Weathering a Steam Engine

Weathering ‘ol number 19, a photo essay

I had this engine over at a friends layout last week for an operating session. I had it doubleheaded with PKRY #22 which is a completely weathered engine, and coupled to a shiny out of the box engine it was quite a contrast. So I figured it was time to get it a bit dirty…

I took some pictures along the way so I could share the techniques I use.

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P2K 0-8-0 #19
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

This is a Proto 2000 (or P2K as they are known) 0-8-0 I bought last year at a flea market, and was pleasantly surprised to find it had a sound decoder installed in it.

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Rear view
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

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Applying black chalk
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Follow along as this shiny new engine is converted into a more respectable version…..

The process I use to paint and weather a steam engine is a bit different from the norm. I hate disassembling steam engines, especially plastic ones, so I try to avoid this when possible. Fortunately P2K engines can be painted without any disassembly.

The only prep work I did to this one was to mask off the headlight and windows, everything else will get painted. This engine started life painted for CN. Since I repaint all the engines for the Port Kelsey I am not too concerned about its lineage, I just buy what ever is available.

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Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

To get an even coat of paint onto the drivers, I place the engine on a short piece of track and power it up. With the drivers spinning they can be evenly airbrushed.

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spinning wheels
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

I use Floquil paint exclusively. The nasty, deadly, stinky stuff. Works great, and I buy up old jars of it whenever I can find it. I also use a spray booth while I paint to get the stink out of the shop. It removes the paint smell too….

These engines come moulded in the exact shade of grey I feel an engine should be painted. I painted an engine black once, and regretted it. Models should not necessarily be painted the same color as the full size version, and this is especially true with steam engines. When painted completely black they disappear. A lighter shade of grey is a much better choice, this way the details can be seen at a distance, and they just seem to look right.

Even though this engine is already painted, I still prefer to give it a coat of paint. I never leave anything unpainted, it doesn’t look right even if the model is moulded in colour. Another thing to avoid on models is a shiny paint job, and moulded plastic always looks shiny.

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Base coat of paint applied
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

With the wheels spinning, to ensure an even coat of paint without noticeable unpainted areas, the entire engine is painted. I use a mixture of Weathered Black, Engine Black and Primer to get the shade of grey I like. I add to this mixture some Floquil Glaze, which adds a slight sheen to the paint, which while not completely shiny, does add a slight bit of a gloss to the paint. I know I just contradicted myself there, but an engine should not be dead flat either, the best look is somewhere in the middle.

To the paint mix I add about 1/3 Diosol, this will thin the paint considerably and allow it to spray on much nicer. Don’t use anything other than Diosol with Floquil, other stuff will cause the paint to harden in the jar after a few months.

I only spray on a light coat of paint, since the engine is already close to the colour I want, it doesn’t take much paint to cover it up. I avoided painting the red window frames in the front of the cab. I didn’t mask these, it looked too difficult to do, so I just avoided putting paint there.

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Shaking paint
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

I bought one of these little paint shakers about 12 years ago, and even though people look at my like I’m nuts when I show it to them, it is undoubtedly the most useful tool when painting anything, next to the airbrush. Getting paint thoroughly mixed is key. I put a couple of nuts in the jar to act as agitators to help break up the paint.

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Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Floquil paint dries quick, actually, it goes on dry, so there isn’t much wait time between steps. With my paint nicely mixed, I’m ready to start the initial weathering. I use Primer for this step, its a good shade of grey.

Studying old colour images of steam engines I noticed a pattern to how they get dirty. The last driver, lower cab and first half of the tender turn almost white. My guess is all the crap blowing up from the tracks, mixed with steam exhaust. Again, with the wheels turning, I lay down the first layer of grey “dirt”. It is very important that the wheels are turning, otherwise areas will be missed, and this is very noticeable.

Vertical “streaks” are also very common on a dirty engine, I add these with Primer.

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Dirt added.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Thats all I do for now until the lettering is added to the engine.

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Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Okay, this is where I do things a bit different, and you will probably hate me for it. Having a laser engraver is very handy for all aspects of model railroading. I used the laser to “engrave” a stencil onto some sticker sheet, the kind you make labels from. I set the power settings on the laser so it will engrave through the paper, but not the backing sheet.

