Model Railway Tools: 17 Essential Items For Your Tool Box, updated for 2020

When it comes to tools for model railways, there are a thousands of tools to choose from. You don’t need every tool on sale in B&Q but old hands in the hobby recommend the following as the 17 essential tools for your model train work.

Which of these is missing from your tool box?

#1 Craft Knife 

The knife in my toolbox is perhaps my most reached for tool for millions of odd jobs around the layout — from model and scenery work (cutting paper, card and plastic) to electrical tasks. Invest in a good one, with replaceable blades — you won’t regret it. Craft, DIY and model shops will all be able to supply them.

#2 Small Headed Hammer

small headed copper

For some problems only a hammer will do!

Aside from “correcting” mistakes, pushing in track pins is one such problem and for which a small headed hammer will come in handy.  Any good DIY store will carry a good selection of hammers but this Copper hammer is particularly suited for working on and around the delicate metals around a layout.

Tip of the hat to @stevethomas6444 for this one.

 

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#3 Multi-meter

small headed copper

Electrics are the lifeblood of your railway so a trusted means of measuring and testing current, voltage and resistance is a must.

Any High Street DIY store and many model shops will be happy to sell you a multi-meter, alternatively, this Digital Multimeter is great value for money with has 250+ positive reviews.

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#4 Long Nose Pliers 

Vital to precise positioning of the many tiny elements on model trains and layouts and, let’s face it, for retrieving them when we drop them into difficult to reach spots needle nose pliers are just ideal. 

The biggest use however, for me at least, however is probably feeding wires through holes in the baseboard and under track and bending piano wire for Tortoise and Colbalt point motors. They’re also useful for inserting and of course removing track pins.

The Am-Tech Mini Extra Long Nose Pliers detailed here are highly rated.

 

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#5 Rail Cutters

While I use my Dremel for most rail cutting, a pair of rail cutters are handy to have around. The Xuron track cutter (details here) for HO, 00, N and Z Gauges are well regarded.

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#6 Soldering Iron

soldering iron model railway

As soon as a railway moves beyond “toy” and temporary table top construction and you start getting serious a soldering iron will be needed.

A 25W or 30W soldering iron is vital, any smaller and the iron won’t heat wire and track quickly enough and bigger irons will likely melt your rails. You’ll also want one with an exchangeable different size tips for the different tasks around the layout. Antex is easily the most recommended brand and the XS25 is my preferred choice.

See my guide to soldering which takes you through the different irons, how to solder and which solder mix to use for the best results and avoid bad joints.

Kudos to @tanj666 for suggesting this.

 

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#7  Scissors

Good scissors, of different sizes, are essential in your toolbox for model railways.

This 5 piece set is highly recommended for everything from cutting card (scenic walls and adjusting Metcalfe cardboard buildings for instance) to cutting ballast and grass matts.

 

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#8 Electric Drill

Power drills save a lot of effort especially around the construction of the baseboard, drilling holes for wires to point motors, signals and lighting.



electric drillModel Railway Engineer Tip:

I’ve recently changed my preferred electric screwdriver and drill, upgrading to this 18V Li-Ion Fast Charge Cordless Drill/Driver (pictured). It’s variable speed with 24 torque setting, comes 13 accessories, built-in light and level bubble.


 

#9  Straight Edge Ruler

To be honest this is one I didn’t realise I needed until reading about, getting and then using it and I still can’t believe it didn’t have one for so long. You can’t go far wrong with any straight edge ruler but this one gets rave review if you can’t find one locally.

#10 Point Syringe Kit 

When first starting out with models, it’s easy to try and get by. One example of this is when applying liquids – glues, oils etc. It’s all too easy to try and do this with brushes or even trying to drip fluids into place only to get glue or paint splashed over building fronts or tracks which can be a pain to remove.

Since learning the hard way I now always use fine point or pinpoint syringes to precisely deposit fluid and haven’t looked back. The few pounds that a set, such as these, cost won’t be wasted.

 

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#11 Cutting Matt While not strictly a tool, if you’re doing any kind of cutting (and you will) having a surface on which to work without slicing up the family table or kitchen worktops is a good investment. Cutting matts are available from most craft shops and eBay.

#12 Hack Saw 

For cutting material to thick or strong for craft knife and scissors a good hack saw is a must. Whether it’s track cutting, slots for wiring or delicate adjustments to models having a good hack saw will make life easier.

