brass engine cleaning and painting

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by eric halpin, Jul 22, 2008.

  1. eric halpin

    eric halpin Eric Halpin

    I recently was given (good luck hey) three old brass HO engines by United and Tenshodo from the 1960s? I am considering taking them apart for a thorough cleaning and also strip the paint off as it is on a bit thick and chipped in spots. Can I do this without harming them? How do you recommend I strip the paint off?
  2. WReid

    WReid Member

    I recently purchased a couple of brass HO scale Van Hobbies CNR 2-8-0's that need paint stripping and repair work. To remove the paint from them I disassembled them. The boiler was removed from the frame, boiler front was removed ( mine were not soldered on ) then the side rods & valve gear were removed. From there the wheels were removed from the frame. The tender was done the same way. Basically everything that was screw or bolted on was removed.

    During the process of diassembling the locomotive I used a container with divided compartments to store all the parts. Each compartment was labeled so I could put ever part and screw back in the same place. I also made notes for everything I removed. I did not want to be pulling my hair out later.

    From there I dipped all the brass parts ( except for the drivers, gearbox and the tender truck axles ) into a jar of lacquer thinner. The one thing you must make sure about is none of the wheels or anything with plastic goes in the lacquer thinner. It will melt plastic and could ruin the insulation on the insulated side of the drivers and tender axles.

    It only took about 15 to 20 minutes in the lacquer thinner for the paint to bubble up. Some of the paint even fell of in the jar. Once removed from the lacquer thinner I washed each part with soapy water and rinsed it with warm water. I then blew the water off with some compressed air and used a heat gun on a low setting to dry the parts further.

    When using lacquer thinner it is best to wear rubber gloves and a respirator of some sort as breathing the lacquer thinner fumes is not good for you. I did not have a respirator so I did mine outdoors with a light wind coming from behind me.

    A couple of other options are paint stripper for models. I am not sure what is out there now as I have never used any. The paint can also be removed with a Badger abrasive gun or a Pasche air eraser using baking soda for the abrasive. The baking soda will remove the paint but will not harm the brass. It will also remove any unwanted solder if the same area is gone over a few times. When using baking soad to blast the paint off you will need rubber gloves and a dust mask as well as a place to do it as it can be messy. The good news is the baking soda will not harm you or the enviroment. I do my sand blasting outdoors and when it rains the baking soda gets washed away.

    One word of caution though. Do not used the abrasive supplied with the above sand blasting guns. It is two coarse and will make too rough a finish on the brass. It is also very harmfull to your lungs if breathed in.

    Wayne Reid
  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    I use generally the same method as Wayne, although I remove the wheels, side rods and valve gear as a unit. These also go for a quick dunk in the lacquer thinner, and then get worked-over with a toothbrush. If the gears are all-metal, I also clean them with lacquer thinner and the brush. Plastic, nylon, or composite gears are cleaned with methyl hydrate. Make diagrams, where necessary, to aid in re-assembly.
    After all of the parts have been stripped, re-assemble the running gear (minus the motor and worm) and test its rolling qualities. The chassis should roll easily on a sheet of glass - if it doesn't, the time to locate and correct any binds is before you start painting.
    I also like to add a power wire from the tender to the motor, as the electrical connection through the drawbar, especially on older locos, is not reliable due to wear.
    You can paint the frame and running gear without disassembling again, but I usually prefer to paint the frame separately, then add the drivers, rods and valve gear. I prefer to brush-paint the backs of the rods and valve gear and the spoked areas of any wheels, then follow-up with the airbrush. I don't lube the loco at all before painting, as the lubricants will spread too much onto areas that need to be painted. As soon as the paint is dry to the touch, I roll the chassis across the glass a few times (this removes the still-soft paint from any wear points), then lube all sliding and rotating joints. Use a small brush and some thinner to clean areas such as the crosshead guides, but only on their wear surfaces. Don't waste time trying to mask wheel treads before painting - it's faster and easier, after the paint has fully cured, to use a small brush dipped in lacquer thinner to clean them. The drivers are especially easy to do with the loco upside-down and power applied to the motor.
    Many painters like to bake the finish in the oven, although you must use a thermometer to ensure that it doesn't get too hot. :eek: And, of course, no plastic parts for this step. :p I've never attempted that, although I've also heard that a couple of hours in a suitable enclosure using a 100 watt bulb will work just as well, with less risk of spontaneous dis-assembly. I'll give it a try on my next paint job.

  4. eric halpin

    eric halpin Eric Halpin

    Thank you to both Wayne's for very thorough answers to my question. I shall give your ideas a try on a tender first to make sure I get it right. The oven idea may be a bit more then really necessary but all the other processes described are great. Thanks for your help. Wayne from KL; my wife is from Dobie and am very familiar with the KL area. I haven't been back in about five years but if I do again I shall let you know.

