Another dose of model train modelling tips

“Hi Al,

Having built several model aircrafts of different shapes and sizes,I made the wings out of p.s. foam.I use to cut it with a home made cutting device using a very thin guitar string connected to a 12Volt car battery.

You must make some mechanical arrangement that keeps the string tight at all times.If you are electrically inclined and know how to connect an ampere meter in circuit,you can use any length of wire as long as you don’t draw more than 3 amps.

You can use this arrangement to cut tunnels,door and window holes in the foam blocks.

Please be careful not to use ALTERNATING CURRENT, You might find it a shocking experience. ONLY USE 12 VOLT D.C.
Hope the tip will help.



“Extrude beads of silicone from a caulking gun onto a sheet of plastic so that they are in contact side by side but leave slits between the beads. Once cured peel them off the plastic and dry brush with white paint. Makes for a realist water fall

Bumpy chinille makes great evergreen trees spray with hair spray and dip in green ground foam

Tall Verbena, Ornamental Oregano, sage brush, when dried all make realistic shrubs and trees


“I make my wife save the dryer softener sheets for me after she uses them.

They make excellent lightweight hard-shell scenery for use on portable modules.

The sheets are made of a very tough fiber that will hold a very thin layer of plaster. This makes it possible to dip the sheets in the wet plaster, pull them through a pinched thumb and fore-finger to remove the majority of the plaster and leave a very thin, even coat over the sheet. Since the sheets are much stronger than a wet paper towel more force may be used so the resulting plaster layer is about half as thick and therefore a lot lighter in weight, yet still strong enough to make a sturdy support for scenery work.


“Yes wonderful. Heres a tip for those of us who keep fish (in tanks) as well a Model Trains.

Use the waste activated carbon as ballast, its the correct size, black but can be air brushed and its free!

It can also make great coal fill for wagons


“Hi Al —

Try this for better appearing plastic structures. Before assembly, take some pumice (you can find this in pet stores for a reasonable price – chinchillas like to bath in it – or on line), spread a bit of toothpaste in a dish and sprinkle on some pumice. Use a tooth brush to scrub the plastic parts in an appropriate direction. It not only removes the sheen, it also imparts a scale-sized wood grain to siding or texture to bricks, etc. Using toothpaste as a vehicle allows the parts to easily be cleaned up with warm water. On brick siding often all that is needed is some white or grey paint to fill in the mortar joints and then wipe the surface clean.
Whether you choose to use the parts as is or paint them, this scrubbing imparts a much more realistic appearance.


Some super pictures of Alan’s layout next time – I wanted to put them on this mail, but I’m battling against the clock as always!

Don’t forget to have a look-see at the latest ‘ebay cheat sheet‘ before you head off there. You’ll save a dollar or two at least.



22 Responses to Another dose of model train modelling tips

  1. Some interesting ideas. What are ‘dryer softener sheets’? Sounds like they are used for something I don’t do!

  2. If you need to buy a soldering iron, look for a kit that includes the wire cutter that Jan mentions in the first of these tips – I got a good one from Sealey.

  3. Thanks for these great tips


  5. I used a coping saw frame to make up Jan’s idea for a foam cutter. Still needs a bit of tweaking on the electrical side. or perhaps thinner wire, but a great idea, thanks ! D/

  6. I think that the Dryer sheets are the ones that go into Tumble clothes dryers to make the clothes soster to the touch.

  7. oops!! I mean softer

  8. Thanks for the great tips, everything has an easier way of doing it, we just need to work it out, but in this case we have you to Thank!

  9. Just for Roger. Dryer sheets are a product sold in the US for lazy housewives who don’t have time to, nor the inclination to use liquid fabric softener in the “automatic” clothes washer. They also help prevent
    so-called “static cling”. What am I saying here? I use them too. But only because they are laying there.

  10. “HI AL.

    Like the pictures above,were or how can I get white guttering to finish the front of the houses.

    Iwould like to get hold of this guttering ,or is it scratch built I hope not is there any chance that you could let me know please.


  11. Gidday again Al

    I use Polyfoam for modelling cliff-faces and embankments in my layout.
    Safest way to use your own home-made foam cutter is to hook it up to a Model Railway speed controller – you can’t blow anything up!

    Will post some tree making tips next week

    Wayne (New Zealand)

  12. I have a Hobby hot knife which are inexpensive are readly available at any hobby store. Excuse the pun but they cut thru foam like butter.

  13. I just love this web site. As a novice N scale modeler it’s like getting an education, one class at a time. Thanks for your school SMU (Scale Modelers University). Tim

  14. I Was Thinking Of incorporating An Actual operating Water Fall With A Rec Pump. But Of Course Keeping Water Containers Well Away From The Track And Other Electrical Connections. Do You Know Of Anyone That Has Done This?

  15. Ref. using real water for waterfalls. My father made one on my first OO layout 1956/58. using a windscreen washer pump but I can’t recall how it was powered. The same water ran down a mill race to turn a waterwheel. The waterfall wasn’t very effective until we let it run over some frosted glass when it sparkled and looked like it had more volume. I’ve never tried it again but now………who knows? There’s a lot of pond equipment out there that might be useful. D/

  16. I like the idea of the water wheel. Might as well put the water to good use.

    For a water pump, try a tropical fish supply store. They have pumps in various sizes for circulating water in fish tanks.

    Still in Training,
    Carl in Kansas

  17. There was a layout posting picture of a small layout with 8 Switches. It appeared they were operated by a series of 8 blue lever switches. I asked for more info on them, but I can’t find the post or if there was a reply. Any info would be appreciated.

  18. rain gutters try using soda straws, they come in various diameters, use a wood dowel, to fit snug inside, now set up a way to split the straw in half. Now you have twice the gutter length, Good Luck, CWB

  19. I have used real water for my waterfalls and water ways before, which looks amazing if you add colored lighting for special affects. The lighting I bought, as well as pumps was from a pond store online. The lighting was small enough to submerge in some of my deeper ponds. The problems I later ran into with using real water and pumps was mold and bacteria growth. I constantly had to clean the pumps and empty the water out, so I could clean the pond and waterfall structures. Another issue was bugs, such as mosquitoes. I tried using a chemical in the w after to kill mosquitos, but I was always afraid that one of my dogs would jump up on the diorama and try to drink the water and get very sick.

    I eventually stopped using real water, because of all the headaches it caused trying to keep it clean, etc.


    I tried using a chemical in the water that kills or repels insects, such as mosquitoes, but I was constantly worried that one of my dogs would jump up onto the diorama and try to drink the water and get very sick.

  21. To add on to the soda straws as gutters, if you have your building in code (ha) you need downspouts, so fit in solid straws for that, and use the straws with the flexible end to take the water away from the building.

  22. RE House/building gutters.Depending on your scale and since they come in all sizes and diameters,use drinking straws cut lengthwise.That forms 2 sections of “gutters”.Just use glue to attach them to the structure.Use uncut straws as the drain pipes to run down the structure side and attach to your newly formed “gutter”

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