Home Cut Lumber

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Steam Donkey, Nov 9, 2003.

  1. Steam Donkey

    Steam Donkey Member

    Hello All,

    I was having great debate with myself whether to purchase or scratch-build a large HO scale sawmill complex for my as of yet non existent railroad. BTS makes a beautiful sawmill, but when you convert the price to Canadian dollars.....yikes, I'd be broke in no time!

    So I'm considering scratch building, but even the cost of scale lumber is crazy. So I says to myself "Self, why don't ya cut your own scale lumber?"

    Has anybody out there tried to do this? I have a full sized table saw which I would be fine for cutting the "slabs", but that's where my confidence ends. Should I invest in a mini table saw? Do they do a good job of cutting mini lumber? Or should I save the trouble and just buck-up and buy the pre-cut stuff?

    Any thoughts? :confused:

  2. Arlaghan

    Arlaghan Member

    Coming from someone who LOVES to scratch with wood, I recommend you not try to cut the pieces yourself. However, there is some light where there was but darkness!

    If you can do without the "scale" lumber, I would just get fractional inch wood instead (1/32", 1/16", etc). I believe this stuff costs a little bit less than the scale stuff meant for model railroads and is close to the scale sizes anyway. Example: a 1/32" x 1/16" strip approximates a 2 x 4 (slighly larger than scale, but smaller then 1/32" is unworkable anyway).
  3. My friend Rusty Stumps (who is also a Gauge member) has been cutting his own stripwood. He uses a 9" bandsaw and a "thickness sander," which he built himself, that can be micro-adjusted. He recently sent me several bundles of his stripwood that ranged in size from scale 12x12's on down to 2x4's. He started with basswood sheets but also used several other woods to see if there were differences in how they cut at scale thicknesses. The samples he sent me were very nice, and I plan to use them in my next scratchbuilding project.

    Just as important, however, he's gotten me fired up to try the same thing myself, so I've been pricing bandsaws at Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears. :)
  4. Vic

    Vic Active Member

    Stan, MicroMark's Micro-Lux Tilt Arbor table saw equipted with an Accuriser rip fence, blank plates and special blades will allow you to cut most any scale lumber you want. But the big drawback is the cost....about $450 US...!!!

    The used to make all of this stuff for the old Dremel Table Saw (no longer made) and I was lucky enough to piece one together for less than $100 sometime ago. Its kinda fun to cut your own lumber but I sometimes wonder if its worth the trouble and the mess it makes.

    Casey, That rig that Rusty uses sounds right interesting...maybe you could get him just to post a pic...I'd like to see it.
  5. Steam Donkey

    Steam Donkey Member

    Thanks for the advice, everyone.

    Vic, I think I'm going to put the MicroMark Micro-Lux saw on my Christmas wish list, it's pretty slick! (check out http://www.micromark.com/).

    Good idea, Arlaghan. I might just buy the non scale 2x4s from the hobby shop and cut the bigger stuff myself.

    Casey, I'm also intrigued by Rusty's sander, any idea how he built it? I wonder if he's had any problems with the lumber "exploding" in the sander like the 1:1 drum sander did in my old shop?

  6. Steam Donkey

    Steam Donkey Member

    Thanks for the advice, everyone.

    Vic, I think I'm going to put the MicroMark Micro-Lux saw on my Christmas wish list, it's pretty slick! (check out http://www.micromark.com/).

    Good idea, Arlaghan. I might just buy the non scale 2x4s from the hobby shop and cut the bigger stuff myself.

    Casey, I'm also intrigued by Rusty's sander, any idea how he built it? I wonder if he's had any problems with the lumber "exploding" in the sander like the 1:1 drum sander did in my old shop?

  7. Rusty Stumps

    Rusty Stumps Member


    I cut almost all my own scale lumber. I just purchased a new band saw as I burnt the motor up on the older one I have. The new saw, a Craftsman 9", was $99 on sale and I also had an extra $5 coupon they let me use. (that was a Craftsman's Club Sale by the way) I built an auxilliary table for it out of 3/4" plastic coated chipboard with a special fence. This keeps the saw kerf to a minimum which is needed to keep the real small pieces from snapping when sawn.

    Yesterday I cut up a slab of 1/2"x3"x24" basswood that I had purchased at JoAnne's with the 50% off coupon for $3. I got approximately 30 HO scale 12x12 strips out of it. Kappler sells those for 4 for $2.50 which figures out to 63 cents each. That's $19 plus shipping. If you join the JoAnne's club you get a 50% off coupon each month. I go down and buy one piece of 1/2"x3"x24" basswood, cleaned their stock out in three months.

    I do have one other advantage in this and that's that I build my own surface sander with micro adjustment. It's a 4" expandable drum 4-1/2" suspened between ballbearing mounts. The table under it is hinge at one end and has a micro adjustment at the other. I can sand sticks as thin as an HO 2" piece. The sander is powered by a used sewing machine motor and total cost with the plastic dust collector hood I made was around $30. This is the key to it. The band saw can leave blade drag marks and it's hard to adjust it real fine. The sander smooths the wood and gets it to scale sizes.

