I’m a strong believer in looking to other crafts for inspiration and techniques. Taking time to get out of the model train echo chamber can greatly enrich our modeling.

When I decided to pursue working in brass, I went looking for sources of information and inspiration. There are a number of model building YouTube channels like Stephen’s Custom Models, that offer a change of pace from the typical model train outlook. I wanted more however. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I’m drawn to high end craftsmanship and work. Going down that rabbit hole one day, I found my destination at a YouTube channel called Clickspring.

Chris, the creator, is either a watchmaker/ jeweler, maybe a machinist by trade or at least, a highly skilled hobbyist in those crafts. He never really says as the videos aren’t about him. Working from a truly small but tidy and organized home shop, his metal working skills are superb as is his skill as a videographer and content creator. I seldom subscribe to YouTube channels but this one was a slam dunk choice.

Among the many lessons I’ve taken from the videos is how to approach the work itself. As you might expect, Chris is calm and methodical in his work and this comes through in the tone and pacing of the videos. There is a satisfying mix of machine and hand tool work and the camera angles, lighting, editing and narration are all excellent at showing the procedures clearly, without the distracting fluff so often seen in amateur how-to videos.

While all that is good, I understand that many people wonder what clock making or other geared mechanisms have to do with model trains. In my view, a great deal.

The video above describes a homemade indexing plate for evenly dividing a circle. This is used to mark out the number of teeth in a gear or for drilling evenly spaced holes in the perimeter of a disk, like, for example, the rivets around the outer edge of a steam locomotive boiler faceplate.

As a beginning or inexperienced modeler, without specialist tools like a rotary table or indexing fixture for the lathe or mill, how would you even begin to do such a layout? Chris describes the problems of accurately stepping off small dimensions, in his case it’s the teeth of a small gear. Working in even smaller scales as we do, such problems are too familiar. I won’t go into detail as the video does that better than I would. And, while this fixture won’t find a home in every modeler’s shop, it’s the ideation and thinking process behind that is where the gold is found in my view.

My point in sharing such non railroad oriented resources is to say forget about the specific category; i.e. clockmaking versus model trains. It’s the cross pollination of ideas, and knowledge from one discipline to another that’s valuable for our purposes. Working brass is working brass, regardless of what shape the object involved consists of. It’s also good to look at our work from a different perspective and see what is possible when other approaches are considered.

The channel also has a number of useful tool builds that are beyond my current skill level such as the two part series of this neat little finger plate clamping fixture. They will be raw material for the future as my ability grows with time and further practice. For now, my interest in Chris’s work is in bringing the mindset and values shown in the videos to my own work.

There is plenty more to see, so check out the channel if you like and enjoy the work if it interests you. There’s no commercial affiliation or connection between us, I’m just a satisfied and enthusiastic viewer.



  1. Michael Lytle


    Several years ago, I found the Antikythera device series by Chris of Clickspring. Chris takes a very thoughtful but simple and practical approach to all of the work that he does. I have a tendency of overthinking my approach to projects and in doing so not only do I usually over complicate what I do, I also stress myself out because of the lack of tools that I thought that I would need. In order to recenter myself I will go back and watch several of Chris’s videos. I watch Chris form gear teeth with files rather that have a full range of gear cutters, a dividing head and a mill. I usually come away from watching his work to return to my work bench and develop a less complicated method to achieve my end goals using the tools available to me.

    Thank you for reminding me of Chris’s videos.

  2. mike

    Hi Michael,

    I agree with your thinking about the channel. I also overthink things and get frustrated when an idea doesn’t work as planned. I need to remember I’m just a beginner, and that it’s a journey, not a race. -Mike

  3. Simon

    Must admit that I frequently see railway modellers creating difficulties where none existed, simply by overthinking and hence overcomplicating things: sometimes this is a case of literally reinventing the wheel.

    It used to said that if you went into a railway engineering workshop, you could ask any workman there to put a 3/16” bevel on a piece of steel, and he would do it with a few passes of a file. You wouldn’t have to measure the finished product, but if you did, that’s what you got. The reason for this was that the workmen entered the workshops as apprentices aged 14, and put in 7 years of hard work, which included many things but there was a large component on using hand tools, of which how to file was the core learning. It took hundreds if not thousands of hours to reach this stage, but familiarity with basic hand tools and standard materials was the foundation for all later work.

    This may sound like a rambling story that’s only vaguely related to the blog post and Michael’s comment, but somewhere like Crewe works started with raw materials like iron ore and coke, and made everything – the LNWR even had their own brickworks (a “vertically integrated” company in today’s jargon, but actually, they were never going to relinquish control nor give their profits to anyone else). Sure, there were machine tools, but at the end of the day, the final fit and finish is going to come down to using basic hand tools.

    Machined parts, 3-D printed components, etched brass, hand cut materials, at some point those same basic tools of files and abrasive papers will need to be used. They can also be used to make components, as Michael points out. A machine tool can make things more quickly, and certain tools might be essential for making things accurately (even then, a lathe can be hand-powered and quite rudimentary, as long as it is accurate) but ultimately, for most of our models, buying things in (such as couplers, trucks and wheels) is as much about getting repeat accuracy and avoiding a certain amount of tedium as anything else. The rest is about time. It simply takes longer to do something by hand, but if your aim is to enjoy the process of creation as much as the created article, if your aim is not to fill a basement with a railroad empire, but to simply say, “I built that. It took me hundreds of hours, but I got so much pleasure out of the learning process and the achievement of overcoming the obstacles I encountered along the way, that the time was the reward,” then you will be a very happy modeller.

    Nothing against “basement empires”, if replicating operations appropriate to stations maybe 100 miles apart is your thing, but if it is, chances are this is not the kind of blog you were looking for!

    I usually like to pride myself on my brevity and concision, but I seem to have gone on a bit here. Oh well, I enjoyed the time I spent creating this comment!

    Keep on enjoying the investment of time in yourself!

  4. mike

    Hi Simon,

    There is no dispute here about the value of basic hand skills. Regardless of how the parts are sourced, some cleanup or adjustment to the fit and finish is often required. Knowing how to use a file, emory board or other tools is fundamental in my mind. It’s a long winded way of saying I agree whole heartedly with your comment. -Mike