Discovering the Possibilities of Etched Brass

With two locomotive shells already available to buy and several more in the pipeline I have started to look at what can be done to develop them further.  The most frequent request I have had from customers has been for brass handrails so in this post I want to share with you how I’m working on that.

3D printing offers many advantages over other forms of modeling; one of them is the level of detail which can be achieved.  My current locomotive shells and parts have been designed to be printed with a detail level of 0.1mm which for parts such as small vents and door handles is perfect.  But when it comes to self-supporting items, such as handrails, they need to be thicker in order to survive the print and handling process.  Typically a wire part such as a handrail has to be at least 0.8mm in diameter.  Now I know that doesn’t sound a lot but in N scale at 1:160 that is equivalent to 128mm which is very big, and although it is passable, compared to injection molded or wire handrails on a lot of the new ready to run models, it is huge.

The 3D printed handrails on the EMD DD35 pictured below are clearly much larger than the injection molded ones on the Atlas C-628 model pictured underneath.

Locomotive Shells

Atlas C-628 1

The answer lies in brass etching.  Referred to as acid-etching, resist-etching and photo-etching, it’s a process of removing metal in varying layers around a design, leaving behind the composite parts of the model. The main advantage to this is we are dealing with metal which allows it to be incredibly thin and detailed.  The brass metal sheet which I will be working with is only 0.2mm thick and I can etch out parts that are only 0.24mm wide.  This is ideal because I can model handrails at actual scale size.  Although the parts are etched from a flat sheet, once the handrails are painted their ‘squareness’ will be smoothed out.  They can be also designed to be bent in the correct places to achieve the shapes we need.

To begin with I looked at the handrails for the Baldwin DT6-6-2000. There are four side rails and two end rails on this locomotive and I needed to find an efficient and cost-effective way to lay them out so they didn’t take up too much room on the sheet but still had enough metal around them for support.  At this point I realised there would be some spare space on each handrail set so I looked again at the DT6-6-2000 to see what else I could add.  Looking at the photos of the original locomotives working up and down the country I noticed a lot of them had sun shades over the cab windows.  So I have included a set of sun shades with each set of handrails.  Below is the rendered image.

Baldwin DT6-6-2000 Additions Render

I’ve also designed a set of handrails for my EMD DD35 model as pictured below and will be making this set available soon.  The set includes the two main side rails and the four corner rails, there are no sun shades with this locomotive as it has no cab!

EMD DD35 Additions Render

The corner rails also shown below will be etched flat and once removed from the sheet can be bent to form the correct shape.

DD35 Handrails Additions Close Up Render

As you can see from the images above the brass etched parts will form part of my new ‘Additions’ series, which will be available alongside my established range of Shapeways products soon. You’ll have the choice to buy the complete locomotive kit from Shapeways and then if you choose you can add further detail by using the Additions products which will be available direct from this site. I’m striving to make both options as affordable as possible, and at the same time giving you a working, detailed locomotive model to suit your budget and modeling choice.

If you’re interested in being the first to try these brass etched details drop me a message through the Contacts page, I look forward to seeing these in action!