A parting gift

Trimming down axle ends – before at the top, after down in front. Eventually, I figure out how to do things the smarter way.

As regular readers know, I’ve spent the past few months building models of railway equipment that ran on the Great Western Railway in the Edwardian era. Almost all of these models have started as photo-etched brass kits from Walsall Model Industries – and some examples of my work can be found here.

The kits do not come with wheelsets but do specify what type of wheels are required. So far, I’ve needed one of two types of wheelsets, and both are readily available from Slaters Plastikard.

The Slaters wheels are excellent, but designed to fit into outside bearings on Slaters own kits. The Walsall kits have inside axle bearings – between the wheels, not to the outside of them. For these kits, I need to shorten the Slaters axles. Basically, I need to remove the thinner part of the axle that extends beyond the front face of the wheel so it doesn’t get hung up in the frames of the kit.

Crude but effective: There’s a reason they’re known as “Breaky Discs”.

To do this, I’ve been using the low-tech approach: I’ve pulled the wheels from the axle (which I needed to do anyway to mount them on the wagon). I then clamped the axle in a vise and trimmed the axle ends using a cutoff disc in a motor tool. Since the axles are shouldered, I don’t have to worry about re-gauging the wheels: I just push them back onto the axles until the inside face of the wheels hit the shoulder, and they’re in gauge.

This approach has worked, but it’s imprecise. What’s more, the discs are fragile and can snap, which is why one always wears safety glasses when using a power tool!

I had finished 14 cars – trimming 56 axle ends (two per axle, two axles per car) – when I finally started to wonder if there wasn’t a better way. And of course there is: It’s on the countertop behind my workbench:

Well now, hang on just a darned minute: what’s this?

Yep – a parting tool in a lathe sure would make this task easier, better, and safer. And wait: I have a parting tool – and a lathe!

The set-up. The axles are shouldered to ensure proper gauge, so I mounted the axle in the chuck at the point where the axle steps down, then used the thickness of a wheel to set the distance between chuck and parting tool. As long as I mount an axle the same way, I’ll always cut off the right length.
A trimmed axle end. So slick. I should have thought of this months ago!

To be fair, finding the parting tool took half a day of digging through as-yet-unpacked boxes from our cross-country move in 2020. But once I had it to hand, it was straightforward to set up the lathe and trim the axles down to size. I did four axles in half the time, with better results, less mess, and a lot less stress. Next time I have a repetitive task to do, I’m going to think about how my lathe or mill might help me make things better.

The downside? I only have two more of these Walsall kits to build, so I figured this out too late to really do me much good. Unless, of course, I buy more kits…

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and retired amateur shepherd who trained a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

7 thoughts on “A parting gift

  1. A) The headline seems rather startling, which may have been the point. And B) it’s so interesting that a commonplace detail is anything but to people outside the hobby; I had no idea what the “axles are shouldered” meant, but Google is my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A) Yes – the headline was a pun related to the parting tool – a particular tool for a lathe, normally used to remove (part) the work from the end of the raw material (the metal rod). B) yes – Google IS your friend. I love that you were interested enough to look it up!


    2. I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment about looking up “Axles are shouldered”. The question of how much to explain is always interesting. (It’s kind of like when I stumbled over a reference to “filk music” on your website – and I wish I’d simply googled it. I have now, so now I know.)

      While I know you’re not a railway modeller, there are also many people within the hobby who would not know what this means. But explaining it might take too many words, and disrupt the flow of the story – because the only reason I mentioned it was that the shoulder allowed me to set axles in the chuck at the correct distance, thus making it easy to repeat the operation.

      How much explanation is too much? I struggle with that. There are times when the answer is obvious – for example, nobody needs to define “Locomotive” (or “Star Trek” or “furniture”) on a website. But “GWR locomotive”? When writing about the GWR, I always try to use the phrase “Great Western Railway” early on in the post. Similarly, I like to explain 7mm as “British 0 scale” or “1:43.5” because I know many of my readers are North American. If i lived in the UK and had mostly UK readers, I would likely not explain those, but would explain “CNR” and “S scale”.

      Thanks for making me think about this!


      1. I think the criterion is not necessarily obscurity but how easy it is to look up the information. So, if you’re talking about a process or concept, it might be a good idea to include one or two explanatory sentences. If, however, you are referencing a term — like filk singing — then that does not require explanation; most people reading the content will get it, and if they don’t the answer is 20 Google-seconds away.

        Liked by 1 person

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