I walk down the stairs, flip on the lights, and take the dozen or so steps across the main room into the workshop. After firing up the heater, I pull out the chair at the bench, sit down and turn on the task lights. I’m glad I cleaned up and put tools away from the last session. It’s more pleasant to sit down at a tidy bench than a chaotic mess. After a few minutes to prep my mind about the next step, it’s time to get back to work

I have a series of holes to drill for the new center sill sections. I love the rhythmic nature of this type of work. After a time, my mind goes into autopilot and becomes quiet and still. That’s what I love most about model building: the quiet influence and calming stillness I find in it. With the tools and materials at hand, I can do this kind of work all day. The shop is quiet and so is my mind.

Drilling the holes for these rivets is relaxing, even meditative. A simple task like this is a way to quiet my mind.
There is satisfaction in seeing the proportions of the full-size car reproduced on the model.

You Choose What Matters
It’s horribly easy to think our way is the only way. It’s important to reemphasize this craft means many different things to people and that we each value different aspects of it. We often speak of what we expect the craft to provide for us, yet seldom mention what we can bring of ourselves to it. I’ve always had a fascination with craftsmanship. Seeing two pieces come together seamlessly, watching the joint all but disappear is something I rarely tire of. This love of craft and work well done is my main focus in modeling now.

Most of the time I have no clue about what I’m doing and, there are plenty of days when I can’t seem to do anything right. At the end of the session I described in the opening, I spilled half of a bottle of styrene cement over the work area. Nothing was ruined except for some spare pieces I made. It was a nanosecond of inattention. You learn from the mistake, clean up the mess and move on. In those rare occasions when I get close to the quality I want, there is an internal satisfaction that is hard to describe. Doing this kind of work simply feels right and true.

Satisfaction is something I not only receive from the work but a quality I can bring to it as well. This is work I chose to do for myself based on a love of the subject itself. There is something I deeply enjoy about trains that I can’t put into words. While I’m working at the bench I’m immersed in memories of the railroad that infuse the work. The satisfaction I receive comes from seeing what I’m capable of doing when I give my full attention to the task. At these times, model building is not only a refuge from the noise and chaos of life but also a place I can choose and create for myself by how I approach it. It’s a place to be quiet with myself.

Many people dismiss such thinking as touchy-feely nonsense. So be it then. As I’ve said and will keep saying, we all value different things. Maybe for some it’s nothing more than a way to exchange disposable income for clutter they will forget they even have. Others simply want quick, pragmatic answers for everything. I honestly believe though, that we diminish the true value of this craft with such reductive thinking. Confining the work to artificially narrow definitions reduces people to mere consumers. It takes away the depth and commitment we’re capable of, ignores the decision-making agency we can exercise and robs us of the benefits and rewards to be found from the process.

With all that has been imposed from the outside, we can always choose what to focus on within. I’m not here to suggest how anyone should approach the craft. I do believe though that there are aspects to it we’ve yet to explore. Any type of creative work is what you make of it and can become a refuge from the chaos of life. That, in my view, is only one of the true benefits a craft like this can provide.



  1. Simon

    I am reminded of Chris Mears’ “5-20-5” principle, where the last 5 minutes was spent putting tools back where they belong, etc.

    This last 5 minutes may be the most part of a continuing productive model making programme.

    I need to spend more than just 5 minutes tidying mine up, so that I can be in this position!

  2. mike

    Hi Simon,
    I confess the tidiness of my bench has its ups and downs. I do make the effort to stay in front of any major accumulations of debris. At least once a month, I’ll do a thorough cleanup of material scraps and stray tools, along with a good dusting and wipe down of any grit that might ruin a model. It all helps make the bench a good place to be.