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Hi All,

I have been following the thread,"GOING PROTO:48" and have recognized my lack of such skills.  Actually, I knew I had no such skills many years ago but told myself that I was too old to go to class.  I am older now and wish I had gone.

How many of you have taken such a course? or plan to?



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I would love to!   At least learn how to work a drill press, lathe, bending brake, etc., all the way up to CNC machining and 3D printing.  The old ways, and the new.  I'm much too old for high school shop class.  But given the opportunity, maybe I would even retire from my career job and use my skills to help others in the hobby.

O gauge trains, particularly, were a product of the "machine age" (in contrast to the Atomic Age, the Space Age, or the Information Age that followed.)  It's frustrating to me that today the mechanical aspects of locomotives-- gear trains, drives, quality materials, careful design and assembly -- seem to have taken a back seat to fancy but failure-prone electronics that will almost operate the locomotive on their own, and are shamelessly used by some manufacturers to cover up a multitude of mechanical sins.

I'm very serious about wanting to explore a change in career direction.  There are a handful of folks in the hobby (Henry Bultmann, Doug Cockerham, Stu Kleinschmidt, Joe Foehrkolb, Rod Miller come to mind and apologies if I'm forgetting you!) who have unique skills and have made an enormous contribution.  As they retire or move on, the potential knowledge drain is a major threat.  Clinics, videos, and slide shows are great but IMO they are a weak substitute for true apprenticeship.

If anyone else in north Texas is interested in learning or teaching basic machine tool skills, please contact me through my profile!

Last edited by Ted S

I graduated High School in 1984, and the machine shop classes were eliminated my senior year.  I’d suggest looking for a “Maker Space” near you that has milling machines etc.   Most of those places are pretty friendly environments and would either offer instruction as part of your membership, or there would be people there that could get you started.   In Philadelphia there is NextFab but similar operations all over.   Many are going to have CNC mills, so that would require you to develop some CAD/CAM skills, again, probably class are offered.    These CAD/CAM skills would be transferable to 3D Printing, laser cutting, CNC Routing, vinyl cutting etc, so would be well worth the time and effort.   I’m convinced the future of this hobby, especially O Scale 2 rail, and even more so Proto 48,  will require one to be able to make more of your own parts and models.  This isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion, as it frees you up to model whatever prototype you want.  

When I was in the Air Force stationed in Korea, I was in aircraft maintenance trained as a welder. The welding shop and machine shop shared the same building, so I was always in the machine shop working on projects collectively, and learned to use many of the lathes and en mills. The sheet metal shop was next door, and I also worked with the tin knockers, and learned a lot of valuable skills. When I went stateside to a missile base in Missouri, it was a similar situation, with all the trades in the civil engineering squadron in close proximity. I again worked with machinists and tin knockers to further my experience. These skills helped greatly when I was hired as a welder by Morrison Knudsen in their Mountain Top facility repairing and re-manufacturing locomotives. I was again exposed to several of the trades involved. When I worked in the maintenance department at a school district, I had access to all the different machines in the shop classrooms, and used my machining skills to produce miniature scale turned "porch" posts to use as supports for my outdoor shelf layout. I used my welding/soldering skills to fabricate an open deck girder bridge made of steel. These skills were also used in the restoration of a composite mine car, and a mast signal that are on display at historical society's park. These skills will soon be used during a restoration project on a 0-4-0 steam locomotive used in local mines that we recently acquired. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to learn any technical or trade related skills.

Start small, and work your way up, mentioned best way is to start making chips...nothing beats experience, ....nowadays, lots of info on line, and some machines that are perfect for hobbyists are not out of this world in advice I can give, it’s not the machine, it’s the operator knowing how the materiel is going to react in the’s not really rocket science .....soft metals, or materials react differently than hard stuff...measuring and mathematics just as important.....


I'd have to check, but way back when, San Diego had adult classes in welding and machine shop at the City College.

I took welding there while I was in grad school at UCSD.  Machine shop is somewhat easier - you can almost "read and do."  

