Monday, 30 December 2013

One year old today!

Just one of the many models featured during the year - Elektrikit E12
Our Meccano blog is a year old today! In the past year you have made over 25,000 page views. That number has increased as the year progressed and is currently standing at around 5,000 views a month.

OK that is small-beer in internet terms but for a specialist hobby site, that has only been going a year, I am pleased with that.  And before anybody else says it, I am sure NZ Meccano gets far more views than us, but that is a much bigger website than our humble offering!

Thanks for looking!

Ralph and Sue.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day Steam Up

 Don't forget, you can enlarge any of the pictures by clicking on them!

The Meccano "Steam Engine"
A few moths ago, Sue and I acquired a very nice collection of good quality Meccano. There were several items amongst the lot we were partially interested in. This Steam Engine was one of them. Today there was a question posted on Rust Bucket asking about how to check and fire an old engine.  That was the only excuse I needed to have a little steam up.

Nice clean burner - This is how it should look
These old engines ran on Methylated Spirit and were supplied with a spirit burner. This is often missing so If you are thinking of buying one make sure the burner is with it or haggle for a reduction - a replacement burner is going to cost anywhere between £10 and £20, for a good second hand one. Reproduction burners are available from some suppliers too. They should look clean and free from any deposits on the burner gauze. I often see these burners with the remnants of solid fuel tablets encrusted over the top. This can be removed with the application of a wire brush. This one shown here has not had many firings and so still has most of its chrome finish. This soon burns off  but does not effect the burner's efficiency.Inside the burner is a fireproof material that 'holds' the spirit. This should be slightly springy and it should be possible to depress the burners gauze easily and it should spring straight back when the pressure is released.

Most important is the fire extinguisher - AKA a plant spray, meths and rain water
We now need some fluids. The most important is the plant spray filled with just plain tap water. This is for use as a fire extinguisher, but make sure it works! some of these plant sprays need priming before they will work properly. Prime, it check it and have it ready to go. You will need methylated spirit (meths) and water for the boiler. There have been long discussions regarding what water to use. Some say this, others say that. I am not going to get into a long debate over it. Sue and I have always used rain water and it works fine for us. As Meccano enthusiasts who only use Steam engines from time to time, we may not need to worry as much about the water as someone who is steaming an engine far more frequently.

Two types of oil
Two types of oil are required. Automotive multi-grade engine oil is used to lubricate the journalled parts and 'Steam Oil' is used on the cylinder back-plate and the piston. Steam oil does not emulsify when in contact with steam as readily, if at all, as ordinary oil. It also helps to make a seal around sliding parts. Most steam spares suppliers will sell you a small bottle of Steam Oil.If you can't find any on their listings, go to eBay and search for " Steam oil" There are dozens of listings for it!

Syringes and extensions
Syringes are useful for filling the boiler with the correct amount of water and are even more useful for emptying the boiler after use. The alternative extensions are for use with different engines. The long one is for our vertical boiler engines and the short one for the horizontal boiler engines. The smaller syringe is for meths.

Safety valve has two seals
The first thing to do with any new-to-you engine, and this means brand new or second hand. is to do a careful visual check of the pipe connections and the boiler itself, looking for any damage or loose pipes. Once you are happy the engine looks sound, the next thing to check is the safety valve. Check that it operates and that it is not blocked.

If the safety valve is from an old engine, it may well be seized solid with scale. If so, just drop it in an eggcup (or something similar) full of vinegar and let it soak for an hour or so. The vinegar  will dissolve any scale and it will reappear nice and clean looking - especially after a polish with a cloth! Check that it opens, and the spring closes it. It shouldn't need any oil, but if you feel an urge to add some a spot of steam oil is all that is requited. A smear of steam oil around the threads will make it easier to remove after a steaming session. If the valve is faulty in any way, or you are not happy with it for any reason, please just replace it. They are not very expensive and easily sourced on line. You will need a Mamod style, ¼ inch short safety valve. It is better to be safe than sorry. Whatever you do, do not be tempted to run the engine without a working safety valve, or as I have seen on more than one occasion, do not ever plug the safety valve hole with a bolt to prevent it leaking. These engines are perfectly safe providing you are using it according to the manufacturer's instructions and use common sense.

