Part one by David Carpenter

So, you would like to have a go at model engineering? Well, the first thing to do is to make a plan of what you want to do, now and later. There is just one word of advice here, do not be too ambitious.

A high proportion of models are not finished because people do not realize how big a commitment they are taking on. That 7 1/4in. gauge express locomotive, or 4in. scale traction engine is mighty tempting. But if you only have the odd hour or two in the evenings and weekends, it would take you a lifetime, although you will most certainly give up a fraction of the way through.

Before you do anything read as much as you can, and get hold of  some second hand complete old magazine volumes, to get a feel for what is involved in making various types of model. Building something in metal is on a whole different scale to making a model aircraft, or boat.

Then ask the question, what type of model do I want to build? First? Eventually? Do you really want to build it, or is the attraction the idea of ‘playing trains’ or taking a traction engine for weekend rallies? If so, then why not buy a ready made one? They are truly incredible value. Because most models are built by amateurs they do not command ‘professional’ prices, even though their quality might be every bit as good.

In the past, most models were built by trained engineers as a hobby. Anyone buying a second-hand model built by a skilled toolmaker should be highly satisfied. However, the generation of time-served engineers is getting thin on the ground.  Fortunately, the fascination of a steam or I/C engine still inspires plenty of men, and occasionally (and brilliantly) women, to take up model engineering.

So, unless you are only going to buy and run a ready-made piece of craftsmanship, decide how much time you have to devote to your hobby. Be honest. If it really is just a few hours a week, admit that you are limited in what you can do. Bearing in mind that the castings and materials for a large locomotive can cost as much as a small family car, how much can you afford? How much space do you have?

One option to consider is a kit. If you are determined to build a 5in. gauge locomotive, but do not have the time, a kit might be the answer. Kits can come complete, or in parts, with everything you need and all the ‘difficult’ work done for you. However, this is not like an ‘Almost Ready to Fly’ model aircraft. The ARTF will take a couple of evenings, a locomotive or traction engine kit could take you a year, or two, to finish.

More manageable are kits for steam engines, such as those available from Stuart Turner. It has a range from a simple small oscillating engine to a large beam engine, with all the machining done. Chiltern Model Steam also has fully machined kits such as the twin cylinder mill engine below.

Alternatively, consider starting off with something smaller. A simple steam engine or hot air engine will be relatively quick to build, even if you only have a few hours a week available. It will introduce you to most of the aspects of metalworking that you will need later for that big project when you reach a time of life where the demands on your time for other things is less, and you have more disposable income. Be prepared to change your goals. Like many, once bitten by the steam engine bug, you might carry on with these in their infinite variety rather than move on to locomotives or traction engines.

If you prefer the combustion engine to steam power Engineers Emporium has a machined kit for The Little Wonder hit and miss engine (left).

Another possibility is to purchase a part-built model. Sometimes, these are a good way to short circuit the path to a finished working model. However, they can also be a whole load of trouble, so take someone who knows what they are about with you when you view a prospective purchase.

Finally, you might like to do your own mini engineering apprenticeship. Throughout this series we will describe some simple projects to get you working on all the basics you will need to become reasonably competent.

Meanwhile, what is it to be?  What do you really want to build?

Steam locomotive
Electric locomotive

Traction engine
Stationary engine
Beam engine
Mill engine
Fire engine
Marine engine
Hot air engine
I/C engine
Fairground items
Machine tools
… and don’t forget that a ‘model’ engineering workshop can also produce items in full size:
Marine engines
Machine tools and workshop equipment

This series will take you through the basics that you will need. You will also need the catalogues or visit the websites of the major suppliers to model engineers such as Chronos and Warco.

To join a club or not? Many model engineers prefer to plough a lone furrow. However, road steam and loco builders, are usually members of a club, so that they can enjoy the facilities, have their boilers tested and their models insured for public running.  For the beginner, too, clubs are extremely useful. They usually provide a warm welcome to newcomer, and help and advice is readily available. Members are expected to give up time and effort, as well as a small membership fee, to sustain the club. The new member will be expected to give as well as take.

The Society of Model and Experimental Engineers holds regular courses for beginners at its South London headquarters, including one to build a working Polly steam plant.

Think about it all. Next time we will start making things, even if you only have the sort of tools you find in the average household.

Part one here. Part two here Part three Part four part five Part six Part seven