Model Engineering

Model engineering is the pursuit of constructing proportionally-scaled working representations of full-sized machines in miniature. It is a branch of metalworking with a strong emphasis on artisanry, as opposed to mass production. While now mainly a hobby, in the past it also had commercial and industrial purpose. The term ‘model engineering’ was in use by 1888. In the United States, the term ‘home shop machinist’ is often used instead, although arguably the scope of this term is broader.

Model engineering is most popular in the industrialised countries that have an engineering heritage extending back to the days of steam power. That is, it is a pursuit principally found in the UK, USA, northwestern European countries and the industrialised British Commonwealth countries.

Scope of model engineering

The ‘classic’ areas of model engineering interest are live steam models (typically steam locomotives, stationary engines and traction engines), internal combustion engines, and clock making. Other popular subjects are Stirling engines, workshop equipment, miniature machine tools and ornamental turning. These constitute stable genres which are often reflected in competition categories at model engineering exhibitions. In the past, amateur electrical experimentation (the precursor to hobby electronics) and ship modelling were considered as part of model engineering, but these are no longer regarded as core genres.

Model engineers typically make models by machining working parts from stock metal and metal castings. Some models are intended as utilitarian working models, others as highly meticulous display models, or sometimes a combination of both. The most elaborate models involve hand manufacture of thousands of parts, taking thousands of hours to complete, often over a number of years or even decades. The model engineer is often guided by commercially available drawings, however some draw their own designs, or even work without drawings. Similarly, most model engineers will buy castings when required, but some buy or make foundry equipment to cast metal themselves.

As an activity that involves extensive use of metalwork machine tools in a home workshop-based context, model engineering overlaps with other artisanal machine-tool based and allied metalwork pursuits including gunsmithing (particularly in the USA), manufacture of home metalworking tools and accessories, home cnc (computer numerical control) equipment building, antique machine tool collecting, antique vehicle and machine restoration, home welding and hobby metalcasting. Model engineering is closely associated with the hobby of running live steam locomotives, and overlaps to a degree with the making of non-working models, particularly those of mechanical subjects. Products such as Meccano and low-pressure toy steam engines have a loose affinity with model engineering, stemming from the production of scientific and mechanical toys beginning in the late 18th century. Steam Punk, a post-industrial sculptural art style picking up on the aesthetic and kinetic qualities of old machinery, shares some overlap.

There is some debate about the appropriateness of the term ‘model engineering’. Some argue that the term ‘engineer’ should be reserved solely for those professionally qualified as such. However, the historic meaning of ‘engineer’ is one who constructs or tends engines, and as such is a fitting epithet for those who make working models as a hobby. In any case, since the term ‘model engineer’ was employed by 1888, the precedent for its use has long been a fait accompli.

Model live steam locomotives

A more demanding model engineering project, a propane fired 1:8 scale live steam train, running on the Finnish Railway Museum’s miniature 7.25″ (184 mm) track.
Model live steam locomotives predominate as the most popular modelling subject in model engineering. As such they deserve special mention. Live steam refers to the use of pressurised steam, heated in the model locomotive’s own boiler, to turn the wheels via miniature steam cylinders. Not all locomotives are live steam – some model engineers make model locomotives powered by electricity or internal combustion engines. The criteria however is that the model is self-propelled, hence requiring an engine to be made or motor to be installed, as opposed to the (usually much smaller) model trains that rely on an electrified track to run.

Live steam (and other self-propelled) locomotives are made in a range of sizes, or scales, according to track gauge. The smaller gauges, sometimes called ‘garden gauges’ because they can be set up in the owner’s own garden, or in the US called a backyard railroad, are sufficient to run by themselves but usually cannot haul the driver or passengers. The larger gauges are usually found on club tracks or miniature railways, and are intended to haul the driver and passengers.

Popular ‘garden gauges’ are ‘0’ gauge, ‘1’ gauge and 2½” gauge (ridable). Usual club track gauges are 3½”, 5″ and 7¼”, and 4¾” and 7½” in North America. Larger miniature railway gauges such as 10¼” and 15″ gauge are more common in zoo and park settings. Various gauges have existed over time. 3½” and 5″ gauge were proposed in 1898 as standard model gauges, although 5″ gauge only became popular after the Second World War, along with 7¼” gauge.

Not all model live steam locomotive enthusiasts are model engineers (and vice versa). There are many live steam enthusiasts who prefer running the models on a track rather than spending long hours building them in a workshop, and so purchase a ready made model locomotive.

Model engineering in society

Model engineering, c.1866. Apprentice mechanic John Satchell poses with his father and his medal-winning model shunting locomotive exhibited at the 1866-67 Intercolonial Exhibition, Victoria, Australia.
The aim of model engineering to build mechanical models is now usually purely recreational, although beginning with the industrial revolution in the late 18th century through to the late 20th century such models were widely produced as aids to technical education, either as apprentice projects or as classroom or public institutional exhibits. They were also produced as commercial props to support a patent, to visualise a proposed capital venture, or to advertise a manufacturer’s trade. Many museums in the old industrialised countries house original collections of mechanical models stemming from the earliest days of the industrial revolution. One of the earliest known models of a steam engine, that of a Newcomen beam engine, was made prior to 1763. The Science Museum, London published catalogues illustrating many early models. Many of these models represent the same subjects that remain popular with model engineers today, which attests to the long tradition of model engineering.

