Common Household Items You Can Use for Model Railroad Scenery

Model railroaders are reputedly among the most frugal (read: cheap) hobbyists around. Why spend good money for details when you can utilize some very common household items? In the old days some folks swore by used coffee grounds for ground cover until the humidity turned their layout into giant Petri dishes of nasty mold and mildew. Or dryer lint for chimney smoke and who knows what? Wine corks converted into fuel tanks. Everyone has their favorite “free” scenery items and good on ya!

Here are some of Doug and my favorite “freebies”:

I save the bottle caps and seals from paper milk cartons for various rooftop vents. Spray painted aluminum and weathered, they’re passable for venting or rooftop “stuff”:

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Doug makes a roof chimney stack (unpainted in this photo) from a brass water tubing compression fitting:

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I’ve found using the plastic cap from a deodorant bottle (not yet painted here) makes a passable rooftop skylight:

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Here’s a great use for finishing nails and some discarded screen material – Doug’s trackside cyclone fence:

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Have any small thin plastic bottles or old film canisters lying around? I use a jeweler’s saw to cut them in half lengthwise, and with a little dull paint and thin support wires, it serves as a building entry canopy:

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Doug likes to use wire caps (cut to desired height) with Adobe Red acrylic paint as flower planters – just glue some discarded ground foam bits in it for flowers:

Next time you’re in your favorite coffee shop, grab some coffee stir sticks. After some stain and weathering, I use them for scattered lumber piles or even at-grade railroad crossing timbers for my S-scale layout:

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Plastic flex straws make convincing culverts on Doug’s layout:

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I like to use thin wood skewers which I cut and round off the top to make those ubiquitous road and highway guardrails. You could also glue thin thread for cable supports:

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Who knows what half the stuff is that hangs off industrial building sides? If it looks and feels right, try it out. Doug uses Super glue nozzles for vents and other building details:

What are your favorite freebies to use in your layouts? We’d love to start a chat going and build on this list! Add yours in the comments below.

For more model railroad scenery ideas, check out the videos available here: Model Railroad Academy/Scenery

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47 Responses to “Common Household Items You Can Use for Model Railroad Scenery”

  1. James Vinski

    Great suggestions! I have a few of my own, as I work with 22mm figures and HO trains. 1. Save used matchsticks for fence rails. Cut through lengthwise with a safety razor, paint or stain grayish and make your sigsag or snake fences as needed. Mine are about 11' long, as I measured some at Gettysburg Battlefield. 2. Save the green wrappers at produce area in supermarkets, the ones with thin wire inside. Trim the green paper and you have a 4" long very thin wire easily bent and twisted into whatever shapes you need (I have used them as ramrods for my reloading Civil War soldiers). 3. Coffee grounds, besides being used as dirt roads, already mentioned, can be used as freshly turned over earth for farming fields. Just make sure you dry then very well so no mold grows. I spread mine out in the sun for a few days before reusing the coffee container they came in. 4. Used coffee stirrers already mentioned as lumber. I built a barn and farmhouse, plan on using them more. 5. Twigs for your flatcar loads of timber. Depending on the size available you can use them for HO logs as I did, or even larger S and O gauge loads. Cut them cleanly across if you want to show modern chainsaw impression use. 6. Faux teddy bear fur can be used for fields. I used an electric razor (such as used for haircutting) to trim most of the fur off; if you want higher "grains" leave more fur. Olive drab, yellowish colors are available for barley and wheat, for example.

  2. Bill March

    If you own a house with asphalt roof tiles, & a step ladder, check your rain gutters. In the "clean" areas of your gutters, you may find lots of pure tile grit that has settled after rainwater has washed it off your roof tiles. It can accumulate into long stretches, of almost 95% pure gravel, which I scooped up with a putty knife before processing. Just rinse with washes of water & 70% rubbing alcohol, spread out on an old cloth & allow to dry in the hot sun (or your oven). Then pour through a strainer or old window screen material to filter out the larger grit/debris, & don't forget to run a couple magnets through the gravel to remove any metallic bits. You now have real, HO scale gravel, to use as ballast on tracks or along roadways.

  3. Bob Newell

    Medicine bottles glued to the old 76 car antenna ball Makes great Daytona speedway style observation towers for H O slots eBay has the new ball for 6.00

  4. Roger

    Use the cardboard roll in doggie poop bags for pipes on a flat car. Found some aluminum wall edging and made bridges.

  5. Ken K

    Awesome! I've been wondering what I could use dryer lint for. Haven't tried it yet, but maybe pulled apart a bit, forest undergrowth?

  6. Paul Rochon

    Looking for n scale ideas

  7. Doug W

    We use to use drained used coffee grounds for dirt. Worked like a charm.

  8. Leslie W Murray

    good ideas like to see more

  9. Fred Mehrhof

    Very nice I like it

  10. Henry Mc donald

    Wiper blades make great jersey baracades for the parking lots or train yards