Model Engineering


Model Engineering first started when full size engineering started as a result of engineers wishing to visualise their full size creations in miniature before committing to a major project. It became a valuable instruction method for apprentices in engineering, starting particularly during the 19th century when railways and steam motive power became a reality and an enthusiasm to create working machines in miniature was born.






‘Pearl’ is a quarter scale miniature and was built by Peter Brotherhood who presented her to Kings College London in 1868.

Image by ianVisits via

The hobby has continually evolved since its birth and with the increased amount of leisure time and as the availability of all types of tools has changed, we have considered it appropriate to define what the hobby has become:

Model Engineering is the art and science of creating miniature machinery using some or all relevant professional and artisan skills including design and design for making, parts manufacture, fitting and testing and maintained use.

As a result we think that the hobby now includes all aspects of the engineering of miniature machinery from design, whether using pencils or computers, manufacture from the use of commercial CNC and other technological production processes through home workshop machinery to hand tools, operation and maintenance. Essentially the process is one of creation and use!

Model Engineering

Snapshot Facts

Oldest Model Engineering Club, Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers

Length (in miles) of the longest miniature railway in the world

Number of hours Bradbury Winter spent on making Como

The top prize for excellence in Model Engineering in the UK is the Duke of Edinburgh Challenge Trophy, awarded annually to entrants. The person to win this most number of times is Cherry Hill MBE with nine.

The Duke of Edinburgh Challenge Trophy was established in 1954 as the highest accolade in Model Engineering in the UK. Entrants for the annual competition have to have been awarded either a gold or silver medal at the Model Engineering Exhibition for their exhibit to be eligible, and if it wins, it cannot enter again. Cherry Hill MBE is acknowledged to be one of the finest Model Engineers with her portfolio of fabulous quality hand crafted working models. These are often of unusual engines from 19th century designs (some never having been built in real life!). All have been researched, designs prepared, parts made and finished, assembled and tested by their creator. They can now be seen at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

The most prolific miniature locomotive designer is ‘Curly’ Lawrence (LBSC) with over 100 published designs

LBSC came to public notice in 1922 when built a small 21/2” gauge locomotive with a coal fired water tube boiler called ‘Ayesha’ and wrote an article for the Model Engineer Magazine (the first of very many over 45 years). He maintained that this approach would be superior to the ubiquitous methylated spirit firing used in other small locomotives such as those produced by Basset Lowke amongst others. He was challenged to prove it, and a competition was set up for the 1924 Model Engineer Exhibition between himself and a locomotive produced by Bassett Lowke and designed by Henry Greenly (who was responsible for the railway and locomotives of the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway). This was a 2-8-2 3 cylinder spirit fired locomotive called ‘Challenger’ . Although Challenger covered slightly more distance both sides claimed victory…..but the point was made and LBSC and his designs paved the way for miniature steam locomotives designed and built since. Incidentally, since spirit firing was not practicable above very small gauges, the popularity of gauges between 21/2” and 101/4” today is arguable down to this ‘battle of the boilers’!

In 1932 Dr Bradbury Winter constructed a three quarter of an inch to the foot model of Stephenson’s Rocket….in silver.

In 1929, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers commissioned the making of a silver Rocket to commemorate the work of George and Robert Stephenson, the Institutions first and second presidents. They asked Dr J Bradbury Winter to build this and he enthusiastically set about the task. The original aim was to build a table decoration, but this was revised to a 31/2” gauge scale model Bradbury Winter built the locomotive to exact scale including in places that would never been seen (the insides of tanks etc!). Finished in 1932, the then librarian of the Institution thought it was not suitable to display in the library and a hurt Bradbury Winter (who did not claim expenses, intending to gift it) then placed it on display on loan at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. In 1938 however, diplomacy prevailed and Rocket was displayed at the Institution, where, after being gifted by the builder in 1944, it has remained ever since.

Dr Bradbury Winter’s credentials were highly appropriate for this project: between 1884 and 1897 he built an exact scale replica of the London and Brighton and South Coast Railway’s ‘Como’ locomotive, a 0-4-2 D2 class engine built in 1883. Estimated to have taken him around 13000 hours, this was hailed as the greatest model engineering achievement of the day.

The US ‘Big Boy’ articulated locomotive was the most powerful steam locomotive built. A UK built 71/4” gauge model (1/8 full size) weighs in at 1.5 tons and is over 5m long.

A typical British outline ‘pacific’ standard gauge locomotive had a wheel arrangement ‘4-6-2’ and might weigh around 100 tonnes and be about 21 m (68’) long. It had a ‘tractive effort’ (the theoretical force it could apply to pull a train) of 143knewtons (32,000 lbf). A ‘Big Boy’, had a wheel arrangement ‘4-8-8-4’, weighed around 540 tons, was 40.5m (133’) long and had a tractive effort of 602Knewtons (136,000lbf)….running on the same gauge, albeit a little higher and wider. The model was built to 1/8th scale, so the model weight would scale to be 1.05tons, so it was evidently built heavier… bad thing for tractive effort!

