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Model Railway Express Hints and Tips!

Updated February 2nd 2011

The following Hints and Tips were contributed to Model Railway Express Magazine as a service where readers have been invited to submit "things they do" to keeps costs down, techniques they use to build their items and manage their railways in general.

This page shows the Hints and Techniques in order they have been received by MRE mag. I am not promising "perfection" but as of the update, these Hints and Tips will also be shown in their respective areas which you can access from the Categories Page... please click on this to access the hints by category!

Click on the Menu to the area of interest to you.


Updated Aug 2nd












Updated June 11th

Thank you to all those who have contributed so far to these pages, and may they continue to grow along with our hobby... which has to be the worlds best hobby!

You will also see a set of links at the bottom of the page to a number of other pages offering valuable hints. Do not let the prototype concern you as there is a lot to be learned from our European, US, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealander, Japanese and other model railway/road modelling cousins.

You might also like to check out "What every British Layout should have" and "Interesting Web Sites" and recently a new site called “There is a Prototype for Everything” also being an aid to your modelling...

Hints & Tips No.1


by Brian Macdermott

I like to have variety with my OO Conflats. Sometimes I run them as 'empties'; sometimes I run them as loaded with a 'full size' container; and sometimes I run them with the 'half size' AF insulated ones. The first two are no problem, but the small ones get thrown around and even fall off.

I solved the problem by using 'tacky wax'. This enables them to stay in position, but be easily removed with hardly any trace. I realise that real containers were held on by chains, so if anyone can tell me a method of modelling that convincingly (yet still enabling easy removal) I'd be glad to hear.

Hints & Tips No.2

Short out

by Brian Macdermott

What do you do if you are enjoying a pleasurable running session and everything suddenly shorts out?

When this happens on my layout I will almost always find it has something to do with the previous train movement. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a metal-wheeled wagon bridging an insulated rail gap on a reverse loop.

Hints & Tips No.3

Going round the bend

by Robbie McGavin (NZ)

I have affixed the added details to my Hornby N15 with superglue (steps, cylinder cocks, pipes, etc). It will run round Setrack radius 3 with no problem. It will also ‘just’ go round radius 2, but will derail unless run slowly. A beautiful model, indeed!

Hints & Tips No.4

Simulating buildings on backdrops

by Trevor Gibbs, Australia

have recently built a memorial exhibition layout and needed some backdrop buildings. I had a reasonable success by using the Auran Trainz computer program. I made an English style streetscape with buildings and footpaths then taking screen dumps from different angles of the buildings. I then printed these up and cut the building fronts out and glued them to the backdrop... usually plain sky.

My first tries at this have turned out a bit darker than I would have liked but gave the impression I wanted in the time frame I had to get the layout ready. With experimentation you can get that aspect right too! Good luck trying it out!

Hints & Tips No.5

Wagon tops

by David Chappell

If you have a collection of, say, closed vans, most likely they will all have the same colour roofs. Coaches are similar, especially if they are all from one manufacturer. Prototype vehicles all had different colours, bodies and roofs due to weathering, dirt, brake dust etc. I thought I would get over this 'out of the box sameness' easily.

In a small cupcake aluminium case (Mr Kipling and all that) I put a small quantity of a dark grey paint of a darker colour than the first van. I then brush painted the first vehicle. Then I added a few drops of, say, black, stirred the little case and painted the second vehicle - hence a little darker. Then I added a few drops of another colour (for example, brown) and painted the third: then a few drops of say orange and painted the fourth and so on. You can leave one in the manufacturer's original colour if you wish. Numerous wagons all with different colour roofs with very little cost and wastage of paint!

Paint choice is obviously up to the modeller - I use matt on some occasions, acrylic on others. Colours can be to the modeller's choice – greys, browns, leather, gunmetal, orange, rust, etc. If you want to experiment first, cut a 12 inch long by 1 inch piece of scrap plastikard and practice on small areas of that before you let yourself loose on your wagons or coaches! It's good fun!

Hints & Tips No.6


by Brian Macdermott

If you are designing a roughly waist height layout for your own use (as opposed to a club), it is worth giving some thought to your control panels – particularly if you are DC with lots of switches.

Many control panels have switches mounted on schematic track plans. Before you commit to drilling holes, work out how far down the lowest switch(es) will be. If you have to bend to operate that switch (even slightly), you could do well to re-think. The unwritten laws of railway modelling state that the most awkward switch will be the one you use most!

Hints & Tips No.7

Simulating Trees

by Trevor Gibbs, (Australia)

You can simulate a great grove of trees against a backdrop by using green-coloured cotton wool balls cut in half and teased out a bit then glued to your backdrop as bushy clumps. The absence of tree armatures won't be a problem and give you a sense of 3D.

Use universal dyes or appropriate food colourings sprayed with a cheap air brush in a few different tones. The cost? A few cotton balls and some sprayed universal or vegetable dye diluted with water - like most of my other ideas for this column as close to zilch as possible. If you can see part of the forest floor, a few deep brown vertical brush strokes where the base of the trees would be would/should be enough to simulate the trunks and will be fairly short anyway.

After all you are concentrating on the trains going past aren't you?

Hints & Tips No.8

A flick of a switch

by Brian Macdermott

When referring to DC reverse loops, conventional wisdom says that one should drive a train into the ‘reversible section’, stop, throw the double pole/double throw (DPDT) switch, reverse the controller and then drive out.

Here’s a little trick if you have a controller with switchable forward/reverse.

Drive your train into the reversible section. With the train still moving, flick the ‘backwards’ switch on your controller with one hand and - at precisely the same time - flick the DPDT switch as well. This may take a bit of getting used to, but I can now keep my trains moving with no perception of the polarity change whatsoever.

Older tender-drive locos may give a bit of a twitch, but more modern Bachmann and Hornby are easy. As far as I know, this does no harm to the motors. Does anyone have any views on this?

Hints & Tips No.9

Close coupling

by Brian Macdermott

If Roco close-couplers prove to be ‘too close’ on your layout, here’s a tip. Put a Hornby close-coupler on one coach and a Roco on the adjacent one. This gives a very good compromise.

Hints & Tips No.10

Train protection

by Brian Macdermott

When I isolate a loco/train on my DC layout, I always turn the controller on a fraction in reverse. I occasionally find that I have accidentally isolated the wrong section. Turning the controller on for a spilt second will show up the errant train and being in reverse prevents it from running into anything ahead of it in my linear hidden sidings.

Hints & Tips No.11

A good point

by Paul Jansz

Paint the rail sides on point work with the rail joiners in place, ahead of laying. So much easier when one can freely approach the job from all sides, and both electrical continuity and freedom of action can be tested before final positioning.

Hints & Tips No.12

Scenic Scale Measurement

by John Challenor

No matter whether it is a simple fence or something more complicated it is just as important to keep all your scratch-built scenics to the right scale.

To assist me, I have made a scale ruler from a scrap of plastic with a straight edge. I work in 00 scale, so my ruler is marked in feet at 4mm intervals. To remind me I have also marked on it ‘1mm = 3 inches‘. I do my homework and find out the sizes of the originals; better still, whenever I can, I go and measure them.

Unless you have a very good eye for these things you may be surprised how far out you can be.

Hints & Tips No.13

El Cheapo uncouplers

by Trevor Gibbs

For Hornby uncoupling, rather than buy specialised ramps, an old friend of mine used the covers from shirt boxes cut into strips to fit into the track and given a slight arch. All he did was pin the ramp onto the board through the track and the system works well. I intend to use this for the memorial layout I have built for him.

Hints & Tips No.14

Panic Button

by Martin Walls, (Australia)

I run my power controllers through a power board that plugs into a power point fitted with an RCD safety switch (Residual Current Device).

The test button for the RCD makes a very handy ‘panic button’ for cutting track power quickly. This is useful when trains are on an intercept course at one of my many Tri-ang diamond crossings.

Hints & Tips No.15

Wagon loads

by David Middleditch

Line the interior of a wagon with three layers of cling film. Build the load inside this.

Pit props: Short thin buddleia twigs glued together with PVA.

Coal: Plaster base painted black with coal on top.

Timber: Matchsticks at an angle glued with PVA.

When set and painted, the load can be removed and the cling film peeled off. It should then fit back into the wagon with a working tolerance. With coal and similar loads, I also set in a small wire loop. This can be used to hook it out. Painted black it is quite unobtrusive.

Hints & Tips No.16

Tender problem

by Nicholas Rothon

There is a problem with some of the BR1C tenders fitted to the Bachmann Standard locomotives. The coupling seems to be too high to use with Peco and Hornby uncoupling ramps.

The problem can be resolved by substituting one of the stepped couplings from the Bachmann Mk1 coaches. Some may have been saved if the couplings on the coaches have been changed to Hornby close-coupling variety. 

Hints & Tips No.17

Ready to go

by Martin Walls, Australia

At the end of a running session, I try to remember to stable my trains within arm's reach of the controllers and return the points to their normal settings.

This is done to make sure I can fire-up the trains without too many problems when visitors wish to see an impromptu demonstration. This includes having my more reliable locos available for use.

Hints & Tips No.18

Crisp lining

by Simon Baldwin

I was recently painting a Bratchell 317 into 'one' livery and was having a terrible time with getting a crisp edge on the rainbow lining. The solution was to run a sharp knife along the edge of some masking tape (against a ruler). Then, masking up using a template or careful measuring gave a very crisp edge and, as the tape sticks well together, it is easy to re-use on the set. It can also be moved around for the other stripes. Now to go off and find some 'one' transfers, anyone??

Hints & Tips No.19

Good use for an old aerial

by Martin Walls, Australia

I have salvaged a telescopic aerial from an old radio. This is extended when required to nudge stalled locomotives.

Hints & Tips No.20

Alternative magnifying glass

by Roger Norman

If trying to ascertain detail from a photograph, don't use a magnifying glass. Instead scan the photo, enlarge it and print it or better still view it enlarged on the screen. You will be amazed how much detail this shows, especially with old photos which can sometimes be enhanced with the likes of Paintshop Pro.

Hints & Tips No.21

Cleaning wheels quickly

by Trevor Gibbs

Cleaning wheels is not the most enjoyable task in the model railway field but there is a way of making it easier and minimising the amount of pick up and scraping you need to do.

1. Get some reasonable strength paper towel (the quilted type is ideal). Wet a small area of the paper towel with the white spirit. (Do not use Turpentine for this!

2. Lay your paper towel over the track with enough ‘slack’ that you can run your wheels on it.

3. Using a little pressure, move your vehicle up and down the paper towel by hand and watch the towel get dirty. Move your towel over a bit when the track of the treads gets dirty until no more comes off. Voila one cleaned vehicle in a few seconds!

You would expect that the towel would tear to shreds quickly and eventually it does, but it is very easy to get through a whole yard of vehicles. Every now and then you get a ‘severe case’ but your task is really minimised!

By judicious holding of powered locos, you can get wheel treads of these also clean by self powering the loco.  Hope this helps increase your operating time and pleasure!

Hints & Tips No.22

Southern Railways lamps/hexagonal glass shades

by John Challenor

I have just modelled some of these - a bit fiddly, but I was quite pleased with the results.

I used some old semi-translucent plastic beads (back to the daughter’s discarded junk jewelry), making two shades from each bead. The beads were cut in half and each half was hollowed out with a hand-held drill bit. The outside was then filed to give the hexagonal shape. A wheat grain bulb was glued in and the plastic at the back of the bulb was painted to look like part of the lamp. The ‘shade’ was painted with fine lines to simulate the glazing bars.

Fitted to brackets made from scrap plastic, they look fine attached to buildings and lamp posts.

Hints & Tips No.23

Train control panel

by Trevor Gibbs

Even though my layout looks like it is a chase your tail round a short circuit affair, it is genuinely run as a point-to-point. However I needed a prod to remind me which engines were at which end of the line.

My schematic is on my website Follow it through to ‘Operating the layout’.

I am making a board with my imagined schematic for each of the imagined stations on it drawn laterally with a piece of galvanised metal, but tinplate will do. I paint the schematic on, mask off the track schematic and overspray with black. My engines have a fridge magnet which I cut up and paste their numbers on. If I have a short session, I simply move the magnet to the ‘next station’ if the loco is in transit with a train or around the turntable for the appropriate end of the line when it is stabled. This could add a bit more to your realism even if you seem to be a tailchaser!

Hints & Tips No.24

Virtual Planning

by Trevor Gibbs

To try and see how a track plan may or may not work, I have used Auran's Trainz program to draw up the layout and test run the layout using virtual trains before committing to the carpentry. While I have not seen it, I am led to believe that Hornby's Virtual Railway can do the same using Hornby's track system. Trainz does not take long to learn the basic steps... sharp inclines on ridges still defeat me a bit but track layout, building placement, and even signalling becomes easier to visualise

The advantages of this is that you can set up the operating scenarios to run your trains and see if those scenarios work and workout your scenery at the same time. Rather than taking your model time away, it could save you time at the drawing board and even more time from making mistakes in the translation of what you visualise compared to what you finish building. The alterations are a lot easier to manage in the virtual world.  

Hints & Tips No.25

Cheap Weathering 1

by John de Vries-Kraft (Kamloops, BC Canada)

I found a cheap way to partially weather those shiny freight wagons. Ever see the hard-water stains around and on your water taps? Get some of your tap water into a small disposable dish/cup and add a very little (two drops?) cheap flat black acrylic paint. Dip brush into this light mixture, spread unevenly to entire car body. Blow any gathered droplets and smear a pinch of white paint with your fingers. Douse remaining car body with tap water.

When it all dries in approximately five minutes, note how the hard-water stains stay in the fine cracks and crevasses.

Hints & Tips No.120

Liquid Lead

By Kunio Toyohara, (Tokyo, Japan)

The June 2008 issue of the Japanese railway modelling magazine "Tetsudo Mokei Shumi" carries a report by Mr Takeshi Inoue of Tokushima (on the island of Shikoku) regarding the effects of weighting locos with small lead granules (‘liquid lead’ to you?). He reports that his brass steam locos have suffered from boiler/steam dome/smoke box/cylinder casing ‘explosions’ caused by swelling of the lead granules used as additional weight. The lead was fixed in place by pouring lacquer over the granules, and Mr Inoue reasons that the lead had swollen from oxidation by contact with atmosphere when the lacquer aged and peeled off.

I personally have doubts about this theory. I have kept a jar of these lead granules in my drawer for more than 30 years, and there is no sign of swelling. Air pollution must be definitely lighter in Tokushima than here in Tokyo. Could it be something in the lacquer that's promoting the reaction?

It has been known for decades that lead granules fixed with diluted PVA (wood glue) or CA (super glue) swell under chemical reaction, causing model boilers etc to burst with the lead turned white poking through the open seams. (Well, it's a very slow process that takes years to happen. No casualty reported yet.)

Using paints such as lacquer as fixative has been the recommended ‘safe’ way (until now). Not fully filling the void with lead and leaving sufficient room for expansion is another way (or, the only way until we know what's causing the swelling in the above case).

The question remains - how much room is sufficient room?

Hints & Tips No.27

Cheap Weathering 2

By John de Vries-Kraft (Kamloops, BC Canada)

Try dipping a wagon into a pot that has just been used to boil potatoes.

First remove the couplers and wheels or bogies and put a dab of petroleum jelly where the trucks are attached. Not too warm to avoid warping the body. The starch in the water will dry on the wagon. Granted, the missus might scratch her head wondering why you took the water. A little salt will increase the stain results. If you don't like the results, just dip the body into clean water and stir it. Just don't eat the plastic.

Hints & Tips No.28


by David Chappell

The newer, small Bachmann type couplings are much less obtrusive than the earlier bigger ones.  For Dapol wagons (if the modeller doesn’t like the larger style which Dapol use) all one has to do is pull the coupling out (a clip fit) and push in its place the flexible Hornby type. It is the same clip fit. The couplings are sold in packs of 10, code R8099 (I think!)

Hints & Tips No.29

Cheap Weathering 3

By John de Vries-Kraft (Kamloops, BC Canada)

Use a cotton swab dipped lightly into rubbing alcohol and apply streaks to car bodies in a downward motion. Maybe add a pinch of flat-black or white acrylic paint or even flour. This will duplicate the effect of rain on the wagon leaving vertical streaks.

Hints & Tips No.30

You’ve been framed

By Allan Hornsby

Shops that do picture framing are a free source of building material. The off-cuts from mat boards are usually available at no cost and are of good quality stiff card that tends to be warp free. Just remember, if you do laminate them then use an odd number of thicknesses.

Hints & Tips No.31

Lifting the lid

By Trevor Gibbs

Clear styrene lids make great windows on models. There is just enough opacity to cast a reflection. Things like older brake vans just do not look complete without them. To add to the opacity put them in place with white glue - enough will seep on to dull the surface even more. I got mine from yoghurt containers but anything will do. Cost - next to nothing!

Hints & Tips No.32


By Roy Thompson

When I buy an Indian or Chinese meal, I wash out the foil dish the rice comes in. This can be used for mixing paints or holding a small amount of PVA glue etc. The plastic lidded dish the main meal is in becomes a useful storage container once washed. Plus they stack up neatly once you collect a few.

Hints & Tips No.33

Oil Depot Tanks

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

I do not have room on my current layout for an Oil Depot but when I did have space in my junior days, I used either tins from Quik (Nestle Strawberry was good) or smaller coffee tins.

Turning them upside down and screwing the lid to the board meant they could be removed easily if needed for moving etc. In these days of computer labelling, it would not be that hard to make a convincing sign or even a ‘wrapper’ to go around the tin with rivets, small ladders printed on etc. Once again, the cost is not high!

Hints & Tips No.34

Scenic Shakers

By Roy Thompson

I find these expensive at almost £3 for an empty plastic container with a funny lid. Have a look around your kitchen and you may be surprised how many of these types of container you can find in varying sizes.

Ones I have found include peppercorns, parmesan cheese, herbs and spices. If you know anyone who works in catering they often have larger catering sizes, which are excellent once given a good wash.

From Alvar York

Further to Roy Thompson's tip, I have found that the 500g salt shakers from Saxa and the like to be very effective. You can adjust the pourer head to a few grains of small ballast to fully open for a flood. It is also excellent for grass scatter etc.

Prior to this I used a 1 pint plastic milk bottle with suitable holes drilled into the top. I also use the milk bottle for storage.

Hints & Tips No.35

Making Rail look Scale in 00/H0,

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

I have been 'weathering' my rail for a few years simply by getting out one trusty paint brush and painting the sides, particularly of Peco code 100, with a Russet or Tuscan box car colour. I personally use Tamiya type acrylics. You can simply run a paint brush along the rail sides, before or after ballasting and not worry about the effect too much. In fact mine was done after ballasting because I was not happy with the effect of the shiny rail at the time.

I have been asked a number of times if my track is Code 70 or 83 rather than the 100 as removing the sheen from the sides of the rails in this way, hides its apparent height. This is also lowered by use of ballast. Dregs from the paint bottle are especially effective as you can get simulated a build-up of grime and grease, as does occur. You can even skimp a bit and just do the sides which are seen from a viewers angle.

If you need to solder a wire to the rail, it is easily cleaned by simple scraping off the paint and retouching it afterwards.

Although photos are not conclusive you can judge the result yourself by clicking on the website and scrolling down.

Hints & Tips No.36

The Ultimate Modelling Glue?
Andrew Morling (Perth Western Australia)

Quite by accident I may have just discovered the ultimate modelling adhesive. It sells under the brand name of MANICARE here in Australia and is used for attaching acrylic fingernail extensions.

It contains cyanoacrylate [super glue], and methyl ethyl ketone [for polystyrene] as well as an adhesive for acrylic. It is applied with a brush in the cap, which is quite practical as it does not set as quickly as straight super glue.

I have been trying it on every kind of plastic I can find and it has not failed me yet. It will even stick the old resin plastic used in early Tri-ang trains. On polystyrene it sets quicker than plain MEK and is very strong once dry.

Despite the apparent innocuous use that this product is designed for please ensure that you have adequate ventilation when using MANICARE or similar products and do not smoke while using it. The use of some form of eye-shield would also seem to be a sensible precaution.

So, just join the orderly queue at the cosmetics counter of your local Pharmacy and tell the girl you want to have longer fingernails...

Hints & Tips No.37

Wagon loads or uncouplers

By Roy Thompson

The long wooden stirrers you get in McDonalds or Starbucks etc. make excellent plank loads when cut up.

Or you can cut and attach a square piece of scrap plastic sized to fit between your vehicle ends to one end of the stirrer and you have a wagon uncoupler. Simply place between the vehicle under the "striker" bars and lift when the couplers are slack.

Hints & Tips No.38

Making Hedges

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

You can simulate a lot of hedges using green steel wool scourers cut into appropriate strips and glued vertically. This works fairly well. You could sprinkle the outer surfaces with ground foam such as Woodland Scenics to give a bit more texture closer to viewing distance.  If you really want to do it for next to nothing, you could grind up your own appropriately coloured foam

Hints & Tips No.39

Kit Assembly Hint No.1

By Donald Hess (York PA, USA)

Putting tape on really small parts keeps them from flying when cutting them off the plastic tree or sprue.  Rail nippers are best at removing parts.

However in tight small spaces a sharp Exacto #11 blade or its equivalent is your friend. Use a cutting motion and never bear down as this might snap small parts.

Hints & Tips No.40

Weighting Model Wagons

by David Chappell

For improved running of model 00 wagons, I weight them all to about 50 grams. I have a small set of scales which covers the range. Where you put the extra weight (usually anywhere between 10 and 20gm) is up to you! In a wagon with a load, it can go under or in the load and van roofs often come off. Open wagons with no load are the worst problem, and one has to use 'liquid lead' (tiny lead pellets) glued in the underfame, however, it is well worth the effort. The local car tyre fitter will have small weights at 5gm and 10 gm (for tyre use) and will part with some for a donation to their tea tin! Their weights are self adhesive, too! Incidentally, I also weight kit built coaches to 150gm.

Hints & Tips No.41

Using Superglue With Clear plastic

by John Poland (New Jersey, USA)

For many situations, using 'superglue' (CyanoAcrylate) with clear plastic is not a good idea as the plastic can craze. However, there are some situations which arise that the best option is to use 'superglue' to fix in windows.

First dip the windows in 'Future', or a similar brand floor wax (it's a trick I learned from building scale aeroplanes). The floor wax creates a barrier and prevents the fumes from crazing the 'glass', and you'll be amazed at how crystal clear your windows will be.

Hints & Tips No.42

Kit Assembly Hint No.2

By Donald Hess (York PA USA)

Skewers and Toothpicks make excellent tools for painting and glue applications. Not only can you stir paints with them, but you can apply really tiny amounts of paint and glue accurately with the sharp tip.

Hints & Tips No.43

"Scrap Metal Loads"

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Ever wondered if you could recycle your washed aluminium foil or foil chocolate wrapper? Roll your foil into tight balls about 1/2" or so diameter then take a pair of slip joint pliers and using the jaws mould them into cubes.

Being Scrap metal, they would be discoloured so paint them with a rusty orange/brown colour. A number of cubes and you therefore have a load of scrap metal for that otherwise unemployed open wagon... and you can enjoy your way on two fronts to make them!

Hints & Tips No.44

A Revised Way Of Cleaning Wheels

By Ted Allan (Sunshine MRC Melbourne Australia)

I use cotton cloths such as Chux with white spirit. This has a couple of advantages over using paper towels in that the surface is microscopically rougher so than it cleans the wheels better, the cloth lasts much longer so there is less mess and are capable of providing contact in the case of powered wheels through the holes to the rails.

(Note from Trevor - The paper towels were a very good idea when I first learned it... and this version from Ted becomes an even better idea!)

Hints & Tips No.45

Kit Assembly Hints No.1

By John Schaeffer, (Virginia USA)

When making up full size structures, where it is possible, build only the two sides of a building that you are going to see from the normal viewing positions.

You can then use the other sides as raw materials for other projects, and possibly expand the number of buildings shown on the layout.

Hints & Tips No.46

Cheap Brick Surfaces

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Need some cheap brick surfaces in smaller areas? I got some from recycled plastic plates with the grooved "tread" on them. In fact, as an exercise I built a loco shed in N scale for a club exhibition layout I was helping restore and used the plates surface on the outside, coloured a deepish brick red so the line work regularity was not quite so painfully obvious. If you are really keen, you can paint over with white paint and wipe the excess off to fill in the mortar cracks.

So wash your otherwise disposable party plates mates! Like a lot of other things I do, cost virtually zilch!

Hints & Tips No.47

Kit Assembly Hints No.2

By John Schaeffer, Virginia USA

When cutting thin wood for scratch building, put some masking tape on the back side of the cut. This will assist in preventing the wood from splintering.

Hints & Tips No.48

High Quality Brush Painting.

By John Challenor

On the question of painting without expensive spraying equipment, many years ago I asked a car body restorer how he got such a good paint finish with brush application. The answer was to use several coats and to rub down between each one.

Each successive coat had a little more thinner added, and gradually finer grade wet/dry paper and rubbing compound was used.

It is best to buy decent wet/dry paper, this is not particularly expensive but the finer the grade the finer the finish. Rubbing compounds, various household / car products can be employed. Otherwise you can practice with almost any left over paint / scrap materials.

(A Note from Trevor – Long time readers may feel a bit of deja vu... all over again in fact ... with this hint. It was written by John before Hints and Tips took a footing and I feel deserved a repeat in this column along with another which will appear in a few weeks)

Hints & Tips No.49

Scale Looking Rail In N Scale... Not Quite So Cheaply!

By Trevor Gibbs, (Australia)

I saw an article many years ago, I think in Model Railroader about a modeller who had taken his N scale code 80 track and lowered it into his baseboard. What he had done is cut his track pattern into the top of his plywood with a router suitably adjusted and "sunk" his track plan into the plywood. The track was laid and ballasted over and the effect for the late 60s or early 70s was terrific and would probably still withstand scrutiny today! Why? Because not only is the height of the rail an issue but also the thickness of the sleepers in standard Peco N scale track.

While I cannot remember if he had done so, he may also have painted the rail side to lessen the effect visually of the height, similarly to what I suggested in Hints and Tips No.35. Taking this hint one stage further, you could use a router to cut out a very shallow base area for your buildings so that you do not get the modellers bane of having one corner of the building standing “proud” of your baseboard... after all buildings sit on foundations in the ground, not on top of it. Fill in your scenery up to the building and it will look as though it is meant to be there.

