Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Fun - Starting Resin Casting

After a bit of a hiatus - and given that the resin casting stuff has been scattered, untouched, on my worktable for far too long - I decided to jump start my layout progress by jumping into resin casting.

I've mentioned before that I've had this cool Micro-Mark resin casting starter set for over 3 years. Unfortunately, when I tried at first to use it, I'd discovered that the molding rubber had gone bad. Well, not to be (too) deterred, while I waited for a new shipment of rubber molding materials, I decided to test the resin casting materials by giving the molding clay a try. 

The clay included with the starter set comes in a block, so the first step was to spread & flatten it out so it could cover/accommodate the wall I wanted to cast as a test.

The instructions recommend using talc as a mold-release agent. I didn't have any talc and, frankly, didn't know where to get any. I figured "talcum powder" would be close, but nobody had any of that either. Thankfully, The Missus suggested looking at the ingredients for some "talcum powder like" products. I eventually discovered - wait for it - baby powder (can you tell we don't have kids?) - which is made up primarily of talc and fragrance.

So I sprinkled some on the test piece I was using as a master, brushing it into all the nooks and crannies, and tried not to think of diapers . . .

Next step was a bit harrowing - I needed to press the master into the clay as firmly as possible while keeping everything even (not pressing too hard on one side/end or the other). This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated since the master was pretty flexible.

As you can see, my effort came out okay but not quite as great as I'd hoped. No worries though - this is just a test.

Next, I measured out equal amounts of the two parts of resin into two separate cups, then poured them into a third, larger, cup and mixed them together, trying hard to keep bubbles from forming. Once that was done, I slowly poured the resin into the clay mold (I'd already made certain that the mold was level in all directions).

I thought I'd get clever and keep the back of the casting nice and flat by weighing it down, placing a piece of Saran Wrap (aka cling film) between the resin and the weight to allow for easy separation.

I think next time I'll use a piece of plate glass. As you can see above, the Saran Wrap wasn't exactly all nice and flat as I'd hoped. The back of the casting is all crazy wavy. Oh well.

Thankfully though, the front looks just fine. It has a little distortion caused by my not pressing the master into the mold as evenly as I should have (another use for the plate glass and weight, I reckon), but overall it's passable - especially for a background flat.

And here's a comparison of the original/master and the casting. I haven't bothered yet to remove all the flash (and getting those windows cleaned up properly will be a challenge), but I think it looks pretty good for my first time.

Here's a couple of quick tips/lessons if you decide to use the clay for your mold:
  • Use it only for a relatively small part/master that you intend on copying/casting once. The clay - and thus the mold - will distort has you remove the casting. Consequently, additional castings will likely be distorted and may not even be usable.
  • If you want to keep the back of the casting flat and use Saran Wrap/clingfilm to keep the resin from sticking to anything, be sure that it's pulled & taped perfectly taut so that you don't get the waviness I experienced. If I try this in the future, I may just use a piece of flat plate glass with mold release sprayed on it.
Since my Rt. 15 bridge parts/masters will need to be duplicated a number of times, I'll be using the rubber mold material instead of the molding clay. But that requires that I make a mold box, with my master inside. On the advice of Don Janes (when he was here what seems like forever ago now), I decided to use an old part for a master as a test.

The master is itself a casting of junkyard parts (courtesy PeteL) which I hot glued on to a piece of foamcore. I made the rest of the box by hot gluing more foamcore together.

And that's where things are until the rubber meets the road arrives from Micro-Mark.

Like with so many things in this hobby, the dread of the unknown all too often prevents us from even trying a new technique or skill. I may have had beginner's luck, but I'm pretty happy with how this whole resin casting thing has gone so far. It's not rocket science - and the Micro-Mark starter set gives you everything you need to get, um, started.

But it's the Dave Frary video that comes with the set that's really worth its weight in gold. He takes you step-by-step through the process and, if you follow his instructions, you'll get good results. At least I have so far. We'll see how the rest of this journey goes . . .

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thankful Thursday - A Quick Update

Between work and family, it's been an especially crazy bunch of weeks. I've even missed not just one, but a few Wordless Wednesdays. You know it's too busy when you don't even have time to post a quick photo. Such is life lately.

