Visit your layout with a cheap camera

I’ve seen a number of videos lately made by people putting dashboard cameras on their trains, which gives a view of a layout that we don’t usually get to see–the view from the trains themselves. I’ve found a cheaper option. Hit up Ebay for an SJ4000 camera, which, if you sort the buy-it-now listings, you should be able to get for less than $20.

If that’s too rich for your blood, look for the Mini DVR 808, which is keychain sized and costs more like $5.

Don’t expect the world for that kind of money, but you can get a surprisingly good view of your layout from a perspective you’ll never see in person with one.

It’s not quite like getting to ride in your trains, but it’s not bad, either.

Repair a Weller soldering gun

I scored a Weller 8200 soldering gun at an estate sale one street over from me for a few dollars. They didn’t know what they had. I got it home and it didn’t work–it wouldn’t heat up–so maybe they knew exactly what they had. Lucky for me, it’s easy to learn how to repair a Weller soldering gun yourself.

It turns out the most common problem with these guns is very easy to fix and doesn’t cost anything. But if you’re like me and got a gun alone, without the case or instructions or the tool they give you, you’d never know.

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Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

The Department 56 product line is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and “Department 56 scale” is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.

The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.

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Fixing HO or N scale electric trains that won’t move and make noise

Fixing HO or N scale electric trains that won’t move and make noise

A common problem with HO, N, and other scales of electric train that run on DC power is that when you put them on the track, they light up but don’t move and instead make a weird noise.

The cure is usually simple, involving switching a couple of wires.

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Convert scale between wargaming, diecast, trains, and slot cars

Borrowing materials and models from other hobbies can often be productive, and in the early stages of a hobby, often it’s a necessity due to a lack of products available. But it occurs to me that other hobbies borrow from model railroading more often than the other way around, and that means there are untapped resources available. To do that, you need a way to convert scale between wargaming, diecast, trains, and slot cars.

In that spirit, I present a chart of scales. Two neglected train scales, O and S, it turns out, can borrow heavily from elsewhere to make up somewhat for the greater selection of products available for HO and N scale. But this chart will, I hope, prove useful to other hobbyists as well.

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Using PC ATX power supplies on a train layout

PC power supplies are exceptionally cheap and plentiful these days. If you’ve noticed and wondered whether you can use PC ATX power supplies on a train layout, wonder no more. You can.

Thanks to the miracle of mass production, even the cheapest, nastiest PC power supply gives far more power output per dollar than any train transformer. So if the lights and accessories on your electric train layout can run on 12 volts DC, which is a fairly good bet, you can get a lot of wattage for very little money by repurposing an inexpensive ATX power supply, whether new or secondhand. And on a wattage-per-dollar basis, they’re about twice as cost-effective as outdoor lighting transformers, which are another popular option for hobbyists.

All it takes to use these cost-effective ATX power supplies is a bit of rewiring.

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Gesso: Brushable, non-toxic primer

The best time to paint figures is when it’s over 50 degrees, because the first step is spraying them with a coat of primer, which requires a temperature of above 50 degrees. The problem is that when it’s that warm, that’s when you’re busy keeping up the yard and other stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could prime your figures with something safe to use indoors?

It turns out you can. I’ve searched years for a brushable, non-toxic primer (preferably acrylic and water-based). Such a thing exists; I was just calling it the wrong thing. What you need is called gesso. You can order it online from Amazon or you can buy it in craft stores like Michael’s, Jo-Ann, and Hobby Lobby and use a coupon. If all they have is white, mix some black acrylic paint in with it (which you can get there as well) to darken it. Or mix in any other color you wish.

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How to light the underside of your train table

There are few things worse than fumbling around in the dark under a train layout. So I mounted a ceiling-mount light socket underneath my train table to create a work light so that I could see when I’m working on my wiring. It’s another one of my 15-minute projects, one that pays dividends by making future 15-minute sessions more productive.

I did most of the work with stuff I had on hand. If you want to duplicate my project, you’ll be able to get everything you need at your nearest hardware or home improvement store, and the materials will cost less than $10. I provided Amazon links for everything, so you can see what these items are. Some people know what a wire nut is before they know how to read, and some people may be well into adulthood before they undertake any kind of electrical project. Yes, this is an electrical project. As long as you check and double-check all your connections and don’t plug it into an outlet until after it’s done, it’s safe. Respect electricity, and you’ll find there’s less reason to be afraid of it.

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