Routers and other power tools are becoming progressively cheaper and this may be an option for you... hope these ideas help you!

Hints & Tips No.50

Kit Assembly Hints No.3

By John Schaeffer, (Virginia USA)

Use Windex or similar Window cleaners to thin acrylic latex paints for the airbrush.  It dries faster and cleans up easier. However be aware that some versions of this type of product may contain ammonia which is not kind to some plastics so do a test section first!

Hints & Tips No.51

Using and Reusing Thinners.

By John Challenor

A tip from my local model shop (!), common or garden white spirit is a lot cheaper than some of the "named" brand equivalent thinners. In nearly all cases it is just as effective.

And to save the pennies even further, save all the dirty thinners you have used washing out your brushes etc., in a clean lidded glass jar. Leave. Gradually the paint sinks to the bottom and the relatively clean thinners above can be decanted off and re-used for cleaning. This seems to work for all types of thinners.

Hints & Tips No.52

Hi Rise Buildings

By Trevor Gibbs, (Australia)

I saw a layout at an exhibition with a couple of very tall (for a layout) model buildings in a city scene which from normal viewing distance looked very effective. Looking closely I presume that they were a plywood box with normal building tiles glued around them, consistently one colour such as deep blue which gave the window effect.

Such a tile system could work very well on a backdrop to give a low relief depth but give the impression of more. Seeing a tile dealer for a remnant would be your cheapest option! You might even fool people at first about the detail and depth in your windows with moving characters in the office areas that look like the people admiring your work!

Hints & Tips No.53

Fitting Handrails And Grab Iron Details Easily

By Donald Hess (PA USA)

A little CA (Super glue), MEK or related glue when sliding grab irons through holes makes them go through easier. When wet it acts like a lubricant. Reaming the small holes with one turn of an Exacto No.11 blade also really helps.

Hints & Tips No.54


By Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Although I work in larger scales, any movement or hint of movement can add that "something" to your village in any scale. Most often it is done by the train moving through your scene.

There are also many other ways to induce movement regardless of scale. Small electric/battery motors can be mounted below the base board, above a fisherman can cast his line, an axe man can cut logs, a painter can paint a wall.....Simply moving a figurine left and right by having the shaft of the motor glued to the base of the figure will give the impression of life in the village.

More intricate animation can involve boats moving on their anchors in the breeze to cars moving on roads. It is up to your imagination and your ability to see a small motor or gear and think of an alternate use in your scene.

Hints & Tips No.55

Visualising Scenery.

By Trevor Gibbs (Australia)

Some people do not tackle scenery usually using the excuse "I'm not artistic enough" or similar. Here is an easy way of being able to see how your scenery COULD turn out.

Cut some cardboard cartons into strips about 40-50mm wide. Start by stapling or tacking (cobblers blue tacks are good ) about an inch (25mm) or so of the strip to your base or frame then arc it upwards to the shape of your rolling hill. If your strip is not long enough to cover the size hill , simply staple another one on end and keep going. Place a number of strips about 120-150mm (4-5") apart parallel roughly where you envisage the hill being.

These strips will give you an idea of your shape and you can bend and crimp your strips to get the effect of hills, crags and cliff fronts. You can then make a simple lattice using strips and thread them through your laterally placed strips. This will give you a more solid base to look on and you can still make changes by crimping the card.

If you like what you see or you can visualise, make the frame a little more solid using hot melt glue and then you can cover it with whatever scenery you prefer to use, Chux cloths painted with PVA is good for this... or tear it out and try again for very little . Good luck...,

Hints & Tips No.56

A Cheap and Simple (and very effective) Viaduct

By Tom Welsh (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

In building the exhibition layout “Chuffington” we needed a rather large viaduct of unusual ess shape. The track is elevated at that point and the shape would not be covered by a commercial offering. We made viaduct sides from some 3mm MDF board and bent it to the shape of the trackwork.

While we probably could have just painted the MDF, we elected to get some very coarse spent belt sander belts and glued them to the outer surfaces. We then cut the belt so that the arches were open and treated the insides of the arches the same way.

A coat of an earth tone paint and the origins of the material would not be known. This technique could be applied to any size bridge. You can see a picture of the bridge at .

(A Note From Trevor – The bridge has raised a few eyebrows even on the limited time that I have minded Chuffington for Tom at exhibitions. I had one gentleman say how expensive Model Railways were and I pointed the bridge out to him. “How much did that cost?” so when the process was explained, he was quite incredulous at what he was seeing! Well Done Tom... you can see the Chuffington Layout on a link from and admire the bridge too!)

Hints & Tips No.57

Laying Track on a Helix

By Max Bashtannyk and Peter Mitchell, Sunshine MRC Australia

If you are building a helix and laying track, instead of using track pins or nails, try using small screws and washers laid between the sleepers screwed to the plywood, using the washers to hold adjacent pairs of sleepers.

We have used 6mm x 4 gauge screws with 1/8” washers to hold the track as they are small enough not to cause any problems for American style Kadee couplers. Pre-drill a pilot hole in the base board to make process a lot easier.

This will allow you to make tweaking adjustments to the curvature of the track using a stubby screwdriver in between the layers of the helix. When the weather changes and you get the usual rounds of expansion and contraction of your track or a kink develops in the track imperceptible to all and everything but your constantly derailing 2-8-0 for example, you should be able to move your track without taking the helix apart.

Using Murphy's law, this could happen in the worst possible corner and this at least is a way of minimising your efforts to correct it.

Hints & Tips No.58

Minimising Bleeding Of Paint When Painting And Spraying,

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can reduce the amount of bleeding under masking tape when spraying your models quite considerably.

Paint the colour you want to be masked off and allow to dry thoroughly. Apply your masking. Then respray your model with the original colour. If there are holes in the masking, the overspray of the original colour will fill the spots where your secondary colour could have overrun the first colour. Allow to dry again.

Then spray with your secondary colour. Because the "holes" have been blocked, you should minimise any overrun you had under the paint masking and your lines should look quite neat! Now it should be easy to paint your blood and custard or chocolate and custard cars and keep the lines!

Only wish I had this info myself when I was painting the black stripe on my Canadian Budd Rail Cars. My thanks to Paul Hawden of The Buffer Stop, East Preston Victoria for his initial input for this technique.

Hints & Tips No.59

Preparation Of Kits For Assembly And Painting

By Donald Hess (York PA, USA)

Most kits come in packaging straight from the mould. Pre-washing a plastic sprue in very luke warm water and detergent removes release agents from the plastic used in the moulding process. This makes it much much easier to paint later on.

As A follow up...

I would not recommend the use of detergent/washing up liquid as this, too, leaves a film on the surface. The best material to use for cleaning models is one of the bathroom cleaners which contains a limescale remover. I use Waitrose's own but any other will do. A trade name familiar to some would be 'Viakal'.

Julian Saunders

Hints & Tips No.60

How To Prevent Flange Snags On Rail Joints

By Crandell Overton (Vancouver Island, Canada)

Extruded rail stock is forced through a die and then cut with a sharp instrument.  It will have sharp edges.  If you are using flexible sections of track and joining them together along a curve, you will potentially meet with frustration when you find one or more engines or rolling stock items derailing in one or two places consistently.

There are several causes for derailment along curves, but a simple aid to nip this in the bud involves filing the ends of every rail section with a metal file to smooth off any burrs or sharp edges. As your engines become larger and more demanding of fine track laying skills, particularly larger North American steamers, the wheel flanges get forced toward the outside rail head on curves close to the minimum stated for your engine. You can imagine what can happen, when the flanges encounter a wider gap than desirable, and one with sharp edges or burrs on the flange faces and the tops of the rail heads.

To help this, file a slight bevel (or a chamfer in other terms) on the vertical inside face of the railhead, and also on the flat top surface at the very ends where they were cut to rail stock as well as to turnouts (points). That way, your wheels will encounter an easier camber that will accommodate their passage, and not a sharp and jarring surface that will toss them this way and that.

(A Note from Trevor – this hint comes up in Free-mo type specifications in North America where modules are involved and this operation needs to be done because of alignment of the track. It is also very useful as Crandell points out for curves in general. I actually tried it on already laid track on my “memorial” exhibition layout and it has worked fantastically well dramatically reducing the derailments on joins and smoothing the passage of trains!)

Hints & Tips No.61

Air Brushes

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you are going to do a bit of painting, you might like to invest in an air brush.

My own is not an internal mix but a simple external mix sprayer by Revell if I remember rightly but I have seen similar under the Humbrol name. Powering it is also quite easy as I use an old spare tyre blown up to 50psi (350kpa).

While I would really love to have a better airbrush and a compressor etc, I find that I just could not rationalise the expense on the amount of work I would be doing with it and my results have been OK. I have found the Tamiya brand acrylics work well diluted with rubbing alcohol in such mixes.

Remember to work in a well ventilated area and have fun.

Hints & Tips No.62

How To Avoid Unsightly Solder Globules On The Sides Of Rails

By Graham Plowman (Sydney, Australia)

How many times have you been to an exhibition and looked closely at the track on a layout and seen huge great big lumps stuck on the sides of rails, accompanied by melted sleepers? It looks unsightly and ruins any possibility of realism or photography.

A little careful planning when building a layout plus the technique described here will see those solder lumps gone for ever! Why do modellers solder wires to the sides of rails ? Well, the answer is simple: lack of planning. Traditionally, modellers cannot wait to get track laid and then they worry about the electrics later. In other words, the track is already laid before wiring starts.

 The answer is to solder wires to the undersides of the rails as the track is laid. To do this, pull the sleepers off the track, solder the wire to the underside of the rail, then file down and replace the sleepers. The wire can be poked down a hole drilled in the baseboard and there you have it: a tidy connection, no melted sleepers and no unsightly solder globules. Once ballast is placed around the track, you will not even see the connections which is a much better appearance than the traditional solder globule!

This technique also works well with foam underlay ballast.  You can see a full explanation on my web site at and find links to other Hints and Tips as well

From Dave Poynter - Further to Graham Plowman's 'Hints and Tips' advice on soldering: the addition of a little flux to the rail before soldering will make the solder stick and flow much more easily, so the joint can be made neater and less 'blobby'. Plumbers' flux works very well and is available from most DIY outlets. Just apply a thin smear with a cotton bud first.

From Brian Lambert -While not wishing to start a war of words, I have to point out that the reply to Tip No.62, given by Dave Poynter, is very fraught with potential problems!

I’ll explain… Most non-electrical fluxes contain a mild acid which helps clean the surface of the items to be soldered. In most applications such as plumbing or soldering a brass/metal loco etc., special fluxes are used and once the parts have been soldered they have to then be washed under ideally running water to remove all traces of the acid contained in the flux. This is not a practical approach when dealing with electrical joints and therefore any residue of "Plumbers flux" will, overtime, start to cause the soldered connection to separate and become high resistance, leading eventually to total electrical failure and even the joint falling apart.

So, for electrical work, never use any additional flux or only those specially sold for the task.

Using rosen cored solder (‘Multicore solder’ as its sometimes called) which is sold specially for electrical work is really all that’s needed, together with ensuring both surfaces are clean and grease free. I prefer, whenever possible, to use a fibre pen to clean surfaces. Use the correct size of soldering iron wattage-wise (I use a 25 watt iron for most electrical work) and ensure the iron's tip is in a first class condition. Finally ensure the iron is up to full working temperature. Switch it on and then leave for a full five minutes - is my recommended practice. The use of a sponge pad, dampened with a little water, is also an ideal means of cleaning a hot irons tip to remove all oxidisation and old solder etc. There are also commercially produced special soldering iron tip cleaning products available too.

Try and pre tin the items before joining the two together. Tinning is using the soldering iron to heating the items and then applying a little of the cored solder to coat the individual parts in solder. Either twist items together or hold them in contact with each other – use tweezers or long nosed pliers etc. - as they may become hot. Then, with a little of the cored solder placed onto the clean hot irons tip to ‘wet’ it, apply the iron onto the joint and allow time for the heat to transfer through the joint. If needed, add a little more cored solder to the items being soldered (not onto the irons tip) to ensure a good flow of solder into the joint. Then remove the iron and don’t move the joint for around 5 or so seconds, until the solder is seen to solidify and become a little dull in appearance. Job done!

Finally, and before turning off the iron, wipe its hot tip on the damp sponge to remove all traces of solder and flux, as this will ensure the tip remains in a good condition ready for the next job.

A Note from Trevor - the description from Brian has been one of the best word pictures I have seen on the subject. In defence of Dave Poynter, I believe I have seen a non corrosive Plumbers flux for use with copper pipe etc which is what Dave may have been referring to.

However, given the amount of tarnish which can occur on nickel silver rail (which is neither nickel nor silver in its content), some corrosive flux can assist the cleaning and solder flow at the joint but it would be imperative that the flux be washed totally washed off once the soldering is done.

Hints & Tips No.63

Preventing Joints From Flexing Under Heat Expansion

by Peter Mitchell (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

If you make a Helix or put a curve into a tunnel, the chances are that, when the track expands, the joint will move and create problems for stock negotiating the line. When you lay your track, to overcome this, put a small block of 3mm styrene or MDF on the outside of the curve adjacent to the rail joiner and glue or screw it to your baseboard, hard up against the sleepers.

The most logical expansion of your track will try to go outwards and the blocks will prevent that happening and keeping the joint aligned which may otherwise be a problem for wheels picking at your track joints as they roll through.

Use this in conjunction with Hints & Tips No.60 and you should improve reliability.

Hints & Tips No.64

Timber Loads

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Those extra long and thicker match sticks, which are used for lighting the barbecue or fire (depending on your season of course) can be used as coarse timber loads for model building sites or used for model fence or billboard posts. It would depend on your scale and needs as to what length you cut the sticks and where you place them.

You could go so far as to glue a set of 4 or so together and make model tree trunks. To do this, glue and allow to thoroughly dry before sanding them to shape, painting and adding foliage. Perhaps you could make log shapes or stumps... just paint the outside a suitable bark colour and the ends to a tree ring colour!

From Peter Gomm - Other sources are lolly stick, stirrers given out by coffee shops, it just needs modellers to look out for other normally thrown away items.

Hints & Tips No.65

Making Roads Disappear

by Brian Sheron (MD USA)

Having roads that run into the walls of your layout room can pose a visual challenge. Having them end abruptly does not look good, and trying to paint an extension onto the wall may not look realistic. One way to have the road blend into the distance is to bend the end of the roadway material up and curve it to a point to one side.

You can now put foliage on either side of the road, and it will give the effect of the road curving off in to the distance. You can see this on my website (I model the Long Island Rail Road circa 1964).

Hints & Tips No.66

Making Road Surfaces More Realistic

by Graham Plowman (Sydney, Australia)

I made a steel bridge, similar to one found in the Western Region. The road surface for the bridge has been made using sheets of fine grade wet & dry paper. The surface has been further rubbed with a further sheet of wet and dry paper to make the road surface smoother and take away the glass 'reflectiveness' by rubbing the dust back into the road surface. The result is very effective and has also been used on Ashprington Road's platforms.

For a detailed description of the bridge construction, including pictures, you can check my website at

Hints & Tips No.67

Using Masking Tape As Curtains And Shades

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you use clear styrene or similar for windows you can make effective shades using masking tape. Simply apply the masking tape glue side out on the "window" and using a hobby knife cut the shape of the shade as it would appear from the outside. The adhesive of the masking tape will hold onto your window, the mottled shape can represent curtains folding and give the hazier effect of curtain blockout and the cost - precious little!

Hints & Tips No.68

Making Stone Walls

By Peter Betts ( Sydney, Australia)

Walls are made up from 6mm thick balsa wood sheet. When complete and before bedding the wall down in its correct place on the layout, each individual stone of the structure is roughly marked on the balsa with a ball-point pen. Then, using a very hot soldering iron, the outline of each individual stone is burnt into the balsa wood. Thus a three-dimensional representation of the stonework will be evident, something that is lacking with the use of stone paper.

After completion, the stonework is painted all over with a light creamy grey water-based matt acrylic paint of a colour simulating the mortar between individual stones. Make sure that the paint fills all the crevices in the stonework. Next make up a wash of the base colour of the stonework using water-based paint, mixed with a little plaster and water. Paint this mixture onto the surface of about half the individual stones at random, trying to avoid too much paint getting into the crevices. The plaster will help give the paint an ultra-matt and slightly gritty in texture.

Next add a little black to the paint mixture, and pick out a number of the remaining stones. Then add a little white, yellow or red, and pick out a few more stones until all are painted. Finally view the finished article and decide whether the resultant colour effect is what you had in mind. If it is too dark, make up a lighter shade of the base colour and paint over the darkest of the stones. If too light do the opposite. If too yellow or too red, pick out the worst offenders with a complimentary colour.

Always err on the too light side because when all is finished and the wall stuck in place on the layout, it is very easy to darken the whole thing with a wash of much-watered-down Matt Black paint.

Hints & Tips No.69

Using Modern Vehicles on Older Period Layouts

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

You are at a model train swap meet, market, or your local hobby or toy store, and discover some commercial vehicles (e.g., a cement truck) that are being sold for a bargain. (I was in my local hardware store and found Boley HO International trucks for $2.99 each!). For all intents and purposes, it looks like a vehicle from the era you are modeling, except that the front of the cab has a modern grill and headlights, You do not want to pass up this bargain, but the vehicle era is just wrong!

Do not despair. Think about where you can locate this truck on your layout so that the front of the vehicle is facing away from the viewer! If the viewer can't see the front of the vehicle, then who cares whether the front represents a vehicle from the 1990s or the 1950s? The dump truck shown on my website is a modern truck on my layout (which models the Long Island Rail Road circa 1964).

Hints & Tips No.70

Covering Unsightly Corners On Buildings

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you have a structure which has a corner not quite flush etc, you can cover the "blemish" with a thin smattering of ground foam to represent ivy vines. Just put a thin layer of PVA glue on the surface and sprinkle some foam. You may even be able to collect enough from your trees which have lost their "leaves" on your model forest floor to do the job.

You also have the advantage that people might think you are into superdetailing your models rather than finding fault with your assembly... and keeping quiet about it!

Hints & Tips No.71

How To Create A Plowed Farm Field

By Tom Welsh ( Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

Use a piece of corrugated cardboard with the corrugations facing outwards. Paint on some glue and sprinkle on some soil colored scatter. Signs of Weeds or old growth, not overdone, makes the scene work better.

Hints & Tips No.72

Simple Signs From Your Computer

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

As you drive around, you probably may not notice, but everywhere-yes everywhere - there are signs. An easy way to make all sorts of signs for your layout is to create them on the computer. Once you get them to your liking (font style, size, color) print them out on plain white paper. I have also found that surfing the web can turn up pictures of posters, signs, etc., that you can drag into a drawing program, and then print them on out.

Spray a thin sheet of styrene plastic with artists adhesive and glue the paper with the signs, posters, etc., printed on it to the plastic. When the adhesive is dry, use an Xacto or sharp hobby knife and cut the signs out. Because they are mounted on styrene plastic, you can attach them to any other plastic surface with styrene cement. You can fit many on an A4 sheet so get to it.

Hints & Tips No.73

Making Putty For Models

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you are into using sheet styrene for scratch building, do not throw all your offcuts and shavings etc away. You can make a putty like paste by dissolving these etc in a bottle with some MEK which you can use to fill in imperfections, holes, joints and any other area requiring touching up prior to painting.

Wood modelers can also make a "putty" by mixing shavings or saw dust from your parent timber in PVA glue to make a paste which can be used for wood siding, planks etc where imperfections occur.

While I have not tried it, I have read from several sources that you can make another type of putty with super glue and baking soda which I assume you can use with Resin and white metal etc. However, as cyanide is a principal ingredient in the super glue, please remember to work safely with it including working in a well ventilated area and using eye protection.

Hints & Tips No.74

Tips About Yard Design.

by Jeffrey Wimberly (LA, USA)

1. Try not to cram a lot of tracks into a small space. Why? If the tracks are close together and a carriage or wagon derails and goes over and you have never heard of the domino effect, you may soon have a real life example.

2. Give yourself at least one staging track and have it connected to the main at both ends. Two would be better. This gives you plenty of area to make up and break up trains.

3. Avoid making spur tracks that are going to trap your locomotive behind a line of wagons. Always have an escape route.

4. Most importantly, try not to make a complex design. The more complex a design, the more things can go wrong because of a simple mistake.

Simplicity of design is simplicity of operation. I am in the hobby to have fun, not trying to find my way out of a Rubik's cube switch yard.

Hints & Tips No.75

Extending the Life of Track Cleaners.

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

When track cleaners such as Peco or Fleischmann track rubbers start getting worn down, glue them to a piece of 5mm thick balsa wood. This will double the life of the track cleaner as it will not crack up when it gets thin.

(Note from Trevor: This terrific hint could also very likely work well with an offcut of MDF or plywood... and when my track cleaner gets thin, I will certainly try it! Thanks Peter)

From Andi Dell

I've glued Peco track rubbers to off-cuts of plywood for many years. Painting the wood a bright colour first helps to locate them on the layout or in the toolbox.

(A further note from Trevor: This is a good variation and adds to the pool, thanks Andi! )

Hints & Tips No.76

Ballasting Track.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

The orthodox method of ballasting track is to spray the laid ballast with a mixture of water and detergent before applying glue to the ballast. This is so that the glue uses the surface tension of the water to spread around the ballast. Conventional use would say to spray the ballast carefully which is what I used to do.

However you may save a bit of heartache and a few washouts of your ballast by spraying slightly UP and AWAY from your track so that the water falls as mist ala light rain (scale rain?) on your track and allowed to soak your ballast. I have found that many PVA glues tend to be dilute enough and will spread so I usually make three runs of glue over the centre, and the two edges and allow gravity and the "wet watered ballast" to do their stuff. If you have a particularly strong glue dilute it to 1:2 or 1:3.

In any case leave it overnight and lift spikes holding your track in the morning! Clean your excess and away you go! If it is not tight enough, repeat the process where ballast is loose.

Hints & Tips No.77

Wax Paper Behind Windows

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

A lot of model railroad structure kits come with clear plastic for the windows. If you do not want to model an interior on these buildings, and/or want to put an interior light in them for night time scenes, but do not want people to see the unfinished interior, glue a piece of wax paper behind each window.

The wax paper will still allow an interior light to show through, but will diffuse the light and not allow the unfinished inside to be seen. My website shows a kitbashed factory I recently installed on my layout with wax paper behind the windows.

Hints & Tips No.78

Landscaping your village

By Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Railway Modellers have been using polystyrene for years and it is possibly the best and quickest way to get your basic shapes formed.

If you are using "water" I suggest covering your base board with polystyrene except for the water area. This gives your layout a quick three dimensional effect. The polystyrene may be only 12 or 19mm (1/2 to 3/4") but the effect of rises and falls on your landscape will be rewarding. These undulations can be made with a file, saw or blade dragged over the surface.

Do not be afraid to dig can always re fill the area by gluing more polystyrene back in. To get the mountain effect , just create the height you require by gluing layers or making box sections with the poly. Once the desired shapes are made cover with either newspaper and water/PVA glue mix or use a commercially available plaster material which just requires wetting. Paint and apply ageing effect to the rocks and grasses and trees.

Hints & Tips No.79

Concrete Pillars

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

I have found some brands of plastic disposable shavers have wonderfully shaped handles for making concrete retaining wall pillars or bridge pylons or similar items on a layout. Simply cut off the shaver head and there you have it.

Some brands of shavers are rather garishly coloured but they can be repainted into a concrete grey colour with simple acrylic paints and applied to that special bridge or retaining wall requiring a pillar. Let you imagination run riot!

Now of course if the shaver manufacturers would cooperate with us and recognise their products true value to us, we might not even have to repaint them in future. They could even mottle the colour to represent the weathering of the concrete!!! :)

Hints & Tips No.80

Making Brass Buffers Look More Realistic.

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

If you receive brass buffers with a loco kit or coach kit, plate the buffer heads with solder as this will simulate the “polished” steel surfaces of the two buffers together. This is done by cleaning the surface, applying flux, touching the surface with a hot soldering iron, and then wiping off any surplus solder with a rag.

( A Note from Pat Hammond - Do this before inserting the buffers into plastic stocks and, of course, don't try it on plastic buffers)

Hints & Tips No.81

Diode Protection for Sidings.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

Model Railway and Railroad conventions dictate that a loco will run forward when the right hand running rail is Positive. We can use this to our advantage to protect locos overrunning sidings which are close to the baseboard edge and doing themselves (and our wallets) a fair bit of damage. At a discreet distance from the end of the siding, cut the rail on the LEFT hand side (as you enter the siding) and insulate it, preferably with an insulated joiner. Now bridge the gap with a 1 amp diode (a 1N4004 will do) with the bar of the diode towards the dead end of the siding.

You will be able to drive in but hopefully not too far. However reversing your loco will have it able to be driven out. There is a bit of a voltage loss of about .6 of a volt but because you are starting the loco, I doubt that you might perceive it. If your loco goes the wrong way because you misunderstood these instructions, just reverse your diode and test it.

DCC operators cannot quite do this, but it is quite prototypical that engines had to use a small rake of wagons to get another wagon parked in a siding because of light rail, insufficient clearance over the cylinders etc. Protect your siding with an “Engines must not pass this point” sign and insulate as above. Now have a Normally Open pushbutton switch with wiring bridging the insulated gap. When you are sure that your loco is set to go the correct way push your bridging button and you can drive your engine out. It is not as surefire safe as with DC operations but it will do the trick.

A Note from Trevor - This Hint and Tip generated a few replies these are among them...

From Nick Stanbury


Imagine if you will a long dead end siding, such as a terminal platform road. If a train is drawn in, the only protection needed is that described in the initial Hint and Tip, using a single diode to bridge a rail break an engine length or so from the buffer stop. But this will not help if a train or rake is PROPELLED into the siding and could hit the buffers before the engine is denied current. So, another diode is needed to bridge a second (outer) break (preferably in the same rail), positioned a little further from the buffer stop than the length of the longest rake you would back in.

