The Subtle Art of Weathering Model Trains

Weathering is widely used to help show the wear and tear of trains and replicate them onto model trains to help give them a sense of realism.

A lot of effort is put into creating a model train that reflects the actual train. So, accurately weathering your model train is a crucial process to mimic reality.

You can find a lot of weathering techniques to choose from. Start by practicing on unwanted, light-colored models, trying to maintain consistency.

So what kind of model train weathering techniques should you be looking to use?

Weathering Model Trains with Acrylics

This is one of the simplest techniques using weathering paint and it’ll help you highlight some recessed areas and add some grunge really quickly but, this method does require a bit of patience. Once you’re done painting your model, or if you’re using a pre-painted model, you can get started!

What you’ll need to grab are some acrylic paint and old paintbrushes that are able to get in where you need. Because we’re thinning down the paint so much, it doesn’t have to be the best paint quality in the world. So you can save your Vallejo or Warhammer paint for next time, and just use some craft acrylic instead.

Start by thinning out your weathering paints on a palette by mixing it with few drops of water for a watery consistency. You almost want a water-paint feel to it, so it’ll run into the cracks of your model.

Detailing is super important, and you want to gradually build up layers. For proper weathering, use several washes of the color, gently wiping off the top with a paper towel in between. That’ll help to just keep the wash in the recesses, leaving the main body of the model relatively clean.

It’s always easier to add more layers later on than it is to remove it all and start again. So start light, wipe off lots, and gradually build up until you have something you want.

Model Train Weathering Powder

Using powders to weather model trains is a really nice method of weathering as they can stick to the models well and are relatively inexpensive.

They’re a great additional method to using acrylics, as weathering powders will help you add details to your model like dirt and, diesel exhaust particulates right through to track dust.

Apply a very little amount of powder to old, thin brushes for detailing, and just dab it onto areas that you’d find dirt or dust build-up on your models. Around wheels, exhausts, engines, etc are a great place to start.

You can even use some burnt orange powders to help simulate nice rust as well!

When you’re done, brush off the areas that you don’t want powder to be, then apply a thin spray of an adhesive to help hold the powders in place. Then, turn your model upside down to make sure any remaining powder falls off. (you can always reuse it later too!)

Weathering Model Trains with Chalk

If you are new to weathering then you can start with this easily reversible technique. You can find an assorted collection of earthy-colored chalks in local hobby shops.

Just grab some chalk and any brushes you have on hand and you’re ready to dress your model!

First and foremost, start by cleaning your model thoroughly as the chalks stick immediately to most models.

Just pick some powder and brush over your model, keeping the picture of a real train in front of you for best results. Bring out your inner creativity and play with the colors!

If you’re feeling daring, you can even just use your chalks or pastels, sharpen them with a Stanley knife and draw right on your model.

Honestly, this technique is pretty similar to using weathering powders, just with a slightly different medium.

Weathering Model Trains with Airbrushes

This method can be a bit of a tricky technique depending on what you’re doing, so this weathering technique varies wildly from amateur to expert depending on what you’re up to!

No matter what you’re airbrushing, it’s best to practice before applying the airbrush mixture to your actual model.

Airbrushes have the power to make your models beautiful as you can make fine details with them and then in the same breath, paint huge areas in fine mists.

If you are short on time, this is perfect for weathering rolling stocks, while having full control of the brushes! It’s a super-easy way to add smoke effect around exhausts and to help build up the initial colors of dust and rust as well.

Learning to use an airbrush is a whole other article that I’m yet to write, but there are millions of great videos up on Youtube. In the meantime, take a look at this one that goes over basic airbrush weathering of rolling stock.

The big takeaway, like almost every other model train weathering technique, is to make sure that you build up gradually. It’s easier to add than it is to take away!

Weathering Model Train with Oil Paints

If you are a person who wants to achieve the best sense of accuracy and realism when weathering model trains, then I’d suggest you use oil paint instead of acrylic paint while weathering your model.

Oil paints will work on more surfaces, they don’t need to be watered down as much, and they blend a lot better when they’re on your model. You’re not going to get stuck in a painful push and pull of paints trying to mix them.

To reap the benefits of oil painting in weathering, you should mix it with mineral spirits or linseed oil for a thin texture. Then, after you’ve made sure to clean your model of dust and dirt off the surface you can easily paint with brushes.

If you want to add layers in between, you can always opt for the pin-wash technique or paint the surfaces with an airbrush at first. These in-between steps help enhance the final output of the model after oil paint weathering.

Most importantly, once you get the hang of this technique, it will save a lot of your time.

Oil painting will easily capture the rust spots, oil runs, and other bits of grime you’d see in the real world to help enhance your model’s finish.

To choose the best weathering technique for yourself, you should go through various experiments and really try it for yourself. It’s not super expensive to get some cheap acrylic and make some weathering paint and some chalk at a local hobby shop, and you can be weathering away for a few dollars!

By combining several of these techniques you can really take your model far; airbrushing to make it look older and worn, oil washes to help push those recesses and add some grime and oil, and then weathering with powder to add some dirt buildup!

You don’t have to strain yourself to master the art of weathering, and any of the above techniques will go a long way!

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