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entry 31 Aug 2013, 15:55

The new track plan has a revised layout for the Burgh Island section. The island is now slightly smaller, but is now surrounded by water. This should make it easier to create the illusion that the island is “floating” in the sea.

The track layout from St Mary Mead to Burgh Island now has a gentle curve to it, in an attempt to get rid of the “train set” look of the straight lines.

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entry 20 Aug 2013, 17:05
Choosing a type of track for this layout has been a bit of a challenge, but it looks like there might be a new solution!

I’ve always planned to use 2mm scale track components from the 2mm Scale Association. The track has a much finer and realistic look than standard off-the-shelf track, even the finescale variants. However, because of the track radiuses required to fit the layout in to the space available, the track cannot be built to the full 2mm Scale Association Standards. The compromise is that I would have to use the 2mm scale components but build the track to the N Gauge Standards, which give me the tighter curves required.

However, compromising means that there are some sacrifices that need to be made…

The 2mm Scale Association produces a solution for building track called Easitrac, which utilises moulded plastic sleepers. These sleepers are moulded complete with chairs that the hold the rails in place (just like the real thing!).

I think that visually, this method produces the best looking track at this scale. There is a slight problem however…

In the 2mm Scale Standards, and therefore with Easitrac, the track gauge (or the distance between the rails) is 9.42 millimetres. When building to N Gauge Standards, this doesn’t present much of a problem. The track gauge for N Gauge is 9 millimetres, a difference of less than half a millimetre. The problem becomes more noticeable when it comes to constructing points.

The points need to be built to the N Gauge Standards to ensure that N Gauge Sized wheels can pass through cleanly. When you add the extra rails and detail required to construct a point, the .42 of a millimetre does become noticeable and the track doesn’t look quite “right”.

Because of this I decided to switch to the “old school” method of soldering rail to sleepers cut from circuit board material. The circuit board material is clad in a thin layer of copper which you can solder the rails to. This means that the track and point work can be constructed with the N Gauge rail spacing of 9mm. With a great deal of practice you can actually achieve some great looking track with this method, but it does take a lot more skill with a soldering iron.

There are other drawbacks to this method. The circuit board material used to create the sleepers is becoming rarer to find. Circuit boards are now generally made from glass-reinforced plastic laminate sheets, rather than from synthetic resin bonded paper sheets, which cannot be as easily cut down to the tiny sizes needed for modelling purposes. Also to create track which resembles real-life track several components are required to be soldered together, which adds more time to the process as well as expense.

Again, this method isn’t ideal. As this is a long-term project it seems a bit foolish to start using a method when the supplies are dwindling and might not be as readily available in the future.

There is another option, which has only just emerged. A new method of track building has been released this month! It is from a company called British Finescale and is called fiNetrax.

In case you haven’t already guessed, the big capital N stands for N Gauge. This method of track building is based on the Easitrac method of using moulded plastic sleepers, but the system is designed with the N Gauge Standard gauge of 9 millimetres.

This system looks like it could be the answer to my problems. The track should visually be the same quality of Easitrack, solving the problem with the look of the points. It’s actually a system that I can use to build the track I am looking for, with no compromises necessary.

The system is not entirely without issues. It is very early days, like I mentioned earlier the company has only started selling the product in the last few weeks. There is also a very limited range of products at the moment, but I’m sure these gaps will be filled in time. There seems to be a market for other modellers who wish to build in N Gauge, but with a much finer quality of track.

I’m excited to see how the product range develops, and as the system is very closely based on Easitrac I’m hoping that some of the 2mm Scale Association parts will be compatible without too much adaptation required.

I’m planning to build a test section, but it looks like this brand new system of track building will become the method of choice for “Murder on the Tracks”. It certainly seems to fit in with what seems to be a reoccurring theme of using the latest technologies to build this layout!

