Saturday, 6 June 2015

Adding that WOW factor


Your model train layout's presentation is the first thing that will be noticed by the general public. Trust me, as an author I've spent the past decade having my books judged by their covers. I've also just come back from a hot rod show where the cars that got the most attention weren't necessarily the ones restored to the minutest detail, but the ones that were best presented. So as model railroaders, how do we give our model railways that WOW factor?

I started by painting some wood trim in metallic gold artist's paint.

Start by thinking of what it is that you are trying to present to the general public. Is your model railway operational-based? Is it set in a certain era? Are you trying to depict a specific area? These questions should determine what finishing touches we add to our layout. Just as an expensive brass model can be ruined by a shoddy paint job, so too can a top quality model railway be ruined by poor presentation. After finding some brass-finished NSW station names from an old station indicator board on eBay, I planned my whole layout's appearance around the idea of mounting these on the layout's fascia. The end result at the top shows how well they look against the rich red tones of my stained Australian Jarrah. But to set it off nicely, I tied it all together by buying 2 x 2.4 metre lengths of timber wood trim from my local Bunnings store, and painting it in metallic gold acrylic artist's paint by Jo Sonja's.

I next positioned the legs for the layout and pre-drilled the holes through the end panels where the 75 mm coach bolts will later hold them in place. 

While the gold paint was drying, I set the wood trim aside and pre-drilled the holes for the legs through the layout's end panels to make sure that the 75 mm coach bolt would be well clear of where I wanted to mount the gold trim. I had just enough wood trim to circumnavigate the layout frame to make one cut, and one cut only. Make sure you angle-cut the trim so that the angle overlaps on the outside of the layout corner and forms a nice point with the next piece. I marked these 1, 2, 3, 4 on the back in pencil and set them aside.

I then pre-drilled the nail holes before mounting the gold trim to the layout fascia using PVA tacky glue and 9 mm bullet head nails.

The wood trim is only 12 x 7 mm insert moulding. Being so thin, I first pre-drilled the nail holes using a 1 mm drill bit, and then applied some PVA fast drying tacky glue the the rear before tapping some 9 mm nails to hold it in place. Wipe away any oozing glue using a damp disposable Chux cloth or something similar and then tapped the nails below the surface using a nail punch to avoid damaging the wood trim. I filled in the nail holes and any gaps on the corner sections with putty, then used the same damp cloth to wipe away any excess so that it was flush with the surface. A final coat of gold paint then ensured nothing was visible.

Next I glued the panel into place on the book-end frame of the layout.

Remember the panels I cut and stained for the book-end sections? Well its now time to glue it into place on the non-escape end of the layout. I applied Maxi Nails to the rear of the panel using a zig-zag pattern while keeping well away from the edge. Next up, I carefully pressed it into place making sure I always had one hand on the MDF backdrop that I was gluing it against to alleviate any pressure.

The non-escape book-end of the layout is now complete.

Turning to the other end of the layout, I next had to affix the door in place that will conceal my train mouse-hole. This is the end of the layout that I will later add removable staging to, but when not in use, the door will remain closed ensuring the layout remains dust-free.

The hinged door panel at the escape end of the layout will later lead to removable staging.

Using some 25 mm solid brass hinges and a 38 mm brass barrel bolt, I carefully measured and pre-drilled each hole using a 1 mm drill bit. The brass wood screws provided for the hinges actually went through the 9 mm plywood panel, but I was easily able to file these back flush with the surface and conceal them with a coat of Satin Black water-based enamel, the same as I used around the mouse-hole escape shown above.

My mouse-hole escape is now concealed by a cabinet quality panel door.

When using solid brass screws, put the power drill away and manually drive each screw into place with a good old-fashioned screwdriver. Brass screws will burr easily if you over tension them and then they just look plain horrible. An old-timer tip however, is to press the tip of each wood screw into a bar of soap or run it through your hair prior to screwing it into the timber. The oil from your hair, or the soap, will provide less resistance for the brass screw as it bites into the timber and you'll have less chance of the screw head getting chewed up by the screwdriver.

These rare finds on eBay are about to become the final touch to my layout's fascia.

Finally, the finishing touch is for me to add the old brass station names to the layout fascia. I bought 4 of these on eBay, and deliberately chose random names that would make absolutely no geographical sense what-so-ever. The 3 station names are all situated on the northern, southern and western mainlines heading into Sydney. For a small layout that will have a fictitious location, to the non-observant casual viewer it conveys a sense that the trains actually go somewhere. To the more astute modeler, it places the layout as somewhere in New South Wales. As for myself, well, I haven't got a lot of room to collect much railway memorabilia, so to incorporate some into my layout I think is pretty cool.

I used solid brass screws and a few dabs of clear silicone to install these on the layout fascia.

Taking out my tape measure, I positioned 2 station names on each side of the layout and centered them between the top of the fascia and the top of the gold strip. I marked each hole with the tip of a wood screw and again pre-drilled the screw holes with a 1 mm drill bit. The holes originally fixed each station name to a station indicator board at suburban railway stations in Sydney, before most of these were replaced by electronic TV indicators. Each board could be turned over to alter the station names that the next train would stop at. In order to fix them to the fascia of my layout however, I needed to countersink each hole slightly so that the 12 mm brass screws would sit flush with the surface.

A few sparingly applied dabs of clear silicone adhesive helped hold them into place.

Carefully positioning each station name in place, I pressed down lightly to allow the glue to bond then screwed each brass screw home with a trusty screwdriver.

Screwed into place using solid brass wood screws, these old NSWGR station name boards now have a new resting place on the fascia of my model railway.

The end result is that I have turned an ordinary model railway layout frame into something special. For a guy who doesn't have a lot of room, I've given this layout a feeling of being bigger than what it actually is before I've even laid my first piece of track. All that is left to do now, is to move it up from my garage to my top floor apartment overlooking the sea and assemble the legs. Then I can get to work on laying track and painting the backdrop. But as usual, that is a story for another day.


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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil