Help me build an articulated streetcar - glue, drilling, and tying
October 30, 2019 5:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm building an articulated streetcar (Toronto's "new streetcar") that can run on kids wood train tracks. I need advice gluing (duct tape covered in paper to wood covered in paper and modpodge), clamping, drilling, and who knows what else. So this started as a question about glue, but now I'm realizing that I have one chance go get this right, so please throw at me any advice that might be helpful. Here's my plan, along with the gaps. Please fill the gaps and tell me where my plan is flawed.

I want to build one of these. Useful pictures here

Here's my plan:

Step 1. Photoshop a picture of the streetcar onto a template that is the right size and the modpodge it on to a blank train car. The first picture shows a non-articulated streetcar (The Streetcar named Toronto) I made by this mod-podge method. I will also make a red and white regular "old streetcar" this way. So

Step 2. Connect three modpodged cars together (yes the real streetcars have like 5 cars...I'm doing 3. Deal with it). One long (like the Streetcar named Toronto) and two short (see picture 2). I will connect them together by placing two tiny eye hooks on each car, one above the other, in the centre and then tying the eye hooks together so the cars cannot be pulled apart or twisted very far. The long cars are actually a tiny bit taller and narrower than the short cars. I hope to place the eyehooks so they are level with one another and plan to rotate them so they are horizontal (i.e. rings parallel to floor). I can't remember why I thought that rotation was important.

Advice useful on
a. What kind of cord/string to use for the tying? Planning on using fishing line and b. How to get the eyehooks in. The cars are very hard wood...likely maple? I'm worried just press and twist won't work but holding and drilling these little cars would be a bitch.

Step 3. Make the articulation. This is duct tape taped to a paper pattern, scored on the paper side (by pressing hard with a pen, not with a blade) and then folded in a zigzag. I punch 1/16" holes in two rows along each side and string elastic cord through them to hold the zig-zag pleats in place. (See pictures 2 and 3) (I originally intended to do this fold, but I just can't turn the folds around...too fiddly...and it operates fine this way). To keep the articulation from opening up at the bottom, middle, I was going to run a little elastic cord along the open bottom side through the same holes to pull the two sides together.

Step 4. Glue the articulation to the cars. The idea is for the cars to be held together by the eye hooks and for it not to be possible to pull the cars far enough apart to really be tugging at the articulation. It does need to be able to articulate/turn at a sharp angle because I happen to know the end user will turn the car to it's very limits and break it if it doesn't turn far enough (see picture 4. though unlike hard plastic, I guess duck tape won't break)

Advice needed on:
c. Glue to use. Bear in mind this will be used by a toddler so the glue needs to hold.
d. How I can possibly clamp if I need to clamp -- I don't actually own any clamps and usually clamp with weight or elastics, which won't seem to work here, but I think even if I owned clamps, they'd be too big.

If you see any flaws in my plan that I have not asked for advice on, please feel free to point them out, or give other suggestions.
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Fishing line/monofilament is notoriously difficult to make secure knots with, that’s theres a zillion complicated ways to tie hooks on.

If you don’t think you have the dexterity, space and patience to put in something like these, consider cordage that will work with basic knots, like heavy duty thread.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:00 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

A pin vise with bits would work for drilling the holes. Spring clamps would be good for the clamping.
posted by doctord at 6:18 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would use yellow carpenter's glue for something like this. It is pretty tough.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:27 AM on October 30, 2019

Using two eye hooks will be a bit challenging if you have any bridges in your wooden train set. Make sure that there is enough slack to go up and down from the bridge.
posted by rockindata at 6:29 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you really need to glue wood to paper here, and just let the tape's own adhesive take care of itself. For that I would go to This to That and secretly hope they mention my guess of wood glue. Yesss! But wood glue does need time to dry, and will be much stronger if it's clamped during that.