You will also require two simple on/off switches. One switch is connected in PARALLEL with the outer diode, so that when 'on', that diode is bypassed and a train being DRAWN in can approach the end of the siding in the normal way. That engine cannot however hit the buffers as the inner diode will deny it forward current. The other switch is connected in SERIES with the inner diode, so that when switched 'off', the train engine remains isolated whilst another engine approaches the rear of the rake and draws it away.

There is still a problem with a DMU or similar train having pickups at each end and I am contemplating a solution using a photoresistor embedded in the track... watch this space...

From Paul Plowman

The idea of protecting terminal buffer stops and siding ends with a diode has been around for many years. Many modellers have used it successfully. However, there is a major shortcoming with the idea; it does not prevent over runs while propelling non-powered rolling stock such as coaches and valuable Pullman cars.

I suggest an alternative arrangement: Place an insulated joint in one rail about six inches from the buffer stops; locate all of the insulated joints in the same side rail throughout the layout; connect all of the protecting sections for each control area to the common terminal of a two-way switch; connect the two terminals of the switch to the track supply. In one position of the switch the protecting sections will have the wrong polarity and any metal wheel crossing an insulated joint will cause a dead short. The circuit breaker will then drop out and stop any further movement of trains. The operator then throws the two-way switch to clear the short circuit and the offending rolling stock can be recovered without the intervention of the hand of God. The switch is then returned to the protecting position.

The switch could be a two-way sprung push-button, which has to be held down while recovery takes place. With DC the circuit breaker would have to be of the type, which only rests after power is cut off, not one that resets automatically immediately the short circuit has been removed. The reason is because the short circuit occurs only momentarily.

I admit to not having tried this idea in practice but it should work with any item of rolling stock fitted with metal wheels and with DCC. It certainly worked with DCC yesterday when I accidentally wired up a pair of droppers the wrong way round.

From Paul Harman

Trevor Gibbs tip for DC is excellent, but DCC users should not be disillusioned as the technology to extend this technique to DCC layouts is already with us.

Users of Lenz Gold and Zimo decoders, that support asymmetric braking, have it easiest where the simple diode can be replaced with a Lenz BM1 module - which is little more than a network of five diodes that can be made easily for a few pence. It is a very simple solution that will make trains stop (with inertia) when being driven into the dead end, but allow them to be reversed out with full control of functions retained, and all the sound and lights still on.

For those DCC users that have other decoders, Brake on DC or brake signal insertion modules can be used, which is a little more complex to install, and will require a push button or similar to enable the train to be reversed out, but a useful safety stop can still be achieved.

From Graham Plowman

Trevor Gibbs raised the topic of diode protection for sidings. I have a much simpler solution: Don't design and build a layout which has track close to the edges of the boards!

Hints & Tips No.82

Weathering with Chalks.

By Jeffrey Wimberly (LA, USA)

Ever seen a shaving cream brush? It'll come in handy. You will also need powdered chalk or tempera. These are available in the fabrics/art/craft section of stores. Get every color you think you might use, then throw in a few more. You might want to do combinations.

To weather the model, darken the walls slightly with a sprayer filled fill a solution of leather dye and rubbing alcohol. The proportion is not important, just a little dye to a lot of alcohol. It will not take long to dry. Now, this is how I bring out mortar lines on brick walls. Dab the shaving brush in the tempera a few times, I like to use a light grey, and wipe it across the wall, then up and down. Now wipe it off with a moist finger. Now you have beautiful mortar lines.

If you want to show up the lines a little more in two or three places, like maybe the wall was patched at some point, just dab on some white chalk with your finger. To fix it all in place, just spray with dull-coat or matte-finish. That is all there is to it. I have been using this method for many years.

Hints & Tips No.83

Grassed Areas

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

Where grassed areas are needed, there are three main techniques used as follows.

(a) Zip texturing. In this method, dry plaster mixed with powder paint of the required colour is sprinkled though a tea strainer or stocking onto areas wetted with water from a spray bottle. This method is popular for mountainous American and Australian scenery where vegetation is not at all lush. However, in my opinion it cannot simulate a Typical British scene. Moreover, zip texturing will not stand up to any sort of abrasion, and, in most cases, will deteriorate quickly.

(b) Grass carpet. With this product that can be bought from model shops, a paper-backed sheet of grass can be stuck down over large areas. This is the method that I have used myself extensively. Grass carpet is a very hard wearing and long lasting material, but has the disadvantage of displaying a too-even, bowling-green-type finish. I get over this problem by attacking the carpet with watered down bleach over selected areas, particularly on steep slopes. Where the bleach is applied, the carpet will go browner, or if you use too much, go yellow or white!

(c) Scatter material. A traditional method of simulating grass is to scatter died sawdust over a pre-glued surface. In my mind, this material is far too coarse, and looks awful. Woodlands and other companies produce a granulated dyed foam material to be scattered as vegetation and this is very good but quite expensive. Rather than buying the stuff, which is usually too dull in colour for British scenes, I make my own by breaking up lumps of polyurethane foam, dipping these in thinned-down bright-green paint, and when thoroughly dry, munching up the pieces in a coffee grinder.

In my view, the best grassed scenes are obtained by a mixture of (b) and (c) above.

Hints & Tips No.84

Simulating Industries.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne, Australia)

Modellers might do well to try to simulate larger industries rather than actually try to model them. Where many larger industries come off the “main line” you can often see a fence and a gate with vehicles at the siding or sidings but the industry itself is nowhere to be seen or way out of sight behind trees or hedges and you are not really seeing very much at all.

So for example, where here in Melbourne we had the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) sidings coming off the main western line on the Broad Gauge to Adelaide, we could see the lines ( there were quite a few sidings there) into and past the gates but not much else as there was a series of trees and bushes blocking the “view” of the factory buildings etc. Yet such an industry generated the need for many goods wagons (tanks, containers, vans/boxcars and flat cars of different types which added to the operating variety of trains working into the area.

To simulate it, any old siding with a fence and gate with views blocked by trees or walls can generate a lot of varied traffic on your layout... and you hardly have to build a thing!

Hints & Tips No.85

Glazed Windows.

By Jeffrey Wimberly (LA, USA)

I cut clear plastic from those hard to open plastic containers that shops put everything in. It takes a 20 minute demolition job just to get the thing you bought out.

I cut these to the sizes I need for the windows then spray them with Matte-Finish. Dull-Cote would probably work too. They dry to a nice glaze. They also enhance your structures interior lighting. Put a bunch of these into a building and it only takes a small light to light up every window that has glazing.

(Note from Trevor – this is a very good variation of an earlier hint and I will have repainted many of mine with a dull coat clear by the time you read this)

Hints & Tips No.86

Modelling Stone Buildings.

By Peter Betts, (Sydney, NSW)

The basic structure of any building can be made up using card, styrene or metal, depending what medium you work best in.

My favourite material is double-sided printed-circuit board material (PCB) because it is very strong, can be cut out using a guillotine, can be soldered together, and last but not least off-cuts of the material can be obtained free. To the basic structure is glued a thin veneer of balsa wood, and then the stonework is burnt on with a soldering iron and painted as described above.

Of course, you could make the structure from balsa wood from the start, but in my opinion, such structures are too weak, and vulnerable to damage.

Hints & Tips No.87

Track soldering and DCC tip

By Bob Montgomery (Arkansas)

If you solder your track joints and run DCC , make sure you remove your DCC loco's from the track before soldering new joints. The static etc. generated by soldering can damage decoders. Do not ask how I found this out. Just felt that I should pass it on.

Also it may be a good idea to disconnect your DCC power supply when soldering rails, I have not fried that yet , but why take a chance.

Hints & Tips No.88

Recycling computer parts Pt 1.

By Jeffrey Wimberly (LA, USA)

Old PC power supplies make very good power supplies for structure lighting and signalling devices. On my previous layout I used one to light over 50 structures. On my current layout the same PC power supply is pulling nearly 50 bulbs (not LEDs) and is not even starting to strain. Try that with an old train power pack.

(A Note from Trevor... There are a number of web sites which deal with making a power supply from an ATX Power supply but please use safety precautions. If you do not feel comfortable dealing with Mains power which you will have to do if your Power Supply box does not have an off switch, then get an electrician ... within your club... to help. Later feedback suggests that some form of thermal overload protection in case of a derailment is essential as Computer Power supplies are not as robust as our made to purpose ones)

Hints & Tips No.89

Retaining walls

by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Retaining walls and sea walls can be made from the foam used as an expansion joint in building construction. This material has a peel off cover exposing a very adhesive surface, simply apply whatever material you prefer to imitate rocks (aquarium stones are ideal), slate, boulders or brick to this surface.

Fill between the stones with a grout of a similar colour (or contrasting colour) and you have a very quick wall in whatever size you require. This method also works for paths and roads

Hints & Tips No.90

Joining two styrene surfaces using Waxed Paper .

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

When joining two pieces of styrene either using ACC (Superglue) or MEK, make your join over waxed paper and allow to dry. This way your styrene does not pick up another surface or paint with the glue or stick to the other surface which may mar the appearance of your model.

Hints & Tips No.91

Recycling computer parts Pt 2

By Thomas Statton, (Tennessee USA)

Old floppy drives and CD Roms are good sources for small motors and screws. The case should have small gauge wires and connectors for the LEDs and such. Gears and misc. parts can be gondola or open wagon junk loads when painted a rust color.

(A note from Trevor – I also used a small motor for an American 0-6-0 from a CD ROM to replace an open frame motor and a small double connector which I could not locate commercially for LEDs in the headlights of a diesel so I could remove the body totally. The motor runs very well)

Hints & Tips No.92

Laying Flex Track around curves .

By Chris Thompson, (Whyalla, South Australia)

Ever notice that the inner rail of flex track makes itself longer as you curve it? Of course you have. By judicious laying you can maximise the length of rail you have left over by keeping this length intact and feeding it into your next section through the chairs and effectively staggering your rail joints.

Your joints will be easier to maintain and straighten, and problem causes more easily found should your trains find cause to derail over the same joint area. You can “straighten” out the joint by using a spike to hold the track in gauge through the plastic sleeper.

(A Note from Trevor ... Staggered joints work well and I use them. However I am a little reluctant to solder joints on curves, as other modellers I know have done, living where I do. The temperature can go from about 0 degrees Celsius to 40+ in my garage as I have had trouble with expansion in the past. Those of you who have a more moderate climate regime or temperature control in your rooms may not be so reluctant to solder as I am.)

Hints & Tips No.93

Recycling computer parts Pt 3

By Thomas Statton, (Tennessee USA)

Old computer device ribbon cable looks pretty good as corrugated iron when painted a silver color. Just cut to length and glue it to your fence frame material. A little rust colour will assist the image.

Hints & Tips No.94

Mixing Flex Track with Set Track curves .

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

Early in 2008 I saw a 4x8 layout which was a “work in progress” similar to what I have done with my own memorial layout “Newry” at an exhibition. The purpose of this layout like my own was to show what one could start out doing and was on unpainted Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF).

The builder used Flextrack for the “straight sections” and Peco 2nd and 3rd radius curves for the end curves. Points were a mixture of set track and Streamline as the need arose. This allowed for some slight offsets of track to improve the “prototype appearance” and not having dead straight sections of track. It also allowed for more freedom with the geometry not being totally dictated by the lengths of set track that would have been used.

Sidings in particular looked good done this way. You get speed of laying, accurate curves, “prototypical straights” and the overall cost of your trackwork is reduced.

Hints & Tips No.95

Recycling computer parts Pt 4

By Kevin Smith, (Saskatchewan, Canada)

You might actually want to keep an older working computer around. You do not need a lot of speed to run things like decoder pro, make inventories of your stock using spreadsheets such as Open Office or Excel or using simple drawing packages for layout changes or simple structures. You can then keep an older computer in the layout room. And a PC with a sound card might also become the basis for a sound system on your layout.

(A Note from Trevor – You might want also to save the H&T files on an old computer just so you can refer to it and wonder why you kept an old computer under your railway - ala this hint! :). Thanks Kevin!)

Hints & Tips No.96

Applying Ground Texture and Ground Foam Pt 1.

By Bruce Leslie, (MA, USA)

I do not like flat, uniform ground surfaces. They look fine in a park or on a golf course, but most of my ground is supposed to be more wild, unkempt terrain.

First, I use Gypsolite which is a locally available plaster material but there are equivalents all around the world, to skim coat the surface. This type of plaster is naturally gritty, so even on a flat area like a foam sheet, the irregularity makes a big difference. The Plaster is naturally a light gray, so I squirt in some dark brown craft paint until the mixture is a light tan. I spread this stuff around and let it dry, usually overnight.

I do not like uniform tan-colored surfaces either, so I make up a thin green wash with craft paint and water. I apply this unevenly, in a camouflage pattern, using the base plaster color. This dries pretty quickly, in a half-hour or less.

Then I paint on thinned white glue, about 1 part white glue to 3 parts water. I use an old 1/2 inch paint brush, and do a few square inches at a time. Finally, I take pinches of turf in my fingers and apply them, generally putting brown turf over the tan plaster, and green turf over the wash areas, but not being too fussy about either. Applying the turf bit-by-bit is a lot slower than just sprinkling it out of a jar, of course, but I get much better control.

Hints & Tips No.97

Making Models on Flat Surfaces .

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

Depending on the level of kit or scratch building you are doing, the ideal is to work on a flat surface. Many kit manufacturers recommend using plate glass and it is well and good if you have this. However you can get a fair degree of dimensional flatness and stability by using at least 12mm MDF or Particle Board up to about 15 inches square or so.

If you are doing metal construction, a piece of MDF like this can work very well as a surface plate for marking. You can probably get an offcut from a cabinet makers work shop for zilch and even under the most prolific of hobbyists using Exacto knives or similar, it should last quite some time before it needs replacing.

Hints & Tips No.98

Extreme Wear and Tear .

By John De-Vries-Kraft, (Kamloops Canada)

Every railway has that extremely decrepit looking vehicle which although it may be "roadworthy" looks as if it had seen much better days usually sitting on a siding out of the way. I did help this guy with his shiny looking gondola... he said it looked too new and a bit toyish. We can all relate to that.

So,in a few moments I took the gondola and removed the wheels and couplers. I then ground it against a small rock, bent the sides of the gondola and scraped the ends so it looked as though it had taken a fair bit of punishment carrying stone etc... which it had by that time... just not carrying stone.

I then removed the "extra" plastic flashing from the scraping...presented it to the guy who was quite impressed. You could go one stage further and paint it a non descript grey and rust combination. Reinstall the wheels, add couplers, and voila, DONE and well used."

Hints & Tips No.99

Applying Ground Texture and Ground Foam Pt 2.

By Thomas Statton, (Tennessee USA)

You can make ground foam yourself by using offcuts and chopping it up finely in an old blender. Craft paint works great for dying home made foam. This should work for sawdust too.

To adhere it to my terrain, I prefer using glue instead of wet paint as has been suggested. Most Latex Paints dry fairly quickly and can leave some ground foam unsecured.

Hints & Tips No.100

Stirrers as Fence Palings.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

As mentioned way back in H&T No.37. The long wooden stirrers you get in McDonalds or Starbucks etc. make excellent plank loads when cut up.

When researching for this, I found a thread in Model Railroaders forums titled “You made that out of what...?” and one of the suggestions was picket fencing made from the same stirrers. You simply put the stirrers as palings on your fence frame, cut to length, paint an appropriate ochre or worn weathered colour and voila... one picket fence.

Hints & Tips No.101

Applying Ground Texture and Ground Foam Pt 3.

By Art Hill, (MN, USA)

My variation is as follows. Rather than straight paint, I mix the paint with premixed drywall seam cement, and sawdust, with a little water and Lysol. I paint that on and put the Woodland Scenics colored ground foam on while wet. Of course you can use your own ground foam or Sawdust if this suits you better.

I vary the coarseness of the sawdust to get different textures. For closeup scene, I will put some color variation on between the paint and the ground foam. Several colors of ground foam also helps a lot.

Hints & Tips No.102

N Scale Layouts as a Proportion of OO/HO.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

N scale has proved a real boon for those of us who do not have the space availability for a larger scale layout. The temptation is to try to cram as much in a space or to take an OO/HO track plan and halve it for N.

Rather than take this approach, by all means cut down the use of space. However if it is at all possible either try to use the same size layout for N as you would the larger scale except alter the double track spacings etc, or split the difference and where you would have had a 8 x4 layout, reduce it to say 6 x 3 feet rather than 4 x 2 as tempting as that may be.

The illusion with such a small layout is lost a little mainly because the detail is within the field of vision of most people. By making it that fraction larger and making peoples heads move to take it in, the illusion of a railway is somewhat restored.

I feel that the same illusion can be lost when steep gradients in larger scales are used on smaller layouts. A gentle grade or curve leads the eye away and looks very effective in its own right.

Hints & Tips No.103

Trees from Grape Stems.

By Peter Daniels (South Devon MRC UK)

Depending on your time of year, Grape stems when they are available make very good tree bases from which to lace with Ground Foam or Teased cotton balls to form typical European trees particularly in N scale . After being allowed to dry a bit, painting the stem in a natural wood colour should preserve it.

You can also enjoy yourself on two fronts, both making the trees and providing the raw material by consuming the fruit! The heights of trees? Basically whatever length you are prepared to eat!!!

Hints & Tips No.104

Using Clay Kitty Litter as Talus.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

You can use small amounts of Kitty Litter of the clay variety to simulate the small rocks at the bottom of rock faces and ledges which have chipped and eroded from cliff fronts. This material is known as Talus and will appear in many areas at the bottom of hills, undulations etc.

Hints & Tips No.105

Putting Blinds and Curtains in Windows .

By Thomas Statton (Tennessee USA)

I did a Google Images search for "blinds" and "drapes" and just saved the images I wanted. The images were then re-sized to fit using MS Paint.

The curtains were then printed out on an ink jet on copy paper. I sprayed them with some clear coat to seal the ink. and Dull Coat works also. I found a light coat of dull coat on the window glass (inside) made them look better. I used a heavy coat of clear coat on the drape and then placed the glass onto it while it was still wet. Others have told me that they did not have much luck with that method, but it worked on the ones that I did.

I also used some clear water based glue I found to do some other ones. That stuck REALLY well. For plain blinds, I just used plain old masking tape stuck to the window.

Hints & Tips No.106

Billboards from Business Cards.

By Trevor Gibbs and others

On a Modern layout, some business cards are so colourful and ornate that they could make very effective Billboards for virtually no cost apart from that accrued by the person handing it to you. Such boards could go in your background and you could actually impress a sales representative to hand you a few for a number of projects if you find a particularly good one ...with a little flattery perhaps?

An older business card could also actually date your layout to a more specific era.

Hints & Tips No.107

Painting Clouds with "Not Much Talent"

by Thomas Statton (Tennessee USA)

I have zero artistic talent, but this method is really easy to use. However, I need to practice blending them together.

I downloaded cloud pictures off the web and printed them out in the appropriate size, just in black and white to save ink. I then printed them on some card stock and cut out the clouds with an Xacto knife to make templates. I used some cheap flat white and grey spray paint, putting a little grey along the bottom of the template to represent the bottom of the clouds and treated the rest with shots of white. Any overspray of the white under the template looks like rising thermals.

You can see examples on

Hints & Tips No.108

Track Laying Safeguards 101

By Martin Hollebone (TR Models North Hants)

When laying Track and Ballast... Check and ensure that all loose track pins have been removed from the track before running trains. The magnets are strong enough to attract the pins into the motors and cause damage.

When laying loose ballast never run the trains until the glue has fully dried and the track has been vacuum cleaned to ensure no loose ballast remain. Especially be careful when laying loose ballast be very careful while distributing around point blades.

(A note from Trevor – A Special thanks to Martin for kindly allowing me to use the hints on his shops web site)

Hints & Tips No.109

Short Circuits on Peco Crossings.

By Trevor Gibbs, (Melbourne Australia)

I mainly run North American, specifically Canadian over Peco Streamline track on my home layout. On some of my slightly older engines, the tread is very slightly wider than the gap that Peco allows particularly over their short diamond crossing (of which I have one), and bridge unintentionally between one track and the other. I would have a similar problem with some of my British locos as well!

If a train is sitting on the other track, it can sometimes jolt into movement when the tracks are bridged or the crossing loco stalls entirely if it bridges the common rail which I use. To cure this, get some clear nail polish and paint it on the rails by the joint.

Hints & Tips No.110

Using Cartons for carrying rollingstock

By Brian Macdermott

Here in the UK, I have used some cardboard boxes from the supermarket which were initially used for the delivery of large baguettes for carrying rollingstock. These boxes are about 30" long, about 12" wide, and about 15" deep (about 750 x 300 x 375mm).

I store my boxes vertically with the end labels all facing the same way up. I also try to keep different the locos from different manufacturers in separate cartons.

Hints & Tips No.111

Details No.1 - Modelling Security Cameras

By John Rumming (Western Australia)

I made security cameras for my buildings in the black domes by using a half round craft stone. I went to the local craft store and bought a packet of acrylic jewels. I got a piece of wire and bent a 90 degree angle in it about 1cm from the end.

For my layout I used a 7mm Black Cabachon stone (as the jewels are made of plastic), I heated up the end of the wire and pushed it into the jewel. Cut the other side a good distance from the side of the building and attach this the building. Your “security camera” is now installed.

Hints & Tips No.112

Railways in Pavement No.1

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

There are many situations where railways run in road areas usually in dockland and industrial areas. These areas can be modeled by a (very) careful application of plaster making sure your flanges do not get caught and ride high.

I have made a number of my own crossings and other areas over the years by cutting styrene sheet and stressing the material e.g. expansion lines to represent concrete, sanding to represent bitumen surface or dragging a razor saw to represent wood grain. And it is easy to modify and fit and your track will not be distressed by the setting plaster

Hints & Tips No.113

Railways in Pavement No.2

By Bruce Leslie (MA, USA)

When it comes to building Railways in pavement, I use the same technique for street running and level grade crossings. My crossings are made using Water Putty for the roads on either side of the track, and then styrene between the rails. Styrene sheet is pretty thin, so I use a second, narrower strip underneath it, sitting on the ties. That brings the top piece up enough that the spike plates do not interfere with it.

Use gray acrylic paint for both the road and the strip between the rails. That provides a good color match, and by using a common, unmixed color, I can easily touch it up if it gets nicked or scratched.

Hints & Tips No.114

Smaller Scale Buildings as Background

By Brian Sheron (MD USA)

If you have an HO or OO scale layout, and have an urban scene with HO scale building fronts against the layout wall, you can create the illusion of depth by gluing N-scale building fronts along the roof edge of the larger scale building.

It will appear that these smaller scale buildings are in the distance (see my website). If you have an O scale layout, try using HO or OO scale building fronts.

Hints & Tips No.115

Controlling maximum speed on transistor throttles.

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I use inertia transistor throttles on my layout with a minimum and maximum speed set. The maximum speed has been particularly handy when visitors come to see the layout. It is approximately set to the fastest speed I would want a loco to go and I do not have the grief of kids or adults who are kids at heart trying to run the train at slot car speeds, particularly if the adjustment is out of reach.

The modification would be easy on existing plain transistor throttles. Place a potentiometer between the throttle and the return side connecting the centre leg and the right as you look at it from the top to the right leg and the return "rail" of the throttle. Increasing this resistance decreases your maximum speed but it also means you have better control over more of a speed range for your throttle... and that is a good thing.

Hints & Tips No.116

Running in a Locomotive

By Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

I have a section of track that I can just let my loco run on [an oval for instance] then I let it run for half an hour at about a third speed then a half hour at half speed. What this does is 'break in' the motor and gears. I then do the same thing in reverse. Unless there is something truly wrong with the loco I have found I never have a problem with the running ever after doing this.

Of course if you run it on a temporary track set up on the carpet etc it will pick up lint and such, but barring things like that, once broken in it will give you years of fun. That and maybe lube it once every couple of years.

(A Note from Trevor - Check out Stephen's website at

Hints & Tips No.117

Planning a Layout With Templates

By Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

When checking my planning on a full size board and being a cheap skate, I cut up varying widths and lengths of corn flake packets to represent track and turnouts and then lay them out on my board as closely as I can to the intended layout design.

Although this is not 100% accurate, it does show me when a thing is definitely a no no. If things such as clearances start looking a bit tight, then I take a lot more care with laying the card out, before committing my self to cutting and laying track.

Hints & Tips No.118

View and Scenic Blocks on Layouts

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Rather than have just a hill blocking your view, you may well be in the situation where you can divide your layout into vignette scenes but a straight simply painted sky panel extending over the length of the hill.

If your middle layout backdrop does not have a hill, you can use low relief buildings to disguise your backdrop with the means of your trains transversing between scenes up to you. It could be a simple tunnel opening or buildings placed at such an angle that the transition is not obvious.

It can sure make your layout look bigger than it is if your visitors cannot see it all at once.

Hints & Tips No.119

Bending Styrene Plastic

by Brian Sheron (MD USA)

Scratch building models may occasionally call for bending styrene plastic strips into unique shapes, such as arcs or compound bends.

An easy way to do this is as follows: trace on a piece of paper the shape or curve into which you want to bend a styrene strip. Place the piece of paper on a piece of wood, preferably something soft into which you can easily drive a nail. You can either trace the curve onto the wood with carbon paper, or just make small indentations along the traced shape on the paper, so the indentation carries through to the wood. Tapping a small finishing nail does this fine.

Remove the paper and then drive small finishing nails along the shape marked on the wood, about one inch apart. Lay the piece of plastic against the nails, drive another nail on the other side of the styrene strip to hold one end in place. If the curve is not too severe, you may be able to bend the styrene into the shape you want using the nails as a guide.

Now, get a hair dryer and hold it near, but not too near, the plastic. Try to heat the strip uniformly. As the styrene strip heats up, it will relax in to the shape into which you have bent it. Be careful not to heat it too much or it could melt and distort. You can test when it has taken the correct shape, because it will no longer be sprung against the nails, and should lift out easily from the mold.

Hints & Tips No.120

Locomotive Safeguards

by Martin Hollebone (TR Models North Hants)

A few basic pointers in maintaining your locomotives smooth running...

Never pick a locomotive up with your finger tips touching the running gear on the sides of the locomotive because it can damage the alignment of the running gear.

Never try to clean the wheels or electrical contacts with 'wire wool' or sand paper. Being made of steel the wire wool is attracted by the magnet and will cause damage. Steel wool also causes electrical shorts within the locomotive.