    Eric in Perth
  5. WReid

    WReid Member


    I am glad to be of help. It is funny you mention your wife is from Dobie. In the last year I have met a number of modelers online who in one way or another have ties back to the K.L area. I gess the saying it is a small world is true.I myself have actually only lived here for about 14 years. Before that I lived a couple of hours north of K.L. in Cochrane Ontario.

    I am actually some what new to the brass steam locomotive thing myself. I have painted a number of plastic steam locos ( a lot of diesels as well ) and a few brass ones for a buddy. Another local modeler who moved away a few years back showed my how well lacquer thinner worked for stripping brass when I was doing my first brass loco. I have used it ever since. It has always made quick work of removing old paint.

    I have read a number of articles where they talk about baking the paint on for brass models. I can see it giving a harder finish but to be honest I have never tried it. I am not even sure if it really needs to be done. I have used everything from Floquil to Badger Modelflex on brass without any problems. I actually prefer water based acrylics as they are easy to clean up and not as smelly as solvent based paints.

    I think my biggest problem as of now is trying to decide what shade of black to paint my CNR N-5-d's. On all the other steam locos I painted were for a buddy and another local modeler they prefered a dark gray that is similar to the color of a weather gray/black. I always found it to be to gray looking.

    When I lived in Cochrane I was lucky enough to have two steam locomotives there I could climb all over as a kid and take pictures of for modeling when I got older. One was at the front of the towns museum train and was repainted with fresh black paint when I was about 15 years old. About the same time I started taking pictures of trains. Over the years ( about 10 to 15 ) the black faded , lost its shine and collected dirt as well as diesel exhaust from the rail yard next to the museum train. Just before it was repainted again it looked more like a dirty faded black with maybe a very very small hint of gray in spots but for the most part it still looked black.
    The second steam loco was a 4-6-0 that had originally been owned by the Ontario Northland railway and was bought back sometime around 1976 to be rebuilt as an excursion loco. Sadly it never happened and it spent its days in the sun down by the shops. I spent many a days as a ten year old kid sitting in the engineers seat day dreaming as well as climbing all over it. It had a tender half full of coal and I went home most days black from head to toe. Two years ago when I was in Cochrane visiting my mother I went down to the rail yard to get some photos and the 4-6-0 was still there near the shops. The paint was a very faded black with a little hint of grey ( lots of rust ) but it still looked black.

    Sadly I think living around those two real steam locos and seeing how their black paint reacted to time, weather and dirt has made my job of choosing a black for my locos harder. I like the look of the black/gray that some people paint their steam locomotives as it shows the details better than straight black but always thought some modelers go to far and get the gray ghost look. Doctorwayne does a nice job on the steam locos he paints with the different shades of black he uses. I have tried adding a little reefer white to engine black and like the results. I have also found that Polly Scale Steam Power black is a nice black. Not a real dark black but more of slightly faded black. This may be the color I go with as I can always use some weathering and some very diluted weathered black washes to get it to the look I want.

    Wayne Reid
  6. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    I've used alcohol and brake fluid in the past...both are safe on plastics. Most recently, I used scale coat's paint remover and I really liked too is safe with plastics (they have a non-plastic safe version as well). If it is just the lettering, I'll use a normal pencil eraser.

    I'm planning on getting a small ultrasonic cleaner for in the future.
  7. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I believe a lot of the problem with painting model steam locomotives black is the very poor lighting most layouts operate under. Because lighting levels are generally so low, the gray is needed to bring out the detail that was so carefully built in or added.

    Once you bring the layout lighting levels up to something resembling just a cloudy day, a black or faded black won't hide quite so many details. Our favorite Dr. Wayne has spent time adding lots of light to his layout, and the photos look much better for it.

    I know some of the prep in turning the spare bedroom/train room into my office and layout will include painting the walls a pale blue, adding under book shelf lighting and/or fixtures mounted on a valence board. The present center ceiling fixture with 2 60 watt bulbs is about as useless as it gets for almost any task. First step tomorrow is to replace the bulbs with 2 daylight 100 watt equivalent compact florescents (I bought the bulbs this afternoon), and will be the first point in improving lighting.

    yours in better modeling
  8. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Eric: as you take the loco apart, do the following:
    Take photos at every stage. Digital photos are cheap.
    Keep it straight where the screws came from. You can use a piece of foam and draw diagrams on it and mount the screws in them. Otherwise, draw diagrams and put the screws in labelled jars/film containers.
    Mark things like drivers for right and left.

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