Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A few months break...

I even caught the odd fish!
As you may have worked out by now, we have had one of those natural breaks from Meccano over the past three months. Just one of those periods where there seems to be more going on in our life than we have time for. Although Sue and I are both Meccano nuts, we do have other interests and sometimes they take us away from the Spanner. For me that has been acquainting myself with a new interest that was intended to give me and my brother some time away from the rest of the family. He (Tim) did a spot of fishing when he was younger and I was expecting him to show me what was what. As it has turned out, not only had Tim forgotten most of what he did know, 40 years on and angling has completely changed.

I found myself getting more and more involved in a steep learning curve that has resulted in me spending a lot of time reading and watching YouTube videos! All good fun but very much a casual pastime, something to fit in around Meccano activities.

For Sue (and to a lesser extent me) most of the past few months has been taken up planning and executing a large flower arrangement that was shown at the Chelsea Flower Show at the end of May. Sue, and her partner in crime, design and build the displays on behalf of their flower club. You may remember that last time Sue was involved, part of the display was a crown, the frame of which was built from Meccano. The finished crown was featured by the BBC as the centrepiece on the table in the open-air studio at the show. That was 2012, Diamond Jubilee, The  Show had taken on a Royal theme and Sue's display depicted the coronation and three jubilees of the Queen's reign; Silver, Gold and the Diamond Jubilee if 2012 . The display was awarded a Silver Medal by the judges.

The frame of the crown was built from Meccano strips
This year the section they entered was 'Heritage' and the title of the display was 'The Dissolution of the Monasteries' No Meccano this year but a huge ruined window fabricated from laminates of MDF and painted to look like aged stone. The flowers were arranged around the 'ruin' and and discarded spoils of the looting. The end result was a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal, Sue's first!

This year's display won Gold!
Now with SkegEx 15 just over a month away our thoughts are back on the Meccano front. We have all sorts of stories to tell you, new sets to show you and some of our new models to tell you about. But Sue is not the only one to have won something, no, not at all... I won the steam drag racing at Meccanuity. I will tell you more in a later post and show you what we have been building from the 1929/30 number six set we acquired at the end of last year. 

Today we have been dismantling some old models and cleaning all the parts ready to be returned to our storage system. That is always assuming we can find space. Discussion is ongoing regarding our next model but suffice to say, at the moment it is looking like we will be building our variant of a popular theme, more than that I can't tell... Stay tuned!


Friday, 6 March 2015

Evolution off-roader.

Neat, rugged little model
The latest offerings from the Evolution stable will more than likely be one of the last of the range. As time moves on, the Meccano system is becoming unified with what have, up to now, been exclusively Evolution parts being integrated into the system as a whole. The recently introduced 3-model Multimodel set includes some Evolution parts, as do several of the models planned for release later this year.

Standard packaging for the Spring release
The Evolution off-roader has been seen in several guises and at different trade shows has been called different things. In its initial form as an Evolution set it is being marketed as simply the 'Off Road' set. The unified packaging, scheduled to appear latter in the year and seen at the toy fairs around the world, shows the model reincarnated as the 'Canyon Crawler'. Whatever you call it, the model is the same.

New driver...
New into the shops in the UK this model follows the Evolution theme of rugged smaller scale models featuring the ¼ inch geometry parts. Current price (Asda direct) seems to be a shade under £25.00

The first thing I noticed on opening the box was that this is the first set we have seen that includes the new hex-driver. Most of us have been using proprietary hex-drivers for years but to have them supplied with the sets is great for the newcomer. I must say that even seasoned builders (like us) will be impressed with this neat little tool.  It is very comfortable to use and the hexagonal cross sectional shape of the plastic moulded handle means it is not constantly rolling off the table!  

Building the model is straightforward and  the new style of instructions are a vast improvement on the earlier instructions. The only thing I noticed is a conversion from metric to imperial that is wrong regarding the length of the rods used as axles. It is incorrect in the instructions as well as in the parts list. Now, before you all say "Only you..." I was not the only one to notice this, My good friend George Roy also mentioned it while building his version of the model from existing parts. I am hoping to be able to show you his model along with a few modifications he made in a later post...

Ready to play!
The new instructions now follow a standard orientation of the models on the page. In the past the drawings have floated about all over the place and this can (does!) lead to confusion. the new drawings show the model stages in a single orientation wherever possible. If a drawing is rotated an arrow indicates the fact that you are now looking at the other side; the drawing has been rotated. Even this simple plan seems to have confused at least one of my fellow Meccano builders. He is getting confused between the arrows being informative and instructive. The arrows are not instructing the builder to turn the model, just that that the drawing has been rotated on the page.

