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Home / How To / Expert Tips / 7 adhesives and glues for the model railroad

7 adhesives and glues for the model railroad

By | March 22, 2022

Super glue, white glue, caulk, and other adhesives

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Several types of glues and adhesives shown on a workbench
Several types of glues and adhesives shown on a workbench
A variety of glues and adhesives are now common and expected in the model railroading world.

Choosing the right adhesive for model railroads is important. Glues and adhesives bond two or more surfaces in different ways with varying degrees of strength. In model railroading, choosing the right glue or adhesive is often the best way to successfully complete a satisfying model or model railroad layout. Here are five top glue types often used by beginners. With these and any adhesives, remember to follow any warnings and use recommendations on the package.

Adhesives for model railroads

rains.com producer holding glue bottles and talking to camera at a workbench
Trains.com Associate Producer Kent Johnson shows off white glue and carpenter’s glue in bottles from popular manufacturer, Elmer’s.

White glue and carpenter’s glue

White glues and carpenters’ glues are used for joining porous materials, such as paper, wood, and certain scenery materials. They clean up with water, but carpenter’s glue does not dissolve easily with water once it cures.

White glue is good for applying scenery materials such as ground foam and trees to model railroad layouts.

Trains.com producer uses hot glue gun to fasten together cardboard strips on a workbench
Hot glue sticks (in a hot glue gun) is fast way to stick together cardboard strips.

Hot glue

Hot glues are adhesives that start as solid sticks, but when heated, melt to become tacky — ideal for bonding cardboard strips, styrofoam, and cork roadbed to each other or wood. Although hot enough to burn skin, the glue cools in minutes.

Producer's hands holding a tube of construction adhesive, face not visible
Construction adhesives and caulk often come in large tubes to be applied with a spring-powered applicator.

Construction adhesives and caulk

The toughest construction adhesives can often be too much to use on model railroad projects, but acrylic-latex caulks work fine on roadbed and larger scenery pieces. These caulks are easily applied, clean up quickly, have some flexibility — plus a longer working time than other glues. It is important to clamp your work in place while the caulk hardens to ensure a good seal.

 Rubber-gloved hands apply contact cement with a brush to dissimilar materials on a workbench surface
Contact cement, unlike rubber cement, forms a solid, permanent bond between two materials.

Contact cement

Contact cement (not rubber cement), forms a permanent bond between two items after a thin layer of cement has been applied to each and allowed to dry to the touch. Cement-coated items are bonded when pressed together.

A rubber-gloved hand holds a can of spray adhesives while applying the adhesive to a pink foam board carving
Spray adhesives in aerosol cans are a fast way to adhere large, flat surface to each other.

Spray adhesives

Spray-on adhesives in aerosol cans are useful when trying to join a sheet, such as a backdrop to a hardboard, or in tacking foam scenery to flat benchwork.

A rubber-gloved hand applies liquid cement to plastic strips on a workbench
Liquid cement or plastic cement “welds” plastics together to form a strong bond.

Plastic cement

Plastic cements contain solvents that dissolve a portion of plastics to be joined, cure, and create a plastic welded bond. These are often used in plastic structure kits and model airplanes.

Rubber-gloved hands holding a small bottle of JET CA glue.
CA glue is applied in much the same way as liquid cement, but for dissimilar materials — often joining metal detail parts to plastic.

CA (Cyanoacrylate glue)

Cyanoacrylate adhesives, often known as “CA” or super glues are ideal for bonding dissimilar materials. CA glue sets in seconds to minutes and bonds in the presence of moisture or alkaline.

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