Workbench Witterings #22 Whether to Weather with Muz revisited

Weathering is quite often seen a bit of a black art and not for the faint hearted; especially when you have just forked out for a brand new item of rolling stock or spent hours building and finish painting a kit. The purpose of this article is to break the process down into a number of steps to make the process less daunting, and actually enjoyable and therefore the make the answer to the title yes! I first put my online via RMweb many moons ago my own methods, which then formed the basis of an article in the October 2008 issue of Hornby Magazine and a later version online on British Railway Modelling Magazine’s website which is now no longer live so I am now republishing it here.

An example of weathered locomotives awaiting cleaning at Fisherton Sarum

Manufacturers produce factory applied weathered finish models, however generally comprise of a simple dusting of a representation of a track grime colour to the model from the bottom up and often do not include the tones, highlights and subtle colours that are usually  seen on work stained locomotives and rolling stock.

Whilst the effect of weathering on the prototype when viewed from a distance often appears a pretty uniform colour, the closer you get; the complexity, depth and range of colours become visible. The method I have developed is designed to take this into account and achieve a similar effect on the model. It should be noted that the visible effect is also changed by the type and direction of lighting. The appearance of brickwork on buildings also appears to change the same way, see here.

It’s not just locomotives but also rolling stock that should be weathered to maintain consistency as can be seen in the coal wagons here on Fisherton Saram

Although colour perception is a topic on its own, see here, colour does not ‘scale’ and a colour which looks right on a full size example may appear totally wrong when seen on a relative small area such as a model and adjustments may have to be made to get the desired results. This is often the case when a manufacture brings out a new model and receives comments such “that colour does not look right to me” when they have in fact gone to lengths to ensure that the colour is the same specification as the prototype.

I would always recommend obtaining a few colour pictures of the effect that you are looking for and working to that, but also take in account that the colour in a photograph or printed within a book is subject to the effects of the lighting at the time, type of film used, developing and printing processes and may actually differ from the real thing. The old adage of ‘if it looks right to me, it is right’ should always be remembered.

The range of colours and effects that should be considered when weathering includes:

  • Brake block dust – typically for the asbestos brake block era a yellowish grey colour
  • Oil streaks – a dirty black and often glossy
  • Rust patches – there is certainly more than one colour and shade of rust, also rust deposits streak due to rain etc.
  • Water staining streaks – usually seen as a slight white deposit left where water has evaporated away.
  • Soot deposits – especially on boiler tops etc
  • Rain streaks
  • Points of wear – a burnished steel effect, Humbrol Metalcote gun metal is particularly effective.


There are a number of mediums used by modellers to weather rolling stock ranging from the use of enamels (as I am describing below), acrylics and weathering powders and pencils. Application methods include dry brushing, thinned washes and airbrush. Although I generally use enamel paints for all stages, weathering powders, pencils (that I have been experimenting with recently), and/or acrylics can also be used.

The process

Although the description below is mainly with reference to steam locomotives, the principles can also be applied to diesel and electric locomotives and of course coaches and wagons (all too often on model layouts we see a weathered engine pulling a rake of completely pristine rolling stock).

I break the process into a number of stages; this is not only way, just one way:

  1. Dry brush base colours of brake dust, rusts and water streaks etc
  2. A dirty wash from the top down using a highly thinned dirty mix
  3. Track / dirt colour is finally lightly airbrushed from the bottom upwards, this is sprayed over the dry brushed colours to give depth and creates the effect that from a distance a more overall dirt colour is seen however as you get closer to the model  the other weathering colours of rust etc show though.

Stage 1

Stage 1

I dry brush a number of base colours to highlight various chassis details, sand pipes and boxes, rivets, corners and crevices etc. The colours I use are Phoenix Precision paints P963 brake dust, followed by P951 Dark Rust, then P950 light rust. The dark rust should be used first with the light rust on top.

Matt white is used to create water streaks etc. around tender and tank filler caps, safety vales, whistles, boiler washout plugs and where water from water cranes has streaked down the tank or tender sides as they have been swung back out of the way.

Do not worry that the colours look too bright at this stage as they will be toned down by the following two stages.

Stage 2

Stage 2

This involves a dirty wash of highly thinned dirt colour for which I use a mixture of Phoenix Precision Paints P982 Weathering (sooty deposits) and other colours such as dirty black and leather. I also use dirty thinners from my brush washing jar (but this depends on what main colours I have used recently, although it usually ends up a dirty grey colour once it’s all mixed up).

Apply using a large soft brush from the top down to create streaks on tank sides etc. I also dab off excess with a chisel pointed shaped piece of foam and cotton buds which results in the wash colour remain in the corners or raised edges and crevices etc. A stipple effect is also used on the boiler tops to create the effect of soot deposits etc from the chimney.
This can be done to varying degrees depending on the level of weathering you require.

Stage 3

The black locos have a two part process which includes an initial dusting spray using an airbrush of Precision Paints P981 dirty black from the top. This nicely results in a greyish tinge to the black especially when used lightly over a satin or gloss black original finish.

All locos are sprayed from the bottom upwards with a brownish grey track colour. The basis for the colour I use is an old Humbrol track colour HS215 that I stocked up on many years ago. I also mix it with Phoenix Precision Paints P977 track colour and some Railmatch 406 sleeper grime. This combination is quite heavily thinned and I keep the mixed pot between weathering sessions and just add to it each time.

