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Clinic - Scratch Building

Beginning Scratchbuilding

Working in wood

Over the series of links that follow you will see the various steps to scratchbuilding a model in wood.  We start off we a set of scale drawings.  Plans are available in books, magazines, online and from a variety of sources.  You can also draw your own.  What you want is to get them, or convert them to the scale that you are building in.  

The next step is to take your siding and prepare it to become a wall.  In the case of this mill, I had to join two pieces of board and batten siding together to create a piece wide enough to make the walls.  This was done by simply gluing two edges together with white glue (regular Elmer's White glue...NOT Elmer's School glue.  School glue is designed to wash out of kids clothes and will let go in areas of high humidity).  Remember to always check the surface to make sure that the siding will match up at the joint.  

Next, we turn the siding over and draw out the basic shape of the wall.  Step 1.  Always be sure and double check every measurement for size before cutting.  "Measure twice, cut once!"  Step 2.  Using a steel ruler and a sharp #11 blade in our Exacto knife, we cut out the wall.  Don't try to cut all the way through the wood in one stroke.  This if VERY important.  Make many shallow cuts instead.  This is done for many reasons but mainly it is almost impossible to cut through the wood in a single pass.  It will also be very hard to keep such a deep cut straight AND it's dangerous.  By making several light passes with the knife you can hear it cutting the fibers of the wood.  Always work on a self healing mat or a thick piece of glass.  You don't want a work surface that will also end up with a line scored in it from the cut.  A score in the work surface can grab a blade's point on a future cut and force the blade to follow it instead of where you want it to go.  Step 3

The next step is to measure and draw the window and door openings on the back of the siding.  Step 4.  You will want to make sure that windows line up and are evenly spaced.  Note in Step 5 that we've drawn a line to keep the windows evenly spaced from the top of the wall.  You will also notice that the lower windows line up with the uppers.  This isn't completely necessary in some cases but it does help to keep the building looking realistic.  In Step 6 you will see that we are beginning to cut out the openings for the windows.  To keep the knife from cutting past the opening we drill a hole in each of the four corners of the window.  This give the knife blade a place to start and stop.  For shaped siding you always work from the smooth, back side.  After cutting out the windows and doors your wall will look like this...Step 7.

Now we are ready to paint.  When working with wood you want to try and do as much as you can while the model is what we call "In the flat".  This simply means that the walls are laying flat on the work surface.  We do this because scale wood will warp very easily.  By having the wood flat, we can add a small weight to the wood to hold it flat while it dries.  Most modelers use acrylic paints of various types but for painting wood pieces on a model I really like the acrylics that come in a tube.  Step 8  This type of paint is thicker and meant for an artist to use on a painting instead of the thinner craft paints.  The thicker paint is easier to dry brush and with it's lower water content it's less likely to wrap the wood.  While this is good for the siding it's usually too thick for painting the windows and castings without thinning.  For these I use acrylic craft paints like Ceramacoat.  They come in a large variety of colors and they are cheap.  Most hobby and craft stores have them and they are usually on sale for less than $1 a bottle around 'Mom' oriented holidays.

For many buildings, especially in the western USA, they would simply mix materials native to the area with linseed oil.  In many cases you end up with red or brown iron oxide and linseed oil creating a paint that was brushed on.  To simulate this color and a older building,  I dry brush the color onto the wall.  Step 9  I'm not worried about an even coat.  In fact, I want some of the wood to show through.  Dry brushing is where you dip just the tip of the brush into the paint and wipe off any excess on a towel.  You want very little paint on the brush so that when you apply it to the model the brush appears to be dry and in need of paint.  For weathering, you want very little paint at all on the brush.  For painting siding like this you can dip the brush into the paint and work on the model without wiping off the brush.  Start at the top with the majority of the paint and as the brush gets drier, move to the bottom of the wall.  Since gravity will pull water and such down the bottom of the walls it will always stay wetter, longer than the top will.  This is harder on the paint and thus causes it to wear off faster.

Once the wall has paint on it I sit a couple of small weights on it to hold it flat.  Don't use anything too heavy since it might leave a mark in the wood.  I use things like a bottle of glue, the tube of paint, my Exacto knife and so on.  Just use something there on the workbench that will hold the piece flat.  

After this has dried completely we are ready to begin weathering the model.  I start off with a coat of stain made from India ink and alcohol (a teaspoon or so of stain to a pint jar of rubbing alcohol).  This stain is widely used by modelers and should be used on almost every surface of your model railroad.  The purpose of this stain is that the rubbing alcohol will flash off leaving a light stain of the ink.  This had enough time to settle into all the little cracks and crevasses and it creates the illusion of shadow.  I again weight down the wood and let it dry completely.  

