HOW TO WORK WITH HYDROCAL
AND OTHER MODELING TIPS -
THE TRUE ART
LOST WAX CASTING
WHITE METAL CASTING
HOW I LEARNED TO CAST IN BRASS
AND WHITE METAL -
I'd like to take you on a journey.
A journey that took me about a decade to complete-
I could tell you what I found in a single dry how-to chapter however I think it
would be much more fun to trace my path and tell you step by step
how I put the pieces of this metal casting puzzle together.
I will be loading photos to support this work at a later date.
I'm not just satisfied knowing a that a model is built, I want
to know how it was built. Sticks of basswood or styrene into a
building, even cast plaster into masonry are not that hard
to figure out. I can do that. But how about a brass model? Sure,
we can figure out brass is punched, bent and etched, and cast with
intricate detail. But how do they really do it? And can I do it?
I thought a book titled: The Art of Brass, Volume 1, Presse
Eisenbahn, 1982 certainly would have the answers. In reading the title
list I made the mistake of thinking it would be an insight into
the tools and techniques. Indeed, "The Art", of constructing brass
models. Unfortunately it was merely a catalog, a very
nice pictorial catalog, of Kumata & Company Limited (KTM) models.
It had no insight into how it was done.
From time to time there have been visits to various
manufacturers published showing glimpses of how these things are
done. But there has been no definitive work (not that this is
going to be one). I had to feed my thirst for this knowledge in
bits and pieces spread out over many years. Besides just the
pleasure of learning about, art appreciation if you will, another
major reason for myself, as a structure kit manufacturer, was to
add such capabilities to support my work. Many projects had to be
passed over because the right door or window was not available or
the ones that were, were too much of a compromise. If I were just
building a single model for myself I would probably manage to
scratch-build needed items, but if you are planning on producing
a hundred kits or so some sort of reproduction is called for. You
can, and I have, gone outside to Grandt Line Products and others,
and pay a few big bucks to have them done in injection molded
styrene. But for the small runs C. C. Crow is doing something "in
house" was more desirable. More fun.
My friend, Glenn Farley, who you may recognize as an award
winning brass locomotive model builder put it these terms, with
the cost of brass locomotive these days, instead of buying one or
two of the latest and greatest, you can buy a miniature lathe, a
mill, and the casting equipment to make your own. Indeed, Glenn
has proved his theory. His little 0-6-0 L&N steam switcher took
Best in Show at the 2000 NMRA National Convention. Glenn's four part
construction article has just concluded (Sept. 2001) in Mainline
So how'd he do that? Well, I'm going to tell you. At least about
the casting equipment. My search began, as I said, with this book,
The Art of Brass. I bought it blind off a book list. I think it was
forty-five bucks which was a lot of money in 1982. Perplexed, my
desire to know more about this mysterious art lay dormant for several
years. I began writing modeling articles and offering kits. The
kits relied on available parts. As my reputation grew I was able
to approach, or I was approached by other manufacturers offering
their help. Russ Simpson was one such person. Out of the blue one
day a letter arrived offering me his manufacturing services.
Russ Simpson is an interesting fellow. He lives up in gold country,
on a ranch in Placerville, California. He manufactures all sorts
of stuff, from turnouts and ties, to injection molded pieces. When his
letter arrived I was considering the NP 90 ft. Roundhouse. The engine
doors and windows were the hold up. So we arranged a deal, incredibly,
Russ would add them to his catalog. The windows appeared quickly but
the engine doors did not. I waited and waited.
Russ often works in the movie industry. Remember that movie?
Oh, what was it? Star Wars. Yeah, that's it. Russ was the guy who
did all those great models. Lucas Films became huge because of
that film. They only talk to big companies now days, for model
bids, with one exception. Russ Simpson. He's still invited to
participate. So every once in a while Russ disappears from the
model railroad scene because he is working on a movie project.
Apparently that's what happened in this case. I guess we can excuse
him. He has light sabers, the original mock-ups!
Russ has some old-fashioned injection molding machines to
support his work. They are no longer manufactured because they
are not automatic and require the operator to reach in and eject
the molding each time one is made. Not only is this time
consuming but it is dangerous too. OSHA would never approve. Old
machines are grandfathered so they can keep running in small
shops such as Russ's. When he has time.
Russ is busy with all sorts of stuff. His shop was very
interesting. A variety of buildings out behind his house with
injection molding, white metal, wood cutting...
