Making Tools and Sweating Buckets

Being a hobbyist, more specifically a train hobbyist, has made me use more raw skills than any other hobby.  It involves all the skills of building plastic models–the prepping, the painting, the assembling, the disassembling, the repainting,  It involves a fair bit of math– measuring angles, radii etc as well as re-measuring those same angles and radii.  It involves a bit of electronics–soldering, wiring, re-soldering, rewiring.  And it involves a bit of carpentry–constructing platforms to build the train on, backdrop holders, rebuilding those same things, quite possibly several times.
An example of the thick sprue channel
I am no carpentry whiz–as I mentioned before, that is my brother’s department.  Nonetheless, I try not to bother him with things I should be able to handle.  I build my last train table myself and managed to do a fine job (though, I wish I hadn’t taken the advice to build the thing on a hollow door–plywood would have been better and it would have been much easier to wire.)  Some friends even commented that I did a decent job (that is why you have friends by the way)  I managed all of this without a serious collection of power tools.  Hand saw, mitre box, and workbench can take you far.
Besides giving myself a virtual pat on the back and feeling smug about my self reliance, it does bring me to today’s blog idea–making tools, or at least making do.
The cleaned up model I am working on–sanding still required
Today I started work on a DPM (Design Preservation Models) Hayes Hardware kit.  Having spent a lot of years building car models from the US, Japan, parts of Asia and Europe, I can say that car modellers have it way easier,  You clean up a bit of flash, fill some gaps and you’re ready. With these kits I had to cut off a lot of extra material, (I have never seen such big sprue channels) and you aren’t really provided with a nice tab system for keeping things together,  What really irked me was that I was told I had to “level the draft corners”.  The building doesn’t even come squared.  The edges are bevelled!  Why would they do it that way?  Granted I found no injection marks, but still!  I would like to see what a Japanese company like Tamiya could do on buildings. (I have a Japanese model of a convenience store but it came pre-built, so I can’t really compare.)
The recommended rotating the model around a piece of sandpaper tacked to a piece of wood.  Sounds good, but wouldn’t it be better to have the sandpaper glued to the wood?  Whether it is better or not, I do not know.  However, that is what I did.  I got a piece of wood, cut it to size with my trusty handsaw, and glued two pieces of sandpaper to it.  Now, I have what they asked for, built to my specifications.
The sanding tool I made
The negatives; it took me some time (finding the piece of wood, getting it down from its high storage area involved moving and setting up my not so light ladder, marking the cuts, cutting it, cleaning up, gluing and waiting for the glue to dry) and when the sandpaper is used up, I will have to make another one.
The positives; I feel very manly.  (in which case I feel entitled to a beer)  I feel self reliant.
All in all, I am confident that I can go to the next stage in the building process.
If anyone would like to comment on the outdated tools they use, or the tools that they have made, that would be wonderful.

Living Large

Today was a day of hobbies.  I went to the Japanese store to practice a little Nihongo and eat some Tonkatsu.  I followed that up with a financially draining visit to the train store, a complicated search for and tour of a  plastic model shop, and a quick visit to the store that sells the Nanoblocks.
Some would call it self indulgence, others would call it what I call it, a classic start to my vacation.  Living life to the fullest includes doing your hobbies.

Commuting Distractions–Logic Puzzles

Having too much time on my hands in the bus is both a good and bad thing.  My bus is frequent enough that I don’t spend a lot of time waiting for it, but I certainly spend a lot of time on it.  I read, do the crossword, maybe a sudoku, a codeword when I have them, play video games and lately, I have been doing logic puzzles.

I thought I was the only one who did them because I had never seen anyone do them.  Sudoku seems to be the favourite, followed by people reading, and then followed by whatever iPhone game is popular at the moment.  I have never seen anyone doing a logic puzzle.  And no one has ever asked me what I was doing, or stared at me to figure out what I was doing……. until Friday.

