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fiNe-scaling wagons

fiNe-scaling wagons by chopping them up


There are several approaches to fiNe-scaling wagons. Sometimes you find wagons in the collection that are not good enough to spend much time on in producing an entire new chassis. But if alternative better models are not available you can at least try to give it a face lift. One procedure that requires not too much effort but is capable of repairing some of the more obvious defects such as a wrong wheel base is chopping them up. A wagon that earns such a treatment for instance is the age old UIC type I open wagon produced by Roco. The UIC 1 wagon has a wheel base of 4850 mm or 30.3 mm in scale. The wheelbase of this model is however only 27.5 mm. The same model is also sold as ex. Saar railways Omp which is even further off as an Omp has fixed heads and 5000 mm wheelbase (similar to NMBS type 1232A0). On fiNe-scaling such a wagon we can try to find a model with a different chassis closer to scale. But if you are thinking of a full coal train that will turn out a costly approach. However we can use the available chassis and repair the wheelbase if we cut it at the right places and assemble the pieces in a different way. This page shows how to do this for a series of wagons that will figure on the mentioned coal train.

Coming close to it, same family as the UIC 1, note welded construction, different corners and single spring links and battered look on this pensioner in Leuven

We start with finding a dimensioned sketch or drawing and preferably some photos of the real thing. This wagon was a standard wagon on the NMBS, SNCF and NS railways, thus any drawing will do. If you inspect the drawing closely comparing with the model you probably come to the conclusion that the latter is only a superficial look-alike of the real thing, certainly by nowadays standards of models. If you want an accurate model with thin walls DIY etching is the obvious way to proceed. The NMBS had many similar wagons which originated from the first coal wagon capable of 20 ton load dating from 1903. A model of the 1910 Flamme design can be seen in the museum in the Brussel Noord station. The UIC wagon differs with some newer components such as double link hangers on the springs and other form of bearings. On these details the Roco model cannot be changed but stick on a number from a different range and you have an older pre-1950 model such as one of the 3500 Canadian built type 1214B0 wagons from 1946.

graph where to cut

This graph shows where to cut the chassis.

As in most cases with N wagons it is easiest to replace the entire buffer beam with a new one. This is because hardly anything will be left if you cut off the coupling case and the much too short buffers. If you inspect this model you will see that the new buffer beam can be fitted between the extensions on the corners. The length of the model is 50.0 mm. If we use 1 mm buffer beams the basic chassis length needs to be 48 mm. With a wheel base of 27.5 the distance of the wheels from the end is 10.25 mm. The right wheel base needs to 30.3125 mm, thus leaving us with 8.85 mm at the outer ends. Thus if we cut it into 3 parts of 10.25 + 8.85 = 19.1 mm from the ends we get the right wheel base if we turn the parts with axle guards 180 degrees around so that the 10.25 mm end sits on the inside.

disassembling and chopping

chopping tool
We start with disassembling the entire wagon. First take out the wheels and put these apart. If you press the wagon case with the buffers on a piece of steel you can pry of the top from the chassis keeping the tabs intact. However we will grind them off anyway thus you can also immediately free it by breaking the tabs. Use a fiber glass brush to remove any lettering and after a good washing the top can be sprayed in the right colour. The steel plate can be thrown away being incompatible with the MFK magnetic coupling.

The chassis can be undone from the N couplings by opening the tabs at the top of the chassis. Take out the coupling spring these can be used for other modelling tasks. Cut off the coupling boxes and the steps with a very sharp knife. We now need to cut up the chassis. An easy tool for straight cutting identical pieces of plastic is a NWSL chopping tool such as on this photo. We start with cutting of the buffers just outside the buffer beams. Because the beams are wider by half a mm we need a spacer to keep the chassis parallel to the steel strip on the chopper. We then adjust the chopper for the 19.1 mm length with a caliper. We check for squareness and clean the cut ends with a sand paper board. The next photo gives an idea how the whole lot looks after this action. We can now think of starting to assemble it again in a new order. But not before we clear the bottom of the wagon top of its tabs. The easiest way is to break them off and cut the remains with an endmill in the minidrill. The under side of the wagon now forms a 1mm deep rectangular box of 46 mm long and 16 mm wide. You can just discern the brown spots where the tabs are cut away on the green body on top left of the chopper.

cut chassis


parts ready for assembly

The reconstruction is straightforward. We start with cutting a reinforcement of 0.5 mm thick plasticard. This piece of sheet is 16mm wide and 46mm long and just fits this box at the underside. The easiest to use is black plasticard because it saves some painting but white will do the job too.
I found that there are at least 2 different types of frames. The old ones are of black hard polystyrene, the newer ones with a soft more flexing dark grey plastic. This latter type is difficult to glue because it isn't attacked by chemicals. But fast setting 2 component epoxy keys enough to keep everything together thus that is what we will use. Because the new frame plate is wider and a bit shorter you need to line out the items carefully to keep everything in line and centered. I do this by eye. We just smear the baseplate and put on the pieces in the right order. Don't forget a bit of glue on the cut edges of the frame itself.
As we are waiting for the glue to dry we can cut the new weight piece. I use 0.5 mm lead and cut this to the same rectangle of 46mm x 16 mm. This can be fitted directly to the bottom of the wagon case. Together with the 0.5 mm plastic this will fill the entire box and doesn't need any glue. The weight of this piece of lead is about 13 gram thus the wagon will be about the same weight as before with the steel plate. We also cut 2 new buffer beams of strip styrene of 1 x 2 mm with a length of 16mm.

