A complete in depth guide into building an underground gold mine in miniature! 1:87th scale to be precise.
Building this diorama took quite a while but I enjoyed every minute of the build, all up I filmed 22 hours of footage over the course of 4 weeks and I managed to edit all of the raw footage into a 30 minute detailed tutorial.
The model measures 58cm tall by 73cm deep and has 40 extremely tiny 0.1mm warm white LED's and over 80 support beams throughout the mine tunnels. Details that have been added are various products from Woodland Scenics and Prieser which are two popular model railroad suppliers.
The main set of tools I used to build this diorama as easily as shown throughout the video was due to the use of the hot wire foam factory tools, they were sent to me to try out and my absolute honest review of these tools is a resounding thumbs up! I will be using these tools for heaps of future projects.
The foam I used is extruded polystyrene, it’s a fantastic material for model builders due to its versatility and strength, my model railroad layout that is currently being constructed is made using this foam.
The buildings on this model were cut using a cheap….ish… laser cutter from China, the model is called the GY-430 and you can find out more information on the laser cutting section of this website, if you want a more detailed look at how it works my previous video on building Moe’s Tavern shows how it’s used and the type of results you can expect.
I’m in the process of fine tuning the drawings I made for the laser cut buildings on this diorama and once I finish I’ll be posting them up on the laser cutting page so you can download the files for free.
I’d like to thank all of the Patron supporters of this website and YouTube channel for helping fund my projects, it makes a huge difference in my ability to be able to film and post videos so once again thank you. If you too would like to help support and fund the channel be sure to check out my Patreon page, there are some addition perks like early access to videos and a box of grass tufts depending the level of support you choose.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the tutorial :-)
As part of the mine shaft tutorial video I’ll be designing and building a whole bunch of mining structures and equipment to populate the mine. For most of these structures I’ll be using Corel DRAW x8 to design the buildings and I’ll then be using the GY430 Laser Cutter to create the necessary parts for assembly.
So far, I haven’t designed a whole lot however I have managed to design and cut the mine elevator structure, it was basically a test as a proof of concept and now I know it works and looks quite good I’ll be refining the design and adding the finer details to make it look even better.
The structure is about 99% laser cut with only a very small amount of styrene rod used to hold the large wheel atop the structure.
A variety of material was used, 3mm MDF makes up the main frame, 1.5mm pine plywood makes up the supports and cross beams, 1.0mm birch plywood makes up the decking on top of the structure and 0.5mm birch plywood makes the wheel at the top.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the wheel turned out, when I received the 0.5mm plywood I was amazed at how thin it actually was and was concerned about how much structural integrity it would have. It’s so thin that you can cut it with a pair of good scissors! Being able to cut it with scissors actually makes it very easy to work with especially when cutting sections to be placed in the laser cutter. The 0.5mm plywood even though it is very thin it has a good amount of structural integrity and not only that it is very flexible which will make it ideal for curved structures (something I’ll be experimenting with in the near future).
To give you an idea of scale, here is the elevator structure with a HO scale vehicle and a 2cm tall HO scale man standing next to the building.
Those two sheave wheels sitting in the back of the truck were also made on the laser cutter using 0.5mm birch plywood.
I will eventually be making the plans for this building and the smaller sheave wheels available to be downloaded on the laser cutting section of my website, I still plan to make some miner adjustments to the finished design so once they have been made and I’m happy with the final product I’ll make them available.
However, for those interested below are the current drawings so far for the structure:
Making a mine shaft at first seemed pretty easy.... "Famous last words!" It's actually quite a process and I've had to do a lot of brainstorming and experimenting to get everything to work.
My first problem was carving out the mine shaft itself, my initial thoughts were to simply use a sharp hobby knife and rasp to slowly hack away until I had the depth and shape I needed! This is what has held me back from actually starting the project when I first envisioned this diorama over 12 months ago. The people over at the foam factory got in touch with me and asked me to have a look at their range of tools, I immediately fell in love with the foam router tool and knew this mine video would be the perfect fit and there isn't a more perfect tool for the job!
