Saturday, January 17, 2015

Re-using 'found' items in scratchbuilds

I take great delight in making use of all sorts of everyday items when constructing models. Often, I use something as a component which would be difficult to make without specialist tools such as a lathe or milling machine. Here is a selection of items which I have used so far in my scratchbuilds. No doubt this list will grow as I encounter fresh constructional problems with future

Locomotive components

 Steam dome

After searching in vain for a steam dome of the correct dimensions for my Southwold Railway Manning Wardle 0-6-2T, I eventually tracked down the lid of some after-sun spray which was almost exactly the right size.

After trimming to the correct height and shaping the base to fit the boiler, it was glued into place and filler applied to give the base a tapered look.

The end-result I think belies the origins of this prominent feature of the loco.


The chimney of my Fowler inspired diesel was fairly unique in design and I could find nothing which vaguely resembled what I was looking for on any of the suppliers' websites. The barrel of a cheap ball-point pen proved to be of about the right dimensions and so this was trimmed to size and a plasticard collar applied. This was then given a generous coating of filler........

....... before being sanded down to the right sort of profile for the chimney rim. The rim was then painted with Plasticote brass paint.

Recently, the chimney has been replaced with a taller one, as drivers were complaining about the fumes entering the cab. The same technique was used to make the replacement.


I have scratchbuilt two locomotives so far which have required the construction of cylinders. In both cases, I have used copper pipe fittings.

The fittings were capped with pieces of brass which were soldered into place and then filed to match the profile of the copper fitting.

The ends were then drilled to take the piston rod and slide bars. The cylinders were then clad in plasticard and detailed with plastic bolt heads. With connecting rods and crossheads fashioned from brass strip, the mechanisms seemed to work OK.

Smokebox door

Normally, I would use whitemetal castings for smokebox doors from Garden Railway Specialists, but for my most recent loco build (see How I constructed a Manning Wardle 0-6-0ST), they were out of stock. I hunted around for something domed of the correct diameter. Eventually, I tracked down a set of plastic castors in my local pound shop which were domed and of exactly the right diameter.

The face of the castor was sliced off with a razor saw and glued in place, with a couple of strips of plasticard and a short length of brass rod to act as the hinge.


To add some extra detail to a Fowler-inspired early diesel, I decided to add a compressor on the running plate of my scratchbuild (see How I bashed a Toytrain diesel into a Fowler). The casing for the compressor was scratchbuilt from plasticard with louvres made from Cambrian Models. Various other fittings were made from offcuts of plastic ballpoint pens.

 As were the caps for the sandboxes

Steam pipes

The steam pipes for my Southwold Sharp Stewart were made from a couple of short lengths of Earth cable.

Pressure gauge

The pressure gauge for the same loco was fashioned from the brass ferule of a cheap metal biro which was bought at my local petrol station.

A short length of copper wire was soldered into a hole drilled in the side and then the ferule was flooded with epoxy resin and a dial downloaded from the internet was printed out and glued into place.

How would a scratchbuilder manage without cheap biros we must ask ourselves?

Pressure valve

I normally resort to GRS whitemetal castings for safety valves but when they had non available I decided to improvise. In my local pound shop I found a cheap plastic motorcycle for 50p, which donated its handgrips.

These were mounted on the barrel from a felt tip pen to which had been added a plasticard disc, suitably bevelled with sand paper.

For the spring, a self tapping screw had its head removed and its point filed flat.
A small piece of brass was then superglued across the arrangement to complete the fitting.

Rolling stock components

Log loads

For smaller log loads, I have used plastic mouldings and also short lengths of tree branch, but for a larger log to fit between two bolster wagons I wanted something more substantial looking but without the weight.

A length of card tube was wrapped in tissue paper and then smothered in diluted PVA, scrunched to represent bark. This was then painted with browny-green acrylic paints to give it the appearance of a felled tree trunk.

Plank loads

As I have envisaged there will be a timber yard on my railway, I also needed to include some wagon loads of sawn timber. These were made from various lengths of coffee stirrer, lollypop (popsicle) sticks and some off-cuts of stripwood.

These were held in place with twine.

Lineside components

Signal finials

I decided to scratchbuild all the semaphore signals on my railway as the cost of purchasing kits or readymade signals was prohibitive (see How I constructed some semaphore signals). The majority of each signal was made from wood or brass but when it came to the finials which cap each signal I resorted to 'found' items.

The spike was a cocktail stick, blunted with sandpaper, on to which was threaded a red wooden bead bought from that well known online auction site. The capping for the post was some filler suitably shaped.

 Milk churns

A significant source of goods traffic on my rural railway would have been milk - particularly as it is hypothetically situated in Cheshire which is a noted dairy farming area. Although there are various castings available for the early type of milk churn which would have been appropriate for the period in which my model is located, the better quality models were once more prohibitively expensive for the number of churns I needed. Eventually, my local pound shop provided me with the tapered bodies of the churns in the form of cheap plastic toys for flipping and catching balls.

The bases were cut off at the appropriate places to supply the conical shape needed (I found these difficult to model from scratch). After rims and tops were made from plasticard, the churns were painted silver and handles added from copper wire (see How I made some milk churns).


It is very satisfying to construct something from scratch, but even more satisfying to adapt something in everyday use to meet a particular modelling need. I will certainly continue looking for solutions to modelling problems by scanning the shelves of local pound shops and charity shops for things which I can re-purpose. For me, that is one of the joys of this hobby.


G.G.R said...

Very inspirational, I may have to add a domed smoke box and safety valves to my toilet-roll-with-chapstick-cap-dome boiler!
I only put the boiler outside for the photo, but it does look the part next to the shed!

Ian Thomas said...

Some really good ideas here, I will be using a few of these in the future.

Ge Rik said...

Thanks chaps. Really like the look of that boiler. I'm considering making a timber yard which will need a stationary steam engine - so this is food for thought. Thanks.