Bringing your wood structures to the next level
By George Riley/photos by the author
Since I'm preparing materials for an upcoming layout design, I have begun assembling a series of buildings to populate the project. Usually it is far easier to construct the structures and have them on hand even beforethe benchwork is built. This assures that they fit into the plan and inevitably saves a lot of time in completing the layout as you imagined it.
One of the areas that will be included on the layout is a small steam locomotive servicing area that includes a water tank and coaling crane. For these I chose the Quincy & Torch Lake Water Tank (Part #028) and Coal Loader (Part #041) kits from Durango Press. These are inexpensive wood craftsman kits that include die-cast metal and plastic detail parts. They are very complete kits and will produce two very nice models... The question is how do you enhance the level of detail and make two otherwise complete kits stand out in the foreground of the scene?
The answer is wood grain! Each kit uses smoothly milled and precision cut fine-grained bass wood components for their wooden structure. In our larger world, timber grows with denser, harder grain layered next to softer, pithier grain as a function of seasonal growth cycles. As wood weathers, the softer grain erodes faster than the harder neighboring grain. Therefore the most obvious means of adding extra detail is to accentuate the wood grain on each structure. This replicates the natural growth and decay in our fine-grained wood and effectively adds a degree of both texture and weathering to our model.
Micro-Mark® has recently released a grain enhancing tool that is the easiest method I’ve found to consistently add this detail to your models. The tool uses the technique of pyrogravure or wood burning which should already be familiar to most of us. A heated blade or tool point is used to etch a mark on the wood. Charring the wood only occurs when the tool is left in place too long. Wood burning has an ancient history and traces it origin as far back as early Egypt as a means of decorating wood and leather. More recently it is used by decoy and wildlife carvers to add fine details such as feathers, fish scales and even hair to their works.
The Grain Enhancing Tool Kit (Item #84434) includes a 30 watt iron that uses house current to reach 730 degrees Fahrenheit; a soldering tip that can be sharpened to emboss nail holes; a #11 type blade that can be used to score board lines; and a pack of five graining blades. Also included is an easy-to-follow set of instructions that will have you set up and graining quickly. Since this tool does get very hot during operation (and will easily burn your work area as well as yourself if not careful), another item that you may want to consider using is a soldering iron stand (Item #60381) to hold your hot tool when not in immediate use.
Install the blade or tip that will be used before plugging in the iron. Once the tool has pre-heated for about five minutes, it is ready to use. The technique for graining is as simple as lightly drawing the blade over the surface. One continuous stroke will provide a smoothly grained board without any burns; however, pausing in mid-stroke may leave a light char. When used properly, little or no smoke or fumes will be given off during the tool’s operation. A little practice will yield excellent results on the wood. While it is possible to grain material once assembly has started, using the tool before assembly of the model begins yields the best results. Graining can be done on pre-stained and painted wood as well; again, my best results were to add the grain before painting.
Once mastered, the Grain Enhancing Tool will become an essential part of your tool collection. For a specialized tool it is inexpensive and easy to use. Since using it to build the water tank and coaling crane, the tool has been used with great results on almost a dozen subsequent models.
The Grain Enhancing Tool Kit (Item #84434) is available from Micro-Mark.