A set of good notes makes life at the bench easier.

I keep a variety of spiral bound notepads at the workbench. They help me keep track of material sizes, working procedures. they serve as a reference and a place to think on paper.

The habit of keeping notes has become a necessity, as my memory isn’t as sharp as I like to believe. While I’m working on a model, it’s a simple matter to record the material sizes or do a quick sketch of the assembly in question. These notes serve multiple purposes. They act as a refresher after a long period away from the work. They help me with writing blog posts or other documentation, as I don’t have to reconstruct things from memory. Finally, they serve as a roadmap of the journey I’ve been on as a modeler. I can go back through the notebooks and see the progress made and challenges overcome in the work.

Some of the notes are grouped by projects, while others are more random. I don’t intend to create a filing system, as I don’t have that much material. I simply leaf through a notebook as needed, for now at least. At some point, it would be useful to have the material more organized but I don’t model with a production mentality where every aspect has to be as efficient as possible. I realize that people with limited time for modeling want to maximize every minute they do have, but my time at the bench is to relax and unwind, not turn it into another job to check off a list.

With that said, now that the work is getting more involved, I can see the value of more organized and detailed notes to document tool setups and milling procedures. A bit of time up front will save me hours of reinventing things in the future.

Given the nature of a workshop, I prefer paper to pixels. I’m old school in this regard. Paper is more convenient, more durable and suits my temperament better than a digital device. A small notebook, pencil or pen is always at hand and ready to go.

Photos are another way to keep track of essential knowledge, though I mainly use them for publication, instead of reminders. To shoot in progress images quickly, I use a method I learned from Mainline Modeler magazine. Bob Hundman simply kept his camera mounted on a tripod next to his bench. When he needed to shoot a photo, he’d just move it in place, shoot the image and go back to work. I like this method and once you get used to it, it’s just another step in the modeling workflow.

After many years of messing around haphazardly, I’ve learned what brings me joy and what I don’t care for. I enjoy taking a deliberate approach to developing my skills in modeling. My experience in other creative fields applies here as well and let’s me do the work I want to do at the level I want to do it. Isn’t that what this craft is supposed to be?



  1. Simon Dunkley

    Stan Garlick, Alan Cruikshank, Vic Green, Guy Williams.
    Famous UK loco builders who all kept notebooks on their desks.

  2. mike

    Good to know I’m in such great company. Keeping notes is good insurance in my view. Memory fades as…Sorry, what were we talking about again?