At first glance, 3D printing to make scale parts for model trains seems a daunting prospect way beyond the capability and talent of most model railroaders.
Hold on a minute! This may not be so far fetched after all.
Consider this. There was a time that scratchbuilding parts was a mystifying process that was best left to manufacturers or machinists. My first attempt was to make some plaster tunnel portals by making a rubber mold of existing ones. I built a little frame of wood and poured the vulcanizing rubber over the portal that had been dusted with talcum powder to help release it. My first attempt was pretty crude. The portal was all askew.
Than I tried painting the rubber over layers of gauze on a piece of coal to make some rock molds. They were a little more forgiving.
I never graduated to lost wax castings or tried my hand at machining my own parts. My talent doesn't lie that way.
But I know how to use a computer and I know how to print. I can learn new software where the learning curve isn't too steep.
So maybe 3D printing isn't as crazy as i first thought.
Shapeways to be exact. I received an email from Pat who wished to introduce his company to me. In his own words:
"Shapeways is a service and marketplace where you can make, buy, and sell 3D printed products. We have created a dedicated model trains page that gives model railway enthusiasts an opportunity to easily find parts and pieces for their model train layouts. We're really hoping hobbyists will give 3D printing a shot, especially when they can print using a variety of materials, including metal and porcelain!"
I checked out their website and was amazed. There is software available, tutorials, material guidelines, a global community forum and a support team. Shapeways can help you design your project and they will do the printing. All things considered the pricing looks reasonable and makes 3D printing a viable alternative for scratch builders. Some of the examples show locomotives and rail cars but 3D printing could be just as valuable for building walls, fancy decorative cornices or just about anything you can think of. You can work in plastic or metal or even porcelain.
I don't think you'd want to try porcelain for your trains unless you want to make a mantlepiece replica, but your wife or girl friend might like to make their own jewellery or ornaments.
Anyway, check them out by clicking on the link above. I'm sure you will be just as fascinated as I was.
Send me an email with a photo should you design and make something and I'll post it here for others to see.
Members of our NMR train club have bought a 3D printer and we are experimenting with building a replica of the Thornbury dam for our HO recreation of the CN line from Barrie to Meaford in the 1950s. You can follow along on my 3D printing parts page.
Have you used a 3D printer yet? What did you make? Did you use Sketchup or some other software? What was the learning curve like? What pitfalls did you overcome? How did it all turn out? How will you use 3D printing in the future?
As this is still a new area of the hobby I'm sure other modellers would love to know more about your experiences. Here's an easy way to share your learning:
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