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Discussion Starter #1
OK, I got an idea yesterday. I don't know if it's going to work or not, but I thought I'd run it past the members of this board to get your input (and I'm looking for both positive and negative input)

The idea is to produce and sell 1/4" thick MDF turn and straight borders for Tomy HO scale track (the pieces might also fit other brands, but Tomy would be my 'target') I could produce inside and outside turn borders and straight borders, and I believe I could sell them for a reasonable price. What would that price be? Assume a base price of $1-$2 per piece for a basic (45 degree, one color) piece. Maybe less.

My competition would be the various brands of foam (McMaster Carr, Greg Braun ON-Slot) that are out there. I don't think I could match their prices or ease of installation, but then again, the MDF pieces could be used over and over.

As I said, these would be MDF borders. They would at least be painted on the top, probably on the sides, and not on the bottom. What color should the pieces be? Gray? Black?

You would be on your own for attaching the pieces down. Nails, screws, glue, and double-sided tape should all work depending upon your wants and needs.

One possibility that could be done would be to pre-paint a FISA red and white border or a white line border on the inner edge of the borders. That would up the price a fair amount.

Another thing I would consider is to produce borders in multiple-piece sizes. While 1/8 turns pieces - 45-degrees - would always be available, I could also produce 90- and 135-degree pieces. The upside for you would be fewer pieces to deal with and a smoother appearance because of fewer joints, but the downside is again higher cost because there would be more material waste.

One question I have is width. How wide? 1.25"? 1"? .75"?

What else would people like to see? I'm open to suggestions.

OK, that's my 'wild hair' idea. What do you guys think?

-- Bill
 

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Mammoth undertaking here.
You will have to manufacture a border for each length of turn that Tomy makes.
Plus the 18" that Grand makes.
And short borders that leads into the straights...
Scott
 

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I think the idea has merit, and is one I was also considering, if I ever get to the point of adding borders to my track and buying a bandsaw.

If your 'shop' to make them is always set-up, you wouldn't need to try and mass produce every possible border someone would want, but just make them when ordered. Unpainted pieces would not take much time to produce as ordered.

If you have a drill press, you can offer holes for those that want to nail them down, and countersinks for those that want to screw them down.

Entry and exit pieces would be needed, and should probably be incoporated into the curve they proceed, to keep joints down like you mentioned.

I think 1" would be minimum width, but 1.25" with a slightly routed away-from-track edge would be cool.

If you already have the required tools and space to make them, and you were planning to make them for yourself anyway, then I don't see a real downside to making them available to others for a cost.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks for the response.

It would not be all that big of an undertaking -- I was thinking of having them cut out by an automated water jet machine. The big issues would be a) drawing up the 'blueprint' in CAD of all the pieces on a 4x8 sheet of MDF, and b) lining up a shop that could cut the pieces using the CAD file I would supply -- no band saw needed.

I read a post a year or two ago about a guy that cut his larger scale track out of 1/4" MDF on a water jet machine. Instead of a slot (which waterjets can't do), he had both his track and the slot cut out of the MDF, and assembled the separate pieces together on his table. So I know waterjets can cut MDF without damaging the MDF.

He was being charged $30 a sheet for the cutting of his track. Considering the size of the border pieces, I could probably get (wild guess here) a couple hundred or more border pieces out of a single sheet of MDF. The amount of cutting would probably cost more than $30; I really don't know.

I do know CAD good enough to draw this up, and have a CAD program. I would have to draw every border piece -- once. Then arrange a mix of them onto a single 4x8 (plus one inch in every dimension) sheet. Export the CAD file to whatever format the shop would need, and I'm ready to go.

Paint the top of the sheet before cutting, and when done, stack a bunch of identical pieces together, clamp them together and paint the sides. No large amount of labor required.

So... Not impossible, and not a massive undertaking.

Just need to know if there's any interest, and what it is that people want.

If someone else wants to take the ball and run with this, that's fine with me. Like Scaf, I just want the pieces...

-- Bill
 

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I believe your better off selling the custom service than the piece.

Send me your plan with where you want borders and I'll send you a shipping included Price for the Job.

If you can keep your time frames reasonable and If you get enough Business you could stockpile some of the more common needs and make up just the specialties as required.
Trying to retail Piece work is freaking NUTS, all you will end up with is frustration & alot of MDF when you quit!!
My opinion only of course but one thing I understand Is labor having been an Independent Contractor for over 20 years!!
 