To a certain extent I bounce the spray from just in front of the loco but some areas are best lightly sprayed directly.

When spraying over the wheels and motion I apply a small drop of oil to the motion and connecting rod joints etc prior to spraying this ensures that the paint does not seize up any joints. Firstly I give a very light coat then rotate the wheels before a second light coat is added, this ensures no area of the wheels and motion etc is missed by the spray being blocked by the connecting rods etc.

The front and rear of the locos are also lightly sprayed and I also make sure that front faces of items like the cylinders and tank fronts are also included.

Tips and terms. 

Dry brushing, this is where the brush has the majority of the paint wiped off before applying it to the model. It is particularly useful for highlighting raised areas etc. Lightly dip the brush to pick up a small amount of paint, wipe any excess on a tissue until there is very little paint left on the brush (hence the name ‘drybrush’). To apply to the model, lightly brush over the model so the paint catches on the raised detail, or dab into corners etc. A soft flat brush is best for this job (although I should warn you it will soon deteriorate the brush!)

Thinned wash, a “wash” is basically a mixture of highly thinned paint, the mixture I used with enamels is usually about 80/20 thinner to paint, but this varies depending on the result required. A large soft brush is best used. Excess wash can be dabbed off using a sponge or cotton bud.

Airbrushing, the cheaper airbrushes and spray guns work with a single action mechanism where the depression of a single “trigger” and are more than suitable for this weathering technique especially where the bounce spray method (see below) is used.
Double action airbrushes separate the function for air and paint flow so that the user can control the volume of airflow and the concentration of paint.  This allows for greater control and a wider variety of effects especially when spraying directly on to the model itself but I have not found it necessary for this process.

Bouncing spray, this technique is simply bouncing the spray off a scrap piece of wood or card placed directly in front of the model and gives a lighter mist effect than spraying directly on the model directly.  This method would also allow the use of a suitable colour aerosol spray can rather than an airbrush to achieve a similar effect where you can not easily control the density of the paint leaving the spray can.

Weathering powders, these are a usually finely ground powder, or coloured chalks or now also pencils intended for brushing onto models to give a weathered and used effect rather than dry brushing or even using an airbrush. There are powders sold especially for modelling, however you can also go to an Art shop and get a selection of coloured chalks. Using a craft blade a little heap of powder can be quickly scraped off and used. Don’t go for the oil-based types as they aren’t chalk, and won’t make powder. Use a flat head paintbrush and gently brush on the powder following the way dust would settle on the real vehicle. Dust thrown up by tracks would be upward from the tracks and angled towards the rear of the vehicle. Settled dust on the top of the footplate, for example, would be slight but plenty in and around the corners and crevices. The advantage with powders is that you can remove the effect if too heavy with more brushing with a clean brush. Some powder types will require some form of ‘fixing’ after application with a suitable varnish in order to withstand handling.

Acrylics, some acrylics dry too fast to be of any use for dry brushing. You’ll end up with an unusable stiff brush. It is possible to obtain Acrylic Retarder to add to your dry brush colour mix; this will slow the drying time down enough to allow for dry brushing. Alternatively I have successfully used artist’s tube oil paints instead as these dry much slower.

Ground cover, locos, wagons and building fitting into a consistent scene.

And finally… by way of a few thoughts have a go as it’s not as daunting as you might think, but start with something small and cheap to practice on. Where possible refer to relevant photographs (of the period of by look at natural weathering and colours around us especially with respect to buildings, often just a short roam from home. Don’t just think weathering only applies to loco and rolling stock, it affects everything on the layout including buildings and terrain effects and colours, and the often seen far too shiny… road vehicles! Stand back a few feet  and ask your self does your few weathered items stand out of blend in to a more consistent. overall and believable scene.

6 thoughts on “Workbench Witterings #22 Whether to Weather with Muz revisited

  1. Most informative post Graham – thank you.

    Often wondered if the term should be ‘distressing’ rather than ‘weathering’ – not that I’m advocating change!

    1. Well distressing is generally more. Physical treatment but the two are extricably linked as any thing distressed should also be weathered…

  2. Hi Graham, thanks for a very informative post. Oddly enough, I have an issue with the finish of many of my models but it’s slightly different. It took years but eventually I managed to buy all of Hornby’s 12-wheel Pullmans to help recreate one of the various Southern named Belles of the 1930s but in all of the piccies of that era, the gloss finish of the carriage sides is what sticks out. That also applies to most carriage stock. Yet all I hear is that gloss finishes on locos or coaches simply look wrong in OO scale. One day I’m sure a solution will be found…

    1. I never use gloss for any finish (except for wet surfaces such as water or oil) as it does not scale down to 00 very well. I use satin varnish (Halfords on most of my locos except matt smokeboxes and cab roofs) and coaching stock whilst wagons I finish in matt.

  3. Excellent article. You mention the use of asbestos brake pads which begs the question did Bulleid use cast iron or asbestos pads and when would each have been used?

  4. I was taught to weather things by the late Roy Link (fantastic modeller and personal friend). Two pieces of advice he gave were to think how and why the thing gets dirty (light coloured dirt usually comes from above, dark coloured dirt comes up from below), and to treat the item as a 3D painting. One technique I have used, and not seen described elsewhere, is to use and old toothbrush, dip it in some relatively thick paint, pull back on the bristles and allow them to flick the paint. It can produce some great splattered mud effects, but try it first on some paper, and don’t use the same toothbrush to do your teeth afterwards!

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