Here is one of five lamp jacks for the passenger car. It’s simply constructed from a pin and a length of tube. I held them apart with a razor blade as I soldered them. It’s about 18 mm (3/4″) long, and most of it will get cut off shortly before installation.
You can probably buy something like this, and one of the questions that I get asked when demoing is how do I choose to make something rather than buy it. The answer I give is one that I remember reading thirty years ago when I started scratchbuilding. It is this: if I can make something that’s as good or better than the one I can buy, I’ll make it.
Following this rule has had a couple of benefits over the years. First, it has meant that I’ve spent a whole lot less on my hobby than I might have. Here, for example, I’d expect to spend a couple of dollars for a set of jacks that I made in less than half an hour for pennies. When I started out, this was my primary motivation for scratchbuilding, because, well I had no money. None. No really, none.
The second – unexpected – benefit of following this rule has been that my skills have improved with every part I’ve attempted. Often I set out to make a part, not knowing if I can or not, but knowing that the best I can find is not all that good. So, I attempt it once or twice, and sure enough, after a couple of tries I do get something that looks more like what I’m after than the best commercial offering. In the meantime, I’ve learned how to fabricate something that I didn’t know how to make or even know if I could make it.
Finally, and this was the motivation this evening, scratchbuilding actually saves me time. Sure, I might have been able to buy lamp jacks, but I would have spent as much time searching through Walthers, Cal Scale, Bowser, Detail Associates and every other manufacturer’s website, scrutinizing the terrible photography. Then there would have been the ordering at Central Hobbies or direct, a trip to the hobby store, and before you know it, these parts have cost me much more than half an hour.
And it’s fun to make stuff too.