Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

Weathering model train techniques

Weathering a model train is an important aspect in adding to the realism of a layout. Model trains straight from the box appear shiny and new but real world trains are constantly exposed to the elements leaving them weathered, dirty and rusty.

When weathering a train it is best to start subtle building up the weathering as required. Its always a good idea to find some photos to use as a reference before you begin. Don’t forget to include smaller details like oil leaks, water leaks and smoke damage for added realism.

Weathering with chalk

Chalk is a great way to get started weathering your trains, if you make a mistake it can easily be removed using a wet cloth. Chalks come in a wide variety of colors and are sold as either a powder or a stick that you will need to grind into a powder yourself.

  • Clean the locomotive or carriage you are weathering with a dry cloth to remove fingerprints or other oily residues, you may want to use latex gloves if you are going to be handling the train a lot to prevent leaving fingerprints.
  • If you are weathering an area that is very glossy you should give it a light sanding with a fine grade sandpaper or a quick coat of a flat clear paint.
  • Chalk is applied using a soft bristle paint brush, for light weathering effects use a color slightly darker than the piece you are weather, for extremely dirty areas use a black chalk, to emulate rust use brown and orange colored chalks.
  • To prevent chalk from rubbing off you can apply a coat of clear paint. Don’t spray the clear coat directly on the chalk as it will blow it away, instead spray the paint into the air and allow it to fall down onto the chalk.

Weathering with an acrylic wash

Acrylic paint is a fast drying paint that can be mixed with water to create a wash.

  • Mix black or dark colored paints into a cup of water. Wash should resemble dirty water, its better to have too little paint than too much. 1 part paint to 10 parts water is a good ratio.
  • Apply wash to train liberally using a brush and leave to dry. After the wash has dried you can add more coats as required to achieve the desired level of weathering.
  • Speed up the time required between each coat by using a hairdryer to dry the paint.
  • While the paint is still wet you can run a cloth or tissue from top to bottom, this will remove some of the paint but leave darker patches in areas the cloth doesn’t reach.

Weathering with a airbrush

If you own an airbrush you can use it to apply light coats of paint for weathering. Airbrushing is more difficult than the other techniques discussed on this page but if you are comfortable using an airbrush then you should be able to achieve a nice weathered look..

  • Mask windows or any other areas you don’t want to paint over before beginning.
  • Paint mixture should use approximately 1 part paint to 10 parts thinner.
  • Before airbrushing your train practice on an empty soda can to ensure the paint mixture is correct.
  • Hold the airbrush consistent distance from your train and paint using smooth horizontal strokes.
  • Allow each coat to fully dry before adding another coat.