Plastic VS wood

Discussion in 'Scratchin' & Bashin'' started by Kevinkrey, Jun 24, 2007.

  1. Kevinkrey

    Kevinkrey Member

    Browsing through my local hobby shop I found materials in styrene and (balsa?) wood. I am building an Ore dock in HO scale and do not know which of the two products to use. Would wood take away from the look of steel.
  2. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Back in the stone age of model railroading, before styrene became available, modellers wishing to depict metal either used wood that had had several coats of sealer applied (sanding between coats, of course), or cardstock, such as Strathmore board. You could also buy "shapes", such as I beams, H columns, and angles and channels, all made from basswood. (You can buy balsa wood, in sheets or strips, but its coarse grain soaks up paint like a sponge and it's quite soft) You can still use these materials, but my preference would be styrene. You can buy it in sheets, either plain or milled to look like various kinds of siding, both wood and metal, and there is a wide range of structural shapes available. You don't need to use a sealer, as there's no grain to hide, and construction is fast and easy using a solvent type cement. Large structures in either wood or styrene both need to be properly braced to prevent warping, so they're about the same in this respect, although the styrene is still faster. If I was making a "wooden" structure, I'd use styrene for that, too, as you can make styrene look like wood better than I've seen anybody make basswood look like full-size wood. With the better glues available today, wood models may stand-up better than they used to, as joints often failed after 25 or 30 years of sitting around. Many modellers still like to work with wood, so the choice is yours. I've worked with both, and styrene is my preference, by far.

  3. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    I would respectfully disagree with Wayne - for wood structures, I think nothing looks like wood more than real wood. While it may be true that the grain does not scale small enough, styrene" wood structures always look too new to me, and it's a lot of work to distress the styrene to get a weatherbeaten texture to it.

    However, for other "real world" materials - steel, iron, plastic, cement, asphalt, styrene is certainly adaptable, and appropriate for simulating these and others.

  4. BrownMouse

    BrownMouse New Member

    If you are going to use wood, use bass wood or a harder wood. balsa is very difficult to cut cleanly, IIRC. It has been awhile since I have used it.
  5. hminky

    hminky Member


    An Atlas HO trackside shanty



    I think plastic is more versatile than wood for model wood and the time to make it textured is made up by the fact that it goes together so quickly. Visit:

    Make Realistic Weathered Wood

    Thank you if you visit
  6. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Thanks, Harold, I was hoping that you'd show up. :-D Most of my styrene "wooden" structures represent painted and well-maintained examples, but there will eventually be some more rustic ones when I get busy in the rural areas of my layout. About the only one that I have now is modelled on a prototype pictured in one of Ian Wilson's books on CNR branchlines. It's a coal dealer's storage bin, with the elevator moved from the track side to the roadway side of the building, as the structure has been converted for grain storage. It's temporarily sitting in South Cayuga, awaiting more layout construction.

    The fieldstone foundation is from MDC/Roundhouse, with the main walls of Evergreen clapboard siding. The doors, the cover over the old elevator foundation, and the dumpshed on the roadway side of the building are all board-by-board (styrene, of course) construction. Gable ends are Evergreen corrugated siding, and the roof is .060" styrene sheet, covered with Campbell shingles.
    The walls were painted with Floquil grey primer, then with Floquil dark green (except on the "new" area where the elevator "used to be" and the "new" construction on the other side), then all of the walls got a coat of boxcar red. (The paint was allowed to dry thoroughly between coats.) Individual "boards" were lifted, curled, or split, and board ends were delineated appropriately, all with a sharp blade in an X-Acto. Fine sandpaper gave the paint that weatherbeaten look. The foundation will be weathered further when the building is installed in its permanent home.

  7. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Nice work Wayne, and Harold - I knew you'd provide that link! ;) Thanks for the point about the assembly time - although perhaps Wayne's "board by board" negates that advantage?

    Good discussion! :thumb:

  8. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Thanks, Andrew. Like lots of other things in this hobby, sometimes it just comes down to personal preferences. I worked with wood for a long time, but after trying styrene, I'll not likely go back to wood.

    The "board-by-board" part was used to create a more rustic finish. After distressing the full-length strips of "planks" with a razor saw, I went over them with various size drill bits, making knot holes (plank siding, like that used on barns, is usually pine, so on a poorly maintained structure, knotholes are almost obligatory). I sized the length of a board "by eye", then used it as a pattern to cut the rest to roughly the same length ( a Chopper would've made them too uniform). Btw, the "boards" are distressed on both sides. I tossed them into a pile as I worked, then picked them at random as I applied them, as quickly as I could pick them up. With most styrene construction, there's no waiting for glue to dry. The handcar sheds featured in Some trackside structures...were cranked out in an evening. Although they represent well-maintained buildings, and are therefore quicker to build, that's over a dozen structures, with no waiting for glue to dry. Same thing for the coal sheds and icehouses at the various Hoffentoth yards around the layout Selling Pennsylvania by the pound.... and Adding a cool industry to your layout... All made to common plans, all cut out at the same time, then assembled as fast as my old fingers could work. The platforms on the icehouses were board-by-board, so took a bit longer. ;)
    I like working with wood, but my preference there is a hammer and nails for assembly. :-D

  9. farish

    farish New Member

    Before age 63, I did not do any modeling...then came the heart problem and my need to slow down and enjoy, model railroading.

    All the modeling things that some of you folks have been doing for years, I am learning how to do now. So, if I am scratch building a wooden building I use wood. If I am scratch building a wooden box car , I use wood, as much as I can. Wood, with a little effort, can be very nicely weathered and looks like the real thing.

    Styrene is new to me and has possibilities and I believe, the material and the bonding agents provide for a much stronger joint (material is fused together). I seems to me that painting is one of the tools that one needs to develop when using styrene.

    Good luck with your projects.
  10. Art Decko

    Art Decko Member

    Kevinkrey, are you sure you are not restricting your options by only considering wood or plastic?

    What about cardstock?

    Like any material, it has its advantages and disadvantages, but I find it a great fit for scale structure modeling. One of the advantages is that you can make super-realistic textures that would be hard to reproduce in other materials.

    Now that has joined Zealot Hobby Forum, you may find more of us bothering you model RRers with questions like this. :)

    By the way, the work on display in this thread is eye-popping, some real craftsmanship and genuine artistry. Hat's off to you guys!
  11. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    Welcome to The Gauge side!

    If you want to see some great railroad modelling using "cerealboard", check out "Robin at his best" in our Academy section.


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