Monday, March 23, 2020

Ladders - photo etched

Since I wrote the post on ladders which included photo etched ladders, I have found several tools which make the assembly of photo etched ladders easier for me and maybe could for you as well. Before we view the new tools I want to show you a few of the photo etched ladders available from Yarmouth Model Works and Plano Model Products.  The difference between the two is as follows: Plano Model Products have rungs attached to the stiles you bend while Yarmouth Model Products have stiles you bend and insert photo etched or wire rungs into.  Plano Model Products has a few ladders with rung spacing available while Yarmouth Model Products has a much  greater variety of ladders with different rung spacing available.

A few of the photo etched ladders available.
(click or tap on this or any photo to enlarge)

Before bending stiles you have to cut them from the frets.   I have a Xuron #440 cutter that I use and another Xuron #91980 cutter I found I like better.  I like the longer nose on the Xuron 91980 cutter as it is easier to get it into the fret area to make a cut.

Xuron 440 cutter #440

Xuron shears #9180

After you have the ladder stiles cut from the frets you have to bend them into an angle to use.   In the past I used a bender from the Small Shop.  The Small Shop bender requires you to insert the stiles into it, tighten the stile in the bender, and then run a provided bar along the inserted stile to bend it into the right angle.   It works; however, after moving the bar along the stile I did not always get a good stile.

Small Shop 4" bender

A new bender I am using that I like better is the UMM USA bender which I was made aware of by George Toman.  The UMM USA bender requires you insert the stiles into it, tighten the stile in the bender, and then the attached bar is moved upward against the stile bending it into a right angle.  It works like the “bending brake” in a metal fabrication shop.  It bends the stile correctly each time.  Pulling up the bar to bend the stile on the UMM USA bender for me is easier than pulling the bar along the Small Shop bender.

UMM-USA  bender

Once I have the stiles bent I insert the rungs into one of two jigs I have made for assembling the ladders.  I hold the stiles in the jig with a piece of resin or styrene placed on top of them and a clamp to hold the added cover over the stiles.  I like using rungs bent from wire rather than photo etched rungs.  My wire choice for bending rungs is Tichy Train Group #1101, .010” diameter phosphor bronze wire.  Of course, bending a ladder rung is the same as bending a straight grab iron.  I think wire rungs will hold up better on an operating railroad.  You will have to try each and decide which you like better or maybe use both.

Jigs made from styrene for assembling photo etched ladders.

Yarmouth Model Works photo etched rungs.

I use CA (in the bottle cap in the photo)  to to attach the rungs to the stiles. I hold the jig pointing down toward the workbench with the rung to which I apply CA two rungs from the edge of the jig. ( in photo below I would apply CA to the second rung from the edge of the jig or third rung from the top of the ladder).  However, the jig should be held with ladder pointing down to the workbench and not up as in the photo as then CA can run back into the jig attaching the stile to the jig.

I learned that by allowing it to happen.   I was able to pop out the stile and clean up the jig slot with an UMM USA due to the thin kerf it makes.

Yarmouth Model Works ladder stiles in my styrene jig
with Tichy #1101, .010"phosphor bronze wire being installed.

I am including a photo of the tools except shears cutter (photo above) that I use to assemble photo etched ladders.

Tools I use to assemble photo etched ladders.

I have included below photos of assembled photo etched ladders with stiles bent with both benders and applied to freight cars.

Ladders bent with UMM-USA bender.

Ladders bent with Small Shop bender.

Ladder bent with Small Shop bender.

I hope this update with a new cutter and bender will be helpful when you need to choose tools to bend photo etched stiles for freight car ladders.

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.

Lester Breuer


  1. Lester, can you possibly post a picture of the bar you mentioned using with the Smallshop bender, please? I am trying to understand why it gave you a poor result - I've never heard of using a bar with any bender, only a single-edged razor blade which is easy to slide under the workpiece and lift up. Regards, Paul.

  2. Whoops, sorry Lester, I just looked again and realised it must be that big slab in front of the bender....I ignored it at first because it was not at all what I expected. Does it have a sharpened edge? I cannot tell from the photo.

    1. First I need to say I it did not give poor results. Rather, it did not give me consistent results as the UMM USA bender does. Both benders did produce expected results as seen when looking at the ladders from both benders in the applied to car photos. And, yes the bar does have a bevel ending in a fine edge on one side of the bar used to make the bend.

  3. I bought the UMM bender on your recommendation. Unfortunately it comes with no instructions and I could not find a video about using it on YouTube. Fortunately your paragraph describing its use enabled me to figure it out. DUH moment. As long as I can get the etch straight before I bend it will work.

  4. Cool tool. Thanks for the tip. That UMM-USA website looks like it has plenty of useful tools to check out.