out onto the balsa wood (the balsa was cut out a few days ago, but I wanted to keep everything in one post). For this I found a spare compass point, but you'll see why I changed to a sharp blade instead later.

Above:You can begin to see the slight problem with using the compass point - all lines going against the grain are somewhat imprecise. Note the steel square for keeping everything straight!

Above: After about an hour and a half (yes, really!), the lean-to extension was marked out. The ruler should give an indication of how fiddly the process was. (Thank goodness I'm not modelling in a smaller scale!)

Above: A while later, I decided to begin on the back side of the grounded carriage (Which won't be visible really) to experiment with using the Dremel (with tiny router bit) to carve out the panels and windows. I soon realised that the result was... somewhat messy. Not only was it hard to get into the corners, and also to keep the depth consistent; but the other difficulty with this method was that the balsa wood is so soft that it can be difficult to feel when you're actually cutting into it!. I'll come back to the solution in a bit, but first...

Above: ... it was over to my dad (with his carpentry expertise!) to carefully form the curve at the bottom of the carriage. As you can see, he first used a small plane to get the majority of the material off, then went over it with a bit of sandpaper (wrapped around lollipop sticks; yet another use for them!) to form a smooth curve.

Above: After that was done, he kindly began to mitre every corner (using a 45 degree angle guide, a sharp craft knife, and then sandpaper).

Above: Which meant I could carry on with the scribing. After the messy outcomes of my first methods, I decided to use that same sharp craft knife instead of the compass point. The result of this are much cleaner lines.

Above: And after a bit of thinking, I experimented with some precision (flathead) screwdrivers to carve out the windows and panels. I first tried using them like a chisel, but the balsa wood was too soft; I would quite often end up taking off chunks. A bit of head scratching later and then it became obvious - use the soft balsa to it's advantage; its softness! The solution was to press and drag the screwdriver into the balsa (of course, being very careful, and only going with the grain direction).

Above and below: And many hours later, I finally finished all the carving out. The result doesn't quite stand up to close scrutiny, but the results aren't too bad considering! You can probably see the mistake I made; with the original drawing, I made little allowance for window and door frames! The result of this is that I could only fit in 3 of the 4 passenger compartments. I'm currently undecided whether to just cut off the last centimetre or so, or add in another door and small window (guard/brake compartment?!). So far I haven't seen any examples of such a small compartment, so I'll probably end up just cutting it off.

The rest of the images below: And here we have today's work, all loosely held together by masking tape. I'll obviously need to add in a longitudinal beam underneath the carriage sides, but other than that, I think it's looking OK.

Obviously the windows will need to be fully cut out, but I think the real test of "Will this work?" will be when it comes to painting it. I'm actually pretty nervous, as I'm really not sure if it will end up looking like I hope it will. I'm undecided, but my current thinking is that the bottom half (below the windows) will be painted a pale blue, and the top half white.

Anyway, realistically I only have 4 days left to get the layout to a presentable state; so I'm going to have to start ballasting, building up the beach, and adding the 'water' tomorrow!

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Sandy Shores - More wooden structures

Despite the deadline fast approaching, progress has been somewhat slower than I hoped the past few days; life does find ways of sucking all your modelmaking time away! Regardless, the wooden groyne and walkway up to the lighthouse have both been added. First up, the groyne:

Above: The first step as always to to start marking out and cutting up wooden lollipop sticks. I've had a box of these for many many years, and haven't even got halfway through them yet! The little chopper tool is absolutely invaluable for work like this. Note the balsa lengths already cut to size in the background.

Above: Since the lollipop sticks are a little too thick for this job, the easiest way to get them down to size was with a sandpaper attachment on the Dremel. In order to prevent a snowstorm of sawdust, I've also got the vacuum cleaner on at the same time!

Above: I wasn't looking for a uniform thickness (the sea would make relatively short work of even the most robust wood), so the little bumps are fine that are visible in the photo above. Note also I've used a slitting disc in the Dremel to cut random holes in the most vulnerable lengths.