I also got the foam sled tool as well which makes getting the perfect angle and depth a breeze, these tools were sent to me for use in my scenery videos but to give you my honest review of the tools I've used so far I can say they are awesome! I'll definitely be personally buying additional add-ons from them in the future and you'll see in the next upcoming video just how useful and versatile the tools actually are.
Another problem I ran into whilst planning the video was how to line the interior of the mine shaft? I did some testing by simply pasting plaster onto the internal walls and adding texture however after looking at prototype photos I discovered the interior of most mines is very rocky. So I decided to attempt to do a similar process of pasting plaster over the interior walls and with a sculpting tool I then attempted to carve the rocks... Needless to say my results were average at best!
The rocks were perfect, they had large flat sides with just enough detail to make for a good mine interior wall.
After applying 6 thick coats of latex rubber and allowing the latex to dry between coats (Which took ages given that I'm living in a very humid climate!) the molds were then peeled off and some test molds were done using plaster of paris. These rocks are perfect because they are flat and I can carve them to shape so they fit perfectly inside the mine shaft.
As for people to populate the mine, I've picked up a couple of different types, I have some Woodland Scenics Masonry Workmen as well as some Preiser figures as well. The Preiser figures are unpainted so I'll need to sit down and give them a bit of color.
For the most part I have everything I need to complete the video however whilst I was doing some testing on painting the rocks I decided to use the leopard spotting technique using the Woodland Scenics Liquid Pigments... The only problem is I do not have any pigments so they are currently enroute to my house! I expect to have them in about 4 days so it looks like I won't be able to get this video done for a least another week!
It should be a pretty exciting video and I think it will be worth the wait.
Sometimes I have an amazing idea for a project and once I finally build up the motivation to actually get started I open the door to my workbench and I immediately close the door again because I think "I can't work in that mess!... I'll clean it later..."
And that is the reason why I've decided to make an attempt at organizing my workspace.
If you're not familiar with what I do, I make YouTube videos about building model scenery. To keep myself motivated I like to have a clean workbench, I see it as a clean slate ready for the next video.
Sometimes after I finish filming a video I leave the workbench in a complete mess and it takes me nearly 2 weeks sometimes to clean it up and start on the next video... I'll often see the mess and instantly become unmotivated which results in nothing happening.
To help keep things organised and in their place I put the recently acquired laser cutter to use. Labeling the shelf directly behind the workbench will enable me to use the tools and materials needed and after use I can place them on the appropriate shelf instead of leaving them on the workbench taking up space.
The laser cutter was primarily purchased for building scale models however it is fantastic for so much more, so far I've not only made the Moe's Tavern building and some small details like fences but I've also made an awesome Paint Rack that is custom built to fit Vallejo paints, I made some Christmas ornaments and now some signs to organise my workflow.
It's only been just over 2 months since moving to the new location in Queensland and it took that long to finally set up my workspace so that I actually feel good about working in it.
It's made me realise just how important having a comfortable workspace is especially when it comes to being productive.
I used the word comfortable for a reason, not everyone works best in a clean workspace, some people do their best work in areas that some may consider messy and others may consider it practical. It's important to have a set up whether messy or clean that YOU feel good about and what motivates you to do the work.
For me that is a clean and well organised area.
The second most important aspect to a good workspace is lighting, you have to be able to see what your doing in good light.
Be careful if you use a incandescent light bulb as well, the kind typically found in desk lamps because they are often yellow and what looks good under a yellow light may not look so good when in other types of light especially daylight. I try to set my workbench lights to a color temperature of between 5500k to 6500k, you can see in the image above showing the entire workspace that I have LED light panels that are a very bright and white light which is perfect for getting the daylight appearance. That way when I'm trying to choose colors I'm getting an accurate representation of that color in daylight conditions which is essential for building realistic scenes. Color choice make all the different!
Now I have a clean workspace I have no excuses but to finish the next video :-)
I've recently started working on the next video, basically it is going to be an old gold mine diorama. I know what you're thinking... That's pretty boring because all we'll see is a hole in the side of a mountain...
However! It's going to be built as a cross section diorama so you'll be able to see all the tunnels and interior of the mine as if the earth has been sliced away revealing the internal structure.
As you can see from the image above, I've been doing a few test on creating the dirt/rock structure inside the mine shaft. I've decided to line the interior walls with rock castings using some of the Woodland Scenics rock molds and then blend the joins with some plaster of paris or a similar product.
