MRA Editors

Using Salt for Weathering Model Railroad Paint

MRA Editors
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Duration:   5  mins

Have you ever visited a really well-done layout and noticed how realistically weathered the rolling stock looks and wondered how you might make yours look similar? Master Model Railroader, Gerry Leone, shares a great tip for weathering model railroad paint to look like the real deal with blistering, pock-marked and peeling finishes. He employs a technique that the pros use – coarse salt.

As this technique calls for a little practice to get it just right, Gerry suggests working first on an old boxcar, building or scrap piece of styrene. He paints the entire car the color of rust-brown.

Then, using a paintbrush (and this takes some practice to know how much water to use), he spreads a little water on the places where rust is likely to form – on bottom sills and along rivet seams. While still wet, he sprinkles on coarse salt (any type of large-granule salt will do, like Kosher or pretzel salt). Don’t worry about being sloppy; there will be some wastage but some will stick.

When dry (about 15 minutes), airbrush the entire car the overall desired color when the car was newer. Airbrush from a distance so the paint is nearly dry when it hits the car. Paint that’s too wet will be absorbed by the salt and the granules will loosen. You’ll also lose some salt by just the force of the airbrushed paint, so don’t worry. When the paint is dry, simply rub your finger over the salt and remove it. It will reveal the rust color beneath, looking like peeling and blistering paint. Gerry finishes the car off with decals, and weathers the pock-marked areas with a couple different shades (light and dark) of rust-colored pastel chalks to add to the illusion of some newer- and older-looking rust patches.

It’s a great technique for weathering model railroad paint which, the more you practice, the better you’ll become using it.. And it makes your rolling stock look like they’ve spent a lot of hard years of service on your pike.

Here’s some other other tips for using model railroad paint, and model paint weathering techniques.

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