The Junction of Trains and 3D Printing

By Bruce Weidner

My interest in 3D printing stems from my computer and electronics background and casting and molding stuff (mostly train items). When I first learned about 3D printing, I had envisioned making little do-dads or maybe even some custom parts for homemade robots. I looked at Thingiverse to see what others had been designing and printing and – to my surprise – there were a few model trains and train items that were free to download and print.

That got me to thinking that I could do that if I had a 3D printer, but the price at the time was not in my hobby budget so I had to save up. By the time I could afford a 3D printer, MakerBot had come out with the Replicator 2, which had a decent-sized build platform that could hold an S scale 40' boxcar body (which is approximately 7.5" long) so I ordered one.

Boxcar Body in S ScaleBoxcar Body in S Scale
Water Tower in O ScaleWater Tower in O Scale

I had been casting and molding (mostly experimental) train cars for a few years and 3D printing was the next step in making my own trains. Along the way I found Shapeways, a website where they could take your designs and print them for you or you could order a print of someone else's design. I soon learned that there were others in the hobby of model railroading that were experimenting with the 3D technology as well.

So far, I have printed two model railroad items from Thingiverse: an O scale water tower and a bunch of hoppers that were originally drawn in HO scale and I reduced to N scale. Neither of those are my designs, but they gave me some insight on how to print complex items.

26 Hopper Bodies in N Scale26 Hopper Bodies in N Scale
Completed HoppersCompleted Hoppers

I have a box car in S scale that I am still developing that I designed myself, as well as part of a boat model that I am making in O scale. My plan is to make 3D train cars of prototypes not currently available in S and O scales. I also will be making some background building fronts and modular wall sections to be used as masters for casting and molding copies.

I used a combination of software to come up with my designs and to edit others' designs to my needs. I use Sketchup, Blender and the MakerBot supplied application to turn my ideas into physical items.

Bruce Weidner lives in Columbus, Ohio and is currently working as a production employee at a local newspaper. He has 13 years of experience working as an electronic technician for industrial controls, cable TV equipment and digital copiers. Bruce's interests include technology, vintage computers, 3D printing, model railroading (O and S scales), and watching science fiction movies.