I have found lettering steam engines a very finicky, frustrating job. Typically I would use rub down letters, and always seem to run out of one letter. I have sheets of rub down letters laying around with no y’s left on them! I could never get them all straight either, so I would have to put lots of weathering on the tenders to hide the crooked lettering.

Anyway, since I have the laser I might as well use it to make life a bit easier…

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Painting the lettering.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Using the laser to make the stencil I can spell out the full “Port Kelsey Railway”, instead of using “PKRY”, which I have done on several other engines.

I use Primer for this as well. White paint for lettering is far too bright, using a grey creates the illusion of white letters. A very light coat is sprayed on.

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Lettering complete.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

The same process is used for the back of the tender as well…

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Rear end mask.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

When using a stencil engraved onto paper, the inside of letters such as “P” and “O” have to be added in separately. These can be very small pieces, so I use a sharp scalpel blade to do this. Here I am using a scalpel to remove the middle of the “9” in 19 on the back of the tender after the painting is complete.

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Removing mask.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

With the lettering complete, I return to the weathering process.

Heavily used steam engines are a series of vertical strips. I apply these by hand with a fine brush and diluted paints of muted color. Shades of grey and rust are used.

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Painting on streaks.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Once all the streaks are added, I like to use chalks to further enhance the weathering. Black works great for adding in streaks of soot.

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Adding soot.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Weathering complete….

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Complete weathering.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Click on the picture for larger view…
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

With the weathering completed, the only thing left to do is to add some decent looking coal to the tender.

Adding real coal to a steam engine is one of the most effective ways to improve on realism. I prefer to use two sizes of real crushed coal to create a texture to the load.

I wanted to model a tender that is almost empty, for some reason all model steam engines always have a full load of coal. Since this engine has a speaker already installed in the tender, there is no room to create the look of an empty tender, so I guess I have another full load.

I “painted” on some undiluted white glue onto the plastic coal load moulded into the tender, and sprinkled on some coal.

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Adding coal.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

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Gluing coal in place.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

I added a few drops of rubbing alcohol onto the coal and followed with some Woodland Scenics scenic cement to glue it in place.

It looks like a mess, but it dries up completely invisible.

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After glue has dried
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

This is after about 10 hours drying, or one Christmas party. (thats where I went while I waited for the glue to dry)

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P2K 0-8-0 posing.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

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With #22.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Sitting with PKRY #22, a good match.

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Weathered engine.
Image Copyright (c) 2005 Tim Warris

Weathering equipment makes a big difference to the overall layout. It isn’t too difficult to do, but can take a bit of practice to develop the techniques that work for you.

The best way to learn is to study prototype images of weathered equipment, or even photos of other models. Pick up some old train cars at a flea market to practice on.

An airbrush is a very valuable tool for this. All it takes is a quick shot of dark grey along the bottom of a car to greatly improve its appearance. From there add a few streaks and before you know it you are addicted.

Engines are a little more advanced, but again, worth the effort.


Posted by: | 12-26-2005 | 11:12 AM
Posted in: Uncategorized


  1. Nice job, of HO is easier than N but the techiques are similar.


    Comment by Rob — 12/12/2005 @ 3:02 am
  2. Tim,
    Great tutorial. The proof of the technique is in those great photos!

    Comment by Bruce — 12/12/2005 @ 6:14 am
  3. Thanks for sharing. Looks great. Do you feel that a dual action air brush is necessary for weathering?

    Comment by Jim — 12/12/2005 @ 9:42 am
  4. Thanks for sharing – the results are excellant

    Comment by Michael — 12/12/2005 @ 12:02 pm
  5. Tim
    What a fantastic piece of writing. The photographs help cover the topic thoroughly. Ready to give a go on my PK2 0-6-0, with DCC and sound.

    Comment by Peter Willstein — 12/12/2005 @ 6:56 pm
  6. Dear Tim,
    great piece – & very thorough, as we’ve come to expect from you.
    Would you consider doing sets of Laser cut Stensils for general sale from your website – How ’bout running a Survey. I have had dismal failures with decals etc, they always end up looking like decals. But I can paint & have used stensils on [real] cars, boats & trailers.

    As always, you’re a great inspiration for me & thankyou for sharing it all with us.

    yours sincerely

    Comment by Mark Kitanov — 12/13/2005 @ 4:20 pm
  7. I prefer a dual action airbrush for all aspects of model work, although I have not tried a single action one so I might not be making an informed decision.