The dark areas of the illustrations was always a concern as they tend to blend into one amorphous mass, devoid of detail. This has been totally negated by using a white outline on all dark parts where they need to be added to the model. Once they have been added, the parts become dark again. They are also dark on the parts list and identifiers. I can see the thinking behind this as it makes the construction step obvious but I do wonder if it would not have been better to make all the outline white. I am probably being over picky here as the new instructions are a vast improvement over the previous offerings.

Novel suspension system
 Assembling the model starts with the suspension. This is very wobbly until the superstructure is assembled. At which point the four, 1 inch angle girders can be adjusted to tighten up the swing arms. Now, I am no fan of those little white soft grip collars but on this model they are used in two places; to hold the wheels on and to secure the axles that hold the swing arms in place. To hold the wheels on, there is enough axle protruding to give them a chance to get a grip. On the underside, the swing arms are held in place using tri-axles and more of the soft grip collars. To my surprise, they seem to hold but they are well onto the rods by about 5mm.

Slight bending of the strips gives the model some form
Some slight bending of the parts is required to finish the model but this is not excessive and should not cause and long term distortion of the parts. The rest of the assembly is much as you would expect. The instructions are correct, as far as I could see, other than the rod length error in conversion of units from metric to imperial.

Opening bonnet
An added feature that gives a little more play value is that the bonnet will swing open revealing a space where the engine should be but hay, that's just fine if you want somewhere to sit your miniature teddy. After all we must not lose sight of the fact that this is a toy. Meccano always has been, and still is, a toy. It has been us, life long enthusiasts, that have taken it further into a hobby of creation where we try and replicate the world around us present and past. As Frank Hornby said (or at least his marketing team) "The toy that grows with the boy"


Monday, 2 March 2015

More on the No.6 - Let's build!

Thick glossy paint -Yuck!
I was pleased with the way the nuts and bolts came up but now I need to look at the parts. When I first saw the set I was horrified to see some parts had been heavily over-painted with a high gloss dark red paint. On further investigation these appear to have been additional to the parts list, meaning I don't need them for this set. Closer inspection of the stampings, that are barley visible, reveals they appear to be of the type used on nickel plated parts. I will strip the paint at some point and see exactly what they are, but that is for another day.

30 strips in reasonable condition as they came, straight out of the box
I have started to count the perforated strips and this has been encouraging especially when I discovered all 30 12½ inch strips were not only there but in reasonable condition. There is some paint loss but that is to be expected. The main thing is that after a bit of gentle coaxing with nothing more than finger pressure they are all looking nice and straight.  There are a few of the 9½ and 7½ inch strips missing as well as a few of the shorter ones but I am please to say that most of them are there.

These look a bit more like it
I am not, at this stage, going to continue with the counting as I really want to get on with building the Steam Wagon around our 1929 engine from the first production that has the transfer logo on the outer boiler jacket rather then the embossed logo of the later engines. It is obvious, at this stage, there are more than enough parts to complete the task especially as I have now managed to find a few more bolts from our own collection. These are in much better condition than the rusty ones that came with the set. I now have all the standard nuts and bolts I need, just a bit short on the longer ones at the moment but I am sure some more will materialise in due course.

The early 1929 steam engine
The more I delve into this set, the more interesting it is. Normally I would be washing all this Meccano in warm soapy water before I did anything else with it. This time I am not sure that is going to be necessary. I sorted out the perforated strips above and as I was sorting through them I was aware that my hands were clean. The usual result of handling old Meccano is dirty and often sticky hands. I think this is all about the set being boxed. Meccano that is stored in an open carton, box or the like tends to get full of dust and anything else that can get dropped or spilt over it.

Judging by the condition of this set I think it was played with for a period, as it shows signs of keen but not excessive use. I think it was then 'grown out of' and put to one side. Over that period it seems logical that the tools, some of the nuts and bolts, strips and almost all of the angle brackets were used either to make something or, more likely, to repair something as the parts were never returned to the box. Interestingly all the sought-after parts seem to be present.
All eight channel segments are in good condition
What remaind was obviously stored in a reasonably dry place as it is all in great condition. The only parts showing any sign of rust is what is left of the nuts and bolts. As they were supplied in a modern plastic box of the type four expensive chocolates are supplied in, I suspect the fixings had spent a lot of the past decades out of the box and only reunited prior to going to auction, thus explaining their inconsistent state compared with the parts.