Filling - the slow way
The Meccano Steam Engine takes approximately 120ml of water. The manufacturer's method of achieving this is to fill the the boiler with water, through a funnel that has been inserted into the threaded hole revealed when the safety valve is removed. Water is added until it runs out of a level hole, from which a screw plug has been removed. In the picture above a small stainless steel dish is used to catch the water. These handy little dishes can be purchased in small stacks of six from several of the pound-shop chains. Once the engine is full, the plug is replaced, the funnel removed and the safety valve replaced. It is worth noting at this point that the level hole can be found at either end of the boiler, depending on when the engine was made.

Filling - the fast way
 A far more efficent way of filling steam engine boilers (or emptying them for that matter) is by using a syringe. A measured amount of water can be added, from empty, and the level plug can be left in place - much easier.

Sue getting into hot water...
If you want to speed things up a little, hot water can be used to fill the boiler. On some engines this will save a lot of time and fuel. I have been known to do this when we are steaming our vertical engines. These take a lot longer to get up to temperature and are far less efficient than the horizontal boilers with their larger burners. I don't bother with these engines, and handling cold water is much easier.  In the picture above Sue is emptying the hot water from a vertical boiler engine using a syringe. The look of expectation on her face is because she knows that syringe is going to get very hot, any time now. I Always let Sue do the hot bits...

Adding steam oil to the back of the cylinder
Now it is time to do the oiling. Push the small bolt that retains the spring holding the cylinder against its back-plate. you will now be able to drop some steam oil between the two. An eye dropper is ideal for this and just by chance the one we have fits the top of the steam oil bottle. Any excess oil can be removed with a cloth.

Loosening the bolt (using a miniature socket) that restrains the spring
On some models it may be necessary to loosen the retaining screw in order to get enough movement to release the piston rod from the crank pin. Sometimes this is not necessary as there is enough play. If the bolt does have to be loosened, don't forget to tighten it again afterwards!  Once the rod has been released from the crank pin, the piston can be removed and the cylinder primed with steam oil.

Removing the connecting rod and the piston
A few drops of steam oil are dropped into the cylinder
Finally, lubricate all the moving parts, check that all the moving parts run freely and are not binding. A last minute check to make sure all the parts are secured to the crank rod tightly and we are ready to go!

Don't forget to lubricate the crank pin
Now the fun bit! Stand the engine on a flat surface. If it is to be run light, as here it is a good idea to stand it on a piece of non-slip mat. Fill the burner with meths. We use a small syringe. fill the burner so the meths is just visible beneath the mesh.  If you do not have a syringe, decant a small amount of meths  into a bottle cap or medicine cup and fill the burner from that.

Filling the burner - not too much
Now we are ready to go! Place the filled burner in place and using a gas hob lighter, ignite the burner. It will burn with a low flane at first and will get going once it warms up. everything will get hot very quickly from now on. Within seconds the firebox will be too hot to touch

A gas hob lighter is the perfect tool for lighting the burner
It will take four or five minutes for the water to get up to temperature. A flick of the wheel and the engine will run. If it doesn't just wait for a bit and try again. once it has started it will be off and it can be regulated and reversed by moving the lever.

A quick flick and off she goes...
There she goes - flat out!
That is it. The engine will run until the meths runs out - it is designed so the burner runs out before the boiler is anywhere near empty - ALWAYS refill the water if you are refilling the burner. If the boiler runs dry you stand the chance of over heating the joints, melting the solder and the boiler will fall apart!

Have fun - be safe and always make sure you have a water sprayer THAT WORKS to hand!

Happy steaming!

Ralph. (Hands by Sue!)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Alternative Evolution - Part 2

Three wheeled off roader!


Off Road Trike - Sue builds the first of the 'other' models..