Word got around that my roundhouse project had stalled, in need
of doors. That's when Jack Parker got involved. Jack's another
interesting character. Jack's background includes some mechanical
engineering for Ravell. For instance their famous brick engine house,
which Al Armatage later modified into the Bakery and Theater. Jack
actually designed the original engine house. On one of my visits I
noticed the original mock-up sitting on one of his shelves. It's made
of cardboard! How much more original can you get than that? Yet, Al
Armatage seems to get all the credit, not that he doesn't deserve some
of it. How many model railroaders know it was Jack's model?
In Jack's words, he did the corporate thing, worked for a big
company raising kids in suburban LA. One day he got fed up with
it and noticed Central Valley Model Works was up for sale. It was
well know for producing freight and passenger car trucks. They
were the top of the line for the time and are still sought after today.
The owner's widow wanted the business to stay in southern California.
Jack agreed and bought the company.
Jack explains this upset some mid-western concerns who had their
eye on the company. It seems they wanted to move it to the mid-west
and market it under their name. One of their friends happened to be
in a position to publish an unfavorable report about the products.
Some of the secrets of manufacturing quality trucks had been lost
with the original owner's death. Specifically, how to apply the lacquer
insulted wheels to the axle and keep them properly gauged.
Jack knew he had problems. He fixed it by going to plastic
insulation and he developed a unique rolling test that eliminated
the mistakes. Even though he informed the publisher of this they refused
to acknowledge those efforts and ran the negative review anyway.
This had a great impact on our hobby. Jack was practically run
out of business overnight. He went from being swamped with back orders to
finding cobwebs in his mailbox. The shame is these great products were
removed from our shelves, not because they were bad, but because of
petty greed. The machines still sit idle in the back of Jack's shop.
He refuses to restart them. We can't blame him.
Jack managed to survive by pulling a rabbit out of his hat. The
magic trick was the release of his first injection-molded kit,
his Through Pratt Bridge. There had never been anything like it before.
A beautifully rendered scale model at a reasonable price. It could not
be ignored. It's an interesting story how it came about.
Jack wasn't a machinist, he was an engineer. He had a machinist
friend who was going to do the pattern work. Jack had put the
shop together, the injection molder, lathe, mill, pantograph and
all the supporting equipment you need to run the molding machine.
His partner's job was to cut the patterns but all he wanted to
do was sit around and think about it. Jack kept encouraging this guy
to get started but nothing happened. He had to "think about it". So
finally one day, actually over a weekend, Jack decided he would fool
around a bit. The first thing he cut was a bunch of fences. Yes, the
same ones that he sales. By the time his buddy showed up again Jack
had his toolbox waiting for him at the front door. He wasn't needed
anymore. Shortly Jack had his bridge in full production and it was
You might be wondering what this bedtime story has to do with
investment casting and white metal. You're right, not much,
except it was all a part of my search for those answers. At one
point I was considering getting into injection molding myself.
But visits to Jack Parker, Russ Simpson and Dave Grandt convinced
me otherwise. The largest obstacles are the purchase of the
equipment. It is a major investment. This is just a sideline to
what I wanted to do, manufacture my structure kits. I didn't want
to spend all my time making doors and windows and all the other
things I would need to do to pay for this equipment. I decided I
would wisely leave that to the experts and concentrate on what I
do: Hydrocal castings and structure kits.
So anyway, my roundhouse project had stalled. Jack happens to
be a Northern Pacific modeler. You've probably seen pictures
of his wonderful layout which shares the basement of his
living/business complex. Jack really wanted a brick roundhouse
for his layout. So what's the delay? Russ was busy and couldn't
get to it so I worked out a deal with Jack. I agreed that if he
did them I would build the model for display on his layout. I
think a good deal for everyone. Where better to advertise my
roundhouse than on one of the premiere layouts in the country.
Jack commented that cutting the engine doors was no big deal.
He'd do them anyway, if he were scratch-building the model, he's
cut a mold rather than build six pairs form scratch! Yes, it is
nice to have the tool available.
So the engine doors arrived and along with the Simpson windows
the roundhouse kit came into being. Subsequently, the windows
have been replaced by Grandt Line, when Russ was unable to fill
an order. I need to replace the clerestory windows for the same
reason. But what do you want "for free"?
I should briefly describe an injection molder. No, I'm not an
expert, but I have been exposed to them through my visits with
Jack Parker, Russ Simpson, Dave Grandt and others.
First, let's start with the pattern. You're all familiar with
the product, be it a small part or a larger locomotive shell.
Basically, you have a metal mold. It can be two parts or more.