    I am in the market for a new airbrush, as the old one is just about shot. I am thinking of the new Aztec model from Testors. Comments?

    Comment by Tim — 12/14/2005 @ 2:01 pm
  8. Since posting this I have received quite a few requests for laser cut stencils from fellow modelers.

    While I would like to be able to oblige, at the moment I don’t think it is realistic for me to offer this service to others as I have a pretty full plate taking care of the demands for Fast Tracks.

    I am hoping to get processes in place in the future that will free up some of my time and would be happy to offer the option of laser cut stenciling to other modelers. It is a fairly simple process to make and engrave the stencils, but like everything else, the devil is in the details, and setting up a smooth running back-end procedure to make the transactions reliable is very difficult and time consuming, and for the time being, it will have to wait a bit.


    Comment by Tim — 12/14/2005 @ 2:05 pm
  9. georgius job Tim. thank to your instuctions i did the same in my european locos but i think the water clor the white you gave to the dome will much better if you extend to the tender , i extended in the back and the sides because normally the wather was stored there,
    Thank you for you tidy instructions

    Comment by Mario — 12/15/2005 @ 7:09 am
  10. A very enlightening article, all points have been made chrystal clear. I like some of the tongue in cheek humour which gives a no nonsense approach to a subject many people find scary.Nice to see the crane,I am building one of these [crane finished] and am about to start on the work car. great article. Gerry.

    Comment by gerry parkinson — 12/31/2005 @ 2:07 pm
  11. Hi Tim,

    If you are looking at a new airbrush avoid the Testor’s brand. I had one of their new single action brushes and while it worked good the 1st time, it is an absolute bear to clean. I ended up going back to my old Pasche H model becasue it was easier to disassemble and clean.

    Comment by Trevor — 1/2/2006 @ 7:00 pm
  12. I have been looking at the Testors Azteck, but the dual action model. I thought it would be easy to clean, but now I’m not so sure. Currently I use a Pasche, and cleaning it is a simple matter of spraying some laquer thinners through it.

    Thanks for the advice.


    Comment by Tim — 1/4/2006 @ 10:25 am
  13. Yeah, you’re right — I hate you for having that #$&*@! laser engraving machine. 😮

    Talent and brains. How are the rest of us supposed to compete? Thank goodness you are into modeling and not world domination. We’d all be doomed.

    Seriously, though, the model looks great. I’m going to bookmark it and when my own steam engines start rolling off the line I’ll be weathering them (much more lightly) with the same techniques.

    Craig Bisgeier

    Comment by Craig Bisgeier — 1/30/2006 @ 10:47 pm
  14. Too Cool Tim!!! :o)

    Comment by Tileguy — 2/19/2006 @ 4:33 pm
  15. Great stuff Tim!
    Thanks for the insight.

    Comment by HotShot — 2/19/2006 @ 9:12 pm
  16. Hello Tim,
    I have two of the Aztec brushes and they are good; very easy to clean. I took an airbrushing course at the local technical college and the instructor told us that if you want the very best, get an Iwata. They are not cheap, but the feedback from folks I’ve talked to who have them swear by them. Sorry, I don’t have a source for buying one that I can recommend.

    Wayne Stump

    Comment by Wayne Stump — 4/10/2006 @ 1:41 pm
  17. Hi Tim

    Very nice job, so realistic I can hear the valves popping ! But one thing that you didn’t explain, unless I missed it, was the wheel tyres.

    I realise you have to have the wheels mobile in order to get the weathering even and no “shadow” from the valve gear, but how do you stop the tyres from getting coated, and thus more or less eliminating electrical conductivity ?

    Don Gilham – UK

    Comment by Don Gilham — 6/10/2006 @ 6:57 am
  18. Soooo… How much did that laser engraver set ‘cha back? Great job on the engine! I cant wait until Walthers sets out the second line of P2K USRA 0-8-0s!

    Comment by Jacob — 10/7/2007 @ 3:58 pm
  19. Tim,
    Excellent job, just the look I am after on the steamer. Do you think I could get the same results useing Polly Scale acrylics? I was thinking of useing tarnished black as my base coat seeing it is a medium gray color. Thanks ahead of time.

    Comment by Andy Kramer — 1/2/2011 @ 3:46 pm

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