Above: And now for something I don't usually do (but will continue doing from now on!), "distressing" the wood with a wire burring disc (again in the Dremel). The same treatment was done on the balsa uprights, although you need to take more care due to the soft nature of the wood. Thankfully, I'm looking for some serious water and wind-beaten effects, so any serious damage is absolutely fine; some places I really pressed hard (particularly around the holes), to suggest rotten sections.

Above: Here's a before and after shot. The grain showing through nicely on the left. This will also prove handy when it comes to weathering.

Above: After having fixed the various components together with wood glue and old track fixing nails, it was time to make holes in the layout with which to locate the groyne. Note that the slatted side is on the lighthouse side; remember, we need to build the beach up on this side, which is a perfect excuse for a groyne.

Above: Now it's time to start weathering it. My usual process for wood is used; starting with the wash of gunmetal grey...

Below: ... then a wash of brown sand...

Below: ... and finally a drybrushing of a combination of light sand and white (for that sunbleached look).

 Below: As I said earlier, the other wooden structure that needed attention was the footbridge going up to the lighthouse. The original handrail posts were too thick, so they completely replaced; as were some of the planks on the top. Everything here is (as always) made of cut-up lollipop sticks. Surprising how small you can cut them up!

Below: And finally, here it is painted the same way as groyne (although I haven't got around to drybrushing the white/sand colour yet so it's too dark). You may also note I've finally added the clay top to the lighthouse tower, as well as the curve underneath the balcony.

And so that brings us up to date! I've also ordered the LED lighting for the layout, so that should arrive in time for the exhibition. Let's hope so anyway!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Homemade Backscene - Pt.1 - Taking the panoramic photo(s)

With a week left until the exhibition, a little bit of panic is beginning to set in! Something important and time consuming that needed doing urgently was the backscene. As you've seen in a previous blog, this will make a huge difference to the layout. Having looked at the forecast, and given that time is going to be tight considering how long it could take to be printed (still no guarantee that it will make it in time, but let's just hope it does!), it was a case of going out today (well, yesterday technically since it's gone 2am here) or never!

In the end, I apparently had a 3 hour window where there would be no rain, so I ventured down to arrive at Hurst Spit for 3pm, giving me 2 hours of hopeful sunshine. When I left home it was raining heavily (and then I drove through 2 more showers during the hour long journey!), but upon arrival at Hurst it was beautifully clear weather; thankfully with only a few people braving the windy and changeable conditions.

With the bonus of free parking, I got the tripod and DSLR out the car and set about battling the wind (and my word, was it a battle, even with a tripod!). I did consider walking down the 2.5mile spit to take some at the very end, but somehow the long walk on shingle just didn't appeal to me (I've done it before!). The castle at the end is very interesting though, so if you're ever in the area, the walk is worth it (or there's also a ferry from Keyhaven).

Quite contempt with not walking too much on the shingle (And given the bitterly strong wind), I barely got on the spit when I found an ideal location for some panoramas. Since all I need is a tiny bit of sea, a lot of sky, and preferably The Needles; anywhere along the spit would be fine!

Having spent a few hours tonight (these things always take longer than expected!) using a panorama stitching program (it's free; Windows Image Composite Editor), I finally ended up with some half decent panoramas. Compared to Calshot's backscene, the clouds in these ones are much less prominent and threatening, which actually suits the sunbleached fictional Sandy Shores pretty well!

Taking the photos:

Now, I'm not an expert at photography, that much I am quick to state! However, here are some things to think about if you ever consider taking photos for a backscene; some more obvious than others:

  • Set your camera to manual mode if possible. Set the correct ISO (I think I went with 200 here, since it was pretty sunny), and set the fastest shutter speed you can get away with. Turn off things that may interfere with consistency; that's things like active D-lighting and auto-focus.
  • Use a tripod. Always!
  • If your camera has a live display, don't use it. You'll need it off to use the high shutter speeds. Otherwise you won't be able to press the shutter button fast enough, and with things moving (i.e. waves in these photos), you won't get a good panorama (for obvious reasons!)
  • Overlap each photo as much as possible. Not only does this make it easier for the software to stitch, it gives more reliable results, and if one of the photos isn't any good (i.e. a bird flies in!) then you haven't lost out. You can airbrush some stuff out (I had to edit a bird out of one of these panoramas), but other problems may not be so easy to fix.
  • Predominantly take photos in portrait orientation, rather than landscape. This means you get more height in the panorama without having to take two levels of photos (land, and sky).
  • The bigger the size of the photo, the better! This also applies to the settings of your camera, and what camera you use. So make sure everything is on maximum quality and size! DSLRs are preferred, but Calshot's backscene was done with a point-and-shoot digital camera (although that was 9 years ago!).
  • Think about the time of year and weather conditions you want to portray on your model, then plan your visit accordingly! Don't do what I did and leave the backscene to the last minute!
  • Always take multiple panoramas (I went through over 600 images in total today, with 20+ panoramas). Only a few are likely to be good enough, so I never expect to nail it first go.
  • Consider what you need for your background. Will you need to flip the image (as I will need to) whilst editing the image? Will that cause problems with any text etc.? Try and frame your panorama well. Whilst easy to crop later, you'll end up with a smaller panorama!
  • Is there anything glaringly obvious that is out of time period for your modelled era? Satellite dishes are easily forgotten about in particular. But also think about any houses, cars, boats that are in the shot.
  • Oh, almost forgot. The most important one - check your horizon is level! My tripod is old and knackered, so I'd recommend getting one with mini-spirit levels so you can adjust the legs and get it level. Also, a handy tip, most cameras have a grid view in the viewfinder - use it to get your horizon level. Something I found that helped is turning on the grid whilst on live view mode, checking the horizon is level, then switching live mode off when I'm happy with it.
I'm sure there are other factors to consider, but that's all I can think of at 2am!

Editing them:
  • Windows Image Composite Editor is free to use, and is just as versatile as most paid software! For editing I just use Paint.NET (a free, and much more advanced version of Windows Paint). Cheapskate? Me? Did I mention scouting out for the free parking!
  • Check and recheck the stitched panorama for any issues. All of mine have been tweaked somewhat, some more seriously than others. Stitching is rarely perfect, especially when you were battling wind whilst taking the photos!
  • Tone down your final panoramic image. As with all modelling, I try to tone down/desaturate colours a little bit; backscenes are no different. A vibrant backscene with vivid colours, whilst nice, will stand out like a sore thumb! Even the first panorama shown below is a little too vibrant for my liking, particularly for the seaside haze I'm looking for.
  • Again, bigger, and max quality, is best! Whilst cropping/framing the image to suit the layout is important (all mine have been cropped somewhat), you want to keep the file as big as possible.
  • Make sure your final image is in the correct aspect ratio for that which is required for the layout.
  • For print, you will have to send a 300dpi image to the printers for decent quality. I won't explain what that means here; it would take forever, but there are plenty of resources online with a quick "Google"! If in doubt, ask the printers - they know what they're doing!

Above: This first one is a little too vibrant for me, and will need de-saturating a little. Framing wise, it's pretty spot-on though for my needs; it's got a huge sky, and the horizon is low (although I'll probably flip the image).

Above: Can you spot the problem with this one? Colouring looks fine, but that marker post is in the way! Also, there is not enough sky.

Above:  Not a huge amount of sky, but the colouring is spot on, and it has a nice summer haze feel to it.

Above: This one is full of problems! The obvious one is the sun, and resulting glare. But there's also the beach bottom left, the colouring is too vibrant, and the market post is there again!

Above: Similar to the 3rd one, but fewer clouds and a slightly darker colour - almost too dark?

Above: And just to show how far away the castle is, here's a telephoto shot of the end of the spit. No good for Sandy Shores, but quite a nice background if it wasn't for the huge shingle spit on the right!

Phew. That was a lengthy post! Anyway, hope that may be of interest to someone!

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Sandy Shores - Lighthouse (continued)

Today I've spent many, many hours continuing to build the stepped section of the lighthouse. It's scary how long it's taken, and I've only done 4 or 5 layers today!

Below: More DAS clay is cut into strips and then scribed into individual bricks. These are then immediately covered by cling film which is kept in place by whatever is close to hand! The cling film is to stop the air drying clay from hardening too soon.

Below: The next step is to start building the next set of clay supports that will hold up the next layer. There are around 8 or 9 supports per level.