    Oh by the way, you can buy a commercially availble hobby surface sander for $350.... This is why I make a lot of my own machinery and stuff.

  8. Rusty Stumps

    Rusty Stumps Member

    Tell ya what! I'll take and add some pages to my website showing the sander and the band saw. It'll take me a couple of days but on around the end of the week (Nov. 15, 03) go to www.rustystumps.com and scroll to the bottom of the Home page and I'll have links there for the surface sander and the band saw showing the auxilliary table setup.

  9. Steam Donkey

    Steam Donkey Member

    SWEEEEET! :D Thanks for the info, Rusty. Guess I should change my Christmas wish list to include a small band saw! ;)

    I've also just had a peek at your web site, and may have to borrow some of your bench work ideas! (beautiful looking mine, by the way) :cool: I'll keep my eyes peeled for your sander update.

    Thanks again!

  10. Rusty Stumps

    Rusty Stumps Member

    No problem Stan. I'd have the pictures up for you but my wife left for Florida yesterday and took my digital camera with her. She'll be back Wednesday night so I'll look to get some pics Thursday night, might be Saturday before I get them posted.

    Another good reason I cut my own stripwood. I'm puting in 4 rather long trestles and normally the track stringers are made out of 1' pieces and you need to overlap these to get any length. Today I went to Mendards and picked up a couple of pieces of 1/2"x3"x36" aspen for $3.00 each. Now I can cut the stringers 3' long. How's that?

    I did post two pictures of the old set up on the surface sander. The design that "didn't" work! (chuckle)

  11. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    I am of the opinion you don't need a lot of money to produce a lot of stripwood.

    You can cut reasonably sized stripwood with a standard table saw. The trick is to get the smallest diameter, fine toothed blade you can find that will fit. I got a 3" one and had to ream out the hole to fit the arbor. The other trick is to use the fence to clamp a thin sheet of styrene down on the table and bring the spinning blade up into the sheet, cutting a small slot in it. This keeps the wood from snapping off while cutting. The other other trick is to get rid of the fence and clamp angle iron onto the table with C clamps, so the lumber can't slip under it. Perhaps your saw is of better quality and that's not a problem. Mine's old junk.

    The result is the strip wood Shamus has been using all summer on his structures and the lumber I used on the building in last months photo contest.

    I start with 1/32 thick 4" X 2 ft basswood from hobby lobby at about 1.50 ea, and each one makes over $10 worth of lumber. It is not as smooth and fine as the lazar cut stuff you get for $3 for ten strips, but neither is the stuff used on most outbuildings, industrial buildings, etc., and it can be sanded if desired. I don't bother. I cut a couple of hundred linear feet an hour eazy, maybe in a half hour.

    IMHO: scale lumber is kind of a scam, since real lumber is not true to the advertised dimmension, and old lumber was, and they don't claim to be either. 2 X4's in my old house are 2 inches by 4 inches (and hard as oak). 2 X 4's at the lumber yard are about 1 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches, soft, knotted and crooked :( In HO I figure it doesn't matter because you can't tell by looking. I just do approximations. I call what I make "stripwood" rather than scale lumber.

    For those who don't have a saw, there is a cheaper micromark alternative, but the blade doesn't tilt:


    Item Number: 50304
    List Price $164.95
    Our Price $119.95


    It's a little smaller than the tilt model that goes for over $300. I doubt you need to tilt the blade much. Both suffer from a small tabe and would benifit from mounting to a larger table and maybe getting a longer fence or do the angle iron thing. I would expect smoother cuts from either, compared to what I do, but I like the rough cut result I get, so for now, I'm leaving my money in my pocket :D

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  12. Steam Donkey

    Steam Donkey Member

    Jon, I think you're absolutely right about not needing a tilting blade on such a small saw. What am I gonna do, miter the corners on my 1 1/2" thick siding???? NOT! :D

    I suppose the big question is now small table saw vs. small band saw? If you look strictly at manufacturing scale lumber (disregard any other uses for the machines), which one is easier to use or is more efficient? (looks like costs are about the same).

  13. Vic

    Vic Active Member

    Jon. You might have already thought of this but here's a way that you can get your stripwood even thinner using a standard table saw.

    First lower the blade and remove the steel blade plate from the saw and use it for a pattern to fashion another plate out of the approiate thickness of finished plywood. You may have to sand it a bit so that it is flush with the saw table. Sand it from the back side.

    Lower the blade completely and install the new wooden plate being certain that it is fastened down tight.

    Turn the saw on and SLOWLY raise the blade until it has completly cut through the new wooden plate. You now have a blade plate with a slot just the width of the blade. No more lumber "falling down the hole" :D

    Lower the blade and give the new plate a coat of Johnson's Paste wax to slick it up and you're ready to cut.