On Friday I met someone who was interested and who wanted to know where I got the book.  This is no big deal, but it means that I am, in my mind, no longer the only one doing these things.  I am part of some group.  Since the book was published and sold in a big bookstore chain, I should probably have realized this before now….but this seems more personal, more real.

Logic puzzles are not the best thing for the bus.  There is less to write than a crossword puzzle (I use circles and “ x”s), but more to pay attention to.  I had been managing it pretty well, but I realized that for the difficult puzzles, it is difficult to concentrate.  Add to this fact that I am often sleepy during the morning commute and on the verge of dozing off on the evening commute and you can see the problem.

I will persevere though.  Logic puzzles are fun, and challenging.

I became a fan of logic problems when I was in high school.  We spent a week in mathematics class doing them.  I did acceptably well on the test, but now I would be able to ace it. (okay, that’s ego talking–let’s just say I hope I would do better now.)

Over the years I have bought some puzzle magazines because they contained a few logic puzzles.  The only problem was that I didn’t do the rest of the magazine and it sat around for years until I finally threw it out–no I am not a hoarder, but I am not a constant purger either.  My current book is 160 pages of logic puzzles.  I got it in the discount section of the bookstore (I guess they aren’t popular) and have done about 25 of them.

Two Dreams Unrealized

Get ready to be shocked.  There are two things that I am passively working on.  I say passively because I really want to be able to do them, but am not sure I ever will.  Probably if I put in a large amount of effort or work I could probably gain a respectable amount of skill, but somehow I am not sure that is going to happen.

I want to learn how to juggle and I want to learn how to do yoyo tricks.

I know, not really a spectacular ambition.  Other people are getting their MBA’s  and PhD’s and I want to be a party entertainer.  When I put it like that, it does sound pathetic. really pathetic.  I might as well learn how to make balloon animals. (see tomorrow’s blog–just kidding)

I don’t think it is really about entertaining.  I really can’t imagine performing in front of people.  Don’t get me wrong, once I get over the stage fright, I can perform in front of people.  It is a weird thing, but I can stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and make them laugh easier than I can ask questions to the clerk in a hobby shop.

Rather than be an entertainer, I just want the skill to be able to do those things.  The juggling came from a Japanese TV show called TV Champion.  It is a wonderful show that can make an interesting contest out of anything (juggling, making ramen, building Lego, making models, redecorating, and painting to name a few)  They had a great juggling contest and I was hooked.  Of course, my high school girlfriend was also a professional clown and could juggle–and ride a unicycle–so maybe that was part of it.

The yoyo came from watching my brother do amazing things with the yoyo. and then watching very young people on YouTube do impossible things.

I bought the yoyo and can do some very basic tricks with it (okay, one trick.  Thanks to the ball bearings, I can make it sleep for an incredibly long time)  I got the juggling balls for Christmas and have never managed more than a few revolutions before they come crashing to the ground and I have to gather them up again.  The instruction booklet recommended practicing over a table to make it easier to round up the balls.  It would be good advice if they didn’t roll off the table.

Not having mastered either of these skills I have considered giving these things away in my annual donate to family ritual, but have never managed to do it.  Even now, hunting for the yoyo to take the picture, I was worried that I had given it away.  Like most things, I think someday I will do it.  I just wish I knew when that someday would come.

My Hobby is Sleeping?

As an ESL teacher I get an interesting world view.  I have heard many interesting things, wild things and unbelievable things.  One that affects the topic of this blog is what my students consider hobbies.  Since my definition is broad I shouldn’t judge anyone’s definition, at least not harshly.

Some students have told me that listening to music is their hobby.  based on the fact that they listen to MP3 files, I tend to disagree.  If listening to music is your hobby I think you would have some of the best equipment possible and the best recordings available.  Granted, I am no expert, but since I have heard the hollow sounds leak out of the ears of several of my fellow commuters, I can’t believe that those are the best recordings.  We can have computers with terabytes of memory, so we should be able to have some incredible digital recordings.  Some of my students do indeed have top of the line headphones, but does that make it a hobby?  Listening to music is certainly relaxing and enjoyable, but is it a hobby?  I would have to say no, but might be persuaded to raise my acceptance level to undecided on a particularly good day.

