Scrapbox Scratchbuilding Tips:
A Factory From Odds and Ends

My scrapbox scratchbuilding factory project
scratchbuilt factory

My winter 2012 project has been to fill in the semi-industrial scenery at Mintwood on my Utopia Northern HO model railroad.

I had an odd-shaped piece of real estate next to the wye track from East Utopia that needed something to fill it. I decided to make a factory to fit the space using what I call "scrapbox scratch building". This is something I encourage beginners to try. If you've built a few kits of any type and have some leftover parts you're good to go. Follow along as I show you what can be done at very little cost and with very little experience.

The first order of the day is to find some spot on your layout that could use a building of some sort. It can be any shape and style. This partly depends on what you have in your scrap box. You may have to buy some basic shapes or parts if you don't have enough. 

Begin by measuring the area so you know how big the footprint of the building can be. I had some sheets of plain styrene in various thicknesses in my scrapbox so I decided to use that as the basis for the building. I also had some sheets of SuperQuick brick paper that has been in the drawer for at least 30 years. SuperQuick was/is a British product for HO/OO. I think it's still available, but any brick paper would do. This building could also be made with plain old cardboard or matte board.

Setting up the walls
wall layout

I wasn't following any plan. Thid was "imagineering" as I went along. Using other buildings on the layout as a guide and a few leftover windows and doors from other kit building projects, I established a height for the factory and the overall footprint.

The height was set at 23". Why? Because a piece of styrene I had would give me two walls at that height if I cut and snapped it down the middle. I decided I would put a small dock on the track side and used some scrap DPM pieces to fix the height of the loading dock door. 

I had a door from a boxcar that could be used for the freight door. I had another metal Juneco door that could be used on the front of the factory. I also had a plastic door and a couple of metal windows. In my scrapbox I found two larger plastic industrial windows left over from a Walthers factory kit-bashing project.

Using these pieces as templates I fiddled around until I had a pleasing look to the various walls. I could have mocked up the building with cardboard, but instead I jumped right in and cut the styrene walls. I placed these on my MicroMark metal building mat and temporarily squared up the walls with magnets and metal machinists' squares.

Nibbling out the windows and doors
nibbling styrene

I had written on the backs of the walls which was which and then used a pencil to mark the window and door openings. I had bought a nibbler tool at Trainfest in Milwaukee but had never tried it. Here was an excuse to see how it worked.  A 3/8" hole is drilled in the styrene and the nibbler's head is inserted. The nibbler takes little square bites out of the plastic.


One nibble at a time
nibbler tool

I nibbled along close to the inside of the lines and finished shaping the openings with an X-Acto #11 blade, a file, and an emery board. 

A window, one bite at a time
nibbling openings

The next step was to test fit the first door.  The castings need to be painted before they are inserted and glued.

Test fitting a door
door insert

The following task was to cut all the window and door openings and test fit all the castings.


Test fitting all castings
test fitting castings

This is the time to ensure all the castings will fit properly.

Tip: it's better to start undersize and slowly work outwards until the casting drops into place.

This avoid unsightly openings that are difficult to patch. After this the castings need to be painted. I chose to use Roof Brown because it appeared to go well with the yellow/brown brick paper.

Then I installed the plastic glass using Ambroid liquid plastic cement. Use a small paint brush. Don't use the brush that comes in the bottle. A little plastic cement will do the job because it wicks under the parts and "welds" them together. For the metal castings I used some Walthers Goo applied sparingly with a toothpick.

Before installing the castings in the walls, I laid the styrene walls facedown on the brick paper and marked the edges with a pencil.

Applying the brick paper
brick paper

Warning: Side walls normally butt in between the corners of the front and rear walls. This means that the brick paper on the side walls has to overlap the thickness of the front and rear walls. I forgot to do this. I was left with the white edge of the front and rear walls showing after the building was assembled. I'll show you how to correct this.

Preparing the surface
sanding styrene surface

It helps to lightly sand the surface of the styrene to give it some "tooth" for the glue. At this stage I cut out the brick paper for each wall and glued it to the walls with Elmer's Rubber Cement. The cement should be applied to both surfaces for a stronger bond. Use waxed paper under your work.  Paper that doesn't stick fully can always be touched up later.