These molds are clamped together. Plastic pellets (rejects and
scraps can be ground up and added back) are funneled into a
heating element. The fluid plastic, usually by means of a screw,
is forced under pressure into the cavity. There it cools and
solidifies creating our parts. The more sophisticated machines
have cooling elements to control the cooling and springs and pins
automatically eject the parts. Timing and temperature are
The traditional way of cutting molds employs milling out the
cavities. A pantograph may be employed. It is a precise milling
machine that copies a larger pattern. The larger pattern is more
easily made and can be constructed in plastic for instance. Of
course there is a real art form to all this.
These days computers do the work with fancy programs and
expensive machines. We cannot complain about the work, A Proto
2000 locomotive or an Intermountain freight car are beautiful
indeed. Or hobby has come a long way from cardboard and wire.
On a field trip to California I visited Grandt Line Products. I
wish I had brought my camera along because forever I will have
the perfect image of Cliff Grandt burned into my memory busy at
work in his small cluttered shop, projects, parts and tools all
around him, magnifying loop attached to his glasses, fiddling
with his latest tiny project. Something I want to do when I'm
ninety years young. Cliff's son Dave graciously showed us around
the busy Grandt Line shop. They were in the process of setting up
a new CNC machine to replace the old fashion mills and
pantographs. I should mention that it is not just a single machine
to do all these things at the press of a button. A complete
machine shop with drill, lathe, milling machine, grinders and the
skills to run them that makes this possible.
Okay, injection molding is certainly beyond what any model
builder or small time manufacturer like me is going to set up in
his basement. But brass casting or white metal might still be
within reach. So let's take a look at these.
I've always been attracted to white metal. I remember going
home one day from the hobby shop with my brother Phil. We swore
each other to secrecy about how much money we had spent. He had
spent $17.95 plus tax and I, $21.95 plus, on some of these Fine
Scale Miniature kits we had just discovered for the first time.
He bought The Coal Bunker and I bought The Depot. At list price,
in a hobby shop! Ah, those were the days. Our parents would kill
us if they knew how much we had spent. I just couldn't resist
that box of tiny pieces and "super detail" parts FSM is so famous
for. Just the weight of them made me part with my hard earned
cash. I was fifteen or so.
In the back of my mind I've always thought it would be great to
be able to create my own white metal castings. As I established
my structure kit business that desire became louder and louder,
and more practical. Finally, I seriously started wanting to know
more about it. I even wrote a letter to George Sellios of Fine
Scale Miniatures to see if he would provide me with any clues.
George, probably more wisely than I, declined to comment, not
wanting to help out the competition. Perhaps this is wise as I
have been personally thanked for helping inspire a certain
manufacturer of Hydrocal kits. Foolish or not, I take this noble
route in the hope that it improves our hobby. It's not rocket
science. The information is out there. It just takes time to dig
it up. It still takes, I hope, a bit of artistry and talent to
put it to successful use. The bottom line is I'm still near broke
whether I blab or not.
So, where to look next? How about Colorado? I could go off on a
long sidebar about my friend Rooti who I grew up with in
Connecticut who now lives in Colorado working as an engineer for
Ball Aerospace (yea, sort of a rocket scientist) who I go on my
almost yearly motorcycle tours with- but that would be a
completely different subject. Instead, I'll just explain that
visits to Rooti offered a platform to befriend other Coloradans
such as Jim and Jan Haggard of Builders In Scale. Yes, another
well know expert in the field of structure kit manufacturers with
a certain talent for white metal details. I first meant them at
one of the Narrow Gauge conventions. Subsequently, we've become
friends. They are great people. Even if they root for the
Broncos. Anyway, Jim invited me in to see their operation and he
was very open with his explanation of the white metal process.
You start with a metal pattern of what you want to reproduce.
It must be metal because it has to withstand a lot of pressure,
maybe 2000 psi, and 350°:F for about two hours. So plastic is out.
White metal is spin cast in a centrifugal machine in black
organic rubber molds. The rubber molds are vulcanized or hardened
under such heat and pressure. A special machine with heating
elements and a hydraulic jack press do this. Your patterns are
placed in a circle on top of a raw rubber disc. Special metal
cones are placed around the outer edge and will help align the
mold halves later on. A spoke wheel or gate former pattern is
placed in the center. This will distribute the molten metal
equally into the patterns during casting. Another raw rubber disc
is then placed on top. Both discs are treated with talc to help
prevent them from sticking to one another and the patterns. The
disc are placed on top a steel plate which has a matching steel
ring. The mold frame is complete with the addition of a matching
lid. It is then ready to place in the volconizer. The pressure is
pumped up and in about two hours the job is complete.
The rubber mold is removed from the frame and the struggle
begins. I knew I should have used more talc! It is a bit of a
wrestling match, screwdrivers and crowbars are employed to peal
the halves apart and remove the masters. Actually, if you use
enough talc or silicone mold release they'll come right apart.