But thankfully I have some good news to report! My dad continues to get better and better, PT is going well and healing is happening. He's even driving again, which makes him especially happy :^)

And since I last updated about the Missus' dad, we've gotten some more good news - the chemo was effective and beat the cancer back enough that he can get a stem cell transplant as soon as he recovers a bit. Not only did he not have as hard a time with the treatment as we'd feared, he beat the odds and is on his way to remission. It's a true, straight-up miracle. No two ways about it. Even the doctors are amazed. He still has a ways to go, so your continued good thoughts and, especially, prayers are much appreciated!

I just wish I had some good news to share on the railroad front. I haven't had an ops session since mid-January and the resin casting stuff continues to sit in medias res. I even missed my annual exam at the real railroad. Fortunately, I work with some very understanding folks and I can make it up after work, and life, settles down a bit.

In the meantime, we continue our visits to the hospital, dealing with the day job ratcheting up, and I (at least) have had some fun distraction shopping for a new car for our daily commute.

Getting good news on Life's Important Stuff though gives us a great shot in the arm and hope for the coming weeks and months. Spring is certainly blooming nicely so far. I just hope my layout motivation will start to emerge a little along with the crocuses and daffodils!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Inexpensive End-of-Run UTP

(I mentioned at the end of an earlier post that it's been a tough winter for dads. Fortunately, my dad is doing great after his bypass. Unfortunately, The Missus' dad isn't doing as great - this is the 3rd time he's gotten cancer and he starts intensive chemo this coming Wednesday. Things have been, as you can imagine, very busy between family stuff and work stuff and time on the layout has predictably suffered as a result. Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers. Very much looking forward to things getting back to some semblance of normal at some point.)

Turns out it's been a bit over a year since I "finished" the cab bus for the layout. But operating sessions have a way of adding things back onto the punch list that you thought you were done with. 

Case in point: on one of the feedback forms after my last ops session, KayleeZ mentioned how nice it would be if there was a throttle plug (UTP) over by East Berlin. Apparently, the UTP at Wethersfield was just a little too far to work East Berlin comfortably.

So, I split the line at the Wethersfield UTP and - since the new UTP would be at the end of the branch (therefore no need to daisy chain) - I just used an inexpensive phone jack. $2 vs. $15. Here's how I did it.

An ordinary phone line splitter does the trick, as you see above. Just be sure you split off the outgoing jack (the one that doesn't say "CMD STA"). In the photo above, the line on the right is coming in from the command station. From the splitter, you have the line going out to the radio antenna (center wire) and the line going off to the end-of-run UTP.

Another thing to note is that the connection between the splitter and the jack may not be optimal given the weight of the wires and the splitter itself. The splitter will tend to droop, losing contact and there'll be no juice/signal going through it. So here I've just pulled the center/antenna wire up and stapled it to the underside of the layout to pull the splitter up to maintain contact.

Next, I marked where I wanted the jack to go and used a hole saw to cut the hole. I then used a level over the two faceplate mounting holes and marked them so the jack would be nice and level. I also marked & mounted the brass mounting base.

The last important thing to keep in mind when using a standard phone jack (at least with an NCE cab bus) is that the cab bus/phone cord wires have to be "run through." It's a bit hard to describe, but you can read about it in the NCE manual (where it talks about making your own cab bus cables). Essentially, if you're using standard phone cord, you need to remove the RJ11 jack from one end and reinstall it "upside down" so that the internal wires will match the NCE standard.

What that means for hard wiring a standard phone jack is that you have to reverse the order of the wires. As you can see above, the black wire went to the yellow screw, the red wire went to the green screw, the green wire went to the red screw, and the yellow wire went to the black screw. Trust me. If you don't wire it this way it will not work as a throttle plug.

So there you have it! A handy-dandy UTP in East Berlin for Kaylee or anyone else wanting to plug in here. It's not really necessary since I do have wireless throttles and such, but it's always nice to have the added insurance of a tether.

Given everything going on these days, I don't know when I'll be operating next but hopefully my crews will get to try this out soon!