Many different tools are used to build the models for our railroads. We have all collected a variety of tools over the years. From pliers to knives, tweezers to paint brushes, metal rulers to screwdrivers, our tool boxes and workbenches have quite the selection at hand. I’ve used a few tools recently that are not common but they were very helpful in completing a few projects.
Grab Iron Bending Jig
Several years ago I upgraded a few plastic coal hopper models but scraping off the cast on grab irons and replacing those with wire versions. I quickly found that not all grab irons are the same size as what comes in a package from the hobby shop. I had to bend my own. Now, I’ve seen these words bring men to their knees. There are probably thousands of partially built kits on many hobbyists’ shelves because they were built to a point where the builder had to bend their own grab irons and install those. This is really pretty simple but you can’t rely on hitting the right point on your needle nose pliers every time. I built my own tool.
I used a scrap of styrene scribed for novelty siding. Measured in from the edge the length of the grab iron and drill a hole with a #78 bit. With a piece of 0.012-inch wire, make a right angle bend on one end, leaving about an eight of an inch on the short part. Insert that into the hole in the bending tool. Hold the wire in the groove and bend over the side. Cut the wire about an eighth of an inch from the new bend. Here are a couple of photos to illustrate the process.
I tried marking the back of this little tool with the length of each grab iron but those wear off with use. It’s easy enough to check the distance with a scale ruler each time you need to bend your own.
I bought a color wheel earlier this year on a trip to an art supply store. I learned more about color in fifteen minutes reading the front and back of this than I had learned in thirty years of model railroading. It’s the best $5 I’ve spent on the hobby this year. If you plan to do any model painting or weathering, I highly recommend adding a color wheel to your tool box.
Three of the box cars in this photo were painted using the same base color of red. The Rock Island car is the base color straight from the bottle. The Pere Marquette car had a few drops of white added to the base color before being painted. The Wabash car had a few drops of black added to the base color before being painted. I did not clean the airbrush between painting these box cars. The work was done in 20 minutes. I would not have done this before I bought the color wheel.
How do you hold a model in order to paint it? That was a question I faced a couple of months ago as six box cars were moved to the paint booth. As the underframes were removable, I figured something can fit inside the car shell for a handle. I have lots of 2-inch blue foam left over from an old model railroad project. It’s wider than the box car interior but with some carving a chunk of the foam could make a decent model stand.
To counter the top heavy model on the foam stand, I fit the foam bases into extra model boxes that were on hand. This made it easy to move two models at once.
Those three basic tools have helped me build, paint, decal, and weather eight box car models over the last couple of months. They fall right in line with my Keep It Simple mantra for the current layout project.
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