Thursday, 27 February 2014

VD Van Construction Tips

VD Van "as printed" with supports still attached

Removal of Support Structure

The VD van is printed upside down, which results in the optimum surface finish on the louvres which are obviously the most prominent part of this model. The downside is that removal of the supports from the roof will leave small attachment points require cleaning up, and there will be some visible stepping on the roof.

In general, it is best to first cut away the supports from the areas which have small details, and the areas which will be visible on the the finished model with a sharp hobby knife.  (An X-Acto style knife with a #11 fine blade can be useful for the fiddly bits.) Take particular care removing the supports from the brake handles, vacuum hoses, door tracks, and underfloor brake gear.  Note that there will probably be a tiny support at the top of each vacuum hose.

The brake handles have "sacrificial" guards around them to provide some protection against breakage during production and shipping of the 3D printed model.  It is suggested to leave these in place until most of the other work has been done to minimise the risk of breakage to these delicate parts.

Once the supports have been cut away from the delicate areas, the remaining supports can be broken away by wiggling them or applying pressure to break the small attachment points.  It is not necessary to remove all the supports from inside the van body as these will not be visible on the finished model.

The visible stepping on the roof can be smoothed of using a craft knife with a scraping action, then finished with sanding stick or sandpaper.  Any minor indentations should be filled with modelling putty and sanded smooth.

Non-Tapping Holes

The holes for the couplers and bogies are designed to accommodate 2-56 or 8BA screws without tapping.  This also has the advantage that the screws remain tight, so they won't accidentally work loose (especially for the bogies).

Note:  Tapping the holes is not recommended as it will remove more material and potentially lead to stripped threads.


Railwest Models sell suitable bogies.

An alternative is American Models S Scale standard gauge Bettendorf bogies which can be regauged to Sn3½ as described on the Sn3½ Blog. (Marbelup models has 3D-printed replacement bolsters available which simplify regauging of the American Models bogies.)

If necessary, adjust the height of the van on the bogies so that the coupler mounting surface is 11.5 mm above rail level.


The VG is designed for Kadee "whisker" couplers.  Either the #158 (scale size) or #148 (normal size) couplers can be used, with #262 draft gear boxes.

The draft gear boxes supplied with the #148 and #158 couplers do not fit as they have a different mounting hole position.  The #262 draft gear boxes are narrower and have been used because they allow details such as the brake hoses to be positioned the scale distance from the van centre line.  Also, the #262 draft gear boxes are easier to use as the lid snaps into position.

Note that the height from rail level to the coupler mounting surface should be 11.5 mm, the standard for Kadee couplers.


Handrails can be formed from 0.4 mm brass wire.  Starter holes are provided on the side and ends, which should be opened out with a 0.45 mm or 0.5 mm drill bit.

The lengths of the handrails (centre to centre) are as follows:
  • doors (2 per side): 9 mm
  • ends (above brake handle): 6.5 mm
Once in position, the handrails and other brass details can be secured with Super Glue.

Brake Pull Rods and Hangers

On each side, there is a brake pull rod which can be formed from 0.4 mm brass wire.  Starter holes are provided which should be opened out with a 0.45 mm or 0.5 mm drill bit.  On the brake gear hanger nearest the vacuum cylinder, support the underside of the small lever from the inside when drilling to avoid braking the small lever.  The distance (centre to centre) between the holes is 45.4 mm.

The hangers for the brake pull rods can be formed from brass ministrip 0.8 mm x 0.25 mm (made by North Yard NZ and available from Railwest Models).  Small slots have been provided in the underside of the door track for attaching the top end of the brake hangers.  The brass ministrip should be cut to lengths of 11 mm and 13.5 mm, with 2 mm at the bottom bent over to form a loop to support the brake pull rod.  (Refer to prototype photos for arrangement.)

Floor and Weighting

To allow the van to be 3D-printed in one piece, the underframe is a skeleton only, with no floor.  If desired, rectangles of styrene (approx 1 mm thick) can be cut and glued between the underframe cross members to represent the floor.  Optionally, some or all of these pieces can be cut from sheet lead to add weight to the van.  

With no additional weight, the finished VD with American Models (plastic) bogies weight approx. 75 grams.  The suggested weight for a van of this length is approx. 110 grams (See Sn3½ Blog.).

Moving from the centre of the van towards the end, the dimensions of the "floor" pieces are as follows:
  • Centre: 20.25 x 14.5 mm (2 required)
  • Centre + 1: 20.25 x 14.5 mm (2 required)
  • Centre + 2: 22 x 14.5 mm (4 required)
  • End: 25 mm x 14.5 mm (4 required)
Some of the pieces may require slight trimming around small details.