The foam I'm using is foam insulation board (Extruded Polystyrene) most commonly used for as the name suggests 'insulation' but it makes for great diorama bases and I've used it as the main base for my model railway layout. It's very versatile and strong yet lightweight which is perfect for portable train layouts.
As for lighting I'll be adding small LED lights along the malls to illuminate the inside of the mine, I'm not sure what LED's I'll be using just yet? I may use the Woodland Scenics Just Plug lights or depending on price I might just order some micro LED's and wire them up myself... I do plan on using quite a lot of LED's so I'll more than likely wire them myself and power them with a portable battery mounted in the back of the model.
Filming has commenced and I'm just waiting on some extra rock molds to arrive and a few small HO scale mining figures that will be working in the mine once it's finished.
Stay tuned :)
Building Moe's Tavern from scratch using a $2200 laser cutter! Believe it or not but that is considered cheap compared to some that cost well over $10,000.
Building Moe's Tavern was a lot of fun, the hardest part of the entire process was actually designing the building on the computer.
I used a vector drawing program called CorelDRAW x8, it's very similar to another program I'm much more familiar with called Adobe Illustrator however there are just enough differences between the two programs that I had to watch an online learning course in order to understand the different functions.
Moe's Tavern is not the only design I've cut so far using the laser, I also recently cut and engraved a paint rack to hold all of my Vallejo paints. Laser cut paint racks are very popular in hobby shops so it's pretty cool to be able to design and cut my very own version to exactly suit my needs.
The possibilities are nearly endless with whats possible using a laser cutter, I have heaps of ideas and projects that I'll be working on in 2018 using this awesome laser cutter!
If you too are planning on buying your own laser cutter I strongly recommend doing your research before buying one from China, if you can afford it the brand name laser cutters are a much better first start however if budget is the limiting factor and you don't mind fixing small problems like mirror alignment or loose leveling beds then a cheap laser might just be a good fit.
Be sure to check the laser cutting section of this website if you want to find out more about laser cutting and if you want to download the free plans for cutting Moe's Tavern and the Paint Rack you'll find those plans HERE: LASER CUTTING PLANS
Buying the laser cutter:
Laser cutting has been around since the mid 60’s but it has only been in recent times that laser cutters for hobbyists have been accessible and affordable.
At the moment you can buy a cheap CO2 laser cutter from China for about $300 however for that price you’ll often be spending more time trying to get the thing to work rather than actually cutting stuff! That said… if you have the time and patience you can often take one of those cheap laser cutters and get them working quite well.
I have recently purchased a relatively cheap Chinese laser cutter from a local tool center here in Australia, it’s basically a cheap laser cutter from China however the store that had it imported completely set up the laser cutter and tuned it to make sure nothing was broken and that it’s working as best as it can.
The above images show early experiments in CO2 laser cutting research and one of the first 2 axis moving optics laser cutter.
In total I spent $2200 for a laser cutter that costs about $1600 direct from China.
What to cut:
The first building on the drawing board will be a familiar one to a lot of you, ‘Moe’s Tavern’ from the Simpsons. I’ve decided to build this building in HO scale because the Simpsons brings back some nostalgia and secondly it’s a nice simple structure with some points of interest that will be a good test for the laser cutter.
All of the initial structures I design will be made available on my website for you to freely download should you wish to have a go at doing some laser cutting once the tutorial video has been completed.
Another product I’ve recently discovered is a wood based material called ‘Task Board’ again it is sold through many hobby stores and it is also sold through Micro-Mark, it is sold in a wide variety of thicknesses and is described as
Very easy to cut and perfect for laser cutters
The big test will be with how well the task board handles the hot and humid conditions here in tropical far north Queensland! I guess only time will tell, I have a large batch of task board in a variety of thicknesses on its way also from Micro-Mark.
Below is an architectural model build using Taskboard and a laser cutter.
If you'd like to indirectly support what I do and you'd like to save some money be sure to have a look at Micro-Mark and when at the checkout use the promo code
'Boulder' to save 10%.
