How to assemble miniature signals

22 September 2021
Recently due an eye test, Howard Smith provided a visual test of his own with the assembly of these small 2mm:1ft scale signals from N Scale Brass.

How is your vision? It’s an important aspect when modelling and it’s always brought to the forefront when assembling small items. I was reminded of this when assembling one of the smallest kits I've encountered from N Scale Brass. Despite being 2mm:1ft scale, their detail is very impressive – at a cost. Component size is very small and I can’t emphasise how fragile these kits are to assemble. A methodical approach is needed.

In many ways, it was a good example – and memory refresher – of handling small components and assembling them in a damage-free way. There was the odd occasion where a part would fly off the desk into the abyss, but luckily, in our studio with its off-black carpet, shiny nickel silver components stand out.

The manufacturer must be congratulated on the design of its etches. With the Sykes Banner repeater, assembly of which I’ve outlined below, everything from the instructions to the fit of parts was without issue. And, a number of assembly options are provided too, for variety.

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Signals being so application-specific vary between locations. As such, I’d recommend you refer to photographs of your chosen prototype, or at the very least, seek a similar scenario if modelling fiction. For a painting guide, the instructions state that signals are all-black, with the exception of the signal arm surround, painted in white. However, it seems some signals had white posts, the bottom 3ft (6mm) of their posts painted black. Post steam-era, posts and platforms were painted grey. This is where prototype photographs are useful. 


From left to right, the three kits received from N Scale Brass are (25704) Sykes Banner Repeater, (25702) GWR Single Disc Ground Signal and (25701) Semaphore Ground Signal kit. All are intricate, let’s assemble the banner repeater.


Thorough printed colour instructions are included, with clear written explanations and computer-generated diagrams for component recognition. Enough parts are supplied for two signals, with 12 variants possible.


To prevent damaging the very fine components when releasing these from the fret using tin snips, I’m using smaller fret snips. Their finer blades fit between etch gaps neatly, without distorting parts.


Work commences with the signal platform. Two variants are possible here, using the etch as supplied, or cutting it down the half-etch line to create a signal with a short platform, without a handrail.


A sturdier method for cutting the etch is required here, cutting one of the etches to make a shorter platform. Freshly-sharpened tin snips are used. Tin snip blade edges can be sharpened with wet and dry paper if they dull to prolong cutting life.


Some half-etch tabs remain on this etch. To remove these, the parts are held securely with pliers in such a way that it won’t bend along the half-etch line when sanded flush with an 80/100 grit sanding stick.


For strength, the platform is double thickness, designed to fold back on itself along the half-etch line. To prevent breaking this fragile etch line, it must be folded with the line facing outwards. Use smooth-jawed pliers to prevent scratching.


For assembly, the instructions recommend superglue. I prefer to solder, but the surface area of components such as the ladders is so small that this is no less of a solution. Fine applicator tips from Deluxe Materials are added for pinpoint application.


The indicators are no more than 5mm in diameter and are assembled as a sandwich from bottom to top layer, in order, from left to right. The small squares are just 2mm across and require sanding to remove tabs.


With such small parts, I find it easier to apply these close to where they must be fixed and apply a small drop of glue with the fine applicator…


…then slide the component into place with a small pair of tweezers, etch cutters or other sharp instrument. A cocktail stick would also work well here.


For variety’s sake, I’m assembling both signals from the kit, to the left the repeater in the ‘off’ position with small platform, to the right, the repeater in the ‘on’ position with larger platform and safety rails. The safety rails are easier to cut to length in-situ.


The ladder and safety loop are sanded to remove tabs before being bent to shape. Holding the etch in the pliers close to the edge being filed prevents the etch from bending when pressure is applied.


Sufficient post material is provided for two 35mm-long posts. When cut in half with tin snips, a rough end is created, which must be filed perpendicular to the rod, otherwise this shows through the platform.


Final assembly. The post and ladder are fixed into position and the signal is carefully rotated from all angles to ensure that components are perpendicular and align correctly. I’ve kept more post and ladder than required which can be ‘planted’ into the layout for added strength.


Keeping it simple. Painting the signal surround matt white first, the remainder is painted matt black. I’ve used Humbrol enamels, though acrylics would work equally well. An etch primer can be used first, though paint will remain on these finer parts which aren't handled.

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