Saturday, November 23, 2019

How I constructed my workshop

 I suppose we all wish for a purpose built workshop for our hobby. I developed shed-envy after visiting a fellow modeller and admiring his rather well-appointed and laid-out workshop. I didn't expect I would be able to follow suit until a series of circumstances enabled me to do so. Firstly, the sale of our old trailer tent leading to the demolition of its purpose-built shelter and then the dismantling of the adjacent shed to which the shelter was attached.

Since the first sod of the Peckforton Light Railway was cut in 2004, I have been using our conservatory as my workshop. At first, this was simply a workbench (made from a redundant dressing table), in one corner. Gradually over the years, the workbench was extended and shelves, a filing cabinet a table and a cupboard were added. By this year, there was no space left for anything which wasn't railway related and, to be honest, it was a bit of a mess!

I am very fortunate that my lifetime partner has been extremely tolerant. In fact, she has been very supportive and encouraging. When I sold our old trailer tent and dismantled its purpose built shelter and also the neighbouring shed in the corner of the garden, I mooted the idea of building myself a workshop in the available space.

My partner was initially quite happy for me to continue using the conservatory as a workshop but now she has seen the results of my labours and how much usable space has been created in the conservatory, she agrees it was a wise move.

So, how did I create my new workspace?

I started off by trawling the internet for suitable off the shelf sheds, but none of them, to my mind, made the most of the 11' x 14' available space.  I drew up a list of criteria:
  • A large insulated workshop area with a large window and a secure door
  • A smaller garden shed area for tools and lawnmower
  • Tall enough to stand up inside comfortably but not taller at the rear than my neighbour's fence
  • Mains electricity laid on
  • Robust and reasonably attractive in design.
My searches came up with a few possibilities, but mostly these were either well outside my budget and/or didn't meet all my design criteria. So I drew up a few sketches, calculated the amount of timber needed and contacted suppliers.

Before long, what seems like vast quantities of timber started arriving and I could start work.

I measured out the foundations and started placing the concrete 'breeze' blocks on which the floor timbers would be placed. I took a fair amount of time tamping down the base beneath each block and ensuring the blocks were level.

Next came a framework of 4" x 2" timbers with 2' 6" spacing between them. These would act as the sub-base for the floor joists.

The 3" x 2" floor joists were then fixed at 16" intervals on top of these. To ensure the structure was square, the diagonals were measured to check they were identical.

The flooring was 18mm thick OSB (Oriented Strand Board). I had considered using tongue and groove planking and plywood, but these were outside my budget. I decided that, provided the shed was weatherproof, OSB would suffice.

For the garden-shed side of the workshop, I re-used the tongue and groove flooring from the original garden shed. Even though it was around 25 years old, it was still in good condition. 

I then started screwing together the 3"x 2" battens for the walls. The verticals were at roughly 2' intervals, though this varied to accommodate the spaces for the windows and doors.

The secondhand double glazed window and door for the workshop were acquired through eBay. Their dimensions dictated the height of the walls. As can be seen, the wall on the right was angled to give just enough clearance for the window. The height of the rear wall was determined by ensuring it was lower the the neighbour's fence. Although, in the UK, planning permission is not required for outbuildings less than 4m in height, I felt it was in the interests of good neighbourliness not to encroach unnecessarily on their right to light as my workshop is to the South of their garden. This seems to have been appreciated as my neighbour loaned me his chop-saw and volunteered to help with construction if needed.

Once the wall frames were complete, they were fixed into position.

The doors were then fixed into place. The double-glazed workshop door came with a frame but the cottage door for the garde shed (£4.99 on eBay) needed to have a frame constructed from 3" x 2" timber.

Keeping the building square and true at this stage was very important. I found that a couple of the concrete blocks in the corners had 'settled' by a centimetre or two and so the timbers they supported needed to be packed with pieces of tile. 

Breathable waterproof membrane was then stapled (with stainless steel staples) to the uprights for the workshop walls, starting from the bottom and working upwards with a generous overlap.

Once the membrane was in place, 38mm X 18mm treated battens were screwed to the vertical frame supports before each exterior wall was clad with feather-edge planking, starting from the bottom and working upwards with a 40mm overlap. An off-cut of feather-edge with 40mm removed from its height was used as a measuring spacer when screwing the planks into place. I decided to use stainless steel screws rather than nails should I ever decide to remodel the building.

Cutting each plank to fit its position on the walls was quite time-consuming. Although there was some regularity to the lengths, these needed to vary to ensure that the vertical joints between planks were staggered up the walls.

Once three of the walls were clad to within a few planks of the roof, the 4" x 2" roofing rafters were screwed into place at around 20" intervals.

The fourth wall was clad and then the 11mm thick OSB roof panels were trimmed and screwed into place. This was when another pair of hands proved to be very useful as manoeuvring 8' x 4' sheets of OSB onto the roof is not an easy one-man job.