I shop at Micro-Mark for a lot of my tools and I also purchase many of my supplies there as well, the plywood and taskboard that I'll be using for this laser cutting tutorial has been purchased from Micro-Mark.
It's not too late to find the perfect Christmas gift and save some money at the same time :)
If you're looking to step up your game in the model scenery community then you'll most certainly want to build a static grass applicator! Every one of my scenery dioramas involved the use of my home made static grass applicator.
Commercial static grass applicators are much more affordable these days and some are actually cheaper than the one I build in the video however it can be very rewarding building your own and the benefit of building one from scratch is you'll have a thorough understanding of the tool and you'll be able to adjust and modify it to suit your needs.
For example, this static grass applicator went through many different iterations before this version that is demonstrated in the video! I changed it over time to better suit my requirements one of which was being able to use it without having a mains power point available and also to keep the overall height of the unit to a minimum so it can fit into tight spots.
All of the scenes above featured in their own tutorials and all of them include the use of the home made static grass applicator shown in the tutorial in one form or another as it has changed over the years.
For more information be sure to check out the 'Static Grass Applicator' article HERE. I've included additional information as well as the wiring diagram that you can save and use as a reference as well as a components list that includes prices and the stores where I purchased all of the components.
Who would have thought melting metal could result in such an amazing amount of detail... The process of using acid to etch metal objects has been used for hundreds of years and it's perfect for creating ultra detailed parts for our models.
In this tutorial I'll show you how to use the Micro-Mark Pro Etch Photo Etch System to create awesome brass and copper details that can be used as additions to improve and add detail to models however you can also create one off stand alone pieces as well.
In the Pro Etch kit you'll receive the chemicals required however if you live outside the United States then you'll have to source your chemicals locally and this can be problematic for some...
They use Ferric Chloride as the etchant in the kit however for me obtaining Ferric Chloride at a reasonable price is something of a mission! So as a substitute I used the following chemicals at a ratio of 2:1. The Hydrochloric Acid is available from the hardware store and Hydrogen Peroxide is available from the supermarket of chemists.
As for the developing solution I simply used Washing Soda which is easily available from the supermarket.
By watching the video tutorial you'll have everything you need to know to successfully make your very own photo etched parts. It's a lengthy process however after you've tried it a couple of times it will become second nature and you'll be making photo etched parts without even batting an eyelid.
This kit is available from Micro-Mark and you can save 10% of you shopping cart by using the promo code 'boulder'.
Just remember that if you do purchase an etching kit to order the correct kit as they cannot send the corrosive chemicals outside of the US.
Boulder creek railroad is a YouTube channel that is partly supported by the fans, if you too would like to help support the channel and receive some of the perks I have for supporters be sure to check out my patron page.
Building models from scratch can be difficult… but with a bit of practice and some patience you’ll be surprised how easy it is to build something that you’ll be proud of!
Styrene is usually the material of choice for a lot of modelers who scratch build models however you can use all sorts of materials like balsa wood, bass wood, different types of plastic, paper and even recycled material from around the house.
⇩ LIST OF STYRENE USED AND TUTORIAL VIDEO AT BOTTOM OF PAGE ⇩
Even for very creative people it can prove difficult to come up with a building right of the top of your head and that’s why I always do a little research before I start. It might be as simple as looking at a picture online or it might involve going on a road trip with my camera in hand to get the images I want that will ultimately inspire me when I start scratch building.
Having a wide variety of tools certainly makes scratch building much easier but it’s by no means entirely necessary, you can build a fantastic building simply using a sharp hobby knife, a pencil and a metal ruler. However I like to do as much as I can to make my life easier and in the video I demonstrate the use of many different tools that are specifically designed for scratch building in mind.
Many of the tools I use like the 'Chop-It', ‘Duplicate-It’, Corner Punch, Adjustable Magnetic Clamps, Airbrush Moisture Trap were all purchased from Micro-Mark.
For those interested, you can get 10% of you shopping cart at the checkout by using the promo code ‘boulder’ exclusive to viewers and fans of boulder creek railroad.
Stay tuned in the future as I’m working on an e-book about building with styrene and I’ll also be posting more specific plans on how I built this building on my website with measurements and a parts list.
When I'm not working or spending time with the family I'm building models.