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Scratchbuilding In 2019 With 3D-Printed Parts
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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 05:03 am
1st Post
Sean W

Joined: Wed Apr 15th, 2015
Posts: 91
Hello everyone!

This is going to be a write up of how I have recently brought my scratch building method into the year 2019.

With the declining cost of hobby grade 3D-printers, and their increasing capability,
there has been an inflection point between cost and performance.

I got my 3D-printer for $160, and it has a build volume of 220mmx220mmx250mm, and it is capable of incredible detail.
This $160 printer can do things that a $5,000 printer simply could not do 2 years ago.
They have come a long way, and I couldn't be more excited about how they can change this hobby.

I would like to present to you the first example of how we can use a 3D-printer in our hobby.

My goal here is to produce a piece of rolling stock,
with no compromises compared to a commercially made model,
but at a tiny fraction of the cost.

The first thing we need to do is design a model to print.
There is an extremely easy and intuitive web based program called "Tinker CAD".
It's free and very easy to use.
I have no CAD design experience what-so-ever, and I was able to design these models.

I figured I would start with a simple flat car frame.
Flat cars can be used for a variety of models, so it seemed like a logical place to start.

The basic frame of the model took a few hours to design, but I was learning as I went.

The details like all the crossbeams and bolt details
(I believe there is 64 bolts I had to design)
took another 3 or so hours.

I would say I have about 6 hours in designing and modeling the frame.

Once the model is done being designed in the CAD program,
we need to bring it into a program that is called a "slicer".

This (free) program tells the printer how to actually print the model itself.
The program I use is called "Cura".
It is the most popular free slicer program, that has a massive following around it.

There are thousands of different of settings you can tweak,
each one of them has an effect on how the model will be printed.

Luckily you don't need to be an expert in the program to get fantastic results.
There are people who ARE experts and they upload a "profile" to the internet,
that they have rigorously tested and had repeatable and great results with in their testing.

I did a little research and found a profile that I think would work best for what I will be doing with the printer.
I just import the profile into "Cura",
click a few buttons and save the .gcad file "Cura" makes onto a Micro-SD card,
put that in the printer, and hit print.

Since my printer has a relatively large print bed,
I am actually able to print two frames at once.

It took about 9 hours to print these 2 frames.

I begin the print when I head to work,
and when I get home, I have 2 frames ready to go.

Here is a pic of one of the frames currently in progress of being printed.

Here they are all done being printed!

Fresh off the printer.
The "brim" around the frame gives more surface area to the model,
which helps it stick to the bed.

Running your thumbnail around the brim makes it come off pretty easily.

With minimal trimming and sanding, we have a frame ready to be painted!

Rattle can paint job.

From here on its a pretty straight forward scratch building process, adding a balsa wood deck.


Finished On30 Gondola.

The couplers and trucks were the only pieces that costed money.
Couplers were about $2 and I got the trucks from ebay for $11.
The wheelsets are for sure the most expensive part of this endeavor...
I need to find a way to get them for cheaper.

A Gondola for about $13 is still not bad.

Please let me know your thoughts and any questions you might have!

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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 09:40 am
2nd Post

Joined: Wed Oct 6th, 2010
Location: Twickenham, United Kingdom
Posts: 988
Very interesting Sean and a fine result.

We're seeing many UK and Continental modellers using these machines to very good effect,
and I'd like to join the gang, but I'm afraid my 77 year old brain - and a degree of impatience! -
just won't get hold of the CAD learning process which rather cuts me out,
and I'm sticking with the good old fashioned pencil, ruler scalpel and sandpaper methods!.

Looking forward to seeing what else you print as it happens.


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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 12:28 pm
3rd Post

Joined: Wed Apr 13th, 2011
Location: Florida USA
Posts: 1984
... (sigh) another thing to learn.

How can I do without it now?


Junk is something you throw away three weeks before you need it.
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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 12:29 pm
4th Post
Tom Ward

Joined: Tue Nov 14th, 2017
Location: Florida USA
Posts: 673
Sean - thanks for sharing this. 

Your car frames turned out great. 

I've been excited to see the things that can be done with 3D-printing,
but the high cost has kept me away. 
I wasn't aware that a 3D-printer was now so affordable.
It looks like I'll hafta bite the bullet and try it out. 
I'm just getting into building from scratch,
and there's so much that this could be used for.

Right now I'm working on a drop table for my roundhouse,
and there's nothing that comes close to it on the market. 
With a 3D-printer I could make one that looks just like the prototype,
instead of cludging parts together for an approximation. 

This could be the best thing that's happened to the hobby since going digital.

- Tom

Tom Ward

"When I die I want to go quietly in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like his passengers."
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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 05:56 pm
5th Post
Tom Ward

Joined: Tue Nov 14th, 2017
Location: Florida USA
Posts: 673
Sean - would you post some information on your printer such as make and model? 

After 30 seconds of deep introspective thought, I'm convinced I need one of these.

- Tom

Tom Ward

"When I die I want to go quietly in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like his passengers."
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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 06:46 pm
6th Post
Sean W.

Joined: Wed Jul 5th, 2006
Location: Pasadena , California USA
Posts: 118
Hi Tom,

I would like to prepare you for the rabbit hole you're about to go down haha

I obsessively researched for months from October to February,
on which printer would be best for my needs.
I would come to a conclusion, write down which one I landed on,
and start my research over from a different perspective.
I always landed on the Creality Ender 3.
I can confidently recommend this printer, no further research is needed.
It retails for $220, but regularly goes on sale below $180.
I found mine open box, but un-assembled for $160 local to me on Craigslist.

