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Alan Wilkins 103/04/2014 11:41:13
8 forum posts


I am totally new to model engineering, but I used to build RC aircraft from scratch a long time ago so not new to modelling. My background was in the motor trade where I used to be panel beater / sprayer, so used to working with metal & welding etc.

I am really interested and have been for a few years in building a working steam traction engine. I live in the North West Highlands near the Isle of Skye, so rather remote, which makes it difficult to meet up with a similar interest. I also don't know of any college locally that does machining / engineering evening classes.

From what I can gather I have several options as to which way to go. I can build one of the steam traction world kits, but they are expensive but all the hard work is done. I could buy a set of castings, which seem quite expensive,but much cheaper than the STW option. My worry here would be messing up the castings as I am new to machining. Or I suppose I could scratch build from set of plans, which seems a very daunting task.

When I was into model aircraft I alway preferred the building rather than the flying so, I feel the best way for me would be to build my own traction engine, either from the plans and / or set of castings. I would also like to build as big as I can make, so thinking 4" or 6" scale, so I can ride / give rides on the engine. Looking for advice on suitable large scale models for a beginner.

Before I can start on an engine, I would need to setup a workshop. I currently have a 16' X 12' shed with domestic single phase electricity. Tool wise I have plenty of spanners, screwdrivers & other hand tools etc. I have a largish floor standing Sealey pillar drill. A 14" SIP band saw. An inverter arc welder.

What I imagine I am going to need is a suitable lathe, milling machine and associated tooling. There are probably other tools / equipment I will need and looking for advice as to what to buy.

Currently I have a budget of about £3000 to spend on setting up a workshop, this figure can be added to over the coming months so I dont have to buy all the kit at once, so again looking for advice on what to buy, rather than buy something which looks good, but rarely or never gets used.

I also don't know what to look for in a lathe or mill so again looking for advice or at least pointing me in the right direction

JasonB03/04/2014 17:06:34
22560 forum posts
2634 photos
1 articles

For that sort of scale engine you are going to be looking at a lathe with 12" swing over the bed and a gap that will allow you to swing upto 18" even then you may need to look elsewhere to accomodate the flywheel and final drive gear. For Milling then you won't really get away with much less than a Bridgeport sized machine.

As for choice of Engine then something like the Little Samson in 6" scale is a fairly straightforward build and being that the full size is not that large you will end up wit a model about the same size as a large prototype in 4" scale.

I'd also suggest you joint Traction Talk Forum and have a read through some of teh build diaries in teh Miniatures Section to get an idea of whats involved in making an engien of that scale.


magpie03/04/2014 19:21:15
486 forum posts
98 photos

Hi Alan. I have a very similar background to yourself, coachbuilder by trade and started by own bodyshop a few years after finishing my apprenticeship. Even your workshop is the same size as mine. NOW !!! please don't make the same mistake as I did when buying your equipment. I started off buying an ex school Boxford and as I knew nothing at all about lathes I could not understand why everything I tried to make turned out rubbish. I had no one to teach me but eventualy realised that the lathe was so badly worn that I would never have been able to turn out decent work. I then had a small windfall and bought a Chester DB10VS and a Chester Champion 20V mill and it is now a pleasure to play in the workshop as I can now make things that fit together, whoo hoo.smiley The moral of this is, that unless you have someone who really knows what they are looking at, to look over any second hand stuff, go for new machines.

Cheers Derek.

P.S. I love your bit of the world, i once worked a bit further up in Forres, and I still have a mate that lives in North Ballachulish.

Bob Brown 103/04/2014 19:23:23
1021 forum posts
127 photos

There is one other consideration when building this size of model and that is weight, a 6" scale traction engine is going to weigh over a ton and probably closer to 1.5 ton so moving things around is not going to be easy never mind trying to get them in a lathe chuck or on the bed of a mill.