In more recent times the set must have come to light and someone added some parts, painting them as shown at the top of this post. The puzzling thing to me is that those parts have never been used. Maybe the painter was not happy with the results and went no further.

As I said in an earlier post, we bought it from a fellow Meccano man who had acquired it at auction as part of a much bigger lot. He was interested in the other Meccano and wanted to move this set on as it was not what he was interested in. For this reason we have no knowledge of its real history and all the above is pure conjecture.

I'm off to get on with building the Steam Wagon from the set parts and that old steamer! I'll show you the progress very soon... 


Friday, 27 February 2015

Rusty nuts? Not any more!

Work begins on the pre-war No.6 set. The first thing I have decided to do is to clean up the nuts and bolts. They were a nice shade of rust, but with a little effort they can be made to look considerably better!
The nuts and bolts look free of dirt, just rusty
The standard length bolts, that came with the set, are a mixture of dome head and cheese head. For the period, I understand, they should be domed head. Although rusty, they were not covered in dirt and grease so I decided to forgo the initial wash in our ultrasonic bath. This is not as grand as it sounds. It is intended for cleaning jewellery and other small items.  It was purchased from our local Aldi store and, as far as I can remember, it cost less than £20.00.

Skipping a pre-wash, the nuts, bolts and washers were all placed into a jar and covered with Rust Remover. I use Clarke Rust Remover available from Machine Mart. It is sold in 1 litre plastic bottles and costs just over £5.00. It can be used over and over again, making it very economical.

The rust remover starts to work immediately
The jar was agitated from time to time during the soaking; the liquid was drained off after a few hours. The nuts and bolts can be left in soak for longer if convenient. Often we will leave parts in the rust remover overnight or even longer. Once the liquid has been drained off, the nuts and bolts were placed on a couple of layers of paper towel and left to drain before being washed under running water in order to clean off any residue of the rust remover. It is important to dry the fixings off immediately to prevent them rusting again. Once they are dry, they take on a dull-grey dusty appearance.

No rust but dull-grey looking
Kept dry they will be fine, but as soon as the are exposed to any moisture, even a damp environment, they will start to rust. Originally, these fixings would have been brass plated and, although it would not be too hard to have them re-plated, I decided that they would look out of place being freshly plated and used with our play-worn Meccano set. I am not intending to restore this set to pristine condition, but to preserve it and eventually complete it with parts from the period in a similar condition. For this reason I am going to leave the bolts devoid of their full brass plating. To do this they will need some attention if they are not to revert straight back to being rusty. A spray of WD-40 and the excess removed with a paper towel does the trick.

Looking better but fewer than should be there by a long way
close-up of the cleaned and protected nuts and bolts
This treatment may well need to be repeated from time to time. However, constant handling by us, as we build and disassemble our models, will keep them looking reasonable a lot longer than if the model was left assembled. We need to make up the numbers as what we have is under half the stated amount. As we have a few (very few!) bolts that have most of their brass plating still intact, it seemed like a good idea to add them to the mix as well. We have got some more of these bolts somewhere but, even with our storage system, there are times when things go missing! Hmmm... Just a minute we do not seem to have any long bolts...

While all that was going on I started to go through the rest of the parts, but that is a story for another day...


Monday, 23 February 2015

Just for a change

I make no apology for featuring so much new Meccano at this time of year, but at the moment it seems to be never ending. Partly because of the huge amount of publicity surrounding the G15 and G15 KS. If you don't know what that is then where have you been? Look HERE if you really don't know!

Enough of the new stuff for now, do you remember this?

Steam wagon and 1929 vertical boiler engine
Well, since I built that we have acquired a 1930 set No.6. At the time the second largest set available and much larger than the later No.6 from the 0 - 10 progressive sets range of post war.

The pre-war set in the condition we received it
It occurred to me it would be interesting to build another Steam Wagon from contemporary parts. The first job will be to check the set and see exactly what we have bought. Then collect together enough parts to build the Steam Wagon, clean and polish them and start building...


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Two times three makes the grade...

The new 3-model Fire Truck set is available on a deal price of two for £15.00. I could make two Fire Trucks or two small models but if I collect all the parts together...

3 +3 = Grader!
...I can build something a bit bigger. I ended up with this little grader. it may not be the most detailed of models but it is (or should be!) instantly recognisable as a grader

The little grader looks the part...
There must be lots of models that could be built using these parts. I am going to have a go at making a few more. It is quite challenging trying to stick to just the parts in these two sets but it is good fun. There are so few parts that they will all fit in a small tin, along with a spanner and hex-key, making a twenty-first century version of the old pocket Meccano...