Serious O Scale locomotive builders do have machinery.  I have an 11" Sheldon in the garage, a 9" South Bend in the Cub hangar, drill presses practically everywhere including two in the kitchen, oxy-acetylene, and a Bench Master end mill.

Sarah is an artist.  You do not need to be that good to build locomotives.

Midway through my senior year of high school I was accepted into several college EE programs and realized I wouldn't need the last semester of French III - which I hated!.  For the remainder of my senior year I took metal shop and learned about working with metal and running a lathe. drill press, and other tools.  I had a ball.   Thirty years later I purchased a 9" South Bend lathe similar to the ones we had in the high school shop.  The South Bend is gone now and has been replaced by a benchtop lathe from MicroMark that I use for small train related projects like turning headlight reflectors and truck bolster bushings.  Those metal shop lessons come in handy at times,  but most importantly they served to build confidence for a range of do it yourself projects one encounters in life where time is more available than money.   I say go for it.

I think you will find most community colleges have classes including adult learning.  Find one and take what they have.  I guarantee you'll love it and be thankful you did.  I did shop in high school and machining/welding in college (mechanical engineering technology).  Age is irrelevant unless you're looking for a career.  Journeyman level machinists and tool and die makers are always in demand. 

Several adult women are taking these classes around here (Reno NV) and turning out some amazing artistic things.  And, if you can find CAD classes even better.  Translating drafting into 3dCAD has been a challenge for me.

They don't call it lifelong learning for no reason.

@J Musser posted:

I graduated High School in 1984, and the machine shop classes were eliminated my senior year.  I’d suggest looking for a “Maker Space” near you that has milling machines etc.   Most of those places are pretty friendly environments and would either offer instruction as part of your membership, or there would be people there that could get you started.   In Philadelphia there is NextFab but similar operations all over.   Many are going to have CNC mills, so that would require you to develop some CAD/CAM skills, again, probably class are offered.    These CAD/CAM skills would be transferable to 3D Printing, laser cutting, CNC Routing, vinyl cutting etc, so would be well worth the time and effort.   I’m convinced the future of this hobby, especially O Scale 2 rail, and even more so Proto 48,  will require one to be able to make more of your own parts and models.  This isn’t a bad thing, in my opinion, as it frees you up to model whatever prototype you want.  

We have a "Maker Space" here in Sioux City, IA but it costs like $50.00 a month to belong to. A bit pricy for me.


I worked in an auto parts store early on at the end of high school. We had an attached machine shop that turned rotors, machined heads, clutch plates, etc. I got pretty good at turning rotors so when the time came some older friends schooled me on machining heads. I later turned or machined most everything that came in. I turned a flywheel with no previous experience on that machine.

 The old school tools were pretty easy to run in my opinion. Once you got familiar with a machine and learned it's quirks, it became easier. Years later I saw a lot of stuff running with some form of Autocad. I was interested but never got the chance to learn it. On my very last job I was assigned to run a water jet machine. It basically ran a premade program once selected, and you just hit the start button.

 I worked as a carpenter most of my life and handled many different machines over the years. Everything from hand tools, to some of the biggest shop tools. We had a machine that made stringers for stairs for example. Large table saws like an imported sliding table version. I worked in a door factory too. Just high speed, repetitious duty making door jambs and assembling the finished doors as fast as we could.

 I think this hobby can be interesting and we get to use many of the skills we have learned thru life. I just wish I had a better budget to equip my shop with more current stuff. I would have loved to build bridges or engines for people, or something similar that the hobby would need.

Last edited by Engineer-Joe

I grew up in and around a machine shop and likely forgot as much as I know. I was drilling holes for brass gauge stock on a drillpress much of my last preschool summer.

Regardless, I never skipped looking up at my charts when it matters a lot. (metallurgy, speeds, temps, bits, conversions, pressures, weights + books for what wasn't hanging up)

I can rattle off part numbers, bits etc, but I always check myself there too. 

The rest is skill aquired, born to, or longed for.

