Short missive of railroad modelling tips

Quite liked these modelling tips that came in. Please keep ’em coming!

“Best method of creating a landscape? Sprays. Just spray your layout with a spray gun or can (obviously before anything goes on). Then cover with another colour or go straight to laying track, scenery, and other goodies.

Bit obvious but it helps!”

— Jamie


“To BROWN or not to BROWN.

I have never been very big on the black ties of flex-track. I usually lightly spray paint the flex track with a dull brown acrylic ( I suppose a gray would be OK too).

This makes the shiny black ties appear more natural and weathered. Sure this will paint the track but a light sandpaper will remove the paint, restores the contact and rail shine. I also sand the interior of the rails to improve wheel contact.

You can also paint switches, turnouts and crossings to blend but extra sanding is needed at all electrical points of contact of the throws and frogs of the turnout itself.

I usually do all of this “RR tie painting” anytime before applying ballast.”

GRADING is not too difficult to achieve as long as you don’t exceed a max of 4.5% elevation.

Take in consideration the height of an over/underpass. The elevation angle is determined by cumulative height of… “the cork-bed ballast, the track/ties and the tallest car plus .25″ clearance”. This will give the total inches/degree of elevation on a run of 100″.

Lets say that the total height is 4.5″; that converts to a 4.5% elevation over a 100″ of linear track. If the running length of track is say 75″ then the angle becomes greater to 6.7% (too great and possibly will stall any long run train). Compared to a running length of 120″ (10-feet) equals 4.2% angle of elevation/grading.

Multiply your grading/elevation by 2 to allow for down grading as well at the same “gentle decline”

— Ron


“The best thing I can say — makeup removal. I use cotton wool that comes in pleats. Just tear these pleats apart (or even just get regular cotton wool) and rap around a thin piece of solder. insert the solder into your old steamless loco and there you have it: smoke effects!”

— Jen


“My tip is get the correct couplers you need so you dont get them mixed up like tyco or the knuckle couplers”
— Jason


And if you missed my last missive, it’s here. Pat needed some help to get started. Thanks to all those who took the trouble to post, and steer Pat (and many others –  including me – in the right direction).

And hang on to your money with the latest ‘ebay cheat sheet’ – it’s here.



30 Responses to Short missive of railroad modelling tips

  1. In reference to rail cleaning after painting or for general rail cleaning.
    Never use sandpaper as even the finest grade of wet & dry will leave tiny scratches which will attract & trap dirt & grime.
    If you need to clean paint from the rails after painting or spraying use a small piece of softwood the end grain of which is ideal for the job.Any residue left over can then be cleaned simply with a piece of cloth wrapped around your finger.
    For general rail cleaning use Isopropyl alcohol or mentholated spirits.
    Also to keep rails clean eliminate any plastic wheels from your stock as these are like dirt magnets & simply spread the dirt everywhere.Metal rails are much better & even help to keep rails clean & extend the periods between rail cleaning.

  2. Jen
    Are you that desperate for smoke effects? It sounds worse than a santa’s beard!

  3. I like Tony Daly’s use of the end grain of soft wood to clean track, no scratching! I would next use isopropyl alcohol. After that I use Bar Mills “NO-OX-ID” which is a rust inhibitor that penetrates into the surface of the rails and keeps them from rusting. I have used this on a fishing knife that was solid rust, cleaned it with a wire brush and used it for about 6 months without any rust forming. It is advertised that 500′ of N scale track will only need about 1/4 teaspoon.
    PLEASE NOTE I HAVE NO INVOLVEMENT WITH BAR MILLS. I have found this product to be very easy to use and lasts a long time.

