• Belinda

Toot Toot. Take a trip on The Christmas Express.

This is my second project for the Faith Pocock Craft Studio Design Team, and it sure was a doozy! A massive project that was so much fun to work on. Let me introduce you to The Christmas Express...

Laser cut MDF model Christmas train advent calendar
The Christmas Express

The Christmas Express is a cool locomotive advent calendar. The engine is grand with space in the engine room to do a little diorama. Unfortunately I ran out of time, only able to put a pile of "coal" inside - more on that later. The carriage sports 24 drawers to hold all sorts of festive goodies. Small packets of sweets, or mini chocolate bars. There's room for healthier options such as a mandarin, small cluster of grapes, or snack-sized packets of nuts. Non-edible ideas: movie tickets, loving messages, mini booklets, a new Christmas decoration, or small toy (like a matchbox car or doll's clothes), and more. I will be putting my thinking cap on for lots more ideas as I am giving it to my husband for Christmas.

This incredible MDF kit contains many, many pieces, and thankfully there are diagrams to help guide the construction. I recommend sticking pretty much to the order as laid out. I did get myself into a little strife by inadvertently gluing in a couple of pieces in the wrong order. Prising apart firmly glued pieces while hoping they don't break is a tad stressful, so just don't go there if at all possible. Just one of the lessons I learned during this project.

The train is huge at 1.143 metres long (approximately), and I think it's going to fit nicely on the mantlepiece in our bedroom in our 1920's bungalow. If you don't glue the hitching pin, then the two sections can be angled (as in the picture above), instead of running in a straight line. A really nice design feature that looks great on display. Just don't angle them too hard or the roof edges will collide and could get damaged.

So let's take a brief look at my construction process. With such a large project it was difficult to remember to take photos, but also difficult to know what to include in this blog post without if getting too unwieldly. I could have had thousands of pictures, so I hope I've struck a happy balance.

As an overall strategy I decided to paint several pieces then glue those together. This stopped me getting bored by too much stretch of painting, and it helped keep momentum going. I had a tight timeframe to get this project done within. The timeframe helped me to keep moving though, and not get bogged in details. There is a LOT one could do to customise this beauty, but it is such a stunning design that it also doesn't need much if you prefer a simpler style. I will not give a step-by-step for this project as the instructions with the kit are good. Instead, I'll focus on a few areas of interest or where things get slightly tricky.

So the project begins with work on the engine. I did a dry run of the pieces up until the point where I could no longer hold things together without glue. It's a very helpful process to get one's head around the design and where one should add paint or not. Then I settled down on painting the individual pieces. There are several pieces that do not require painting as they are completely hidden - by completing the dry run, I was able to identify these and save myself some work. On other pieces, like the long base of the engine, only the outside edges require painting, but because I couldn't help myself, I painted the whole thing.

I did spare some time for a few decorative details. On the engine I used some die cut waste to act as a stencil. With a fine paint brush I painted through the stencil with metallic silver paint. In the engine room I wanted a little pile of coal. I used some of my tiny stones, glued them together into a pile, plus 2 loose ones, and painted them all black. I love how they turned out.

One of my favourite things to work on was the drawers for the carriage. Twenty-four drawers in total, which fit together like a dream. I had fun painting and "grunging up" the fronts and adding some decorative scrapbook paper to the inside bases. I measured the area for the paper, making sure it did not encroach into the tab areas. Paper, or even paint, on the tabs could mean a less than 'dreamy' fit. I gave the drawers a fun grunge finish with a combination of watery black paint, finished with black ink sponged around the outer edges. I chose not to paint the inside of the drawers, more because of time constraint, but I may go back and do that. I would suggest not painting the ousitde of the drawers (apart from the fronts), so that there are no issues with sliding the drawers in and out.

The wheels I painted all black, except for the spoked ones which were painted metallic gold. After they were dry I used a damp cloth dipped lightly into the metallic paint and brushed it over the wheels to give a subtle shimmer and texture.

There are two parts of this project which I found to be the trickiest. One of these is fitting the carriage pieces together. The frame work is a little unstable until it's all together and glued, and I think an extra pair of hands for this might have been helpful. However, my biggest lesson in this project, and a story I have to share, is in having a pottle of water (for rinsing brushes) sitting on the table near an MDF project that has just been held together gingerly with glue. An unfortunate brush of an unthinking arm and swoosh. The water went everywhere including all over the MDF pieces, knocking over my only just glued carriage so that it all fell apart again. Panic stations! A helpful gentleman who was here for a workshop helped me mop up and then I grabbed out a hairdryer which did a wonderful job of drying out the MDF pieces. It ended on a happy note, once I got the carriage back together again, with no lasting damage done, but some time wasted. Be careful! LOL

Hitch for carriage
Connecting hitch

The other tricky part is in the hitch between the carriage and engine. The engine one is straight forward but the carriage one is two layers with a space in between. The two parts have slots they need to slide through, gluing them in place to the connecting element has to happen before the piece they slot into is placed on. It is hard to explain in writing. For this I recommend sitting everything in place and marking on the connecting element (the funny little L-shaped piece) with a pencil where the slots line up. Otherwise it might not line up when you come to put the last piece in place. I hope this photo helps.

painting the underside of the train
Painting the underside of the train

Once I had it all constructed, I did notice a few areas underneath that were visible from certain angles. Very carefully I laid the train on its side and painted all of the underside up past where it would be visible. It was a final little detail that made me happy.

The very final steps are to glue together the smoke stack and glue on the hood over the headlight. It is a very satisfying feel to complete such a large project and so far the in-real-life comments have been wonderful. It truly is an impressive looking model train.

I hope you enjoyed this project and are keen to give it a go. You can check it out and purchase the kit here.

I look forward to tackling my projects for January. I've just received my next kits, and ohhhhh, I'm going to have some fun. ;)

Until next time, Belinda

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