After test fitting we can glue the frame and buffer beams in one go with some superglue at the ends of the wagon case. The next photo shows a piece of white plasticard used. The visible white edges need some touching up later. Only the ends are glued so the we stand a reasonable chance to disassemble to whole lot later if there is a third life for this wagon.We either drop in wheels from the 2 mm Scale Association with the right axle length and btb or we exchange the wheels from 2 2mm SA axles and push these on an original Roco axle.

assembled again

detail etches

This photo shows some of the etches available from Gerd Kuswa for supering wagons. The photo shows buffer beam overlays with brake hoses and shunting grips, separate hoses, underlay plates for buffers and foot steps.


We can now start to add all the failing items to our wagon. To mention new hand rails on the left hand fronts, steps below, new buffers, shunting grips, brake hoses and brake regime handle. Some wagons also need steps below the solebars and most UIC wagons need the panel for changing brake regime beneath the solebar.
You may also cut off the cast brakes and add new ones more inward if you wish. However the brakes here are positioned correctly with respect to the axle guards. These are too thick of course but the real problem is that the axles are slightly overlong, putting on new brakes in correct position to the wheels will not remedy this. If you want to repair this an entire new narrow chassis is necessary.
The photo above shows some of the etches that can be used for this action. However most parts can be made at home just as well. We start with drilling the holes for the new buffers 11 mm spacing about 6.5 mm above track. You can make a scriber such as on the photo to scribe the center of the buffer or use a jig to drill the holes on the right height. This jig is used first to locate the holes for the buffer, with the buffers in position the center hole for the coupling can be drilled. The buffer plates fit the slots to give a positive location

fixed scriber
front view drilling jigsideview drilling jig with drill

Buffer underlay plates can also be made from thin sheet and punched with a sharp scriber point. Be sure to drill the hole in the sheet first, then punch and cut from the sheet as last operation. Shunting grips can be folded from .15 mm brass wire stretched to breaking with 2 pliers. Wind around a suitable piece of plastic of say 2-2.5mm thick and 10mm wide. Cut the loops with a side cutter and there you are with a pile of raw grips. With a plier these are bended to 45 degrees and cut to length and immediately mounted with a drop of superglue below the buffer before it disappears into space.
Hand rails can bend with pliers from stiff wire. NS, steel or phosphor bronze will all do, 0.15 - 0.2 mm will look right. Look for pliers about 6mm wide. Fold the wire into a U, bend the legs another 90 degrees and cut to length, a bit less than 1mm. Drill the holes with an archimedean drill. A drill can be ground with the slitting disc in the mini-drill from a steel pin into a bit with D-form about 1.5 mm long. Some imperfections such as taper will not do harm in this case as it is only soft plastic in which we want to make a tiny hole.

fleet of wagons

Just do a few more, I believe this are nr. 13-18 of the fleet for the coaltrain.

couplings and decals

The finishing stage is fitting the couplings, decals and weathering. As fiNe-scale coupling we use the MFK magnetic field coupling that is designed by the Fremo fiNe-scale group. This design is commercially produced and can be ordered by Schiffer Design. This is a NS hook and a steel loop that represents a screw coupling. The photo shows the 2 etches that are part prepared. The etches are cleaned and prepared by fibreglass brush or mini drill and scrubber. The loops are already folded and glued here and cleaned from etch cusp. A comprehensive instruction (in german language) how to built these into a wagon can be found on www.finescale.org.

coupling etch

The decals to add depend of course on the period and company. These wagons on the last photo show a series of decals designed in Coreldraw and printed on an OKI printer by a friend. These are water slide transfers, each wagon with its own individual number of course. The resolution of these is just acceptable but the current new printers are again a step finer. The difficulty is to get them to stick onto an unlevel surface without being visible. I use some arabic gum in the process and press them with piece of neoprene rubber and seal them with liquid decal film. Another procedure is to airbrush the wagon in high gloss coat, add the transfers, and finish the wagon in matted gloss fixing the transfers and removing gloss on the fly. Don't forget to add the white brake symbols on all corners with a dip of white paint with a fine brush and to put some paperwork in the box. The wagons can be weathered using airbrush and crayons. Some of the wagons treated are shown on the final photo.

copyright: Henk Oversloot
date: 26 october 2003