How To Expert Tips Repurpose kitchen containers for your layout

Repurpose kitchen containers for your layout

By C. B. Jacobsen | December 3, 2023

Nine easy (and nearly free) ways to add unique details

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Did you ever look to your kitchen as source for free items to make your layout more visually appealing? With just a little paint and some imagination, items like pudding cups, freezer packaging rolls, and fast-food condiment containers can become stock tanks, flatcar loads, and much more!

assortment of food and paper towels on kitchen counter
Applesauce and pudding cups, cheese, coffee creamer, and fast-food condiment containers can all have a place on your layout. Paper towel and freezer bag rolls and even dog medication containers can also be repurposed into interesting items. C.B. Jacobsen photo

If you are looking for scale items, some of my tips won’t make the grade. However, if you are looking for easy additions without spending a fortune, I’ve got you covered. Maybe you’ve created something unique from a container. We’d love to see your work—send us an email at and let us know what you’ve discovered.

three containers on a tabletop
C.B. Jacobsen photo

Ballast and ground cover containers

Coffee creamer containers can be used to store and dispense ballast and ground cover. The two Coffee Mate creamer containers on the left contain Woodland Scenics products (Coarse Dark Brown Crushed Rock and Stone ballast, C1283 and Rock Debris, medium natural, C1283). The container at right originally contained Kraft parmesan cheese but now stores Woodland Scenic Turf (Blended earth, T50). This container works well for finer material because it has two methods of dispensing. You can control how much turf you pour.

model car with cardboard roll loads on it
Add a load of culverts (or anything round) with cardboard rolls. C.B. Jacobsen photo

Railroad loads

Vacuum sealer bags from various vendors are wrapped around a cardboard roll. These rolls can make excellent railroad loads, smokestacks, culverts, and more. They come in various lengths, depending on the size of the roll purchased. (If you don’t have a kitchen vacuum sealer, cardboard mailer tubes available at office supply stores can serve the same purpose.) I cut mine down with a cutting disc in a rotary motor tool to my desired length. They are 1″ in diameter, paintable, and sturdy. They are easily painted to any color you prefer.


scene on layout with rolling stock hauling load
Cover a load with a painted butter container. C.B. Jacobsen photo

Coil or vehicle covers

I spraypainted a plastic butter container with Rust-Oleum High-Heat satin black to make a coil or vehicle cover. Any flat black paint will work, but I like to use my leftover paint when possible. Paint it a flat green and you have an Army version, blue for Navy, and so on. This item would lend itself well to custom decals, too. Low-profile O scale vehicles fit perfectly under the “cover.”

scene on layout with flatcar hauling gold
C.B. Jacobsen photo

Strike it rich

This is my favorite project. I used Wendy’s ranch dressing containers and painted them with Premium Décor Metallic Gold Spray paint to make stacks of gold. If you give them a final coat of Premium Décor Spray Lacquer, they will shine. You now have a stack of ingots to rival Fort Knox!

scene on layout of cattle in pen next to train tracks
Keep your cattle watered with these easy-to-make stock tanks. C.B. Jacobsen photo

Cattle stock tanks

Our dog’s heart guard medicine is packaged in small plastic containers, just the right size for a cattle stock tank. They’re simple to make; just spray with Rust-Oleum Flat black paint. Another option is to paint them gray to represent galvanized tanks. Your livestock will thank you, since water prevents weight shrinkage before going to market. The tanks look great with the Lionel cattle corral and boxcar.

flatcar on layout with three white cups on top
Make these flatcar loads from empty pudding cup containers. C.B. Jacobsen photo

Pudding cup loads

Pudding cups lend themselves quite well as loads for flatcars. A quick paint job and away they go! Finish them off with different decals or glue on some cut-out logos or graphics. Their shape reminds me of the radioactive waste containers that Lionel sells.

One thought on “Repurpose kitchen containers for your layout

  1. “Paint it a flat green and you have an Army version, blue for Navy, and so on. ”

    As a Navy vet, I have to ask: wouldn’t the Navy load be painted gray? If I’m not mistaken, blue would be Air Force.

    Then again – I could be wrong. That would not be a first.

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