The earliest publication to offer instruction to the public on building working steam engine models was the Model Dockyard Handy-book (2nd edition 1867) by E. Bell, proprietor of the Model Dockyard shop in London, which also offered the parts and completed models for sale. Bell was, he said, “Ship Modeller and Mechanist” to the Royal Family, the English Admiralty and various European royalty. The book was aimed at building and operating these models as a recreational pursuit. In Britain, the establishment of a broad middle class by the late nineteenth century, an associated widening of leisure pursuits, and the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement that valorized handicrafts, saw a new constituency of amateur model engineers and experimenters interested in metalwork as a recreation. This was at a time when mechanical technology was seen as the driving force in rising economic prosperity. Articles and advertisements relating to model engineering began to appear in Amateur Work Illustrated magazine in the mid 1880s. With the rise of ‘amateur’ interest in conjunction with the working class mechanics who made models as apprentices, a new market niche was emerging, capitalised upon by Percival Marshall who began publishing Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician magazine in 1898 (now Model Engineer). Common interest in model engineering between men of lower, middle and even upper classes supported claims that model engineering had broken class barriers.

Model engineering remains popular despite major social changes over the past century. Among these changes have been the elimination of steam power (still the most favourite subject for model engineers) from rail transport and industry; and the widespread de-industrialisation of Western countries beginning in the 1970s, along with a shift to consumer society and the introduction of a wide new range of competing leisure pursuits. These changes, along with the older age of many model engineers and decline of new apprenticeships, have prompted a long-running debate among model engineers whether the hobby will die out.

Model engineers often join together to form model engineering clubs and societies. The first of these to form was the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers based in London, UK, in 1898, “along similar lines to the model yachting clubs” then popular. By 1948, “well over a hundred local clubs and societies” had been formed. Model engineering clubs and societies now number in the hundreds across the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Netherlands, Switzerland and elsewhere. These clubs are a form of civil society organisation, which are a sign of healthy democracy and community cohesion.

A major focus for many of these clubs is the operation of a club track or miniature railway for members’ model live steam locomotives. These tracks are often run publicly and form part of community recreational and tourism infrastructure in their local area. Model engineering clubs and societies often cater too for model engineering interests beyond locomotives. Due to the inherently dangerous nature of live steam, clubs and societies are responsible for administering safety regulations, insurance and specialist boiler codes that cover both members and the public. To this end, model engineering clubs and societies often affiliate into national bodies that can lobby government to maintain the historical privilege they have to self-regulate their own safety standards.

Livelihoods based on model engineering include retailers who provide model engineers with equipment and supplies, small fabrication services who produce castings, make miniature live steam boilers and live steam kit parts (or even whole running models), commercial publishers in the model engineering press, and a very few professional model engineers who make one-off models by commission for private or institutional collectors. Most model engineers however are amateur constructors who rely on other income.

Uses for Carbide Burrs

Use carbide burrs in air tools such as die grinders, pneumatic rotary tools and high speed engravers. Micro Motors, Pendant Drills, Flexible Shafts, and hobby rotary tools such as a Dremel.

Carbide burrs are widely used for metalworking, tool making, engineering, model engineering, wood carving, jewelry making, welding, chamferring, casting, deburring, grinding, cylinder head porting and sculpting. Carbide burrs are used in the aerospace, automotive, dentistry, stone and metalsmith industries.

What cut should you choose?

Single cut (one flute) carbide burrs have a right handed (up cut) spiral flute. Single cut is used with stainless steel, hardened steel, copper, cast iron and ferrous metals and will remove material quickly with a smooth finish. Use for heavy stock removal, milling, deburring and cleaning.

Heavy removal of material
Creates long chips

Use double cut carbide burrs on ferrous and non ferrous metals, aluminium, soft steel and also for all non-metal materials such as stone, plastics, hard wood and ceramic. This cut has more cutting edges and will remove material faster. Double cut also called Diamond Cut or Cross Cut (2 flutes cut across each other) and will leave a smoother finish than single cut due to producing smaller chips as they cut away the material. Use double cut for medium-light stock removal, deburring, finishing and cleaning. Double cut carbide burrs are most popular and work for most applications.

Medium- light removal of material
Fine finishing
Smooth finish
Creates small chips

What RPM speed should you use?

The speed at which you use your carbide burr in your rotary tool will depend on the material you’re using it on and the contour being produced but it’s safe to say you do not need more than 35,000 RPM. If the burs are chipping easily this could be due to the speed being too slow. It’s ideal to start the bur off slow, increasing the speed as you go along. High speeds will prevent clogging in the flutes of your carbide burs.

As with all drill bits and burrs, let the burr do the work and apply only a little pressure, otherwise the cutting edges of the flutes will chip away or become smooth too quickly, reducing the life of your burr.

Our carbide burrs we manufacture are machine ground from a specially chosen grade of carbide. Due to the extreme hardness of the tungsten carbide, they can be used on much more demanding jobs than HSS (High Speed Steel). Carbide Burrs also perform better at higher temperatures than HSS, so you can run them hotter, and for longer. HSS burrs will start to soften at higher temperatures, so carbide is always a better choice for long term performance.

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