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Ok.. Mass production...

Interesting...

Mass production...
Making 20 is really not harder than making 2..
But what keeps the MDF from getting wet from the waterjet? (And being ruined...)
I understand about the very high pressure waterjet acting like a knife...
But some water just has to splash...
And wet MDF is useless....
Scott
 

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Another idea would be to just sell the engineering service of creating the cad file, exported into the format the machine needs, and possibly sourcing a local shop for the customer to have the parts made.

I've got approx 180 pcs of track in my layout, and I want borders on inside and outside, so basically I would need 180 border pieces, as every track would have a border on a side. Of course, many of these I would want combined into single pieces, such as on the inside of a hairpin made of 6" curves. At $2 a piece though, for a total of $360, I'm going to buy a bandsaw for $100 and a sheet of MDF for $20(?) and make a project out of it. At $1 a piece, and a total of $180, I'm more tempted to outsource it, but would probably still buy the bandsaw. If you can make it cost less then me doing it myself, that would be appealing.

As an example, a customer sends you their track layout, and for $35 you work with them on a border design they like, combining things here, single pieces there, complete infield pieces where practical. Once a scope is done, you provide the cad file, and a local job shop reference in the customer's area, and you already know the shop will cut a piece of mdf for, say, $50.

Maybe your cad file has extra pieces layout out in the surplus, and those are either given to the customer, or are sent to you, to send to people who change layouts and just need some border pieces here and there.

Just another idea.
 

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I would love to see standard borders that would allow me to change my layout when I want to. If I used hot glue for my installations they would be reusable. I think just what you are proposing to do is great.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Guys --

Thanks for all the feedback and encouragement.

I am working on getting a quote from a nearby shop that does waterjet cutting. Unfortunately, the 1-track 'job' approach isn't going to work the way things are currently priced. I have to pay the shop an hourly fee for the use of the machine, plus a 1-time 'programming' fee to translate my CAD drawing into instructions for the machine. I think that pretty much nixes the one-track-at-a-time approach.

However, depending upon how many pieces I can get out of a sheet of MDF, I think I have a pretty good chance of making the parts at a reasonable cost. I've finished designing all the pieces -- not real hard -- and now I'm doing some statistical analysis of published track layouts to determine the mix of parts I need. My plan is to layout the right mix of parts on a single sheet of MDF and then cut as many sheets as I need. It all depends on a) the exact mix of inside and outside borders I need and b) what track radii. I've done a preliminary analysis of what is needed, now all I need to do is to fit them into a drawing of a sheet of MDF.

How will the MDF not get wet? Well, I know of two people that have done waterjet cutting of MDF, and they have not reported any problems. I'm not saying that there's no chance of problems, but I'm planning to paint at least the top surface of the sheet to protect against any splashing. However, since the water coming out of the waterjet is moving at around 900MPH, in a stream about .005-.007 wide, I don't expect a lot of spashing, or even the edges getting wet. The MDF should cut like butter.

The machine is also highly accurate, and cuts at 90 inches per minute. It's so accurate, I'm wondering if I need to look into exactly why the Tomy curves don't exactly nest together; do I need to account for that?

I considered making the borders out of Sintra, but Sintra was about $75/sheet a couple of years ago -- probably more now -- and would need to be cut with an abrasivejet machine (same deal, but with an abrasive is added to the water). That would drive both the material cost and the cost of cutting up, meaning a higher price to you. Also, Sintra is produced in metric thicknesses -- 6mm is the closest thickness of Sintra to 1/4", and so will be just a little thinner than the MDF (1/4" = 6.35mm). You would need to put something under the Sintra, or have a small step down.

In any case, the MDF pieces should be sturdy and should last a lifetime.

Like I said before, if someone else want to take a swing at doing this themselves, please feel free. I already have a day job... You can even have my CAD files.

-- Bill

PS: Please take a look at my first posting; I really need input as to things like color, width, etc.
 

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I think 1.25" for an outside border. Inside borders at maybe .625" or .75".

A black color to match the track would be a good base color.

A thin foam edging where the border touches the track edge would help compensate for any track irregularities, and would give some play to adjusting the alignment of the borders to each other.

Rounded or beveled away edges would be a nice touch.
 

