The tips below are divided into Building Tips (to help you build top quality models quickly whilst preserving your precious Meccano parts for the future) and the second section is concerned with a combination of bringing your collection up to a good standard and pointers on how to extend your holding in a cost-effective way. This latter section talks about the use of M4 bolts which in their pan-head or countersunk forms can be a distinct advantage if you have problems with arthritis.
1. Renewing existing parts
One of the difficulties with Meccano is that parts with bosses can be a problem as they can be distorted or broken. Examine the parts before you use them as you may need to take remedial action. This may often be little more than a sharp rap with a hammer and suitable punch in order to tighten up the reamed connection.
Another point to remember is that you do not improve the holding power of a boss by inserting two screws in opposing holes. This can lead to a wobble as the boss is not held parallel to the rod and two bolts are twice as likely to work loose as one.
2. Making new parts from existing parts
When buying old Meccano, it is very often the case that you find you have large quantities of the common parts which were supplied in small sets: for example 2½” perforated strips, 5½” perforated strips, 3½“ x 2½“ flanged plates, 1” pulleys, etc. These common parts can be cut up using tin snips or a metal saw plus a file into less common or more valuable items: for example a 5½“ perforated strip can become a 3½“ strip and a 2” strip, the flanged plate cut into two 2½” x ½“ x 1½” girder brackets, similar to part 161 but more useful, and the pulley boss can become an oversize collar. Perforated strips can also be bent using a vice and hammer to create double angle strips. To obtain the correct placing for the bend, bolt an existing double angle strip to the perforated strip so that you can place it in the vice jaws at the correct height. In this option, a 12½” perforated strip can become a 5½” double angle strip plus a 4½” double angle strip, both rare items.
3. Sourcing alternative parts
Throughout the history of Meccano, modellers have sought to extend the system to enable them to build bigger and more complex models. This was encouraged to some extent by Frank Hornby who advocated the use of cardboard before the system offered flexible plates. Extending the system can be quite a contentious subject depending on the degree of “purity” to the Meccano system that your audience feel you should achieve. If you are not too worried, or your need is just too great, substitute and system extension parts may be sourced as follows:
a. M4 bolts and half nuts can be purchased by the thousand at very reasonable prices from suppliers such as Westfield Fasteners. The M4 thread differs from the standard Meccano Whitworth thread and the nuts and bolts are not interchangeable. It follows that M4 bolts cannot be used in brass bosses. If you decide to use M4 parts, make sure you purchase stainless steel nuts and BZP bolts as this combination works well.
b. M4 washers will serve for both M4 and Meccano bolts and are generally of high quality.
c. Many interesting electrical parts can be purchased from for example RS Components in store or online RS Components and easily adapted for Meccano use. Their microswitch with lever can be used as effective limit switches as well as for automated sequence control when driven by cams. They also offer toggle switches, connectors, etc.
d. Many Meccano suppliers list electric motors which are powerful and have in-built reduction gearing which frequently solves problems which standard Meccano motors cannot.
e. B&Q sell 4mm aluminium rod in 1 metre lengths and this is ideal for forming handrails on Meccano models where longer lengths than standard rods or where sections with curves or bends are required. It is only 0.06mm smaller in diameter than Meccano rods and can therefore be readily attached to models using standard Meccano parts. If necessary it can be threaded using a 5/32 inch Whitworth die further extending its possible uses. From time to time B&Q also stocks M4 studding (screwed rod) which can be used in place of Meccano screwed rod provided it is not mating with Meccano thread anywhere.
f. Grace’s Guide: There is a website using the name of Grace’s Guide at https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Main_Page which provides on-line access to various engineering journals – including copies of ‘The Engineer’ and ‘’Engineering’ from the mid 19th Century onwards. These are an absolute mine of topical information on engineering developments through the years and many of the prototypes of models beloved of Meccano modellers can be found within their pages. Searching the site can be a bit torturous but perseverance will reveal much information.