More Spiking

I’ve been spiking rail on my layout, and I’m experimenting with Proto:87 spikes.  These things are tiny but hold the rail surprisingly well.

I was asked about the tools I use for spiking, so this post gives a quick outline.  Because the question asked specifically about spiking tools, we’ll take the obvious things like files and soldering iron as given.

IMG_0868The black handled tool in the above image is a simple but small pair of serrated needle nose pliers.  That one is a junky generic tool, but it has served me well for such light duty. The serrated pliers are good for those times when a (regular) spike is being stubborn.  I’ll hold the head of the spike in the serrations and press down in increments equal to the teeth of the serrations.

The other three tools are by Xuron, and if I could afford it, I’d buy every tool they make.  Good stuff, Xuron is.  The first Xuron tool is a vertical rail cutter.  Its use should be obvious.  Next is a flat nose pliers, which works well with the Proto spikes. I place about 1/3 of the spike into the the corner of the tip of the pliers, place the spike right up against the base of the rail, and drive it about halfway into the tie.  I adjust my purchase on the spike and then drive it home. When I’m finished, I place the pliers over the rail and seat both spikes at once, then give them a little squeeze to be sure they’re snug. and last is a spiking tool.

The tool on the far right is an archetypal spiking tool, essential for driving the likes of Micro Engineering and Walthers spikes.  No surprises there.

One last word about the Proto spikes.  Today I tried a method whereby I lined up the rail using an NMRA gauge and then pinned the rail with Walthers spikes between the ties.  Afterward, I went back and inserted the Proto spikes, again using a gauge as I worked down the rail.  I found I was having too much difficulty manipulating the tiny Proto spikes in the pliers while trying to hold the rail in place and gauge it.  I can do that with regular spikes, but not with Proto’s microscopic slivers. Here’s a photo showing the near rail already spiked with Proto spikes and the far rail pinned in place, ready for Proto spikes.

IMG_0869 Anyhow, I’ve spiked about 70% of the rail at the paper plant.  Can’t wait to hook up the bus wires and run something!

Compressed Air

With my paint booth moved to its new location, the exhaust duct connected, and the electrical outlets installed, the last remaining task was getting compressed air to the new location.  I finished that today.

I changed up a few things.  First, I ran an 8′ hose through the wall into the garage.  I had used a metal pipe when I set up my air line last year, but this time I decided to use a hose.  I passed it through the same hole that the steel pipe went through, and strapped it to the wall in a couple of locations, just to keep things tidy.

I brought the hose over to the utility sink and inserted a quick-connect coupling on a “T” fitting.  With my previous setup, it was mere steps between the paint booth and the sink, but now they’re on opposite sides of the room.  Now I’ll have to disconnect the airbrush  at the paint booth and carry it to the sink to clean it.  I like the option of having compressed air at the sink when I clean up.

IMG_3109From the sink, I strapped 50 feet of hose along the ceiling and then down to the paint booth where I assembled the regulator, moisture trap and filter, and quick connect manifold.

IMG_3108The regulator has a new gauge that reads 0-30 psi, which replaces the stand-in gauge I was using that read 0-160 psi.

Compressed air at the paint booth = DONE.  That’s one more task off the list.  The next big item is the bulkhead between the high and low ceilings.

My Painting Workspace

This blog post is about my paint booth, compressed air supply, and air brush, and it’s in response to an email I received asking me to outline how my painting workspace is set up.

In order to achieve smooth and appropriately thin paint coverage on non-porous surfaces, scale model builders line up behind a nearly universally endorsement of spraying paint with an airbrush.  Human beings never behave in ways that can be characterized by absolutes (please ignore the contraction/irony in this assertion), and there are outliers who will swear that they can achieve the exact same results with a brush, rattle-can, or by dipping a model in paint.  I’ll lay bare my bias up front: I’m proceeding from the assumption that the best way to create a model that represents sprayed paint on a non-porous surface is to spray paint on a non-porous model surface.

Spraying any kind of paint is a nuanced and at least partly improvised interplay between art and science.  Auto restorationists, for instance, go to great lengths to build drive-in paint booths with an array of treatments that allow for the manipulation of temperature, light, humidity, and air pressure, all in the service of an alchemy whereby they transform rust into gold.

I’ve made an effort to create a controlled workspace for airbrushing, and I’ve written briefly on this in the past.  Mine is not as sophisticated as what one might see in a professional painting environment because this is just a hobby for me.

