Sunday, 15 November 2020

November 2020 FCAG meeting

November's Zoom get-together had the theme of "Tools – Those I have Loved and Hated". This worked quite well, with each of the twelve attendees (Chris M, Chris G, Alisdair, Alastair, Mick, Nigel, Andy, Richard, James, Stephen, Simon and Graham) given ten minutes maximum to say their piece. Interestingly, several themes kept recurring, at least regarding the most useful implements. (There was a certain amount of off-scene chortling from assorted eavesdropping WaGs - they know who they are - as the T-word was bandied about thoughtlessly by our earnest group members. We must find our entertainment where we can in these days of social distancing!)

I wasn't nimble enough to screen-grab everything that was shown, so please forgive the limited choice of images. Does anyone else have problems with the Alt-Shift-T key binding for Zoom under Linux Mint 18.2, or is it just me?

Simon's favourite was a pair of simple but sturdy metalworking dividers - made by Starrett, and sourced secondhand by a helpful workmate - which he finds ideal for scribing planking and the like in styrene sheet.

His pet hate was scalpels, on account of the lacerations suffered from a young age from their use. He still has all his fingers however.

Mick showed us his Cowells 90 ME lathe, and described his latest project with it - a servo-operated "arrester" which stops wagons moving by sticking a rod up to engage them from underneath. This is something to do with a scheme to reproduce the Bowes rope-worked incline in 2mm. We probed for further details but mostly got mysterious smiles in response. No doubt all will be revealed in time ... His least helpful gadget is a clamp intended to ensure that pieces of styrene are assembled at a true 90° angle:

It fails to do this satisfactorily due to the foam rubber inserts. Others agreed and the consensus was that a small steel block with button magnets is a better way to do the job.

Nigel also favoured a Cowells lathe, and showed off large amounts of tooling to go with it. A hobby in itself ... other favourites include a Mitutoyo digital vernier gauge (whose button cells last for many months, unlike cheaper models from Aldi - an observation which met with much nodding from other participants), an Archimedean drill, and a small pin vice. Although such drills are easily and cheaply found from suppliers such as Squires, Nigel made the point that they very often do not run true, and the best way to find a good 'un is to inspect a selection at an exhibition and pick the best of the bunch. 

A final favourite was a pair of toolmaker's vices rescued from a skip apparently. (Why are there no such skips where I live? All they contain is builder's rubble and soggy plasterboard. I think Nigel spins yarns like these just to wind us up!)

His least useful item was a clumsy gas torch, bought in the expectation it would prove its worth for bigger jobs, but relegated to the back of the cupboard in favour of a smaller model. (The photo is of the clumsy one; he showed the other, better torch in last month's blog).

Chris M's top picks were a hand vice of the type seen below, available from Squires for thirteen quid; and a chisel blade in an X-Acto handle for separating etch parts neatly from a fret. The blade can be re-sharpened for this non-critical application.

His pet hate was his Dremel drill stand, which contrives to hold drills off-vertical .... not quite what its designer presumably intended. Apparently this is a common problem with these stands which cannot be easily solved. Caveat emptor. Others recommended the Proxxon drill stand as the best design of a generally poor bunch.

Stephen spoke highly of plain old tin-snips for cutting sheet metal. Most people find these curl up anything they touch into a useless spiral, but Stephen explained that, with care, they will do the job very well. He uses a score-and-snap technique with a hefty scrawker to bring the workpiece close to the desired dimensions, then finishes the last couple of millimetres to size with the tin-snips. The small waste strip will certainly curl up, but the workpiece itself will stay flat.

His most-disliked choice was a resistance soldering unit. Early in his 2mm days he acquired the well-regarded London Road Models unit, but found it did not suit him, and that synchonising the foot-switch action while positioning the parts did not "click". This led to a group discussion. A stout defence was mounted by the two ex-chairmen in the group, but the conclusion was that RSUs definitely require a particular technique which does not suit everyone.

