Painting wheelsets

“How to you paint your wheels?” That’s a frequent modeling question. I see it posted on internet forums and hear it at events. Many techniques and tools have been suggested in the model press, on YouTube, and in discussion forums. Here’s what I do.

I keep the process simple.

I paint all the wheelsets in a 12-pack at the same time so they are ready to use. The very first step doesn’t involve paint. I wash the wheelsets using Dawn dish detergent and a toothbrush. There’s cutting oil from the manufacturing process on the wheelsets. Cleaning the wheelsets is key for the paint to adhere to the surfaces.

I still have some Polly-S railroad tie brown. I use a micro brush to apply it to the outer wheel faces first. The small brush makes it easy to keep the paint on the face of the wheel and not on the wheel tread. That coat dries by the time all the wheel faces are painted. The same brush is used to apply paint to the axle and the backs of the wheels.

I keep plastic lids from yogurt containers to use at the workbench. The image above shows all the wheelsets painted and drying.

Next up, I add another color with PanPastels. I use a fresh micro brush to apply neutral grey extra dark (820.1) to the wheel faces. It’s easy to hold a few wheelsets at a time and swirl the PanPastel color around the dished wheelface.

The final result has a grimy appearance ready to install in freight trucks for the next freight car coming off the work bench. This is a simple improvement for ready to run freight cars, too.


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3 thoughts on “Painting wheelsets”

  1. I’m a fan of the micro brush approach for painting wheelsets, and the addition of a Pan Patel grime ring on wheel faces.
    Thanks for raising awareness of the cutting oil issue. I’ve used alcohol for this same purpose, and was astounded how much grime came off new wheels. In my case, I cleaned them to increase “rollability” (it can make a huge difference) but it occurred to me that this it would help paint adherence. I hadn’t thought of using Dawn, so thanks for pointing out that (in hindsight) obvious alternative to alcohol or lacquer thinner.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Matt. I only noticed this oily residue in the last five years on wheel sets. The backing cardboard of the packaging had oil stains where the wheels made contact. That’s when I realized I needed to clean the wheel sets before painting them. It’s a good practice no matter if the wheel sets are clean or not. We give our newly finished kits a wash before we prime and paint them, why not the wheel sets. – Eric H.

  2. I also use the microbrush to paint wheel faces.
    To make this easier, I insert the wheels into a jig that holds the axle and rotate one wheel while painting the face of the other wheel. Then I flip the axle and repeat.

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