Scratch-building tips, anyone?


 I would like to undertake the scratch-building of some diesel locomotive (more than likely, using a blueprint from an old Model Railroader) and I would like to ask for any help before investing. Would anyone have any tips, tricks, or bygone basic knowledge I will (or may) need?

I plan on doing something small (like an NW-2) first, them graduating to larger locomotives (like a few B40-8s).

Any information regarding scratch-building would be apretiated

kcsphil1's picture

Do you really want to scratchbuild?

Or do you want to kitbash?  My thinking here is that there are a lot of really good locos out there, that you can modify and detail to match a lot of prototypes.  Your NW2 actually existis in HO (and N as I recall) and so all you'd really need to do i smodify it for you chosen prototype.

Do that several times, with increasingly difficult prototypes as you go, and you may find it just as reqarding.   Plus it could use up some of the locos you were asking about in a different thread.

Philip H. Chief Everything Officer Baton Rouge Southern Railroad, Mount Rainier Div.

I am already doing something like that

     Yes, I'm already doing that with undecorated models (I assume that you saw the thred) but, I would like to give it a shot with just building from the ground up (Just adding details is not helping my need to build. It just doesn't last long enough).

Mabe I'll take an old Athern Chassis (needing new gears and electronics) and build a shell around it. and then I would like to build a locomotive from the ground-up (just trucks and a motor being "commertial" products)

I will start out with styrene, so I can get my feet wet by "cheeting" and using a Cannon&Co. cab, and then I may move on to sheet metal, Most likely not brass, mabe some sheet metal I could buy in bulk from the hardware store.

I'm not sure why, but the prospect of building from the ground-up, although more laborous and time-consuming, has appealed to me more than just buying a model and modifying it to match the prototype. I do enjoy undecorated models a lot, though, as they can let me do more than the "wether and place on tracks" work needed for most "RTR" models.I can't stand RTR models. I guess I'm becoming a "rivet-counter."

  Scratch building is making

  Scratch building is making something from parts and loads of fabricating. Re detailing is like taking an already built loco and making it like a prototype and more realistic looking. Shaving off molded grabs and details and bending wire and drilling holes for them is just a few things that make a loco look better. Painting and decaling.



You're entering the danger zone!


I know what you're saying about your "need to build".  I have outright scratchbuilt and heavily kitbashed many freight cars, and two locos, so I'll try to coach you up.  First I suggest you build a relatively straightforward freight car from scratch.  This will help you hone your skills a little.  My first scratchbuilt freightcar was an SP woodchip gon from an article detailing how to do it in MR years back.  Once you've cut your teeth on a freight car or two, then dive in to the loco.

Building a loco from the chassis on up is not as difficult as it seems.  I would stick to styrene and eschew sheet metal, though there is some use for brass.  The build will be tedious at times, but if you plug away, you'll end up with a work of art.  Before you start, lets cover some basics. First: tools.  Here is my must have tool list for modeling rr equipment: steel scale ruler (also handy as a straightedge), Xacto or similar knife (get at least two so you don't have to swap blades as often).  Xacto #11 and #17 blades (a must),  regular razor blades (I use these even more than Xacto's), several pin vises (don't have to change bits as often),  A complete micro drill index with extra backups of sizes 76-80, a razor hobby saw (get the fine tooth ones), a collection of jewlers files, riffler files, and jewlers screwdrivers, a touch and flow applicator such as walthers #232-711 (for tenax 7r or mek), a CA applicator tool (walthers 232-805 or make your own by grinding the top of a sewing needle eye so it makes a "Y" shape instead of an "O"), and some sandpaper and sanding sticks. 

Here's some almost as important tools:  A NWSL Chopper II, a NWSL true sander, a didgital caliper, a self-healing mat, a dremel tool & bits, magnifying visor.  These are my suggestions, I'm sure others have their own opinions.  I would also encourage you to begin to build an inventory of basic materials.  Nothing sucks worse than to not have the size of styrene or brass you need when you're in the middle of something after hours.  I have nearly complete collection of Evergreen styrene strips and shapes on hand.  Every now and then I take an inventory and order to restock.

There are plenty of websites that show the process of scratchbuilding locos.  To be inspired by a master, go check out Don't expect those kind of results immediately!  I tried to keep this somewhat brief, I could go on about some of this stuff forever.




