Some thoughts about using this craft as a learning tool.

I like to mix up the pace on a long-term project like this box car. I’ll do a major sub-assembly like the underframe and then switch gears completely and work on a small detail. This helps keep my interest level up and gives a break from the tedium of doing the same thing for too long.

I want to extend my skills with this project and that’s the reason I’ve rebuilt components multiple times. I’m not happy with the initial effort and know I can do better. I have standards for the work. This is all well and good but if one isn’t learning from the mistakes, what purpose is being served?

After taking the underframe as far as I can for now, I worked on a small but important detail: the bottom track of the car door.

Checking the fit of the track on the first build of the car.

Checking the fit of the track with the exterior posts on the first build of the car.

I put five to six hours over two days into this detail, which included making two jigs, one to shape the support brackets and one to hold all the pieces while I soldered them together. I also spent time figuring out the best way to make the support brackets (all 34 of them). They are a scale five inch wide strip of 0.005″ brass cut from a larger sheet. The door track itself is a length of 1/16″ brass angle. The delicate appearance of the prototype was an important quality I wanted on the model, hence the ultra thin materials. As mentioned, the brackets were formed in a jig and trimmed to size after folding using the same jig. After doing the first half-dozen, I stumbled onto a more efficient routine purely by accident.


Why am I in such a hurry?
I noticed I get in a rush to finish something when I reach the 70-75% completion point of a project. I guess I sense the finish line is near. This is a deeply ingrained habit that I fight all the time and this urge to rush takes my focus off the work. That’s where my sloppiness and mistakes happen

As you can see in the photos, the fit on some of the brackets isn’t the best. They aren’t seated firmly against the angle. These light pieces shifted at the blink of an eye, even when held in a jig. Soldering on a styrene jig can be done when everything is well cleaned and properly fluxed, so the solder flows instantly with the mere touch of the iron. I only had one mishap with excess heat melting the plastic. However, in spite of using an assembly jig, things still came out wonky.

Looking at the photos objectively, I noticed the top of the brackets are more rounded than I thought. For the second door track I took the time to flatten the bracket tops and this helped but there is still room for improvement.

Decision time
The thinking process behind this part and the actual construction was very enjoyable. Watching it come together was as satisfying as it gets but, here we are again. If I’m not satisfied, do I settle or redo the parts? You should know the answer by now. I think these are salvageable with a little extra effort, if not, I’ll redo them. We’ll see later today.

Scratchbuilding is a series of decisions large and small. You have an objective you’re working toward. You have standards you want to adhere to but, often, the work comes up short. What’s going on? I think this quote from Ira Glass might help. It’s a short video, less than two minutes and, it applies as much to our work as any other.



  1. Matt


    Excellent discussion. Video is a nice icing on the cake. In every project I have started, you hit a point where you want to finish, to push through regardless and that is usually where you make a mistake.

    Remember you will always make mistakes, the secret is to learn when you are about to make one. The project has a process, whether building a boxcar or laying rail. Learning to exam each previous step for both errors and success of method is an invaluable skill to improve your work. Think of it as a rigorous constant quality improvement. In the end though you will appreciate the time and thought in improving your modeling. Like the video says, you have to do more work, to discover more ways to make mistakes and how to avoid them. To find what makes the project a success.

    After completing three C modules, I took a break and stepped back to see if I was producing the product I ultimately wish to use. Still needs a tweak in the process. Each one was a little better, both in the process of cutting rood, through final assembly. Each times a few more notes were scribbled down as reminders of what to do, and not do next time. The next module will be much better for the effort.

    Of recent, I have been building a laser kit and modifying it to what I want. One thing I have noticed is that the interior bracing that no one will see is not always square and true to the next piece. Are they doing their intended job of providing support, yes. However, if this was a model with a more exposed interior, the work would be, in my eye, subpar. The need is really finding a better tool(s) for cutting square cuts for larger timbers. To find a finer scribing devise. Some would say that is overkill, but the end product has to meet my expectations. I know I can do better, how to get to that next level.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. mike

    Hi Matt,
    It’s always great to hear from you. The current project is teaching me a lot. As mentioned in the post, I’m more aware of my tendency to rush the process and how that contributes to my mistakes. Sometimes I simply have to stop or even walk away from the bench for a few minutes until I can refocus.

    You couldn’t be more on target with your comment that every project has a process. I’m making plenty of mistakes but find I’m more willing to fix them on the spot, even if it prolongs the project. I’m always glad when I do. The real time consumer is just figuring out the process to make a part. Once that’s done, the rest is easy. And, it is a process of teaching yourself, not just the skills involved but the sequence of the steps required. You have to deconstruct and analyze things to reach an understanding of the subject. I love it.