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Five easy tips to boost your layout

By Frank Knautz | September 30, 2019

Find inspiration using readily available household items

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Frank Knautz
Look around your local hobby shop and you’ll find a commercial product for just about any scenic effect for your O or S gauge pike. However, there are also plenty of items you’ll find around your house and yard, providing economical alternatives for enhancing the look of your layout.

Here are five easy-to-use no-cost materials sure to add life to your layout. These details really do make a difference, and I think you’ll be satisfied with the results.

1. Twigs and branches. Twigs from your backyard (⅛- to ¼-inch in diameter) make great timber for your O gauge people to chop down. Here, the local woodsman is cutting up a truck load. The scene is basically a beat-up $5 truck and an $8 figure. The wood and surrounding scenery are mostly yard debris.

Frank Knautz
2. Pill-bottle containers. These drum-sized containers are found in large bottles of aspirin or other over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and make great drums and trash barrels. These are typically a milky plastic. I recommend lightly sanding them to roughen the surface before painting. You can paint them any color based on how you will use them. For beat-up drums, I started with a gray primer and then misted the drums with flat black and red oxide for a rusted look.
Frank Knautz
3. Spare rails. You can build an interest-grabbing detail with a piece of old track. Using a standard 10-inch section of straight track, cut the rails in half. Once cut, you can spray the rails a rusty brown and highlight with burnt umber. When you have the desired number of straights, separate them into levels using ⅛-inch square stripwood. Standard fast-setting cyanoacrylate adhesive (CA) will hold them in place pretty much until the end of time. Use a wash of India ink and ethyl alcohol to give the wood dividers a weathered look. Also note the use of junk parts in the background, and a welder working on some junk couplers.
Frank Knautz
4. Gutter gravel. Take a look at the accumulation of fine gravel in the gutters on your street. Chances are you’ll find a generous amount of fine gravel has settled at the curb. This gravel makes an excellent rockslide that is unlike any commercial product and, best of all, it’s free. You can pour it down an angled cliff and hold it in place with diluted white glue. Once the glue has dried, use a diluted wash of brown or umber paint or India ink and ethyl alcohol to add realistic coloring.
Frank Knautz
5. Opaque windows. No matter how you illuminate your structures, you can save a lot of work by fogging the windows with tissue paper. New dress shirts are typically packaged with generous amounts of tissue paper. Using this paper prevents the bare interior walls of illuminated structures from showing. You can apply the material to the inside of clear plastic windows. For one large factory, I had 147 windows to opaque. Standard transparent tape increases the opacity factor.

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