With that done we have to cut gates and vents into the rubber to
allow paths for the white metal to flow into the cavities and the
air to escape. There is a certain art to this. As is the
subsequent casting. I'm still learning these mysteries. They are
that too. Some things work without trying while others, for no
apparent reason are buggers. Larger bulkier items are usually
trouble free while smaller items like a window with thin mullions
can be quite difficult. I swear (a lot!), sometimes even the
weather effects the process. One good thing, all your white metal
scraps can go back into the melting pot. But is can be
frustrating spinning and spinning and only getting a few to come
out each time.
Convinced I wanted to do white metal I looked into purchasing the
equipment. Tekcast Industries in New Rochelle, NY and no doubt
others will sell it to you, a complete set up will only cost you
about ten thousand dollars. Gee, that's a lot of kits! One day
I noticed an ad in the Seattle paper, someone was selling their
white metal casting equipment. I called to check it out.
As a result I bought a small English-made casting machine
second hand, including a melting pot for under one thousand
dollars. The set up was still shy of the vulcanizing machine,
another two grand, though through another model railroading
friend I have access to.
Chooch Enterprises products have been around for a long time.
Mike O'Connell, the owner, started off working for Disney.
On the side he developed his model railroad products
which not only included the urethane castings and loads he is
well known for today, but he also manufactured some excellent
detail castings and kits, both for structures and rolling stock.
Berkshire Valley now manufactures many of Mike's detail parts.
Mike employed an artist to create many of his masters. One
Christmas Mike's artist asked if it would be okay to make a small
structure caricature and reproduce it as gifts for his friends
and relatives. Mike said sure, why not. It turned out so well
that they developed this into a multi-million dollar business
employing several dozen full time workers and hundreds of per
part artisans under the brand name Michael's Miniatures.
Mike finally sold the business a few years ago. As he
explained, he was running a business and not making railroad
models as he wanted to be. In semi-retirement now he has retooled
the Chooch line and is working on other model railroading
endeavors including his Proto:48 dream layout of downtown Tacoma.
Mike still has all of his manufacturing equipment available to
support his hobby. Thought not all of it is set up because of his
move to the country, it includes white metal, urethane, injection
molding and lost wax. Mike agreed to leave me use his volconizer
for my limited needs. In return I offered some of my patterns.
My original goal wasn't to get into full production anyway. All
I really wanted to do was fool around a bit and be able to do my
own small runs. My 9" casting machine would economically fulfill
these needs. The molds are clamped together with four nuts which
must be removed and returned for each cycle so it is slow and
tedious. Any long runs and I'll want to go outside for
production. Production equipment employs compressed air to clamp
the molds together. Half a day of doing it by hand really wears
What is white metal anyway? Well, white metal is a broad term
for many low melting temperature casting alloys. We are most
familiar with the lead based alloys, which have been much used in
our hobby. They were widely used in type setting for the printing
industry and are well suited for our miniature needs. A typical
Lead based alloy combines 10-40% tin, 3% antimony and the balance
lead. Tin based alloys add smaller amounts of lead and antimony
to tin. Zinc and copper based alloys melt at higher temperatures
and we'll discuss them later with our description of brass. The
lead and tin alloys melt between 500-600°F. The ratio of the
metals modify the alloys hardness, tensile strength, fluidity and
temperature range. Your metal supplier can provide you with
specific data. To avoid the possible health hazards of lead I
mostly use a tin based alloy. Lead supposedly flows a little
better but I don't need to know that. The tin generally works
fine for what I am doing, small doors and windows.
Belmont Metals, 330 Belmont Ave., Brooklyn, New York 11207 has
a full line of these non-ferrous alloys to choose from. You may
find a local distributor as I have in metropolitan areas.
For white metal molds, because of the high temperatures and
pressures of the vulcanizing process, your patterns need to be
resilient and your best bet is metal. This brings us back around
to examine the lost wax investment casting process. What better
place to find this than Pacific Fast Mail. PFM of course is well
known for their many years of importing fine brass models from
the likes of Fujiyama, Tenshodo and United. Each month for what
seemed like forever their ads covered the back page of Model
Railroader. The question was always what are they going to tempt
us with this month?
A lot of the patterns for these fine models were done here in
the States. In the later years you could purchase their parts
from Precision Investment Associates, PIA. One day I managed to
get myself invited over to get a look-see. It was an eye opener.
I only had a vague idea of the process. Here, I was allowed to
see it first hand and ask all the questions I could think of. Don
Drew walked me through the process.
It started off with patterns. While specifically how those were
done wasn't directly answered indirectly I understood they could
be done just about anyway you wanted them to be done. That is,
the thing I learned was they were reproduced in RTV silicone
rubber molds much like I was already using with my plaster
castings so I understood at once that the patterns could be
whatever you were most comfortable with. Styrene, wood, metal,
plaster... it didn't matter.
The new thing I learned was the duplicates were wax, heated in
a pressure pot and injected into the mold. The molds were cut
too, which was something new to me, having most always worked
with flat molds. The pattern would be suspended on a gate,
typically an eighth inch tube or so, which is placed in a frame,
three quarters or an inch thick, one and a half to two inches
wide and maybe three inches tall, depending upon the size and
shape of your pattern. The gate tube is mounted on a nipple which
is shaped like the wax injector's nozzle. Don explained that they
were using Dow Corning's type J rubber which is harder than the
3110 type I'm used to. Being thicker it requires vacuum
de-airing, something I had been getting away without doing.
Anyway, once the mold has cured it is carefully cut apart. A
sharp scalpel is used and the part line is wiggled so as to
create a non-flat surface so when the mold halves are put back
together they register and the part is aligned. An expert can do
this so they align perfectly and no part line is seen on the
On one particular part they were injecting the piece was
hollow, made so by injecting around a brass rod, which was then
pulled out and replaced in the mold for the next.
To inject the wax the mold is held firmly together between two
flat blocks. The nipple end is then pressed into the wax pot
which releases the valve and allows the wax to flow in. With the
right wax, temperature and pressure the mold will fill and almost
instantly you will have an identical piece.
Do that a bunch of times and you have enough for a tree. No, we
aren't doing a scenery project. A tree refers to the shape of the
built up wax patterns. The individual waxes are attached to a wax
stem or trunk one at a time with a hot knife or tool. Typically,
dental tools are heated over an open flame for this.
Once the tree is complete the next step is to invest it. No, we
aren't taking it to the bank. It is placed inside a stainless
steel flask and investment plaster is poured in. This is a
special plaster formulated with silica so it can withstand high
temperatures. To be precise, 1350 degrees. The mixing ratio with
water must be very precise and you only have a short time to work
with it. To make sure there are absolutely no air bubbles it is
vacuum de-aired twice, once in the mixing stage and again after
pouring into the flask- so no smoke breaks.
There are a bunch of other rules too. Some are explained with
the investment plaster. A special wetting agent, a debubblizer,
is used. The waxes must not touch the flask and should be kept
back from the end, or top as you are pouring it, or you risk a
blow out, which believe me, you don't want when you are talking
about molten metal flying all over the place! Generally, all the
limbs should be pointing upward so the metal can flow into them.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two ways of casting,
centrifugal and vacuum. The rules are much the same. With vacuum,
the flask is perforated so the vacuum can take effect equally all
around the piece. With centrifugal, the flask is a solid tube.
The investment plaster, like everything it seems that has to do
with jewelry making is expensive, like a dollar a pound, so you
do not want to waste it. And no, you cannot reuse it. So you want
to pack the waxes in and choose the proper size of flask.
Okay, with that done, the next step is to burn out the wax.
Actually, that would be very smelly and smoky so you heat the
flasks up to about 250 degrees with them facing down (just like
you poured them) over a wax collecting tray. At this temperature
they begin to steam, melt the wax and it drips out. You won't get
it all out but some. It's now time to pull the tray out and flip
the flasks over. Slowly, you bring the temperature up and steam
turns into smoke and you shut the door on your burnout oven
completely for the final climb to temperature, 1350 degrees as I
mentioned. Any higher and your investment plaster will start to
break down. My little kiln doesn't have an automatic temperature
control so I must tend it, usually over night, so it makes for an
interesting weekend. It's exciting enough that I'm usually up for
it but if I were doing it more than a couple of times per year
I'd want a fancy control.
After reaching temperature you want to bring it down to casting
temperature, which can be different depending upon what metal you
are casting. Higher for gold or platinum. We are using "Art
Caster's Brass" and like to cast from 1100 to 900 degrees. We
think the higher temperature works because we are novices and by
the time we pour the metal it has probably dropped to 900°.
PFM used and nice electro-melt. For five hundred dollars or
more we decided to use a gas torch, a small acetylene outfit
refitted with a "rosebud" nozzle and propane. It puts out an
pretty nice flame that heats up the charcoal grill in a snap, but
that's another story.
Okay, things are getting exciting now. The flasks are in the
kiln and at temperature. Did I mention that we want to carefully
measure out the right amount of brass? Well, yeah, lets go back
to when we had the wax trees. We want to weight them and multiply
that by the specific weight of brass, about 7.2 and add a little
for the button, or base of our tree. Now, somehow we have to keep
track of which is which as we go along and keep our fingers
crossed that we guess right. Are we having fun yet?
Okay, back to work, we are heating up the brass in a pourable
crucible with our big torch. You want to be careful because the
fumes contain zinc, which is harmful. PFM had a big hood over
their equipment and I work out in my garage at the door, with a
big fan sucking away from me and it seems to work fine. And of
course you want to be very careful with the torch. The first time
I used it I suddenly realized that just about everything around
me was flammable. So think about it a bit. You'll want gloves,
goggles, sturdy clothes or maybe an apron. Lock up the cats and
dogs unless you want a brass likeness of them. Kids are bad too.
It takes a while to heat up the brass and you don't want to
boil it. At the right temperature you can see it rolling. Okay,
out comes the flask. It's either dropped into the vacuum chamber
or placed in the centrifugal caster.
For vacuuming, it's dropped in and the pump is turned on. A
gauge shows if it is sucking and then you pour the molten brass
in. If you have guessed right you have melted just enough to see
it rise to the top with a bright orange button. With my
centrifugal caster, the crucible is actually a part of the
machine. The machine is spring loaded so you haven't forgotten to
wind it up have you. No, okay. So the flask is brought over and
placed in the cradle, it's slid together with the crucible and
the moment of truth has arrived. It's released and with a flick,
hopefully the right amount of metal is flung inside the cavities
as it spins round and round.
Now we have so more fun! After a moment or two the flasks are
removed and dropped into a tub of water. This is exciting because
they are still frying hot and a miniature explosion erupts. This
is okay because it helps break the remaining investment plaster
away from our new brass trees. PFM used a garden nozzle hooked up
with air pressure to help blast away the plaster. After they have
cooled down a bit we can reach in and hopefully examine some
brand new detail parts. Occasionally we have screwed up and there
is nothing there, a bad spin, no vacuum, a total or partial blow
out, or maybe there are bubbles or cracks, or other flaws like
bad brass (maybe it was too hot, too cold, too much flux). But
hopefully, we have done everything right and are delighted by
what we have done. But wait, we aren't done yet. We still have to
clean them off and cut them from the sprue. No wonder brass
models cost so much! Yes, this is a lot of work. But worth it. It
seemed so much simpler when I visited PFM.
So here I am with this odd assembly of casting equipment and
process cobbled together. I am now able to create custom white
metal parts for my structure kits.
I started off with the Ridgway Brick Office Building. Actually,
it was a lesson in itself. The school of hard knocks. As it was
my first experience, I learned about shrinkage the hard way. I
knew there was going to be some to deal with only I
underestimated and wound up having to do most of the patterns and
molds all over again. It took forever! What was I getting myself
into here? Overall shrinkage is not a constant either. Some
things shrink more than others. Vaguely it seems to depend upon
length and thickness, though the weather may have something to do
with it too. There are so many variables it is hard to come up
with any set rules. It is going to take me a while to figure this
stuff out. Right now I guess somewhere between two and three
percent overall, more on long skinny things and less on short and
fat. Since I am better at figuring the shrinkage of Hydrocal it
would be better to do the white metal parts first however that
doesn't seem to happen as it is very difficult to wait through
that long process (and expense) without beginning to work on the
After the office building I next turned my attention onto the
100 ft. Stone Engine House. I had actually made the wall patterns
many years earlier, knowing that someday I would indeed have the
capacity to make the custom windows for them. With my lessons
learned with the office building regarding shrinkage I was able
to pull it off in one shot, however there was doubt throughout
the process. All this hard work- what if I'm wrong? I had
carefully measured the office building's masters and compared
them to the final white metal parts. These will follow the same
rules. They did, close enough.
The first few projects are always the most exciting. Just as
the first few sets of castings are, but then it becomes, well,
sort of boring. This is really compounded on the production side
of my poor white metal casting equipment. It just wasn't meant
for high volume. Again, I think because I am still learning this
stuff, some of my castings have very high rejection ratings.
Some, I'm only getting 10-20% good parts per spin so it takes all
day to get a pitiful supply. This is not good. But I plug away.
I really when to town on the O-scale Wolf Creek Saloon.
Unfortunately, I listened to my good friend Steve when he
suggested that I do an interior scene. He just meant buy a couple
of detail parts from other sources- not go crazy like I did. It
sort of took on a life of its own. I started imagining what might
be inside and one thing lead to another. There was a pool table,
but not just a regular one, it was a big fancy "billiards" table.
Then there's a bar at the back, with a fore bar, some stools and
tables. There had to be a jukebox. A cigarette machine, TV.
Let's see, we needed a whole bunch of bottles, all shapes, all
sizes. We need Joe the bartender, and this guy Mac, an old guy
who is just always there. There was this empty spot in the corner
that at first I had a garbage can there, and then, hey, we've got
to have a pinball machine. Before you know it, we had a deluxe
Not bad for my first O-scale kit.
What a pain though. The whole process took months, from creating
each one of the patterns, to RTV molds, to waxes, to brass.
Then into white metal molds and finally white metal parts.
One full pound's worth! Some of them are easy to cast, others are
nearly impossible. Err! Good thing I am only doing 125 sets.
People ask me if I am going to sell them separately. NO, I am
not. I am not in the small parts business. I am in the high
quality craftsman structure kits business. It is only for that
reason that I do this.
In 1984, about the same time I was starting by business, I noticed an ad
for a new model kit company Builders In Scale. It was for their kit No. 1,
Weiry & Sons Well Drilling & Irrigation Co., featuring white metal detail
parts. While I didn't buy the kit I watched the annual ads for their next ten
limited run kits along with a growing product line.
I forget which convention it was that I first met the nice folks behind
Builders In Scale, Jim and Jan Haggard, probably a narrow gauge convention. Before
too long we became friends. I purchased some white metal castings to sell with
some of my kits and visited them on several trips to Colorado. They were wonderful
hosts and I enjoyed not only the cook's tour of their basement modeling empire but
an insiders tour of their model railroading friends in the Denver area.
At one point we were talking about collaborating on an O scale kit with me
providing the Hydrocal wall castings however that never materialized. In 2002 I
received a letter indicating Builders In Scale was up for sale. Jim had become
involved with the new Denver Aquarium. So much so he had gone back to school with
the intention of earning a PhD in marine biology and becoming a teacher. We worked
out the details and BIS was moved to Washington state in 2002.
The main factor that made me decide to buy BIS was the 600 or so white metal
details. When you break down how much time it takes to turn one from an idea into
a white metal production part it's about a day each. That's two years of pattern
building and mold making, never mind all the rest, it was a great deal.
Ooh, Ooh, Ooh-
Hey, I've got this great idea for a new white metal detail part. If only I can
get it out of my head. Wait, I can figure this out. Okay, here's what we'll do...
It depends upon the part, but I'll take some time to consider what's the best
route then I'll sit down at my workbench and start building the master pattern.
It can be made out of wood, metal, paper, wax, plastic- it doesn't matter if
I'm going to make a rubber mold out of it. Whatever works best. If it's a simple
part maybe I'll skip the mold and do it in metal, or as a burn-out-able direct
investment. But if it is a complex pattern or I need duplicates I'll take the
time to make an intermediate RTV mold of the part in which wax is injected,
turning those into lost wax brass investment castings, which become production
masters for the white metal molds, vulcanizing those molds as the final step
before you are ready to cast.
Each one of these steps can take hours, days, week and even months to complete.
It's taken years of experience, trail and error, failed attempts, successful ones,
an accumulation of knowledge, shop space, tools, time and equipment that allows me
to take those thoughts out of my head and turn it into something tangible in my hand.
I know each one of these parts by heart because I put my heart and soul into them.
I've done a couple hundred to date.
In 2002 I purchased Builders In Scale that includes about 600 detail part masters.
While I do not have that direct heart to heart connection with each BIS part as I do
my own I value them greatly nonetheless. I know how difficult they were for
Jim Haggard to create. Some are very simple while others are amazing things. They
are what makes Builders In Scale special. And now they are my things.
So here's what I do not understand. Why in the world would another manufacturer
risk their reputation by pirating my parts? There's just no excuse for it. I guess
they think they can get away with it, that we don't care, or maybe won't notice.
Sort of like shoplifting, they think one or two little items won't matter, then it's
three, four... Where will it end? The problem is I cannot compete with someone who
doesn't take all the steps necessary to take an idea and turn it into a part in hand.
These parts do not fall from trees. Just because you do not know where the parts
came from does not give you the right to reproduce them. The person making the part in
the first place has the sole right to reproduce them (copyright) and recoup the cost of
doing so (not just the cost of making a mold but the time, skill and expertise)
plus a small (or large) profit. At least that's the way it's susposed to work.
Unfortunately, some people believe otherwise. They have shamelessly taken my Builders
In Scale detail parts, Fine Scale Miniature parts, and others- and made copies
of them without asking the owners' permission.
A Builders In Scale workbench knock-off, top left (we had to reverse the photo to be sure),
in another manufacturer's advertisement that appeared in a recent Walthers sales
bulletin. Our ligitimate workbench is pictured on the right.
I discovered more pirated parts on their web page including our electric meter,
welding set, anvil and more.
The pirated parts (below) are poorly done with excess flash and diminished detail.
They are also taking parts from George Sellios' Fine Scale Miniatures.
Well, I have kindly asked them to stop.
They say they will so I will give them some time to clean up their act. I hope they
do. They claim that they must have gotten the parts years ago from Dave Flectcher's
Colonial Casting Company- who was sued by George Sellios for selling knock-off copies
of FSM parts. Since Flecther wound up in jail for much worse matters apparently they
thought is was okay to use the parts. The excuses go on and on. Piraters pirating
I spoke to George Sellios and he explained that he is well aware of the problem
here and elsewhere. Years ago he sued Fletcher and his health has suffered because of it.
So he is not too excited about returning to court. Now think about that for a minute.
Here's a fellow the hobby owes a great deal to. Over the years he has produced hundreds
if not thousands of these fantastic detail parts we all love. He didn't take them from
anyone else. He sat down at his workbench and built them one-by-one under a telescope.
We need to respect that incredible contribution. It is very unique. Without it our hobby
would be that much less. Not only is it wrong to make pirated parts but it is just as wrong
to buy them. So please don't.
Thought I am very tempted to name the manufacturer who has been ripping us off we'll
give him some time to replace those parts. Six months, a year?
Below is the often reproduced pirate's flag. In keeping shinny I actually drew it
up myself- after looking online for some "free clip-art" but realizing I'd better practice
what I preach!
All patterns, instructions, drawings and photos are copyright C. C. Crow.
Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited by law without my expressed written
Please respect the efforts of all manufacturers in this regard.
While copyright laws are complicated the idea is simple and straightforward.
The moment something is written down, recorded, photographed, drawn, painted,
sculpted or created the person doing so owns and controls the rights to its
reproduction. It does not have to be registered, it does not have to be published,
it doesn't have to have the little circle around the C marked on it. It belongs
to the person who made it. So hands off! Make your own! We are selling you the
castings to make a model with, we are not selling you the copyright.
So in early 1984 I'm just getting into business selling my first couple of kits.
I need a good name. A great one like Fine Scale Miniatures, Pacific Fast Mail,
Northwest Short Line, Central Valley Model Works. Something that will be recognized,
coined, easily known. But what? I made a list, I forget what all the possibilities
were, dumb things like Pacific Silk Express, Northwest Silk Express... no, no, no.
Blue Lake Line. No, too placid. Tripple Crown? No, too regal. Finally I settled on
Puget Sound Models and registered the name with the state for tax purposes.
No sooner had I paid the fee when word was passed that some guy in Kenmore, WA was
selling knock-offs of PFM brass diesel truck side frames. They hadn't even bothered
to scratch off the PFM logo. Funny thing was they were using the name Puget Sound
Models! Our state does not care if duplicate names are registered, they don't care,
they just want the tax money! Trademarks and brand names are Federally registered.
At that moment I knew the name I was going to use on my models, C. C. Crow,
my own. No one could mess with that. Though eople sometimes do get me confused
with Crow River Products who also made Hydrocal kits.
I describe another incident on the scratch building stock panel page.
See : SCRATCH LIST PIRATES
And one more. This is one of those fuzzy stories that I'm not completely clear on
the details so I will leave out the names. It's heresay as Jim Haggard told me this
years ago and he's passed away so I cannot call him up to refresh the details.
Jim had purchased the O scale white metal detail parts from a friend who was going
through a nasty divorce. Somehow his ex got possession of the brass masters along
with a bunch of his other model railroad items and took them to a swap meet and sold
them for next to nothing just for spite. She had no right to do so as was settled in
the courts. But the O scale parts Jim now owned the rights to started showing up from
another source- who was unaware that they were stolen. Most of the masters were
eventually returned. I guess the lesson is to ask questions and get it in writing.
If the deal looks too good to be true- it probably is. Such things do not fall from
CROW, that's my real name. The two C's are my initials. Clarence Clinton Crow.
Actually I'm the third too. I go by Clint, or CC as my business name.
Oh, sorry, I went off on a tangent there. We were talking about metal casting...
Okay, so the reason I'm telling you all this, telling you all these secrets,
exposing techniques, how to do this, how to do that, is because I like big holes
in my feet. Perhaps that's true, I've shot myself several times. South River Modelworks
and others have thanked me for getting them started in the business. I figure if
you know the whole story- not just that you can make a mold and duplicate anything
you want, any fool can do that, but if you know how the masters are built, then maybe,
just maybe, you'll try it yourself and if you are really good at it then we've added
something good to the hobby and I am happy to help.