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


Thursday, 28 November 2013

More on the flanged plates...

Perfect cube
Some parts just get passed by without too much attention being paid to how they relate to each other. Meccano seem to have put a lot of thought into the design of the series of small flanged plates and make little use of their ability to work together. This in not the first time they have designed features into parts and not exploited them. They are designed to fit together to make solid rectangular  structures. The die, that was the subject of my last post, was built using six of the 1½ inch square plates.These plates have been designed to fit together perfectly with themselves to make a cube or with other small flanged plates to make larger boxes and forms. These simple looking parts have critical dimensions allowing them to do this, a detail missed by some of the makers of reproduction parts and the design boys at VirtualMEC. The virtualMEC part will not fit together no matter how hard you try.

The VirtualMEC part will not fit together like the real thing
When the Words modern parts are mentioned, often the thought of plastic parts and garish colours spring to mind. That may well be the case in some instances but it is not the full story. The plate used for the cube will also integrate well with the original part number 51, 2½ x 1½ flanged plate with the flanges on the short sides and the modern part number 51f, with the flanges on the long side.

Old meets new
The longer version, of the small flanged plate, also has the flanges cut back so it will fit inside the short flanges of the original plate, red in the picture above. Using threaded bosses, the plates can be assembles leaving the bolts loose.

Threaded bosses can be used to secure the box
The plates can be put together to form a fully enclosed box with no fiddling about trying to secure bolts to loose nuts. Once the bolts are started in the threads, the box can be squared up and the bolts tightened to produce a solid box,

Solid, neat box.
A fusion of new and old parts can have a very useful outcome. In this case the new parts are very similar the old Meccano but whoever designed them did think 'outside the box' in more ways than one. There are lots of uses for modern parts and integrating them into the system as a whole is worth some serious consideration.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A game of chance...

Games, gambling or fun, often use a pair of dice in order to supply a random number between 2 and 12. Simpler games may use one die returning a random number between 1 and 6. Simple little things but not if you want to make one in Meccano.

A thread on the Spanner II List, wandered off it's original subject and ended up discussing building a die using modern flanged plates. The plates being discussed are the 1½ x 1½ inch flanged plates shown below.

Flanged plate A551 (51b)
The plates are designed to be put together with other small flanged plates to make rigid boxes and hollow columns. The flanges are cut back so they fit nicely together with all the flanges hidden inside. Paul Dale had made a Die using some replica plates but these are not exactly the same as the Meccano plates. Six Meccano plates fit together nicely to make a perfect cube.  Using threaded bosses it is possible to build an enclosed box but Paul had said his box was made using only the six plates, 21 bolts and 21 nuts...

The flanges are cut back
Six plates make a perfect cube
That was it, nothing was going to get done until I had worked out how this was possible. Working it out in my thoughts, It seemed a relatively straightforward task to bolt five of the six plates together, but how was the sixth one going to be secured? nothing for it...

The parts and tools
... six plates and twenty one each of nuts bolts and, in my case, washers were gathered together. the cube was assembled as shown below.

Stage one
Stage two
Stage Three
Stage four
So far, so good. Now for the tricky bit. Place the five remaining nuts inside the open cube...

Loading the cube
...then slide the last flanged plate in position, sealing the cube.
The next bit will either really irritate you for hours or give a real feeling of accomplished in minutes. Turn the cube over and rattle and tap the cube until one of the nuts is over the bottom corner hole. The modern easy-start or finger-safe nuts are the best for this.

Engaging the nut with the bolt
Carefully insert the bolt so the nut is sitting on top of the bolt. This may take a few attempts. Best to close the door at this point. We don't want to offend anyone when the nut falls off for the twenty-seventh time.

Hold your breath...
Using a drift or the small hex-key, gently turn the nut while rotating the bolt by spinning the hex key between finger and thumb. You will find that some nuts will be locked by the adjacent corner nut and this will allow you to tighten it up fully with no intervention. The drift can be used to hold the nut still while the bold is tightened.

The finished die viewed from one side...
...and the other.
Now all I have to do is work out how to take it apart. All good fun now I will be up half the night catching up with all the stuff I should have been doing this afternoon.!


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Every now and then...

