I’ve wanted to share an update on the covered hopper for weeks but what should have been a relatively simple detail has kicked my butt from one end of the shop to the other.

Putting it kindly, this is a piece of crap. My scratch built posts and brackets don’t match the quality of the hand brake casting. I can do better.

The story is one of naive confidence tested by repeated failures. It’s a lesson in learning what it actually takes see your choices through.

Art And Modeling Is Paying Attention
For an artist, each work is an opportunity to dig deeper, not just into technical skills but into the connection you have with the subject. I see model building in the same light. In my past ignorance, I used to just skim the surface of a subject and miss the deep enjoyment from getting to know it intimately. Older now, but with any acquired wisdom still debatable, I want to study my modeling subjects more carefully.

My main objective with this build is to see finer cross sections and profiles than what you can get on a commercial model. I’m focused on things like the corner posts and side sheets. Typically, these are grossly over scale in thickness and detract from the delicate appearance seen on a full size car.

Forming these angles from 0.005” sheet is straightforward until one has to deal with an offset such as the post for the handbrake. I covered the soap opera of making these in previous postings. This is about what I learned from the process.

Better Work Starts Inside
One evening last week, after another failed attempt at making this post, the thought occurred that if I want to see more precision in the work, I have to find that level of precision in myself.

We tend to think that good quality results simply show up out of the blue, or that fancy tools will make all the difference. We ignore the fact that it’s our hands guiding the tools in tune with our eyes and mind. In our obsessive haste, we’ve separated cause from effect, yet anyone with maturity knows they’re inseparable. Who you are inside will show up on the canvas and, at the workbench.

What you see on my bench, and in the photo above, are haphazard results in terms of the quality. The easy parts are well made but the difficult pieces are all over the place in terms of finish and quality. This reflects not only my rank beginner status but also my impatience to be done with the hard parts. What I want to see is a higher level of craftsmanship and consistency across the entire build, something that will come with awareness, time and practice.

This is a key lesson I never learned in painting because I was too arrogant to accept that I didn’t know everything. Drawing came too easily, and I simply didn’t put in the work to truly master the medium. To be brutally honest, I was little more that a talented hack who could copy a photo.

Persistence Is The Key
Model building is different. Every time I sit down at the bench I’m confronted by my lack of skill and understanding yet, it doesn’t bother me anymore. Older and maybe a bit wiser, I accept that I’m a rank beginner with much to learn and that my skills are nowhere close to being what I hope for. More importantly though, I’m motivated to learn what needs to be learned.

Making this assembly produced another epiphany upon realizing how quickly I tossed a substandard part without any drama and moved on to remaking it. I made a dozen of those angled brackets that support the brake step just to get three that were acceptable. I also made multiple versions of the offset post and rebuilt the soldering jig four times, until I started getting better results. Along the way I crossed an internal emotional threshold by accepting the idea that remaking a part isn’t a spotlight on my failures as much as it’s simply part of the process of building a skill.

The lesson is also one of challenging my assumptions. Often I thought I had a fabrication sequence worked out only to discover that switching the different steps around produced better, more consistent results.

Modeling Is Also About You
Making this brake assembly has been a significant part of the journey as a model maker. Somewhere in the process I realized that I could work with metal. (Insert your personal modeling demon here.) This wasn’t a light bulb moment, just the quiet understanding that yes, I’m a beginner but I can do this. Once the intimidation of a material or process is gone, you’re free of the fear, doubt and second-guessing that once held you hostage. From that point on, you’re off to the races.

I have mixed emotions about this part. I’m pleased to have pushed through the hard parts but also know there’s plenty of room to improve. The substandard quality seen above isn’t acceptable to me and I’ve already started to remake the assembly from scratch. I’m taking a closer look at the steps and fixtures involved to see where things can be improved.



  1. Simon Dunkley

    “Learn by doing”.
    One thought I have just had about your work and this blog is that it’s not so much “thinking outside the box” as “thinking without a box”.

    Part of that involves an acceptance that you will have to not only set but maintain your own standards. I don’t think that’s a “crap” piece of work, but if you think it’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough, but only as a finished piece of work.

    As a learning exercise, nothing wrong with it at all.

  2. Michael Lytle


    As Simon has already stated: “Learn by doing”. Each change that you have made since you started this detail has improved the appearance of it. You’re getting closer to mimicking the original with each change you make. The following are only suggestions and are certainly not meant as criticism of anything that you have done.

    Though I have never made the exact piece that you are working on I would like to offer two suggestions for your consideration. From looking at multiple photographs of high mounted brake wheels the biggest difference between what you have created and what I have seen in photographs is the crispness of the offset bends reflected in the vertical flange. When trying to capture the appearance of “sharp corners” there are two approaches that I commonly employ. The first is the use of a Xuron Micro Bending Pliers, Model number 575. Though the pliers are designed to provide a 90 degree bend, they do a fine job at lesser angles also. The second is to anneal the vertical flange, making it dead soft prior to forming or bending. It will work harden again as you use bend it. Once annealed you can form it to the horizontal piece by hand and it will easily conform to the base piece though I’m not certain if the offset will be crisp.

    You author a wonderful blog and the thing that I appreciate most is that you’re not only share your successes by also your share your near successes.

    Please keep up the great work.


  3. mike

    Hi Simon,

    It’s fair and accurate to say the entire build has been a learning exercise. The part shown doesn’t meet my standards. The brake step brackets are too wonky and out of alignment because the angles of the uprights are off. The way I set things up for soldering wasn’t ideal either. In sum, there’s lots to improve upon in terms of the finished quality.

    My use of the word “crap” is facing reality and ignoring the mentality that would say it’s an okay piece from three feet way.


  4. mike

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you Mike, I appreciate the observations. I didn’t anneal the vertical flange because I didn’t think that such thin material (0.005) warranted the extra step. I understand your thoughts about the crispness of the bends. The reference photos I’m using may require another look with your suggestion in mind. I also think it largely boils down to more practice in forming the parts. You can never get enough in my opinion. Really appreciate the kind words and ideas.


  5. Simon Dunkley

    “ My use of the word “crap” is facing reality and ignoring the mentality that would say it’s an okay piece from three feet way.”

    We are each our own fiercest critic.
    Or should be.

    But this what makes your blog so interesting and so worthwhile: you share these “failures” along with the insight that goes with them.


  6. Greg Amer

    Thank you Mike,
    I’d like to better my fabricating skills also. I’m really at beginner status, so reading your blog posts about fabricating is super helpful.

  7. mike

    Thanks Greg, I’m glad to know the posts are helpful to you.

    There must be two dozens ways to do anything in this craft. All I do is look at the object for a long time, then do what makes sense to me with the tools I have, in reproducing it. I’m a rank beginner too, and I’m certain there are simpler methods for most of this stuff I’m not yet aware of.