Better Looking Barrels

Plain craft barrelWooden barrels have many uses around a model railroad. You can load them up on flat cars, you can place them strategically around your layout, by buildings, say in front of the general store, or on any loading dock be it at a store or train station. You might want to put a barrel on a refuge platform on your trestle, maybe paint it red for a bit of color on your layout.

The barrel shown above is one of several I purchased at Michael’s Crafts (but you can purchase these at most any well stocked craft shop). They are very inexpensive but are very plain, without much personality.

Fortunately, this is easily corrected.

The most notable missing feature on these barrels is the lack of vertical lines denoting the staves which make up a barrel. This may not be an issue for you, in which you can start right in with painting the barrel but it was an issue for me.

Plain craft barrel with base coat of paintFor the purposes of this article I’ve painted the basic barrel with a dull primer acrylic paint so you can see the stave lines I scribe into the barrel. I first tried to draw the vertical lines using a fine line Sharpie pen but did not like the look (however you may). I opted for another method what was a bit riskier as you’ll see.


Plain barrel with middle stave lines scribed in

Here I’ve scribed in stave lines in the center portion of the barrel.




Scribed stave lines on all sections

Here you can see I’ve scribed in the stave lines between the barrel hoops.




Scribing in barrel lines

Here is why I said this was a risky procedure. I scribe in the vertical stave lines with an Exacto cutting blade. Notice the heavy glove I wear on my left hand for holding the barrel being scribed. I’ve not cut myself as yet since I take my time and don’t try to do too much at one sitting.


Here I cut in the lines between the barrel hoops.Cutting in the lines between the hoops





Cutting the stave lines on top

Two lines scribed into the top of the barrel give it a nice look.




Painting the scribe lines with a heavy acrylic black wash

Once the lines are cut I use a very fine brush with a heavy black acrylic wash to run black into the scribe lines.




Painted barrel

Once the lines are blackened, several washes of brown mixed with a touch of gray on the staves, and burnt sienna on the hoops and I have a finished barrel.




Roped barrels for boxcar load

The finished barrels make for great cargo. Here I’ve “roped” together several barrels for a combo car load. A heavy string touched with a brown wash to make it look a bit more like rope secures the barrels.




Lone barrel on a work car

Here is a single barrel secured to the post of a small HLW flat car. The handle was made from a scrap of coffee stir stick  and just superglued to the top of the barrel.



Make a barrel handle

Here is the scrap of coffee stir stick being whittled down into a barrel handle. It usually takes several attempts to create a handle without having it break while cutting.




That’s all there is to it. If you opt to scribe in stave lines do be careful! Try the Sharpie method first to draw some lines and see if that works for you before you get out a sharp Exacto blade.

Do let me know what you think. –TJ

(Originally posted 9/16/2011, revised 3/29/2013)

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3 Responses to Better Looking Barrels

  1. Bob A. says:

    Wow! pretty nice work. It does seem a bit “risky” but I can’t argue with the results. I’ll have to try this for myself.

  2. Bruce Jensen says:

    Looks great, if a bit fussy (imagine doing 100 barrels!) The black acrylic you use –
    just an ordinary hobby shop paint, I assume? Or something even cooler?

    2 things –

    I also use a wash of black India ink in alcohol to stain some items – it works well, and looks good – brings out the grain.

    How do you make your rope? It looks great, and I have not seen a product marketed commercially, either for tailoring or for the hobby, that looks as good.

  3. TJ says:


    >The black acrylic you use – just an ordinary hobby shop paint, I assume? Or something even cooler?

    Just black acrylic hobby paint diluted with “wet” water so there’s no surface tension.

    >How do you make your rope?

    The rope is from a spool of twine I purchased at a local garden store. Once tied I drip a dilute wash again made from acrylic paint on the twine for both color and rigidity.


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