The Art of "Building" Detailing

I am certainly no expert on the nuances of building laser kits or any other structure for that matter. That said, I'd like to start a thread here about how we can create the mood, feeling, and/or emotional responses when people view or model train worlds & creations. I'll upload a few of my favorite examples and then would enjoy hearing how others might strive to achieve this. (Please pardon the primarily US railroad examples. I intend to use the same techniques on my European layout that will be my first foray into non-US modeling.)

While 'how to' videos on specific techniques for assembling structures are important, I have always approached my HO scale model train creations as a blank canvas that paints a snapshot of a little piece of real life. So I gather kit plans, pieces, parts, and paints and dive in. I like to loosely follow the instructions and incrementally build the feel I like. Can a building be lonely? Stately? Captivating? What do you try to convey with your own modeling efforts?


  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    When I look at paper or online catalogs of structure kits, I constantly see buildings that want to be something else. And, the transformations are easy enough. Among the transformations:

    • A railroad station transformed into a post office with a railroad platform.
    • A post office transformed into a small rural station
    • A small retail store transformed into a shop of a different kind -- an engine shed for a small industrial loco.
    • A railroad station transformed into a building that is part of an agricultural co-op.
    • An administrative building transformed into a small-town hotel

    Different doors, windows, and changing any number of small details, such as vents, can make a building into something else. And, of course, I make most of my own signs.

    (Manufacturers do this all the time themselves, re-[using molds to create different structures.)

    I now usually paint most components of building kits -- often in colors different from those of the manufacturer. That, alone often results in a different building.

    -- Ernest

    P.S.: I think the images above capture the flavor of western North Carolina really well. I've spent quite a bit of time on line between Old Fort and Asheville.

  • Thanks Ernest. Your observation about buildings wanting to be something else is absolutely true. The trend to repurpose old buildings in lieu of demolition is becoming fairly common. Where I live, the breweries, pubs, and galleries of one sort or another are trending in old structures that preserve history while providing a source of revenue and provide unique atmospheres. I would imagine there are European examples of this too.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn

    I admire modelers who can kit-bash are scratch built buildings like this. Never had the patience to do this. Maybe after retirement.


  • RailwriterRailwriter Durham, NC

    Kit bashing is really not that difficult. You can begin by enlarging or reducing the size of a building. To enlarge a building, you need two or more of the same (or similar) kit. In both cases, you will likely have pieces left over that can be used for other projects.

    Kibri's new industrial hall kit is a good example of a new modular trend. Wall sections with windows and doors are interchangeable, so you can pick the arrangement you want. And, you can use two kits to build a larger structure.

    Most manufacturers such as Kibri have "families" of structures which use the same components, though sometimes in different colors. You can interchange some of these components -- or make them all match by painting them the same color.

    My painting system is very basic. I spray paint the components in a large cardboard box whose sides have been carefully sealed. I do not have an airbrush. I use Model Master spray paints, which come in small spray cans. (Most of these colors are also available in small bottles -- for touch-up work or small components where spraying does not work well.) I do the spray painting of most items (using the above-mentioned box) in my upstairs bathroom, with the exhaust fan running.

    Most kit parts can be spray painted while still attached to sprues. Most parts need at least twice to sprays to get all the visible sides. You just have to be patient and let the parts dry.

    Finally, it helps to have a stock of Plastruct basic shapes, such as L girders or box girders. These can help reinforce corners when you join walls that are not designed to just snap together.

    There are also modular systems, where you buy wall sections (with various window or door openings), windows, roofs and other pieces individually. With these you can build structures of whatever size and shape you want. I had tried the DPM (Design Preservation Models) system in the past, but was not happy with it. On the other hand, Auhagen has a very good system with a huge range of components in multiple colors -- though, again, I now paint most of these. Auhagen also offers kits with these same components, so you can expand or modify these kits with additional components. And, of course, you always have parts left over for future projects.

    With just a little work, you end up with structures that are unlike those on any other layout -- and perhaps better suited to the environment you are trying to model.

    -- Ernest

    P.S.: If the technical problems with the Reynauld's Blog site get resolved -- there are currently problems with uploading images -- I will post some articles that focus on customizing structures.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn


    Thanks, I may give it a try, and modify the existing buildings on the layout. As you can see, it has a very finished appearance, so I can do upgrades once I am retired. Right now, I have just enough time to operate the railroad, maintain it, and do some further enhancements of the signaling system.


  • pkherapkhera Juneau, AK

    Glue: What is the best glue to use in repairing model railroads or gluing figures into cars? Does the airplane model glue work or can it cause the plastic to craze?

  • BR42BR42 Auburn
    edited November 2019


    This depends which project you are doing. For work inside cars, e.g. gluing figures down, I would not use superglue or any other glue which emits fumes. They may indeed cloud the windows unless you leave the car open for some time. Probably overnight would suffice, longer if you still smell the glue. My wife is a mosaic artist. For gluing down the little parts, she uses some water-based glue what bonds very well. It is not suitable for tiny parts since it is rather thick, but for bigger ones like figures it is ideal. For buffers and other detail parts I use either the airplane glue you mentioned or some superglue from Loctite. Very sparing application of the latter is important, I usually squeeze a small amount on a piece of card board, and then either dip the part into it, or apply a tiny amount to the inside of the mounting hole with a toothpick. Do not squeeze the container next to your model.


  • pkherapkhera Juneau, AK

    Excellent advice! So many things I did not think of. Thank you Ulrich.

  • As Ulrich indicated, you will need different types of glues for different projects. I would not use permanent glue to place figures inside a car. Several manufacturers offer so-called figure or temporary glue, which is basically a type of rubber cement. It will hold figures in place, but they can be pulled out later without damage to the figures or the car. Not only does that allow you to change the figures later, but -- consider the possibility -- if the car is damaged beyond repair, you can still salvage the figures for future use.

    Unlike some plastic glues, figure glue will not cause the paint on the figures to bleed. You can, of course, use this glue for other items you may want to change later. Note that this glue takes a little while to set (dry), so, for standing figures, you may have to hold them in place for a while as the glue dries.

    For assembly of most plastic models and repair of plastic items, I usually use Faller 170492 plastic glue. It has a needle applicator which lets you apply small amounts of glue in specific locations. (Also keep some small pieces of paper towel handy to wipe off any excess glue.)

    The Faller glue bottle lasts a very long time -- but the needle applicator has a tendency to clog after a while. To avoid this, shake the glue bottle before and after each use -- and store it with the needle applicator facing down. Faller also offers a quicker-acting version of this glue and glue specifically for laser-cut items.

    -- Ernest

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