The other “hobby” (I have to use quotation marks because I can in no way agree that this is a hobby) that my students regularly admit to is,,,,,,, wait for this one,,,,, sleeping.  I really don’t know what to say about this one.  If I use my previous criteria, that would have to be one dynamite bed for this to be declared a hobby.  The most recent student to argue this one was quite passionate, and quite articulate.  She loved sleeping, spending as much as 14 hours one day (hopefully after finishing her homework).  She said it felt good.

If I sleep more than normal my body gets sore–or is that just because I am old?

Lastly, several students said that shopping was their hobby.  I can’t say as I have any passion for this, but I could see how they might see it as a hobby.  They don’t buy something every time they go, they go into the same shops they’ve already been to, and they do a lot of research, spend a lot of time and money, and put a lot of energy into it.   My inner self says to firmly put my foot down and say no, this is not a hobby.  The truth is, I can’t.  I can’t understand shopping as a hobby, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

As for my readers, I would love your opinions on this.


I have already admitted (perhaps more than once) that I have been bitten by the Lego bug.  That is undeniably true.  What I failed to mention, or perhaps concealed from you, is that I found a way to stave off the call of Lego.  Not surprisingly, that way comes from Japan(my other home, and source of many of my hobbies.)

They are called Nanoblocks.  Basically it is Lego, only smaller.  When you think about it, it is no surprise that these blocks come from Japan.  They made everything else smaller, so why not make something that is similar to Lego, only smaller.

I saw these things first either on or on BusanKevin’s YouTube page.  Yes, surprise surprise I do check out Amazon Japanoften enough to spot what is new and happening in Japan.  Some family members call it an obsession, even a sickness.  Others think I was Japanese in a past life.  Either one might be true, but that doesn’t really matter.  I like hobbies, and truth be told, Japan is a country which really caters to the hobbyist.

yes, they are that small

Back to Nanoblocks.  The upside is that they are small, and even a large box doesn’t take up so much room when built.  I have built five pieces so far and they don’t take up very much room.  In fact, the marketing for the ones that I have done (famous landmarks) is that you can have the whole world on your desk.  Looking at my photo you can see that is true.

Now, they are indeed small.  Even though I am into N scale trains (the second smallest scale) I found these things to be rather small.  This isn’t such a big problem unless you

a) drop them on the carpet–in which case search and rescue could take some time

b) have slender nimble hands–which I don’t
This is what comes in a typical box
c) have absolutely no patience–I have enough, fortunately

Of all of the ones I have built the castle was my favourite. It was a large, challenging, and came with a fantastic instruction book.  The instruction book set out how many of each type of piece was needed per step.  This was good because the box had more than 2000 pieces.  I enjoyed building it, but it took quite a bit of time.  I think the end result was a good model though.

This was the deluxe kit–and it was spectacular
Nanoblocks are readily available through in the US (you lucky people) and here in Canada, Scholar’s Choice sells a few (a few, my advice is to call before you drive there–I had to get them taken from one store to a closer one before I could go and pick them up)   As far as the price goes they are not horrendously expensive.  Granted, I did get the Castle (which is called HimejiCastle) sent from Japan–this is the deluxe one, a smaller one is available.

Once assembled, there are a few pieces left over.  I decided to organize mine in a Stanleyorganizer–perhaps it is not the best use of space.  I have done five and I could probably put what is left over into a small box.  Why on earth did I choose such a big organizer….I am thinking long term.  Someday I might have way too many of these tiles for even that huge organizer….someday.

okay, so I haven’t reached storage capacity yet.
If you have some Japanese ability, you will be able to find some great examples of what artistic people can do on the Japanese homepage   Typical of Japan, they hold yearly contests, and some of the work is unbelievable.