A 4" is no light weight over 1/2 ton and even 2" weighs in at around 200lbs

If you intend to go to shows or rallies with a 6" model you will need a trailer or van and be aware of the limits on towing as you are likely to exceed the towing weight of the family hatchback and even some 4x4's are limited to sub 2000kg

Personally I'd start small as the cost of mistakes are smaller, never mind getting stuff sent to the Scottish Highlands, I have a similar problem as I live on the Isle of Wight and have had quotes in excess of £100.00 to deliver stuff here!

short pier and long walk spring to mind for those kind of companies.

JasonB03/04/2014 19:40:21
22560 forum posts
2634 photos
1 articles

This is one of the reasons a lot of people go for 6" "Tractors" like the Littel Samson I suggested, as the originals were under 5ton to avoid having to have two men to operate at 6" scale it weighs in at about 800kg, likewise the 6" Gold Medal Tractor is a similar weight while the Ruston & Proctor SD in 6" is only around 500kg.

You get 6" size parts but in a smaller packagesmiley


Harry Wilkes03/04/2014 22:03:30
1322 forum posts
65 photos

JasonB suggestion of joining TT remined me of a chap who is/was a member and lived in the Shetlands maybe still around and would know the pro's &con's that you would face being so far north his forum name was tef 20

cheers H

Alan Wilkins 104/04/2014 09:55:27
8 forum posts

Postage / delivery is a big issue in this part of the world. Even though we are mainland as soon as you mention the Highlands the price either goes through the roof or sorry we dont delivery to the Highlands. I built a 16 foot hovercraft from scratch a few years ago & the postage accounted for over 15% of the total build cost. The engine I collected myself, to save on P&P

Bob what part of the IOW do you live? I was on the IOW for a week in Feb & stayed in Ryde. My parents & sister live in Wroxall. My son is actually on holiday on the IOW at the moment.

Scale wise I can see larger scale could present problems in machining some parts, but I was thinking possibly I could either do these at a college night class or farm them out to someone with large enough kit to do them. I hadn't considered the weight issue & associated transport issues. I can see that it is probably a good idea to start on a smaller scale to keep costs of mistakes lower. I was told though that larger scale models are easier to keep in steam, because the fire box & the boiler are bigger, hence why I was thinking 4" or 6" scale.

I had considered building a steam car such as the steam traction world Lykomobil or the Stanley steam car, which would be more in my line with my background, but There is something magical about traction engines which draws me towards them.

I have just joined the TT forum so I will have a look around there.

Bob Brown 104/04/2014 12:07:14
1021 forum posts
127 photos


We have just moved back to the Island from north Essex as we are now mortgage free and work is not so much of an issue and glad to be back to the quieter life on the island. Nowhere on the island is that far away and now live in Wootton Bridge. I am in the middle of refurbishing the mid sixties 3 bed bungalow we purchased back end of last year and once the interior is done it will be time to move on to the current garage which as we all know is far to small for most modern cars. My intention is to build a new garage/workshop (7m x 4.5m 22' x15' ish)around it and then knock the existing one down and then sort out the floor, power and heating.

As for "farming" the larger jobs out then you may have problems finding someone local who has the kit to turn say a 6" scale flywheel (2ft + diameter) as it will take a big ish lathe to hold and swing it and I can not see a college having anything that big. When I was at Southampton studying marine engineering they did have a vertical lathe that would turn around 6ft/8ft diameter but all the rest of the kit was more in the 10" to 12" diameter. Again you'll be hit with the problem of transport to and from the machine shop.

Nigel McBurney 104/04/2014 14:25:17
999 forum posts
3 photos

A six inch burrell single model based on an 8nhp prototype will weight about 2100 kilos a suitable trailer around a thousand kilos so can be towed by land rovers and discoveries,a road loco model will be another 500 kilos requiring a small lorry for transport, flywheel is up to 30 inches diameter ,a lot of the parts can be completed on a 7.5 inch c/height colchester triumph ,the flywheel and final drive gears,diff and winding drum will need a lot bigger machine , the cylinder block really wants a mill a lot sturdier than a bridgeport,.Why not try a to use a large engine as a prototype and try 4 or 4.5 inches to the foot,.