There are days I considered going to a class for things, just because I might learn something new.  (E.g. I knew hvac well enough to pass the general tests easily, but wanted to know more about some of the math and theory, so took the classes twice more, even after passing it the first time. (it was cheap and I attended casually )

  I also took some blueprint reading "I didn't need" and picked up some things I missed while progressing to architectural drafting IV and having the HS #V & #VI dropped decades earlier. (Graphics and general drafting and woods was all that was left by my Sr. year.   Autos, welding, metals, etc. were jokes by 1980 and gone soon after. Graphics, woods, and drafting seniors were at our 7th grade Jr high levels by 90  (now 6th thru 12th, no jr high seperation to mature in... just crankin out immature dummies that cant do simple math or print well with a pencil let alone write cursively, by the literal hundreds yearly now.)

Take a class?... Yep, you'll have fun because you want this

I took it in college (mechanical engineering).  Now I have two metal lathes and a vertical mill.  Even took a farming mechanics class in college that taught you how to be self sufficient on a farm.  Stick, ox-acetylene and tig welding, hot and cold metal work, code wiring, basic construction.  Learned more practical stuff in that class than all my engineering classes combined.

What gets me is if you look in the 1950's popular science mag, it seemed like everyone had an Atlas metal lathe in their basement.  Today, most people can't change the tire on their car let alone know how to turn a lathe on.

I took carpentry in 4H. Learned basic stuff. The old instructor never let us use power tools. We had to do everything by hand. In summer I worked in construction. Build three decks on different houses I've owned. One huge one with a hot tub flush with deck. I could frame a house if need be. It's a good skill. You should never give up learning. Don

This subject has kind of inspired me to take some machinist classes. As an auto racer we depended on machinist to accomplish the specialty engine work and chassis pieces necessary to be competitive, but I certainly didn't know how to forge and machine.I would like to be able to have the tools and knowledge to machine the rough castings for a live steam back yard railroad. 

After high school I went to work at a machine shop as a draftsman, 4 yr apprenticeship.  As part of the apprenticeship I spent a little over 1 year working in the machine shop, got to run the common tools like drill press, bandsaw, but I also learned (basics) how to use a lathe and mill.  The coolest thing was I got to actually make some of the parts I drew.  95% of the jobs we got were from NASA, back in the 70s they had  a blank check and could just about spend as much as the pleased.  Never did learn how to weld, but I did learn how to solder when I went thru my 2nd apprenticeship at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  Both jobs have been a big help in life/hobbies.

I have a mini-lathe (hardly ever use it now) and always wanted a mini-mill but never got one.  Now I don't really need one.

after i got out of the Airforce i took a metallurgy and welding course and took tig mig heliarc dc ac, welding all kinds of metal welding stainless brass bronze aluminum cast iron steel butt welds etc.

my favorite was dc reverse tig mig and especially gas welding oxygen acetylene .when yo do stick welding you have to stress relieve each gas weld or it will crack adjacent to the weld you made!ido welding for a living wouldn't want  to do welding for a living. but have seen to many welds fail because they were not stress relieved!

Alan Mancus

I had shop and drawing in highschool, that led me to an apprenticeship program at my career employer. I served a four year apprenticeship as a machinist, in doing so I realized that I didn't want to run production machinery the rest of my life. I was blessed to have the opportunity to be involved in a very intracate machine assembly area. I was one that loved working with my hands and that 47 years passed pretty fast. I do appreciate the time I spent learning the machines and how they work. I would like to own a milling machine but, I can't justify the expense, I can manage to get by with some light machining on my Shopsmith.


Acquiring some more 'advanced' skills is always beneficial in the model railroad hobby. I'm an electrical engineer by trade, my buddy is a mechanical engineer by trade. Our combined interests are mostly in pre and postwar trains. We've developed a local reputation of repairing the 'unreparable'. My buddy prides himself in bringing home the 'under the table' junkers from shows and getting them running. He's got lathes, mills, arbor presses, machine tools. I've got a lathe, arbor press, electronic test gear, ability to solder, diagnose electronics.  We've rebuilt motors, made bushings, bearings, rewired, refinished tinplate, and postwar, made standoffs, repaired E-units, etc. I like McCoy trains, and have made several replacement parts to keep ahead of the zinc pest. That's the part of the hobby we enjoy the most, fixing stuff. There are a lot of machine shop videos for all skill levels on YouTube. Even if you buy yourself one of those elcheapo Harbor freight lathes and drill presses to start playing with, your skill levels would improve dramatically.