  4. Cleaning Wheels:
    To clean my N Gauge loco wheels, I use earbuds and vinegar.

    Dip the earbud lightly in the vinegar and then gently run the wheels. The angle of the earbud helps get right into the flanges and it picks off loads of dirt and greasey grime. I then simply pass a current to the wheels to turn them round and continue cleaning. Once finished I use a clean earbud or soft lint free to remove any residue.
    Hope this helps

  5. Hello all, newbie here.
    Thanks for all the tips so far & looking forward to more.
    I have been building a simple 6×5 layout to test run the 20 odd loco’s & 100+ mixed rolling stock acquired from my father, having been painting wargame figures professionally for 30 years (ish) it seemed like a natural progression to apply some of the same modelling techniques to my new hobby.
    I’m constantly surprised by the ingenuity of modellers and have learnt a lot from you guys & plan to build a website to chart the progress of my own garage railway (building websites is something else I do).
    Couple of quick points I have picked up on:
    1. Track ballast: Do people really pay for this stuff? I use fine (& I mean fine) garden soil or sand mixed with any emulsion paint I have laying around, spread it like butter, let dry, spray with £1 can of matt black car body paint & dry brush with any brown or gray emulsion/acrylic paint. If you want you can mix the gray or brown with white or cream to lighten & go over again to add depth. I did my whole track layout for about £3, taking about a day allowing for drying time between coats.
    2. Cleaning: Worried I was going to ruin all my newly acquired engines, carriages, wagons & track I looked long & hard at how best to remove 30 odd years of grime & dirt. In the end it cost me £1 from the pound shop & several hours of getting very dirty & loving it. It’s called elbow grease. None acidic/ none abrasive grease remover & worked perfectly on metal & plastic. When I set everything up in the beginning only 2 loco’s moved when I applied the power, now all but 2 run like a dream at all speeds. The 2 none runners need new motor brushes (@£5 for a pair for new ones there having a laugh aren’t they?). I stripped down every engine & piece of rolling stock, cleaned, rewired where needed & now everything is almost as good as new. A few have lost their details over the years so am going to replace with some slide transfers I have made (transfer paper cost me £2.20p for 10 x A4 sheets (far more than I will ever need ).
    3. Lighting: I know it’s a contentious subject but I like it so bare with me. I found a guy on eBay selling kits to do 3 or 4 diesels for about £4, dam good price I though until I started making my own. I’m now buying loco’s & carriages off eBay in rough to wrecked condition for a few quid and after sorting them out & fitting lights to them I’m adding them to the layout (i.e. Hornby class 55 Deltic for £2 = a bargain). White, red and cream lights fitted works out at around 30p per loco & 10p per carriage. Will put up details on the website as soon as I have built it. Working on lighting for platforms, buildings, signals and so on now.

    Well thanks for reading & I hope it’s of some use to you & I will add more later.


  6. Hey there, can anyone able to provide info on a great way to get the cateye look with makeup? thanks

  7. Johnstuf,
    Which NO-OX-ID product do you use? I didn’t find anything at Bar Mills but plenty of choices on eBay.

  8. Question:
    When using Peco insulated rail joiners there is a gap at the top of the rails, which I don’t care for. Am I over thinking the issue or do any of you have suggestions on how best to fill the joint with non-conductive material to leave the track “seemless”.

  9. I have not been in this hobby long…but have friends who have..Charlie..they tell me that playdo works well..apply it and then let it dry..once it is dry it will become hard,then if you want you can easily paint it

  10. Mmmm Seems like there are two Martin Wood who get Al’s tips. I’m Martin Wood but never left the comment about Santas Beard! Even though I look like the mythical good guy.

  11. For you who have sanded and scratched your track if you get some metal polish and a drill with a polish weal you can polish almost any scratch out of the track and its water clean up after.

  12. For cleaning the every day grime and grit from my rails I use a piece of cork roadbed and apply a little pressure with my hand and run around the track. It works good for a quick and easy pre-run cleanup.

  13. just starting to build a layout and was wondering what is the best height I should make the legs

  14. Saw your last Viedo Dave, Al is right have you been in the Sherry to often? LOL.. You make the best vids ever, and I have learned a lot from watching them. Beautiful lay-out.

  15. Tony’s tip on using a piece of wood to clean track is great. I have used scrap pieces of 1×2 to clean my n-scale track for years. When it gets really bad I dip it in alcohol before use. I regularly run one hundred plus car length trains and have maximum grades of about 2.5% on my layout. So, smooth operation is absolutely a must. Another tip I use is to clean my wheels on a straight spot in the track I place a piece of paper towel, spay it liberaly with alcohol and the just run the train. Make sure the paper towel is small enough to only break contact on a single set of pick wheels on the locomotive and be sure to clean the track every few passes of the train or you will just make dirty track!

