How to remove a plastic Lionel truck rivet

In the 1970s and early 1980s when Lionel was part of General Mills, one cost-cutting measure they took was to attach trucks to car bodies with a plastic doohickey. It’s not really a rivet, but more like a clip, and it doesn’t exactly hold the trucks steady.

Removing them isn’t difficult but the method may not be immediately obvious. And sometimes these Lionel cars really did use rivets. I can explain how to remove those as well.

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Don’t build a drill press out of PVC pipe

This past weekend, Lifehacker posted instructions for building a makeshift drill press out of PVC pipe. Although the finished contraption looks kind of cool, it’s not something you want to build yourself.

My drill press cost me $40. It’s far better and far safer, even though it’s still possible to injure yourself with it. But structurally it’s as sound as it gets, and acquiring it didn’t take me all weekend, either. Read more

Scratchbuilding, Marx-style

I saw a modern-production Lionel box car in a hobby shop one weekend. I wanted it, but I really wanted it in Marx 3/16 style, so it would look right with my Marx #54 KCS diesels pulling it. But I face very long odds of ever getting that car in Marx 3/16 unless I build it myself.

So I started building. And you can too.

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How to customize Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars

How to customize Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars

It’s fun to customize Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars. I tend to buy representations of pre-1950 cars and un-hotrod them so they’ll look like they belong on my O27 (1:64-ish) train layout; others buy them, paint them differently and put different wheels on them to make something different from what Mattel sells.

It’s a job you can do with simple tools and materials, at least at first. But like many things, you can keep it as simple or get as advanced as you like. And while you won’t do your first car in 15 minutes, it’s easy to divide a car project into 15-minute-per-day steps, especially if you work on two or three of them at once, and at the end of a week you’ll have a few nice cars to show for your time and effort.

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Making a curtain rod on the cheap

The boss, er, fiancee, is redecorating. Among the casualties: the curtains that came with the house when I bought it. Along with them, the curtain rods are going, since the new curtains don’t fit on the old rods.

New curtain rods cost $25 or more. Here’s how I made one for her for around $10.First, I scored some 7/8-inch dowels at Hobby Lobby on sale for 50% off. I got four dowels. Three seem to do the trick but I didn’t want to go back. I also bought a single dowel the same measurement as my biggest drill bit. This is for making pegs to hold the dowels together. We also bought a couple of decorative wood turnings to put on the ends. We used the size of the opening on the turnings we liked to determine the size dowel to buy. The total damage was about $4.50.

Next we went to Lowe’s and bought a pair of hangers. Those were 6 bucks.

I measured the center of the large dowels and then punched a small hole. This is just to guide the drill bit. Then I found a small bit and drilled a pilot hole. Then I drilled a larger hole with my biggest drill bit. Then I inserted the small dowel and cut it off to make a peg.

I repeated for three dowels, since that was roughly the length I needed. Of course my measurements ended up drifting a bit. No problem, I just rotated the dowels until they lined up. Then I glued it all together, put it on my sawhorse, which has a grooved end, and set a couple of big pieces of oak plywood on the top to hold it straight and together. Then I set the heaviest thing I could find–in this case, my drill press–on top and let it sit.

After I repeat the process, I’ll have a 9-foot curtain rod. Just cut it to length, put the turnings on the end, stain the rod and the hangers (or you could paint them), put the hangers on the wall, and then put up the curtains. Cheap and easy, attractive and functional. Can’t beat that.