Below: After having produced a couple layers of the steps, and about 18 supports, I already needed to roll out clay for the final three layers of steps. This shows why this takes so damn long to do!

Below: A shot looking up shows the offset supports holding up each level. It's easy to see why it takes so long to do one layer.

I decided to stop for the day after the 9th layer. Technically it should be the final layer, but as you can see, there is still some way to go before I hit the beach (it's even further on the other side!). I'm currently undecided what to do; I could carry on and keep adding steps, go with one final level that just goes straight down to the beach (with rock armour at the bottom to protect the base). Or bring the beach level up. I'm reluctant to keep adding layers since not only does it take a long time, but the beach is uneven which will not make the final layers easy.

I've always intended to add a groyne next to the lighthouse, so the level of part of the beach will be higher anyway (because of longshore drift, one side of the beach is higher where there are obstructions, such as groynes).

Below: You can see just how far away the beach is to the base on the right hand side in this shot!

I didn't have time to do any more today, so I'm afraid that's it for this update!

Monday, 23 April 2018

Sandy Shores - Lighthouse

Work has continued on the lighthouse, to the point where it's actually starting to resemble one!
It has almost entirely been covered in a thin layer of clay, and I'm still on the fence about whether to sand it down a bit as it is perhaps a little uneven. Anyway, that clay covering was left to dry fully overnight, and the next morning it was time to start on the more interesting parts. Firstly, the stone walkway surround was simply made from rolling clay into a long sausage shape; the join was then lapped to make it stronger. This will need to be allowed to harden and then smoothed and tidied up before work continues.

Below: So, whilst that was drying, I could begin on the next task; the stepped lower section. This turned out to be a long process - so long in fact, that I'm only half-way through after 2 days! My initial idea was to use this mini-vice and craft knife to scribe a horizontal line. It would've been a good idea, had it not been for the fact that the bottom of the lighthouse is not flat! So whilst it was technically level, in reality, the line was not parallel to the doors and windows. I only realised this when I had done 2 complete levels of the stepped section. I soon had to tear it all up and come back to it with fresh ideas this morning!

In the end I decided to align it all by eye, which turned out much better. I would've tried to sand the bottom of the lighthouse flat, but the belt sander just wasn't powerful enough; I would've been there all day!

Below: So, this is how the stepped section was produced in the end:
Clay was rolled out (I now know I have enough to finish the lighthouse, so I didn't have to be quite so stingy this time!), then cut into 5mm strips. Care was taken to do this slowly, over several passes of the craft knife. The blocks could then be scribed to form individual blocks. Note that they were only scribed, not cut all the way through. The photo below shows exactly why I prefer to scribe clay when dry - you can see how scribing whilst wet distorts the blocks. As this has only happened on one side, it doesn't matter as the distorted side will be hidden by the next layers of stone.

Below: After much deliberation, this is the method I chose to make the stepped sections.

In total, 4 layers were done in a few hours today. As you can see, each layer will need increasing amounts of supporting clay blocks underneath. As there will be about 9 layers, that will be a lot of clay bricks to make. The final layer will need 72 single blocks for the supports alone! Hopefully the method of construction will result in a strong enough structure, although it would have been far easier and stronger if the wooden former was stepped using the lathe... oh well!

Below: Another little job I did today was to fill in the window and door surrounds with more clay. Eventually I'll add windows (with a near-black bit of card on the back to hopefully hide the fact the interior is solid wood!) and scribe the stone detailing around the opening.

Below: I remembered to take a photo of the lighthouse just before the sun set, although I've since added a fourth stepped layer. I think you'll agree, it's finally starting to look like a lighthouse!

Tomorrow will hopefully see the rest of the stepped levels done, and the stone balcony edging finished (the underside will have clay added to form a smooth curve from the tower to the balcony).

Something else I'd like to mention this post is the backscene. I realised that the original backscene from Calshot was actually taken at Hurst Spit, not Calshot as I originally thought. Hopefully, in the next few days (weather permitting) I will be able to make a visit to Hurst and take photos ready for a new backdrop. Preferably I'd get one looking inland across the mudflats/saltmarsh (to suit the location better), but I know there's a road on the edge, and also a lot of modern boats, so I'd have to be very lucky to get something that doesn't look out of place!