Pierre Scerri made from scratch a working one third scale Ferrari 312 PB….with a fully working 103cc flat 12 cylinder engine that produced the exact exhaust note of the real thing!

The Ferrari 312 PB was made in 1971 by Ferrari as a group 5 Sports Car for racing purposes. Pierre Scerri (a French communications engineer) wanted to recreate the noise and feeling that is a highly tuned Ferrari at home and in miniature. He based his model on drawings and photos he made of a real example, taking 3 years to design and plan every part. Construction then took 12 years involving making virtually every part from scratch. He taught himself every skill needed for this. The working engine looks like and sounds like the original and this is impressive…..and then you consider that it has a working 5 speed gearbox, clutch, differential …in fact all parts of the real car!

Nevil Shute, author (‘No Highway’, ‘Trustee from the Toolroom’ etc), was a Model Engineer

Nevil Shute Norway (his full name) was a novelist and engineer and lived 1899 – 1960. He served in the forces at the end of WW1 and developed his skills and interest in aeronautical engineering, leading to position in de Havilland and Vickers. He worked with Barnes Wallis on the R100 airship project (the successful one, the government developed competitor R101 crashed fatally). Dropping his last name for writing, he produced 24 published novels including ‘A Town like Alice’, ‘The Far Country’, ‘No Highway’ (filmed with James Stewart as lead and featuring aircraft fatigue problems around the time of the Comet) and ‘Trustee from the Toolroom’, a novel where the main participant was a technical journalist and model engineer for a magazine called ‘Miniature Mechanic’ based on ‘Model Engineer’, with the hero reputedly inspired by Edgar T Westbury, a well-known miniature engine designer.

Arthur Sherwood made a working 1:240 scale live steam locomotive. The track gauge is 6mm, the locomotive is 117mm long and the twin cylinders have a bore of 3mm.

Arthur Sherwood was a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Sydney. To illustrate his design lectures in the 1960’s and 70’s, he designed and built very small scale working live steam engines. His live steam engines were of 1:240 scale, although he also built some 1:480 scale electrically driven locomotives too. He made every single part of the models using appropriately small tools (like a Lorch watchmakers lathe), including winding his own electric motor coils for the 1:480 scale examples.

In 2013, Paul Windross achieved a speed of nearly 130 mph with his flash steam powered model hydroplane.

Model hydroplanes (high speed boats) were popularised at the start of the 20th century and clubs were formed around the UK. In 1902 Model Engineer magazine instituted a speed competition for boats, the first winner using steam for power, achieved 5mph (real speed, not scale!). Boats were tethered to a central pole in a lake to allow for long runs and ‘flash steam’ engines were developed. These do not use boilers with a water reserve to create steam, but pump water down coils of heated pipe where it ‘flashes’ instantly into steam, powering a high speed piston and cylinder. ‘Chatterbox III’ was the last flash steam powered boat, in the 1920’s, to hold the record as the incoming internal combustion engine was superior. There are, however, still enthusiasts for flash steam and Paul Windross demonstrates this very effectively with a speed record three times as high!

Ando Rohtmets of Estonia set the world speed record for a model tethered car at over 200mph in 2019.

Tethered model cars were popular as a means of competing model cars in the 1920’s and 30’s prior to the days of radio control. The models are powered by IC engines (lately battery electric) and tethered to a central pole. The cars are small (less than a metre in length) and today, have designs optimised for performance. In the early days, the cars were copies of real racing cars and these models fetch high prices in salerooms around the world. There are number of purpose made tracks to enable modern competition (these have safety walls in case a model breaks away from its tether!). Hotly competed, there are world championships still held resulting in records such as Ando’s.

Chiloquin, Oregon (US) is home to the longest miniature railway in the world. It is 71/2” gauge (1/8 scale) with over 36 miles of track in 2205 acres of land.

 The US is a very active centre for Model Engineering and there are many clubs as a result. Our 71/4” gauge corresponding to 1/8 full size is translated to 71/2” gauge for the same scale in the US, remembering too that their ‘loading gauge’ in real life is larger than ours too. The other benefit in the US is that there is a lot of space and some is put to good use with extensive miniature ‘railroad’ layouts.

‘The Magic Gang’ in WW2

JN Maskelyne was a noted Model Engineering author who accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh on his 1952 visit to the ME exhibition. His brother Jasper instigated ‘The Magic Gang’ in WW2 to create illusions of military assets to confuse the enemy such as used for D-Day.