You can follow this step with just about any form of weathering you like.  You can airbrush it (just remember that you are introducing more wet material to the wood so let it dry out under some weights).  You can use pastel chalks, the newer Bragdon weathering powders (I like these since they don't blow off like the pastels do), regular dirt (use the same dirt that you are using on the ground of the town this building will be placed).  This is used around the bottom edge of the building to show where rain has kicked up the dirt around the building.  

One of the most recent things I've used has been Prismacolor colored pencils.  This is a really nice weathering tool since it comes in a wide variety of colors, it's easy to put on the model and they blend well.  Straight from the pencil to the model works well but soaking the pencil in regular white vinegar for 30 to 60 seconds will soften the lead of the pencil and make it even easier to get color on the model.  This is really helpful around delicate surfaces.  Step 10  By using a few colors that are close to the Red Iron Oxide that I painted the building I was able to vary the shade of a few boards in a few places.  I was also able to create stains and shadows with darker browns and blacks.  I was also able to add a few highlights to areas with a few shades of gray.   Step 11

Any time that you are working with wood it is going to warp.  Earlier we talked about allowing the wood to dry with weights on it but even with that step the chances are that it's still going to warp some.  To help hold the walls straight and to add some reinforcement to the structure, we will glue some wood to the back or inside edge of the wall.  Since a wall's warp could be strong enough to warp the reinforcing piece, we will actually make a L shaped piece out of scrap wood Step 12.  This means that the warp of the wall will have to not only work against two pieces of wood but, by making it into an L shape, it will also have to work against apposing wood grain Step 13.  For long reinforcement I use wooden coffee stirring sticks.  This can be found by the box at restaurant supply stores.  A large box is around $2.  The cuts don't have to be perfect when making these.  Just as long as they fit on the wall without over lapping.  Note in picture on Step 13 that I'm clamping this down while it dries with two clothespins that have been turned around backwards.  This allows for a longer, flatter jaw to the clamp.  Once the pieces are in place I usually run some extra glue around all of the seams of the wood just to help hold the joint.  Since this portion of the model won't be seen (Because we're going to put a floor in it) you don't have to worry about glue marks here.  If you are going to put lighting into the building, paint the inside of the walls flat black at this point.  The light will cause the wood to look like it's glowing if you don't.

Our next step is to glue in some window glass.  For this you can use just about anything clear.  For contest models, or anything that will sit in the foreground, I like to use real glass.  For this I cut down microscope slip covers.  You can cut the glass by using a diamond scribe that you can get from Micro-Mark.  You can also use clear styrene as well.  While glass is best because you get a true reflection, the styrene is easier to work with and less likely to cut you.  Evergreen Scale Models makes a clear .010" that works well for window glazing.  You can cut it to shape easier than the real glass and it's also possible to make small trimming cuts to get it to shape that you can't do with glass.  

With either material, the process to put it in the window is the same.  We start off with ordinary floor wax.  I use Future Step 14.  This dries perfectly clear and is self leveling.  Take your piece of window glazing and clean off any finger prints with a rag.  Using a pair of tweezers, Step 15 set the window glazing in place in the frame Step 16.  Dip a toothpick into the Future and get enough to get a ball of it on the end of the toothpick.  Place the drop on a corner of the window frame and glazing Step 17.  Capillary action will draw the Future around the window.  Do this to at least two corners of the window but sometimes all four will be needed.  This will take some time to set up and dry.  Depending on the humidity and temperature it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.  

Once the windows are in and dry you can start assembling the walls.  I use a assembly tray from Micro-Mark Step 18.  These are nice since you can have true 90 degree corners and magnets to hold the walls in place while they dry.  A tip to placing the magnets is to lay one corner on the plate and one on the wall and roll the magnet down until it is flush on the plate and wall.  The reason for this is because it is VERY hard to make small adjustments to the magnets once they are flush.

Glue up two walls to create a L shape.  Once the walls are in place and the magnets are where you want them to be, add a piece of scrap that has a true 90 degree edge.  Glue this flush into the corner.  This will add strength to the building and help keep the walls true.  You can see one of these supports on the previous photo.  Do the same thing with the opposite walls.  In this case that is difficult because one side only has a couple of small walls.  After creating the first L, I added the next long wall and allowed it to dry  Step 19.  I then added some pieces of wood across the width of the building to help hold it in place.  Next, I added the upper walls and clamped them in place with two small Quick-Grip clamps.  I also added a strip of wood across the peak of the roof to not only hold it in place but to have something to glue the roof to Step 20.  If you are planning to put lighting or a interior into the building all of the supports that we put in will have to be done differently.  In those cases I often use the floor itself as a support.  A building with more than one story can be supported by each floor easily.  You can also create truss work to hold the top of the walls in place if needed.  If you can see into the corner you will also have to go without the corner braces as well.  Again, the floor should be enough to keep the walls true. 

At this point the main portion of the building has been assembled.  Step 21, Step 22, and Step 23

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