Well, most of my skills are self taught. In college I studied Architecture. Which led me into building construction and it's skill sets: Carpentry, Plumbing, Electrical, Masonry, Design, Code Compliance. As a child and teen I was always intrigued with how things worked or were built (which got me into quite a bit of trouble. Picture disassembling an American Flyer engine down to unwinding the motor armature). Going forward I learned auto repair, got a lot more skilled at carpentry, learned how to work with metal and plastics. I've used every imaginable hand power tool (and own nearly all of them), own a drill press, bench saw, table saw, chop saw. I worked in graphics arts running a newspaper, as well as architectural CAD, so computer designing is second nature.

In short, I can diagnose just about any project and come up with a solution. It was all about going ahead and trying. I made mistakes, some costly, but gained huge confidence and knowledge to tackle just about anything I set my mind to.

I would like to get better at welding. Lathe work I'd leave to someone more adept.

We’ll fellas.......I took my Machinists class in 1973 - High School.....then proceeded to take a 4 year Tool & Die Apprenticeship.......Turned out to be a fantastic career.....45 years.......retired at pushing 66.......I owe everything to my Machine Shop Teacher.......he stuck with me thru my 2 years with him and actually made me turn out to be a A Okay Tool & Die Maker.....I never regret this profession.......👍👍

Rewarding post brings back many memories, when I graduated high school in the mid-60's, I considered either a machinist or tool and die maker career. Instead I chose mechanical engineering  and worked a variety of projects including designing machine parts. It was a rewarding experience to watch the machinist make these parts from a drawing, many of the machinists that I have worked with over my career were highly skilled professionals who took personal pride in their work, these individuals had to know the characteristics of different metals, heat treating, the use and calibration measuring tools such as micrometers, calipers , dial indicators, etc., how to setup and run a lathe, boring mill, horizontal and vertical milling machines.etc. Given our current job market, there is a shortage of machinists and tool and die makers, most technical high schools have closed, mechanical drawing(drafting) in not taught in many high schools and many shop classes have been discontinued.  

Hi Folks

I trained in mechanical engineering and spent ten years in the steel shipbuilding industry, where I designed everything needed to make a ship go, from anchor winches to propeller shafts and everything in between.  I thought I knew a lot about machining stuff from designing the parts but experience then showed me that I only knew what the part was supposed to look like - getting from metal blank to finished part was a whole 'nother ball game.  Okay, I was probably a bit better off than many, because I already understood limits and fits, tooling limitations, choices of materials and the issues involved with machining them, but my first attempts to machine stuff were abysmal failures and I had to go buy a bigger scrap bin for all the metal I was throwing away.  I learned the hard way about taking the time to properly dial-indicate a part for alignment on my long-suffering Sherline mill.  I learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a cheap drill bit, and using indexable ceramic cutting tips on my lathe for the first time was like climbing out of a Model T and climbing into a Shelby.

Everything you do has its own unique challenges, so you are constantly learning, correcting, refining.  I advise anyone wanting to try machining to start simple, read books, bug experienced machinists, ask questions on this forum.  Harold Hall is one author of many books on workshop subjects.  A statement of his made a big difference to the quality of my work; it went something along the lines of "It will often take more effort to build a fixture to hold the workpiece, than it will take to make the part itself".

Don't skimp on measuring tools either - my success/accuracy on my mill improved a lot when I bought an edge-finder tool - before that, I was constantly introducing little errors through shoddy set-up despite spending an awful lot of time on it.  Having been raised in a metric country, I found it impossible to do anything well on my 1960's-vintage lathe so I bought digital read-outs and bolted them on - quite apart from the metric aspect, being zero-resettable was a very useful feature in its own right, and so I bought another set of DRO's to bolt onto my mill!

A very important thing to remember is, you can't expect to get it right from the get-go, a lot comes down to experience and even very experienced machinists stuff things up now and then, so don't be afraid to dive in.

