Protecting your rails while painting track

Most model railway track come with black sleepers. These look nothing like the real thing and many modellers paint them a more authentic colour.

Browns for wood and grey for concrete are popular choices applied with either a rattle can, airbrush or paint brush is the usual approach.

But how can you protect your rails while coating the sleepers and chairs?

At best you’ll discolour metal so it’ll need several coats, even if you were intending to paint the xxx. At worse, you’ll may end up needing to run over the entire length of your track with a track cleaner

You could of course work your way around and cover the rails with masking tape (I use builders tape as it’s the same but much cheaper) If your layout is OO gauge but that can take ages.

Thankfully, there’s a much easier and quicker option.

The last straw

Drinking straws.  Plain, simple, plastic drinking straws are your new best friend.

Simply cut the in half length ways and slide them along the rails. 

They work at treat and will protect the metal during painting. And once finished can just be lifted off.

Cheap, easy and quick.

If using a spray can or air brush to apply the paint, you might find the straws blow off but it’s simple enough just to tape the ends down to secure them.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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