James Norris is a second-generation model railroader and a professional CAD modeler, so 3D printing opened up for him “the amazing ability to [make] what you want, not just what somebody else wants.”
Much as he relishes owning models before other people have them, he also enjoys making models and replacement parts for others, which he sells them through his Shapeways shop, James’ Train Parts and on his website, where he explains how 3D printing works and how Shapeways makes it “very easy for designers like myself to reach customers everywhere, with a cost-effective and reliable service.”
Below, James talks about his relationship to model trains, before and after 3D printing.
How long have you been working with model trains?
As long as I can remember. My father has always been an avid model railroader and I remember going down into the cellar of our house in the U.K. where he had a large U.S. N Scale layout. He used to have a small blue oil drum for me to stand on so I could see over the edge and watch all the trains running. We also had a heritage steam railway directly opposite the house so I think it’s fair to say from that point I was hooked.
I started with Lego trains and progressed to British OO. It wasn’t until later that I made the switch to U.S. N scale, which is what I model now.
How did you buy or make trains before you discovered Shapeways?
Given the cost of new trains and having the knack of fixing broken ones, I tended to buy secondhand rolling stock and locomotives from exhibitions and shows. When Ebay started to become popular, I found it one of the best sources of U.S. trains here in the U.K. Kits didn’t really appeal to me, as the time involved paired with my skill level at the time meant I ended up with bad models.
What has 3D printing added to your appreciation of model trains?
It has changed my view totally. Through my professional skills as a computer modeler and the amazing ability to 3D print what you want, not just what somebody else wants, I have been able to create models that have never been produced before — and for the first time have something before everyone else.
How long does it take you to design a 3D printed model? How long to paint one?
Typically, I spend about 40 hours on a locomotive to design and develop it ready for release. Painting is more specific to the locomotive. A simple black paint scheme can be done in a few hours, whereas a full Santa Fe design with stripes and lining takes much longer.
Tell us about a project you’re particularly proud of.
Each time I release a new design, having spent a lot of time on it, that becomes my favourite, so it’s a tough question. I am proud of the Baldwin centre cabs, as the design worked so well they can be used without modifications to chassis. But I think my Alco C-855s are my best so far. They combine 3D printed stainless steel in the chassis, 3D printed plastics for the shells and details and etched brass parts for the handrails and grab irons.
The project also taught me a lot — and will make my next project even better.
Is there a model train that you wish someone would make for you? Or are you looking for rare or unavailable replacement parts? Let us know in the comments.