Mike Lozensky

Moder Railroader   Railroad Modeler

Thanks for the tips

Thanks for the tips and the link, Mike.

  I don't think theyre are many prototype railcars I would like to scratch-build ( but I wouldn't count out some fictional cars based on real cars) but I'll take your advice, and start out with some railcars. Mabe it will allow me to build that model of Tallulah Falls flatcar #107 ( It's a long story for such a short rail-line. I'll tell it in a blog.)

   I already have some of the tools mentioned, but I think I'll go ahead and "semi-retire" them, and start anew (my friend, who I got started in this same hobby, and is also a subscriber, needs some tools. He has the money to get some of them, but I figure I'll help him out) The tools are well used, but still good. I still need to start an inventory (right now, I'm at 1 unused piece of Evergreen styrene, the metal roofing stuff, and multiple seccond-hand parts from other kits) so I could use that as an excuse for going to the hobby shop (big, cheesy grin from me)

I really like that website (Admittedly, I'm flipping between webpages while I wait for this site, a research site, and the website to load) It's amazing what some people can do. I'm still reading (and drooling over) the article on the NREX 9402 SD40-2.

I'll go ahead and start drawing up some ideas for a set of free-lanced MOW flatcars to get started.

Sounds like an offer Joe

Joe - Sounds like Mike is just going to skip the MRH article and go straight for his own column!!!

Seriously Mike, time for an article.


Insperation from NREX 9402

 O.K., I just finnished reading (and mopping up the drool from reading) about NREX 9402, and I found something that interested me greatly: the well-done interior. I went to BLI's moving sale ( when they moved to Ormond Beach, FL) and I got 3 GP 38-2s (Walthers Proto 2000, on sale for $20.00/each) and 10 cab interiors ($0.50, or a nickel a piece). 

         I  finally got sort of an idea for at least 3 of the interiors now (Guess what it is?) I guess I can modify the interiors enough to be able to fit them into the units, and still look good through the windows. I don't plan on a huge thing, just enough to make it look O.K. (and mabe 'll add some extras, like a fire-extinguisher made from an extra piece of sprue)  I'll go ahead and start planning my attack to get it done. Hey, even though it may be like sticking needles in your eye, what could be easier for a start at scratchbuilding than some simple interior details for a locomotive cab?

Now which one is first? That ex-ROCK unit switching the run-down industrial park, the UP GP 38-2 that has (modeled) fire damage, or the rusty CSX GP 38-2 that operates the local?


Let it rip CSX!  Just post

Let it rip CSX!  Just post some pics as you go -- we're all curious. 

Have no fear Steve,  I've got something cooking.


Mike Lozensky

Moder Railroader   Railroad Modeler

Already (sort of) ahead of you

  I finished the cab interior as good as I can get it (I had to get rid of the cab's back wall, so the Walther's weaght is a stand-in untill I make it) and I have built myself a fire extimguisher, and painted the interior. I'm currently installing it into the locomotive right now (waiting for the glue to dry as I type)  I do have photos in my camera, but I'm not sure if I can post them (I tried to on another forum, but I just got the little red "X" in a big white square)  If all else fails, I'll make a page on my personal website, post the photos there, and place a link on a posting here. 


Posting Photos

I do have photos in my camera, but I'm not sure if I can post them (I tried to on another forum, but I just got the little red "X" in a big white square)  If all else fails, I'll make a page on my personal website, post the photos there, and place a link on a posting here.

Posting photos at MRH is easy.  There are two ways.

1.  Use the image button on the toolbar in the post reply editor window.  Place the `cursor where you want your image, click the insert/edit image button on the toolbar, (looks like mountains with a red sun over them) paste the image url from your personal website into the url field and choose OK.

2. Do the same steps as in the first example, except when the insert/edit window opens, click the browse server button.  This will take you to your free 64mb of image storage on MRH.  Choose upload, click the browse button, find the image on your computer, select it and click open.  you will be back to your file browser on MRH.  Click Upload to transfer the file to your drive space on MRH.  When it is finished uploading, your image will show in the small preview window.

Here's a tutorial from HowToBlog on adding photos to posts and MRH blogs.

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