About Model Engineering

Owing to the roots of Model Engineering, it is evident that steam engines play a significant role in the hobby, however as full size developments have evolved, so has the miniature world. The use of steam as a power source has been added to by internal combustion engines, whether reciprocating or rotary, heat engines, clockwork and electric motors. Of course, a miniature machine need not have a power source and models of unpowered machinery are also popular! It is a moot point when ‘miniature’ ceases to be ‘miniature’. Making full size machinery is strictly not Model Engineering, but the envelope is stretched especially when a person is engaged as a hobby activity. There are many half size traction engines that have been built at home by an amateur, and this is certainly considered Model Engineering! From another point of view, a full size clock made at home by an amateur is also considered Model Engineering, so the hobby bit is the key!


As a result of this breadth, clubs have developed to provide mutual support for people interested in particular disciplines. The advantages of a club are that extensive facilities can be created to enable the operation of models such as miniature railways, traction engines, model boats, model aircraft and so on. You will find a whole variety of people in a club who will be willing to explain their interests and abilities to help you get involved. Clubs are also a great place to get to participate in the hobby with others and discover what you would like to do.

As with most activities, there are many different approaches taken by individuals in pursuit of their hobby. Some particularly like the design or the manufacture and take great delight in producing model after model, or in producing something of truly great excellence. Others like the use of their models and may be found, for example, driving a miniature railway locomotive whenever they can!


Model Engineering village

There is good commercial support for the hobby and companies can be found that provide everything that is required at every stage of the process, from raw material or tools through to completed working miniatures.

It is not necessary to ‘be an engineer’ to get involved. The hobby has people from all walks of life who are brought together by the common thread: interest in miniature machines!

Model Engineering and ‘technology’

When Model Engineering was first recognised as a hobby activity, it was at a time when there was little support available from the trade such as parts and castings and people necessarily had make most items themselves. The trade started supporting them by providing small machine tools (principally lathes) for use at home and many models were built in very limited workshops using cast off scraps of material. As a result, the traditional view of a Model Engineer is of someone who developed the technical skills themselves (or possibly as a result of a career) to use such machines and hand tools in producing their miniatures. In the last few decades the use of design aids such as CAD systems have become more ubiquitous, and these can provide output capable of driving a CNC machine (maybe sourced commercially), so why spend hours cutting and filing a large lump of metal for (for example) a connecting rod when a machine can do it in a few minutes at modest cost?! Commercial development of alternative production methods is starting now to filter down to home use (or at least home access) and the possibilities of rapid prototyping systems such as plastic printers, metal sintering or composites are starting to become apparent. And it is not only the production methods that technology is apparent with: the miniature machines that we model also include machines that use, for example, computer control technology in their operation.

Model Engineering FUn Fair
Model Engineering

It is right that Model Engineering should move with the times and support interest and use of these technologies however there will always be a place for the use of manual skills, especially in the operation and maintenance of miniatures, and so we should always encourage the development and use of practical skills in the hobby. It is this practical ability that separates the ‘chequebook modeller’ from the Model Engineer!


Engineering started with the founders of the Industrial Revolution and included the designers of production machines and engines, and then the infrastructure to capitalise on them such as the canals, railways, bridges and so on. The Institution of Civil Engineers was founded in 1818 and was the first evident recognition of the profession of Engineer. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers followed in 1847 and was established when it was apparent that there were developing different strands of technology. Other Institutions followed later as more fields of endeavour were recognised. Model Engineering was quick to follow. However a significant impetus for Model Engineering as a hobby began with the founding of the Model Engineer magazine in 1898 by Percival Marshall, who remained its editor and main creative inspiration for over 50 years. During his tenure, the magazine sponsored the acclaimed annual Model Engineering Exhibition and this attracted many visitors and clubs. The oldest club was founded in 1894 and is still extant: The Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers.

The ‘Model Engineer’ magazine (then published biweekly) promoted articles and competitions and one contributor achieved fame by having a writing style that enthused people to ‘have a go’. LBSC (Lilian Lawrence) was asked to write construction articles and between 1922 and 1967 he designed over 100 different locomotives, over 50 of which he built first! Many of these were supported by the trade with castings and other parts and a large number were (and still are being) built. Although not a trained engineer, he showed what anyone with the interest could achieve. Other contributors added to the wealth of steam locomotive designs available and also to other branches of model engineering such as IC engines, traction engines and road vehicles, clocks, miniature machine tools, trams, horse drawn vehicles (without the horse!) and many more.

Model Engineering Car

The model engineer has a huge choice of designs to choose from quite apart from developing the experience to design something themselves! The trade support this with specialist parts, materials in ‘hobby’ quantities, fixings, castings and much more.

Model Engineering

Case Studies