Never clean the track with wire wool as it will leave strands which will cause a short across the track and trip fuses and/or circuit breakers within the controller.

Hints & Tips No.121

Transition Curves

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Transition curves assist in making your engines traverse the curves on your layout much more easily. Start your curve a little further back on the straight than you normally would have and have a much more gradual curve before leading into your main curve.

This can still work If you are using a mixture of Flex track and Set Track Curves as suggested in H&T No.89, use a half curve as well as your full curves and stretch the flex track to take up the slight difference between the straight section and the curve. Your Engines will lead into your curves a lot better and your trains should run smoother because of a smooth transition.

Hints & Tips No.122


by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Applying a diluted mix of Indian Ink and Alcohol to the timber aspects of models will give that a natural aged look that can "Make" a display. Like everything you need to experiment, starting off with a weak mix until you get the required effect. Paints used for ceramics are also a good source of creating that used and weathered look.

Hints & Tips No.123

Graffiti Decals from your Computer

by Brian Sheron (MD USA)

With the advent of home computers, you can now make your own decals. Obtain some clear decal paper compatible with your printer (i.e. ink jet or laser jet). Your computer will have a variety of fonts. Scroll through the fonts and you will likely see a number of them that resemble graffiti.

I also found a web site that has downloadable Graffiti fonts. Go to

Start typing typical graffiti phrases. When you have all the graffiti you need, hit the print button, spray the decal sheet with decal sealer, let it dry, and then apply graffiti to you rolling stock, retaining walls etc!

Hints & Tips No.124

Use of Different Ballasting and Rail on Sidings

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Sidings are not so well maintained as main lines and as the main line gets re-ballasted, the source of stone may well be different from when the line was first laid. Sidings do not generally get re-ballasted or relaid at the same time.

Use a darker tone of ballast on your sidings or “muddy it up” a bit to achieve the effect. You could also use slightly different rail types or have the main line slightly visually higher to accentuate the difference with the track. Weeds will also accentuate the difference and look very effective for little cost.

Hints & Tips No.125

Colour coding Wiring

by Martin Hollebone (TR Models North Hants)

When wiring your layout to operate points, lights, power feeds, etc., always use different colour multi-stranded flexible wires. Plan first with a diagram and record the colours used for each function for future reference. You will find this invaluable when checking for faults later.

Hints & Tips No.126

Handling Small Screws

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Small screws have a habit of moving and dropping off the screwdriver at the worst times. Use a tiny bit of Blu-tack or similar on the end of the screwdriver and this will hold the screw in place. Magnetised screwdrivers are also useful.

(A Note from Trevor – you can also temporarily magnetise a screw driver by stroking it with a magnet along its length for a minute or so... eventually the strength will go but it will be enough to do your pressing job)

Hints & Tips No.127

Telephone and Power Wires

by Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

If you string your cables on your layout between telegraph poles, plain thread will droop in a unrealistic manner because there is no wire in it like the real thing. Pull your cables through some bees wax or such. Lay the thread on the wax, cover it with your thumb and pull the thread through. This will help to stiffen the thread. The wax will help to stiffen the thread and mimic the effect of wire.

Hints & Tips No.128

Mixing of Different Ground Foams or Scatters on the layout

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Regardless of whether you make your own Ground Foam and Scatter, or buy commercial quantities, you should make, or use, different 'dye lots' with different intensities of green and other colours.

Nature does not generally have absolutely consistently coloured greens and neither should you. A bit of judicious mixture of the different dye lots in localised areas should improve your grass scenery appearance markedly.

Hints & Tips No.129

Straws as "Household Decorations"

by Ron Lesperance (Windsor ON Canada)

A large red plastic straw from Mcdonalds, cut in 1/4" lengths, makes nice flower planters. Glue some green foam inside for evergreen plants. Cut in 1/2" lengths and you have nice garbage drums for the loading dock. You can put in some white paper to represent garbage. Best of all, you do not have to actually paint them!

Hints & Tips No.130

Plastering Basics No. 1 - Preparation & Mixing

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

Put on a pair of cheap rubber gloves to protect you from the slight caustic affects of hydrocal (which is widely used in North America) or plaster (everywhere else). This will also be handy for when you are painting.

Spray with water the area you are going to add the plaster to, if it is porous - for example, plaster, wood, cardboard, etc.. This prevents the material from sucking the water out of the plaster and leaving it brittle and flaky.

Use containers you do not want to use anymore, such as margarine tubs - plastic containers are best as they is easier to clean up after each batch.

Use about 500 mls of plaster to 250 mls of water. An old rubber spatula is a good stirrer and you should always add the plaster to the water. Add the plaster slowly and mix thoroughly until it is has the consistency of thick cream.

(You can check out Stephen's website at )

Hints & Tips No.131

Painting the Sides of Layouts

by Joe Saliba and Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

Exhibition layouts, in particular, need to be presented as being finished and home layouts can do with effective presentation when shown to your family and friends.

You may be very surprised as to how much more presentable your layout becomes with a suitable paint around the fascia of the layout, compared to the nails, screw heads and dirty fascia that comes with working on a layout.

(A Note from Trevor – When Joe painted up an exhibition layout of a club associate and my own 'Newry' layout, the impression was almost unbelievable. Ours were painted in a Royal Blue colour in a gloss enamel... and worth the time and effort to do it!!! Thanks Joe)

Hints & Tips No.132

Plastering Basics No. 2

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

If you are going to colour the plaster first then understand that doing so may introduce salt to the mixture. Some dyes like clothing dyes have salt in them. This is important to know because it shortens the usage time by about half or even less sometimes.

You only need about one teaspoon to one heaping table spoon per cup of water. Add the dye to the water before adding the plaster. Mix thoroughly.

You can also decrease the setting time by half by simply adding 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to the water before adding the plaster. If you want the plaster to take longer to set because you want to shape it, make a rock. or a cut in the mountain etc. then add about 2 teaspoon of vinegar to one cup of water.

If you are using dyes and want a slower reaction time add 4 teaspoons per cup. Understand though that adding too much vinegar will weaken the plaster.

Hints & Tips No.133

Details No.1 – Culverts

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple culvert under an embankment by drilling a small hole and inserting a piece of tube or (better still) a half tube where any water would flow.

Paint it a silver or grey tone to represent concrete or steel piping and perhaps detail it with some sediment, if water is not flowing through it, or use some thin white glue strings to simulate a slowly draining amount of water, perhaps into a slough type pool down the bottom.

Hints & Tips No.134

Plastering Basics No.3

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

If you are using paper towels or cloth in constructing your scenery, try to make them about the size of your hand, but no more that twice the size. Cut or tear them if you will. Tearing is better because it is more ragged. This makes them easier to place, handle, use and shape.

The best paper towels are the brown rough thick ones used in public washrooms. As for cloth, old cotton is best, unless you want to use cheese cloth.

Always clean the container before reusing it, otherwise the old plaster will cause the new plaster to set super fast because it will be seasoned.

(You can check out Stephen's website at – Trevor)

Hints & Tips No.135

Running on lower voltage

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you are still using any sort of Globe as compared to using LEDs, run your power pack at a lesser voltage than the rating quoted by about 70%. If you have 12 volt globes, try running them on say 8 volts, 6 volts should be cut down to 4 etc.

This extends your globe life remarkably and will cut down the heat factor in your train area.

Personally I run all my lights bar a few Headlights with LEDs. At 80,000 hours rated life and I am 54, I don't expect to change too many and the heat is a whole lot less. I can also run from old Mobile Phone charger transformers and get quite a few lights, well LEDs running for virtually no outlay.

Hints & Tips No.136

Plastering Basics No.4

by Stephen McCallum (Coquitlam BC, Canada)

One thing you can do with the old plaster is put it into a bag and smash it with a hammer. If it is pre-dyed you can use it for talus at the base of hills and cliffs.

You only need a thin layer of plaster to do the job. It is going to hold up ground foam, not hold up you walking on it. ¼ inch is more than sufficient for most. This will support a 5 pound rock
for instance. Notice I said “support”, not thrown at.

Also keeping it thin at the beginning makes it easier to cut later if you need to. If you let the plaster dry for a day or two and then return to add more, remember to spray it with water first.

(Check out Stephens website at )

Hints & Tips No.137

Using Black light or ultraviolet lights

by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Combined with fluorescent paint applied discreetly to buildings, fences and car headlights etc “Black Light or Ultra Violet lights can make an incredible effect for your village scene. Generally the ultraviolet lights are tube-type available from Electrical and Hardware stores.

There are several sizes depending on the size of display you want it on. Try mounting the light above or at the rear of your display. Or make a hill to conceal your light in your display. Caution...the effects on your display is addictive... paint stars on the backdrop, in the night sky...timed daylight to night scenes...

Hints & Tips No.138

Keeping Nail Packets intact

by Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

Those little flip open packages of nails or hardware are also the ones you put on the layout and immediately hit with your elbow and scatter the contents all over the place.

Put a reasonably strong flat magnet under the package and the contents will not fall out when tipped over.

Hints & Tips No.139

Use of Wahl Oil

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

For many years, some modellers have been using Wahl clipper oil to help with their locos maintaining good electrical contact with the track. This was dramatically shown when a friend bought an older Rivarossi Cab Forward locomotive to an exhibition which was running very raggedly. A few drops of Wahl Oil on the track and you would not have thought you were viewing the same engine!

There have been a number of spurious claims made about the product ( traction increased for example... physics tells me that oil and traction are not compatible) but the conductivity is improved if only a few drops are applied every 3-4 metres/10-12 feet or so. Like many other areas in this hobby, just do not overdo the oiling.

Hints & Tips No.140

Weathering on Level Crossings

by Fred Scotland (Sydney, Australia)

Level crossings always look far too clean out of the box but many times are "over weathered" by modellers.

Try to apply a small amount of dark wash (a watered down black) only to the hinge and connecting rod areas of the gates. These were the parts that were greased regularly and we would expect them to be greasy always. Over weathering can make the gates look simply "grimy" and "uncared for".

Make the crossing a little dirtier where the wheels cross over the lines as well.

Hints & Tips No.141

Aerials and Plastic Plugs in models

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

You can make excellent Aerials using old plastic sprues from the moulding trees of model kits. Clean any rough edges from your sprue then heat the sprue up with a candle and stretch slowly. At first it will be thin, and as it cools, it gets thicker. This looks like a thick base and thin top. Cut to size and you have an aerial shape .

If you have a hole in a plastic model that needs to be filled say for an unwanted headlight opening, use a similar technique. Fill in your hole and glue with MEK or other type glue and sand to finish.

Hints & Tips No.142

Alternative Catenary

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make catenary or trolley wire for trams by stripping suitable sized copper wire and hardening it. You do this by placing one end in a vice and using a power drill, hold it reasonably tightly and start spinning the drill chuck while holding a tension.

You would think the wire would twist all over the place but it spins on itself and becomes quite rigid. Try to stop spinning before the wire actually snaps, usually just out of the drill chuck or vice. You can then make a jig to create your favourite catenary shape or length, cut the wire to length and shape and solder away.

I have also used wire in this way to make model signs for my own and club layouts, especially small signs like whistle and speed board signs for trackside details. You could use the copper wire from catenary offcuts in this way if you do not use these for the wire hangers!

Hints & Tips No.143

Water Effects

by Rob Smith (Labrador Queensland)

Clear silicone like those used to seal bathroom basins and showers etc can also be used to imitate the ocean waves and ponds. This can be applied directly onto your village base board. Simply apply the colour for your water scene to your base board (use two or three colours to get the effect of different depths) and place beads of silicone clear caulking in rows to represent waves.

Experiment with the distance apart to get the effect you are after. You can shape the waves using a flat pays to experiment with the effects. On the shore line place some PVA glue and sprinkle sand and you will have instant beach....don't forget the driftwood washed up on shore.

If it is a pond, slough or river scene, get some aquarium stones which are available in a good range of colours and use these on the edge of the silicone and up the river bank.

(A Note from Trevor – Rob is the manager of and has a terrific web page showing some Xmas type layouts. They are atypical for Australia of course, but very effective. A special thanks for permission to use this series of hints)

Hints & Tips No.144 - Making a Turntable

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple turntable from a length of timber (preferably plywood for dimensional stability), a reversing switch and a stereo jack, preferably one of the thicker ones at 4.8mm.

The stereo jack is wired so that the plug is on the turntable bridge side, while the socket is on (or in) your baseboard. Get it exactly in the middle of your bridge. The socket goes in your baseboard and is wired by a reversing switch to your track. The reversing switch is to get the polarity right, when your locos are rotated.

You can then sink your turntable into your baseboard or sit it on top and raise the track to it. You will need to make some sides for the turntable bridge - either a girder made from styrene or card above the rail, or a girder to cover the wooden bridge. You will also need to construct a model fence at rail height. You should now have a basic turntable to give you years of enjoyment and trouble free service.

Hints & Tips No.145

Help With The Small Things Pt 1

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Bluetac : Very good for holding things temporarily in place, or even permanently in some cases. I use a tiny little spot under the feet of my figures so that they can easily be moved to new locations without marking the original spot.
Buttons : Good for many kinds of wheels, pulley's etc.
Chalk : In various colours can be ground up and used for weathering.
Coffee grounds : Keep these and dry them out and the result makes a very good scatter material.
Containers : You will need containers of all shapes, sizes and materials for all the bits and pieces that you will inevitably collect. You can't have too many, believe me.
Craft knives : You don't have to lash out here with the big bucks to get you started. Try the plastic ones with the snap-off blades that are sold in all the tool places.
Cutting mats : Again not essential but they are kind to your craft knives.

Hints & Tips No.146

Fences No.1 - Making a Simple Wire Fence

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Panel pins driven into the baseboard at regular intervals can start this one.

Get some beading wire on a roll and wrap it around the first pole. Then go to the second and wrap once around that. Continue until your fence is done. You can space them so you can get 3-4 lines down, making a great looking fence.

Thin cotton will also do the trick if the wire is not going to be stressed.

Hints & Tips No.147

Ballast Removal

By Vicky Makin (Qld, Australia)

This instruction will work for those that have ballasted using PVA (polyvinylacetate) glue. Selleys Aquadhere (AUS) or Elmers (US)(correct me if I am wrong).

Your first step is to wet the ballast with water, between the rails and on either side. I could not find my eyedropper so I dunked my finger in water. Allow to sit for about 15 – 20 minutes. Then dig out the ballast on either side of ties that have a nail into the tabletop and pull out nails.

Using something suitable, utility knife or putty knife (I used a 1/2 inch wood chisel upside down because I could not find my utility blades) gently push the blade under the ballast and pry the track up. Once one piece of track has been lifted the rest will follow. What you have left is ballast ready to be scraped up. I used my chisel for this and it did a very neat job. Then clean up the area ready for relaying track.

You can recycle the ballast if you wish and the track can be cleaned up by washing with water.

Hints & Tips No.148

Fences No.2 - Making a Chain Link Fence

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Referring back to a similar sounding H&T (No.142), you can make fence poles using slight thicker wire by stripping suitable sized copper wire and hardening it. You do this by placing one end in a vice and using a power drill, hold it reasonably tightly and start spinning the drill chuck while holding a tension.

Plant these in your base board at regular intervals and go to your local craft shop and buy from bridal veil material known as Tulle. If the craft shop is a good one they should even have silver or light grey. Get the tension and angle where you want it, remember that in 00, 40mm is a 10ft fence. Glue the strip of Tulle to your fence poles - and you have one modern chain link fence. A simple hole or tear will add to the detail of the fence.

Hints & Tips No.149

Recycling Materials for Railway Use

by Martin Hollebone (TR Models North Hants)

Long time readers of this column would be aware that modellers are encouraged to recycle all sorts of material.

When your or your neighbours are unpacking that new washing machine, or TV do not throw the foam packing away. It is ideal for railway scenery such as hills, cliffs, etc when given a light coat of plaster and it is FREE.

Many other household items that normally go in the bin can be used on your layout so next time you throw something out; think again. For example, tea leaves, saw dust make good scenery textures and cardboard tubes and containers make all sorts of shapes.

Hints & Tips No.150

Help With The Small Things Pt 2

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Double sided tape : If you get a short length of this material and stick one side onto a flat surface, thick card, wood or similar, then the exposed sticky surface is ideal for standing your small people and animals on whilst painting them. When the paint is dry the figures are easily plucked off the sticky surface. The piece of tape can be used time and again. You could of course use any sticky tape and just apply a little glue to the tape backing to attach it to your holder with the sticky side up.

Florists wire : Brilliant for making tree trunks in any scale also for hand rails, signal operation, fencing wire etc. Comes in varying thicknesses.

Hints & Tips No.151

Ground Goop

By Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

The basis of all the groundwork on Newton Halt was a mixture called ground goop which we read about in an American model railroading book that Sheila bought at an exhibition. Like most things we adapted the recipe and experimented with it. Virtually everything, other than structures and the road was covered with a thick coat of ground goop consisting of sieved soil from the garden, PVA, water and a touch of raw umber acrylic paint.

This dries to a hard realistic finish and looks fine when exposed by thin undergrowth. We even coated the internal surfaces of the dykes before applying the 'water'.

(A Note from Trevor- You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on

Hints & Tips No.152

LEDs for Headlights

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I am still on DC because I like my throttles and like playing with controlling braking. Headlights are another issue as the old globes varied with the track voltage and were non directional. I have now fitted Golden White LEDs as Headlights to most of my locos. They are fairly constant with their intensity and look good.

Because you have to put a regular diode in line with the LED as well as the load resistor, if your motors are the sensitive type make a block with diodes in reverse parallel, that is Cathode to Anode at both ends and put this in series with your motor. Because Diodes drop 0.6 of a volt, your motor will need a higher starting voltage and you will hopefully be lucky enough that the loco will start just after the headlight goes on. If your Diode is sensitive, you may need two diodes in Series. But the headlight effect is worth it and they do not shine constantly in reverse!

Hints & Tips No.153

Auto Uncoupling MU Hoses and Power Cables

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Use the insulation from wire to imitate Multiple Unit Hoses and Air Hoses for the trains. Remove the wire and they will drop naturally. If you keep the wire in them, you can bend then to the shape you require, providing that they are solid core wires

In larger scales in particular, if you would like moving and auto coupling Multiple Unit hoses and power cables, then do as above but add a magnet to the hose. On another loco or carriage, glue a small metal piece to the body which will act as a “receptacle” for the hose or cable.

These will hold together and create the look of true hoses. You cannot use a magnet on each item as well as the hose as they may repel each other. To uncouple, just release the coupler and drive away. The hoses will detach by themselves most of the time!

Hints & Tips No.154

Help With The Small Things Pt 3

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Keep it clean : This doesn't just apply to the track and rolling stock wheels but to the whole layout. Don't let bits of rubbish and dust accumulate as it's the first thing that viewers see, either of the layout itself or in any photographs you take.

Knife blades : Try and get into the habit of putting the blade cover back on when you have finished using it, or sliding the blade back into it's holder. These blades are deadly when they come into contact with the users flesh.

Matchsticks : Same as kebab sticks, again depending on scale, wagon loads of cut timber, timber stacks in yards, it's imagination time. Matches come in a wide range of thickness.
Masking tape :
Has a textured surface that takes paint well, good for wagon and truck covers.

Hints & Tips No.155

Details No.2 - Making Models of Vending Machines

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Vending machines are everywhere. You could make a lot for your layout or station and it will not look out of place. Stand as directly to the front as you can and take a digital photo of a number of Vending Machines in your area. This will at least localise what your visitors will see

Use MS paint to scale these pictures down and cut out the detail to the sides of the machine. Then paste them into a Word Processor or Publisher (Word or Open Office will do) and print off sheets of the different machines.

Then make simple styrene blocks to mount the machine fronts on and paint the sides black. Then place them on your layout in every possible retail area.

Hints & Tips No.156

A Cheap Ballast Spreader

by John Rumming (Western Australia)

Use a funnel with flat base and a nail inserted in it that has a head wider than the end of the funnel. You can regulate the flow of material by lowering and lifting the nail, and if any gets caught in the tube against the nail, just rotate the nail and it will dislodge it.

Hints & Tips No.157

Telephone Lines

by Fred Scotland (Sydney, Australia)

Telephone and electrical lines can be a problem to create on a layout.

Get some 6lb fishing line from your local tackle shop , measure out the length you need to run a length of the line from one end of the telephone pole route to the other. add an extra 10% to this length. Cut the line, take a black marker pen (felt tip) hold the fishing line in one hand and pull it between the felt tip and your thumb so as to literally mark the fishing line. do this until the line is black. Leave it then sit it the sun for about 30 mins. A bright warm day is best for this stage as it will soften the line a bit.

Tie a fishing knot in the line to attach it to the first telephone pole insulator. Once it is tied, put a drop of CA glue over the line and insulator. at the next pole simply put a drop of ca on the insulator with a toothpick and position the line in the glue at the base of the insulator. This will hold it in place sufficiently to do up to 3 - 5 feet (1-1.5m) in one go.

Do not forget to run lines to structures also. After all they are supplied the electricity from these lines.

A Note from Trevor – This posting created a little interest which you can read here

From Terry Gee

I would like to add a word of warning to Fred Scotland's suggestion of using fishing line for telephone cables (Hints & Tips 157), particularly if your layout is subject to temperature changes, i.e. because it's in an outbuilding of some sort.

I tried this method on my first layout which, like my present one, is in the garage, I found that the line goes bar tight in the summer and, if you are using plastic poles, it will bend them; equally, in the winter, the line will sag and look awful, unlike the real thing, this will be curly and uneven.

Having not learnt my lesson, I decided to use it on my present layout, as wire running between concrete fence posts. The logic was that if I put a spot of glue on the line at every post, and because the distance between the posts is a lot less than that of telegraph poles, it would be OK. I was wrong! It still sags in the winter but, because the posts are a lot shorter then telegraph poles, they do not bend with the tension in the summer.

From Nick Stanbury

I was a little 'surprised' to read about telephone/electricity line reproduction the other day. It is rare in the UK to find these lines on a model and I guess many have tried to add them but few have succeeded in one of the most fiddly tasks I can imagine (and I have tried it years ago), certainly below 7mm scale. I question whether the finest nylon monofilament is not still grossly overscale, I am not certain how easy it is to knot or glue the line to any scale-sized insulator and, of course, the finished job is very vulnerable to damage. Bear in mind too that, in the UK, anything but a quiet branch line would have perhaps 10 - 20 or more lines per pole. And what is CS glue – superglue? (...From Trevor – meant to be CA superglue...) (I do recall seeing, with incredulity, very realistic lines on the pioneering 2mm scale 'Rydesvale' layout in the early 1960s - very fine wire being used. But the whole of that layout involved skill and patience beyond most of us!)

Hints & Tips No.158

Details No.3 - Trees and Bushes

by Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

We feel the most obvious fault of many model railway builders, as far as tree building is concerned, is their insistence on building trees far too short. There is a fear on small layouts that scale height trees would take up too much of the viewing space or reduce tricks to the eye set up to create illusions of perspective. Perhaps the answer is to compromise the two extremes and attempt to make trees much larger than is common in modelling circles but not quite as large as nature would have done.

(A Note from Trevor- You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on

Hints & Tips No.159

Details No.4 - Toning down Plastic Figures

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

The recent availability of figurines over the Internet in quantities we could only have imagined many years ago has been a Godsend. However for many of us the clothing is way too bright.

You can touch up some of the more garish clothing with more earth tone colour paints but some things just do not quite look right and some of the figurines can stand out like traffic lights.

A quick cure for this is to make up a wash of very diluted India Ink and apply it to the figurines. Just use an old brush and paint as you would any surface. Most of it will run off but the India Ink will fill in a few cracks in the surfaces to add a sort of weathering to the figure and in general take off the gloss.

Your figures will look a lot more realistic for just a few minutes work.

Hints & Tips No.160

Yet Another Tree Making Method - Evergreens

by Edward Bogge (ON, Canada)

Decent looking evergreens can be made from the green fiber scouring pads that are so common today. Tear them apart in varying sizes and thicknesses. Stain round toothpicks either dark brown or gray and set aside to dry while you tear up the scouring pad. I use a hot glue gun and place a dab of glue where I want the lower limbs to start, then quickly slide a wider piece down the trunk and into the hot glue.

Progressively smaller pieces are now slid down the trunk and are held in place by the friction of the trunk. The top piece is again set in place with hot glue and "squished" into a peak. Trim to shape with scissors and you are set. These are perfect for N scale trees. Quick and inexpensive.

Hints & Tips No.161

Removing the Sheen from more Toyish Models

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make your models more realistic in a very quick period of time. Taking your time, you can repaint it in more realistic tones and the results can be surprising. If the colours are OK but you want to stop it looking like a bright shiny toy, you can do two tasks.

You can paint the insides only with a Matt Black colour which will reduce the translucency of the material. Then give the outside a coat of Testors Dullcote or Tamiya matte clear to reduce the sheen. Your building should then look more the part for fitting in a railway area with more realistic tones. You can use the same processes for toyish looking rolling stock.

There is sometimes a very thin line between the scale model and what is being presented as a toy and you should sometimes look beyond the package and finish as there may be more out there capable of complementing your layout than what you might think.

Hints & Tips No.162

Paper Clamps and Clothes Pegs

by Don Sali (Melbourne Australia)

Paper clamps make great spring clamps. Make sure that you place card or something else between your work and the clamp jaws so that you do not mar the surface of your model. Clothes pins make very good clamps as well.

Hints & Tips No.163

Help With The Small Things - Part 4

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Glass work-surface: I use an old piece of plate glass off a discarded coffee table but for many years I used the side window from a scrapped car. It makes a very good work surface, being flat and level. It is easy to clean off dried paint and glue.

Kebab sticks: These are good for telephone posts, ground posts, fence posts, canopy supports, hand rails etc. all depending on the scale you are working in.

Old track: Keep the rails for old girder work, abandoned rail lengths in old workshops - the scale dependent once more.

Paint brushes: Take great care of these, whether cheap or expensive. Don't let them dry out while dirty. The cheaper ones are good for 'sweepìng up' in odd corners and cleaning dust off locomotives, or anything else on the layout.

Painting figures: Click on the link below for an excellent article on painting the figures on your layout.

