Mini Project: Scratch Ladder (Scratch Roof Access Preface)

ladwideI have been building the Walther’s Merchant’s Row II  in HO scale for a friend, and the roof has been giving me fits. Frequently – and very much so on my table-height layout – the roof is the most-visible aspect of a model. This model has fantastic details everywhere else, but is seriously lacking in roof detail. Like…. There is none. At all. Since I don’t have the money right now to buy a bunch of molded roof details, but I still wanted to give my friend a piece that I would want on my own layout, I decided to make some. (Apologies to Jay for being an unwitting guinea pig – I learned much!)

The first thing I built was the roof access door in the foreground. I used root cellars in the area as the inspiration (as opposed to a set-in roof access or an upright door with a slanted roof) and an extra HO scale door that I had floating around for a general idea of size.


Awhile ago, I bought and assembled a Pikestuff kitbasher series small engine shed, and was at the time rather annoyed by all the extra cutting and fitting, carving, and relatively large amount of remnant that remained after the project. That little roof access was handily made with the straight edge of another piece of styrene, eyeballing an angle that seemed appealing, and a dull Xacto knife. The pieces were already primed, and I sanded the gluing edges in to approximately a 45 degree angle, glued them and secured the whole thing with a little ball of butyl tape (I’ll cover this in another entry…) and let the glue dry. Once the glue was dry, I dropped the whole piece in to my ‘black wash’ water, fished it out, and let it dry.

While I was figuring out the roof-tarring technique (yet another entry, probably), I dipped the bottom of my roof access in to the mixture (1 part Elmer’s glue, 1 part cheap acrylic black paint) and stuck it on the roof ‘in line’ with the tar paper. Now, it looks like it was weather sealed in place and will stick between the butyl tape and the Elmer’s, but can be relatively easily removed if the new owner thinks it looks crummy.

I put the roof access not-quite-centered in the middle building of the ‘block’, and added a roof vent that I had painted and prepared when I was doing Olin Station, but never found a use for. (It was included on a sprue in the kit, but never mentioned in the kit instructions, so I saved it just in case.) To do the block justice, every property should really have a roof access, I thought… But I wasn’t really willing or prepared to do one for each, so I imagined the guys who owned the short end of the block could climb the neighbor’s steps and jump the divide, but the ones on the tall end needed a ladder. So, I built a ladder!

Awhile ago, I built a chain link fence based loosely on a how-to I found on the interweb somewhere, where the guy did an expert job of soldering tiny brass wires. Since I am pretty seriously ham-handed with soldering, I modified the job to what I could handle – florist wire and glue. I did pretty much the same thing with the ladder…

I envisioned what I wanted, measured the height eyeball-style against the place on the model where I intended to ‘install’ it, and cut two identical lengths of florist wire. I used my fingers and a jewelry pliers (you can get them at Wal-Mart, it’s not as special as it sounds) to bend the two top ends over the handle of a paintbrush for the top of the ladder. In cutting the rungs, the first one was eyeballed, and then I pretty much just cut each one so it looked and ‘felt’ the right length to my fingers.

[I use a wire stripper/cutter from my husband’s ‘electrician bag’ for everything from stripping wires to cutting track… Basically anything that involves metal. It works as well on florist wire as it does on electrical… Far better than dogged labor and a dull Xacto (and Lord knows they always are…) and less damage to the tool than with a scissor .]

Rung placement was similar where precision is concerned. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have acquired a black plastic HO scale ‘ladder’. I think that’s what it is, anyway. The rungs angle and sort of condense at one end. It probably fell off some rolling stock somewhere, some-when, but I had the presence of mind to keep it. I studied it (even tried to position it as a replacement for this project, but decided it was wrong and would probably be identified by someone) and loosely based my rung positioning on its spacing.

I propped a paint brush handle up to hold the rails in place off my work mat (lest they stick), and then used the visual guides on my ruled cutting surface, a couple of needle tweezers and a tiny amount of Testors glue to install the rungs. Such a fun synposis!

First-off, I used a paint brush to coat both rails with glue, thinking that would be sufficient to get the tiny rungs to stick. Once I started, I found that those ridiculously tiny rungs were more apt to stick to my tweezers from pressure than to the glue unless they had help.

Testors glue is, in my experience, incredibly good at not coming out when you want it to, and then suddenly exploding all over everything when you’ve got a delicate situation. Parallels aside, it presents a problem in artistry. After a bit of trial and error today, I found that if I used a bent needle tweezer (is it a bent-needle tweezer, or a bent needle-tweezer? I don’t know. It’s a little tweezer with the tiny end at a 45-ish-degree angle to the handle)  to dip either end of the rung in to the tip of the glue bottle before I installed it, and a regular needle tweezer to hold the rails and adjust as needed. They stayed relatively in place and were responsive enough to changes during the process.

As a time reference, I got two rungs in to this “mini-project” and was called away to handle an “owie”, a minor dispute, and a basket full of about 35 dandelions that needed to be fully appreciated and dealt with very diplomatically. Once I got back, the glue had started to set on my first two perfect rungs. I based the others on the first two, and was pleased with the initial result.

I let the glue sit for about 20 minutes, and then I very carefully took this project to the ‘paint booth’ and gave it a coat of my go-to Rustoleum dark gray primer. {I do this so quickly because I’ve found that my choice and method for priming can also be an adherent, in this tiny scale)

After a few seconds of drying time, I very carefully lifted the whole piece to move it to another bit of space to dry.  In moving it, I lost the topmost rung. One of the lessons I learned in the chain link project: sometimes, especially in tiny projects, losing a piece to keep the whole is worth the cost. Depending on the piece, of course. (My grand chain link fence is missing a vertical linkage somewhere, but I would challenge anyone to find the “problem” without knowing that information first.) In larger models where scale and square matter, this very much does no hold true. But for us for now…



I chose not to further paint this very tiny detail because while it could use rust and shine and even more attention, I’m very, very certain that no one but me would ever notice.

The challenge: To resist even finer detail!!!




Addendum: Do you want me to do some and/or more in-progress photos? I’m not going to make how-to videos – that’s not how I roll. I am starting to get used to the “pictures for every blog” thing, though. Let me know. 😀


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