How's that for nice clean parts?
 ...we get offered collections of Meccano for sale. Often the seller is under the misapprehension that just because it is old (and usually rusty) it has value. Also words and phrases like 'huge' and 'complete' get banded around with minimal relationship to reality. More often than not we get presented with a shoebox full rusty parts and a couple of tatty manuals. Most people are genuinely surprised that their box of, and I hesitate to say it, junk, is worthless. Others seem offended and think we are trying to get it cheap. If they could see the piles of that sort of stuff we have sitting in boxes awaiting renovation or donation they might understand that we don't really need any more in that condition. Value of this run-of-the-mill common parts stuff is very low at the best of times.
Looking good!
Once in a while were are offered some nice clean looking stuff. One such lot came our way recently. The e-mail said it was a set No.5 and a Mechanisms set. Some pictures were sent and we liked what we saw. A deal was made and the meccano was ours. The boxes were a bit scruffy, Ok they were very scruffy, but I have seen a lot worse. opening them revealed a very nice looking collections of parts...

They look nice!
...and a good collection of brassware, sprockets, chain, axles and nuts and bolts.

This is looking good
More often than not there are parts missing, here there are a lot more. Indeed there is a lot more here than the set boxes implied. The deal was a good one and we got it for a good price. The previous owner was pleased to see it go to a good home, and we are more than happy to give it one.

The set originates from the first releases in this colour scheme. Meccano initially painted all the strips silver. This was probably the least durable finish they could have picked. You would think they would have learnt from past experience with metallic colours. The earlier blue/gold scheme suffered durability problems with the gold marking easily and the finish was abraded with little effort. The new silver parts suffered the same fate and a dissension was made very quickly to replace the sliver paint with a zinc finish. The first zinc plated parts were a disaster suffering from zinc rot almost as soon as they were exposed to the atmosphere. Eventually a better quality of zinc plating was adopted and the parts became durable.

Our parts are painted silver and lots of them have been damaged, probably by a single use.The longer parts are almost completely devoid of paint. Some parts have light rust where the paint has been lost. However overall the condition of the vast majority of parts is good.

Good selection of manuals
Along with the meccano came a set of manuals, all in good condition. Among the manuals was the Power Drive manual. The cover model on this manual is a Forge crane. As I have not built a crane for a while I sat down at the table and started to build with our new acquisition. There is something very nice about building a basic model. I decided to have a go at building it straight from the book, just to see how it came out. If you want to have a go at building the models and you have not got a hard copy of the Power Drive manual it can be downloaded from the NZ Meccano website, HERE, the model number is P.9. The model is reasonably straight forward although I have no idea how some of the nuts and bolts can be inserted without the use of specialist tools such as forceps and magnetic holders. I declined from using anything other than a Meccano screwdriver and spanner. I just left some out as I would have done 45 years ago.

Un-formed strips are re-formed!
Meccano were fond of using the slotted, formed strips to wrap around parts, this usually meant the parts would need to be re-formed to fit. This model is no exception. I usually find it much easier to flatten out the strips first and then re-form them to the shape required.

Small hook
The rest of the model is straightforward, once you spot the obligatory errors in the instructions. The finished model is illustrated at the top of this post and below. I was particually impressed with the friction drive to the slewing bearing. The simple friction drive works surprisingly well!

 The two 12½ inch strips, in the picture below, appear darker in the photograph because they are bare metal. There was probably less than 5% of the original pain left on them, I decided that it was better to remove the rest, this was easily done with a pan scourer! The Hook block is compromised by the use of the small (Ex Dinky Toys) hook that has to be tied in place - another cost cutting enterprise that I feel was a step in the wrong direction. Apart from these small niggles the new sets of the day were a welcome upgrade from the dated (at the time) colour schemes of red/green. I know we all have a soft spot for the red/green stuff now but at the time to this young teenager it was a vast improvement!

The other side...
This has been a bit of fun and a welcome diversion from some of the other projects we have on the go at the moment. Most of these models can be built in a few hours and my Sunday afternoon was extremely relaxing just wallowing in some simple model building. You know what? I think I will build it again. but this time with a few modifications to make it a bit more stable and less of a compromise due to available parts.   


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Tower Cranes

No, it's not rude!
If you like Meccano, then the chances are you like cranes. Now, I appreciate that not everybody likes cranes but for those who do this document will be fascinating, for those not so keen you might find some of it amusing. Especially the section on hand signals.

For the Meccano modeller this document is full of all sorts of useful stuff even down to how different loads should be secured. there are sections on the various types of crane, recommended configurations, how they are anchored to the ground and lots more. It runs to a 100 pages and I haven't read them all (even I am not that sad!) but I am sure it will keep you busy for a while. 