Peco point motor mounting: When mounting the motor from beneath the baseboard through the large hole that is needed, all your ballast can soon vanish through it. So, before fixing the four legs of the motor to the point, lay a thin piece of card over the hole and pass the legs through that before clicking to the point. Paint the card first, roughly the same colour as your ballast.

Hints & Tips No.164

Boxes as Buildings

by Ron Lesperance (Windsor ON Canada)

Small boxes make nice modern buildings after you paint the walls with latex paint, and a black roof painted with a flat latex paint. all those parts you talked about make other added detail for the roof. A cheap building project for your HO or OO layout.

Hints & Tips No.165

Details No.5 - More Realistic Tunnel Mouths

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make your tunnel mouths, bridges, footbridges etc look more realistic with the aid of a candle. Most tunnels have been around since steam days and most of the readers of this column will have seen steam even in the modern day. Diesels also create exhaust which lines the tops of tunnels after a number of years.

You can create the smoky effect quickly by simply holding a candle at a slight distance to the tunnel mouth or bridge and letting the soot accumulate on the apex of the stonework.

Safety First however … don’t do what a friend of mine many did years ago after toning down his hills and trees with thinners. He did the smoking up process a bit too soon… and created a very unrealistic, very “un-scale” forest fire!

Hints & Tips No.166

Details No. 6 – Help with Ballast

By Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

After you spread ballast, but before you glue, tap the top of the rails with the paint brush. This will "bounce" the ballast from the top of the ties down to where it belongs.

Hints & Tips No.167

Help With The Small Things Pt 5

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Pegs : Can be used as clamps for the not too delicate work.
Pencil - soft : A really soft pencil can be used as a simple weathering agent, just run the pencil over your object and then gently rub the lines with your finger.
Press studs : Come in different sizes and make excellent wheels. Depending on scale they could be for hand trucks, luggage trolleys, hand wheels, steering wheels, wheels on cranes, small wagons and much more.
Sawdust : Its uses are extolled elsewhere, under 'Projects' 'Scatters', but do keep a bag handy even if you are not going to use it straight away.

Hints & Tips No.168

Operating Realistically In Real Time

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

My own home layout is a small affair by many standards but there are a lot of potential operations packed into the 8 x 4 size.

My basic operating scheme is an alternation of East and West bound trains meeting at the imaginary “end stations”. Check out my website and the layout, operating the layout and schematic pages. While a train is progressing en route in one direction, the train which has arrived at the “end of the line” is marshalled, loco stabled, new loco prepared inc coaling and watering and hitched onto the train while the switcher is “stabled” to be ready for the next train.

The main line trains do laps and stopping at intermediate stations while the other work is going on. In the real world watering, coaling or fuelling takes time. Locos do not race around yards as such so on your model keep the speed down. Coaling and Watering take a few minutes each or longer depending whether the coaling was done by hand or from a coaling tower. I have no real reason to stop at several of the intermediate stations with my freights other than the fact I can and I love practicing braking with my inertia throttles and getting the stops “right” for each of the locos.

By simulating those few minutes in duplicating a real life activity and keeping realistic speeds and control when shunting and running trains, you are recreating some of the drama of railway operations. This transforms our models into railways rather than trying to duplicate slot car pit stops. Remember I am also running at least one other train around while this is occurring and possibly a shunter/switcher as well.

And by doing simple things like this it is easy to give ourselves the impression of a railway which should in turn keep your interest longer...

Hints & Tips No.169

Help With the Small Things - Part 6

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Shellac : Use this for sealing PVA joints and weatherproofing your card models. Help with this most necessary of tasks on the model railway.

Sticky labels : Similar or same as the kind you stick on food bags. Apart from their obvious use to tell you what is in your boxes they are great for window frames and bars as they slice very easily when laid on a sheet of glass - good for all scales.

String : The very thin kind can easily be made to represent hose pipes when painted, as well as ropes and cables. The scale is dependent, again, for string size.

Hints & Tips No.170

Details No.7 – Black and White

by Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

I never use pure black or pure white anywhere on a layout as, in my opinion, they make a model look unreal and 'model-like'. White can be toned down with a wash of very dilute brown or 'weathered' black paint and, for black, use a 'weathered black' such as that produced by Rail Match. Pure black (eggshell or matt, never gloss) is limited to pristine locomotives and very clean black cars!

Items such as signal towers, backs of quadrant arms, white buildings are only ever brilliant white when just installed and the weather extremes usually take care of that within a few weeks.

Hints & Tips No.171

Details No.8 – Shop Windows

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Using a similar technique to H&T No.144, you could take pictures of the contents of shop window fronts and make the picture to fit into the scale of your building. By putting the picture behind recycled clear plastic lids cut to size for windows, you also put a realistic reflective sheen in the window area.

Put a load of shoppers at your shop front and you have created a mini-scene.

Hints & Tips No.172

Help With The Small Things Pt 7

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Suede brush : The metal kind that is. Brilliant for cleaning off rolling stock wheels.
Syringe : I use one of these to place my 50/50 water/PVA glue to stick down scatter and ballast, very precise in use. I use a thicker needle for the glue and a very fine one for placing small drops of oil accurately.
Tea bag strings : The strings that come with some tea bags are the ideal size for thick and thin ropes in both 00 and N gauges.
Tea leaves : Same as coffee grounds. When dried very good as a scatter. material.
Tips & Tricks : Dozens of them from a Wargamers site. Many of them good for us.
Tissues : Apart from wiping up a spilt mess, good for paint brush wiping, making curtains and frosted glass for your windows.

Toilet paper : As above but cheaper.
Toothpicks : As match sticks and kebab sticks. Different scales, different uses but all good to apply minute blobs of glue, grease or oil.

Hints & Tips No.173

Garden Allotment Details No.1

by Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

Having seen some really impressive allotments on other models we decided that we would include one near to the front of 'Newton Halt'. The structures and fencing on most real allotments tend to be made from old recycled materials used for their practicality rather than their appearance.

Ours consists of a base of ground goop (sieved garden soil, a touch of dark brown artists acrylic, external poly-filler, P.V.A. and some water), covered in places with a variety of scenic materials. Orchard trees are Woodland Scenic armatures painted with well stretched strips of foliage matting flocked to look heavy with fruit. A tomato frame was made up from fine plastic rod meshed with cotton made to look overgrown by gluing scenic scatter material to the cotton.

We have a neat row of shrub-like plants and some small examples of seamoss against the backscene to create perspective. Cabbages and harvested sprouts are unopened buds from a plant boiled in glycerine to preserve it. Potatoes are the white granules from the inside of a water filter cartridge.

(A Note from Trevor - You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on

Hints & Tips No.174

Details No.9 – Model Battery and Relay Boxes

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Electric and Colour light signals nearly always have a battery box near them and the track to facilitate the track circuit. There are also relay boxes near such signals. These can easily be fashioned from styrene offcuts, while the relay box could use a cut off nail or similar glued to its back to elevate from the ground slightly. On the relay box, scribe a vertical line in the middle of the “front” to represent the doors.

You can see a pair of these on my website and look at the first picture.

Hints & Tips No.175

Cutting Track

by Craig Murchison (Wilts UK)

Cutting track s important for a good fit and few derailments. Using a hacksaw creates metal dust which is hard to clean up. Using a Razor Saw can cause your rails out of gauge under pressure of cutting. Shavings may also eventually find their way into your engines moving parts and cause problems for you later on.

Xuron makes a tool for track cutting. This tool is essentially a pair of side cutters with a flat edge on one side so that the resulting cut is straight instead of tapered to a point. Unfortunately however, although they have provided satisfactory track cuts for me, I have had broken three. These tools are just not strong enough for a lot of use. There are also copies of this type of tool in electronic shops which are cheaper and very much as effective.

Hints & Tips No.176

Gardens and Garden Allotment Details No.2

By Andy McMahon and Sheila Perry ( Beccles, Suffolk)

The gardens at the sides and rear of our model cottages received similar treatment to the allotments. The whole scene was built on a plywood base which allowed much of the detail work to be carried out on a workbench under good light conditions. We decided to have one immaculate garden and one overgrown one. Whilst it was fun applying the detail on both sides and experimenting with methods, the unkempt garden was an equal challenge to the immaculate one.

Again based on ground goop, (See Hint and Tip No.151) a range of scenic materials was used together with the odd “N” scale tree and some flocked thinly cut horsehair matting to represent brambles and gorse. The horsehair was airbrushed a very dark brown almost black artist acrylic which when sprayed with Photo mount and dipped in dark green loose scenic material gave a very good impression of brambles and gorse gone mad.

(A Note from Trevor- You can see examples of Andy and Sheila's work on

Hints & Tips No.177

Details No.10 - Telegraph Poles

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Most Telegraph poles as they come from kits are moulded in one colour. However as any electrical person will tell you, Ceramic insulators in my country anyway are an off white/shell grey type colour. So get out your paint brushes and paint your insulators as you see fit.

To stop mice and other rodents attacking power poles, it is a common practice in Australia at least to use a type of styrene plastic sheet wrapped around the bottom of the pole as a type of anti-climber. You can duplicate this by slipping on a piece of heat shrink insulation and lightly applying heat if it sits loosely on the pole. I have seen Green and White plastic styrene sheet used for this.

Hints & Tips No.178

Help With The Small Things Pt 8

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Track cleaning : People use many things but some of the most common are a soft bit of cloth moistened with rubbing spirit or methylated spirit, the Peco, or other type, track cleaning rubber, which I favour myself. Or you can buy all types of things to either attach to your rolling stock and let that push it round the layout or there are purpose built trucks and wagons with the same purpose.

Finally there is the electronic type which a lot of people swear by. Whichever you go for, do not neglect track cleaning as it will make a world of difference to your rolling stock performance and do not forget the trucks and coaches, their wheels also get dirty.

Hints & Tips No.179

Details No.11 – Number Plates and other Items on Vehicles

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can use a laser printer to make tiny number plates for your vehicles, maybe even replicate your own car in a scene. Laser printers are extremely cheap these days and even my old HP 4l could handle a passable plate... after all I cannot read it from more than 3-4 metres away.

Just print up a series of numbers and cut and paste them out and a tiny dab of white glue ( placed with a toothpick) on your vehicles. You could also cut some figurines at the waist and place them as drivers and passengers in your cars.

From Jeff Lynn

I have done this for years, using MS Word text boxes. For white on black number plates I use a text box with a black background and set the text to white (usually Arial bold 3, 3.5 or 4 point). I do them in a vertical strip one number plate wide and as many deep as i want at the time.

One thing not covered in the tip that I do is I colour the cut edges with a black marker pen. For more modern, reflective number plates, I print in black but do to copies, one on white paper and one on bright yellow paper. The yellow paper also works well for printing up 1960s - 70s Green Line destination blinds and side route boards.

From Clive Greedus

I felt that the tip on printing number plates with a laser printer fell a little short. I've printed hundreds of 00 scale plates for buses, perfectly readable, with inkjet printers - examples can be seen on models posed by bus garages on the pages of . Making them readable is not a case of buying a laser printer, but making the letters thicker to show up, particularly on older white on black plates as it is the black background that is actually printed. One can do this on a paint programme and the tip here is to work at a larger size. I usually use 4 times and then reduce to 25% on the page set up. I've done this for posters, bus destinations and even vehicle badges that need a magnifier and tweezers to work with.

To ensure the ink does not run when fixing, it is a good idea to spray the back (before cutting out!) with clear lacquer as obtainable from car accessory shops. The stick and fix method I then use is Pritstick on the paper and a dab of the original Johnson's Klear on the model. Klear is a bottle of water soluble liquid floor polish that sets hard and transparent and is also useful for glazing and varnishing. However, but note that it has recently been reformulated and so new stock is different.

For number plates, in order to ease and speed the production, I have made an Excel sheet for the pre-1973 type and chosen a font that would best represent that used by London Transport, which the bulk of my plates are used for. As well as bus and lorry plates, it also prints smaller car and van size plates and white on red trade plates.

Hints & Tips No.180

Modelling an Accident Aftermath

by Paul James

In an ideal world, nothing has an accident, trains cars or planes. However we know this is not the case. You can simulate the aftermath of an accident by having say one vehicle upside down on top of another with damaged sides being carried in a revenue train or other scrap parts in open wagons.

Hints & Tips No.181

Details No.12 – Model Speed Boards

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I use work-hardened copper wire (refer to H&T No.138) and a lid from a plastic butter container, cut into strips, to make a number of speed and other indicator signs. The copper wire is cut to length, the strips of plastic are super-glued to the rod and painted white. You could also use small code rail... but you might actually have to buy that, which defeats much of what I do!

An A4 page of stickers is made with various speeds - 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, etc.. I do not go much faster given the nature of my railway, but a modern mainline railway would run to 125. Signs can also be made for "No Road", "Beware of Trains" , "Slow", "Stop and Proceed", "W" (whistle) and any other generic to your area or needs, in appropriate size and styles of font.

When the paint dries, the sheets are cut with a hobby knife and the sticker placed on the sign post. Plant the posts in your layout at appropriate locations. The detail is very outstanding and, although tiny, really enhances your layout.

Although I do not have streets on my layout, you could use this same technique to make street signs... and any others that come to mind.

Hints & Tips No.182

Help With The Small Things Pt 9 - Wheel Cleaning

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

On trucks and coaches wheel cleaning is easy as the wheels are free moving but it can be difficult on power driven wheels. I use a shoe box full of soft cloth and turn the locomotive upside down on this and then I have a twin wire lead which I fasten to the live track with crocodile clips and the other two bared ends I touch to the motor's wheels to move them to a new position for cleaning. For the cleaning itself I use an old metal suede brush.

From Clive Greedus

The tip to use a wire suede brush to clean loco wheels is not a new one and the power supply to revolve them is the way I recall a Peco product did things (has this been discontinued now?). However, I have reservations about scratching pick up wheels in this way, as I believe a scratched surface will become dirty again, quicker. I also believe that some wheels may be coated to improve their conductivity and wire brushing will destroy this.

In the past I have used Carr's Electrofix, a chemical that fixes their metal blackening product and improves conductivity and "reduces spark induced oxides and deposits", according to the label. Some Bachmann wheels have the appearance that they have been through a similar process. So I will only use a cotton bud or cloth with track cleaning fluid and, if possible, get wheel movement by connecting electric leads to non moving pick up wheels or connected parts with crocodile clips. I have added pick ups to tender wheels, which helps, but there is also a case for making special connections, specifically for cleaning, on other types.

From Trevor Gibbs

There have been several wheel cleaning methods in Hints and Tips so far. Refer to H&T 25 and 44. Light scratching may sometimes be necessary and all cleaning provides a certain amount of scratching. It is a case of what works for you personally

Hints & Tips No.183

Another Tree Making Method

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

A Branch from a live or (preferably) dead tree is simply a miniature tree. So if you happened to find dead branches and even deader twigs, you may have an ideal tree shape. Just cut it to size and approximate shape, decorate it with ground foam or painted or dyed flocking teased out over the branches and you can have a great looking tree for pennies.

My (then) 8 or 9 year old daughter and I made a bunch on a Sunday afternoon from twigs in our garden and I have only just changed some of them for more Canadian looking pines. The area is still known as Kathryn's Forest and she still reminds me of that day she remembers well... at age 26 as this was first published.

Hints & Tips No.184

Using Foam As a Scenery Base Pt 2 – Making a Hot Wire Cutter

by Peter Mitchell (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

You can make a simple hot wire cutter for polystyrene foam by recycling a mobile phone transformer and a length of Nichrome element wire. Cut your wire plug off your ex phone charger and feed wires to either side of a handle stick. Terminate these at a screw perhaps with a soldered loop.

Now form a loop of the Nichrome ( Nickel Chrome) around from the handle between the two terminals. This type of element will be like a cutter which will act like a “gouge” in your scenery. You can reshape your wire and your handle to suit.

Cutting is much cleaner than by knife, saw blade or rasp but be careful of the fumes and work in a ventilated area. You can then overlay your hills and terrain form with whatever method suits you, Cloth and Glue, Mod rock, plaster etc.

Hints & Tips No.185

Details No.13 - Scrap Tyres in a Junk Yard

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

No Scrap Yard looks complete without a pile of tyres. Simply visit your local auto parts shop and get a short length of the small diameter water hose. Cut into thin slices (depending on your scale) and paint with a greyish or dirty black and mud colours and stack accordingly to make a tyre mountain if necessary.

Hints & Tips No.186

Help With The Small Things Pt 9

by Bob Heath - (Spain)

Weathering : If you want to add a bit of weathering, making things look dirty or well used, things like pavements, walls, concrete etc then try this, it's FREE. Find a small glass container, or plastic, put some water in it and whenever you do any work with water colours, doesn't matter what colour, use the water in the container as the first cleaner for your paint brush.

After a while this water will become a muddy, grey, horrible messy colour but ideal for a spot of weathering. If whatever it is that you are weathering has highlights then put a wash of the mucky stuff on then lightly wipe it off again to see the effect.

Hints & Tips No.187

Two-stage ballasting
By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Everyone has their own method for ballasting track - this is mine which I find to be very effective. This method does away with that unsightly strip of bare board between ballast and scenery which can be so difficult to deal with!

1 - Having painted up your track, apply an even coat of neat PVA to a strip either side of the track and between tracks, stopping just short of the ends of the sleepers. Sprinkle on a layer of fine grade ballast material of your chosen colour, lightly tamp down and vacuum off the surplus.
2 - With a
medium grade ballast of the same colour, ballast up the track applying just enough to cover the bare baseboard. Tidy up the edges with a fine brush – do not make it too neat. Spray the entire area with a light coat of water/washing up liquid mix - just enough to dampen it - before applying dilute PVA to both grades of ballast in the normal way. When dry, airbrush or otherwise weather the ballast to taste.

Hints & Tips No.188

PVA Glue as Glazing

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can use PVA type glue as a flush type glazing when it is built up in a window area. It is best to place something in the windowless hole to stop the glue leaking through which will not stick to the glue. I would suggest a shape of styrene assisted with a waxed paper covering.

Now take your window, for example a port hole on a locomotive, place your stop behind and keeping the “window” as level as possible lightly pour in some PVA glue. Gently wipe the excess and allow to dry thoroughly. Remove the backing and you should have a free standing flush fitting window glaze. The slight opacity will be very effective on steam locos in particular.

Hints & Tips No.189

Help With Tools Pt 1

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

In this mini series, you will find a list of tools you will need for your workbench. Some of them will be more of an added bonus but the majority will be the ordinary tools that most people will already have and if not then easy to procure. As with most tools however it is always true that the more you can afford the better the tool will be and the longer it will last.

Chopper : A great tool for rapid and accurate cutting of wood, Styrene strip & rod and small profiles.
Clamps of various sizes -
At a push in some cases you can use a clothes peg but there are many small plastic clamps on the market today and they too can come packed by the half dozen. Make sure you get the type where the jaws are parallel to each other.
Clamp Stands and Clamps : For painting models.
Cutting Pad - Not essential, especially if you are using a glass modelling surface but they are kind to blade edges and last a long time.

Hints & Tips No.190


By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Puddles are so common that we tend to walk through, over or round them without even noticing, yet they are rarely modelled. This method would apply equally well when using ordinary ballast or any other modelling medium such as filler or mod rock.

Take a sheet of clear acetate – 20 thou would be ideal – preferably the kind that has protective film on both sides. Remove the protective film from one side only and spray or paint that side with a weathered black or similar (or brown for muddy areas). When dry, cut the sheet into pieces roughly an inch square and glue the pieces with PVA – paint side down – in the positions that you want your puddles. When dry, prepare your landscape with your landscape material, leaving a puddle-shaped area clear of filler on each square. The clear area should be slightly larger than the finished puddle.

Next, with the point of a scalpel blade, very carefully cut out and remove the protective film from the puddle shapes. Then carefully leaving the puddle shapes clear of PVA, allow the PVA to overlap the cut edges of the puddles very slightly. Sprinkle on ash , ballast, scatter or whatever you are using.

When dry, vacuum off the surplus. If you use a brush, make sure it is a very soft one as the surface of the acetate is very easily scratched.

Hints & Tips No.191

Making Portable layouts and Grades

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If you are making a portable layout with gradients between station modules, try to plan your gradient between stations so that it has medium grades like 1 in 50 to 1 in 60. If you are obliged to move either your layout from room to room or in fact whole location including your home, and the joining space is an issue, the gradient section can be the part to be rebuilt to a steeper gradient say 1 in 35 or an easier gradient greater than say 1 in 65.

That way, you will hopefully only have to rebuild one section to get going again and your work is not destroyed... sometimes starting again can be a little soul destroying and we do not want that!

Hints & Tips No.192

Help With Tools Pt 2

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Craft knives - This is one area where you can save money at first because although the blades on cheap knives are inferior and won't last very long they are still sharp enough for the job while they do last and you get a lot of blades for your money. These are the snap off type that come in a plastic holder.

Drill - Electric, preferable but not essential.
Drill Bits - Various sizes for most materials, metal, wood and walls.
Electrostatic Grass : Do it yourself application tool. Modellers on my forum have made this so it works.
Empty biro - The tip makes a different type of scriber.
Files - Again of various sizes and cuts.
Fretsaw :
Very handy for cutting out those awkward shapes. Of course you could just avoid the awkward shapes.

From Steve Mann (NY City)

I'd like to add a few items I've found very useful and two observations to Bob's list.

Haemostats - surgical locking pliers - great for fishing stuff out of dangerous liquids and holding tiny parts while you do things with or to them. You can get them from Micromark if no other source is available to you. I'd say get both types but, if you can only afford one, go for the one with curved jaws.

A pin vice and a selection of 'numbered' drill bits. A lifesaver to those dealing with coupling conversions or bogie pin problems. I prefer the type with a cup shaped end (it snugs up onto the bulge at the base of the index finger when in use) and is better than the ones with a ball for a handle.

A Panavise. That's the trade name for the small, portable, ball-jointed vice which is available widely. It can be screwed down, if you like, but I've had very good results just clamping and (believe it or not) sticking it down with masking tape. Worth every penny. Dremel also made a very nice vice of this type, but the Panavise is (in my opinion) a better choice for the model railway engineer, as the jaws aren't so hefty.

Riffler Files. These are gunsmithing files and have curved blades which make smoothing curved surfaces ridiculously easy. A luxury addition to the tool kit, but again, well worth it to the scratch-builder and kit-basher, in my opinion. Micromark is your source here.

A self-hammering centre-punch - Push down until it 'clacks' to ding the surface. Look for the sort that can be 'tuned' for oomph by twisting the barrel. Great for all sorts of things, from knocking out the blanks in electrical boxes to making rivets in plasticard and brass. (You should also carry one in your car if you drive near water: they are the best way of knocking out the side window of a flooded vehicle. I digress). Once you try one you'll wonder why the other sort are still on the market. Seriously.

My observations are that the modeller is wise to keep two sets of files, one for use on metal and one for use on plastic, and that I've found a hand drill is also a useful addition to the tool kit, but that it should be an eggbeater type rather than the nitwit pistol-grip affair one sees these days.

Hints & Tips No.193

Bi Directional LEDs for Signals

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I have a number of working colour light signals home made at both ground and upper levels which I have lit by a single Bi Directional LED.

The feed in for this is a small Alternating Current and I have two switches governing each of them. The AC has one line in with two diodes in reverse direction to each other, one which will give a half wave positive feed and give a green light while the other gives a half wave negative and gives a red light. So far so good and maybe that is enough for many of you. There is very little perceptible difference between the half wave in this way and using a reversing switch.

The second switch feeds in straight from the AC to the LED, effectively shorting or bypassing the Diodes. The Feed of Red and Green together at a frequency (in Australia 50 Hz) produces a very plausible Orange-Yellow tone which does as a Caution signal. If you have room on your control panel, a three position rotary switch could also do this.

So those of you who do not want to make oscillator circuits because you feel as if you are electronic klutzes but know a little about electricity now have no excuse... so get out your soldering irons!

You can view the circuit on

Hints & Tips No.194

Loco Shed Ballasting with Real Ash

by Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

With the exception of Water, generally speaking you cannot beat using real materials where possible, real coal in loco tenders and coal staithes being the obvious example. Any one who has tramped round a preserved railway loco shed will remember the black, gritty, greasy, compacted 'stuff' underfoot - usually a mix of coal dust and loco ash. I have been experimenting with real ash to simulate this and have come up with a procedure that I think gives a realistic result. Ash is dirty messy stuff and difficult to work with, and this is not the easiest of jobs - bear this in mind!

Step 1 - obtain some ash - preferably coal ash. Dry it out thoroughly if it is damp, then grind it to a powder, a teaspoon full at a time, using a mortar and pestle - not the kitchen one if you wish to remain on good terms with the cook of the house! Be warned, this is a long, tedious and dirty job. Pass the powdered ash through a fine mesh kitchen sieve to get out any remaining lumps.
Step 2 - prepare your loco yard area by building up the gaps between the sleepers and between the tracks with light-weight filler - a smooth but uneven undulating finish will give a good result. Paint overall with a matt dirty black, remembering to clean the wet paint off the tops of the rails. Allow to dry.
Step 3 - working from one end of your yard, apply PVA to the surface between two of the tracks covering an area roughly 6" square at a time. Sprinkle the powdered ash carefully and sparingly, stopping before you reach the edge of the glue, then extend the glue area, sprinkle, extend, etc. - keep the process rolling. When the areas between the tracks are complete, repeat for the areas between the rails taking care not to get glue on the inside faces of the rails or near the working parts of points. Allow to dry, then brush and vacuum off any surplus ash.
Step 4 - with an airbrush, damp down the whole area with a solution of water and washing up liquid - not too much, just enough to darken the ash - keep the airbrush far enough away to avoid blowing loose ash around. While still damp, airbrush again, more liberally, with Woodland Scenics white scenic adhesive or similar matt finish adhesive - a light coating of the adhesive will result in a matt, gritty finish, whereas a heavier saturating application will give the ash a smooth slightly oily sheen which can be quite realistic. Allow to dry, then, if ash still comes off on your finger, repeat step 4 until the ash is secure.
Step 5 - piles of firebox ash. I find the easiest way to create these is to make the piles from track ballast secured with PVA - as you would ballast trackwork. When dry, coat with PVA, and apply ash as in steps 3 and 4 above.