Before I get on with describing this particular model I would like to say a few things about the Evolution sets in general. As you know we first got a look at the preproduction models at the London Toy Fair at the end of January this year. We had seen a few reports of the Mobile Crane but when we got there we were confronted with a whole range of five different sets. The box-art models were on show and we got a good close look at them and were able to handle several of the new parts. The sets started to appear at the end of the summer and we held back for a while to let the dust settle.

A small selection of the new parts in these sets...
Now we have had a chance to examine these sets, it is obvious that they have more new, than traditional parts. New strips narrow strips, new wheels and tyres, new gears and lots of black bolts (long as well as standard length), nuts and pivot bolts to name just the obvious bits. The abundance of new parts will put some people off, as the DNA of these sets is a big step away from the 'traditional' Meccano. Yes it is Meccano, there are some parts that will be recognised, but there are a lot that will not. I feel sure there will be some who will like it and other who will hate it, I am not sure there will be many who will not have a strong opinion one way or the other. As His Nibs said in Part 1, they are like Marmite; you will either love them or hate them.

Longer than it looks in the picture
The manuals for these sets are easy to follow and have a great new addition for those who are not so familiar with the parts as well as the experienced modeller. Each stage of construction has an illustrated list of parts required, nothing new there, but in addition, and where necessary, there is a 1:1 (actual size) drawing of the part that can be used to identify the correct size and shape. This is particularly useful for determining the difference between large and small spacer washers, something that has caught me out on more than one occasion in the past!

Not bad, even from behind


Let's build...

The neat little, landscape instruction manual gives helpful construction tips especially useful for those who are not familiar with Meccano construction techniques. This is followed by a comprehensive parts list and a 59 stage assembly guide to build the model featured on the front of the box. The second model is shown on page 47 with a note that reads "Building instructions for model #2 are available at" - I know how to say this in a further dozen languages, thanks to the multilingual translations! Who said Meccano was not an educational toy any more?

Accessing instructions from the Meccano website was very easy and displayed clearly on my monitor. The ability to enlarge some of the detail was useful. Printing it off was not so successful. Printing the instructions full size on standard paper just does not work when trying to make out the black parts - they just merge into one solid mass. Even on the screen at 100% it is not that clear and we are using good quality back-lit LCD monitors. At 150% it was fine and that is how I progressed, sitting at my desk looking at the instructions on my monitor. 

It looked good to me - see text...
That said, the instructions are probably the best yet. Very easy step by step instructions that are easy to rattle through. Well that is how it seemed until I realised that I had confused a couple of the strips on the frame and needed to go back and swap them over. My fault entirely but it goes to show I need to be a bit more careful with these strips. The extra holes makes the difference between the strips length far less obvious that with the corresponding 'standard' narrow strips.

The new narrow strips have ¼ inch
geometry making them shorter, but they
work better with each other with no
overlap as with the old ½ inch parts
Talking of which, Ralph, who is building one of the other alternative models, has just pointed out that these strips are designed to be used with strips of the same width. They are shorter than the standard narrow strip equivalent and will bolt together at right angles with no protrusion.  That makes the 1 inch, three hole strip, that has been around for a while, a bit of an odd ball as it conforms to standard narrow strip design with ¼ hole spacing and ½ ends - if you see what I mean.

The rest of the assembly is just a case of following the steps, bolt by bolt. Care is needed to get the handlebars in the correct position by making sure the 24t pinion is sitting dead centre of the rack strip when the tri-axle is fitted. This is made easier to identify in the rack by the two centre teeth being moulded longer than the others. 

Centre the pinion on the rack
One thing that was disappointing and I feel will spoil the fun for any children making this or the box model, is the fact that the bespoke handlebar moulding is a loose fit on the tri-axle. So loose it just falls off. I have checked with others who own this model and they have confirmed they have the same problem. I have noticed in the past that some of the tri-axles are misshapen at the ends making it very difficult to get parts to fit on them. Once they pass the 'bump' at the end they slide easily. Maybe a misshapen axle would help here but I ended using a wrap of paper to tighten the joint - works fine for me but a problem that needs rectifying. 

