I’m glad 2016 is over. It seemed to be a year of stress, unnecessary rancor, uncertainty, endings and more. I won’t miss it and like many, I’m happy to hit the reset button and move forward into the promise of a new year.

We all have various ways of coping with the stress life brings. Reflecting and drawing upon your faith, spending time with family and close friends, or losing yourself in a favorite activity rank high on many people’s lists. Of course for us, the craft is at or near the top of those favorite activities with good reason.

I write about this craft from the view of ideas rather than techniques. One of the ideas that fascinates me is using the craft for personal development. I understand that for many it’s nothing more than entertainment and a form of escapism. I get that we all have different needs from this pursuit and I not only find it a great way to relax but to also explore my self-imposed limitations.

As a way to relax, nothing helps me unwind more easily than sitting down at my workbench with a favorite CD playing in the background. I truly enjoy working with my hands and I’m soon transported to a quieter place mentally, as I focus on whatever task I’ve set for myself. Scratchbuilding engages me on many levels beyond handwork as I find the conceptual aspects of design and planning as enjoyable as the actual build.

While it’s mostly a pragmatic pursuit for me, a means to get something I want, I also find it to be a great way to learn and challenge my self-imposed preconceptions with regard to my skills.

Anyone who has picked up a tool of any kind quickly discovers their tolerance for failure. Mine is pretty low as I falsely believe I can be proficient right away. Learning I’m not isn’t fun. In addition to each tool having its own skill set, different materials have their own requirements for successful outcomes; a discovery I made last year when I worked with brass. As a means of personal development, scratchbuilding brings me face-to-face with my shortcomings. I find myself wondering why I’m so reluctant to remake a part, when I know it’s the only way to go. I question why I’m always in such a hurry where the work is concerned, why can’t I just relax and enjoy the process more?

This might sound like navel-gazing nonsense to some but ask, why do so many want shortcuts and the easiest way possible of enjoying their hobby? It’s my belief that we approach this work like we do other aspects of life. If we are so motivated by the potential for enjoying model trains, then why do we shortchange ourselves in practice?

Not everyone will find scratchbuilding enjoyable. Many modelers discover satisfaction when doing scenery, laying track, or electronics. Lately, layout design and operations have almost become separate disciplines of their own, with strong advocates for each. However you approach it, the craft represents a positive outlet for growth if we embrace such a view.