3D Print Yourself A Tiny Steam Train Complete With Smoke Effects

Model trains are fun, but sometimes little whirring motors in electric models feel a long way from the hulking metal beasts of the real railways. [Lewis] of [DIY Machines] adds back some of the flavor with this little steam train build, smoke effects included!

The body of the train itself is 3D printed in PLA. It’s designed to O-gauge scale, and comes complete with models for 3D printed track as well. The parts are given a coat of paint to better approximate the finish of the real thing; sometimes bare plastic just won’t suffice, after all.

Propulsion is thanks to an onboard battery and a simple gearmotor, driven by a HG7881 motor driver. An ESP32-CAM is responsible for running the show, allowing the train to be commanded wirelessly. As a bonus, the camera is mounted in the very front of the train, allowing one to watch a livestream of its progress about the tracks. Meanwhile, the smoke effect is thanks to a small water atomizer fitted in the train’s chimney, which makes the train look that little bit more authentic.

The combination of a self-powered train and 3D-printed tracks is a compelling one. [Lewis] has been able to leave his PETG 3D-printed track outside for over two years and it’s still in working order. That’s not something easy to achieve when using metal rails to deliver power.

Overall, this is a fun way to get into building your own model trains, and is a lot more hands-on than simply buying pre-built models from a store. From there, the sky is really the limit for your creativity! Video after the break.

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Coffee Table Railroad Flips To Hide The Fun

The livingroom coffee table has long been a favorite realm of the model railroad. But what to do when you actually want to have coffee? [Peter Waldraff] has come up with a most eloquent answer to the problem by designing a coffee table model railroad capable of turning the world upside down.

This isn’t [Peter’s] first rodeo. In his demo video below he shows off a coffee table train he built 20 years ago using a rectangular layout under glass. This time the circular design means a spherical volume can rotate around two skateboard bearing pivot points, revealing the mountainous scene on one side and the boring old wood table on the other. But what happens to the N-scale train itself when gravity is reversed? There’s a brilliant solution to that!

The frame of the coffee table includes an outer loop for train storage. Before flipping the model upside-down, the train itself is sent to this siding for safe keeping. In an earlier build video we can glimpse the latching mechanism that uses a solenoid and is actuated by a magnet in the center of the table. A clever use of toggle bolts (sometimes known as butterfly anchors for securing things on drywall) has them transfer power to the outer ring of storage track when their spring-loaded arms come in contact with some screw heads on the other side of the gap. The source of the electricity is a rechargeable Makita power tool battery in a hidden chamber within the mountain.

Of course we’ve seen other hideaway coffee table trains like this lovely hand-carved version. But you have to admire how [Peter] managed to incorporate everything into a self contained unit here, without the needing to store a removable cover. If you are someone who wants to always show off your handy work, that’s where a perspex box coffee table design comes into play.

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3D Printed Train Set Aims For Speed

For most involved in the hobby, model trains involve buying track from off-the-shelf suppliers, and lots of delicate painting and finishing. Conversely, [Ivan] just wanted to make something fast and fun, busting out the 3D printer in due course.

While the title of “World’s fastest toy train” is somewhat dubious, the build has its value as an interesting way of doing things. The train is 3D printed, with pressed-in ball bearings and metal shafts for the bogies. Differing from usual practice, this train carries its power supply on board, in the form of a LiPo battery. It’s hooked up to a brushless motor and controlled by a standard RC car setup.

The track is an impressive structure, consisting of 3D printed rails and supports.  These are assembled and then screwed down to plywood baseplates, which are hot glued to the flat concrete floor of [Ivan]’s workshop. Strings were used to align everything as straight and true as possible. The track features a steep banking which helps with cornering. However, the straights remain banked in an effort to avoid the complex modelling of a transition. This leads to some derailments at higher speeds on the flat sections.

While it’s not yet perfect, [Ivan] has done a great job of demonstrating a quick and easy way to build a model railway out of almost entirely 3D printed components. We can’t wait to see improvements to the rails and railcars, and hope to see speeds increase significantly in future tests. 3D printing tends to bring some interesting results to bear on the model train world, such as this vertical hanging setup. Video after the break.

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Vertical Train Hauls Up The Wall

Trains are great for hauling massive amounts of cargo from point A to point B, and occasionally, point C on weekends. But they’re not really known for climbing hills well, and anything vertical is right out. Regardless, [Can Altineller] knows what he wants and set to work, creating the 3D Printed Wall Train.

The first step was to get the train to stick to a vertical surface. This was achieved with the use of neodymium magnets in the train, which are attracted to laser-cut steel plates beneath the plastic tracks. The train itself consists of a custom 3D printed locomotive, outfitted with a motor and step-down gears that drive all four wheels. Said wheels are of a conical shape, and covered with rubber to provide enough grip to overcome gravity. The project is a progression from [Cal]’s earlier four-motor build.

