Unexpected Building Materials–Cheap!

Many of the building projects that model railroaders build use some standard materials. Popsicle sticks (aka craft-sticks), toothpicks, basswood, coffee stir sticks, just to name a few of the most basic. Each type of material has it strengths and weaknesses. For example, popsicle sticks are made from a very hard, smooth wood and have almost no give to them. You simply can not bend or shape them to any great degree.

800x600popsicleroofAnother draw back of Popsicle sticks is that they are short. When I built a covered bridge I wanted to create it in a dilapidated condition showing the roof planking with only a few shingles to hint that it had seen better days. Prototypical roofing has every other plank from top to bottom end on an alternate joist, meaning the ends don’t all line up on each joist.

But the popsicle sticks I used were too short to span two joists. What I needed was scale lumber like a popsicle stick that was 10 or 12 inches long. As far as I know such a thing does not exist. But the other day I ran into a rather unexpected raw building materials find.

800x600bamboo1I was in a Target store and as is my habit I checked out the $1 bins to see if there was anything I could purchase cheap and use in modeling or building somewhere on my train layout. And I found bundles of (4) table placemats for $1.00 each (marked down from $2.50). These cheapie placemats are 12 inches long and are made out of bamboo.



Each mat (and there are 4 mats to a package) is made up of individual pieces of wood 12 inches in length.





I just needed to see if I could deconstruct each mat into it’s component pieces. The mats are held together with thread, glued (probably a superglue type of adhesive) only on each end piece. A touch of an Exacto knife and the thread readily parted.



From there I just unthreaded the threads.



This left me with a nice pile of 12 long bamboo boards that are about the same width as a typical craft stick, just a hair thinner, but with a very different look from your typical popsicle stick, a bonus which I really liked.

Another bonus over your craft stick is that the bamboo is quite bendy which would be really handy for some projects. Between each “plank” of the placemat is a 12 inch slim round skewer also make from bamboo.


If you’ve worked with craft sticks you know that the surfaces are quote smooth and to give them a visible wood grain you need to drag a modeling saw across them lengthwise at a slight angle. But the bamboo is nicely textured right out of the bag!

Bottom line is that for $2 bucks I picked up a load of building materials ready to cut and glue into a project, of a material that offers a different look and will allow itself to be readily bent and shaped a needed. Not a bad days shopping. Always be on the lookout for cheap building materials, you never know when you’ll find a bargain.

If you’ve a tip on bargain building materials or craft tricks please leave them in a comment on this post. –TJ

(Originally posted 04/29/2011, revised 07/06/2012)

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One Response to Unexpected Building Materials–Cheap!

  1. tim says:

    Great idea!

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