You’re looking at the better part of three weeks of work that involved multiple restarts and many rounds of problem solving in fabricating these hopper bay assemblies. Here are a few more thoughts about the process.
This jig is a simple solution to hold and align the components for soldering. Nothing complicated about it, in fact the supporting strips aren’t even glued to the base. I just measured the offset between the long end sheets and the shorter intermediate ones and cut two strips of MDF accordingly.

Test fitting the pieces on the jig also helps me make certain everything is on spec and how I want it to be before soldering everything together.

A closer exam revealed something was off, as one end wasn’t lining up correctly on my marks. Tracking down the source of the error, showed the the mating edge between the middle bay and one end was out of square (photo above). A little careful filing by hand trued up the fit.

I also checked the other mating edges for squareness as now is the time to fix things. Accurate scratch building is as much about thorough detective work as making the parts.

The mating edge slope sheets is square (photo left). Left as is, this joint would be weak and use an excessive amount of solder. As seen on the right, I added a bevel for a tighter fit and to provide more surface area for the solder to bond to.  It’s a small step that results in cleaner work and more strength.

In the image below, the hopper bays are joined and a preliminary cleanup of both joints begun. Once again I didn’t bother to secure anything in place. Using a torch to heat the parts allowed gravity to be a useful clamp until the solder flowed.

Scratch building truly starts inside
I don’t consider myself to be a skilled modeler. There is no end to the number of people who are more talented and experienced than I am. I am however, exceptionally happy with this progress and outcome. Work like this doesn’t happen by itself. It’s the result of a deliberate process of developing new habits. As a result, at the end of each day I know more about the work than I did the previous day. I’ll know more tomorrow and next week than I do today.

This understanding has proven critical to developing as a modeler. I’ve learned beyond doubt that a bunch of fancy tools and techniques is truly secondary to your ability to learn and grow from the inside. I love the challenges involved and coming up with simple solutions using materials I have on hand. The more I do this, the more readily the answers come. I haven’t been this engaged or contented by the work in a long, long time.

As I shared in the response to Chris Roy’s comment from the last post, I’ve internalized the knowledge that I can do work of this nature. Our literature doesn’t touch on this, so it may sound strange and unfamiliar. Instead, readers are encouraged to look for answers outside of ourselves rather than within. In my experience this is sad and robs people of the joy of discovery and satisfaction that only comes from a personal victory over a troublesome problem. It may be an old fashioned viewpoint but I’m an old fashioned modeler. My willingness to do practice pieces and remake parts as many times as needed until I get the desired quality may seem a waste of time and materials to some. In my view however, they are an investment in the future of the work. I believe them to be well worth the effort.

I won’t be giving a step by step update or review of this work but will return to it now and then.



  1. Chris Roy

    Thanks for another thoughtful and poignant post, Mike. It’s really nice to read some of your insights and thought behind your learning process. I’m one of those people who have been contemplating building with brass for years; I think the two things that prevented me from jumping in sooner were perceived costs and concerns about precision metalworking. I’m especially interested in very large scales (1/24 scale and larger), but honestly, the gatekeeping attitudes of the machinists in live steam had turned me off and scared me away. Those guys create beautiful work but my intent is not (for the time being) to try and become a master machinist.

    Ken Foran’s “Model Building with Brass” was a big inspiration in that it got me thinking about creating shapes in entirely different terms than I had been accustomed to (ie cutting shapes with a jewelers saw, layering, soldering, and filing). I had always thought in terms of photo-etching, machining, and lost-wax casting; techniques that I still wish to explore at some point, but which do post a high barrier to entry.

    More recently I found Stephen’s Custom Models on youtube and watching Stephen’s well-shot videos documenting his work and his learning process was the final inspiration I needed to stop contemplating and get to work. I’d say these videos are a must-watch for anyone considering this sort of work – the videos are full of useful tips, but more importantly for me, illustrate an approach to metalworking that treats it as an art and a craft as opposed to the machinist’s trade.

    Your blog has been a huge inspiration as well – especially for helping me to evolve my thinking regarding the existential aspects of the craft. Asking myself questions like “Why am I devoting time and effort to this?” “Is this a valid/valuable use of my time?” and “What are my true interests and intentions within this craft/hobby?” My work is now pushing into a realm that it never would have gone into had I not seriously contemplated those questions, and I want to thank you for creating this blog and creating a forum where they are asked and debated (as opposed to the all-too-typical blanket statement “It’s just a hobby; have fun.”) I look forward to sharing some of my new work in the near future.

    Best Regards,


  2. mike

    Thanks for the kind words Chris. I’ve been intimidated by brass or metal work in general for years. Like you, it felt alien and far beyond my pay grade. A few years ago, I just decided to plunge in and try stuff. It was hard and frustrating but gradually things got better and I just kept going and searching for inspiration.

    I have a copy of Ken’s book and the work is stunning. As you know, it’s well written and he makes the work feel accessible.

    I also discovered Stephen’s YouTube channel just a couple of weeks ago and I agree he does a great job with the filming and explanations. While I’m not that interested in die cast models of construction equipment, I’ve learned a number of techniques that will go into my own work. In fact, I had a funny episode while watching one that I referenced in my next post.

    Another channel I subscribed to is Clickspring Oh my goodness, In my view these are the gold standard for clear and excellent videography and narration. Chris is a watchmaker and the work is stunning as you might imagine. He does a great deal of hand work and for the most part the machines in his home workshop are accessible to anyone who is serious about doing metal work. What I take from his work is a degree of achievable precision for those willing to try. The applications for model building are obvious to me and I find this type of cross pollination of ideas and knowledge very helpful. Thanks again Chris, I look forward to seeing your work.