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Five insightful tips on building your first kitbash

By Nastassia Putz, Assistant Digital Editor | August 1, 2022

Have fun, patience, and don’t give up

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Building your first kitbash

I’ve worked for Model Railroader for about six months now with no previous hands-on experience with model railroading. When an opportunity came up for me to enter a kitbashing “contest” among fellow Model Railroader employees, I plunged right in.

Note: Fellow employees have been modeling for years. My skill level is very much not at the level of those around me, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

A Walthers HO scale Union Pacific-Style Depot with a train and small-scale figures.
Building your first kitbash: This is the Walthers HO scale Union Pacific-Style Depot that I was given to kitbash. The objective is for it to look like an entirely different building when completed. Photo courtesy of Wm. K. Walthers

The goal

My first kit is the Union Pacific-Style Depot; however, my directive is to build the kit not as is, but rather to transform it into a different building. My choice of prototype is Shear Imagination, a hair salon in Cedar Grove, Wis. This was once an active train depot that has been repurposed.

This project is a wonderful stress reliever and creative exercise for me. Having never built a kit before, though, it’s safe to say that I have absolutely no clue as to what I’m doing right – or wrong. I really just can’t wait to say, “Hey, look what I did!” Plus, what girl doesn’t want her own mini salon at her fingertips?

Depot kit in two separate pieces.
Here is the start of my kit. The depot is in two separate pieces. The roof still looks like the kit, but without a chimney (you can see where I removed it). The pieces have been primed for painting.

Starting point

I’m just wading my way through this, which is overwhelming at times. I feel a little like what I imagine a kid feels like learning to ride a bike for the first time – a little scared yet excited, but impatient. I get frustrated with myself for not knowing how to do it already, which is the perfectionist in me.

I have explored many creative hobbies, but not the kind that require such precision and patience. From this experience, I’ve learned how to have patience while still having fun doing it. I can’t rush it. When I rush it, I file off the wrong plastic piece or pool the spray paint on one side of a wall or cut things too short and then have to add additional pieces to fix it. It’s progress, not perfection.

The building now has a different looking entrance and a roof made from white styrene metal roofing.
With much assistance, I have a different entrance like the prototype and a new metal roof made out of styrene.

Five insightful things I’ve learned

As a first-time model railroad hobbyist, I have learned the following five things:

  1. Solicit expert advice and help whenever possible. I would suggest watching how-to videos, reading articles/books, or taking a class. Since I’m an employee, “Modeling 101” class with David Popp is kind of a fun requirement. I have honestly had a considerable amount of help from my co-workers. Being surrounded by these expert modelers has been a gift. A group of patient, skillful enthusiasts walking you through it, is for me, key.
  2. Have a plan. I started this kitbashing project without any plan in place. I think having a solid objective prior to gluing pieces might have helped (and don’t forget gloves). I did almost glue my fingers together at one point. Having some idea of what you want to create will help direct you and steer you forward. Part of the fun of a kitbashing challenge is transforming a kit into something different or unique. Observing what other staff members are doing to their kits has inspired me. Now that I have a basic idea of what I want to do, it’s time to do it.
  3. Secure a workspace and tools. This is self-explanatory. Without a workspace or the proper equipment, you’re not building anything. Having access to the space and resources in the Model Railroader workshop has been helpful. I find that even with all this, it also helps to have someone nearby with the ingenuity to show you which tool to use and how to use it correctly.
  4. Schedule time to do it. Trying to find the time to build this project has been hard. I’m a mom with two small kids, a rescue puppy, and no free time. I’ve been scheduling in a few hours here and there to work on my model. I suggest scheduling a time each week to work on your project. That’s what works best for me. Once that calendar reminder goes off 15 minutes prior, I make an effort to finish up what I’m doing so that I can begin modeling. Remember, model railroading is supposed to be fun.
  5. Don’t give up … but do stop if frustrated. Refuse to give up. Even if you mess up, which happens, you can usually fix it. You may just need to quit for a bit and come back to it later. I’ve had a lot of invaluable help with this project. It’s the first of many. And if I keep trying to acquire new skills, each one should get slightly easier (I hope).

Here is my “building your first kitbash” finished project:

red and gray structure
Building your first kitbash project completed. This is the front of my completed hair salon.
interior view of a hair salon in HO structure
A view of the finished interior where patrons are waiting to get their hair styled.
closeup of figure sitting on couch
A closer view of a client waiting for her hair appointment.
view through structure's window
Here you can see the hair stylist and client through the window.

3 thoughts on “Five insightful tips on building your first kitbash

  1. Excellent bashing of the UP station. Great plan to repurpose the structure. Kind of follows the often followed practice in real world structures, ie: factories into condominiums, fire stations into pizza parlors etc. Your work”man”ship is very good, as is your article covering your modeling progress.
    Welcome to Kalmbach and the fun world of model railroading.

  2. Well done Nastassia, especially the internal details – but what happened at that left end (the wall looks a little warped)?

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