When creating my model railway/railroad I am always on the lookout for free or low cost materials. This page describes these together with more regular scratch building materials. Please let me know how I can add to this list.
Food boxes come in a variety of solid colours (black, white, green and blue) that do not need painting and in coloured translucent shades (that need painting). Some of these containers have two layers with a thin layer of some other plastic inside the container (presumably to protect the food). This thin layer can and needs to be removed by pulling away from the styrene.
Egg Boxes - the type that is made of thin clear styrene (rather than expanded polystyrene). They provide a free source of very thin styrene sheet (about 0.30 mm thick). The egg boxes come in several sizes (15, 12, 10 and 6 eggs) with a series of pockets on the bottom to hold the eggs but with a large part of the top a flat area of styrene that can be harvested. Besides the flat top there is a narrow flat hinge and other, small, flat areas.
The egg box has either a printed label on the flat portion or (preferably) a paper label stuck on the flat area. If it has a printed label not much can be done except cover with paint after use. A paper label can be removed using White Spirit (or Methylated Spirits) to soften the glue and then use your fingernail to loosen and tear off. Because this styrene is very thin its use is restricted but the most egg boxes can be used for glazing windows, for infilling curved spaces (such as the inside of castle turrets), for shimming and filling small gaps or for vacuum molded parts (I am planning to try this eventually). The other parts of the egg box can be shredded and dissolved in Cellulose Thinner to form a styrene paste that I plan to use to cast small parts (eg wheels) or mould around figures (again I am planning to try this). (Incidentally, I use Cellulose Thinner and a small paint brush to glue styrene parts together.)
Other Styrene Food Containers: These are used for some vegetables and fresh meats. I have found some of the ones used for mushrooms and, commonly, for fish are made from styrene. They are thin (but thicker than egg boxes) but have only small flat areas. Also, most of the Food Containers are not made from styrene and so can not be glued. But, keep your eyes open for styrene food containers. I used parts of mushroom containers for the sheet piling on the inside of the Codling Cove harbour walls.
Plastic Drinking Glasses
Beads, embellishments and buttons
But, besides making vegetables, I have found other beads - barrel shaped, individual letters (10mm high) used to label buildings (such as Losea Lido, Roxy Kinema, Marine Hotel, the entrance to the Grand Universal Movie set, etc.)
Embellishments are things like fabric flowers (roses make great cabbages when dyed or painted green and I used another embellishment to represent tomatoes on the vine!). (If your other hobby is vegetable growing, you will be very jealous at the size of the cabbages and pumpkins.)
Fancy buttons are another source of raw material. For example, on one occasion, I discovered buttons that looked like ships' wheels and on another ones that were in the shape of Penny Farthing bicycles. To complete these, I used a crawling commando (with his rifle cut off) to represent a rider. (Yes ,I know Penny Farthing bicycles are from the late Victorian period and hence well before the time of my layout but I felt that there were some old timers who still rode the bikes they got as a young man - and they are really cool!) Penny Farthings vary in size with large front wheel depending on the size of the rider (for a really tall man the front wheel could have a diameter of 60 inches plus). However my wheelmen were much shorter and so the front wheel was 52 scale inches.
Wood Strip, Dowels and Twigs
I use a Guillotine to cut the tooth picks and match sticks but most of the lollipops and the kebab sticks wood is too hard for this and I use a razor saw. You can obtain matchsticks and lollipop sticks from hobby shops and kebab sticks from food and Pound (Dollar) stores.
You can dye using wood or clothes dye. I have found that it is better to start with a diluted dye and dye in several stages until I have the right colour. When choosing the colour differentiate between spring growth (bright, light green) and summer leaves (darker green). It takes some time for the sawdust to dry out. I have tried drying it in the oven and the microwave but this does not work and it is better to be patient!. I store the undyed and dyed sawdust in old 100g (4 ounce) coffee jars.
Both when separating into fine and course sawdust you will need a way of getting into containers. The standard funnel tends to jam and I solved the problem by cutting off the top of 2 litre (68 fl oz) drink bottles to make a free funnel with a wide opening.
Twine, wool and "straw"
Finally there is wool - in particular Eyelash Yarn (used on Rather Hill Farm to represent growing wheat).
For a larger area I discovered some artificial straw in an American craft shop that I used for undergrowth/ground cover.
Cardboard and Paper
A second use of (thick) card is pavements (sidewalks, USA). Here I managed to get card 2 mm thick, used my word processor to print a paving pattern on normal paper that I then glue this to the card and cut the card around the pavements. Finally I gave the pavements a thin wash of paint to seal and colour and when dry I glued in place. You can download an editable copy of the paving patterns for your use.
Another use for thin cardboard is to represent steel and plywood sheets. For the steel sheets, after cutting to size you need to paint with Burnt Sienna to represent a natural rust colour. For the plywood sheets, if you use brown filing folders you do not need to paint. (In the UK the common size for filing folders is foolscap and for office use. I cut these down to A4 leaving me with offcuts that I then cut into sheets (rather than throw away).