Chris G. brought us back to the theme of digital vernier gauges which eat button cells ... another dislike was his Silhouette cutter, with which he has a love-hate relationship. The "hate" part stems from his difficulty in using it to consistently cut styrene thicknesses above 10 thou, although he readily admitted that others have been successful. He is much happier with his CNC cutter (which can also carry a laser cutting head and with the right technique, deals with plywood up to 5mm). This is the unit he told us about in the March 2020 FCAG meeting, when he showed us examples of the buildings he can produce with it.

Another favourite item is wire-strippers. The yellow/orange example below is of the self-adjusting type available on eBay or Amazon for around six quid. The other set are rather more expensive - over £30 from Squires, look for "CK automatic wire stripper" - but have the distinct advantage of being able to strip insulation from the middle of a run of wire, rather than only at the end. A huge time-saver when wiring up a large layout.

Richard's favourite was the trusty old Swann-Morton plastic craft knife handle which I suspect we all started with in our schooldays - at least, many of the audience agreed with him. He gave the thumbs-down to an airbrush which he purchased with a large paint reservoir, only to find that the cleanup was so onerous that he hated to use it. The solution was to turn it upside down, remove the reservoir, and use it like a cup airbrush. Neat.

Andy showed us an interesting compact mobile toolbench and store. Lockable caster wheels mean that it rolls easily but can be instantly made stable for work. A power strip is attached to one side on a wandering mains cable.Tools are kept in the drawers or on the sliding shelves.

At the back are stored a couple of clip-on work surfaces which are attached using shelf rails from a DIY store. The vice and minidrill clamp can be repositioned thanks to a choice of mounting holes. A magnifier lamp is mounted at the back. All told, a very nice and compact design which my photos don't really do justice to.

James' best friends are a simple six-inch steel rule and a sharp pencil; and ceramic-tipped tweezers. He is less enthusiastic about his mini-drill: the stiff lead and general clumsiness mean that is generally stays in the drawer.

Graham's top choice was a flux brush made from a cut-down paintbrush stuck in a lump of cork for stability and bench cleanliness.

Another favourite is an analogue vernier gauge, with a dial readout rather than a true vernier scale. No batteries to run down ...

His harsh words were reserved for a miniature hand drill based on a scaled-down carpenter's hand drill, but made in plastic. It is rigid enough, precisely made, and has no shake in its bearings ... but it only takes drills below about 0.7mm and is far too clumsy for these. An Archimedean drill is a far better solution.

Alasdair, being a 5-inch live-steam man, had some enviable larger machines to show us in his workshop. His favourites are a small milling machine and his Ender 3D filament printer. He moved his camera around so quickly, however, that I failed to get even a single shot of his workshop.

Alisdair had smaller implements in mind - his favourite is an engineer's clamp, used here to hold a coupling rod for finishing. With care the jaws can be adjusted to have a truly parallel action.

He gave the thumbs-down to the type of hand clamp which most of us will have toyed with buying at a show. They look like they will be useful, but again this is a gadget which tends to stay in the drawer.

That wrapped up the themed part of the meeting. We spent the rest of time discussing the latest iteration of the Templot plan for the New Group Layout (a loco shed scene), which Jim had kindly circulated. The turntable has disappeared, and the bottom length of track will be physically separate so that DCC and non-DCC models can appear at the same time. The space at the bottom right is intended for a control panel. For simplicity, point will be mechanically operated. The shed itself will be a three-road type disappearing into the backscene at the left.

Amazingly, this time we actually agreed on it, and kept the momentum going by agreeing who would build what - since it's a learning exercise, each point will be built several times by different individuals, with the best being selected for use on the layout (or, if none are any good, sent back to their makers with a "please explain" note). A mix of Easitrack kit and copperclad-sleeper-with-Laurie-Adams-detailing-etches designs will be used. The aim is to complete these by the start of next summer, by which time, hopefully, the pandemic will have receded.

The next FCAG meeting will be on 12 December and may (or may not) be an "on my workbench" session. Better get these favourite implements out again then ...