#13  Screwdrivers

precision screw drivers

Big and small screw drivers are easily an essential in any tool box. For model trains, you’ll want a a precision watch makers/jewellers screwdrivers set alongside a standard electrics screwdrivers.

 

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#14 Brushes 

Is a brush classified as a tool? I don’t know but do know I regularly find myself reaching for a brush of one size of another. You’ll want a a wide and varied selection, for painting buildings and weathering to fine positioning of ballast. You’re local craft store will have a wide selection.

#15 Tweezers 

Hopefully, I don’t have to say much about tweezers! They’re great for fine positioning of delicate small items, pulling wires through holes and removing splinters when making baseboards

When buying tweezers, avoid the budget tweezers as these are poorly made from cheap metal and prone to bending or not meeting at the tips. Spending a bit more will save you time and money in the long run.

#16 Glue Gun

Glue Gun

From building kits to fixing flexi-track and underlay to adding bulk to do-it-yourself made trees a glue gun (Melt Guns) makes life easier and faster for model railway hobbyists.

Tip: One tip from experience: Get a gun – such as this one – which has two heat settings so it can be used on both sensitive surfaces like thin card and more robust materials.

 

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#17 Pin Vice

archimedes drill

For small high precision drill work nothing beats a good quality Pin Vice. Able to hold very small scale drill bits (.3mm for example) bits while also giving precise control of the speed of rotation so as not to damage delicate materials you’ll find it becomes one of your most used tools.

I use a Pin Vice for detail work and an Archimedean Drill (pictured) for bits over 1mil.

Pin Vice

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Archimedean Drill

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So what tools could you not do without when working on your model railway? Share your suggestions in a comment.

Picture: Background Brushes from petitshoo

Disclaimer: Some links on this page will take you to Amazon or eBay through which you can buy the products mentioned. These links are made under the Amazon and eBay affiliate scheme which means that although the price to you doesn't change I get a small commission on the orders you place. Please see the disclaimer for more details.


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12 comments
  1. HI Andy , Iam a fresh man at railway modelling or should i say lady .I would love to make models for 00gauge but not sure on how to scale ! say a church .I would appreciate some help .thank you . Janice

  2. Hi
    I have been stripping wires for many years as a motorcycle mechanic but when stripping the very thin wire used on my layout I ruined more bits than I care to mention. That is until I came across the S & R rapid wire stripper. It automatically strips 8 – 12 mm lengths from sizes 0.2 to 6mm and is a reasonable price. I wish I had found this earlier as I haven’t had a mishap since.
    ps Great website
    Keith

  3. I would add one more that I i=use frequently:
    a Scrawker (A homemade handle which accepts a small craft type blade that faces the work surface at 45 degrees and is nearly always used for scoring/cutting of Plasticard. A craft knife takes for ever to do this.

  4. Oe thing I can’t do without is the muliclamp with the LED light under a magified glass on a stand which I purchased from Aldi’s also some mini grip clamps, as for a muli-volt meter, I use a a 12v x 6w car bulb for testing current on rail tracks…
    There are quite a few “tools” which I’ve picked up over the last 40 years, but too numoues tomention here (one of my favourite is a dentist pick, God knows where I picked that up from!)

    • Hi Idris, I think I have a similar tool, yes, it’s very useful. Dentists picks have come up a few times as recommendations, will add them. Kind regards, Andy

  5. I couldn’t imagine my “toolbox” without needle files. I also often use the “tool” intended for manicure, e.g. sanding paper on hard cardboard (your girlfriend or wife’ll know what I’m talking about). One more tool I find very useful is a sharp needle – I use it for making starter holes for drilling in plastic, especially with bits of under 1 mm in diameter.
    Hope you keep enjoying the hobby for many years to come, and keep up the good work! Thank you.

  6. In addition to painting models it is a very good idea to keep a 1″ / 25mm Soft Bristle Brush, as used for decorating. This can then be used to clear dust from your models in a quick and easy way. I also have a couple of brushes like those used to paint models, which I keep to allow dust removal from areas which are not easily accessible using the 1″ brush or are delicate and require more precision. This is great for Engines and Rolling Stock, Kits, Resin Castings, White Metal and Diecast Models, alongside many others.

    Where doest the dust come from in a clean room?

  7. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!

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