If you want to know more, check the English home page at

As an addition to my family of hobbies, it seems to fit right in.  It was creative, fun, challenging, and from Japan–see, perfect for me.

Random Encoutners and Random Reminders

I was riding the bus yesterday absentmindedly watching a woman flip through a book. She started out concentrating, but by the end she was just flipping through the book, not really looking at it. Because I was trying not to look, and because I wasn’t wearing my glasses–who’s kidding who? I was trying to look, but because my glasses were safely packed away in my bad I had to squint pretty badly, and I still couldn’t make out what she was looking at.

I had a feeling, a sixth sense (without the dead people) that she was looking at a Japanese book. Maybe it was the layout of the book… I am not really sure. I squinted very hard, but I couldn’t make it out.

When we neared our destination, she closed the book and I saw the cover had only two things written on it. It read N2. Aha (or as they say in Japanese Yappari!) it was a Japanese textbook, specifically for the second level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Normally, or at least usually, I wouldn’t try to bother people but I felt I had to ask her.

I asked “Are you studying for the Exam?”

She replied, (being somewhat surprised) “yes, but the test isn’t’ till December.”

We only had a brief conversation about it, but I was feeling good about he coincidence. What struck me the most, and serves as a catalyst for this blog, is that she said it was her hobby.

It is also my hobby, but I have neglected it for a while. So many other things seem really important right now. I am not sure any of them really are, but that is just the way things are stacked up right now. This brief encounter has reminded me that I need to spend a little time working on my Japanese, if only not to become rusty, and prepare for one of the levels of the exam.

Commuting Distractions: An E-Reader Update

I used my e-reader for the first time today.  I spent a relatively brief time downloading free e-books from the Kobo website.  I spent a much longer time trying to find available (and free) books from the library.  The first of those tasks was fruitful and I now have about 31 books to read.  The second was difficult because anything I wanted was too popular and was subsequently checked out.  In addition, some of the waiting lists were so long that I didn’t feel inspired to get on them.

As far as reading goes, it seemed rather comfortable.  It certainly took less effort to turn the page–unbelievable to think of all the energy I wasted turning pages the old fashioned way.  (I guess I can take solace in the fact that I probably burned a few calories the old way)

My first book was a bummer.  It was really short (I read it in about 30 minutes) It wasn’t particularly well written, but since it was free, I really shouldn’t complain.  I am on the second book, and all is progressing nicely.  It is better written, and managed to keep my attention for most of the trip home.

I don’t seem to have any eye strain, and the e-reader is probably lighter than any book I have ever carried on the bus, so I shouldn’t experience any muscle pain.  If I have misjudged this, I will probably wake up tomorrow with an incredible headache.

The only negative thing about the device so far is that way it counts pages.  In a single commuting session, I read about 200 e-reader pages.  I take pride in my reading speed, but that seems rather fast.  The pages are small, so you blast through a lot of them.

I talked to a woman on my bus and one of those George R. R. Martin books clocks in at over 1000 pages.  Keeping that in mind, I was temped to download Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, but that would most likely surpass 2000 pages.

Time will tell if this device will replace books for me.  Most likely I will still go to the library to check out books from time to time.  I can’t imagine my life without periodic pilgrimages to the library.

A Need for Speed

Okay, I admit it.  I love car racing.  There I said it.  I have come clean.  I know what you’re going to say.  I have heard it all before.  I know all the jokes about going around in circles.  Say whatever you want, it won’t affect me.  I know what I like, and I am comfortable with that.  I told you people at the beginning that I loved cars, so really, this shouldn’t come as a shock to you.

one of my “to do list” models
Generally speaking I prefer either touring cars or open wheel racing.  So, yes that means I sometimes have to get up very early on a Sunday and watch the races from Europe.  It also means I must scour the internet looking for races that are rarely broadcast on TV channels I get.  A cable channel devoted entirely to fast cars sounds wonderful, but why did they have to put it in the top tier TV package.  How I long for the day when I can choose the 15 channels that I watch and pay about $1 for each of them.  Quake in fear cable companies, that day is coming

