Images representing different hobbies

Model Engineering

Ever since I was a boy, I was in awe of the working mechanical models to be seen in the pages of Model Engineer magazine or on television programmes like Bob Symes' Model World. In 1999 I managed to acquire both a daughter and a lathe, and against all the odds started my journey in model engineering.

You can buy my books including the Mini-Lathe, Norden: Building a Victoirian Steam Engine and The Home Workshop Dictionary using the links below:

Hardback and Paperback Books



Ebooks and Kindle


Fans of cult Canadian science fiction movie 'The Cube' can now live out the experience of escaping from a three-dimensional maze in their own living rooms!


This Cube is a 27 'room' maze with a 15mm ball bearing trapped inside. The' exits' are on opposite faces, one in a corner, the other in the middle so you can tell which is which. How long will it take you to move the ball from one exit to the other? Of course the catch is that the ball is permanently trapped, dropped in during the print process.

You can download the STL file of the cube and print your own.

As a 'clue' here's what the Cube looks like inside, credit to Moduleworks' free, simple and really handy STLview program.

Inside Cube

The example Cube was printed using the 'standard' setting of a Dremel 3D40 Idea Builder printer. Advice for printing your own is:

  • Don't use any supports - they will block the maze!
  • Make sure your printer settings can cope with bridges up to about 17mm long, this should be OK on most printers if you have the right settings.
  • Ideally use a 15mm ball bearing or a marble. One down to 1/2" or 13mm should not to come out of the holes, but any much larger than 15mm may get jammed. That said, bigger ball bearings make a more satisfying clunk as they move around the maze.
  • You can use a smaller ball bearing, but it won't remain trapped inside, which is half the fun of the object - something you can't take apart without destroying it!
  • The best time to put the bearing in the print is while the second or third layer is being built - pause the print and drop the ball through any hole that links to the layer below out of the way of the print head. If you can't pause then you will have to judge a moment when the print head is occupied elsewhere!
  • If you use a solid colour rather than a translucent one, the cube will be even harder to solve!

Finally if you print your own Cube, please post a pic online and share this page!

Well not quite golden... this one is mostly brass witha bit of anodised aluminium. lightly antiqued and sprayed in celulose laquer to keep it shiny.

The snitch is the crucial element of the game Quidditch in the Harry Potter books and movie, but also plays a critical role at the end of the series 'I Open at the Close'.

The feather/wings are sheet brass, etched both sides with a freehand feather texture and a silver soldered 'stalk'. The base is from a long-gone 'executive toy' abacus!

Full size golden snitch model


Another view of the full size snitch model

I'll confess, this is pure vanity! These are covers of Model Engineer and Model Engineers' Workshop that have featured one of my models or tools as the central theme.

To my mind they give me comfort that I may be a proper model engineer after all!


Norden vertical mill engine


Norden, a vertical mill engine in 1:12 scale.




Southam, Hudswell Clarke diesel shunter number D604 in 3 1/2" gauge.

Handwheel Dial


Parts for a  lathe saddle handwheel dial to Graham Meek's design.

Compact Dividing Head


A Miniature dividing head made using parts from a 'Westbury' dividing attachment.

Southam is my 3 1/2" gauge model of a Hudswell Clarke shunter, D604, which operated for many years at a cement works in Warwickshire.

Many model engineers dream of travelling along a model railway behind a locomotive of their own making. Sadly the cost, time and complexity of even a 3 1/2 inch gauge steam locomotive can be enough to deter many beginners. My solution to this was Southam, an inexpensive but characterful diesel outline electric locomotive in 3 ½” gauge that is currently being serialised in Model Engineer.

Most designs for such small diesel models are functional and follow rather boxy prototypes. This model is based on one of Hudswell Clarke’s early designs, these were made to resemble their steam powered products and have plenty of character and detail. Construction took about six months.

I used LBSC’s classic design for a contractor’s locomotive, Tich, as a reference point. If I could match the power and adhesive weight of this live-steam 3 1/2 inch gauge 0-4-0 in my electric 0-4-0, then it should have a comparable performance. In the end I managed to achieve this specification - the all up weight is about 25lbs (12kg) compared to about 20lbs for Tich and, with the motor I used, the power available, 80 watts, is about the same or perhaps rather more – the limiting factor for Southam is the available traction as it will always slip rather than stall. Like Tich, the design is simple and straightforward and can be finished to any level of detail the builder desires in the knowledge that it will comfortably pull a hefty adult (I’m 6 foot two inches and about 14 stone) around most tracks.

I wasn't happy with it's gaudy 'factory' finish, which I decided isn’t ideal for a working shunter that spent its life in a cement works, so I went to work with your dust and rust paints, using an Arism compressor and Sparmax airbrush all from A bit of research soon showed that the radiator grill at the front is a prime target for cement dust!

Southam Weathered 5

Southam won a Highly Commended Certificate at the 2016 Model Engineer Exhibition in this guise.


Southam Weathered 6

Southam was serialised in Model Engineer Magazine from mid-2016 to mid-2017.

The issues are: ME: 4539, 4541, 4543, 4545, 4547, 4549, 4551, 4553, 4555, 4557, 4561, 4568.


Southam running on the Nottingham SME track


 Southam on the cover of Model Engineer Magazine

Many year's ago I shared a flat with a chap who's father had owned the studio where Dougal and the Blue Cat was overdubbed into English. In the movie the blue cat decides on a name, in a broad Yorkshire accent it declares 'My names Buxton'. Apparently, his dad creased at this point and had to be banned from the studio for the duration of that scene!

This has nothing to do with steam engines, except that after seeing a Buxton and Thornley horizontal engine at Abbey Pumping Station, in Leicester, and making a model loosely inspired by it, 'Buxton' seemed a really apt name. Confusingly, the company come from neither Buxton in Derbyshire, or anywhere in Yorkshire. They were from Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire, the beer capital of the world.

This is the original engine:

Buxton and Thornley engine at Abbey Pumping Station

Buxton and Thornley engine at Abbey Pumping Station

In my bits boxes I had a cast iron cylinder I had made from meehanite bar as an experiment, a 4" flywheel and a few bits left over from building Norden, such as a spare eccentric and strap. I also had a big lump of square aluminium alloy and wanted to mill a challenging shape out of it. I ended up turning most of the ally into swarf, and came up with a nice 'cast' base and an engine with a family resemblance to the Buxton and Thornley one.

After Norden I wanted something a bit more simple, so it's all fairly basic construction. I must improve the base by covering it with brick slips. Painted bricks just don't work, at least not with my skill level.

Buxton horizontal steam engine

Buxton horizontal steam engine

It's no prizewinner, and not really worth writing up as I don't think anyone else would wish to go through the process of hacking that bed from the solid. A scale version of the original would be nice, perhaps a bit bigger.

Flywheel of Buxton horizontal steam engine

Flywheel of Buxton horizontal steam engine

Somewhere I have some pictures of this engine's little brother at Clay Mills - if I find them I will add them to this page. The Clay Mills engines are great, the beam engines are huge and all the small ones are covered in a profusion of ingenious lubricators!