Hints & Tips № 7 — the Bright Lights

How many of you can remember standing, as a small boy, with the snow flurries dancing round the area between the bottom of your shorts and the tops of your crumpled socks, nose pressed against the glass (which annoyingly steamed up every few minutes) gazing in wonder at… a Toyshop Window Meccano Display Model?

Yes, we wore shorts in those days, even in winter. We were tough then. We’ve all got arthritic knees now.

I remember seeing one such model, aeons ago, a Blackpool Tower, with moving lifts, the lot. That was when I realised, seeing the lumps of grease rather carelessly plastered over the gears etc. , that it was OK to lubricate Meccano — it wouldn’t break some unwritten rule — and perhaps my rather creaky, squeaky mechanisms could be improved this way. And so it proved.

But what really caught the eye on these models were… the lights. They drew you across a wide, busy street, like a magnet. Multicoloured, bright, flashing, magical.

For dressing up any model that has been made for visual effect, as opposed to a mechanical marvel — and even for these, sometimes — coloured lights are unbeatable. For rescued Toyshop Display Models, like my Tower Bridge, they are essential.

But how to obtain coloured 12V bulbs? Well, you can buy them at a shop down by the river for £1.55 each — or you can buy plain ones from your local radio store for about 40p each, and colour them yourself. (You’ll have to hunt for them, though. Try Tandy’s).

I’ve seen many models where this has been done, but they look far better if the coloured paint used is transparent and not just translucent, to avoid that ‘pearl bulb’ effect. If the bulb filament is visible through the colour it gives much greater brilliance.

So what to use? I use Tamiya clear acrylic paint from the model shop — red, amber, green and blue. (Blue, incidentally, is less successful than the others — it goes on less smoothly and starts to peel off earlier).

The way it’s applied is important. The bulb glass must be clean. Brushes leave streaks, so I use a straightened paper clip, with a loop in the end to screw the bulb into, to dip the bulb glass in the paint. The end of the paper clip can then be stuck into a block of polystyrene to hold the bulb vertical, while the paint dries. It slowly runs down the sides of the glass as it does so, and to ensure an even covering it must be inverted every few minutes to allow the paint to run back.

Some colours may need more than one application, to get the right shade. You’ll soon get the hang of it, and your model should then rival the Blackpool Illuminations!

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