Hints and Tips

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This section is devoted to sharing ideas on how to make modelling easier by using household gadgets for awkward little jobs, or constructing a piece of equipment from cheap bits and pieces that you may have lying around.

Improve the running of tenders
Find a flat length of track, remove the wheels from the tender and place them on the track and put your 6" (150 mm) rule edge on across the axles. Then see if the rule will move all three sets of wheels and axles along the track.

If the three sets of wheels do not move together, sort out three sets of wheels that will. The variation in wheel diameter is enough to prevent one set turning, by lifting the rule off of one axle. If fitted to the tender one of the set of wheels would be clear of the track! A packet of three new wheeled axles seems to be better than those originally fitted.

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.

Masking tape for airbrushing
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, its' main advantage being that the adhesive is very gentle and won't harm the surface it is stuck to, it won't however work too well with very heavy coats of paint.

To damp down the rawness and bring out the texture of planking, masonry, brickwork, or roof tiles I now give them a dose of matt black emulsion before assembly. With your finger rub it over the surface and into the cracks. Very soon it will be slightly tacky, so wipe it over with your hand. I know mortar isn't black, but the result is still good.

Trix blocks tricks
Do you use a bank of those green four-unit blocks with the green and yellow buttons to control your points or signals? Do they drive you mad by suddenly and inexplicably going dead partway along the row? Do your points fail to move together? Well, after years of wailing and gnashing of teeth, I've found the answer, and it's very simple - you take out a piece of wire!

The pushbuttons bring brass strips into brief contact, then these spring clear. At least, that's the theory, but in reality they often 'leak' slightly, so that the points don't get a proper clout, or they leak a lot and everything beyond the leak goes dead. To leave the green or yellow button down there is a straight spring wire running the length of the block, and this is the villain. Separate the blocks, then with your snipe-nose pliers withdraw the wire. It should come straight out. Your buttons will be a but 'wappy', but they'll work.

Ground Texture and Colour
Having tried various commercial scatters I find them rather 'samey' and dull, especially with time, so have developed my own textures and colouring method. The textures come from things like tea bags, and my wife's peppermint tea, lemon and ginger. Chinchilla sand is a favourite of mine. It's cheap and very fine, just needing some sieving to remove any little seeds. Sieved wood flour is similar to the 'commercials' and has its place, as do coal and ashes, and you'll think of others. My commercial scatters are all mixed together now in one jar, so have ended up a muddy brown colour, but it still provides a good texture base.

For colouring, coal and ashes and the ordinary and peppermint teas don't really need anything, but the others I colour with watered-down emulsions and a pipette. The various emulsion paints are watered down a roughly two to one with a tiny amount of detergent, just as you might with PVA, and PVA itself can also be applied in this way. Before I dribble on the paint I spray the texture material with water and a few drops of detergent dispensed from an old plant spray. This makes the material more receptive to the colour. The paint can, of course, double as the glue. One pipette will do everything because emulsion paints and PVA dissolve easily in water.

The indelible black pen
Have you ever tried to paint the plated wheel rims on locomotives and stock black, and wished for more control, a thin covering and a lasting job? The indelible (waterproof) black pen will do this, as well as touching up metal loco kits and lettering patches on wagons. Use a pen with a fine point.

The silver version of the above
This fine nibbed pen can be used for putting silver rims on black plastic wheels and window frames. Both gold and white pens in several tip sizes are also available. The white pen is suitable for wide markings on wagons and for road markings. For yellow road markings, recolour the white markings with a yellow fibre tip pen.

NOTE - NOT all of these pens will conduct electricity.

The red pencil
This can be used for wagon lettering and chalk marks as long as the pencil is sharp. However, have you thought about using it for things like lime stains on locomotive boilers and tenders? With a little practice all manner of stains can be reproduced. The pencil can be smudged if required and then sealed with a coat of varnish.

Plumbers Flux
This can be used for the odd soldering jobs when assembling kits in white metal, brass or nickel silver, where the minimum of solder is required. Other uses for it include the tinning of plated steel pins, and some electrical soldering jobs have been assisted with it too.

Masking Tape
Masking tape, which is 2" wide, can be used to make tarpaulins and hoods for china clay wagons. The basic method is to use a single strip, cut to size, and then draped over the wagon, pressing the sides gently and folding the ends in. (Do not worry if it is not completely square). The tape is textured so will stick quite easily to the article to be covered, but super glue will help if required. All that is then needed is to paint it light green/blue, grey or black, add lettering or numbers (use a white pencil), and then to weather (which has the added advantage of hiding any mistakes!)

Sheet Lead
Available from a scrap metal merchant, this is useful for adding weight to locomotives and wagon kits, and other items of rolling stock.

Remember to wash your hands after handling lead.

The Broach
Available at various tool merchants, and stronger than the drill bit, the taper broach is produced in several sizes. It is useful for opening out holes in various materials and etched brass kit frets.

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 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.

These hints and tips were supplied by Michael F. Veevers, Veronica Silverwood, James Shaw and Stephen Searson and most first appeared in N Gauge Journal during 1998. Members can purchase back copies of Journals.