One the roof panels were in place, 3" x 2" edging was fixed to them and heavy-duty roofing felt was laid, with felt adhesive being used to join one strip to the next.

The excess felt was then trimmed off and the final few upper planks of the walls were fixed into place.

The interior could now be fitted-out. Firstly, a frame of 1mm square stripwood was tacked inside each section of the framework to ensure there would be an air-gap between the insulation and the membrane.

The 50mm thick Celotex insulation sheeting was trimmed with a cheap bread-knife to fit into each aperture.

 The sheets were fixed in place with self adhesive aluminium foil tape.

 The wiring was next fixed into place - 2.5mm twin and earth for the sockets and 1.5mm twin and earth for the lighting.

9mm OSB was then screwed in place over the insulation, with holes drilled appropriately for the wiring.

Surface-mounted pattresses were then fixed in place for the sockets and light switches and everything wired-up, following the guidance produced by the IEE for outbuildings.

Apart from the furniture and fittings, the main structure of the building was now complete. 

There is still a bit more organising to do, but I have now transferred the shelving and workbench from the conservatory and have also been able to create some additional storage.

I have taken the opportunity to re-organise my storage regime and am beginning to rationalise what goes where. Though this will probably change as I start making more use of the workshop.

One advantage of the workshop over the conservatory is that there is now more wall-space and so I have been able to install a tool rack instead of having a drawer full of miscellaneous tools. This certainly makes life a lot easier.

The main disadvantage of  the workshop in relation to the conservatory is the reduction in natural light. Although I have positioned the workbench in front of the window, I am finding it necessary to use the LED spotlights which I Installed over the bench during some of these dull Autumn days.

The workshop does seem quite snug. I have a 2kw fan heater which warms it up quite quickly and I'm finding I can usually turn it down to 1kw after half and hour or so.

Looks like I now have no excuse not to resume model-making.

A short timelapse video of the main construction process can be viewed here:

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Progress Report 77

It's been a while since I posted an update on progress with the railway. The weather has been very mixed in this part of the UK since April and so I have had few opportunities to get out into the garden for sustained operating sessions. However, I have finished off a few jobs and experimented with various control systems.


Coal yard at Beeston Castle

As part of the general titivation at Beeston Castle, having finished the castle ruins (see How I constructed Beeston Castle from Thermalite blocks), added a brewery (see How I constructed the brewery - pending) and added a new siding (see Progress Report 74), I decided to detail the yard beside the new siding by adding some coaling facilities - including staithes/bins and a coal office - see How I detailed the coal siding at Beeston Castle.

In addition, I constructed a set of coal scales to add a little more detail (see How I constructed some coal scales).

Sand quarry

To provide a reason for running a rake of sand hopper wagons recently constructed (see How I constructed a rake of Snailbeach(ish) sand hopper wagons),

I added a new siding on the outskirts of Bickerton Station (see Progress Report 75) and then constructed some loading hoppers from foamboard.

In addition, I cast a loading embankment from concrete for a 32mm narrower gauge feeder line to fill the hoppers (see How I cast a concrete embankment).


A few more figures were acquired from a trip to the Llanfair Caereinion Garden Railway Show. Some (ModelTown) were bought unpainted and so will pass through the paintshop at some point in the near future, ......
........ while a few others were rescued from a couple of bits boxes on traders' stands. It's pleasing to find that it is still possible to grab a bargain at Shows and Fairs if I am diligent enough.

In addition, some sheep figures were bought from Trenarren Models ......

 and a few more 3D printed sheep from Design Scan Print.


Snailbeach sand hoppers

The most significant addition to the fleet is a rake of nine wooden hopper wagons based loosely on those which ran on the Snailbeach and District Railways.

These were constructed from plasticard on modified HLW (Hartland Loco Works) mini series wagon chassis (see How I constructed a rake of Snailbeach hopper wagons).

Tralee & Dingle cattle wagon

Another bargain find at the Llanfair Show was an ex-Tralee and Dingle cattle wagon which appears to have been carefully scratchbuilt in wood. The stall-holder suggested it was a 10mm scale model but, putting it alongside my other cattle wagons, it looks about right for 16mm scale. It was 32mm gauge but it was relatively easy to prise off the solebars, drill out the bushes and re-wheel it with Bachmann metal wheels.

I will give her a repaint and load her with sheep (see above).

Freelance diesel bash

After using an off-the-shelf LGB ToyTrain diesel loco to test out various combinations of Arduino-based radio control systems (see below).....

.... I decided to rebuild the loco to make her more in keeping with my 1930s era rolling stock. Rather than a complete rebuild, I decided to keep the main body components more or less intact as these conveniently clip together, thereby making access to the electronic control systems straightforward. I intend to keep experimenting with Arduino based control systems and so keeping this loco for testing purposes seems sensible.

I feel that the heavily riveted bodywork and somewhat chunky appearance gives her a utilitarian post WW1 feel (see How I modified an LGB ToyTrain diesel loco - pending).