    The styrene on your system does the same thing...just thought that this would be a little more permanent

    You can do this with soft aluminum too but its a bit more trouble to fashion it.:) :D

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  14. mhdishere

    mhdishere Member

    I cut all my own strip-wood too, but do it differently from everyone else who posted here. I use balsa almost exclusively, and I use this little tool from Micro Mark:

    Cutter Tool

    to cut my strips. A couple notes, Micro Mark claims that the tool will hold a #24 blade for cutting wood harder than balsa, but the blades just don't fit. Still, a #11 will but any balsa I've ever tried to cut and thin (1/32) basswood too.

    I personally don't go for scale-size lumber, I get close-enough in most cases, and I've gotten thin (sub 1/64) strips of 1/8 and 3/32 thick balsa. It takes a little practice to keep even, constant pressure both against the table and the wood, you have to start with a straight edge, and especially for thin pieces the blade HAS to be sharp.
  15. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    An alternative is using balsa. I've not tried this, but think I will on my next structure scratch.

    Some people buy (relatively) inexpensive balsa sheet and "rip" it with the handy little strip cutter thing that Micro Mark sells. It's called a "Master Airscrew Balsa Stripper" made by Windsor Propeller Co. It's plastic (looks like top quality engineering plastic) holds a hobby knife blade to do the cutting, and has a thumb-screw adjustable fence/guide.

    I've even heard of people using balsa for ties for hand-laid track, but I'm not sure if that would be a great plan.....

    Bill S
  16. Mike R

    Mike R Member

    What Vic describes is known as a "zero-clearance insert", and is a good idea to use for ALL perpendicular-blade woodworking, as it much safer than the large clearance inserts that come with the tablesaws.
    You need one insert for each thickness of blade you use....and one for each individual blade is best, even if they are nominally the same thickness. I use maple to make mine, as my inserts are adjustable for levelling with setscrews, and one can drill and tap the maple for the set screws.

    The saw I use for all relatively fine woodworking [ from 1:1 down to 87:1 ], is a Porter Cable #3812 10" benchtop.
    Good saw, really nice fence and miter gauge, but it was CDN$600 + tax at HD.
    Similar saws are DeWalt #DW744 and Bosch#4000.

    I rip as small as 1/32 x 1/8 on this saw, out of furniture grade maple. I've also use hard pine, red or yellow cedar, and some others.
    I mainly use Freud 80T or 60T blades.
    Will be trying some basswood this winter.
  17. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Vic - I like the sheet of plastic as it offers a smoother surface than the metal table of my saw. This is a very cheap, old saw. Sometimes it litterally falls apart whaile I'm using it. My wife's a nurse, so she just sows my fingers back on, I put it all together and go at it again. This precess also saves money on red barn stain. :D :D :D As I have to "C" clamp the fence in place, positioning the plastic at the same time is no problem. I usually cut 100's of 2 ft sections in a session, so the setup time (I guess 5 or ten min.) pays off. I've made my own metal plates for my dado and shaper blades. I usre have beat the heck outa that old gal. Only paid $100 for it back in the 70's when you couldn't get cheap imported junk, so it's American made junk. Cut tons of steele with cut off disks which has to torchure the bearings!

    On balsa - it is easier to work with, but I prefer basswood for it's finer grain and strength. Us clumbsy oafs tend to break balsa structures when handling, and the grain can be a bit chunky in smaller scales. Might even be able to cut balsa with the large "free to use" paper cutters at Kinko's. If it will be painted, balsa might look better than the basswood.
  18. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    A saw like Mike describes is surely a better investment than a mini saw, as you can do so much more. One day...

    Steam Donkey, regarding your decision as to which type of saw to use, each has it's advantage:

    Table saw is known for precision and a clean cut. You can cut grooves with dado blades and shape edges like a router if you have a shaper blade set. It only does straight cuts.

    Band saw is know for it's ability to cut curved surfaces (scroll). It is not as precision and most band saws don't cut as smoothly as a table saw. For use with stripwood, I don't think you would be able to scroll. Then again, with stripwood, I don't think the precision of a bandsaw or smoothness of cut will be an issue.

    I would choose whatever type of saw would be most usefull to you overall. I use my table saw all the time to rip lumber for construction projects and such. I don't think I could rip an 8 ft board or a sheet of plywood on a band saw. On rare occasion of needing to cut a curvey peice of wood, I get rude and crude and go after it with the sawzall, leaving plenty of room to sand it smooth with a high speed grinder. Not that I don't want a bandsaw, just haven't got one (yet).
  19. TrainClown

    TrainClown Member

    Did you see what I saw?

    I have a table saw and a band saw, but my wife gets a bit upset when I drag them into the living room to cut some wood strips. So one day last winter we were at the Salvation Army scoping things out, and I came accross this saw for $5 bucks! So I had to buy a blade for it, I got me a scrole saw blade, and it also doubles as a lathe and a drill press. I don't use those much, but the saw and the sanding disk are just what I want for making stripwood stock. It dose cut pine a bit slow, but just flys through balsa wood. So keep your eyes open. You never know what you will find.

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  20. TrainClown

    TrainClown Member

    This is called "4 in 1 Master Workshop" and is copywrite 1991 by Natural Science Industries LTD. Far Rockaway, N.Y. I never was able to track down any parts or even another one of these, but they must be out there.

    Here is the side of the box.

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