...from the other side too!


Friday, 20 February 2015

Building Tower Bridge...

The model looks good when finished
It has been a long time coming but finally we have got our hands on the new Tower bridge set.

The original. Click the image to enlarge
We first saw this model at the beginning of the summer, last year. There it was, sitting on a shelf in Meccano's London offices. At that stage it had four brown coloured baseplates, part 52. This looked like good news on several counts. Meccano were making use of parts from across the board. Although the 52 has appeared here and there over the past decade it has been fleeting and usually in expensive of scarce sets.

I know that most of us Meccano 'lifers' have plenty of these parts but to have some nice clean fresh ones has to be a bonus. It also makes this set very attractive, to anyone new to the hobby, just looking to increase their building stock. I posted the parts list in a previous post: More good news for builders... that you can find HERE. At the time I was enthusing at the amount of useful parts. When you see what you get it is even more impressive. This set is going to be bought by many simply for the parts. Indeed, that is our main interest in this set.

Look at all those parts... and what about all those nuts and bolts!
That said, we still like to make up the models just for the fun of it and to see if Meccano have come up with a new way of doing something or using a part in an unusual manner. Now, I have to say that this is one of the most tedious of builds for me. I hate repetition in our builds. Luckily, Sue is not so bothered about building multiple sub-assemblies and is happy to build the same thing over and over again. For this model, the instructions take you through building one half and then instruct the builder to start again and build the other half. Fortunately for me, I spotted this while perusing the instructions prior to building.

Building in tandem is less taxing for me
I built both ends in tandem making it easier for me to cope with the repetition! The build starts off well. The larger towers go together reasonably easily even if the roof sections are a bit fiddly. It is the smaller towers that gave me the most trouble. The tower itself would not hold square and looked crooked. I could not get the two 4-hole strips to stay parallel.  I spent some considerable time on this, loosening and tightening nuts and bolts to no avail. Looking at the picture on the front of the instructions (same as the box art) I realised the instructions had missed out a three hole strip that made all the difference when fitted. The strip is shown in the photograph and indicated by the lower red arrow. While trying to assemble the roof, it became apparent that a second 3-hole strip had also been omitted from the instructions, indicated by the upper red arrow. The set is not short of these parts, they are included, they are just omitted from the instructions.

Errors in the instructions make the build 'interesting'
The other frustrating thing, again resolved by studying the picture of the finished model, is that the order of assembly is incorrect. The strip, arrowed blue, should be sitting on top of the 1 inch strips, not below them. This along with the missing strips means the apex of the roof is far too close together making it impossible to assemble neatly. Even with these errors corrected it is very tight.

Don't need that bit!
After missing out a couple of parts there seems to be a few parts that are totally unnecessary. 
At stage 52, the instructions show a 1 inch strip used to join the the approach 'road deck' together. This is totally unnecessary as the perforated strips are bolted to the mini trunnions at the next hole. At the end of the build I was left with four 1 inch strips.    

All in all, the set does build a good representation of the original even if in places this model over-exploits the tolerances making assembly very tight in places. It is a shame, as I fear it will prevent some beginners from completing the model. On the plus side, this has to be one of the best value for money sets around at the moment providing hitherto hard to come by parts in abundance. There are several differences between my model, the Toy Fair Model and the original model with the brown base - now you can go play spot the difference! Don't forget, you can click on any of the images to enlarge them.

Interestingly, the model show at the London Toy Fair was built to the instructions with missing parts, very ugly roofs, to the small towers, and redundant 1 inch strips. Note the new style box art that will be rolled out in the autumn. 


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Meet Meccanoid G15 the short one!

Meccano show off the little guy at the INYTF
Much interest was generated at the CES show in Las Vegas last month when Spin Master announced the new Meccano Meccanoid G15 KS personal robot, see HERE. Yesterday (Saturday) they introduced the smaller version of the robot to the public at the International New York Toy Fair (INYTF). The new guy, simply called G15, is a shorter version of the larger robot announced last month. G15 has fewer servos and not so many building parts. However priced at roughly half the price of the KS (Kid Size) version he represents good value for money, especially for the Meccano builder looking to incorporate the programmability into traditional Meccano models.

The street-price in the UK, initially, seems to be around £350.00 for the KS and a shade over half that for the little guy at around £180.00. Meccanoid should start to appear in the shops from August 2015.

HERE is a link to the Spin Master INYTF press release.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

More good news for builders...