Brake gear

I have slowly been adding manual brake gear to my wagons. I have tried various approaches, using plasticard, brass strip and even stripwood, but feel that the most durable and realistic looking gear comes from using brass strip, particularly as I have made a simple wooden jig to hold the pieces in alignment when soldering.

For more information see How I made brake gear for my wagons

Permanent Way


After watching some recent videos of the railway in action (for example)......

  ...... I realised that there were some sections of track which were in urgent need of reballasting. My tried and trusted method of using horticultural potting grit cement was used once more to provide what I consider to be the right balance between realism and convenience. I apply it as a dry mix and then use a fine rose on the watering can to fix it into place. After it has weathered naturally, I am very pleased with the results.


Arduino experiments

As indicated above, I have been experimenting with variations on control systems based around Arduino Nano programmable components. I was intrigued with the idea of using a mobile phone to control my locos using Bluetooth and also the efficacy of trying 2.4gHz radio control.

Bluetooth control

I tried three approaches to Bluetooth control - using free or very cost effective apps for my Android phone - iPhone versions are also available.

Ultimately, I arrived at a system which combined Bluetooth phone app control with MP3 digitised sounds.

I was pleased with the outcome in terms of its cost effectiveness and the level of control which could be achieved. However, I struggled to use the phone apps successfully. Maybe the display on my cheap phone isn't sufficiently clear, but I was unable to see the controls clearly when the sun shone, and also having to keep looking at the screen to operate the buttons and sliders was for me a distraction. I much prefer the tactile feedback of a handheld controller with physical knobs and buttons.


2.4gHz radio control

I felt I had progressed as far as I wanted with Bluetooth phone app control and so wanted to explore the potential of using 2.4gHz radio control modules with Arduino. After some experimentation and a bit of trial and improvement, I ended up with a basic 2.4gHz handheld transmitter and receiver system, which also utilised the same MP3 sound system which I had developed with the Bluetooth system.

I am quite pleased with the outcome. Whilst the system is not quite as precise as my Deltang based systems, particularly in terms of slow running, there is considerable potential in the Arduino system which, as yet, I have not tapped. I intend to conduct a few more experiments and will share my experiences once I feel I have got to grips with the system.

Psion Freight Manager program

For many years I have been using a PC based management system to generate freight movements on the railway (see My computerised freight management system). This has served me well, but one of the disadvantages is that it relies on using hard-copy print-outs of the manifests. This is not too onerous but does lack flexibility. I can't modify the movements on the fly should complications arise.

While clearing out the cupboard under the stairs - which had become a dumping-ground for all sorts of redundant household items - I discovered my old and faithful Psion pocket computer. When it was developed, the technology was quite advanced and I remember using it constantly for time management, calculations and note taking (I even wrote several chapters of a book using it) in the days before the advent of smart phones. For me, one of its greatest assets was its inbuilt programming language. Dusting off my programming skills, I created a version of my freight management program to run on the Psion.

I have used it a couple of times now and have found the ability to make adjustments to the schedule very handy - if for example, I forget to drop off a wagon I can now transfer the movement to a later train. For more information see My Psion based freight management system.

One day, I might try transferring the system to my mobile phone - but that would require me learning how to create phone apps - a bridge I have so far not crossed.

Operating sessions

I have managed only one full operating session this season. This doesn't mean I haven't run any trains in the meantime. It just means I have only had one full session where I run a complete day's timetable with computer generated freight movements. This has largely been due to a lack of reliable weather - I need at least two consecutive days of decent weather to run a full session - and also because of other things competing for my time.

One of my non-full sessions featured a day out for one of my hypothetical characters - Jeanne Brunell who was actually the French lady's maid to Lady Tollemache in the 1910s (as recorded in the 1911 census for the area).

The video gave me an opportunity to take some onboard footage through the carriage windows - something I've not trued previously.


More magazine articles

I've had a few articles published in Garden Rail recently which seem to have been well received.

I quite like the added discipline of composing a magazine article and, of course, the buzz of seeing my scribblings in hard copy. The extra pocket money comes in handy as well.

New workshop

The most time consuming project recently has been the construction of a new workshop and garden shed. Previously, the railway wound its way behind my old garden shed and a lean-to shelter I had constructed for our old trailer tent. Having sold the trailer tent, I dismantled its shelter and at the same time removed the shed which was beginning to show its twenty-year age. This left a reasonably sized plot in the corner of the garden.

After scribbling a few ideas for a shed/workshop I purchased a few bits of wood, some boards, a couple of secondhand doors, a secondhand window and some roofing felt and set to work.

I am presently fitting-out the interior and, in time, I will be able to transfer my workbench and equipment from their present location in the conservatory which, as a consequence of my annexation, has not been able to function as a proper conservatory for quite a few years! Once completed, I will share my experiences on here (see How I constructed my workshop - pending)