For small projects I generally love these Irwin Quick Grip clamps in the smallest size, but buy them from a hardware store because they come in a lot of bigger sizes that look the same and it's difficult to tell what you're getting from Amazon pictures. For this, though, I think zip ties would make a good clamp, since you need to squeeze the accordion on all the sides, right? If you use four, one for each side, and thread them all together that will be a nice square thing that you can squeeze down on it. Just cut them away with flush cutters or nail clippers when it's dry.
posted by aubilenon at 6:35 AM on October 30, 2019

For the articulated part, a bit of dryer hose could be cut down.
Elastic ties off pretty well, instead of fishing line, and has 'give'.
Use glue in the holes for the eye hooks.
posted by theora55 at 6:35 AM on October 30, 2019

You might want to consider jump rings to connect the eye pins. You could do more than one if you need the slack to make the turns. They come in a variety of sizes.
posted by XtineHutch at 6:37 AM on October 30, 2019

For connecting the cars I would try connecting them with some kind of cord or shoelace. Drill holes into the end of each car, glue up the ends of the cord using wood glue, and shove them into the holes. You could hammer a small nail, or screw in a small screw, through the glued cord into the car to keep it tight while the glue dries. Try it on some scrap wood to see how strong it is. This way you'd have some vertical mobility to go up ramps too.

Canadian Tire will very often have clamps for sale. They can get pretty small. If you're in the Toronto area you can also borrow some clamps from me.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:46 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would use a glue gun. It has the advantage of drying instantly if you want to pleat things.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:47 AM on October 30, 2019

I would try drilling a small hole on center from stem to stern with an intermediate bead between sections for the articulation , like a string of beads, concealing the knots on the ends , one string holding all pieces in line . then fabricating the bellows , I admire what you already have done , its going to look great . My go to glue right now is the new clear polyurethane from Gorilla , doesn't foam , optically clear .
posted by hortense at 7:36 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hmm...I hadn't considered the issue of vertical give because of bridges. Thanks for that. I think the problem with give in the connection between the rail cars (in tying the eye hooks together) is that I need to make sure there's not enough give that the strain then goes on to the articulation (like it can't be possible to pull it so far apart that the articulation starts to break).

For using thistothat remember that the wood car is covered in paper and modpodge, so I'm not gluing directly to wood. It's not clear what the this and the that are. The paper actually peels off the duck tape quite easily (like it wouldn't come off by accident, but it can definitely be peeled off without much trouble), and I'm thinking maybe I should just peel the little edge off where I will glue, just to make it one fewer layer of sticking?

Anyway, the many votes for wood glue and the fact that wood glue is recommended by thistothat for multiple paper/fabric/wood combinations that all seem the most relevant, I'm leaning toward wood glue. But can someone who's worked with it please reassure me this is actually strong? I associate wood glue with basic kindergarten paste (but a little yellow!) and so I feel like it would just come apart easily. And thistothat recommends elmers specifically. How much does this matter? I think I have another wood glue at home.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:53 AM on October 30, 2019

I've got wood glue currently holding some important bits of a chest of drawers together next to me - properly applied and clamped, it's really quite strong.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

People say that wood glue is stronger than the wood it is attached to. If you look at the bottles they will usually give some indication of the bond strength on the bottle using some really high PSI or weight limit. It ought to be stronger than the force you could apply to it, let alone a small child.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:34 AM on October 30, 2019

Wood glue is pretty strong. I accidentally glued some of those heavy Playskool wooden blocks together in 1981 and they haven’t budged in 38 years of being played with.
posted by corey flood at 9:41 AM on October 30, 2019

Ah! Instead of just regular fishing line, get what beaders use. I would go for the strongest Fireline or Spiderwire you can find. That knots securely and is designed to take a lot of pressure. If you loop several rounds through your pins and then tie off, it’ll hold very securely. Add a drop of superglue to the knot. The braided line is much more secure and won’t slip loose like the straight filaments. (And Nthing wood glue. I have pieces of furniture that have repairs from the early 80s on high stress joints that are still going strong. And it’s thoroughly non-toxic.)
posted by stoneweaver at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2019

When I was in college building flats for plays, you’d glue a corner piece onto each corner with wood glue and also screw it into the frame. They always told us that the screws were just to hold until the glue cured; the glue was stronger than the screws. So yeah, wood glue is strong.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:36 PM on October 30, 2019

