Construction of a
Suydam Metal Building

Suydam metal kit: Water Heater Factory
Suydam metal building kit

I haven't tackled a Suydam metal building kit for decades. I have several on my layout dating back to the 60s and 70s: Black Bart Mine, Northside Tool & Die, Jorgensen Furniture and a few others. A friend recently gave me a Suydam Day and Night Water Heater factory kit (#55) that he didn't have a spot for on his layout. I decided to assemble it for our club layout. 

A Suydam metal building kit always came with a pamphlet about soldering. The soldering tips are excellent. The method of assembly of one of these kits involves using acid flux, solid solder and an 80 to 100 watt soldering iron with a wide flat tip. This is quite a different technique to soldering wires. Soldering is all about heat transfer. The method here involves heating the pieces of metal to a temperature that allows the solder to flow into the joint. This is also known as "sweat soldering

You need a hot iron with a wide flat tip, properly cleaned and tinned, for this to work correctly. These kits come with a few extra pieces of metal for practice so you can get the hang of it. I plowed right in and counted on my memory to come back to me. It mostly did with a few blobs here and there. Liquid solder follows the principle of capillary action, similar to what you want to do with liquid cement when assembling plastic buildings. A word of caution: Never dip a soldering iron into the flux because it speeds up corrosion. The final building has to be thoroughly cleaned to get rid of any flux residue before painting. Over time any flux that remains will actually rust the building. Sometimes this can actually improve the look of the building, but it is wise to clean off the flux grease as well as you can. It is getting difficult to find solder with a lead content. A 50/50 mix of lead and tin is best. I happen to have some left over solid core solder from years ago that I used for making this Suydam metal building.

My old bottle of acid flux
liquid acid flux

It is important to keep the tip clean. I hadn't used this particular iron for many years so I had to file the crud off the tip to get down to the copper. I then tinned the iron which is simply applying a thin coating of solder. I keep a damp sponge handy so I can wipe the tip before applying solder to it. Then the solder will flow from the tip of the iron into the seam I am trying to join.

The uncleaned iron tip resting on a stand
soldering iron tip

A damp sponge is used to keep the tip bright
soldering iron sponge
Seam soldering the channels
seam soldering


There are several different types of soldering needed for Suydam metal building construction. Tack soldering is a method of putting a small dot of solder in place to position pieces together until you're ready to complete the seam. It can be difficult to unsolder metal pieces if you line them up incorrectly. Seam soldering is running a continuous bond along a seam or joint. It is a good idea to put the work on a piece of plywood, homasote or masonite while working on the building. I used a piece of tempered masonite. In some of the photos you can see how the iron burned it.

The first task is to solder channels on the back of the walls. I found it helpful to place a block of wood underneath a wall when soldering a right-angle channel pointing downwards. I used the tip of a small pair of pliers or tweezers to hold pieces in place while soldering the seam. I wish I had a third hand! If possible, have someone else work with you to hold pieces in place but be careful you don't burn their fingers or hands. I have a few burns. (Polysporin works wonders to get rid of the burn marks).


Squaring up the walls
squaring solder joints

After all the channels are attached it is necessary to solder together the walls using the channels already in place. This is a little tricky, but some metal machinists' squares will act as a third hand and keep things squared. 

Channels need to be soldered to the roof sides before the roof panels can be installed. All the metal fabrication has to be completed before windows are installed. This Suydam metal building would look terrific with lighting and interior details. However, the club layout doesn't have lights in any of the buildings and is never operated under night lighting so I didn't bother. I did keep parts of the floor unglued in case someone ever wants to add lights. It is far easier to do this when the metal structure is assembled and windows and floors have not been glued in place.

Assembly of the metal roof panels
metal roof assembly

The sawtooth pattern of the roof makes this building particularly attractive, like the Tool & Die kit. This was a common building method to get light into factories. The skylight window material is blue while the side windows are clear acetate with ruled lines. I used Walthers Goo to install them. Suydam also suggests masking or electrical tape that can be painted afterwards. There are two ventilator stacks that are made of Zamac and they don't solder easily. Suydam mentions a product called "Zal Met" that can be used for doing this. I don't have any and don't where to get it. These kits were produced many years ago before the introduction of CA adhesive and other modern adhesives. I used Bob Smith (bsi) Insta-Cure gap-filling CA adhesive for these parts. The stacks of metal wire soldered easily, as did the main chimney stack. I drilled the hole for the stack over the bathroom too large so I replaced it with a hollow piece of 1/8-inch tubing. I think it actually looks better. Here's the building at the point where the soldering work has been completed.

The main structure soldered together
soldered Suydam factory

The skylights have to be installed from inside the building. This took some fiddling. The rest of the windows were straightforward.

The skylights installed
installing windows

I painted the building with Polly Scale E/L Gray inside and out. This took two coats and in some spots, three coats. When dry I used a wash of India ink and alcohol to dirty the building a little. I dry brushed on some Polly Scale Rust over parts of the roof where I had made some mistakes installing chimney stacks. There were some blobs of solder that I had trouble getting rid of. Bill Payne, one of our club members, told me to unravel some of the braid from a piece of coaxial TV cable and use it as a wick to soak up the excess solder while it was liquid. It worked! That's a good tip to remember if you ever find yourself with an unwanted glob of solder.

  • You can buy unsoldering braid especially for this purpose but any stranded wire or wire braid will work.
The front of the Suydam metal building
with the track entrance
weathering tips

I used several shades of weathering chalks and a final application of Pan Pastel chalks to age the Suydam metal building. I wanted it to look used. Joe Rutter of "Full Steam Ahead" has some excellent tips for weathering and painting. See the link below.

Here are a couple of photos of the completed Suydam metal building.

Side view of Suydam metal building
Suydam sideview
The back of the building with the loading dock
weathering tips

See Joe Rutter's comments in Clinic Tips and Techniques from the NFR Woodstock Turn 2009 convention.

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