This document has the snappy title of Code of Practice for Safe Use of Tower Cranes It is issued free of charge and can be obtained from the offices of the Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labour Department. Where's that? ...Hong Kong!

You can download the document (2.6Mb) from HERE.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hot and bothered...

...or just steaming mad!

This weekend the Folk over on the Mamod forum are having their virtual exhibition. Members set out a table and display their models just like a physical exhibition. Sounds daft, but in fact it really works and is good fun. I entered last year and enjoyed it so much I have gone back for another go.

An early 1929 engine as found
My interest is in the Meccano 'built-in' engines so that is what you will find on my table starting with the 1929 vertical engines like the one pictured above. You can take a look HERE. I first got interested in the steam engines when Meccano introduced their yellow, horizontal boiler engine when I was at school. I could not afford to buy one at the time and it was not until years later that I actually acquired one of my own. I now own several and enjoy building them into models.

Not too bad from this view...

Hmmm... not so good!
One such engine was the SP3 above. Mamod made the original yellow engines for Meccano and when Meccano decided to stop selling them, Mamod continued to produce them in a slightly modified form, with a grey painted base. The engine here was purchased from eBay and was one of those not so good buys. It was this that set me off on a journey of restoration that resulted in the red version of this engine that I have shown several times before on this blog. The whole story of this project was told on the Mamod forum and you can read about the initial purchase HERE and the subsequent refurbishment HERE.

Unfortunately toy steam engines are from a different age and today the thought of letting young boys (or girls for that matter) loose with mentholated spirit, matches and boiling water would be frowned upon. In fact, it is not even considered safe for adults to play with as most exhibition venues will not allow the use of live steam of any kind. I suppose it is yet another sign of the times we live in where nobody is prepared to take responsibility for their own safety and is looking for an excuse to make a quick buck by suing anyone they can. Still it doesn't stop us having fun!


Friday, 15 November 2013

The yawning cat

Bernard Perrier's yawning cat in a recent edition (No.102)  of Constructor Quarterly made me smile and simple to build from common, modern parts.

My version of Bernard's cat
A long time ago we had a stray cat that decided to come and live with us. We subsequently discovered he had been removed from his mother too early and was not graced with all the traits that the other cats, we have 'waited on' over the years, had. For a start, he never did the standard stretch and yawn that most cats do, as the picture above, he did it the other way around with his head up and back legs stretched out behind him. 

Those of you who have been following our Meccano exploits for a while will remember our grey cat, Smokie.  We had him from a very young kitten and he was adopted by the older cat as if he was his own. The funny thing was that Smokie picked up some of the older cat's weird traits, including the unusual stretch!

Just to be different!
These little simple models are great fun to build, very easy to put together and instantly recognisable. If this (or something similar) was included in the modern manuals, of the bigger sets, perhaps we might not see so many sets being bought and discarded so quickly. Models like this give instant gratification and are recognisable to adults and children alike. Maybe something for the new owners of Meccano to consider... 


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Could this be the most exciting Meccano video ever?

In my last post, I was talking about my 'Count the brackets' competition I am holding at our Exhibition in December. I also posted a similar thread on the Spanner II list. All was going well and guesses were coming in thick and fast until some wag thought would be funny to ask for a video. Not being one to crumble at the first obstacle, I obliged.

The question is, could this be the must-see video this Christmas? Only time will tell...


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

It's Show Time!

Or at least it will be on the 7th December! 

For my sins, I am the Secretary of the North East London Meccano Club  (NELMC). Now I know this is a very strange post to be filled by a born and bred South Londoner, but somebody had to do it. To be fair it is not so bad, it is not as if I have to travel over the river on a bridge. Going through The Pipe (The Blackwall Tunnel) means the traumatic experience of crossing the river is not so daunting...

That aside, the purpose of this post is to tell you about our exhibition, on the 7th of December, and to invite you to join in with one of our competitions we will be running.

On the day the jar full of brackets, pictured below, will be thrust into innocent victims, sorry, I mean Visitors' faces while being encouraged to guess the number of brackets and the total weight including the jar. The nearest correct answer of each question, by the end of the day, will win a Meccano prize. This fund-raiser will be offered at the very reasonable price of 50p a guess. All profits will be spent down the pub after the meeting... What? do you mean I wasn't supposed to say that? ...humm... er... OK, I'll tell 'em that...  Sorry, what I meant to say was, all profits will go towards offsetting the hire of the hall and the other costs associated with the day... Was that alright?...