Hi Simon, that's a really difficult one to answer.  So much depends on what you are wanting to do, that you are probably best advised to decide on a project then seek information on that type of project.  Harold Hall has been kind enough to make a lot of his work available free: .  Unfortunately it is mostly laid out as projects rather than individual machining techniques, which sometimes makes it a bit hit-and-miss if you are trying to figure out how to perform a specific operation (although he has cross-referenced some common techniques), but I guess if you get stuck you can always come back to this forum for help.  Be warned, however, that the machining aspect can become a hobby in itself ;-)

I should add that I started out reading a lot of books at the library, reading through Mr Hall's website in great detail etc., but I learned the most by putting the books down and just doing it; of course, the books were kept handy for figuring out what I did wrong when I broke something - and I did that A LOT.  Safety glasses mandatory; my wife even threatened to buy me a T-shirt she spotted in a shop, that said 'Requires Adult Supervision'.  Several burned-out tungsten-carbide-tip lathe tools was how I learned the importance of packing the cutting edge up to exactly the same height as the centreline of the lathe chuck ;-)  It's not the carbide itself that fails, by the way, but the lower-melting-point brazing metal that is used to stick the carbide to its steel arm. As frustrating as it was to be wrecking tools, it nevertheless taught me about the importance of cutting-tip geometry, and I eventually graduated to grinding my own tungsten-carbide end-grooving tools, because one small enough for my pipsqueak of a lathe cannot be had for love nor money.

My first attempts at machining cast brass wheel centres to fit commercially-manufactured tyres started with cutting a blank disc to test how precise I could be - I couldn't afford to ruin any castings because the supplier was a grumpy old sod and I nearly had to promise him my first-born in order to get the castings!  Only once I was sure I could hit the mark reliably did I dare cutting the castings.  It will always be a case of incremental improvement, gradually extending abilities and making or purchasing tools to make jobs easier.  I will also happily admit to finding that some things are completely beyond my skills or the capacity of my machinery - or the amount of time I have available.  I'm quite proud of the steam loco driving wheels I fabricated, but I have since realised that I would die of old age before I completed a fraction of what I want to do.  I don't have any great desire to be able to say I made all my own wheels; I would much rather be building freight cars, so now I buy the superb driving wheels made by Slaters in the UK whenever I can find a match within an inch or so of the prototype size - self-quartering, screw assembly and they even include crankpins....worth every penny!

My suggestion to anyone wanting to get in to Machine Shop is to keep it real simple to start can be overwhelming to someone that does not already have an understanding of Metal working.......throughout my career I advanced to operating CNC Jig Grinders.....easily working with in .0002 of an inch.....or closer....Dead Nuts was the term for my type of work....I actually had one machine that you needed to program within .000000....yes that’s six places if your trig was off the machine had accumulated error and true datum was gone in the first move.....X Y and Z coordinates....anyway.....precision grinding is NOT for just can be overwhelming, frustrating and at times just a pain in the ...But always remember “ Tool & Die Makers Do It With Precision” we are the master craftsmen of the world......Machinists are also INCLUDED.......along with the Fabricators......together we make a great tandem......Of course Design Engineers, Mechanical etc.......Least we forget about the Electricians.......we are all part of the total package.....the list goes on in life’s cycle......In the End we all need each other applying each God Given Talents into completing the final project.....👍👍

I never considered myself a machinist having known a few highly skilled professionals though I was once offered the job of running a machine shop at the school where I work. One thing that I became painfully aware of early on is you can work on a piece (only have manual machines, no CNC) for a few days and with one wrong turn of wheel turn that piece into scrap.

Its take a high degree of concentration and fore thought to sucessfully complete a project.


I was a Industrial Arts teacher for 28 years grades 7-12.  Loved it too!!!   Graduated from Millersville State College in Pa., had to take a wide gamut of classes, wood hot and cold metals, electronics, graphic arts, welding, construction, to earn my degree.  Fun times indeed and still use lots of these things that I have learned even into retirement, best decision I ever made was going into teaching.

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