Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let’s get one thing straight ;-)

I’m an aficionado of old-school methods for scratchbuilding and kit-bashing HO-scale buildings. I like to work mainly in styrene, wood, and card. I haven’t written much on the basics per se other than showing in passing the techniques and tools I’ve used as I proceed with a particular project. But, since I’ve been working on several freelance buildings lately, I thought I’d mention one set of tools that are near and dear: rulers and scales.

Over the years I’ve collected a number of them. Unfortunately I’ve also broken, bent, slashed, lost, gouged and otherwise rendered useless another equally large number. These are the lucky survivors. That upside-down-Y sectioned aluminum ruler is the newest addition I bought at Staples a few evenings ago when Debra and I were picking up office supplies.

I don’t have many dogmatic rules, but I do try to live by this one: don’t use a plastic or wooden scale or ruler as a straight edge to score or cut lines with a knife. I’ve ruined plenty of rulers that way. As a boy, my mother was glad when I started to use that McDonald’s ruler because now I’d stop damaging her good sewing rulers! A few years later I bought a proper model railroader’s scale at George’s Trains. It cost me a couple of dollars or so – a small fortune to me at the time – and it became my standard measuring tool and cutting edge. I’m glad to still have it, and I work with it on just about all my projects. I’d highly recommend buying one.

I like the physical size of HO-scale items, but it seems to me that 1/87.1 is a weird scale for modeling things.  The ratio 1/87.1 means that 1 foot on a regular household ruler represents 87.1 HO sized feet. HO seems to make a little more sense when I think of it in metric terms: HO-scale means 3.5mm on a household ruler represents 1 real foot. There’s still the problem of mixing metric and imperial measure, so the weirdness is only tamed a little. Wikipedia has a good discussion of the historical story behind HO if you want to go into the whys and wherefores behind HO’s existence. The British OO scale – 1/76.2, or 4mm represents a foot – seems somewhat more sensible to me. The models are a little bigger than HO without taking up too much additional space, and the arithmetic involved with scaling things is a little easier to work with: 1 mm represents 3 inches; 0.5 mm represents 1.5 inches. Also, since OO is very close to 1/72 scale, which is a common model aircraft and military modeling scale, there are lots of cross-over possibilities.

I must admit I kind of took up with HO-scale more by accident than by plan. My first train set was HO, the first E.L. Moore building project I was entranced with was presented in HO, and there was lots of HO-scale stuff readily available. I dabbled a little with N-scale back in the ‘70s but nothing came of it. When I reentered the hobby a few years ago, I didn’t reconsider what would be the best scale to start over with, I just went with HO. As I’ve developed my knowledge and interests since then, and although I quite like the streetcars available in HO, I might have re-started with N instead of HO since there’s a lot going on in N that I quite admire – as well, there seems to be a very positive and forward looking vibe there. I have a few ideas I’d like to try in N-scale and hopefully I’ll be able to give them a go in the years ahead.

Well, the point of this ramble is: if you can only buy yourself one measuring tool, get yourself a metal scale engraved with measurements in whatever scale you’re working in as it’ll make measuring, ruling, scoring, and cutting a lot easier.

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