Hints & Tips No.195

Help With Tools Pt 3

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Gauges - Back To Back : For O, 00 finescale, 00 universal, EM & Protofour, scroll down the page.
Geometry set - The ones sold for school children will be adequate.
Guillotine Type 1 : Specifically designed to enable you to cut to repeatable lengths of plastic strips such as Styrene, Plasticard, Evergreen or Plastruct.
Hammer - Obvious again.
Kitchen Roll - As above and to wipe up other messes, of which there will probably be a lot if you are anything like me.
Mini Drill : A very handy item indeed and one which comes quite cheaply nowadays.
Needle Files : These usually come in a pack of varying cross sections for different jobs.

Hints & Tips No.196

A Source of Cable

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

If your workplace is being fitted up with Network cable or Security Camera Cabling, the installers usually have long reels (by model railway standards anyway) of the cable left over. Usually it is taken for scrap and sometimes dumped.

I have increased my own supplies of this by asking for the left over cable and got various lengths which are otherwise useless to them but a treasure to us. The cable come in 4 and 6 wire, and stripped down is more than ample for most applications.

And all you have to do is ask...

Hints & Tips No.197

Drains and Manhole Covers

by Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Next time you are out and about, take a look around you for drain grates and manhole covers. You will be amazed how many there are - our landscape is riddled with them! How many do you see on model railway layouts? Usually none at all.

A number of scenic suppliers market etched brass frets of assorted drains and covers – or you can make a simple plate cover using sheet styrene with small slots and dimples cut in.

They are very easy to fix in place. For manhole covers simply paint each cover a neutral grey and glue in place. For the drain covers, carve or drill a small hollow in your base a fraction smaller than the cover and about 1mm or so deep, paint the inside of the hollow satin or gloss black and glue the cover over the top, taking care not to get glue in the drain cover slots.

Hints & Tips No.198

Help With Tools Pt 4.

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Nibbler : Makes inside cuts in plastic and metal easy. Very useful for the scratchbuilder.
Paint brushes - Like the craft knives you don't have to spend a lot of money at first as the brushes will be used mainly on rougher work. Available on sheets at many cheapo shops.
Pens and Pencils - Obvious.
Ruler - Metric or otherwise, depends what your preferred unit of measurement is, in most cases today that will be metric.
Sandpaper - In various grades, can be good for road surfaces, depending on grade and scale of model, as well as it's more obvious use.

Hints & Tips No.199

Traction Tyre Replacement - An Alternative

by Geoff Stone (Sydney, Australia)

Use electrically conductive epoxy to fill the gap in wheels to replace traction tyres. When mixed, the engine can be run slowly in a cradle and the epoxy applied with a cocktail stick. When cured, the tyre can be smoothed with a file. Traction and conduction in one product.

Hints & Tips No.200

Using Foam As a Scenery Base Pt 1

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Polystyrene foam has been mentioned often in this Hints and Tips Column, but some have written regarding the best way to use it.

On my own layout, I have a group of hills which I layered the foam onto. It was then shaped with a hacksaw blade and coated it with a thin coat of plaster, to get the rock texture. On one club exhibition layout, the foam was overlaid with Disposable cotton cloths painted with PVA. After this, it was shaped with a knife and then a rasp file. The layers were glued in both cases with PVA glue and left to dry overnight.

Foam can release toxic materials when cut, but these are not considered harmful in small quantities. In any case, make sure you work in a well ventilated area and vacuum up the foam dust afterwards... which, fortunately, is easy to do.

Hints & Tips No.201

Super Elevation

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

I read somewhere recently that super elevation – the banking of track on the curves – was difficult to achieve on a model railway and not really worth attempting. My eyebrows lifted a notch because I have always found it to be one of the easiest of jobs, and the effort – on a larger layout at any rate – is well worth it.

Fix down your track in the normal way – I recommend one pin at least every 2" – and 'road test' it thoroughly. Before adding the ballast, slip a length of micro strip under the ends of the sleepers on the outside of the curve. I find that 30 thou x 100thou strip is ideal and gives a nice subtle banking, but experiment with different thicknesses if you wish. Carry on round the curve. When done, add a lead-in at each end of the curve with about 3' of 20thou (if you've used 30 thou) and 3" of 10thou. Ballast the track in the normal way.

Hints & Tips No.202

Help With Tools Pt 5

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Saws - Both woodworking and metal cutting.
Scissors - For their obvious uses.
Screwdrivers - You will need at least a couple, preferable with exchangeable bits, also very small ones for the more delicate jobs.
Set Square - Obvious uses for baseboard building and squaring up anything from platform edges to building sides.
Spirit level - Essential for baseboard and track laying.
Soldering iron - I can't really give advice here as I use a soldering gun but I can say that you need a lot of heat as quick as you can get it. Do not forget the damp sponge to clean the tip with.

Hints & Tips No.203

Using Trellis As a Scenery Base

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

I had some plastic garden trellis which came in a roll and did yeoman service nailed to my fence with vines etc for a few years. However in the fullness of time it was removed.

Some of my trellising was recycled by using it in much the same was as chicken wire was used many years ago as a scenery base for plaster, when the club made a Xmas layout for a junior member. The top was overlaid with Cotton Cloth in this case soaked in plaster and looked very effective... and we made one 7 year old boy very happy on Xmas morning!

Hints & Tips No.204

An Electrostatic Grass Tool – for pennies!

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

An earlier hint mentioned electrostatic grass using a make it yourself electronic application tool. The Noch 'GrasMasters' could be expensive for some. However, do not let these small inconveniences stop you having a go at static grass. There is a very simple, cheap and obvious alternative which works, well, nearly as well!

Do you remember those long ago days of childhood when a party balloon, having been rubbed on your clothing, could be 'stuck' to the wall as if by magic? Well, that is static, and if you pass a suitably rubbed balloon half an inch or so above your static grass immediately after you have dispensed it, hey presto the grass stands up! You could pass on saying some magic words though, tempting as it might be!

Hints & Tips No.205

Help With Tools Pt 6

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Steel straight edge - essential when using sharp blades.
Steel scriber - for scribing plaster or card work.
Super Spray - a paint spraying system from Phoenix Paints which uses cigarette lighter gas.
Superstrip - from Phoenix Paints, it strips the paint from your plastic models and can be used over and over again.
Tapping drill sizes - the tables accessible cover both imperial and metric threads commonly available.

Hints & Tips No.206

Unpaved Areas

by Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

You can make unpaved areas of ground e.g. sand or gravel by using various grades and colours of sandpaper glued to your surface.

I wish I had realised this when I built my ground level US Style platform rather than commandeering sand from the local playground sand pit!

Hints & Tips No.207

How to ballast trackwork so that it can be replaced

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Have you ever tried to replace or alter trackwork that has been set in ballast and PVA? There is no really easy way, but if you lay the track and ballast over greaseproof paper it certainly makes future alterations easier!

Hints & Tips No.208

Help With Tools Pt 7

by Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

Toilet roll - Wiping your paintbrush, the plain kind also makes good window curtains or frosted glass.
Track Cutter -
Xuron - I have no experience of this tool but it has an excellent reputation and if you have to do much track cutting could prove a good investment. Click on the link for more information and price. ( A note from Trevor – consider other experience here from Hint 164 – which is not a reflection on Bob. I personally take the effort to hone my own version of these cutters)
Wheel Puller : Suitable for H0 and 00 wheels. A very nice, well made addition to your toolbox.
Wire Strippers - Some people never use them while others wouldn't be without. Click on the link below for a precision wire stripper.

( A Note from Trevor – A Special thanks to Bob for allowing the material from his web site to be available to all of us and for helping out Hints and Tips)

Hints & Tips No.209

Bic Whiteout Pens and Road Markings

By Robert Ferus (New Jersey, USA)

I used a BIC Wite-Out corrective pen to make the centre line for the road as well as the lines for the parking lot. It works well and, after it dries, you can clean up the lines with a utility knife. I am going to try white peel-off letters for rail level crossing and maybe for a "STOP" on the road surface itself.

Hints & Tips No.210

How To Create A Better Localised Appearance – Pt 1

by Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

All over the world, loco depots had a number of locomotives of the same class at their depots for ease of familiarity for their crews and maintenance personnel. A different depot could well have had totally different classes stationed there.

You can simulate this by having a couple of each class of locomotive you intend to have that ran from particular depots rather than one of each type. We have all been guilty of collecting as such. At various times I have had two pairs of 2-8-0's (different classes) and a pair of 0-8-0's, 5 identical cab diesels... you get the picture. Just do not make the mistake of having say 2 of the Lickey Banker 0-10-0 engines in your shed.

As your skills progress, you can renumber one or all of the engines you have duplicates of.

Hints & Tips No.211

Winter Trees

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Modelling winter trees - deciduous trees without their leaves - is something not often done. Using Seamoss, winter trees couldn't be easier - you simply leave the leaves off! If you want your layout to be set in summer, why not try inserting the odd dead tree amongst your healthy green ones - it can be very effective.

Spray the Seamoss brown with a spray can (Railmatch sleeper grime is a good colour), and, if you are feeling ambitious, dry brush the trunk and thicker branches with a light or medium grey. Leave to dry and your tree is done.

For fallen leaves, a liberal sprinkling of brown ballast into the grass beneath the trees is very effective - I use a mixture of Woodland Scenics brown and dark brown medium ballast. For leaves on tarmac or other non-grass surfaces, experiment with brown scatter materials until you achieve the effect you want.

(A Note from Trevor - Railmatch for example is not a brand name known here in Australia but modellers over the world can use a variety of paints from their local sources for this hint.)

Hints & Tips No.212

How To Create A Better Localised Appearance – Pt 2

by Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

Using longer trains, you do not see very many where each and every vehicle is of a totally different type. Chances are there will be a unit train or group of vehicles forwarded from one part of the country to another. If the numbers and private owner names of the vehicles are the same, again an illusion could be spoiled.

On North American makes of equipment, the renumbering process is fairly straight forward by using rubbing alcohol or decal solve from Micro Scale and gently removing the numbers. Decals then are used to renumber the vehicles. Although I have not tried it on British outline rollingstock, some renumbering of the fleet could make an effective transition from a collection to a railway. As with locomotives, try to have several common types for the area you model.

And in the mistake line, there is a Great Western Modeller here in Australia who showed another prominent GWR modeller his train of 10 Bogie well wagons, and commented that it made a great looking train and how much trouble he went to to get them. My friend agreed but had to unfortunately break the news to him that GWR only actually had four of the said vehicles...

Hints & Tips No.213

How To Make a Yard Floodlight – Pt 1

by Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

You will need about 9 inches or so of Brass Tubing 3mm should be good, a small amount of flat brass, 2 High Intensity LEDs, 2 1K resistors and some wire and 2 Bic Biro Tops (?) Intrigued? Read on

Many years ago in my teens, I bought a set of Yard Flood lights, one with four lights and the other with two. I found them again fairly recently and having a broken Light in one, thought it better to replace so I bit the bullet and opted for LEDs. They really look effective lighting up the yard, casting shadows in the right directions etc and with so little power consumption.

I really probably need at least one more and could not get another tower in reasonable condition so I have elected to make my own and one for the club ... here is how!

Drill a hole in the centre of the brass plate for the tube to fit in and solder in place. This will be the tower and the platform on which your lights will rest.

Hints & Tips No.214

How To Make a Yard Floodlight – Pt 2

by Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

Cut the clip part of your Bic Biro or similar top off at the end of the cap. While your top is still a half reasonable length to handle, file the rest of the clip which is moulded onto the cap so that is has a flat facet to sit on your platform.

From the end, cut the cap to about 8-10mm long. Glue some clear styrene to one end which will be where the light will be focused. Make a cap for the other end using styrene but do not glue yet. This will be the “spotlight casing”.

Wire up your LEDs with 1 wire up to 12” long. Solder the wire on the SHORTER leg of the LED. Drill a small hole in the white styrene cap and thread the wire and other leg of the LED through it then use some white glue to hold it to the back of the light

Place your selected LEDs so that the longer of the two legs (The Cathode) can be soldered to either the tube or the plate leaving a reasonable degree of movement.

At the other end of the tube solder, another length of wire with a 1K dropping resistor which will run to your power source or if it is like mine to a pair of bus wires running around the layout.

Feed your remaining two wires through the tube and join them or join them before they go through the tube. Paint to suit and you have a tower for the cost of two LEDs, some brass tube and some stuff you might have thrown out anyway!

And in something totally out of the box, here is an illustration... photos of item to follow!

NOTE – You can also make larger scale headlights from the biro caps in much the same way !

Hints & Tips No.215

Making Seamoss Trees Stronger

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Another useful tip for Seamoss is to insert a length of thin piano wire up the hollow trunk.

With care, the wire can often be worked quite a long way up thus strengthening the tree considerably. Leave an inch or so of wire sticking out of the bottom of the trunk to help mount the tree on your layout.

As a precaution, do not use piano wire where children are involved, or where the trees could accidentally come into contact with eyes and faces.

Hints & Tips No.216

Clearances on Curves

by Trevor Gibbs and Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

When laying Flex track in particular, you should take your two longest vehicles or loan two vehicles of the longest wheelbase you can find and check the clearances on curves.

By running around your curves with the end of one coach for example as near as possible to the middle of another coach in close proximity and ensuring they are not close enough to touch.

If you are contemplating buying a longer railway vehicle and you are not sure if your clearances are OK you can buy literally any pair of freight bogies (HO freight ones would be OK and make up a “plate” equal to the floor of the vehicle you are intending to buy. Plywood, MDF or Perspex will do. Mount the Bogies as close to the centre mount as you can and also test this on your curves. The overhang will be the same.

From Brian Macdermott - Further to this Hint, I have found that if my Airfix/Hornby 12-wheeled restaurant car does not hit anything, then things work out fine. For platform edge clearance, I find that the Hornby 61xx is good for checking.

Hints & Tips No.217

Using The NMRA Gauge

by Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

The NMRA check gauge is a useful tool for checking platfrom, Bridge and Tunnel clearances, wheel gauge on individual axles and a range of other functions.

While it is HO Standard rather than OO, most HO US sized freight cars cannot fit under the larger OO scale loading gauge. This should give you slightly more than adequate clearances, particularly when dealing with smaller radii double track curves and larger passenger cars.

Hints & Tips No.218

Straightening Seamoss Trees

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Somehow there always seems to be a few sprigs of Seamoss left over from every box that are so banana shaped as to be useless. Well, that need not be the case any longer. I mentioned in Hints & Tips No.215 that seamoss could be strengthened by inserting piano wire up through the trunk.

To straighten a bent tree, feed thin (15thou) piano wire carefully up the inside of the trunk until it breaks through the side. At the point where the wire comes out, cut off the top of tree with scissors and pull the wire through. Now start to feed the wire up into the top section of the tree until it breaks through again. Repeat until the wire nears the top.

The breaks in the trunk can then be sealed with low viscosity super glue.When dry, carefully straighten out any remaining curves by bending the trunk - and the wire inside it - with your fingers.

Bear in mind that you now have a forest of fragile trees each with a not-so-fragile and very sharp 6" spike of piano wire hidden inside it sticking straight up from your board. Do not use this method where children are involved, or where the trees could accidentally come into contact with eyes and faces.

Hints & Tips No.219

101 uses for aerosol can lids
By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

Next time you use a can of spray paint, hang onto the lid! I find them one of the most useful items in my 'tool box' - and they're free!

My work bench is covered in them. Here are just a few ideas -

Believe me, how ever many tops you manage to collect, it will never be enough!

Hints & Tips No.220

Operating Barchester Pt. 1

By Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

I have 4 Platforms plus both engine shed roads and the first 4 of the fiddle yard roads come under main line operations. Platform 5, storage roads 6 & 7, two goods roads plus the remaining two fiddle yard roads are all for branch line operations. My platform 2 is just a bay and is used solely by an auto-trailer.

Because of the deliberate crowding of locomotives and rolling stock, and the way I have chosen to operate the fiddle yard, Barchester operates to a sequence of movements which HAS to be adhered to. Otherwise there is chaos, with the operator, or operators, not knowing where some of the stock is.

Rolling stock always starts the day in the same position. A sequence of movements has been worked out for each half of the layout so that at the end of the working day all stock finishes up back where it started. The mainline has 65 train movements in this sequence and the branch line 63 train movements.

The two sequences are then married together into a timetable that serves the surrounding communities. We are now in the position where the main or branch lines can be operated entirely independently of each other with either one or two operators or the whole thing with just one operator. It is also possible for one operator, say myself, who just fancies running the branch line, to do so, and the rolling stock will still finish up where it should be for the start of the next days operations.

Hints & Tips No.221

A Simple Improvement for Die-Cast Road Vehicles.

By Nevile Reid (Tunbridge Wells)

One disadvantage of using die-cast cars and trucks on a 4mm layout is that the high-gloss paintwork – very pretty on the collector's shelf – detracts from the realism of the models when used trackside. Vehicles from such makes as Classix, Corgi, EFE, Base and Oxford all suffer from this problem. The solution is simple – a coat of satin varnish applied by brush to all the gloss areas gives the vehicle a much more realistic appearance. I find enamel varnish such as Railmatch easier to use than acrylic.

Make sure the model is clean and dust-free before painting, and be careful to keep the varnish off glass, tyres, flatbeds, etc. If required, weather the vehicle after varnishing.

Hints & Tips No.222

Operating Barchester Pt. 2

By Bob Heath - Barchester (Spain)

The first job of the day is to place all the rolling stock I want to use on the various main, branch and fiddle yard roads. The day then starts with a main line arrival to the only vacant platform.

From then on it is a case of moving things around as each road became vacant whilst bearing in mind that eventually there is a timetable so all movements have to make some kind of sense.

In planning, many false starts were made with departures finding that they had nowhere to depart to and arrivals having to wait in line. After hours of operating, loads of scrap paper and innumerable cups of coffee a rough system was worked out. The movements that had been generated were then transferred onto separate filing cards which you can see an example of on my web site.

Hints & Tips No.223

Operating Barchester Pt 3

By Bob Heath Barchester (Spain)

To describe an example card, there are several lines of instructions. I have the first line showing a departure from my platform 5.

The second line shows the train makeup, e.g. a Class 20 with 3 suburban coaches. A quick glance at platform 5 shows us that the correct train is indeed where it should be so we can carry on.

A third line on the card tells us to set the route which is Barchester to South Bridge (F6), the (F6) tells the operator that South Bridge is fiddle yard road 6. The operator then activates the section switch for platform 5 and operates the various points, as per the control panel layout, for the road to F6. On all departures, without exception, route selection MUST ensure that ALL fiddle yard switches are in the OFF position before moving the train.

The next line on my card indicates the regulator (speed) setting as a percentage. This is the MAXIMUM speed for that particular locomotive as all behave differently at the same speed setting. The traffic movement line is when the movement takes place. The following two lines indicate the speed and switch positions as soon as the locomotive comes to rest. This is the same in all cases, speed controller zero and all electrical switches are in the off position

Lastly there are the Information lines where relevant information to the trains movement is recorded. Like every thing else when it is a hobby, it is possible that there may be a slight change to these cards when the final version is printed.

Hints & Tips No.224

Making Propane (LPG) Tanks

By Harvey McRae (BC, Canada)

I have saved the gelatin capsule from some of my vitamins. Depending on the size, they can be little propane tanks or many other little items such as welding bottles.

Hints & Tips No.225

Making Corrugated Roofing.

By Harvey McRae (Kelowna BC, Canada) with thanks to the NMRA

Ever want corrugated metal roofing. Well here is how I have started making mine.

Take an ordinary tin can with a fine corrugated rib in the middle. Cut off both ends of the tin and cut the metal from top to bottom. OK now you have a piece of tin that you have to try to get laying out flat without causing it to buckle. ( It does not have to be perfectly flat just so you can use it for a pattern) NOW, take a piece of aluminium foil (I used a piece from a coffee can) Cut a rectangular piece slightly larger than the size of metal you want in the finished project. Lay this over the ribs in the metal tin and with a thin stick press the foil down into the ridges of the tin can.

With a little practice you can make a nice piece of corrugated metal roofing.

Hints & Tips No.226

Useful Tools No.1
From Several Sources

Plastic Bags

Work with your hands and loco inside a large clear plastic bag when changing brushes or working on couplings, when those little copper springs go flying off they will be caught in the plastic bag and easy to find. This tip saves hours of crawling on the carpet on all fours!!

Sponge Paint Holder
To avoid spilling small pots of paint (Humbrol) cut a paint-pot-sized hole into a bath sponge, when painting place the pot into the sponge, it's a lot more difficult to knock over the sponge and you can clean your brush on the sponge too.

Hints & Tips No.227

Prototype Or Freelance? Pt 1

By Bob Heath Barchester (Spain)

There are several things to consider, such as whether you are going to model a freelance situation or a prototypical one. If prototypical which company and in what era, the steam age, modern times or the meeting point of the two? What kind of running do you want to do when the rails are down, continuous, there and back or a mix of the two? The kind of running you decide on will be the lynch pin of the whole model because your basic track design will have to reflect this choice.

You may say that you do not want to be bothered with any of it, you just want to see some trains running. A quick answer would be, don't we all. However that is not very helpful. I would only say that in my experience of other modellers, who have said the same thing, they have quickly changed their minds as their model began to take shape and they could see the possibilities. Their ever growing skills are then being applied to a model that means something and serves a useful purpose as a mode of transportation.

A decision taken now, on the choices further in this series, could well save you a lot of money on stuff that is inappropriate. In the long run would make no difference if by some chance you stayed with just wanting to see your trains go round and round.

Hints & Tips No.228

Prototype Or Freelance? Pt 2

By Bob Heath Barchester (Spain)

Is a love of the real thing the driving force behind your desire to build a model railway? If so then you will probably be choosing to model a particular prototype.
Unless your choice is the modern era, where you can go and look with your own eyes, take photographs, sketches and measurements, then there will be a fair amount of research in front of you to find out how things really were, and how different to your memories.

Why would I want to research anything you may ask? Well, if you are presenting your model as the XYZ branch of the WR in between the years 1945 and 1960 then it is only right that you should make some effort to see that it is as accurate as your chosen scale, skill and space allow.

I am not saying that your layout should be a photographic image of the chosen time and place but it should at least have the correct rolling stock on its rails, and the correct signals. Find photographs of the station buildings and reproduce them the best you can. Make sure that any road vehicles are of the appropriate type for that period.

There are many things to look for and implement into your model and they will all add to your pleasure and satisfaction as each one is made to the best of your ability.

Hints & Tips No.229

Useful Tools No.2
From Several Sources

3M make a paper correction tape used in offices; Post-it Correction and Cover-up Tape ref. no. 658.

This can be used as a light masking tape when airbrushing. It has the advantage that the adhesive is very gentle and will not harm the surface it is stuck to. However it will not work too well with very heavy coats of paint.

Hints & Tips No.230

Prototype Or Freelance? Pt 3

By Bob Heath Barchester (Spain)

If, however, you are like me and prototype railways are not your primary interest then consider going down the freelance road. The demands and skill requirements on the freelance modeller are just as great as those who desire to reproduce a prototype.

You can model something that might have been. On the GWR for example, a line that feeds an imaginary town from somewhere in the west country because of the demands of a local industry that you have invented. Maybe a dockland scene with grimy buildings and overhead cranes everywhere, retaining walls covered with years of soot and dirt. The list of scenes that can make good models is almost endless.

You could go the whole freelance hog and just build a good looking model with the things that you like on it, and with all different kinds and eras of engines and rolling stock. The choice is yours and always remember we are doing this for pleasure, our pleasure.

So wherever your final choice leads you, make sure you enjoy the experience.

Hints & Tips No.231

Using Barbeque Tongs

from Patrick Peake (Perth, Western Australia)

One very useful tool is barbeque tongs. Long handled tongs can help you reach derailed stock at the back of wide base boards or chase loose wires in tight spaces. At time of writing this, from what I read of your weather in the UK, barbeque tongs will not see much use in their proper role for a while.

Hints & Tips No.232

Making a Jig

By Howard Ballard

When performing construction tasks which require repetition to obtain accurate copies, consider constructing a jig or template first, to accurately position that cut or joint. This avoids repeating difficult measurements or holding items in position whilst waiting for glue to dry.

Hints & Tips No.233

Simulating Panelling

By Dave Balcombe

Many narrow gauge carriages have panelled ends. To achieve a weathered varnished wood appearance try this:-

Give the ends a couple of coats of Humbrol Acrylic Matt Sand or similar. When completely dry, lay them absolutely flat and wash over with drawing ink. A rust or chestnut colour is perfect. Personally I used Games Workshop's Flesh Wash. Just leave to dry. It will gather along the edges of the beading and give a slightly distressed appearance with no effort. It's also great for varnished tongue & groove boarding.

Hints & Tips No.234

Fitting Your Passenger Carriages with Passengers

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

The recently available cheap figurines has allowed us to populate layouts beyond our wildest dreams only a few years ago. You could reasonably cut a few in half and fit them as passengers inside your passenger carriages.

As for the bottom half figurines left over, you could paint a couple in an overalls coloured blue for example and have the legs protruding from under a car being repaired or a half figurine diving into water.

Hints & Tips No.235

Using Conduit... as a Bridge Pier and a Pipe Load.

By Robert Ferus (NJ USA)

Using offcuts of 12mm (1/2”) electrical conduit would give you a reasonable looking pipe load for a flat wagon. A few longer lengths could look very effective as Bridge Supports for a modern bridge.

Hints & Tips No.236

Small Nails.

By Craig Wilson

When I lay track, I find the small nails are too small to hold. I use needlenose pliers to hold the nail, place it in the hole in the tie, and then hammer it in. No finger damage!

Hints & Tips No.237

Using Coins ... As Weights.

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

A few of my locos have needed a little extra weight over the years. I would try to get some lead weights cast off car wheels etc and reshape them or use plumbers lead sheet. I then found that copper coins (when Australia had them) glued together made fairly effective weights in themselves. They were compact and neat and even 10 of them at a time would only have cost me 10 cents!

So if you too want to start a small coin shortage in your country...

Hints & Tips No.238

A Source of “Barrels” for your railway

By Murray Johnson (Victoria Australia)

To make barrels on HO or OO scale models, take the pencil eraser holders from a cheap set of lead pencils ( The erasing part is generally not very good anyway) and paint them red.