The final result is a charming wall display, with the four-wheel drive train merrily tugging its carriages around the circular course ad infinitum. It’s a fun build, and we’d love to see similar techniques applied to a bigger layout. If this whets your appetite for model railroading, consider building your own turntable, or implementing some fancy sensors. Video after the break.

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The Arduino Hits The Rails

Certain hobbies come in clusters. It isn’t uncommon to see, for example, ham radio operators that are private pilots. Programmers who are musicians. Electronics people who build model trains. This last seems like a great fit since you can do lots of interesting things with simple electronics and small-scale trains. [Jimmy] at the aptly-named DIY and Digital Railroad channel has several videos on integrating railroad setups with Arduino. These range from building a DCC system for about $45 (see below) to a crossing signal.

There are actually quite a few basic Arduino videos on the channel, although most of them are aimed at beginners. However, the DCC — Digital Command and Control — might be new to you if you are a train neophyte. DCC is a standard defined by the National Model Railroad Association.

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Decoupling Lego Trains Automatically

Lego train sets were introduced almost 50 years ago, and since then, one thing has been constant: the trains connected with magnets. While this is a supremely simple means of connecting locomotives to rolling stock, there is one big disadvantage. Building decouplers – devices that will separate one car from another – is difficult.

Now, with a clever combination of racks, gears, and wedges, trains can disassemble themselves. They can even do it with an Arduino.

wedgeThis decoupler works by effectively wedging cars apart from each other. With a motor from an old Lego Technic set, a few gears, shafts, and a rack, a device can be constructed that fits between the rails of a track that raises into the undercarriage of rolling stock.

Because this rolling stock is moved around with a locomotive, all that’s needed to separate two halves of a train is to move the locomotive forward. Yes, it does mean that the connection with the weakest magnet is disengaged – not necessarily the connection you want to decouple. However, with only one car and a locomotive, there’s only one connection to break. Simple enough.

This Lego decoupler can be further improved with an Arduino, a few ultrasonic sensors, and an IR detector to make a fully automatic decoupling siding for a Lego train layout. You can see all this below operating with a full state machine that perpetually switches rolling stock behind a locomotive.

A great use for Legos.

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IoT Enabled Thomas The Tank Engine

This month the popular “Thomas the Tank Engine” toy celebrated its 70 anniversary. As a fun project, [tinkermax] wanted to bring this traditional toy into the age of IoT, while preserving its physical appearance and simple charm.

He used a model called the “Diesel” which seemed big enough to house the electronics, but proved otherwise once he inspected the innards. He needed to fit in an ESP8266 module, an accelerometer breakout, some discrete parts, a nifty analog multiplexer, and a 14500 3.7V LiPo. Once done, he was able to control its speed remotely over WiFi, with an auto “throttle-boost” that kicks in when the accelerometer senses that the train is going uphill, and has remote monitoring of battery state, engine load, inclination and track vibration – all in real-time using MQTT over WiFi. It’s quite a demonstration of the power of these super-cheap WiFi modules that are powering the current wave of IoT innovation.

The train motor works off a single 1.5V battery, so [tinkermax] tried a couple of boost converters to get the ESP-12 to work. But the modules were a tad bigger, and couldn’t provide the high peak current needed by the ESP-12. So he used a 14500 3.7V LiPo battery instead. A series diode drops the LiPo voltage to a circuit friendly 2.9V ~ 3.6V range. The ADXL345 accelerometer is used to measure “pitch” to detect going up and down a hill, “roll” to check for tilt or tip over and vibration to identify track defects. It communicates with the ESP-12 using a special Lite-SPI library that he wrote.

Two analog measurements are performed. One uses a resistor in series with the PWM driven motor to measure its current, with a low pass filter to smooth out PWM noise. The other is a resistor divider network used to monitor battery voltage. But the ESP-12 has just one ADC channel. Instead of adding another ADC module, [tinkermax] used a neat device – the FSA3157 – which allows two analog inputs to be channeled to a single output much like a SPDT switch. One PWM output is used to control motor speed and a second one to pulse a LED.

The sensor data is streamed 5 times a second over the MQTT protocol to a Raspberry Pi based MQTT broker. Finally, a JavaScript webpage receives the MQTT messages and plots the data graphically. One upgrade he would like to implement is speed measurement, to allow constant speed drive. If you have any ideas on how to extract that information from an accelerometer, chip in with your comments below. Check out his build log in the short video below. And if you’d like to see how all of this can be used in the real world, check this other video where [tinkermax]’s colleague gives a run down about a commercial enterprise IoT cloud platform hooked up to Thomas the Tank Engine.

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