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.



37 Responses to Another dose of model train modelling tips

  1. Roger says:

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

  2. Gruffalo Grandad says:

    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. paul Otway says:

    Thanks for these great tips

  4. TOM says:


  5. duncan says:

    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. Jaycee says:

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

  7. Jaycee says:

    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. Bob da Grouch says:

    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. michael says:

    “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. Wayne McClelland says:

    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. Tim Conley says:

    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. Jim Peters says:

    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. Duncan Galbraith says:

    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. Carl in Kansas says:

    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. don says:

    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. Sandy Pearlstein says:

    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.

  20. Sandy Pearlstein says:


    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. Dan Hulitt says:

    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. Brad says:

    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”

  23. Richard says:

    I tried to watch the film showing the houses. I got dizzy just watching it. Please take your time a slow down a bit. From what little I could see, the houses and scenery looked great.


  24. Ron says:

    Great tips as usual. Keep them coming.

  25. To the model railroader who wants to try real water on his railroad, I have been there and done that with a club layout. One problem is that you cannot control the movement of water in a scale situation. Even in a very shallow drop, the water moves too fast to represent the scale you are working in unless you want to represent a raging river. You also need to make sure you have watertight paths for the water. Also, you have to hide a pump and water receptacle and make sure you fill the thing all the time with fresh water. Just some thoughts to help you make a decision if you want to try it.
    Ray USA

  26. Michael Wells says:

    If you want to use real water on your layout and are afraid of the mold and mildew etc. that forms with untreated water, go to a pool supply store and buy some chlorine and put it in your water. If the store doesn’t have a small bottle of it, then use their shock control to put in the water. Depending on the amount of water you are using only put about 2 tbsp. per gallon of water. One more note; if all else fails, like no pool supply store, then use bleach in your water. Remember, only use a small amount, as all of these chemicals are powerful and you do not want your train layout to smell like a swimming pool. Also use rubber gloves and a face mask to protect your self. One other note is you will not have a bug problem.


  27. Skip Duld says:


  28. jacques976 says:

    I had a problem with real water also I did not want something that was toxic to animals I found a company on line that treats water and they had a chemical not cheap but it solved the problem of keeping the water clean.

  29. Sid Pratt says:

    Well done.

  30. For real water check out “Faller 180627 Water Pump 16v-ac with access Scenery and Accessories”. on Amazon.

  31. Herb Sussman in NC says:

    I made my own hot wire foam cutters. Following information in some YouTube videos. I ordered some doctrine wire from Amazon, $6.00 for 50 feet, added a 6 VDC power supply and built two wooden frames (small 4 inch spread. And large about 14 inches) from scrap wood I had. I even added a red LED to each assembly to reveal when they are hot. If anyone is interested I can post a picture of them to this forum.

  32. william van wyck says:

    A great foam cutter is an electric knife. Have used one on several projects with good results. Cuts foam about 8″ thick and does well on shallow cuts and detail work.

  33. Mike says:

    Thanks to everybody for all these great ideas I have been reading these for months now collecting all kinds of stuff to build my first railroad Empire and now I have to have my wife start saving dryer sheets thank you

  34. Ralph says:

    What great hints and tips.
    On the subject of cutting foam, always check with the manufacturer of the foam you are using to make sure that there are no health or safety hazards when cutting their foam with hot wire tools.

  35. Craig Persons says:

    When using water in an outdoor water feature Landscaping dealers sell a liquid that is safe for birds and other animals. It eliminates algae and bugs. A small bottle lasts all season and costs 7-8 dollars.

  36. Jim Dopson says:

    Jan warned against using alternating current to cut foam. LOWER than 48volts (12 volts is best) in not a hazard. The huge danger is alternating current from the wall outlet at 120 (or more) ac. 12 volts AC and DC have the same heating and hazard effects.

  37. Roger Carter says:

    Hi Al, can I open up another front?. I have a deltic six wheel N gauge loco that will no longer ‘grip’ the track, the wheels spin and don’t grip, no matter how slowly i ‘run’ it the wheels will not grip the track. In prototype of course the driver would blow some sand on the wheels – just wish I could!
    I would appreciate some help.

    Thanks for all the tips you publish.

    Kind regards

    Roger Carter

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