Anyway, I'm fairly happy with progress, but I'm really feeling the tight deadline...

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Sandy Shores - A multitude of jobs!

Now that the soundtrack that I've been working on for the last year and a half has finally been completed, I can get on with the layout, and try and get it ready for the show at the beginning of May. Well, it definitely won't be finished in time, but hopefully it'll be somewhat presentable!

So, the first thing I decided to sort out this week were the various holes that still needed filling in. One of these was by the loco shed - between the concrete roadway and the setts. Both of these still need painting as you can see.

Next on my list was to begin work on the lighthouse. More specifically, chiselling out the windows and door apertures. My carpentry leaves something to be desired, but the end result doesn't have to be perfect since it will all be covered anyway. Time to put the wooden former into the vice (with an old T-shirt to stop it making marks (although looking at the base, it looks like it's already been through a war!).

The process is straight forward - using the smallest carpenter's chisel I could find, the first step was to cut around the perimeter of the windows and the door, to the depth required. This was actually done in two steps - first just by hand (easier to be accurate), and secondly with the help of a wooden mallet. Once that was done it was simply a case of taking out small sections of the waste material at a time (again with a mallet), before final clearing up with the chisel by hand.

And now my attention turned to the track. After numerous failed tests with trying to paint the sleepers, I'm afraid I gave up! So, out with an 8 year old spray can of Plastikote Suede Touch (first used on Calshot all those years ago!). After 30 to 40 minutes of making sure everything was properly masked and taped up, the layout was taken outside and given two coats. As you can probably make out, I taped over the moving parts of the points, so these will (somehow!) needed to be painted by hand - I didn't fancy clogging up the points and motors with spray paint. This obviously means that all those hours spent painting the sides of the rail would have been wasted, but to be quite honest I'm just glad that the sleepers are no longer black!

The colour isn't quite the sunbleached look I was after, but it's damn close! A bit of dry brushing will hopefully sort this out. Also the keen eyed ones among you, may notice some small circular magnets in locations for uncoupling. I installed them to the depth stated in the instructions, but unfortunately any wagon that goes over it gets pulled into the magnet and derails! I'm going to have to carefully prise them out and dig a deeper hole.

Over a week ago I started building the beach hut... well... that is until I decided I wanted to be able to make more of a scene out of it - so it's going to become some sort of tiny tatty seaside food kiosk/cafe, or perhaps a fish stall would be more suitable. Either way, there should be just enough room for a counter and shelves and I think that's about it! There will also be a canopy by the large window, and other small details outside. Still loads more work to do on it (including the roof ridge, door, and interior amongst other things).

You can see that there wasn't enough space in it's original location, due to the proximity of the wooden retaining wall. The sand dune behind has since been slightly cut away, to give it more room.

And now moving back to the track, today I decided to make a start on ballasting trials. So to make sure I didn't rush into it, I started in a place that won't be too visible from most angles - the platform area. The photo below shows it just after I had tamped the ballast down (just gentle vertical touches with a soft brush), but before gluing. Despite adding a couple drops of washing up liquid, there still seemed to be some surface tension which dislodged bits of the ballast. I cannot work out why it happened, especially since it seemed to be random - even the same mixture in the pipette would give varying results!

It's worth noting that more experimentation will be done. I should perhaps have gone with a much smaller area at first, but current thinking is to add some play sand (either by mixing it in with the ballast, or by scattering it in key locations afterwards). I think after that's done, I'll experiment with a pipette containing a watery mixture of sand-coloured paint to help bring the two elements together a bit better. Either way, the key will be trial and error, and will probably need further weathering after it's all laid down.

And so that brings us to the conclusion of this mish-mash of an update. I've already made a start on covering the lighthouse with a thin layer of clay, ready for scribing the stonework. The rest will hopefully be done tomorrow, but we'll see. I took the photo above just as the sun was setting, which always brings out the best in the layout - helping to hide a multitude of sins. Which reminds me, I must get that loco shed roof sorted out - it's too short. ...oh, and the lean-to and clerestory. Still a lot more work to do before the layout is presentable, and not a lot of time to do it in!