  16. Re the height of a layout I am constructing mine with the board surface at about 91 cms same as my kitchen work surfaces but guess personal preference might make this higher or lower. Comfortable working height coupled with ‘reach’ considerations if it is at least in part accessible from one side only come into play.

  17. Re layout height. We just went to model railway exhibition in Perth AUS. when the layouts are higher than a normal workbench you get the chance to have a closer look at everything. I’m in the preliminary stages of doing a layout and have now decided to have the height about 1400mm

  18. RE Layout height. I am absolute beginner at this hobby and am about to start planning my layout. I have seen it said that an eye level view of a layout gives the most realism. I suppose this is why the Perth Exhibition height was a 1400mm height was mentioned surely this is much too high to be able to work on the layout that is without standing on an orange box or similar.
    Perhaps the builder is a very tall person or am I missing the point.

  19. Al and friends: have enjoyed the posted tips and comments since joining. I have I been collecting locos and stock in N scale for about forty years. First layout was 4’x8′ on bench work. Second was inside modified mahogany desk table 30″ x 60″. I hinged the work top to reveal two level layout inside. Used two drawer fronts as access for added yard modules. After twenty years, I would like to build my next layout to be suspended from the basement ceiling and raised/lowered when I desire to access and operate the layout. I am soliciting suggestions and advice from hobbyists who may had success with a system to raise and lower a platform. Thoroughly enjoy your site, Al. Thank you for your efforts. North Carolina, US

  20. Wanting to view my track from more of an an eye level view of my track I set my layout baseboard at 1200mm (4 feet).

    The advantages:
    A) good eye level viewing (with little bending down) -good viewing realism
    B) Keeps little sticky fingers away from touching, breaking, dislodging or plain stealing things. Most parents then resort to holding their tiny tots which stops them from reaching things on the track.
    C) Good level to work on without getting a sore back.

    The disadvantages:
    A) Need to use small step ladder to reach distant items or higher levels of the track.
    B) Need to provide a viewing platform (box or steps) for children to be able to see the track without being held.

    If I was concerned about easier small people viewing I would have made the track height closer to 1 metre (3.28 feet)

  21. layout height? depends on your height,better higher than lower (it,s easier to cut legs and lower afterwards than raise,

  22. when trying to put very small springs into bogies try two strands of cotton, thread through the spring, pull the loose end of the cotton to compress the spring, put it into position and release the cotton slowly

  23. Layout height 40 inches is the NMRA recommended standard rail height from the floor for a module layout..

  24. Help! I am just rebuilding what was almost finished…you know what I mean. N-Scale. Problem I have two Shinohara triple yard right and left. The left is OK however the right has a short in it. Even when I isolate it from everything else there is that short. Help! What can I do?

  25. Another technique for dealing with black flextrack is using the dry brush technique with brown paint. It reduces the amount of track cleaning which is a real pain with n scale.

  26. Regarding layout height: I’m influenced greatly by the North Midland Railway layout of the late Theo Pearson (1880-1959). In the booklet published to display his railway that was 21′-37′ he mentions that the baseboard was 39″ high but, another 6″ would have been more useful. So, mine is 39″ high but I still need a step-stool to reach over to the raised town part of my Elmton. I take the point about “little fingers.” I now only allow family members into the former attic bedroom where the railway is. If anyone else asks, it was dismantled years ago when I had a new central heating system installed.

  27. Some great tips, layout height depends on a couple of things, I used have little fingers, one of my Sons took a pair of wire cutters,and cut every single wire under the table! But you have to be able to access the layout easily. The eye level layout at the train show is great view, but remember they were going to dismantle it in a few days. Besides little fingers,pets seem to like to jump up on the bench work and pretend they are the Cat who ate Detroit,LOL!

  28. I need to put more power to the tracks. I’m new at this, do you have any ideals?

  29. I must be the only nut case that likes the airplane high type of vantage for looking at my villages ? I get tired of trying to access things off a ladder on them .
    and I love flying in full scale planes so that is what I am used to seeing things
    from all the time !
    I just keep a close eye on the little fingers when they are around my village !
    I also do not let small fingers near it alone -ever !

  30. Great tips, Keep them coming

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