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*Updated 09/06/16*

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Tools, Jigs, Fixtures and the Achievement Program

By Frank J. Koch


Some of the AP categories require scratchbuilding some of the elements.  The definition of scratchbuilt is clear:  "The term 'scratchbuilt' carries the implication that the builder alone has accomplished all of the necessary layout and fabrication (starting with 'basic shapes') which establish the final dimensions, appearance, and operating qualities of the scale model." 
Common basic shapes are scribed materials, embossed materials, scale-sized material, and other materials used as starting materials.  In the past several years, this definition has been logically extended to include commercial shingles, rivets, and NBW castings as basic shapes.  Decals have always been exempt parts, and the new textured decals with rivets and weld lines are exciting developments for all modelers.   Note that commercial assemblies like window castings and cast wall sections with windows or doors are not considered basic shapes and are not considered scratchbuilt parts.
The requirements intentionally make no mention of how the fabrication is to be accomplished or what tools can be used - as long as the modeler does the work.  We are all familiar with the common aluminum or wood miter box used for ensuring accurate angled cuts and the "Chopper" used for making both straight and angled cuts.  We all use rotary tools with attachments and drills for accurate holes.  We even make molds so we can duplicate parts when we need many of the same thing. We all use jigs and fixtures to build trestle bents or multiple identical car under frames. Times have changed and there are new tools available that are still just tools.
Broadly available commercial track fixtures, laser cutters, and 3-D printers are all more recent tools that impact how we model.  I've been using track fixtures for over 25 years since I built a jig to ensure all my bench-built frogs and turnouts were the same and met the NMRA standards.  Today, there are a variety of jigs, templates, and fixtures to assist us in building track from rail.  One of the most commonly known is "Fast Tracks" but there are several other well-known products that are also excellent.  They are all acceptable.  The modeler still has to measure, file, and install everything correctly or it won't work.
Laser cutters and 3-D printers are becoming more accessible to all of us.  As long as the modeler writes the code that determines the dimensions of the parts, they are considered scratchbuilt.  If the machine operator, and not the modeler, makes changes to the code, then the part fails on the "builder alone has determined the part's characteristics" definition of scratchbuilt.  
These new tools give us more options and more flexibility to increase our skills and our modeling prowess.  How we use them and all our other tools and methods determines how well our models turn out and not what specific tools were used.  We may not have our own laser cutters or 3-D printers but they can be accessed through the internet and at some local schools.  Remember that some skeptics once believed that computers would only ever be available in the very largest companies in limited numbers and never reach the mass market.  So it goes with tool advancements.  They keep getting better and we will take advantage of them to build more models.  Just remember that tools are OK and are not part of the scratch building criteria.

Frank J. Koch, NMRA AP

There is no requirement that they be ballasted or even built as part of a layout. The purpose is to demonstrate that you have the ability to construct and demonstrate the operation of a number of track of the skills expected of a Master Model Railroader...even today.

Frank Koch, NMRA AP


Using Fast Tracks Tools and Fixtures as related to the NMRA Achievement Program

Updated to match the new National Site 09/06/16