Model Train Express - Articles & advice for model train enthusiasts

Basic model railroader tool set

Working on model trains, structures and other model railroad equipment requires the use of some small specialised tools. When purchasing tools always buy the best quality you can afford, cheap tools tend to break and will end up costing you more money in the long term.

Basic model railroad tools

All these tools are easily found at hardware or hobby stores.


Hobby knife – buy a good quality hobby knife with disposable blades. Once you begin modeling you will find that you use a knife for many different tasks. Hobby knives can be fitted with both pointed and chisel tip blades. Be sure to always use a sharp blade, buy them in bulk so you always have a fresh blade handy, you’ll also save money when buying in bulk.

Scale rule – handy for both measuring and using as a straight edge when cutting with a knife. Scale rulers have markings in both model railroad scales as well as metric/imperial measurements, this is especially useful when you are building structures and scenery.

Tweezers – allow you to grab and move small parts and get into hard to reach places. Tweezers with a straight tip or bent tip are both handy, make sure whatever type you buy that the ends align correctly when closed and they have a clean sharp point.

Needle files – sometimes called jewellers files they are used to clean, shape and smooth metal, plastic, wood and other materials. Needle files come in a variety of shapes, style and sizes, you should be able to pick up a pack with an assortment of varieties to get you started.


Screwdrivers – both small & medium Phillips head and flat head screwdrivers are useful. You should also get a set of jeweller’s screwdrivers for tightening and loosening really small screws that are often found inside locomotives. Its important that you always use the correct size screwdriver as incorrect screwdrivers can damage screws, if screws are really damaged you may not be able to get them out.

Needle nose pliers – have fine pointed tips that allow you to get into small places that standard pliers can’t, they also come in handy for striping wire prior to soldering. Needle nose pliers come in a variety of different sizes, start out with a small pair, larger pliers can then be purchased later if required.

Soldering iron – can be used for soldering track, wire or even repairing metal structures. A soldering iron isn’t essential unless you are doing a lot of custom electrical and repair work. Soldering irons are relatively cheap and handing to have in your tool set.

Adhesives – you will require a variety of different adhesives as it’s important to use the right adhesive for the job, ensuring you get a strong bond. 4 commonly used adhesives you should buy are:

  • Plastic cement – used for plastic-to-plastic joints
  • Super glue – good for joining dissimilar nonporous materials
  • White glue – clear drying glue useful on wood, paper and cardstock
  • Carpenter’s glue – stronger than white glue but doesn’t dry clear