A six inch model is heavy ,needs a lot of storage space lifting equipment ,a big trailer,and will take an awful lot of spare time and skill.and cash lots of it. take time and really think about it before tackling such a large project,A lot of enthusiasts start a project but very few have ability to finish one.

Though I have the skill and a lot of equipment and by the time I was in the position to build one I had run out of years,so I bought a big one,had some fun but now I can no longer easily manage such a large engine though it is nice to have a big engine which two people can sit on easily ,bags of power,and a big easily managed fire.So if you must have a big engine do it now before age takes its toll

John McNamara04/04/2014 15:40:17
1336 forum posts
125 photos

Hi Alan


Home page Men's sheds UK **LINK**

There is a Men's Shed (Community workshop) near Oban, and others Is one near you?
Some are focused on Metalworking others are not, Worth a phone call if one is near you.

Map: **LINK**


Bob Brown 105/04/2014 12:20:42
1021 forum posts
127 photos

Alan re

"What I imagine I am going to need is a suitable lathe, milling machine and associated tooling. There are probably other tools / equipment I will need and looking for advice as to what to buy."

I would start with a lathe and get to know how to use that first and some milling jobs can be done on a Lathe.

I was told, many years ago now, that just about any machining job can be done on a lathe providing the work piece fits and I have done some unusual jobs with mine.

As for the machine to buy it really depends on budget and I would if I had a choice pick something a little bigger that the Boxford 5" metric I own as there is always the job you can not swing, that was not so much a problem till I moved to the Island as I had a mate with a larger Colchester gap bed lathe.

Again where you live is going to be a problem as lathes are not light bits of kit and need to be on a concrete floor so moving them into your "shed" has to be a consideration.

Aestus5705/04/2014 15:42:54
30 forum posts
2 photos

Hi Alan, I can sympathise with your problems as I have experienced them living up near John O'Groats. Apart from having to pay exorbitant delivery charges for anything you get delivered you may also find problems obtaining stocks of steel, brass etc. B & M Steel in Inverness are very helpful but will only sell full 3 or 4 metre lengths, although they do provide a cutting service so that you can get some in the car if you're over that way. I always stock up from M-Machine in Darlington when I go down to visit my son in Tadcaster, they also do a great mail order service.

A few years ago when on holiday on the west coast, I came, quite by chance, on a model engineering exhibition in the village hall in Arisaig. It might be worth asking around if you get down there!

Good Luck and enjoy your life on the West Coast

Peter F

Alan Wilkins 105/04/2014 17:01:50
8 forum posts

Bob, Thanks for the advice, I was thinking a lathe should probably be my first major piece of kit as there are probably more jobs I can do or have a go at than what I could with just a milling machine. Getting a machine into my shed I can see may present a few problems, but hopefully I can arrange locally for a guy with a JCB forklift to help out, Still going to require plenty of people power as well. I do have a 1 ton mobile engine hoist, so that could maybe be utilised once the machine is in the shed. My current shed does have a wooden floor, but the floor bords are 38mm thick and they are supported with beams every 12". The beams are sat on a concrete base so hopefully the floor is strong & stable enough. It it's not then I will have to cut out the floorboards where the machines are going to sit and make a concrete plinth, but as you say more considerations to take into account.

Peter, I use B & M quite often, (last time 3 weeks ago) but in the last couple of years they have closed their steel yard in Inverness and now just have a sales office in Inverness, so now charge a £20 delivery charge to have it delivered to a handling yard in Inverness. Not so bad if the order is a reasonable size, but a rip off iff your only after 1 length, but as you say we are limited in this part of the world. Aluminium I always use Aluminium warehouse as they are reasonable price wise, but charge us double their normal delivery charge, but at least the stuff is delivered to my door. I think the last order I placed cost me about £40 delivery, but my order was for around £400.

