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Painting my shay?

Started by lab-dad, March 17, 2015, 05:10:28 AM

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Im looking for suggestions on what to use to paint my shay.
As you (likely) know it is all brass.
I want several shades of black from a dusty faded to oily black.
I want it to show age but not abuse.
I own several air brushes so that is how I want to paint it.

Obviously the weathering follows.
I plan on neo-lube for all the gears and shafts and such for the black and the lube.
Luckly in 1/16 for oil/lube i will use the real thing!
I will also blacken some parts for some variation also.


Assuming they are available now, Jerry Kitts swears by Scalecoat paints and primers as a base coat. Jerry is one of the best "factory finish" loco painters I've seen. -- Russ

Chuck Doan

I will be doing some brass parts too (someday.) I am also interested in primers. I recently tried Mr Surfacer 1500 black spray. I found it to be very durable on my 3d printed parts. I plan to test it on brass.
"They're most important to me. Most important. All the little details." -Joseph Cotten, Shadow of a Doubt


Bill Gill

Marty, I have seen prototype photos from the 1950s with working locomotives that were glossy black, not flat dark gray. If that look interests you, here are two photos showing interesting streaking of the glossy black paint on a steam engine & tender. This is a tourist excursion RR, so the locos are kept looking good. (These photos were taken in late winter before the line was open for the season so the wheels show rust and there's light dirt on everything). I want to replicate that blue/gold almost irridescent look on one of my engines.

Bill Gill

Forum member James Coldicott is the only modeler I've seen who tried that effect. I asked how he did it. He brushed on very thin transparent washes of artist's oil paints. This is a photo I think he had posted on the forum several years ago.

Regarding Neolube for blackening running gear, a club member sent me some of it to try on a loco. I wanted to darken the bright rods and gear to match my other steam engine. I tested it on a scrap loco. The Neolube was disappointing. It's graphite suspended in alcohol. As far as I can tell there are no binding ingredients. It took a couple coats to darken parts sufficiently and once dry, it rubbed off with any handling at all. I don't pick up my engines a lot, but when I do the drive wheels are one safe area to hold on too. Each time I picked the test engine up I had to recoat where my fingers briefly held it. I was worried that repeated applications of the graphite would bridge the thin insulation layer between the tires and the spoked hub which would short the electrical pickup, so didn't use it.

Lawton Maner

Neolube is a strange thing. It is finely ground graphite suspended in alcohol. In the early 19170's at the shipyard in Newport News, Va it was used as a taping fluid for stainless steel and other things in the yard.  While a $0.49 tube of super glue needed a supervisor's signature the acquire from the Orange Shack, a $49.00 jar of Neolube didn't.  It turns styrene into a conductor. Permanently fixes locks from freezing up in cold weather and when a sintered brass bearing such as those found in the gear train of a model locomotive are treated with it they become permanently lubricated.  It also acts as an abrasive when applied to many engineering plastics so isn't good to lubricate plastic RR trucks.

If you want to colour metal, go to your local full service sporting goods store and get Birchwood Casey gun bluing chemicals. Clean the parts throughly, coat them with the chemicals and let dry. The result is a dark surface which will not chip like the Neolube will. Birchwood Casey chemicals can be found for both steel and brass.  They work well on nickel silver as well. A quick dunk and rinse in sulfuric acid will clean metal parts of all grease and other dirt. Suluric acid can be found in the plumbing aisle of a well stocked hardware store under the name "Liquid Fire". 

Read and obey all OSHA and Health and Safety regulations prior to use. 


Thanks guys.
All great info!
I really like that shiny loco!!!!


I read an interesting thread on the forum RMweb regarding painting engines.
The modeler used spraycans for painting, and after the paint had fully hardened, he rubbed down & polished the model until he had a surface he was happy with.

I think the results are quite convincing:


http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/81257-mercian-0-4-0-0-4-0-garratt-heljan-37/page-4 (Scroll down the finished loco)
Regards, Hauk
"Yet for better or for worse we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them"  -Junichiro Tanizaki

Remembrance Of Trains Past


Thanks Hauk!
That sounds like a "realistic" approach to the finish(es) we, or I am looking for.
The concept sounds simple enough, but I worry the spray bombs will cover details - even in 1/16th scale. Sadly i could not see his pictures.

Scalecoat is in the lead right now and gun blue for the working bits. Definitely going to treat my brass bearings with neolube though.

Thanks though!

Bill Gill

Thanks too, Hauk. That looks like the kind of finish I want for my steam engines.

Bill Gill

Just got off the phone with tech support at Birchwood Technologies (800) 328-6156 - new name for Birchwood Casey Finishes.
The rep was very helpful. I asked about the feasibility of blackening the bright mild steel running gear and tires on my locomotive without having to disassemble everything.
He suggested their Presto Black Gel which can be applied to iron and steel by brush, rag, swab. http://www.birchwoodtechnologies.com/gel/blackening.html
They have products for blackening brass and aluminum too.

To preclean the parts he suggested acetone or isopropyl alcohol. After the parts are blackened they need to be rinsed well in water and he offered that a baking soda solution for the first rinse would be good. This might be a problem for my application because I don't want to rinse the engine and risk damaging the motor and the thin paper insulation layer I am told separates the spoked center from the tires on the drivers on one side.

The description of the process at the link above makes it sound like that's all there is to it, but the rep said the blackened metal needed a clear lacquer or wax coating to protect the finish. Not quite what I expected there.

A couple years Ed Traxler got free samples of a couple blackening products from another company. One was for aluminum I think. The samples were a promotional offer and there were a few samples for different metals and finishes that were offered for a time. they still might have that offer running. A forum search might find Ed's original post, or maybe he'll see this and remember what the name of the company was.


Havard, thanks very much for those links. Just as others you have posted they are terrific and suggest new and often better ways of thinking about things. (That guy is a master!)

Marty, back in my wild and misspent youth I used to represent some firearms manufacturers and a full line warehouse. I learned a lot about guns and gunsmithing. Birchwood-Casey products are very good; they worked better than those of other manufacturers I tried back then. Professional gunsmiths always used to "hot blue" guns for a smoother, deeper, uniform, and more robust finish. I don't know whether that information will help or whether a "hot blue" approach is even necessary for a model but "it vouldn't hoit".


Lawton Maner

Thanks for the additional information on Birchwood Casey.  You could most likely clean the finished piece with cotton swabs.

My vote is to paint the Shay with rattle cans.  Use a product like Rustolium which goes on like a syrup just to make the job a challenge.

Ray Dunakin

Quote from: Bill Gill on March 19, 2015, 09:32:11 AM
A couple years Ed Traxler got free samples of a couple blackening products from another company. One was for aluminum I think. The samples were a promotional offer and there were a few samples for different metals and finishes that were offered for a time. they still might have that offer running. A forum search might find Ed's original post, or maybe he'll see this and remember what the name of the company was.

I think that was EPI, Electrochemical Products Inc.


Visit my website to see pics of the rugged and rocky In-ko-pah Railroad!

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