"A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace." - Confucius

"If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right." - Admiral William McRaven

This page is just a little blog of my own model work, or an informal "about me" page.

I recently started building a series of 1/87 scale dioramas in a 1'x1' format. They are illuminated for night viewing and encased in Plexiglas. Each closely follows actual NYC scenes from the 1930s. Unfortunately my photography skills aren't quite up to the task; much of the subtle color, weathering and detail must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

Some views of my first diorama, Stanton Street. The model is based on the well-known Berenice Abbott photo, taken on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in March, 1937.

Because the standard 1/87 commercial parts are too crude and out of scale for my purposes, almost every part is designed and cut from scratch. Exceptions are the vehicles, the street light, and some Tichy window frames in the clapboard structure. My brick work, in particular, was developed over a period of several months of experimentation and in collaboration with Christian Jaquet, a professional graphics artist. Bill Sartore developed the LEDs and circuitry for illumination.

I finished this diorama "The Ice Man's Last Delivery" for the 2015 Fine Scale Expo. It is based on a location on Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn, the garage is still standing but the tenement was torn down. The base measures 16" x 12.5". Some unique features are the telephone wires, the simulated asbestos shingles, and the finely rendered fire escapes which I laser cut from plastic film. The billboard is available as a VectorCut kit, the two structures are in development for kits.

The structures are built from laser engraved cardboard, including this simulated weathered wooden siding. The finishing method will be explained in a future hints and tips article.

This classic ice wagon is the focal point of the diorama. It is scratch-built with exception of the horse, a modified plastic model, and a Preiser dog in the driver's seat.

It is very small, as can be seen here with my hand as a scale reference.

One of the biggest technical challenges for architectural models in this scale is achieving realistic brick walls. Seamless corners, crisp mortar lines, raised trim detail, believable texture and color are all highly problematic. After a lot of experimenting (still ongoing) I have a method I'm happy with.

Another technical challenge for 1/87 scale city scenery is scale fire escapes. They are extremely fine and delicate in miniature. I'm able to laser cut the parts with the required precision, from very thin film material, by using very low speeds and low power settings. The new fire escapes are an improvement over the ones I made for the Stanton Street diorama. All the window parts are also laser cut from card.

Here's a little vignette from an earlier 1/87 scale diorama.

A stand alone 1/87 scale miniature piano just for the heck of it, and an upright piano I made for the moving van scene in front of Aunt Lucy's House.

Next to a lady's sewing thimble, a classic 18th C. Chippendale Lowboy in 1/87.

And another 1/87 scale micro model.

1890s chairs on a clothespin

A roll top desk in 1/87 scale. The brass knobs were a challenge.

This over-the-tracks railroad tower was one of the most interesting, and complicated, custom jobs I've built. Most of the complication involved interpreting the limited reference materials and refining the model to match the photos from each angle. This 1/87 scale model was built for the City of Troy on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's amazing NEB&W model railroad.

"Aunt Lucy's House", my concept model for the porch trim and porch furniture sets.

Here is a moving van model for the Aunt Lucy diorama, which shows an upright piano being delivered. Its a scratch built body on a Jordan chassis; this was one of my first attempts at home brew decals. Its a fairly accurate rendition of an actual moving van which I found in a vintage photograph on a local history website. Both photos show the model.

A 1935 billboard. The structure is a 1/87 scale miniature, the landscape is real.

Another concept model, illuminated vintage gas pumps in 1/87 scale, powered by LEDs. This one stumped me for a while, because the light must play on the parts in a particular way for correct appearance-- it must spread evenly inside the globe and the sign board, and less intensely illuminate the indicator panel from the top front. I think I pulled it off pretty well, considering the size.

After I finished the gas pumps, I returned to neon signs, a more difficult miniature lighting project that I started experimenting with in '08. This is a very important element for my urban modelling, because not only are neon signs iconic for the era I'm interested in, they also add sparkle and the essential "film noire" mood of a city after dark. There are some nicely animated, RTR lighted sign models, but to my eye, these lack the distinctive tube pattern and vivid brightness of a neon sign.

Making my own was the most complicated design challenge I have undertaken in miniature. I had to create an even spread of bright light, in a convincing neon tube pattern, double sided, within extremely small dimensions, which must hang from a scale diameter pipe, with sign graphics on each side and a proper sized power cable.

This 1/87 scale 30s-40s vintage sign is my first success after many attempts and tests. It is 17mm wide (less than 3/4") and approximately 3mm deep; within scale dimensions. The wiring is scale diameter, and travels through a conduit to the other side of the brick wall, as per prototype. It was very difficult to photograph due to the contrast between the low room lighting and the intense red tube lighting. I'm pleased with this experimental miniature, but as soon as it was finished I starting thinking of ways to make the next one better.

Me, in my natural habitat.

Dave Krakow

Most parts are highly specialized, but some I make commercially available and I accept commission work, schedule permitting. Be sure to check out high quality HO Scale Structure Details For inquiries or custom work, contact me at DaveKrakow@aol.com