The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
  NUMBER 105


© March 23, 2008   

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Building a Whistle Sign


My whistle sign

Written by Laurence Johnson


Ever since I saw this picture of this whistle sign I’ve thought I would like to have two beside my home track. Within the past week my gravel pile froze and snow has closed me down for the winter and I have move indoors to do some serious modeling till next spring.

Looking at this picture I cannot decide how it was fabricated but the first thing that pops into my mind for me to build it is to use two rings of quarter inch steel rod welded together with sheet steel between them.

With this fabrication technique in mind I drew the attached blueprint on a 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper:

The first step is to cut two lengths of 1/4” rod a 14-5/8 long. I took them to a local welding shop that has a set of rolling wheel with grooves to roll the rods into circles — almost touching. Remember each end will have a straight portion that is not bent. This is no problem and I’ll tell you below what to do with them. Your two circles will not be perfectly symmetrical as mine were not also. No problem. You’ll also find the circles will not be flat.

I did some minor bending and flattening using the bench vice anvil and hammering. I used a small bar clamp to bring the circle to a touch for welding; pinching them on the long side of the short radii of the curve. After both circles were welded into rings I had to do some more minor adjustments making them flat and equal in roundness. Much to my surprise, the straight portions of each ring were very close in size and shape; hay, we’re not making a grand piano here.

Using the smallest of rings I marked the outside diameter using a felt tip pen on a sheet of 20 gage steel and cut my disk with a pneumatic nibbler. You can use a sabre saw, jig saw or scroll saw with a metal cutting blade to achieve the same results. The picture on the right shows my layout and the left shows just how close I was after the first cut. I did mark a few high spots and cut again in a few places.

Using c-clamps and bench vice to hold the rings and disk “sandwich” in place spot weld several times around the circumference. (This is the time to align the straight portions of the rings on opposite sides of the disk.) I ended up tack welding six times; but just by luck and not by design.

After tack welding I ground off the sheet steel sticking out beyond the rings and then I did a full weld; skipping around the outside to prevent things from warping.

What I hadn’t planed on was the warp in the sheet steel, but more about that later.* After welding, I ground the outside to a flatter shape giving it a “professional look.”   Cover one side of the disk with layout dye.

Next I drew the “W” on a piece of scrap paper, cut it out and tapped it in place. Yea, I used electrical tape but you could use masking tape just as easily. And, the straight portion of the rings, if you can find them, are at the bottom of the sign.

Using a small hammer and punch, mark each corner of the “W” and then remove the paper template. Mark a line between punch marks using a straight edge and scribe.

Make sure your letter width is greater than the platens of you nibbler or you’ll not get the job done! I had some problems here because of the warp in the sheet steel* — I would have been better off if I had used the pop down side rather then the up side as shown here.

I had a piece of 3/4 x 3/4 steel stock in my junk box so I cut a 1/2 length off the end and cut a 5/8 slot in one side. Drilled a 1/4 diameter hole in it and tack welded a short length of 1/4-20 threaded rod into the bottom. This bracket piece I welded onto the bottom of the sign, wire brushed everything up and you can see the results on the right. The next step is sandblasting and painting.


I cut a five foot length of 3/4” diameter steel rod, drilled it with a #7 bit and tapped a 1/4-20 hole in the end. This’ll make the mounting post and I’ll drive them beside my track when the ground isn’t frozen.

* When I made the second sign and after I cut the round disk I changed my fabrication a bit; instead of welding it in between the rings and then marking and cutting the letter “W”, I first marked and cut the “W” and then welded up the sandwiched sign.

This was a smart thing to do: everything stayed flat. And, it was easer to cut the letter out also. By the way, if you do not have a pneumatic nibbler you can drill small holes at the corners and cut straight sides with cold chisel while the sign is laying on a heavy steel plate.

See the blue print for this project.

Written by Laurence Johnson




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