Hints & Tips No.239

Useful Tools No.3

From Several Sources

The Rotary Leather Punch
A tool which has several punches of different sizes mounted on a rotary head. It is ideal for cutting out holes or circular discs in light materials such as plastic or card. The punch cannot tackle metal sheet other than very thin lead sheet.

35mm Film Container
These little containers are usually discarded, but are great for storing all those fiddly little items and small parts such as locomotive spares, nails, etc.

Hints & Tips No.240

Useful Tools No.4

From Several Sources

Track Planning Templates

To make it easier to plan a layout, draw up arcs of various radii and various straight sections, all 16.5mm wide with line 5pts thick, on the PC.

Printed out an together with scanned pictures of turnouts will enable you to shift things around to suit. A lot more convenient than large sheets of paper, especially when planning yards.

Hints & Tips No.241

Supporting a Backdrop on a Foam Based Layout

By Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

I made a memorial layout to a friend and made a backdrop for it using straight MDF. Because the memorial layout was an exhibition layout made from foam, placing the backdrop as a scenic block was difficult, in part because the foam gave way where the upright rods holding the backdrop were placed.

I overcame this in the end by getting a couple of plastic cotton reels and cutting them in half and gluing them in the base. The upright rods were fixed solidly to the backdrop in the location of the cotton reels in the foam base with very little give within the rod and there has been no trouble with the backdrop moving.

Hints & Tips No.242

Simulating Panelling

By Howard Clarke

Stuck for a coach roof or a replacement wagon roof for older Triang Vehicles etc? Try a slat from a Venetian blind.

They come in handy lengths ready to cut to suit and have close to the appropriate curvature and width which can be bent further if necessary. Available singularly from your local manufacturer of blinds, or second-hand from your local council tip.

Hints & Tips No.243

A Cheap On30 Flat Car using What???

By Alan Rogers

To all those computer users that have added CD-ROM or tape back-up drives to their machines and now do not know what to do with that silly piece of plastic that used to cover the 5¼" hole. If you hold it flat on your hand, doesn't it look remarkably like a chassis for a flat car in On30”?

Removing the clips at each end should give you a coupling pocket and covering the deck and side with strip wood will give a quick flat car which only awaits bogies. The logical progressions are stake wagons, gondolas and cabooses but these will require more work obviously. Now watch the stampede for the local E Waste tip site!

(A Note from Trevor – The passage of time between when I saw this hint will well have made it superfluous in many areas. However, I have included it here to remind you to look at the modelling potential of objects you are throwing away.)

Hints & Tips No.244

Gravel Loads

By Gordon Thomson, (Nova Scotia, Canada)

You can use kitty litter as a form of rock or gravel which is great if your layout has a quarry. When filling your wagons or freight cars, let it spill over the side to add extra detail.

Hints & Tips No.245

Heat Sinks for Soldering Track

By Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

Do not risk melting plastic sleepers when soldering wire leads to the track. Use heat sinks in the form of small spring metal paper clips on each side of the solder joint.

Hints & Tips No.246

Using a Rubber Mat

By David Charlesworth

At work, we use a lot of fine parts. We find them easier to pickup if you put them on foam rubber sheets. I find this useful for parts in Kadee couplings, especially the knuckle springs.

Hints & Tips No.247

Track ballast:

By Ezekiel Johnson (USA)

Try mixing colors of ballast to add realism to your layout. For your goods or Freight yards mix a little light grey in with some black ballast. For the mainline, use mostly light grey with only a little black. The contrast will help to set apart the different parts of your layout.

Hints & Tips No.248

Making A Grain Silo using Conduit.

By Raymond Stewart (Georgia USA)

Using PVC pipe is good for things like modern concrete grain elevator silos. You can get quite a few silos really cheaply and you do not have any seams like you do with the Walthers and other kits.

Hints & Tips No.249

Weighting Rolling Stock

By Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

Need to weight your rolling stock? Go to your tyre dealer and ask for tape on wheel weights. They will usually give them to you. They are pre-marked in 1/4 ounce and are just peel and stick. As a precaution, make sure you wear gloves because they are lead.

If you want to make your own weights, ask if you can have some scrap wheel weights.

Hints & Tips No.250

Road Signs

By Ezekiel Johnson (USA)

Looking for realistic street and road signs? Go down to the Traffic Authority in your country, county, state or province and pick up a copy of the driver's licence study guide (or its equivalent) for your area. They are nearly all full of pictures of actual street signs.

You can use a copy machine to reduce or enlarge to fit your scale or cut them straight out of the book. To make your signs stiff, cut them out and glue them to an index card. Wait for the glue to dry then cut it out again. What about coloring? You can use an orange or yellow highlighter. If the colour is not dark enough, just colour over it again.

Now that you have your signs made, what about sign posts? For HO or OO scale, use the kind of florist wire they wrap around roses. Attach your new signs to the post with on drop of white glue on the back of the sign. The glue will dry clear, and presto, road signs that cost next to nothing!

Hints & Tips No.251

Making Elongated Meter Extensions.

By Harvey McRae (Kelowna BC, Canada)

I often get under my layout, and want to check to see if I have a broken wire. Of course the other end is away down at the other end of the layout. I made an extension cord for my Ohm/Volt/Amp Meter. This is how I got “my arms stretched” to the other end of the layout. First, find an empty wire reel. (I happened to have a spare so I did not have to take all my wire off).....Measure out the length you would like to use for the extension wires. Ideally you will have two different coloured wires. On the sides of the reel, drill two holes and buy yourself two female probe sockets that your multimeter probe leads will fit in. The female sockets should ideally be the same size as your meter probes.

Drill two holes in the ROLL part of the reel and feed your different coloured leads through these holes into and out of the centre of the roll, leaving enough length to solder to the female plugs and cover with heat shrink insulation. Bare the ends of the wire and attach to the sockets. The wire feeding through the holes in this way will act as an anchor and save unnecessary stress on your female plug solder joints when and if tension occurs. Having fed your wires through the roll of the reel, bare the other ends of the wire and solder to two alligator clips. You are now done!

Now to use the extension, clip your alligator clip to one end of your wire you want to check for continuity, plug your one side of your meter into the female plug in your roll and test with the second probe of the meter or use the second wire to reach the other far end... and measure!

Hints & Tips No.252

Drilling into Foam

By Trevor Gibbs ( Melbourne Australia)

If you are using Foam as your track base, before drilling into it for wires or larger, use a skewer to make a pilot hole. If it is only one wire, the skewer may be enough in itself

Hints & Tips No.253 - Business Signs

by David Russell

For small business signs, look for good ones on match covers, business cards and advertisements in the Telephone Yellow Pages. Think about hanging them over the sidewalk in front of stores.

Hints & Tips No.254

Telegraph Pole Loads.

By Raymond Stewart (Georgia USA)

Small wooden dowels painted black or stained a dark brown to represent telephone poles being shipped by rail is an idea that could be applied to flatcars and wagons world wide.

Hints & Tips No.255

Ground Putty Recipe.

By Bengt Fasth (Sweden)

Back in the old days before DCC I heard about people who used something called landscape putty to make the first ground cover with. So even if it's the days of DCC I decided to make a test and make my own putty.

I mixed 1 cup of alabaster plaster with 1 cup of sawdust and the added paint made from 1 part brown, 1 part green acrylic color and 2 parts of water.

I added the putty to the layout and I am quite satisfied with the result.

Hints & Tips No.256

Bottle Caps as Model Holders

By Andy Smith (Nottingham)

I model in N scale. I was throwing out an old shampoo bottle today, and took the screw cap off. I stuck a wad of Blue Tack on top, and now whenever I need to hold a model while I am painting it, I stick it into the blue tack and hold the bottle cap.

It saves getting paint on your fingers, and is more flexible than if you were holding the model itself.

(A note from Trevor – Larger Scales such as OO and HO and even O scale could use aerosol can lids for this – Thanks for the idea Andy!)

Hints & Tips No.257


By Kurt Larson

To make a large quantity of good looking stumps, cut wild grape vines in the size you prefer. On the vine will be "bumps". Cut in the middle of the bump with a pruning shears, then cut how long you want the stump.

The bump will be the part toward the ground. If preferred, a notch can be made after the stump is cut by again taking the pruning shears and cutting partially into the stump and by twisting the shears upward, breaking this part out. Mass production, no cost and realistic.

Hints & Tips No.258 -

A Simple Way To Identify Your Rolling Stock

by Mike Roque (NY, USA)

Sometimes identical rolling stock items from different owners get mixed up on club nights, in order to build up longer trains, etc.

To solve this problem, take two or three colours from your model paint range and three toothpicks. Use the toothpicks to make three different coloured dots on the underneath of each item.

In smaller groups, it is highly unlikely that anyone else would mark their models to the same combination of colours as you. Larger clubs could even have a register of colour codes.

The Model Railroad Club, Union, NJ, uses a three colour coded axle on the B end of each car. The advantage of this is that it is very simple, while the disadvantage is that you must turnover cars to see the codes. A possible solution to the latter is to use a dentist's mirror to examine the underside of the models while they remain on the track.

Hints & Tips No.259

Using Shadow Box Miniatures

By David Russell

Look into shadowbox miniatures at your nearest craft stores. These are very small miniature items that people use to populate shadow box displays. These small items are also great for store signs.

I used a 1 inch size pump bug sprayer (the old fashioned kind you see in cartoons) out in front of an exterminators shop and a small rendition of an old water pump out side a tavern that I named "The Pumphouse." I have seen miniature coffee grinders, flour sacks, coins, etc.

Hints & Tips No.260

Bashing A Bit

By Stephen Lynch

On the Model Power Lumber Storage Facility, discard the plastic boards that come with it, but keep the logs. Paint the sides of the logs with Testors railroad tie brown or similar, but leave the ends alone. Then you have realistic logs. Next, replace the boards with real wood ones. Then, weather the roof with railroad tie brown, and grimy black.

Finally, purchase a low intensity light bulb and hang it under the rafters. The effect is quite nice! Now you have a realistic Model Power building. Who says Model Power is junk?

(A Note from Trevor – Such “dulling down” of what could be seen as garish looking toys is often the difference between a scale model and a toy... and could be applied to many situations with various models... Thanks Stephen)

Hints & Tips No.261

Window Panes

By Bob Brockel

My Cornerstone brand kit came with clear acetate windows with the panes moulded in. To add a little more realism to the windows, I wanted to paint the panes.

Rather than using a brush to try and paint the panes, I applied a thin coat of the paint to a piece of waxed paper. Next, I fold a short piece of scotch tape in half, leaving approx. ¼" (6mm) of the ends unfolded. Press the loose ends of the tape against the back of the windows. This gives you a "gripper".

Then press the windows into the paint on the waxed paper. Carefully lift the window off of the paint and presto(!), painted window panes.

Hints & Tips No.262


By Tony Segro

On many types of brick factories, the windows are painted silver (I suppose it's to keep the sun out). Some individual panes are painted; others are not.

To accomplish this, I take a 3x5 index card, and use dividers to measure one of the many window panes in the window. I use a metal square to draw the window panes on the card. I then use an X-acto #11 blade to cut the card on those panes I want to paint silver. When the panes are cut, it looks like a crossword puzzle.

I then tape the card to a clear piece of acetate, and spray it with metallic silver spray paint. I then poke four holes through the card at the four corners of the whole window. Remember the whole window may contain up to 40 individual panes.

I then cut the acetate at these holes, and place the acetate behind the plastic window, making sure the silver painted panes line up with the panes on the window. Once aligned, I glue the acetate to the back of the plastic window using drops of MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone- the best liquid bonding agent for styrene).

Hints & Tips No.263

Laying Track... Backwards???

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

The late John Allen, creator of the legendary Gorre & Daphetid, when laying track by hand used to align his track by looking at it in a mirror. His rationale was that because you were seeing it in reverse, you would pick out the misalignments and kinks in the track more easily because you were not looking at what you expect to see.

Fairly logical and yes it did work, even for flex track!

Hints & Tips No.264

Down Spouting and Piping

By David Russell

For downspouts and piping in general look for florists wire. It is a very soft wire used by florists to bind bouquets. It is usually painted green and comes in many many gauges.

Hints & Tips No.265

Urban Structures

By Martin Smythe

To model an urban scene takes lots of structures of various heights. To begin with, I have used several DPM kits together to gain the needed height. In an effort to achieve higher structures, I attached a platform behind a couple of the structures which allowed me to place shorter structures onto, to create the illusion of even taller structures.

The backs and a side on most of the structures were never modeled and are only foam core board (to add strength) glued to the detail parts visible. Modeling an urban scene can be fun and will enhance a layout.

Hints & Tips No.266

Old Roadway

By Stephen Lynch

One way to get a brick road to look like it has been there for a few years is to go to a hobby store and buy some cheap plastic brick road. Lay it down where you want it. Then take black water color paint and paint some on to the street, before it dries take an old shirt (if you use a towel or something like it then it will soak up to much of the paint) and with your finger covered with the shirt gently wipe the road.

This will leave the paint in the cracks between the bricks giving a dirty worn out look.

Hints & Tips No.267

Holding Screws and Small Parts

By Josh Baakko (San Diego, CA, USA)

Ever lose loose screws and small parts when dismantling something for custom work? Ever forget what they went to? I have always had an issue with losing screws and coupler boxes when I worked on stuff.

The small screws in one of my coaches needed to be stored. I randomly thought about using a sticky note, flipped over so that the sticky side was up. This also allows me to write on the note, where they go. However I did not have any sticky notes! So I decided on some masking tape instead.

Starting with a 3 inch piece of tape, simply fold an inch or so back onto itself to allow for your writing, and leave around an inch exposed. Now stick the screws and/or parts to the tape, and there you have it, a "fail safe" storage system.

Hints & Tips No.268

Gluing Scenery Items

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Consider attaching any scenery items near the front of the layout so it will break away if anything hits it during an operating session. It is easier to glue telegraph poles, figures, sign posts, trees or vehicles back in place than to glue them back together.

PVA glue is good for attaching details such as these. White glue will bond to non porous materials enough to hold them in place, without attaching them so securely they break. Just make sure you give the material enough time to dry such as overnight after your operating session.

From Roger Carrell (Bunbury, Western Australia )

Further to Trevor Gibbs' suggestions regarding PVA glues on non-porous material. Adrian Du Heaume of Perth, Western Australia, uses PVA glue to attach glazing (cut from Ferrero chocolate boxes) to his locos' spectacle and cabside windows (lights?). It is quite tenacious, sets clear and, being water-based, doesn't 'craze' the surfaces.

Hints & Tips No.269

Successful Soldering

By Michael Anderson

The main keys to successful soldering are: 1. Make sure the parts are clean - no dirt or paint 2. Apply flux to the parts. Flux makes the solder flow easily. 3. Make sure your iron is hot. The iron heats the parts, which in turn melts the solder. 4. Use denatured alcohol to remove any excess flux after solder has cooled.

Hints & Tips No.270

Making a Test Vehicle

By Jim Shireffs (Michigan, USA)

There are many areas where trains can derail yet we have no rational explanation for it occurring because we cannot see the problem. I suggest you make a simple bogie flat car/wagon chassis from Sheet Acrylic (known as Perspex or Plexiglass in different parts of the world) to a standard wagon length, fit bogies (trucks) to it using a clear piece for the bolster and fit couplers if possible. A 4 wheeled version should be a possibility as well.

This way you can push it by hand and feel what is happening or run it with a group of other carriages, and see from the top and other angles through the “floor” how your wheels are running through your trackwork and therefore have assistance in locating and ultimately repairing problems.

Hints & Tips No.271

Using Sand as Ballast

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Some beach type sands work very well as a substitute ballast but two precautions are necessary. First make sure your sand is thoroughly dry. Some modellers do this by using an old saucepan and heating it or in the extreme baking it in an oven before allowing it to cool. Or you can leave it for a few days to sun dry if the climate suits.

Even more importantly, pass a strong magnet over the sand to pick up any hint of steel or iron particles that may be present. If you do not do this, those same particles may be drawn to your locomotive motors and create havoc for you later. Your locomotives will create a small magnetic field around themselves so the magnetic effect is wider than you might think.

Reading through other forums, you should consider passing a magnet through almost all dirt and soil that you use on your layout.

Hints & Tips No.272

Powering from Catenary

By Ian Barry

If you are powering from Catenary wire, consider suspending either a length of rail suspended above the track on a frame made of other rail length or a hardened piece of thicker solid electrical wire in tunnels and other out of sight areas.

This will improve the reliability of your pantograph contact not getting tangled in finer wire and save installing masts in otherwise invisible places.

Hints & Tips No.273

Preserving Paint

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Are you tired of your expensive paints drying out? Clean the caps well. Screw on cap and store the bottle upside down, preferably in an old refrigerator. The paint will block air from entering and drying the paint and the refrigerator will keep the paint from drying through heat.

Hints & Tips No.274

A further Ballasting Technique

By Vicky Makin (Queensland, Australia)

I use a 500ml plastic sauce bottle which is great for applying ballast to the track. Compared to the larger ballast containers, the sauce bottle does not over pour making a great mess. I also use an artists paint brush the width of between the rails and I 'paint' the ballast in place rather than sweep like others do. I use an eye dropper to apply the PVA and water mix which is very accurate and not messy.

I suppose the best advice for those applying ballast is to take your time and do not rush the job or it may be unsatisfactory.

Hints & Tips No.275

Bridge Trusses

By Ian Barry

If you are in N scale, you can make very satisfactory looking bridge trusses by using either old model HO scale flatcars such as those made by Athearn, Model Power or Bachmann. The condition does not really matter if you find broken one (minus wheels and couplers as I did) at a market. The stake holders can be used to mount a safety fence.

And in the true spirit of recycling, you could also use the 5.25” blank covers that used to be on old computers for bridge trusses as well... just put some sides onto them and you are there!

Hints & Tips No.276

Quick highway guardrails.

By John Warren (CA, USA)

For HO highway guard rails I used N scale flex track sleepers, corrugated styrene siding cut in a strip for the steel guard rail. Leave first post (tie or sleeper) full length and approx every fifth or so.

Set the ties (sleepers) in place on layout, using a Dremel Tool, drill the first hole and set post, then the next long one. glue guardrail to ties. Use a drill that ties can be forced into the plywood but also easy to remove.

( A Note from Trevor – this is known as an “Interference Fit” and many of the components on our trains are kept there by Interference Fits)

Hints & Tips No.277

Old Corduroy as Crop areas

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Corduroy as a material has a natural ribbing which we modellers can exploit. Painted or Dyed and laid over our terrain and it could look like cultivated fields... simply paint the type of crop such as green carrot tops, strawberries, lettuces etc that you want. Corduroy strands come in different widths and sizes so different crops and different scales could be represented by discreet painting or placement of vegetation coloured ground foam.

Enjoy experimenting with this one...

Hints & Tips No.278

Protecting Your Trackwork When Putting in Scenery

By John De Luca

If you have laid your track and made sure that everything is OK, protect your track work from some future problems by covering it with masking tape. You will have some cleaning up to do afterwards with white spirit or isopropyl alcohol ( rubbing alcohol) but it is a lot easier than try to clean out plaster particles.

Hints & Tips No.279

Colouring Water

By Tom Welsh (Melbourne Australia)

Model lakes and rivers have always been made using a High Gloss Varnish with a painted river bed. If you want deeper water, paint the base black with a Tan colour on the edges. If you want a small stream, paint the base a brown colour with an over paint of darkish green with the tan colour on the edges again.

Hints & Tips No.280

Alternative to Kadee Magnets

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Some electronic stores sell “Rare Earth Magnets” which are extremely strong but extremely small, diameters of 1/8” or 1/4”, possibly for N and OO/HO respectively.

You would use these as you would for a Kadee except that you need to be right over the magnet for the coupler to uncouple. I remember seeing many years ago a modeller at an exhibition with a smallish piece of wood shaped similarly to a tuning fork with magnets on either arm. Placed in between wagons or freight cars to be separated, the magnets draw on the uncoupling “hose” on the coupler. Later I found a product by Rix of the USA which was exactly that. My only problem was that trying to uncouple cabooses, the magnets would pull towards the exterior handrails.

Good luck with your experimentation!

Hints & Tips No.281

Simulating Dirt Road

by Jess Matthews

If you are making a dirt road, many sand-papers are probably close to the colour you will need. Otherwise, you may want to paint the sandpaper with a couple of coats craft store acrylic paint closer in tone to your local soils.

Hints & Tips No.282 - Simulating an Accident

by Douglas Webster (Victoria, Australia)

You can use that less than perfect model road vehicle to model an accident scene, such as a car that has hit a tree, or have one vehicle that has hit, or backed into, another. With a collection of appropriately placed figurines discussing or arguing the case, you have created a mini scene.

Hints & Tips No.283

Do you have to model a large town?

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne Australia)

Here in Australia at least, railway stations seemed to be placed in areas well away from the towns they were supposed to serve, across the other side of creeks or some distance from the town centre. One town in New South Wales at the end of a branch had no creek suitable for the purpose so while the town was at the base of a hill, the station was up the top. I would be very surprised if that scenario has not been repeated many times around the world

The point is that for your model towns, you may not have to do much more than suggest the nearby presence of a town or have a newer sub division or estate. These could be suggested by “evidence” such as buildings under construction or a few outposts of commerce and residence rather than the highly detailed urban scene... just a thought!

Hints & Tips No.284

Painting Scenery... Black???!!!

By Mark Frizell

The long standing tradition is to paint your scenery base an earth tone color. When I applied textures, I kept finding light colored areas where the cover did not actually cover well. I would go back time after time, adding until the lightest spots disappeared. I saw a layout under construction and noticed that the scenery base was painted black. I asked and had it explained to me how it hides those annoying light or white coloured spots with a very logical reason.

Black is not a color but rather the absence of all color. It is also the least noticed 'color' to the human eye. If there is something you do not want people to see, you would paint it black which is why theatre props are painted black. Props that are supposed to 'stand out' or seem larger are usually painted a brighter color so they stand out against objects around them.

Bringing this philosophy to model railways, we highlight rock outcroppings with light colors to make them standout, so painting things black could hide them. I tried it on my own layout and was surprised at how well the ground cover worked. If I looked closely, I could see bare spots, but they were not anywhere near as noticeable as areas painted with earth colours.

Hints & Tips No.285


By Paul James (Adelaide, Australia)

LED's can be readily fitted to passenger carriages just as globes can, but with the advantage that they are generally much brighter and do not consume as much electrical current. This would be important for DC systems and is ideally suited to DCC systems where there is a constant voltage therefore constant lighting.

In both cases, couple up a bridge rectifier, the AC connections to the track and the LED to a dumping resistor ( about 1K for 12v and 1.5K for DCC systems).

You could also use directional Red LEDs in DC systems to represent the End of Train marker lamp on brakevans, minus the bridge rectifier.

Hints & Tips No.286

Preparing a Backdrop

By Murray Johnson (Victoria, Australia)

If you are installing a backdrop on a existing wall, smooth any large bumps or crack, and remove any existing wall coverings. Thoroughly clean the wall surface as well.

If you are installing one of the pre printed backdrop, put the backdrop in the layout area for a few days to “acclimatise”. This should reduce the risk of the paper shrinking or expanding after it is attached to the wall.

Hints & Tips No.287

Lighting a layout

By Tom Welsh (Sunshine MRC, Victoria, Australia)

To avoid shadows on your layout, use “spot” lighting to evenly light the scene and backdrop as much as possible. Try to place your lights on angles so that any large structures or mountains on the layout are avoided and you are not casting shadows.

Hints & Tips No.288

Layout Design

By Charlie Ramsay (Sunshine MRC, Victoria, Australia)

Avoid putting any of your track out of easy reach. In this case "Easy" means you can rerail all the wagons of a train without straining yourself. If you must have wider bench work, make it at a lower height to compensate.

Hints & Tips No.289

Modelling Rail Joints

By Mark Frizell

You can model actual rail joints fairly easily if your depth of detail warrants it. Cut a thin slither of thin styrene about 5mm long, to fit in the web which is the thinnest section of your rail. Hold a small brad with a pair of pliers and push four small divots onto the slither. These will represent the bolt heads of the rail joiners. Glue in place and appropriately colour with a rusty coloured paint. You could even put a “notch” in the rail; head to represent a joint.

Who said you cannot super-detail rail?

Hints & Tips No.290

Using Bullrushes on Your Layout

By Brian Franklin

Those people who live in areas that have bullrush type plants can use the tops for telephone poles or tree trunks. In late autumn/early winter, collect the tops when they are "fuzzy" which is when they have matured fully. Using a knife blade, scrape off (do not cut off) the fuzzy section. What you have left is a naturally coloured tree trunk or telegraph pole with the correct taper. Because they come in various sizes, they can be used from N scale to OO and possibly bigger.

Hints & Tips No.291

Designing a layout

By Murray Johnson (Victoria, Australia)

Avoid the temptation to make a complex shunting situation in every yard on your layout unless you and those most likely to operate with you really like shunting problems. Prototype railways do not set out to create shunting problems unless they absolutely have to... and that is usually dictated to them by geography

Hints & Tips No.292

Using Cigarette Ash

By John Lapworth

1. For dirty country gravel roads I have used ground up cigar ashes. I am an obstinate cigar smoker so I collect ash, grind it up and apply it as I would any other scenic scatter, with the standard PVA glue mix. The results are quite realistic.

2. We used cigarette ash made into a watery paste as a stain to age and weather wood. We have now given up smoking, but it was one of the best methods we used.

Hints & Tips No.293

Using Beach Balls

By Jim Whelan (ME, USA)

Keep your old kickballs and beach balls when they are worn out or punctured. Cut them in half and use them as a plaster mixing vessel. The half round shape is perfect for mixing since there are no corners and when you are finished, allow excess plaster to dry, flex the ball inside out to dump leftover plaster into the trash.

NEVER put old plaster down the sink lest it clog your plumbing.

Hints & Tips No.294

Workbench Lighting

By Bill Hollier

The lighting at your workbench needs to match as closely as possible your layout lighting. Otherwise, the carefully painted/weathered object may look very different when moved from your work area to the layout.

Hints & Tips No.295

A Source of Piers

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

A strip of 1/2” or ¾ MDF could make quite a number of piers for elevated railway with slightly tapered long sides – which you could plane or cut yourself – that would be reminiscent of the Triang Inclined or High Level pier sets of years ago. The MDF could come as a left over from a cabinet makers and you would be most likely given it.