I will post the answers here after the show. To win a prize you must enter the competition on the day, at the exhibition. Here it is just for fun and global recognition. 

You can have a go free...

You can join in here, just for fun, have a guess at the number of brackets and how much the jar weights and let me know. Either just click on the picture to send me an e-mail, or leave a comment on the bottom of this post.
How many? How much dose it weigh?
Click on the photograph and send me a guess!

For more information about the exhibition or membership go to the NELMC website where you will find everything you need to know about The Exhibition: And, if you are impressed with all that you can even pay for membership on line!

Member or not, you will all be welcome to attend the Exhibition. If you mention you saw this here, on the day, I will buy you a cuppa! ... What's wrong now?...No its not bribery, it called incentivising... can I go home now?


Monday, 11 November 2013

Back to the Merry Mixer - At last...

After a bit of a lay off it is back to the Merry Mixer. We got as far as a test assembly and discovered that it was not only unstable but the whole thing looked, well, ugly! Sue's chair spiders were great, it was the proportion of the top support arm assembly and the central column that looked wrong. Compound that with the fact I was having problems getting the lower arms rigid and the models was getting to be a problem. Deep breath, time for a rethink.

A mock-up proved it was not going to work...
It is hard to go back to the beginning but after a lot of mucking about I decided that I was not going to rectify these basic faults and out can the spanners. The central column has been dismantled as has the top support arm assembly. With help from the guys on Rust Bucket, I have managed to sort out the lower arms.

 The problem with the lower assembly was one of rigidity.  When I first conceived the design I had it in my head to just bend some strips and brace the sides of the arms. It wasn't until I came to do it I realised the holes would not align conveniently. It was suggested that I used the 5½ inch slotted strips (Part No.55), suitably formed to fit, and and make use of the slotted holes to make the fixing the the arms. Apart from the fact that we only have a few of these and that I am reluctant to bend them, it would still have meant the end holes would not align. His suggestion reminded me that the formed slotted strip (Part No.215) is, when flattened out, longer than its stated 3 inches. It fits perfectly to act as a brace.

The final bracing
The addition of that part to each of the three joints alone makes a substantial difference. However the leverage is so great that the assembly is still flexible. The addition of tension braces, suggested by another contributor to Rust Bucket, has solved the problem completely by turning the the hub into a triangular torsion 'box' The only flex now is in the length of the girders which is minimal and I think will be acceptable - time will tell.

That seems to have sorted out the lower arms, now it is back to redesigning the central column with a bit of shape and sorting out the top support arm assembly...

The Rust Bucket thread regarding the lower arm assembly can be found HERE. There are even more suggestions on the Rust Bucket thread and I my take up even more ideas if the assembly still proves problematic.


Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Old!

Dinky Builder garage
Meccano made several other products over the years. Some became household names such as Dinky Toys and Hornby Trains, to name but two. One that passed me by as a child was Dinky Builder. A friend of ours gave us a shoebox full of Meccano, some time ago, and in that was a selection of Dinky builder bits. Up until that point I had not actually handled it.
Tatty but complete

Recently I saw a small set for sale on eBay and placed a bid. A few days later and the 'congratulations' e-mail arrived from eBay, the little set was mine. A few more days later, It arrived complete with an instruction booklet and a pin removal tool. 

It first appeared before the war and was then reintroduced post war for a short period. It had neither the realism of Bayko nor the charm of Meccano, yet it was a sort of cross between the two. I can understand why this stuff was not a great success. The parts, although nicely made, are easily damaged making it almost impossible to push the jointing rods through the lugs. Indeed, the little model I have built here required a great deal of force to push the rods through the joining lugs of both parts, mainly due to misalignment. The end result is not the most pleasing of models/toys, and a struggle to complete.

This is the whole range of parts
There were few parts in the range and no new parts were ever added. You were suposed to be able to buy extra parts but if you could I was not aware of them as a kid. I think Meccano must have got the marketing wrong with thid one. In trying to make it apeal to girls they put off the boys. I remember seing adverts for it in whatever magazine/comic I was reading at the time but just passed them by without a second thought as I was of the opinion that it was for girls and never gave it another thought until recently.

Only two sets were available post war; a number 1 and a number 2. There was a conversion set 1a that, just like the meccano progressive sets, converted the small set into the larger one. My set is a bit of fun and something different. I will keep my eye out for any more going cheap as I want to have a go at a bigger model and see if the aesthetics improve with scale. More on this product can be found on Alan's Esplen's Meccano website HERE.