IMG_0208Paint Booth

Around 1983, my father built a plywood paint booth for me.  I cursed it many times during the years before I settled into my first home.  That first house was too small to set up my paint booth, so it was stored for years until I bought my current house last fall.  Now that it’s set up, I’m glad I kept it.  Its opening measures about 2’x2′, and it’s about 2′ deep.  It has a short florescent tube fixture installed behind a valance at the top of the opening, and a blower motor to draw air out.  I recently replaced the blower that burned out twenty years ago with a new 100cfm squirrel cage outfit.  I installed a dryer vent in the side of my house metal dryer ductwork between the booth and the vent so that I can exhaust the air from the paint booth to the outside of the house.  All of the wiring for the light and blower are done to building-code standards into a receptacle, so although it might look a little more crude than a commercially manufactured paint booth, the whole thing is sturdy, safe, and functional.



Compressed Air

I have a Cambell Hausfeld air compressor with a 3 gallon “hot-dog” air tank.  The compressor has a 3/4 hp motor, and will deliver 2.5 cfm at 40 psi.  I have it set up in my attached garage so that I can use compressed air there as well as in the house.  Having it the garage also controls the noise in my work space.

The compressor has a regulator on board.  I typically set that to 40 psi.  I have the compressor connected via a quick connect to a pipe and hose line that carries compressed air into the house to my paint booth.  At the paint booth, the air line goes through a moisture trap and filter, then into another regulator.  This one is a very precise device that is adjustable from 0 to 30psi through a range of about six full turns of the dial.  The 2″ diameter gauge on the regulator measures 0-30 psi.  It recently stopped working, so until I get a new one, I’ve substituted a gauge that reads 0-160 psi.  This is more difficult to read, but it works for now.  With the appropriate gauge on this setup, I’m able to dial in precise air pressures.  From the regulator, I use a 12′ flexible hose with a quick connect to a 6′ Paasche air hose.



Next to my paint booth, I keep a selection of brushes, solvents, cleaners, and things to strip paint.  I also dry my smaller canvases in the paint booth in order to exhaust the fumes from the oil paints out of the house, so all of my oils, acrylics, and related art supplies are kept in this same area.  I keep a stack of disposable pipe cleaners, coffee stir sticks, rags, paper towels, a variety of tape for masking, and cheap pipettes that I use a few times before I toss them.  I don’t have a decent system for storing paints.  I just keep them on a shelf in old Athearn boxes and box lids and sorted by colour range or purpose.  The paint booth is set up near the utility basin, so I only have to move about 5 feet to get running water to clean up the airbrush with water.



I bought a Paasche VL in about 1982, just before dad built the paint booth for me.  I used that airbrush until about 1992 when the whole works got packed away until last year.  Since setting up the paint booth last fall, I’ve been spraying paint quite regularly, experimenting with different brands and viscosities.  To help me develop some kind of consistent approach to thinning paint, I keep a small digital thermometer/barometer on top of the paint booth.  I also run a dehumidifier to manage the humidity in the room.

New Airbrush?

I’ve had some issues with my airbrush since my size 1 needle was damaged.  I’ve been in touch with my favourite hobby store to get a new size 1 needle and tip for me, but I’m becoming more convinced that I want a new gravity feed dual action airbrush for doing detail work and weathering.  I suppose I could just cut my losses on the VL, but there have been times when I felt it would be useful to have a second airbrush handy.

So far, I’ve spent about a week researching airbrushes in my spare time.  With so many excellent products on the market, I’m now officially overwhelmed by the selection.  Now that I’ve shared my painting setup, I welcome your input on which airbrush you recommend.


Removing Factory Numbers and Reporting Marks

After yesterday’s post about reworking a P2K automobile boxcar, Ralph Anderson posted this question:

 I just bought 2 P2K kits, ATSF 4700 cu. ft. covered hoppers, which I plan to change to cars the BNSF has renumbered and repainted. Any suggestions on how to remove the original lettering without damaging the kits?

This is a timely question, because I just finished removing the word Automobile from my Lehigh Valley automobile boxcar.  There are a few methods that I’ve used, so I’ll go through them from the most time-consuming labour-intensive to the fastest.  These methods are on a continuum from slow and safe to fast and potentially destructive to the paint around the lettering you want to remove.  They each have their place, but I’ve used the slow method most often.

To begin, here’s my basic arsenal of paint removal supplies and tools:


Safe Decanting

Maybe I’ve been beaten down by the Health and Safety crew at work, but I tend to err on the side of caution whenever I’m working with things that can hurt me.  Super Clean and Easy Off are caustic, meaning they’ll melt your skin off.  File that information under “bad things.”  To be safe, I wear rubber gloves like the orange ones shown in the photo.  I think I got these at an industrial/commercial supply store because it’s a cheaper place to shop, but whatever they sell at the grocery store will work fine.  I decant maybe 25mL of whatever product I’m using into a 400mL glass beaker, but a reused jam jar also works fine.  Only decant these products into glass containers.