A coat of Grey Paint to simulate Concrete or a light orange to simulate the Triang colour and you have an elevated section for a little effort and not very much cost!

Hints & Tips No.296

Scrap... from Pasta???

By Jim Whelan (ME, USA)

Pasta comes in various shapes, tubes, elbows, straps as well as flat sheets. By taking small quantities of these shapes, breaking them discreetly and gluing them in a pile randomly together with super glue (ACC) ( remember that you cannot use PVA as the pasta would soften) then paint them with an overspray that resembles something rusting and you have a junk load.

Small sheets of pasta could represent slab steel... elbows and penne could represent pipes if newly painted.

Hints & Tips No.297

Extending the life of Super Glue

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

I have an old refrigerator in my shed where the railway is. Apart from storing a few refreshments, I also keep my superglue tubes in the fridge either opened or unused to extend the life of the glue.

Hints & Tips No.298

Working Under a Layout

By Tom Richards (Ontario)

When I have worked on or under the layout, I found there was no place to set my Dremel tool or no place to hang a portable light under the layout.

A while ago, I decided that every time this happened, I would install a hook to hang the required tool. I now have over a dozen hooks scattered around the layout, mostly under, but a few on the lighting valence. All, of course, where they cannot snag clothing, poke eyes etc.

Now, whenever I have to work on something under the layout, there is a hook in near to the right place.

Hints & Tips No.299

Larger Pipes and Culverts

By Jim Whelan (ME USA)

For sewerage or drainage pipes, get some small sprinkler system tubes and cut them into short pipes (1" to 1 1/4" or even 2") and then paint them a concrete or steel colour.

For culverts, I use drinking straws that bend and flex- they have a corrugated parts that look right for many culverts. Use the rest as other piping on your layout.

Hints & Tips No.300

Wharf Details

By Dale Brooks

Some plastic coloured thumbtacks are suitable for mooring masts on the edge of wharves. Bamboo skewer sticks can make good wharf pilings. Tea Bag strings are suitable for rope details and about the right size in OO or HO or thick rope in N scale. For some cheap barrel drums commonly found on the waterside, use the metal band that holds the eraser on a lead pencil. You can paint them up in any colours you want.

A Note from Trevor - The Tea bag will not get totally wasted as the paper bag can be used to represent lace curtains and the label can make a small billboard of sorts. And you can still make a cup of tea!

Hints & Tips No.301

Victorian Housing Details

By John Gibson (NZ)

Fancy carved toothpicks make good porch posts for Victorian or 1900's homes and are usually available from Warehouse or Reject type shops here in Australasia. Using serated scissors could cut a lot of shingles for roofing very quickly from masking tape or your preferred roofing material.

You could make a watch into a working clock tower. Find a cheap Victorian faced clock that ladies hang around their necks on a chain. The face and its size should be OK for that watch to face the street of your clock tower as a prominent model. You could even use the chain as another model.

Hints & Tips No.302

Frayed Thread as Barbed Wire and Other Fencing Matters

By Norman Murfett

The title is self explanatory and some people think it looks OK. Actually if you think about it, in OO or HO you would be hard pressed to see the barbs. Perhaps painting the tips of the poles to look like it is an insulator could give the illusion of an electrified fence.

Take a spring from a ball point pen and stretch it and you have a coil of razor ribbon for on top of the chain link fence. Does anyone model a Prison?

Hints & Tips No.303

Weathering with White Out

By David Harris

Liquid paper or whiteout makes great chalky , peeling white paint on fences, building trim & the like. It is very effective if wood is stained to look old & weathered first.

Hints & Tips No.304

Using Old Picture Frames to Build Models

By Michael Shearer (NJ USA)

I build structures on a large picture frame I picked up cheaply. The glass provides a flat surface to work on and the frame provides right angle guides. Also styrene cement does not stick to the glass.

Hints & Tips No.305

Matches as Sleeper Details

By John Gibson (NZ)

I cut up used wooden matches and paint them to represent sleepers. I paint them an appropriate colour and stack them near yards or paint them a heavily weathered tone and scatter them as replaced or broken sleepers along the right of way.

Hints & Tips No.306

A Dust Cleaning Tool?

By P T (who would prefer to remain anonymous... you'll see why!)

My wife gave me a makeup applicator, the big soft type that she would use to apply blush and such, and it makes a great duster. It cleans the dust off wagons and buildings but is soft enough that it does not break any details off.

I have found it very handy for the cleaning but I must admit to being a little bit scared at the thought of going to buy a replacement...

Hints & Tips No.307

Tea Bags and Tissues as Details

By Dale Brooks

I was making a cup of tea one day when I noticed the tea bag as made of what appeared to be fine cloth lace. This stuff is perfect for window screens in OO or even N scale or could be hung out on a model washing line to dry. Tissues could also be used as models of sheets in this way as a detail in a model back yard.

Hints & Tips No.308

Securing Figurines on a Foam Base

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

You can take the base off a figurine and using a heated pin put the figurine over the pin to embed it into the legs. Cut the head off the pin according to need and secure the pin with PVA glue.

Place your figurine in your scene with the outward part of the pin placed in your scenery base. This should help keep your figures steady and avoid the clear plastic base look as well!

Building on Trevor Gibbs Ideas on Pinning Figures.

A pin vise fitted with a number 71 drill bit will be about the right size for most dressmakers pins (including UK ones).

My technique for pinning things to other things (including figures to scenery) is to:

1) Drill a #71 hole as deep as I can go, without danger of breaking whatever is being drilled.

2) Fit the pin point-first into the drilled hole, to ascertain the length of pin actually required for the hole I've drilled (allowing for same to stick out of course), redrilling to ensure a sliding fit.

3) Clip the head off the pin inside a plastic bag to prevent bits of pin flying into eyes.

4) Clamp the pin and file the clipped end to remove burr.

5) Dry fit the pin, clipped end first, into the drilled hole and refiling until the pin is a sliding fit.

6) Coat the clipped end with thin CA and refit the pin into the drilled hole.

The figure now has a pin with a reasonably sharp point that can be driven with care into many scenic materials with minimal effort.

The wire clippers will eventually be damaged beyond their proper use by this work, so buy another set for your wiring jobs and don't mix them up. I actually use clippers originally bought for electronic work that are too clapped-out (broken springs and the like) to be fit for their original purpose in my pinning jobs.

Steve Mann - NYC

Hints & Tips No.309 - Another Method of Keeping Track Clean while working on your layout

by Sid Price

If you are doing track work, ballasting, painting, gluing etc. take some plastic straws and cut a straight split down one side. Place the straw over the rails, one on each side laid end to end, and do your spraying, stoning and whatever. When everything is dry, remove the straws and expose your untarnished rail tops. No more sanding, scraping or polishing should be necessary.

Working on relatively short areas, you should only need 4 or 6 straws

Hints & Tips No.310

Detailing Card Buildings Pt 1

By Ken Walsh

I am a fan of card for buildings, I mix them in with plasticard buildings, you have to look close to spot the difference.

I detail them as follows. Looking ,for instance at my signal box, the steps, handrails and balcony are plasicard, using the card ones as templates. The printed relief is a mixture of paper, card & plastcard. The printed bolts at the building corners were replaced with brass bolts & washers. The finial is cast metal. Add drain pipes, interior, plasticard chimney and soon to be added other clutter around the ouside and you have a reasonable signal box.

I will also make thin card tiles for the roof as time allows.

Hints & Tips No.311

Detailing Card Buildings Pt 2

By Mike Cheeseman

With a little work Metcalf buildings look OK and all I have done is ensure the cardboard folds are coloured in to match; I use a selection of felt pens, and some light use of weathering helps. I weather with acrylics, watered down and rubbed in and off with paper towels and rags.

They can be further improved with gutters and drains. Probably the biggest problem with them is that they are now so popular they have become a bit of a cliché. However if you are prepared to dedicate more time than I have, they can be modified to make them more unique.

Hints & Tips No.312

Detailing Card Buildings Pt 3

By Colin Whitelock (Colchester)

Sometimes it is a good idea (if economically a bit questionable) to buy two identical card kits and use one purely as an overlay to give depth to a model.

Using 2 kits, doors can be recessed, plinths, window ledges and other relief added and you get rid of the flat/printed effect that could otherwise spoil a lot of card buildings. A misting with the airbrush, using matt (very) dark grey or similar gets rid of the slight sheen present on some printed card, and do not forget to colour in any exposed card edges - I prefer to use cheap acrylic paint for this. Add some Microrod for downpipes etc, fit some gutters (Ratio/Peco?) and you can end up with a very convincing model.

Printed windows can also be fretted out and replaced with scratch or, if you are lucky and they fit, ready made replacements from Wills/Peco etc.

Hints & Tips No.313

Cutting Tiny Wires using a Razor Saw

By James Fulham

Put the wire on a surface like a cutting mat. Put the saw blade across the wire so that it it trapped between two of the teeth. Now gently pull the wire to remove the insulation.

Depending upon how big your razor saw teeth are, this can work for very small wire - i think that I was using 0.25mm wire at the time.

Hints & Tips No.314

Hobby Knife Blades

By Tony Comber (Gloucestershire)

Hobby knife sets come with a variety of blades... and their uses are...

Straight blades: cutting sheet materials, especially with a straight edge.
Round blades: good for cutting detail off models as they don't dig in like a straight one does. Will wander if you try cutting with a straight edge.
Flat/straight ended: never found much use for these, can be used for cutting off detail but the corners tend to dig in.
Other shapes, hooked etc.: one day you will find a use that only they will reach, but not often.

Just a few pointers to start, you will soon learn what suits you. Some do things with a type of blade I would not even consider and vice versa. Just remember you are more likely to cut yourself using a blunt blade than a sharp one.

Hints & Tips No.315

Safety Tread Patterns

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

You can make Safety tread patterns by stretching Tulle and gluing it to sheet styrene etc for manhole covers and the like. Or you can use recycled plastic plates with a tread pattern for the same purpose.

Hints & Tips No.316

Scratchbuilding Platforms

By Derek Louw (Manchester)

I have used both thin MDF and hardboard supported by timber cross bearers - it is usually easy enough to find cut wood strip in the DIY which gives the right overall height. MDF or hardboard glued and screwed to the timber. Platform support walls are Slaters stone faced plastikard, prepainted and glued in place. Surface is scribed plastikard for the surface edges, and Slaters paving stone in between, but surfacing is to choice.

Rather obvious tip is to watch clearances very carefully. I once built (partly - never finished) an N gauge layout using the Peco platform edgings in brick, with a plastikard surface supported on the rebate in the edgings and vertical plastikard cross supports within the platform.

All went together very easily and set nice and solid. Then I started to run the trains through. Whoops - those carefully checked clearances were all wrong, and I then spent a good few hours shaving off the many bits which were in the way.

Hints & Tips No.317

Scale Measurements

By Wayne Hoskin (Adelaide, South Australia)

I do a lot of scratchbuilding for myself and others. I do not use a scale ruler for marking out sides of projects in styrene. I prefer to use a calculator and a pair of vernier calipers. For use in OO scale for instance divide a given dimension by 76, dial in this measurement into the Vernier Caliper and mark off the styrene with a sharp pencil.

Hints & Tips No.318

Burnishing Rail

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

At time of writing I was reading where a few modellers had used a small block of stainless steel and rubbing it along the track used it to flatten the track. Although I was a bit skeptical, I tried the process using some thin steel I had then rubbed a few sections using the hardened rim of a tin.

Physically it did not change much up top very visibly but the performance over the track seems to have improved. This was particularly evident in a section where I was contemplating relaying it, thinking the rail was building resistance through aging The section would be at least 25 years old and possibly older. And the cost? The edge of a tin and a bit of elbow grease.

Hints & Tips No.319

Using the Hornby Track Cleaner Car

By Ken Darville

The old Hornby track cleaner (R344), can still be used on the modern layouts. Couple two together. Over the cleaning pad of the first of these, use 2400 grade emery cloth. On the second one, soak the pad in isopropyl alcohol. Attached the two vehicles to a loco and let it run over the line. As the old advert used to say.., 'Save all that hard scrubbing!'

Hints & Tips No.320

Weighting & Modelling Tarpaulins

By Paul Jansz

To add to the armoury of weighting options, sheet lead may be obtained from plumbers’ and builders’ merchants. Because this material is indefinitely recyclable, many take in returned off-cuts from completed jobs and so may have a suitable small piece to hand with no need to cut.

If you ask for ‘code 5’ (five pounds per square foot) that is probably of most utility for 00 (0 gaugers can take the chunkier code 7). The benefits are that it comes with a bright surface so is clean to work with, it is easy to cut to shape, and very quickly secured with a little contact adhesive, which also makes it readily removable if that is necessary at some future time.

Regarding the problem of weighting open wagons, a small piece of sheet lead suitably wrapped can make a folded wagon sheet on the wagon floor. For that wrapping, some grades of dustbin bags have a textured dark grey finish on one surface that is a very economical basis for modelling tarpaulin. I am steadily working my way through one, for wagon sheets and loco cab weather sheets.

Hints & Tips No.321

Two Motor Units

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

I read a piece of advice many years ago about someone who had a twin motored locomotive who rewired it so that instead of the two motors being parallel to each other, they were rewired so that they were in series with each other.

A number of things improved when I did this for a friends Australian Powerline brand loco. The top speed was within an acceptable range and slow speed performance improved a good deal. Like a few other conversions and new inventions etc, there were some spurious claims made like “loco became a better puller” which is difficult to believe because the weight and friction is the same.

However current draw would be reduced and that with the reduced speed are an asset to any model.

Hints & Tips No.322

Tip for Bonfire Night and Chopsticks

By Steve Grantham

The sticks from (used) rockets can be very useful for a number of applications. Cut to length, they can be used as wagon or lorry loads, as a structure building material, filling in odd gaps in baseboards and as paint stirrers. I am sure readers can think of more.

Some disposable Chopsticks can also be similarly used and treated.

Hints & Tips No.323

Oils and Lubrication

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

With the proliferation of oils and lubrication, some oils seem to work very well while others are not so “flash”. Along with the proliferation of oils has also been a proliferation of plastic types, some of which react quite dramatically with different lubrications.

As a general rule of thumb, check for plastic compatibility before using a particular oil, lest you wind up with deformed gears and a poorly performing locomotive.

Hints & Tips No.324

Using WD40 – Lubrication Pt 2

By Jim Bernier (Minnesota USA)

Polycarbonate and clear polystyrene plastic are among the few surfaces on which to avoid using a petroleum-based product like WD-40.

Most petroleum based lubricants will attack plastic. If you use something like WD-40, make sure you wash the parts out with warm/soapy water immediately. For that matter, just wash the parts with warm/soapy water in the first place.

With all of the plastic/composite parts in our train models, I would not use any petroleum based lubricants(WD-40/3-in-One/Marvel/sewing machine oil/etc..). Labelle and other specialty manufacturers offer 'plastic compatible' lubricants that will not damage your model.

I have rebuilt at least 100 HO engines through the years and liquid dish washing soap works just fine for cleaning out gear boxes in the trucks. I use an old soft tooth brush to scrub the parts.

I use Labelle #106 grease in the gear box area and Labelle #108 oil for the worm/motor bearings. Do NOT use the 101 or 104 oils - They are not plastic compatible.

Hints & Tips No.325

Rejuvenating Peco Points

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

From long term experience, Peco points give way at the tie bar of the points themselves, losing the spring and crossties. I have successfully rejuvenated some Peco Points by using a copper clad strip for any sleepers that have been damaged and cutting a wide gap between the two sides for any sleepers and longer strip for the crossbar itself.

I personally use Caboose Industries ground throws but you could use a small Double Pole Single Throw switch with a hole drilled in the “lever handle” coupled to the throw rod with an “Omega” loop of spring wire... which you can also shape yourself!

Hints & Tips No.326

Replacing Brushes... an experience

By Don Sali

I have an Airfix Tender drive loco which had badly worn its brushes and was behaving very erratically. A friend had an old Bachmann motor originally in an American Diesel switcher that never really ran but kept it as spares for years. Thinking the two locomotives may have come from the same factory, he tried out the unused brushes and they fitted in as though they were meant to be there. A little undercutting of the armature to clean it and it was running very well. In fact, aside from the worn traction tyres, the Castle seems to have had a new lease on life... so check what you can recycle.

Hints & Tips No.327

Checking Power Supply Cords

By James Stephenson (Melbourne, Australia)

If your power cords to your power supply or soldering iron is looking worn or insulation is obviously reduced, take it to an electrician and save the grief of having your power supply damage your layout or an unsuspecting user through problems which such breakdowns in insulation can create.

Hints & Tips No.328

Repairing a Stripped Thread

By Jeffrey Wimberley and Kevin Smith

If you accidentally strip a thread in a vehicle or other model there are several ways to “cure” it.

1. Fill the hole with a piece of Super glue and plastic and drill and tap again

2. Use a little glue in the hole, letting it dry a bit, then re-inserting the screw.

3. Get a styrene lid from a butter container and cut a very thin slither of it and place two of them in your hole. Your screw with the slithers (or even 1 if yours is thin enough and your hole is stripped enough) should then act like a rawl plug and pressure the side and hold your screw.

4. If it is not too badly stripped, a wrap of plumbers teflon tape can sometimes be enough to let you snug the screw down.

Hints & Tips No.329

Lighting Building Interiors

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Many modellers when they light their buildings have the brightest lights sometimes in the most unlikely of places. There are some areas that work in the absolute minimum of light such as signal box control rooms, although the lower levels where the levers are placed and rest rooms may be very well lit. Most city buildings are not fully lit at night but rather random rooms and offices may be.

A little observation goes a long way to making your model more realistic.

Hints & Tips No.330

Installing Cork Roadbed

By Lee Davies (DEMU North East Area Group)

For Cork Road bed, we use cheap cork tiles form a DIY shop about 4 mm thick Glue the cork to the boards but varnish the board first to seal it. Use PVA and weights to hold it down until glue dries. You may need to sand it afterwards to get it level. Then glue or pin the track to the cork after it has dried thoroughly.

Hints & Tips No.331

Mixing Colour with Plaster for Scenery

By James Shireffs (Michigan, USA)

When mixing plaster for scenery, use some brown Rit dye (dye used to color clothes). It comes in a liquid form that mixes like water. With the plaster brown when you plant a tree or if the plaster gets chipped there isn't a big white spot and if you do not get enough ground cover on it still looks good.

(A Note from Trevor – This was very similar to H&T No.284 where the scenery base was painted black, but I have included it as it is a little less extreme than a black base if you are not doing your scenery all at once... and who among us does?)

Hints & Tips No.332

Buildings as Low Relief

By Raymond Stewart (GA, USA)

I have colored a building I found on the Internet using MS Paint and gave to a friend as a backdrop building. It works fine. However you will need to place it on thick plastic or foam core board to keep it flat.

Hints & Tips No.333

Underground "Utilities"

By Tom Decker (Michigan)

Since I am building my layout on flush doors, I run wires for structure lighting and track power through the styrofoam scenery base. Just grind or file teeth on the end of a piece of 3/8"(10mm) tubing and chuck it in your electric drill. Bore through the styrofoam as needed, remove the tube to clear debris, then reinsert it and the wires will push through it easily. Pull it back out, leaving the wires in the hole.

Hints & Tips No.334

Early Steam Engine Repairs.

By Trevor Gibbs

Early die-cast and plastic steam locomotives are usually fairly “bomb proof” but can develop a bit of a gait in their movement. Make sure that both the worm and the gear are clean of burrs which may stop the motor from doing its stuff. The other concern is binding valve gear.

Gently remove your valve gear and using a “larger-diameter-than-the-hole” twist drill, twist it with your fingers to de-burr your valve gear slot where the side rods are screwed to the wheels... and do not over do it!

Hints & Tips No.335

Locomotive Tuning

By Ted Allan (Sunshine MRC, Melbourne Australia)

I recondition my locomotive motor armatures by carefully dismantling my motors, putting my armatures in a lathe. Before I had the Lathe, I used to use a power drill held in a vice. While it is spinning use some Aluminium Oxide paper to true and smooth the commutator.

I then clean out the slots using a pin, making sure than I can see the mica insulation and that there is no copper residue. I then reassemble and lubricate the motor sparingly. The result in smoother running is worth the effort.

Hints & Tips No.336

Making Diamond Tread in Brass or Styrene

By Graham Ross

By using an old file and a heavy vice, you can tighten the vice with the file and soft brass or styrene to make diamond tread pattern for scratch building. This is very hard on files so use old ones for this.

Hints & Tips No.337

Nail Polish as Insulation

By Harold Shelton.

You can use Nail polish as an insulator between wires. If you create bare wires close to each other, simply paint it on. It dries hard and will burn with high currents and voltages but is very durable for model wiring purposes.

Hints & Tips No.338

Extending File Life

By Graham Ross

You can improve the life of your files by regular cleaning. Either use a cheap bronze wire brush as a file card or use some sharp edges to pick out the swarf in the file. It is also a good idea to run some chalk over your file which will help stop fragments building in your files teeth.

Hints & Tips No.339

Building from a Scale Drawing

By Trevor Gibbs

If you want to use a paper plan for a scratchbuilding project, overlay it with a piece of waxed lunch wrap. That way, the drawing is protected from glue and you can constantly check your work.

Hints & Tips No.340

A Newer Way of Mounting Containers?

By Ian Cant

If you are modelling containers either old or new versions, try using steel weights under the floor of your flat cars. Inside your containers, use a fairly strong magnet such as a rare earth magnet from an electronics store.

Your containers can then be removed and no unsightly single edged tape, glue or anything else, and your wagons or freight cars will have more weight for better tracking.

Hints & Tips No.341

Making Neon Signs

By Graham Ross

Fairly effective Neon Signs can be made by shaping wire to you required shape then painting your wire with luminous paint. The light about your building should give enough of a glow to light these in the dark.

Hints & Tips No.342

Using a Digital Watch.

By Robert Ferus (New Jersey, USA)

In N scale given the size a clock tower would take and how small watches are not at the moment, consider using a digital watch for a bank sign.

Hints & Tips No.343

Hang Your Controller

By Loren Hall (Washington State, USA)

Tired of your dcc controller laying on your scenery? I attached a 3M Command hook to the back of my Powercab, screwed a eye hook into the fascia board, now I can hang the controller instead of laying it on the table.

Hints & Tips No.344

Planting “Cabbages” and other vegetation in OO.

By Graham Ross

You can represent Cabbages by “planting” whole cloves from your spice containers and painting them green in OO scale.

Corn fields can be made using green toothpicks slicing down the sides to form the leaves then painting some bright yellow on top. This takes a bit of work but would look very effective.

Hints & Tips No.345

Planting “Cabbages” and other vegetation in N scale

By Mick Lovell and Graeme Goodsell (NSW N scale Group)

We made rows of Cabbages and Lettuce for the N scale “Illabo” exhibition layout here in Australia with dyed sawdust rolled into a ball. A vine growing over a back fence was made by painting a trace of PVA glue and sprinkling with fine ground foam.

We made ferns in hanging baskets from asparagus fern glued into a painted bead of glue and hung by fine wire.

Hints & Tips No.346

Climbing your Telegraph Poles

By Trevor Gibbs (Melbourne, Australia)

Using the ordinary paper staples, you can make maintenance climbing stirrups by drilling a staple into the pole then cutting it off with side cutting pliers. Thin but fairly durable.

Hints & Tips No.347

Bottles and Other Details

By Mick Lovell and Graeme Goodsell (NSW N scale Group)

For the “Illabo” N scale layout we created model drink bottles by heating and drawing out fishing line to make a bottle neck. A washing line has some shapes cut from white paper, dampened, crumpled and spread on a fine wire line... and if these can be done in N scale...

To hintsandtips02.htm

THERE'S A PROTOTYPE FOR EVERYTHING is another site which takes a look at the things that are not supposed to happen on the prototype. Enter Here


In the process of searching ideas, readers of MRE and Model Railroader kindly offered their hints which will be included here! Enjoy!

A SIMPLE WAY TO FIT KADEES TO NON-NEM STOCK by David Temple, Barry and Penarth MRC

For most older Bachmann wagons going back to Mainline days, the hook & bar coupling is fixed by a single bolt or self tapping screw. Some Hornby stock is similar. In these cases I use a Kadee No 20, the longest of the type which are made to fit NEM pockets.

However, I drill a small hole into the shank of the Kadee, about where the 20 is embossed on the plastic. I use the original bolt to fix the Kadee in place, usually with a small washer to spread the pressure across the side ribs of the shank. This has the advantage of not damaging the wagon at all, such that the original hook & bar can be reinstated at any time. One disadvantage is that only the pressure of tightening the screw keeps the coupling centred.

For the short Hornby wagons such as the Thomas Meakins 5 plank coal wagon, it is necessary to clip off the end of the shank (i.e. the bit which fits into the NEM pocket) in order to clear the axle. I have fitted similar truncated No 20s to Hornby Terrier locos as well as L&Y Pugs. It should be possible on several others as well.

I have created a web page on the Barry & Penarth MRC's website to illustrate this idea.

I have not yet got a reliable solution for the former Airfix type couplings, which are found on most Dapol wagons and several Hornby types.

USING TRACK CLEANERS - Ken Darville (Grumpy)

The old Hornby track cleaner car (R344), can still be used on the modern layouts. Couple two together. Over the cleaning pad of the first of these, use 2400 grade emery cloth. On the second one, soak the pad in isopropyl alcohol. Attach the two vehicles to a loco and let it run over the line. As the old advert used to say.., 'Save all that hard scrubbing!'


This is purely a group of links to different sites I have found in researching these hints and their originators with no reference to what they are necessarily about ... and worth a read! Some of the hints will have appeared here as I nor anybody else have a copyright on them... enjoy exploring the links!

Model Tracks Simply Trains Sherwood Models N Gauge Society Alton Model Railway Group Nailsea MRC Bob Heath' Barchester hints John Rummings Rail Hints Rob Pearces Brick Wall hints Brian Sherons 10 simple tips

Eltham Model Railway Club

You might also like to check out "Hints and Tips" and "Interesting Web Sites" as also being an aid to your modelling...


submit hints Trevor Brian

Hints & TipJohn Cherry takes the not unreasonable position of 'the little man and woman', who generally feel themselves to be victims without a voice when unwelcome decisions elsewhere affect them in what they see as a negative way.