Weathering Techniques for Lionel Model Trains HO Sets

By: Kanooga

Weathering your train makes it look more realistic. Weathering adds the appearance of dirt, rust, and even graffiti to your train, making it look like a train that’s paid its dues and been around for a while.

Here are some weathering tips and techniques for transforming your model trains from fresh-out-of-the-box shiny and new to working engines and cars. These techniques should work great with most model trains HO and O scale. While Lionel trains are the most popular brand, these weathering techniques work the same way with any brand.

Some of the conditions you might want to simulate on your model train cars are the effects of weather, dirt, age, and even bumps and scratches. To do this, you’ll need paint and paint brushes, hard-wire brushes, chalk, crayons, toothpicks, and either photos of real aged railroad cars or access to real-life cars to see where and how exactly they age. The more the better, so you can pick several different looks for different cars, or even different parts of cars. Keep in mind that no two cars will age in the same way, or at the same rate.

Paint colors will vary depending on what effect you’re going for, but good colors will be rust, orange, browns, black, earth tones, white; you can mix and match, or combine colors to get the colors or effects you have in mind. Even if you use a color called rust, remember that there is a wide range of rust, so you might want to have it darker in one place, and lighter in another.

Use a dry-brush technique (use a hard-bristle brush dipped into the paint, then wiped mostly dry with a paper towel) to apply the paints to your Lionel train. A vertical stroke, top to bottom of the car gives the appearance of streaking, as a normal car exposed to the elements would.

If this is your first time weathering a model train, you might want to practice first, either on a piece of paper or cardboard, or on an old model train car, if you have one. You might be able to find an inexpensive car at a garage sale or thrift store to use as your practice vehicle. Use your practice time to get a feel for how much paint it takes to get the color you want, and how much pressure to use to get the streaking look you want before moving on to your good cars.

Another way to weatherize your model trains is washing. There are different methods of washing, but in essence it consists of mixing your paint with either alcohol or a thinner, and applying a thin coat on your cars. Depending on the look of each coat, and what look you’re going for, you can apply several coats of wash, keeping each one thin.

Using chalk is also a way you can make model trains look realistic. Make a powder of chalk, either by scraping it with a knife, or rubbing it with sandpaper, and apply the chalk dust to the car. Then seal the chalk onto the car. Model Master Lacquer is one product that can be used for this purpose.

Model train weathering powder comes in a variety of colors, and is a chemical powder than can be used not just on model train HO cars, but in your layout as well: on buildings, water towers, or whatever else you have that you want to weather.

Graffiti is one thing that will automatically lend an air of legitimacy to your model train. You can add graffiti to your Lionel model cars using graffiti decals, which are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and words. Or you can let your inner artist out, and paint your own. This is another technique you might want to practice first, to make sure you have the size, scale, and flourishes right.

In summary, these weathering techniques work great with Lionel trains and any other brands. The main goal is to create real-life effects. Any technique that helps you achieve that goal is okay. There are no limits to what you can do. Pretty much anything goes when it comes to weathering model trains HO and O scale. Beginners can use the techniques presented here to get started then create their own methods as they get a feel for it.

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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about Lionel trains. Click here to download a free guidebook for model trains HO and O scale and filled with hobby tips, ideas and information.

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