I also use paper sparingly. Normal office paper I print from my computer to represent paving stones for the pavement (sidewalk), for business and road signs, Funfair attractions (Hall's Fair) and, even, a Punch and Judy booth . I use tissue paper for beach towels (Losea Esplanade and Losea Pier), cucurbitaceae leaves (marrows, cucumbers, pumpkins), sheets on clothes lines, shop blinds etc.
One final source is pictures in magazines that can be used to detail the layout. Years ago, a Sunday paper's magazine had a regular advertisement showing pictures of oriental rugs that were just the right size to be used in my layout's rug shop (Walter Wall Carpets) and over a clothes line being beaten by the housewife. More recently City Cows had an advert showing 17 different cow hides and one zebra hide all of which seemed just the right size to be used by Helfur - Boot and Saddle Makers. Other examples are paintings (on show outside and inside an art gallery and being painted by an artist), advertising signs (to spruce up shops, garages and stations).
Net Curtains (drapes): I had some of these surplus to requirements. that I used as nets in my fishing boats (Codling Cove), climbing net (Rather Camp) and painted silver to represent galvanised mesh (chain link) security fencing. The mesh size of the curtain net was a scale 5 inches and this is fine for the fishing nets as their size depends on the size of the fish that are to be caught. As heavy duty security fencing can have a mesh size of up to 6 inches (150mm) square the curtain net is fine (but a little large for chain link fencing and chicken wire (where the mesh size is 2 inches by 2 inches (50mm by 50mm). Climbing net (scramble nets) have mesh sizes between 8 and 12 inches (200 to 300 mm) and again the curtain net is OK.
Pom Poms: While in a craft store I noticed some, small round, fluffy, pom poms in several sizes up to about an inch and a half in diameter (11 scale feet). Unfortunately, most of the green ones were emerald green and this was too bright and looked unnatural. Even so, I bought some and used some fabric dye to darken and tone them down. Serendipitously, this caused the "perfectly" round Pom Poms to become misshapen and look like real bushes!
Bump Chenille are lengths of pipe cleaner type materials that has a series of "bumps" along the length. Green ones can be used to represent small fir trees - you need to separate, trim but the bright green needs to be toned down.
If you have any thing to add to this Other Stuff section please let me know.
Slaters PlastiKard makes a range of thin (0.020" (0.50 mm)) styrene sheet in different colours and embossed to represent bricks, planks, corrugated iron etc. Each sheet of their plan colour styrene is 330 mm x 220 mm (approx 13 inches by 8.5 inches). Each sheet of their embossed styrene is 300 mm x 174 mm (approx 12 inches by 7 inches). Because of the thickness, brick walls need to be backed with thicker plastic. You can see/download pictures of Slaters embossed sheet.
Evergreen Scale Models make a range of styrene strip, rod, tube and sheets. Their strip, rod and tube is typically 14 inches (35 cms) long. The sheets that you see in the average hobby shop is 6 inches by 12 inches (approx 150 mm by 300 mm).
Wills make a range of small molded brick, cobble etc, sheets and moldings such as brick arches. Unlike the Slaters embossed sheets these do not need backing with thicker plastic. Each pack has 4 sheets 75 x 133mm (approx 3 inches by 5.25 inches). Unlike Slaters there does not seem to be pictures of the products on the Wills site - you have to purchase their catalogue (not serendipitous). See also Ratio Plastic Models. (The old Peco website showed both Wills and Ratio Models - the new one does not and is just about useless.)
Cooper Craft make a range of OO kits and a range of stuff (like tools) to detail the model.
Architectural Model Shops are well worth visiting. Not only do they sell large styrene sheets (embossed and plain) but also have useful bits - in one I found a corrugated sheet of paper that is perfect for corrugated iron roofs.
Besides building kits you can modify other kits, radically. For example I created a steam yacht out of a 1/350th scale Gorch Fock model I bought at a flea market for just over a pound ($2),
Over the years, I have collected a wide range of Building Kits. Initially Airfix OO scale models of English buildings and that have now been reissued by Dapol. I have a large number of Heljan HO scale kits (primarily European (Danish) but some American) all bought when a local model shop transmogrified into a toyshop). (You will need to click on the little Union Flag at the top right of the screen to get the English version of the Heljan website.)
Assuming that the layout will only be viewed from one side, a trick to double the use of a building kit is to replace one end wall and the back with styrene sheet and use the other end wall and back (with styrene sheet back and other end and roof) to make a second building.
Paint and Wood Stain
If you can find it, powder paint is ideal to mix in with plaster to cover cliffs, gardens etc. I have some burnt umber (for my sandstone cliffs), bright yellow (for the Losea beaches) and black (to mix with burnt umber and yellow to form a brown earth colour. The powder paints that I use are the Ocaldo powder paints for children!
To seal the Insulation Board (Homasote) module decks I used thinned gloss paint.
For wooden models, to make simulated earth and fallen leaves, I use wood stain. (Sawdust died a dark brown, can be sprinkled and glued using diluted white glue to represent earth.)
PVA or White Glue is used to glue wood and paper and, when diluted, to cover figures before painting.
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Most recent update: 21/05/13
Copyright 2011 Jeremy Hall