Notes on Detailing with Props – Part 2

1-tinyaxesSome time back I purchased a number of nifty items from Ozark Miniatures when I was outfitting my Bachmann log cars and one of the items was a pack of (2) axes. They’ve been floating around my craft table for longer than I care to admit without ever being painted and added to my rolling stock as props.


See Part 1 of this series here.

It was high time to get these props integrated into my backwoods logging rolling stock.

2-magnifyingtheaxeThese axes are tiny, measuring only an inch and half in length. Now the reason I’m in Large Scale to begin with is my eyesight has been going downhill since I hit 40 and I hit 40 a long time ago (you know you’re old when you think “Geez, I’d love to be 40 again!”). So to deal with tiny props for my model railroad I have a lighted magnifying glass mounted on my craft table.


3-otherpropsWhen I start painting props I like to get out any other completed props that I have laying around so as to reacquaint myself with the colors I used when painting items previously. I’ve had most of the tools from a Bachmann tool pack sitting on top of the TV in the craft room since last year so I got them out (despite being a bit dusty) for inspiration.

Looking at the existing stuff that has not yet found a home on a piece of rolling stock I decided to go a bit lighter in color for the axe handles than the shovels and picks I’d done previously.

4-filesNext up is the prep work on the axes themselves. The white metal stuff I get from Ozark Miniatures usually has some “flash” bits and lines that need to be removed before painting. For this I have a small pack of files that I got from Micro Mark. a bit of filing all around and I was ready for paint.


5-acryliccolorsNow to paint selection. For the axe handles I wanted something a bit lighter than I’d been using for shovels and the like. I decided on Territorial Beige for the wood, my standard metal color, Dark Burnt Umber, for the axe head, and a metallic silver for dry brushing along the edge of the axe head.


6-holdingaxeWhen working with small props or anything detachable, be it from an engine or a car, you need a way to hold the piece while you paint it. The holder also should lend itself to being set down so the wet paint can dry. A clamp works well for this purpose. While you cannot have too many clamps don’t discount the handy (and cheap) clothespin (or cloths peg for our friends across the pond).

In the above picture I’ve started with the Territorial Beige on the lower handle. When painting white metal I’ve found you get the best results if you don’t try to paint one coat. Cover it with paint no matter how blotchy it may appear. Let it try and finish it with a second coat what will cover much better than the first.


Because I want these axes to look used by rough hands I took a bit of the dark burnt umber and dry brushed the handle very lightly for a layer of grime effect.

Here you can see some of the flash at the base of the axe head that needed to be filed down.


8-paintaxeheadThe axe heads are painted with the dark burnt umber for a old metal effect. I paint the entire axe head including the wood bit at the top and around the handle. The dark paint on the handle will be cleaned up in the next step.



Now I go back to the territorial beige and touch up the top of the axe head where there is a raised bit to indicate the spot where the wooden handle pokes through the top of the axe head. At this time I clean up the top of the handle where it meets the bottom of the axe head as well.


10-silvercuttingedgeThe last step is to dry brush some metallic silver to indicate wear on the cutting edge of the blade and on the back of the axe head which is sometimes used in logging as a makeshift hammer. If you’ve never dry brushed before, just dip your brush in some paint and blot the brush on a paper towel to remove most all  of the paint and water.

Then you sort of rub the brush on the piece until you get some color on it. It sounds harder than it is and after a few tries you’ll get the hang of it.


That’s it for the painting. Here you see the two axes next to the other bits I have awaiting to be placed on my trains. I’m thinking I should have mixed in some dark blue with burnt umber for the axe heads.



What do you think?


The best part of painting up props is when you add them to your engines or rolling stock. One axe I decided to place on a small HLW based flatcar, with the head sunk into a piece of railroad tie. I cut the end of the wood beam with an Exacto knife and put just a touch of superglue on the axe head blade edge. Then pushed it into the cut.

The second axe I decided to mount on the wall of another HLW kitbashed car that is part of my backwoods MOW consist (see Another H-L-W Log Car Kitbash). I could just glue the axe on the wall and trust to the 10 foot rule but I decided to make hooks so the axe (while in fact it is glued to the wall) would look like it was hanging there ready to be taken down and used.

13-cutlinksFirst, I needed some hooks. For this I took the largest linked chain I had laying around (again from Ozark Miniatures) and I cut two links from the end of the chain.



14-finishedhookThese links are then opened up and shaped with the help of two small needlenosed pliers.




Here’s where I got lucky.


The width of the coffee stir sticks I used for the walls of my little MOW car just happened to be the correct width for the axe head. Had it not I would have used a very tiny drill bit in a pin vise to make the necessary hole(s). As it was I was able to use my small pliers to press fit the hooks I made going into the wall between the stir sticks.

I touched the hooks up with dark burnt umber where they showed tool marks from the cutting and fitting and the hooks were ready.

16-hookswithaxeA touch of E6000 (all purpose adhesive for dissimilar materials) on the side of the axe head going against the wall and the axe was slipped into the hooks.





That’s it for the second axe.  As you can see here it makes what I think is a nice addition to my MOW office car on my backwoods logging consist.



Let me know how you use props on your railroad! –TJ

See Part 3 of this series here.

(Originally posted 10/14/2011, revised 4/27/2012)

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2 Responses to Notes on Detailing with Props – Part 2

  1. Bob A. says:

    Axe handle with the lighter color blends into the wall background color. Might consider a red (fire) handle for contrast.

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