I was confused by the instructions insisting the shockers should be fitted with the piston rod uppermost. I tried checking this out by running an image search for quad bikes but I couldn't really see what was what. Not having ever been near a real one, logic is telling me that the shroud should be on top to keep out the wet and muck... I am no expert, so if someone reading this is informed, please let me know! 

Shouldn't the shockers be up the other way?
Apart from the handlebar issue, the sticker on the front will not lay flat as it is trying to accommodate the compound curve and bridge the holes in the plate. I am being deliberately objective as there is really very little wrong with this model. It makes up very nicely and is reasonably robust. The suspension works well, as does the steering.


P.S. If you missed the first part of this series you can find it HERE 


Monday, 16 December 2013

10 Set Model? - No, Number 10 Set Model!

Looks familiar...
A few days ago I posted a picture of a new model that can be built from the new 10 model set due for release in the spring 2014. The model closely resembles the JCB 712. It was not long until Tony James contacted me to remind me that he had built a version of that machine in his series of models build from the iconic Meccano No.10 set...

Fully articulated
Tony's model is the subject of a Model Plan (Number 117) and can be obtained from MW Mail Order. Tony mentioned that since its MP publication in 1999, it has sold getting on for 200 copies. This year there were two models built from his Model Plan at the premier Meccano exhibition held in Skegness, SkegEx 13.

'Hydraulic' rams tip the body
When Tony took the original model to SkegEx in 1999, he said it was like trying to carry an angry cat, the jacknife steering and horizontal roller bearing made lifting it from the car "quite tricky". The photographs were taken, at the time, using a film camera and are reproduced here as scans from prints - It is amazing how far photography has come on in the past fifteen years. As Tony suggested to me, if I want some better pictures then go and buy the model plan and then you can build your own model to photograph!

The new 10 set model
Now, I wonder if Tony's model had any influence on Meccano's choice of subject for one of the models in their new set? You have to admit it looks very similar. Whatever the reasoning behind it, It is really good to see Meccano including some more realistic models in their recent sets. Much better than the fantasy subjects of the earlier Multimodel sets. I am looking forward to seeing what Meccano have planned for the rest of next year - I have a feeling we will be in for something good if last year is anything to go by. Still, not long until the toy fairs, and if things go to form, there should be some announcements from Meccano before the shows, just like they did last year when the Evolution crane kits was being talked about...


No.10 set Model photographs by Tony James

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Power for the Beam Engine

The main body was re-worked
A few weeks ago, Sue built a version of Bert Love's Beam engine as a static model. See HERE. The model was used as a guess the number of parts competition at the recent NELMC Exhibition. The model became a bit of a talking point on the day as the construction made it look a bit different.  Built using zinc strips instead of plates in order to increase the parts count, it has a very solid feel.

The modified engine...

...and from the other side
The original Bert Love model was powered by an Embo motor and was friction drive to the flywheel via a pulley and rubber tyre. I decided to have a go at powering the model. The friction drive seemed like a good idea but I decided to use a modern geared motor supplied by Stan Baker in New Zealand.

The motor and friction drive unit
A very simple motor/friction drive was built as shown in the photograph above, This was installed on a threaded pin that was fixed to the inside of the base. this allows the rubberised tyre to swing into contact with the flywheel. it is held in position with an aero collar. this allows just enough float along the axle to allow the tyre to 'follow the flywheel without binding.

The motor and friction drive mounted into the body
Pressure is applied using a tension spring attached to the drive assembly and anchored to a rod, held in place across the inside of the body by a couple of collars - see not all our parts are shiny! Meccano tension springs are too long for this job so I found one in a selection box of springs I found in one of the cut-price supermarkets, Aldi, I think.

Now for the test...


...That's good it works! The addition of a motor makes all the difference - I like this one!