Read this post, complete with pictures, here

entry 16 Aug 2013, 10:08
The day has finally come, and the laser cut baseboard has arrived. After starting work on the layout it soon became clear that to get the finish I wanted, that laser cutting would be an ideal solution. Not only does it create a precise fit and finish, but the layout of the railway (as well as marking the numerous Agatha Christie locations) could be etched into the surface of the wood.

The cut wood arrives from the suppliers with masking tape holding all the parts together. For the most part the laser had cut cleanly through the wood, although there were a two or three small sections where the wood hadn’t quite cut all the way though. This problem is easily remedied with a sharp scalpel, or razor saw.

The quality of the laser cutting is excellent. Other methods of cutting shapes from wood have some disadvantages. CNC routing, for example, uses a computer guided spinning cutting tool. Because of this cutting tool, even if you make it as small as possible (and therefore the cutting slower), you cannot cut square internal corners. You will always be left with the round shape of the cutting tool. A laser, on the other hand, is very thin and is able to cut these sharp corners.

Laser cutting works by melting, burning or vaporising the material. The dark edges you can see on the pictures is where the laser has burnt through the wood. Compressed air is used during cutting to reduce flaming or scorching on the surface, although some slight discolouration will be visible on the cutting side. On the reverse side protective tape is used to prevent burn marks caused when the laser meets the cutting bed.

The laser cutting process is intricate enough to cut out the tiny holes required to pass through the cables for the track wiring (complete with labels!)

All the pieces fitted perfectly, thanks to the small test model I made to check the design for errors. Using my favourite glue (“Gorilla Glue”) the whole baseboard was joined together and left clamped up whilst the glue set.

The completed baseboard is actually very strong. The strengtheners in the four corners hold everything solidly square. Unfortunately it is possible to twist the board a little, but this is easily resolved by adding some additional cross pieces. To fix this board I will cut them in a more traditional fashion – by hand! However, when constructing the other baseboards I will be able to add these extra pieces into the design and get them laser cut with the rest of the board.

My intention is to get most of the main modelling work, such as the track laying and basic landscaping, complete on this board before getting the next baseboard cut.

Read this post, complete with pictures, here

entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:20
In the last post I talked about changing the way the baseboards would be constructed. Now they would be completely laser cut.

The major advantage of creating something laser cut is the precision. Using AutoCad, the various sections can be designed in “flatpack” form. Because all the pieces are precisely cut you don’t have to rely on your own carpentry skills to make sure that everything is square and aligned. You can build that all into the design. This all should result in a strong, crisp, professional finish.

The added bonus of laser cutting is that you can also have the track plan etched into the surface of the wood, making track laying super easy!

My plan has always been to get the outside edges of the hills laser cut, and then stick them to the baseboard. I was going to follow the same plan – designing a standard looking baseboard to be laser cut, then sticking the hill edging on separately.

However, an idea suddenly occurred to me… Instead of getting these parts cut separately, why not get the sides of the baseboard and the outsides of the hills cut in one piece? This would not only add strength to the whole baseboard, but to the hills as well. Once again, this would all go towards creating the sleek, professional finish I am looking for.

So I adapted my original baseboard design to include the hills along the sides.

You can see the drawing is tightly packed. This is so that the least amount of wood is wasted during laser cutting. Handily the design fits nicely into 1200 x 710mm which is one of the standard size sheets that my laser cutter supplies.

Some of it is a little hard to make out but if you look along the bottom you can see one side of the baseboard, with a hill profile at each end. Another feature of note is in the bottom right-hand corner. These curved pieces are designed to slot in the bottom corners of the baseboard to keep it square. Designing these kind of pieces means that you can use the precision of the laser cutting to ensure everything is square when assembled.

When cut the baseboard should be relatively simple to slot together, rather like a piece of flatpack furniture. This, however, relies on the design being correct so that everything lines up properly! To make sure I got the design right I printed of a scale drawing so I could cut the design out of Plasticard and make a quick little model. Yes, a model of a model railway!

Luckily everything seemed to line up correctly, so the drawing has been sent off to the laser cutters and is being cut as I write this!