I wear safety glasses and long sleeves while I’m decanting.  The point of all this is that I don’t want this stuff on my skin, lips, tongue, or in my eyes or nose.  I also do the decanting outside or at my paint booth in order to vent out any stink or gasses that the process produces.  Once the product is safely decanted, I feel that it’s safe work at my work bench or in my paint booth with the fan running.  One last thing about decanting.  Easy off is a spray foam, so I spray some of it into the Pyrex tray, then move it to the beaker.  I feel there’s less chance of getting any splashed onto me that way.

My suggestions aside, all of the products have safety information on the package that can guide you to make your own decisions about handling.  Use good judgement; don’t use these products if you don’t feel you can safely handle them.

Lettering Removal

The simplest and probably safest method to remove digits or words from a model is to simply scrape away in small increments with new scalpel blade.  I do this slowly, and I wash the loose bits of paint away with 99% alcohol.  Sometimes the alcohol softens the paint a bit while I’m working at it.  I also have a number of dental scrapers that I’ve fashioned into scraping tools with a dremel grinding disk.  The scalpel is sharper, but that’s not always a good thing.  If the paint under the lettering has softened too much, the dental tool works better.

If you work quickly enough, you can use one of the cleaners that I’ve shown above.  That’s where the beaker is handy.  Dip the Microbrush into the cleaner and apply very small amounts to the specific lettering you want to remove.  I use the scalpel or scraper to work the lettering off.  Have a cloth dampened with clean water handy, or use another clean Microbrush to wash the cleaning product off of the lettering if things start moving too quickly and too much paint is coming off.  The trick is to remove the lettering without removing the paint underneath.

To remove larger things like heralds and large print, I’ve wet sanded with 1000 or 1200 grit wet sandpaper.  You can get this at an automotive body shop supply store, or any store that sells car paint and tools to body shops.  Wet sanding also works very quickly, so I use small pieces of sandpaper stuck to things like a popsicle stick or the wrong end of a paint brush.

The last method I’ll describe is the most destructive, so use this one as a last resort.  CA debonder will dissolve model paint immediately.  Decant a VERY small amount into a glass container and use the end of a wooden toothpick that has been dampened in the debonder to burnish the lettering.  This can liquify the paint quickly, so instead of removing the paint, you might sometimes end up smearing it.  Use this method only if you’re really confident in what you’re doing.  Maybe experiment on a scrap model first.

Your Method?

Please don’t assume I’m any kind of authority on these techniques.  These methods have worked for me.  I use the scraping method most of the time because I’m usually just removing digits from a car or locomotive number.  It works best if I work slowly, and the smallest amount of weathering hides small scratches.  There must be other ways of doing this, so anyone with a different technique should offer it up!

Paint Booth Repair and Set-up

We established some goals for unpacking our belongings and finishing three improvements to the house when we moved in back in September.  I also set some personal timelines for having my hobby space set up.  We got unpacked pretty quick, and we’re only a few weeks behind with the home improvements.  The good news is that today I finished setting up my workspace, and I’m about five weeks ahead of schedule.

I’m pleased that some of my projects have been moved forward as a result of having my workbench in place, but over the past weeks my paint booth has been quietly nagging at me as it sat with junk piled in its gaping maw.  With all the necessary parts in place, it was time to get it running again.

The first order of business was getting a dryer vent installed into the side of the house.  Actually, I had that done by the guy who installed the central air, three days after we moved in, so step one was as easy as writing a cheque.  The rest of the repair and setup was much more time consuming, mostly because it involved actually doing the work, rather than paying someone else.

Due to a burned out blower and a lack of space, my paint booth had been idle for years.  A few trips to the local industrial supply wholesaler netted a 105 CFM blower that seemed up to the task of exhausting the fumes from the booth.


After I scratched my head and consulted some friends, I was able to devise a way to attach 4″ dryer vent to the rectangular exhaust duct on the blower.  I cut a rectangular hole in a 4″ duct cap, bent back the edges and taped it in with proper metal duct tape.  Then I made a paper template and cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood to serve as a baffle board, and to move the blower far enough away from the back of the paint booth to clear the flange on the exhaust duct.  I attached the fan to the plywood with countersunk machine screws.


Here’s the back of the paint booth without a blower attached:


I used bolts to hold the baffle board to the back of the paint booth, and then got out the tin snips to fit some 4″ duct between the blower and the dryer vent.  Here’s a spooky pic of the paint booth hooked up and running:


Here’s a shot of my whole workspace (ignore the mess on the workbench):

IMG_2763What you can’t see is the compressed air supply line.  I ran a metal pipe through the wall between the garage and the utility room.  On the basement side of the pipe, I attached a flexible air line that I ran along the ceiling to the paint booth.  I’ll attach my filter, moisture trap, and regulator on this end.  On the garage side of the wall, I put a quick-connect to attach the compressor.

I’m about ready to start painting again!