Racking Tools

My workbench early 2016.

Never static, always something to be added as can be seen below. This configuration is temporary until the layout nears completion when the bench part will be divided into 2 sections, both of which will wheel under the layout for storage until needed (that prediction proved to be incorrect).  Storage drawers will then reside on existing shelves under the layout. Note the suitcase vacuum cleaner under the bench – perfect for servicing the table saw above.

What prompted me to recently implement the storage of the work area below the benchwork was that the central work area, whilst convenient in the early construction stage, became a TOWERING MONOLITH in the room. It was becoming impossible to get around it to operate the layout.

Now it looks like this:But, the storage parts and tool drawers don’t work under the layout! Too much bending and kneeling required. The “sawnoff” work desk is OK and the horrible coloured green drawers hold items conveniently when the desk is rolled out but I can’t find other stuff. My plan is to build a “Dalek” (for want of a better description) which will roll out from under the bench to the left of the desk. It will hold all of my parts storage drawer sets and other tools on a lazy susan style. More in a future post.

The photographs below might provide you with some ideas to improve your work area:

The scalpel is kept safe and sharp in the piece of PVC pipe fitted to the simple wooden rack. A range of drilled holes caters for a variety small shafted tools. The blue jig is for bending the legs of discrete electronic parts. It was purchased from MERG UK.
The screwdriver set came with a rack but the pin vices are mounted in slots cut into a piece of aluminium angle. As there are 4 different size collet chucks, I have one of each size ready to go. The number of bands marked on each tells me the size. Sometimes simple round head screws will do to rack hand tools as is the case with the side cutters and spanner.
The Dremel is housed in an offcut of PVC pipe. I use this method a lot. Get friendly with a plumber.
More PVC pipe offcuts screwed to the back plates hold: large pliers, crimping tool, piano wire cutters, a “Bosch” rechargeable screwdriver, digital vernier calipers and a pair of scissors. The tap wrench holder is made from thin gal iron.
Jewellers files are a must. The tapered reamer is very handy for enlarging or cleaning up holes in thin material.
This is a neat little saw and ideal for cutting thin materials such as thin plywood, styrene sheet, PC Board etc. Below that a drawer for pliers, one for drills, screwdrivers etc, and one for various sheet materials for structures. Multimeters are handy as is a garbage bin and a couple of extra sets of storage drawers under bench. Just to the left of the saw is a little wooden box holding an oilstone to sharpen blades.
You can never have too much storage – and it needs to be close at hand. Hence my need to build a new rolling storage “Dalek”.
A magnifying lamp, a set of 2X magnifiers and a 10W LED light helps with the aged eyes. I incorrectly used a Warm White light rather than a Cool White light as apparently the latter (approx 6000K) is better particulalrly when dealing with paint colours.
Above the roll of solder is a 12V outlet for testing.
The yellow handle tool in the PVC rack are my best wire strippers.
A barrage of test leads hang out of the way but easy to reach. There are 3 different diameter rolls of solder facing forward and a roll of tinned copper wire above them along with spare 0.7mm solder and some solder wick.

Sometimes little things are important – the oft used 150mm s/steel rule hangs from a round head screw but has a litle rubber foot fitted to keep the rule clear of the surface so that you can easily lift it off.
The yellow key shaped object is a special stripper to cut through the outer insulation of multi-core cable.
The grubby blob of “Blue Tack” is used to hold things in place on the workbench while soldering, photographing etc.



Solder Fumes Disperser

I have never been happy with the fumes from lead based soldering wafting into my face. A properly fitted extractor hood would be ideal but I cannot justify the cost or space for hobby use. I know I probably should use lead free solder but I have never been happy with the finished joint in that either.

The simple device described below at least blows the fumes across the work area for dispersal, instead of up into my nose.I have recycled a computer cooling fan (12v 300mA) wired to a fan speed control which was also recycled. I notice that you can buy the simple controller on eBay at $3.40 AU from China. It is adjustable to give enough airflow to move the fumes. without being too draughty.My unit plugs into a 12v outlet on my workbench – also available for testing various MERG & other projects.
TOOL Racking and Storage will be the subject of another post.

Drilling Holes in Foam

Since my layout uses foam sheets as a trackbed, there is a need to drill holes, often many of them, through the foam.
The drill used is made from a piece of metal tube. I use brass tube which does the job and is available in in a variety of appropriate diameters (eg. K&S). I use two main sizes:

  • 6mm for track feeders and points (turnout) wiring.
  • 12mm for mounting Servos in foam
  • + 10mm for other odds and ends

You could use aluminium tube but it doesn’t hold its edge well. Steel tube would work well if you could get the size.