Friday, 13 December 2013

The Alternative Evolution - Part 1

An Introduction

It was about this time last year that Meccano started to release details of the new Evolution range of sets that were officially launched at the London Toy Fair in January. See HERE. It looks like new additions to the range will be announced at the toy fair this year, if not before. As soon as I hear anything I will let you know.

The smallest set in the range is the 5201
By now most of you will have seen the models built up and read all sorts of reports on them. These seem to be the box-art models for which the instructions are included. For every set there is an alternative instruction manual available online at Meccano's Website HERE. When you get to the download page click on the picture of the model you want to build and the instructions are downloaded, as a PDF, that you can read from the screen or print off if you prefer. I use a small laptop to view the PDF on the screen as I build. The alternative models are shown on the bottom of the boxes.

The back of the box shows the alternative model
Over the next few weeks we intend to build these alternative models and discuss the vast range of new parts these sets offer. The main feature of these sets is the ¼ inch hole spacing featured on all the narrow strips. But there is a lot more to consider. A whole range of plastic gears, a new 3-6V motor and much, much more. I am sure these sets will be like a red rag to a bull as far as the traditionalists are concerned but there will be others  who like them. Akin to Marmite, you will either love them or hate them. Me? I like Marmite! Sue is yet to decide but she is far more interested in the possible use for the new new parts in different ways and will be looking at the quality of finish.

We will start with the smallest set and work our way through the range - it should be fun. Don't miss anything, sign up for the latest news e-mail at the top left of this page.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

New Meccano for 2014

There are lots of exciting new sets to come from Meccano this year. Any fears of the new production being effected by the sale of Meccano to the Canadian toy giant Spin Master have been well and truly dispelled. The impending round of Toy fairs, here in London, then in Nuremberg and New York will see new Multimodel and Evolution sets scheduled for release in spring and autumn 2014. The only model I can show you at the moment is from the new 10 model set that should be available, spring 2014.

New 10 model set Dumper truck
It is good to see Meccano going back to the old style of models. Contemporary subjects modelled in an almost skeletal manner, very similar to the old pre-war manual models. Then it was because there were no flexible plates available. Today they are just omitted from these sets. I am looking forward to seeing more. What I really like are the new tyres - I might actually be able to use some of those! In all these sets Meccano are following the now established colour format of one primary colour and zinc.

I will post more pictures as they are released so keep coming back and to make sure you don't miss anything, sign up for the e-mail subscription to the our blog at the top of the left hand column.



Monday, 9 December 2013

Meccano on 'The Box'...

We have just got hold of the double Christmas issue of the Radio Times and there on page 230 is a picture of Oz Clarke and James May along with a Meccano sales leaflet and the usual ill-informed captioning. But I am not knocking it! It is all good publicity for the hobby.

 It is, of course, an item about the screening of James May's Toy Stories featuring the Meccano Motorbike and sidecar, I photographed at the Henley Gathering earlier in the year, and posted HERE on the blog.

The program will be shown on BBC2 on Friday, 3rd of January 2014 at 9:00pm. If nothing else it looks like a bit of fun.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

NELMC Show - You missed it!

It is too late now, the NELMC show has been and gone, all the prizes have been won and the hall is now empty once again.

Paul Leech and Ron Martin discuss Paul's Biplane
I must say, it was a very good show, we all had a good day and the weather was kind to us this year. The trouble with holding a show right at the end of the year is we can be caught out with bad weather.
No snow this year!

It was unfortunate that, a couple of years ago, we had to cancel the show at the last minute. The weather conditions deteriorated dramatically during the week leading up to the show and London's streets were covered in snow and ice making travelling around treacherous.  A lot of our members rely on the public transport system to get to the show, as do many visitors. All the trains and buses experience delays and cancellations in these conditions making it impractical to go ahead. This was a blow to the club as it means an important revenue stream was severed that year creating a shortfall in income. Something a small club can do without.

No such problems this year. we had more models and lots more attenders than last year. We always struggle to get members of the general public to this event as it is a bit out-of-the-way.  Although the Underground station is just at the bottom of the road, we are a long way from the main shopping centres such as Barkingside. Maybe we should be looking at changing the venue for the exhibition. Our sister club, SELMEC gets hundreds of members of the general public in. Due to venue being in a much better location, just off the High Street, it is easer to promote and has a much better catchment area... 