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entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:18
There’s been a slight change in how the baseboards are going to be constructed!

It became quickly evident that using a full size paper plan glued to the baseboard as a template wasn’t an ideal solution. Unfortunately the paper just wasn’t robust enough at the edges. Although the glue used to hold the paper down was easily strong enough, the paper itself wasn’t. The layers of the paper actually started to come apart.

If this was happening now, with just the sleepers glued down, would this problem become worse once more scenery is glued to it?

The extruded aluminium also was starting to present problems of it’s own. Interconnections are required to pass power and data between the boards. While it is easy to drill holes into the extrusion to add the required plug sockets, they could only realistically be flush mounted on the outside faces (rather spoiling the aesthetics of the layout).

These problems can be worked around, but I didn’t want to compromise the look of the layout at this early stage. I really want the layout to have a sleek, crisp and professional finish. I also wasn’t quite ready to let go of the idea of using the latest technology to create the baseboards…

I’ve already been looking at laser cutting for various parts of the layout already. The contoured edges of the hills that run along the sides of the baseboard are a good example – once again the aim being to create a sleek and crisp finish. Also the turntable in the Paddington section would be created by laser cutting to achieve the precision needed.

It didn’t seem such a massive leap to use laser cutting to create the whole baseboard…

Laser cutting comes with other advantages too. The precise nature of laser cutting could give the same sort of alignment that the aluminium extrusion was providing. The boards could be joined by interlocking sections that when glued together would provide added strength. A different solution for the electrical connections could be designed. Finally, instead of the plan being printed out and glued to the surface, the whole thing could be laser etched into the surface of the wood(!) If that all wasn’t enough, the quote I got back from the laser cutters (a South London company that do all kinds of inventive things, including laser cutting into food!) was less than my old method of wooden tops attached to an aluminium frame.

I was sold!

The sides will have pre-cut hole for aligning the boards and for the power and data sockets. Instead of flush mounted sockets they will housed in a recess along with room for a little excess cable. This will allow the baseboards to butt up flush against each other, hiding the connections from view.

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entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:17
The track for the layout will be built with 2mm Finescale components, but to N Gauge Standards. This will hopefully give the best of both worlds.

2mm Scale track has a much more attractive appearance, but the larger radius of the 2mm Standards mean that it wouldn’t be possible to create a full loop layout in the space available. Building to N Gauge Standards is a compromise which allows the tighter curves that are require to build the layout.

Using the full scale template now glued to the baseboard, the sleepers can be glued down quickly and accurately.

PVA Gorilla glue has been used because it is both very strong, and waterproof. Later on I will be using scenic treatments that will use water, and I don’t want the sleepers to loosen and lift off.

The only slight disadvantage is that the PVA Gorilla glue dries to a natural colour which is not completely clear, like other PVAs. There will be times when I will need to use PVA that dries clear, but for most other jobs the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of this excellent, but slightly off-colour, glue.

The sleepers are from the 2mm Scale Association and are made from the same material as electrical printed circuit boards (PCBs). The reason for using this material is that one side has a thin sheet of copper laminated to it. Using these type of sleepers means that the rails can be soldered securely to them. The sleepers have a small isolating gap in the centre to ensure that there won’t be a short circuit between the two rails.

The next step will be drilling the holes in the baseboard for the track wiring to pass through, and then soldering the rails to the sleepers.

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entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:14
There are six baseboards which make up the whole layout. I’m going to choose the easiest to begin with! The baseboard which mainly contains the St Mary Mead section doesn’t have any points, making the track work and wiring a lot simpler. This is a great bonus considering I’ve never made my own track before! I will be building track using The 2mm Scale Society components, but to the 9mm gauge and the standards of the N Gauge Society.

The absence of point work on this section of the board also means there is plenty of room to place the Command Station (the brains of the DCC system) and the Wi-Fi router so I can wirelessly control the layout with my iPhone.