The Meccano product websites are getting updated at the moment and a lot of the instructions are available for download even before the sets appear in the shops.
Tower Bridge parts - Look at what you get for your money - click on image to enlarge
One of the more interesting sets is the new Special Edition Tower Bridge set. Although not listed on the official Meccano product website (yet!) It has been listed for sale on the internet. I have no doubt it will only be a matter of time before it will appear on the high street. Take a look at the parts list, and look at the quantities of parts. From a builders point of view this is a fantastic set, the nuts and bolts alone make this set very appealing but just look at those flanged plates, four of them! When I saw the first pictures of this model back in the spring of last year, it was shown mounted on part 52 Flanged Plates but I, like many, thought they might not follow through to the production model - well I am pleased to say they have and this is good news and a further sign that Meccano are committed to producing some of the traditional parts we all love. It looks like my campaign to bring back the 52 (See HERE) did not fall on deaf ears after all - I of course don't believe that to be the case but I can kid myself...

Mission accomplished! Its back, four of them in each set!
Also included in this set are lots of very useful small parts in good quantities. Just take a look at the parts list above, lots of small brackets in good numbers, plenty of narrow strips both ½ and ¼ hole geometry, plus the 3-hole, 1 inch narrow strip in quantity. There is even, what I believe to be a new small curved part, P/N C960.  All the new sets include the new tools. I believe you can pick this set up for a penny under £40.00 on the internet, here in the UK. That has to be good value and hopefully will be the way in the future. As soon as we can get our hands on the new sets we will let you know what we think of them and investigate what other models can be built from the parts. Combining set parts to build bigger models could be interesting. It is looking good for what Spin Master are calling 'Classic' Meccano, I can't wait to see what is coming next. The New York Toy Fair starts on Saturday, let's see what gets announced there... 


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

My name is...

In case you are wondering, the new Meccano Personal Robot is more than a number. The designation: G15 KS actually stands for Genesis 2015 Kid Size. At 4ft tall that is just about right.

Meccano in the 21st century
Since the launch of Meccanoid at CES in Las Vegas last month, the amount of media attention has been enormous. Far greater than anything I can remember. Meccanoid fills the massive gap in the street appeal of Meccano. For many years now the brand has been lost on the 15 to 50 year olds. Sales going to the toy market in fewer and fewer numbers and the dwindling number of adult enthusiasts, who are not in large enough numbers to make any impression on the sales figures. Looking at most of the sets released over the past two or three decades, the models have been too hard to build for a novice, and if we are being honest, with few exceptions have no appeal to today's kids but more importantly have little draw for the buying parent.

The Evolution Chopper - nice looking, hard to build
To be fair, some of the more recent models may well have had more appeal, the Evolution Chopper Bike or the Multimodel 30-model (Dumper Truck) set are a couple of good examples but as anyone who has attempted to build the Chopper Bike will know, it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, and easy build. The end result is the model hardly ever gets built and Meccano have lost another customer with the parent and child agreeing that "Meccano is too hard".

Meccanoid however is different; enthusiasm for the product is enormous. Everybody we have talked to are looking forward to it being available in autumn (fall, on the other side of the pond!) It spans the generations and ticks all the boxes for both parent and child. Even my own mother, who is in her late 80s, is keen to meet one. G15 KS is only the beginning, as his name suggests, there is a long way to go with this yet. The open source thinking behind the product will allow all sorts of inactivation from other manufactures as well as enthusiasts. The fact that it and all its components are totally back-compatible with 'Classic' Meccano means that for the adult community, we can look at integrating the new with our vast stocks of classic parts. The hole spacing is ½ inch (albeit on a ¼ matrix) making it even compatible with the pre-war X-Series Meccano! Even the thread specification of the bolts is maintained at the imperial size of 5/32 BSW. The same thread that has always been used by Meccano for over 100 years.    

Looking through some of the hundreds of videos that have been published over the past few weeks I found this one featuring Spin Master's Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Ben Varadi being interviewed at CES.

His enthusiasm for the product really shows through. Yes, these guys are out to make money, who isn't? But the excitement and energy really come through. Having met several of the guys from Spin Master, the same enthusiasm and commitment to the brand filters down through the the entire company. All the effort and investment paid off when Meccanoid won Last Gadget Standing.

Next week at the New York Toy Fair - I expect there will be a few more announcements to come. North America is a huge market that has not been excited by the classic Meccano system but I think that is about to change. Meccanoid is coming. It may be a few Decades since the Fab-Four took America by storm, but now a new guy, who also has his ancestral root in Liverpool, is about to do the same in this digital world...