I have no idea where to look in this area for other metals like Brass etc as to dat e I haven't needed any, but I'm sure it wont be long before I will need to find a source.

A lot of the lathes I have been looking at on ebay are 3 phase. Could these be run off an inverter or converted to single phase, or is it better to stick with a single phase machine?

colin hawes05/04/2014 17:09:56
557 forum posts
18 photos

I have turned large diameter flywheels on an old, heavy (and cheap) flat- belt horizontal milling machine with an additional speed reduction. Colin

Bob Brown 105/04/2014 17:28:05
1021 forum posts
127 photos

I would be inclined to set a plinth for the machine as they really need to be on a stable base which aids in setting them up level. If you need to check the weights of a second-hand m/c try **LINK** but do not be surprised it you have a ton of kit to move. My Boxford which is not a large machine weighs in at about 260kg.

3 phase machines are not the problem they use to be and in some respects a better option, simply run with a single to three phase converter which has the benefit of additional speed control. You will need a good power supply to your shed no good trying to run large ish machines of 100ft of extension lead plugged into a 13amp outlet.

My milling machine is 3 phase and I seldom change the drive seed just leave it on the middle speed and use the inverter to adjust the speed.

Alan Wilkins 105/04/2014 17:51:27
8 forum posts

Power isn't the problem as My shed is wired directly into the house fuse box on its own ring main. The shed is next to the house I have 18 plug sockets wired in & 8 X 5 foot flourescent lights. I hate not having power to hand or not being able to see what I am doing.

I wasn't sure how well the machines would work on an inverter. 3 phase machines do seem to be more robust, perhaps because they were aimed at the commercial market rather than the diy market.

Constructing a plinth wont present any problems once I know the size of machine I am getting. May have to leave the concrete a week or two to harden right through.

Bob Brown 106/04/2014 15:48:07
1021 forum posts
127 photos

When I build my new garage/workshop I will get my sparky to run a 45amp supply (10mm cable) from the consumer unit to another garage type consumer unit and then ring main and lights from there with dedicated supply for welder.

If you can get the m/c delivered then even hiring a guy with a telescopic handler should not cost too much, I had to get an oil tank which was delivered to the front drive into the rear garden behind the garage, needless to say access was restricted. Got a local firm to come out with a telescopic forklift and lift it up and over the garage 6m or so and I know you can get them that will lift in excess of a ton at full reach which can be 10m. It saved a great deal of hassle for the cost of £65.00 was by far the simplest method.

There are a couple of good machines on fleabay one not far from me all be it over seas (you try walking here).

Alan Wilkins 106/04/2014 16:03:34
8 forum posts

I'm tempted on the one in Southampton, but it will cost me a lot of money to get it home. I haven't got the time to pop down to collect it either, as from the middle of this week I will have very few days off until the end of September. (I started a part time ice cream round last year which gave a pretty good return on my investment, so that starts up again from the 10th April)

Bazyle06/04/2014 18:52:31
6295 forum posts
222 photos

No point in rushing into it. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have an industrial heritage so machines will be available if you give it time. The the hundreds of pounds extra for delivery from the south coast can be put into a better machine. It may be worth contacting all the nearest model engineering clubs to hear about any members downsizing.

Note that most older 3 phase motors are not dual voltage. You therefore need a more expensive 440v output inverter not the more regular 240 ones you can use when the motor is switched to delta. People will tell you that you can find the star point in an old motor and rewire it for delta but in old motors that point is burried in fragile insulation so digging kills the motor.

Gary Wooding06/04/2014 19:09:57
967 forum posts
253 photos
Posted by Bazyle on 06/04/2014 18:52:31:Note that most older 3 phase motors are not dual voltage. You therefore need a more expensive 440v output inverter not the more regular 240 ones you can use when the motor is switched to delta. People will tell you that you can find the star point in an old motor and rewire it for delta but in old motors that point is burried in fragile insulation so digging kills the motor.

No it doesn't. I've done two and they're going strong 6 years later.


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