I’ve chosen MDF tops for the baseboards, which I got cut to size by the supplier. These will bolt directly to the Aluminium Extruded frame to create a strong but light baseboard.

Because the layout has been designed entirely in AutoCAD, I have printed the whole thing out to real-life size. This means that I can place everything accurately on the baseboard as it appears on the design. Not just the track but also the sleepers, roads and all the buildings

Having a full size plan also helps with the electrics as well. All the holes where the wiring will pass through the boards to connect to the rails have been marked. I have done this not just on the top, but on the bottom as well. When the holes are drilled everything will be already labeled on the underside making wiring a breeze – you need to make sure you correctly flip the printing for the underside to match the top. The wiring for St Mary Mead is very basic, but for the more complex sections of the layout this is going make things a lot easier.

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entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:13
I commented in one of my previous posts that even though this is a layout set in the last century, it is being built in this century and I want to use 21st century technologies to build it. This is why I want to move away from the traditional all-wood construction when making the baseboards.

Instead, aluminium extrusions will make up the frame which will then support the plywood top. Hopefully this combination of aluminium and plywood will result in a very strong but light baseboard.

Aluminium extrusion has another advantage. It has grooved channels in which you can fit a specially shaped nut at any position along its length. Because the aluminium extrusion is precision engineered it means that the baseboards will align very easily and precisely with each other (there is a special fixing designed to join lengths of extrusion). It also means that the layout will be easily extendable.

A whole host of things are available to bolt on the sides. Legs and carrying handles are two good examples that might come in handy! Say I wanted to display the layout at an exhibition? A lighting system could be constructed and bolted to the existing layout with no adjustments needed to the baseboards. All changes are reversible as these items can be removed without a trace!

Additional baseboards could easily be added to extend the layout at a later date, although there’s plenty to be getting on with before even thinking about that!

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entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:12
When planning a new layout, unless it’s tiny in size, there doesn’t seem to be much of an argument to go with anything other than DCC control. To start with the basic wiring is a lot simpler – you don’t need to create lots of isolating sections to control locomotives individually.

I say the basic wiring is a lot simpler because wiring for DCC can become incredibly complicated if you want it to be! Here lies the magic of DCC – it is easily but also massively expandable. Just want to run a couple of trains manually? Not a problem. Want to run a fully automated layout where you don’t need to do anything except press start? Easy! And DCC is capable of everything in between… However, if you don’t start using DCC from the outset upgrading later isn’t always an easy process.

If you look at the planned layout drawing you might have noticed there is no provision for a control panel. This is because the control panel will be “off-layout”. In fact, it will be entirely virtual!

The layout has been designed to be viewed (and operated) from a full 360 degrees so there isn’t any sensible place to put a built in control panel. For this reason the layout will be controlled with the Z21 controller from Roco/Fleishmann. This system enables you to use a mobile device such as a iPhone or iPad as the controller and, because almost everyone has at least one of those devices these days, they can also download the free app and join in at any time. The Z21 can also interface with a PC for fully automated control provided you have the correct software installed.

Because there is no built in control panel it will mean that all the points on the layout will need to be controlled electronically. This will then enable the entire layout to be controlled from an iPhone.

The thought of an entirely virtual control panel may horrify certain modellers who have become attached to their buttons, levers and switches! But, even though this is a layout set in the last century I intend to use the latest developments from the 21st century to control it!

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entry 12 Aug 2013, 19:10
Burgh Island Hotel is closely linked to the crime novelist Agatha Christie, as it inspired the settings for both And Then There Were None and the Hercule Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun. The ITV adaptation of Evil Under The Sun used the island as a filming location.

This area of the layout will definitely be a challenge. An island section surrounded by the sea is going to be difficult to fit into a layout which is essentially a loop that needs to flow seamlessly from London to the countryside and back again.

The Burgh Island Hotel, the Pilchard Inn, the unique sea tractor and the island itself all will need to be modelled.

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