Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back to the Railroad

     The holiday season sure makes it tough to find time to just sit and write for a while,but I did want to catch you up on my progress with making  the train.   I love when I get "off track" and forget about sticking with plans and just start designing things my way.  It's all part of the challenge!

     I'm still working on the passenger cars, but that's a very slow process and besides I had this wild idea and couldn't wait to see if I could do it.  I believe I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I wanted to display the train along the top of the headboard of our bed.   I'll post some pictures so you can better understand how that might work, but for right now, my focus was not just making some more straight track and have it run straight, but I wanted to see if I could build curved track and make it look like the train was coming out of the wall and across the top of the headboard!

     It's a challenge enough making the rails out of wood with all the cross ties, but making curved rails was going to be fun, especially since there are no plans to do such a thing.   The rails are somewhat like an "I" beam, so even though they are small, it's not too hard to run a profile on each side of the rails to make that, but that process won't work if you cut the rails in a curve first, so my only other option was to bend the rails once they were shaped like the "I" beam.

     I've never tried steam bending before, so I thought this would be a good time to learn.  I started reading up on how to "steam" wood and realized that it really wasn't that big of a deal.  The first thing was to make my straight rails ( decided to make them approx. 45" long), so I could attach them to the bridge I already built for the steam engine and coal car and that would allow a curve from the center section of the headboard to the back wall on the left side of the headboard so the train would look like it was coming out of the wall at about a 45degree angle.

      Sorry, really hard to get a good close up of the actual profile of the rails, but it gives you the idea.
Now it was time to build the steam box.  I built mine from some scrap plywood I had, but the next time I believe I will build it from PVC pipe instead. 

The one thing they recommend about steaming wood is to make the steaming box no bigger then necessary to put your wood in to be steamed.  Your wood also has to be supported in a way that the steam can penetrate the wood from all sides, in other words, you just can't lay the wood in the steaming box.  I took and drilled a small hole in each side of the box and slid a piece of coat hanger through from one side to the other.  I did this in four different locations along the length of the box so the  pieces I wanted to steam would be suspended on the wire cross bars.

Next I had to bore a large hole towards the end and make a plate that would be able to sit on the steam source and allow the steam to enter the box.  Oh, I forgot to mention, I needed a way to boil water to make steam and since I didn't have any other means, I moved my operation into our kitchen so I could use our stove.  Here's my set up once I had my box built, a pot of water on the stove and my steaming box stretched across the stove and counter.

     Before I steamed the rails I took a scrape piece of plywood and cut the shape of the curve I wanted my track to be. It was to be a template to use to clamp the rails to to make the curve.  The one mistake I made though; I made the jig to the exact curve I wanted the final track to be and didn't allow for the rails to actually spring back a little when they were taken off the form.  It turned out OK since the actual curve was not real critical and there was plenty of curve when I finished, but I'll have to remember that in the future if I do any steam bending where the radius is critical to the design.

Here's a picture of my famous steaming box set up in the kitchen!

Once I put the rails in the box and brought the water to a boil, I covered the opened end of the box with a towel.  Do not seal off the box tight, it will build up pressure and could explode.  It's amazing how hot it gets!  Make sure you are wearing gloves when you start handling this.   Since my rails are only 5/8" tall and 3/8" wide, it only had to steam about 15 minutes.

When I took the rails out of the steaming box, I immediately put them on the jig and starting in the middle, I clamped the rails to the shape of the template.  I let them stay on the clamps all night and the next morning when I removed the clamps, whoa-la, I had two curved rails!  That is so cool.

I made 45 cross ties out of Wenge, built a couple different spacing jigs and started gluing the cross ties to the rails.  This was a very slow process, since my spring clamps took up so much space, I could only glue 3 cross ties in place at a time.

So after 3 days of gluing, clamping, let dry, remove and do 3 more, I finally made it to the end!
Here's a picture of the track when finished and one picture of the track tied in with the train and how it will work on the top of our headboard.

     Now my next project will be to design and build a tunnel portal that will mount at the wall to give the appearance of the track actually coming out of the wall and across the top of the headboard.  When I get all the cars made for the train, it will reach from one side of the headboard to the other.
     Here's one more picture showing the train and just the bridge centered in the middle.  I'm thinking I will probably just run the track straight across the right side of the headboard, but who knows, I've got a couple more ideas floating around in my head so we'll see.

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