The nice thing about 3D-printers, which can be considered a stand alone hobby,
is that the people who use them, are nerds.
They have found the very best way to assemble them, program them, modify them,
and get every last drop out of performance possible.

Whats more, from what I have found, the people who use 3D-printers the most,
are tabletop war game/dungeons and dragons gamers, super nerds.

They use 3D-printers for printing everything from the game pieces themselves,
scenery, buildings, game tiles, dice etc etc.
It is this style of printing that I followed to get my results.
These tabletop gamers want the very highest quality out of their game pieces as possible,
and there is not much different between printing a tabletop game figurine,
and anything we would print for our hobby.

Dive into these two youtube channels,
they were pretty much my bible through the research phase

Specifically this video:

And this Channel:

Specifically this video:

Now for my 2 cents.
Since diving down this rabbit hole myself,
I joined a number of Facebook discussion boards that revolved around the Ender 3.
My biggest concern was I get discouraged easily.
If something doesn't go my way relatively quickly, I get frustrated and loose interest too quickly.
Seeing all these people post nothing but issues they are having with their printer,
on these Facebook forums intimidated me.
I was afraid I was going to have similar results and the whole thing was going to be a disaster.

I have had my printer for about a month now and I have not had one single print fail on me.
If you take your time, listen to what people who know what they are talking about,
and do your research, you will have a good experience.

I know now that the people who are having a hard time are trying to blaze their own trail,
they are trying to reinvent the wheel.
Like I mentioned in my original post, there is a massive following around this Ender 3,
by people who are a lot smarter than me.
They post the best way to build the printer, and what settings to use.
I didn't deviate from what they said at all, there is no reason to.
Importing their settings into Cura is as easy as attaching a picture to an email.
Then you literally click like 4 buttons, and hit print.
I have done no experimentation of my own,
the people who know what they are doing took all the guess work out.

I check these forums regularly,
and I would love to see more people use a 3D-printer in this hobby.
Please let me know what questions you have.
I am confidant that anyone here can have the same level of success that I have had.

The best thing is, I can share with you the flat car file I made,
its just a file you would put in your printer and hit print.
I have made a number of really cool models,
that can all be hosted either on Dropbox or a few websites,
where you just download the file, put it on your printer and hit print.

I will be posting a number of follow up threads here in the scratch building section,
about other things I have built with my printer.

Keep an eye out for those shortly.

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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 06:47 pm
7th Post

Joined: Thu Feb 23rd, 2012
Location: London
Posts: 5524
Hi Sean  :wave:

First of all ... GREAT UNDERFRAME !  :bg:

:moose: :moose: :moose: :moose: :moose:

Thanks as well, for a  C :cool: :cool: L  illustration, of the 'meat & potatoes' in the birth of a new On30 car !  :thumb:

Really nice kinda step-by-step, along with your AWESOME photos, showing every detail.  :shocked:

I guess we have come to expect 'David Bailey' quality digital-camerwork ...

... from a dude who can successfully micro-photograph HO-scale rusty ol' mattress springs !  ;)

I'm not quite sure HOW ?  :shocked:  you managed to design & draw this ^^ in SIX HOURS !  :shocked:

BUT ... If you did ... :bow: ...

... & of course, you only draw ONCE for 1,000,000 underframes !  ;)

The race forwards in affordable technology, is unstoppable in the mooodern world ...  :slow:

... & as you say, 2 years elapsed in the development of decent 3D-printers ... 

... has resulted in VERY IMPRESSIVE printer-price fall ... & print-quality rise !  :)

What better than coming home from work, to 2 nice new underframes, ready for finishing in the R.R. company shop ...  :thumb:

... & all you did, was push a button !!  ;)

Keep up the great work in the Brave New World of 'hi-tech scratchbuilding' !  :old dude:




' Mysterious Moose Mountain ' - 1:35n2 - pt.II

' M:R:W Motor Speedway !!! ' - 1:32 Slotcar Racing Layout
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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 07:19 pm
8th Post
Sean W.

Joined: Wed Jul 5th, 2006
Location: Pasadena , California USA
Posts: 118
Si, thank you for your kind words.

Like you mentioned, once you have the model designed, you can print an unlimited amount.
I knew the struggle of learning how to design the frame and getting perfect would pay off.
Once its perfect, I can reproduce as many as I want.

I have really enjoyed the design> prototype> refinement> finished product process with a 3D-printer.

I didn't hit the nail right on the head with my first design, it had to be tweaked.
With a 3D-printer, you can quickly make a prototype, test it and tweak it where it was needed.

Here is a pic of my first prototypes of the frame.
The top two, I only printed the important part.

With just these little 1" sections of the frame, I could see how wide the car was going to be,
what the coupler height was, how the trucks fit, how the couplers fit, and how everything lined up.

I made a few changes and printed a full prototype to ensure my design was possible.

Here are a couple teases of upcoming topics I will cover.

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 Posted: Mon Mar 11th, 2019 08:09 pm
9th Post
Don Gage

Joined: Fri May 13th, 2011
Posts: 36
Nice work Sean!

I knew you would like Tinkercad, it is an amazing tool for the price... FREE!

Keep up the great work.


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 Posted: Tue Mar 12th, 2019 03:58 am
10th Post
Michael M

Joined: Thu Jan 26th, 2017
Location: San Bernardino, California USA
Posts: 1487

Very nice work indeed!  :2t:

I briefly contemplated the possibility of getting a 3D-printer.
But really couldn't justify the cost, or the learning curve in making the darn thing work.

There's only room for so much information in my little head.

Nye, Inyo & Esmeralda Railroad
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