Rubber cement
rubber cement
Applying rubber cement
applying rubber cement

Before continuing I added a thin strip of styrene along the top edges of the walls and glued on the cap strip that was on the brick sheets. This added a slight relief to the walls. I wish I'd had something a little thicker. I simply used what I had. That's what scrapbox scratchbuilding is all about. After the rubber cement had set up I cut out the window and door openings. I used a Shapie black marker pen to paint the edges where they would show white.

I glued the castings in place that needed to be inserted from the front.  I set the freight door behind the styrene rear wall where the dock would be. I hadn't cut out the hole precisely and a little space was showing at the sides. To disguise the mistake I trimmed the sides and top of the opening with stripwood.

Assembling the factory

Assembling the walls.
assembling styrene walls

So far so good with this scrapbox scratchbuilding project. Now came the critical part: Squaring up the walls. You'll notice in the photo how I used magnets, metal squares and clamps to hold the walls in place while gluing. 

Getting things squared and glued top and bottom can be a little difficult. I managed to place a machinst's square inside the building to check the bottom corners. I used square lengths of Evergreen styrene strips (.125 X .125) at each corner. Extra bracing is very important. The roof has to be set down from the top of the walls about 1 to 2 scale feet. The vertical bracing needs to allow for this. I also install strips between the tops of the braces along the walls to help support the roof. This can be done after test fitting the roof. Before doing that let's correct the mistake I made cutting the brick paper. There's nothing in the scrapbox scratchbuilding playbook that says you can't mix mediums. 

Adding edge trim to disguise a mistake.
stripwood edge trim

In this instance I didn't have any suitable styrene edge trim so I rooted around in my wood scrapbox and found some stripwood that would work. After painting it roof brown I glued the pieces to the styrene edges with carpenter's yellow glue and used metal squares to hold it in place while the glue dried.

Dock and canopy

I cut some DPM brick leftovers to make a short dock. I kept the width to 5 feet to conserve space. The deck is a piece of plain styrene scrap.

I used the back edge of a #11 X-Acto blade to score floorboard lines in the surface. The deck is painted brown. I didn't try to match the brick paper on the walls. Instead I used a wash of Heritage Red Brick craft acrylic, roof brown and some yellow paint.

Corners from slides
35 mm slide

For the canopy I used another piece of plain styrene and glued some fine sandpaper to it using rubber cement.

Tip: Cut 35mm slides in half to get 90 and 45 degree corners. This creates a simple roof brace. 

This is also a good way to get square corners in buildings. I glued the long side of the braces to the underside of the canopy with Goo and then used yellow glue to attach the canopy to the wall.I set the building on edge and held it up with the metal squares until the glue set.

35 mm slide braces
35 mm slide corners
Canopy
dock canopy
Canopy
dock canopy

The dock gave me one more setout point at Mintwood on my previous Utopia Northern RR, but it was on the wye track. If deliveries are made to the trackside dock my operators were going to have to move the freight car back to East Utopia if they wanted to use the wye to turn an engine or go north directly from East Utopia to Underhill North. This added an interesting wrinkle to the operations. We had to assume the car had been unloaded and can be moved. The factory only needed a name and some waybills for some kind of product. On the new UNRR the factory has moved to the town of Houghton.

The dock and canopy are now in position. It's time to complete the roof.

The roof

I had a sheet of black styrene. I could have used cardboard or mat board. In either case, to add a roof, turn the building upside down on the roofing material and trace the inside dimensions. This works well if you have other than square corners.

Then you can cut out the roof as i did. Test fit it on the vertical corner braces installed earlier. Add horizontal braces around the walls if that hasn't been done. Cross braces could also be added depending on the size of the building. When satisfied, glue down the roof. Simple, eh? 

View block divider
view block

I added a black matte board divider inside the building to block the view through the windows. A little Goo held it in place. I didn't install lights. Maybe later.

I added a person and some barrels and boxes on the freight dock. I also used some roof details from a Walthers modular kit I had purchased some time back. I put an air conditioner on the roof and some vents after painting both the roof and canopy with Polly Scale Tarnished Black. Roof detail adds a lot because we're usually looking down at our model railroad layouts. Lastly, I added a little weathering with PanPastel┬« artist's pastels.

Freight platform side
freight platform
Front side
factory front

There was some landscaping to do but the factory was ready for business.  

Voila. Fini. A scrapbox scratchbuilding factory.  

Now it's your turn to try something for your layout. Dig out that scrapbox and never throw anything away!

Some views of the finished scrapbox scratchbuilding

Location of factory
Side view
Corner and roof detail


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