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It's a great idea, unfortunately Tomy track is technically made to metric specs and is 7mm thick, not 1/4". Unless you shim them, you will have a very noticable ridge at the track edge and a lot of unhappy customers.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Shims

Gene --

Good point. I'll have to come up with some recommendations for shims for both Tomy and the even higher Tyco/(whatever that other company's name is) track.

When I ship, you'll know how to make it fit perfectly.

-- Bill
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Border color/width

Regarding border color...

The track is black, so a black border would match pretty well. However, I was planning on painting the borders in a flat latex, which would not exactly match the slightly glossy black of the HO tracks.

However, I rather like the look of the gray borders in this article.

Scalextric's 1/32 borders are brown. Ninco's are white. Carrera's are black, with red/white edging. SCX's are green. Artin's are black with some garish markings on them.

Let me put it this way: many of the manufacturers of 1/32 scale track make borders in a contrasting color to the track. Personally I feel that black borders make the track look too wide, whereas a colored border makes the racing surface have a more scale appearing look.

In any case, we're talking painted MDF here. If you don't like the color, it's easy to repaint.

Also, regarding border width...

While you don't need as wide a border on the inside of a turn that you need on the outside, there is the problem of 'esses' or other compound curves, where the inside border of one turn needs to match up with the outside border of the following turn. While that is easy to do on a routed track, it isn't easy with border pieces. So... All border pieces need to be the same width.
 

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I think 3/4" or 1" wide borders would be a good width for the inside and outside borders. If you make the borders too wide then some of our track layouts might have to be changed or the borders trimmed to fit. I like the look of the red and white rumble strip borders. Something similar to what comes on the TOMY borders for the chicane and hairpin track.

Best regards,
Brian
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Brian --

Magnet cars really don't need a very wide border. The non-magnet T- and G-Jets -- need more of a border.

Do you (or anyone out there) have any experience with how wide of a border the T/G-Jet cars need? I agree we want the least amount of border possible, just as long as cars don't fall off the edge of the border when racing hard.

The general "rule of thumb" in the larger scales when routing a track is to have a car length of track + border from the center of the outside slot to the outside of the curve; that would equate to about 3" in HO scale. With a 1.25" wide border piece, we will have about 2". Brad's Tracks -- for example -- has a 2 1/4" border. I am not advocating border pieces wider than 1.25", but am concerned about having too little border.

I guess that raises a couple of points:
1. What is my market: people who use my border to retrofit existing tracks, or people who are building or rebuilding new tracks?
2. Who will be the primary market for my borders -- magnet car racers or non-magnet racers?

-- Bill
 

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You won't 'need' more then 1.25".

A while back, I took a car (forget what car), set it on the outside lane, and turned it until the shoes lost conenction. It was 1" from track edge to C/L of wheel. That is why I decided I want borders 1", or 1.25" if they have a bevel.

As for your market, I think the primary issue will be cost, not mag vs. non-mag cars. If the price is right, both types of slotters may be interested, for cosmetic reasons if not practical reasons. As the price goes up, you will lose the tinkerer's who will just make them on their own, from a multitude of material options.

Have you come up with a cost estimate per piece?
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Scaf --

I know several components of the cost -- programming fee, cost/hr for the machine, range of markup %, and cutting speed. What I don't know is a) how many pieces I will have on each sheet (I need to lay out a whole lotta little curved - and straight - pieces on a 'virtual' sheet of MDF in CAD to know that), and b) perimeter of each piece (which tells me how much cutting does each one need). I can then calculate how long it will take to cut the borders out.

Once I have that information, I can then take my own guesstimate as to the cost. Then I have to submit my drawing to the company, who will give me their estimate of the cost that I will be charged.

I'm assuming a waterjet can't cut bevels; perhaps some can, but the company I'm working with only cuts 2D objects.

-- Bill
 

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Interesting idea. As far as the WaterJet goes; I've heard the jet doesn't leave a straight cut through thicker material. It actually creates a flared cut the thicker the material you are cutting. Sounds like you have a contact so I would ask about that. And there are 5 axis water jets out there, but you'll pay big bucks for that specialized service.

MDF: Just a suggestion; you may want to go with a plastic material. MDF will have a noticable flaked appearance when painted. It also will not shrink and contract like the thin plastic track sections. Also, what is the approach to attaching it to track? (I didn't see that mentioned)
 

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And the water jet software should have the ability to nest all your cuts into one sheet to calculate the best use of your material. ;)
 
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