Sunday, August 14, 2022

Time to admit defeat?


The news that Rob Waller has decided to close Boston Largs Works comes as a bit of a shock, but his logic is sound. 

I have the feeling that an artisan, analogue, labour-intensive technology like casting is one that is living on borrowed time.

The trend has been clear in our hobby for a decade or more towards CAD and now 3D printing.

I can't disagree. Looking at the 3D prints my friend Chris Mead has produced for a fellow club members Class 69 conversion, I know that no matter how much time and effort I put into making alternatives, there's no way I could match them. I've seen the finished model, and partly thanks to a superb paint job, you can't tell it's not a modern, injection moulded RTR item. 

I'll admit I've resisted 3D printing for a long while. Yes, I own an additive printer, and the topic has fascinated me for a long while, but I'm a traditional modeller.I like making things with my hands. 

The future though, is largely making stuff on a screen, and seeing it emerge from some resin goop. 

Now, I appreicate the skill involved in all of this. There's a huge learning curve required to grasp 3D CAD. Then you have to work out how best to turn that file into a physical model - it's not as simple as just pointing it in the direction of the printer. 

No, I'm not saying 3D printing is skill-free, it's just a whole different set of skills. 

I hope that for the time being I can see 3D printing as an extra tool in the toolbox of any modeller. It will probably replace a lot of those whitemetal lumps we used to use, and quite a few of the etched ones too. 

But, is this me standing against the tide? Is the day when we give up the craft knife, razor saw and files on the horizon? In my more pessimistic moments, I think it is. 

We are living in "interesting" times. The economy is about to take a kicking. In politics, the bullies are winning, supported by people with naked self-interest. And my escape from this, noodling around with bit of plastic, is always going to produce poorer results than the latest computer made stuff. Which also hits the work I do - who wants to read about making stuff when they prefer to just go and buy it? All modelmaking hobbies being reduced to credit-card waving and owning stuff. 

Someone will point out that photography hasn't killed portrait painting, so there might be space for impressionistic modelling beside the perfect stuff, but I'm not sure how well the parallel holds up. Increasingly, the model railway world belongs to those screaming for perfect models, who then keep them in a box for fear of reducing their resale value, and because actucally building a layout isn't what they are in to. 

Someone tell me I'm wrong.


Steve said...

Hi Phil
There is a lot in what you and Bob say, but I don't think it's time to admit defeat.
Instead, perhaps it's time to admit our preferences and what gives us pleasure.
I love making things, it gives me huge pleasure. Yes, other modellers can make things that are more skillfully built and more prototypically accurate. Yet I get huge pleasure from the build, then looking at what I've made and thinking 'I did that'. So I model for the pleasure of making, not the pleasure of owning a 'perfect' model.
As that's the case I'll keep making what I make, using the materials and tools I use because that's what gives me pleasure.
For many hobbyists this approach can be totally fine. I can see it's different for professional modellers, where a proportion of clients expect super detailed, highly accurate, top quality models. And many pro modellers do just this (using hand and high tech tools).
Personally I appreciate you, and others, showing how to make good looking models with simple techniques and materials. Perhaps there is a place for this in the future... perhaps the cost of living crisis will mean more people want / need to make models from simple (recycled?) materials...
Don't admit defeat!

Anonymous said...

Seems pessimistic Phil :)

There may be "collectors" but there are also people making models because they like making models. Obscure subjects being where this is especially necessary, like modelling New Zealand railways, simply because you can't buy off the shelf models. See or for pragmatic applications of 3D printing. As you say 3D printing is just another tool, and you still need to paint the result!

Anonymous said...

I’m waiting to see the first 3d printed live steam loco!

Paul B. said...

Why worry? You, like myself, are a modeller who does things their way and doesn't follow the latest trend (in fact I tend to avoid anything trendy). Just do your thing your way, its got you this far, and there's always something new to learn.

As for 3D printing, its just a manufactoring process, like injection moulding. The only difference is that anyone with the skill set can be that manufactorer, just look at the crap being sold on eBay. (Or better still, don't.) A printed loco can never in my view be classed as scratchbuilt, as the result can easily be replicated at the push of a button once the initial design work has been done.

Christopher said...

“All modelmaking hobbies being reduced to credit-card waving and owning stuff.”

Phil, I can see your point, but I think that’s being a bit sweeping! Internet searches turn up all sorts of people who enjoy making things and doing something a little different. I think “collectors” have certainly encouraged manufacturers to produce models that we would have never expected to see a few years ago, but that side of the hobby needs to “make hay while the sun shines”! Within the next decade, things are going to change…

”Increasingly, the model railway world belongs to those screaming for perfect models, who then keep them in a box for fear of reducing their resale value, and because actucally building a layout isn't what they are in to.”

Those “collectors” again… If it makes you feel any better, in the next decade or so those people will be dropping off their perches, and their relatives will be dumping their models onto the market thinking that they are valuable. Railway modelling will be a smaller hobby again, but perhaps stronger for it? Assuming of course that we still have a habitable planet in a decade… ;-) (Sorry!)

Phil Parker said...

Collectors might start dropping off the perch, it's already happening with significant impacts in the tinplate Hornby world, but that's a long way away for more modern stuff.

Maybe this is an ego thing - while I like making models, I also like showing them off. But once everything in all the weird scales is available pretty much off the shelf, or at least off the printer, showing off is going to be an exercise in being told that you can buy something better.

This happened many years ago at Tring. A visitor looked at our Clyde Puffers and asked if we would be replacing them with the Langley kit. When we said no, we were happy with them, you could see this just didn't compute. He also seemed have memorised the product range of every manufacturer, sO I doubt he did any modelling.

I do know a small number of people who actually look down on those who make models. Collectors who can't see the fun in making things - their loss you might say, but it's still hard to deal with someone being sniffy about the craft side of the hobby.

Kev said...

Personally, my modeling parameters are set at "limited time, (very) limited budget" and "low-fidelity to the original", so 3D printing (or 2D laser cutting) has little to no interest for me.

But I have wondered if for some who hanker after realism, one eventual endpoint could be computer based 3D simulation rather than anything physical. 3D train simulator games are only just slightly tempting for me now, but once I can customise my own landscape, trackplan, rolling stock, & building, it may just be enough to satisfy my (physically unachievable) desire for a large complicated layout.

As a parallel, if you'd like to marvel at the AI future of 2D/3D computer art, take a look at the first 5 minutes of (youtube search: "this action figure does not exist"). I think it's worth a look.

Anonymous said...

Its been done!