How many? - 714
...but that is another story. As well as the models, more photographs of which can be seen on the NELMC website HERE, we ran a couple of competitions. Remember the jar of brackets I showed here a few weeks ago? Well there were 714 brackets in that jar.  Sue's version of a classic model Steam engine, shown in the previous post, had 724 parts. On the day we ran a guess the weight competition too, the jar and contents weighed 920g and Sue's model tipped the scales at 1055g. One of our young visitors got the closest to the number of brackets by guessing 708 - this was only 6 away from the correct number! Other prizes went to club members.


Saturday, 30 November 2013

How many parts?

Norman's version of The model
Inspired by our friend, Norman Brown, who recently built an immaculate red/green version, of this model, first built by  Burt Love and featured in his book Model Building in Meccano published forty-two years ago! Norman's version is pretty much a faithful representation of the original. As ours is to be the subject of a guess-the-parts competition, it has been strip built. The competition, to be held at the NELMC Exhibition next weekend, details HERE.

The other competition we will be running next weekend is the guess the number of brackets in the jar challenge more details of this can be found HERE.

Strip-built beam engine, front
I set Ralph to work on the boiler. The original used the Meccano boiler but that would have been too easy. The boiler is built around two 12-hole rings, each made up from two 7-hole strips bent into a semicircle and overlapped by one hole at the joins. 9-hole strips were then bolted around them to to form a cylinder. This is then capped top and bottom with wheel flanges to make the top and bottom of the boiler.

Strip-built beam engine, back
While Ralph was busy with the boiler, I set to work on the main body and frame of the model. I set the flywheel one hole higher than the original and used a small bush wheel instead of a double arm crank as the strip building method of construction meant the clearances were reduced. I might have a go at rebuilding that end after the exhibition but a lot of unseen support will be needed and that would make estimating the number of parts used much harder and I think a little unfair. As it stands most, and probably all, parts are visible. My model is not powered as it stand but I my fit a motor when I have a go at rebuild the base after the exhibition.


Johnny Jr., Meccanoboy, artist!

Sue, Smokie and me by Johnney Jr.
There is a young lad in Australia who is a very keen and competent Meccano builder. Johnney Jr. and his dad John (of course!) build Meccano models together and are having a great time developing their skills.  Recently, we supplied John with some parts for a Ferris wheel he and Jr. have been building. Johnny Jr. had been admiring our drifts, with "the piece on the end" . As we have a few spares we sent one to Johnny Jr.

Johnny's letter
In return we received a very nice, hand written letter with a drawing of our avatar model that we feature on our websites and display at all the shows we attend. The avatar my well have extra features added depending on event or the time of the year. At the moment we are displayed along with a model of a small cat that reminds us of out Meccano-loving cat Smokie. Not only is Johnny Jr. a keen meccanoboy he is also a budding artist! The letter and drawing now adorns the wall of our office/Meccano room. Click on the letter to enlarge it...

It made our day when Johnny's letter arrived.

You can catch up with johnny Jr. and his Dad on the Rust Bucket forum where you will find all sorts of interesting chat about Meccano. To register on the Rust Bucket forum, click HERE. You will also find me and Sue hanging about there too!


Friday, 29 November 2013

Meccano model makes Pylon of the Month!

Ken's model at Tims, November2009
Meccano people may be accused of being a bit niche, not in the forefront of popular thinking, but we are positively mainstream compared with some of the subjects featured on the internet. I have always believed there is a website for every interest out there no matter how small. One such website is Pylon of the Month. It is a novel little site with a serious message and desire to encourage young people into a career in engineering. This month Ken Senar's huge 11ft high pylon, as seen at a Telford and Ironbridge Meccano Society (TIMS)  meeting in November 2009, has been featured as Pylon of the Month! 

Pylon of the Month featuring Ken's model can be found HERE