I'm thinking of mod-podging the streetcar facade on *after* attaching the cars and gluing on the articulation. Would that be crazy? So the facade would go on on top of the glued on articulation seam (where that seam overlaps with the wood).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:25 PM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would use 2 sets of opposing hook eyes and link each set with a wire ring made from a paper clip. I think this would keep the cars from rotating relative to each other when you need to handle it. I don’t see any reason to run string any other reinforcement through the paper if the cars are joined by the hook eyes and each end of the accordion is glued to the cars. I would use white glue.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:14 PM on October 30, 2019

OK, so I've sourced some Irwin quick-grip clamps...but as I test this out, I'm realizing that the top surface (the roof) is curved. I assume the solution is some sort semi-malleable material placed between the clamp and the wood that will form itself to the curve and push down (and yet compress hard enough to still apply pressuree)? What material might that be?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:39 PM on October 30, 2019

I don't know how much pressure you need to apply for gluing paper/fabric to wood. Assuming you need a decent amount and don't just need to keep it in place you could try one of the following:

Make a wood spacer between the clamp and train. Cut a piece of scrap wood to fit between the clamp and train. Trace out the curve of the roof and then cut it using a jig/coping saw or sanding it down with a file or dremel tool.

You might be able to use a zip tie to clamp as well. If you were going this route I would first wrap some extra fabric around the area to make it thicker and then use the zip tie because it has fixed stops and likely won't match exactly to the circumference of your train so with the extra fabric you'd be able to squeeze down a bit more.

If there's a chance that glue could seep through the articulation material and stick to the wood spacer or extra fabric then put something the glue won't stick to like saran wrap or packing tape first and then the spacer/extra fabric.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:02 AM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I sure hope people are still reading this..

Wood glue is not the answer. I got some wood blocks that look to be about the same kind of wood and tried glueing: To duct-tape lined with paper (paper side against block). Duct tape unlined by paper ( duct tape adhesive against block) and black side of duct tape. I clamped for 24 hours.

All three versions pulled off with minimal pulling force required.

Epoxy advocates, any specific suggestions?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:36 PM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Honestly, looking at your pictures, I'd whip out the ol' staple gun, staple the edges all along the wood blocks, and then re-cover the staples with another layer or two of black tape. If you're concerned about the staples being a hazard, though, I think the other alternative is to just glue the articulation down lightly and assume it's going to get ripped up and pulled loose, and periodically check/replace it. I'd expect the biggest problem to be the toddler grabbing the assembly by the articulation and crunching it anyway, and the best glue in the world isn't going to make it stand up well to that kind of treatment. If you've built with the assumption that it's a replaceable part, it'll be *way* easier to fix.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:13 AM on November 3, 2019

Despair future readers, despair! NOTHING sticks to duct tape. Not epoxy. Not contact cement. Not to the sticky side. Not to the smooth side. Abandon hope all ye who attempt such projects.

I have an idea for an alternative articulation system. I'll post pics if it works.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:02 PM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's done! Thank you all for your advice. The articulations look a bit wonky but that's unrelated to the glue. Also, because the middle car is slight taller than the front/back cars, the front/back cars get pulled up a little.

Here are pictures.

So the articulations are made out of duct tape and fabric (and paper). It's attached using wood glue UNDER THE PAPER PRINT OUTS.

Method: Print pattern on paper. The outside layer is fabric. Then there's duct tape inside (stuck to fabric using built-in duct tape adhesive). This helps give it enough structural integrity to hold the creases. Then paper on the inside (stuck with double-sided tape to the shiny duct tape side). The key is that the duct tape not extend after than the accordian folds but the fabric DOES extend farther. So use a pen to score the accordian fold creases on the paper/duct tape. Fold. Use wood glue to attach to wood cars, clampes with elastic for the curved roof (Dried 24 hours) and then blocks (Covered in ducttape so they wouldn't stick) and clamps for the sides. I also glued the inner accordian fold to the edge of the train car using superglue after the wood glue procedure was dry. Then I put the paper patterns over top and mod-podged them on. I thought the fabric wouldn't show because it's thin, but you'll see there are some slight creases where the edges of the fabric are.

Rhinestones for the lights.

They're not perfect, by any stretch, but I'm still pretty proud of myself.

This ain't that hard, Bombardier.

I can't wait for Christmas morning and I don't even care that santa is going to take all the credit.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:12 PM on November 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

It looks really nice. Great job!
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:18 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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