What spurred this blog topic was my local paper.  Every week they have a car section and the reporters get to drive a whole bunch of cars that I never will. This week one of the reporters went to a racing school that is located a reasonable distance from my house.  In between fits of jealousy and rage, the fire, the desire, the urge (perhaps it would be too cliché to say the drive) for this hobby was reignited (maybe if I had an editor he or she would want me to use puns like, it got my engine started…. perhaps it’s good for all of us that I do not have an editor)

I love the look of these cars
I guess there is a speed demon lurking in most of us.  I love car chases in movies, and I love the roar of the engines.  I have fantasized about racing Porsche 911 down an empty highway, foot to the floor.  These thoughts haven’t surfaced for a while (I guess that is what life on a commuter bus does for you) but this newspaper article did it.

So, I did what anyone who had an internet connection would do,  I googled it.  Then of course reality set in.  They have long and short courses.  They have a cool track, great facilities and Van Diemen Formula cars, and a cool program.  The pictures are fantastic and the lust for speed is boiling in my blood.  Everything is perfect, except that to go to this racing academy I would have to give up eating for the next two years.  I grant that it would be worth it, but somehow…… after two years without sustenance, my body would be too emaciated, and I probably wouldn’t have the ability to turn the wheels.
vintage and cool

Reality is cruel.  It gives passions, dangles them in front of you, and then watches as you vainly jump for them–it is like playing monkey in the middle with two taller older brothers.

I could write a letter to the editor, hoping to wipe that smug smile off the reporters face, but what good would that do.  It isn’t his or her fault exactly (I was too angry to check if it was a man or woman), but my frustration level makes me want to lash out.  I probably won’t feel better until I get my own dose of speed.

Just in case somebody wants to know.  Currently, my favourite kind of racing is The British Touring Cars, followed by Endurance Racing (most notably the 24 Hours of LeMan) and then the Australian V8 SuperCars.

Tools and Tribulations

I was once warned that I could spend a lot of money collecting hobby tools and have no money leftover for the hobby itself.  I don’t remember if that was at a hobby show–because I used to go to a lot of those, or whether it was on a hobby website.  While this hasn’t exactly happened, I do think it is good advice.  Of course, some tools are necessities, while others are a luxury.  Though I can’t always tell the difference, I hope I have struck a happy medium.

The best tool I have every bought was my airbrush.  It has improved my painting a lot.  I still need more practice, but on the whole, I like most of the results.  Can’t say I am fond of the clean up, but it isn’t really that hard.

The worst tool I have ever bought (not including the multi drawer storage cabinet that binds every time I open it) was a cheap micrometer.  If you are going to purchase this tool, buy yourself a good one.  It isn’t going to break and if you have it for ten or twenty years, it really won’t cost that much.

There are tools I lust over, and someday will have

I would love a spray booth.  My current solution works, but is not ideal.  I have one of these saved on my Amazon account, so someday it will be mine, all mine,

I would love to have a Unimat hobby lathe.  I saw one fantastic all in one hobby machine, and I have lusted after it ever since.  The price is way out of my ballpark, but,  I think it would be a worthy investment.  Who knows, I might win the lottery someday.

The magnetic jig.  I am not sure this is absolutely necessary, but it sure would help putting those train buildings together.

Life every train enthusiast, I probably need an official NMRA gauge,  I have one for spacing and ride height, but I could probably use the all encompassing one nonetheless.

In addition to these there are lots of files, glue guns, scrapers, hot wire cutters, moulds,  magnifiers, third hand devices, electronic gauges and sensors, clamps, and computer doohickeys.  The list is endless.  When you get right down to it, the warning I received so long ago, seems very appropriate.

Would love to hear about the best and worst hobby tools that you’ve ever bought.  Please leave a comment.