This is why I needed to drill lots of holes in foam: Track feeders; Points wiring; Servo Mounting plus other odds and ends.
Prepare the cutting edge by bevelling the end of the tube on the INSIDE.
I carry out that operation on a lathe using a scraping tool but it could be done in a drill for short tube drills.
It may even be possible to use a tapered reamer to form the bevel. There may be a need to touch-up the edge from time to time.
Use a battery drill on a fast speed. This 12mm hole is through 50mm foam to fit a micro servo
(eg Tower Pro SG90 or my preference Micro 9g Metal Gear Servo). The marks on the “drill” indicate just how deep I need to go for the servos.
The result is a very clean hole
For 12mm brass tube it is necessary to reinforce the end held in the drill to prevent crushing.
I machined a small piece of aluminium in the lathe (about 20mm long) and epoxied it into the top end. But anthing will do eg. a piece of dowel or plastic can be hand filed while spinning in a power drill and have a (say) 6mm 1/4″ hole drilled through.  Or fill the end with epoxy and drill a hole.
A hole is necessary through the middle so you can use something to push the waste foam out.
Pushing the waste out… and below:

Here 4 holes have been quickly drilled to accept a servo with minor trimming.
In this photo a hole was drilled under a point to carry the wiring from the micro switch under the layout.
Note the use of a length of paper drinking straw to line the hole so that the chemicals in the foam don’t attack the wire insulation.
The straw is held in place with a dab of PVA woodworking glue or similar.

This is the underside of the layout showing five 6mm holes, lined with a drinking straw, to carry track feed droppers.
The centre 6mm hole carries 3 wires from the microswitch fitted to the point.
The 4 x 12mm overlapping holes have accommodated the micro servo and its connecting wire.
Working Expanded Styrofoam (EPS) can produce a SNOW STORM!!
I use a suitcase type vacuum cleaner with the nozzle directed at the work area whenever shaping EPS
The drilling process is fairly mess free but care needs to be taken when pushing the waste out of the drill.
The attachment shown above holds itself on by suction and has a hole to accept a drill to capture waste before it escapes!
Brilliant for working up under a layout. My suitcase type vacuum came from a local chain store (BigW in Australia).

Drilling Acrylic Panels

Drilling holes in acrylic sheet is easy with a small modification to the cutting edge of the drill. You should then have clean holes with no cracking in the acrylic.

Shown above is a small drill with the cutting edge suitably modified such that it has a “scraping” action, rather than digging into the plastic. The diagram below shows the effect required. Some sources indicate that the included angle of a drill for acrylics should be around 60° rather than the normal 120°
I don’t subscribe to this view as it is already difficult enough to grind the cutting edge of very small drills without having to alter the included angle as well. I use standard drills and just “blunt” the cutting edge as shown later.
Drill angles
Here is a set of modified drills I keep on the workbench with a piece of drilled acrylic so that I can test the fit of things like switches, bolts and screws etc.
This is one way to produce the “scraping” effect on the cutting edge. Use a Dremel tool mounted in a holder or in a vice with rubber jaws.
Make sure you wear eye protection and a face shield in this operation.
It is also possible to “touch” the cutting edge on a fine bench grinding wheel provided it has sharp corners but the Dremel is best for tiny drills. This photo shows a diamond impregnated disk but a normal brown abrasive disk will work (with a face shield). Do both cutting edges on the drill.
I always use a magnifier to carry out this operation.

Here is an interesting link from an Aussie Plastic Fabricator on how a pro sharpens his drills and other tools for plastic.

Strain Relief

How to ease the problem of working under a fixed layout.

With advancing age it becomes increasingly difficult to work under the layout. There are some alternatives such as tilting or fold-up layouts but they have disadvantages. I didn’t want a portable layout so my layout is screwed to the walls and supports. The layout height is 1020mm (3’4″) with a floor to head clearance of 840mm (2’9″) under the layout. Having the seat close to the floor was mandatory.

So I had to figure out a way to work with at least some comfort under the layout. I tried a very low stool on rollers but on my lino floor it was just too prone to sliding around (rocketing around might be a better explanation) and had no back support. The back support is what I need along with a stable base.


This is the prototype (and final product) to allow me to drag it around the floor. Made from workshop offcuts (pineboard and MDF) and some old fabric padding.
The other bit of padding on the floor looks like an offcut and it is – but I use it to kneel on while I roll (collapse) into the seat.
I just experimented with the back angle, hence the hinges plus they were also laying around the workshop. The other gadget visible in this photo is a locking clamp to which I have attached a roll of solder.
This is clamped up under the layout on some appropriate part of the frame and provides solder at a level close to the work.
When soldering under a layout DON’T have any part of your body UNDER THE SOLDERING AREA for obvious reasons.