15 recycling ideas for model making

cotton buds can be recycled and reused for a model buildingsFifteen things from around your house you can recycle and use for model making, wargaming and model railways to save money and the environment.

If you want to make a model railway, diorama or even scene for a Warhammer game but for cost or environmental reasons want to recycle and reuse plastic and mass manufactured products there are plenty of things you can use from around the house instead. I covered a number of common house hold objects you can use before, read the post now, and here are 15 more.

Personally, I also enjoy making my own products because I enjoy the experimentation involved, it’s usually messy and fun and above all gives a much greater feeling of satisfaction at the end. Anyway, on with the tips.

  1. Hills from newspaper
    An oldie but still relevant and very popular is to reuse newspapers. Just make up some Papier-mâché and cover chicken wire in strips of it. Alternatively, use cardboard boxes to make a matrix grid and then cover this with the Papier-mâché. Read my recipe for Papier-mâché for models.
  2. Static grass from teddy bear fur
    I feel so guilty about doing this but fur from a teddy bear makes fantastic static grass. Stephen Fay described his technique for doing this, in this post, and I now use it every time.
  3. Trees from plants
    There are lots of suggestions for which plant stems can be used to make trees but I find plant dead roots give the best results, despite being from the “wrong” end of a plant. They often have more branches and give a better shape. Make sure you dry them out and treat them with a coating of glue to seal them before use.

    how to make your own bushes

    Old clothes brushes can make surprisingly good bushes.

  4. Bushes from brushes
    Find an old nylon or horse hair clothes brush, and cut the bristles to between 5mm and 10mm (depending on whether you’re modelling in N, OO and HO scale). Now put a blob of glue from a heat gun on some greaseproof paper and places a few of the bristles into it so they stand upright. Give it a few minutes to let the glue set hard. Now spray on hair spray or dab with PVA and sprinkle a small amount of the smallest scatter you have over it. You now have a small bush.
  5. Hedge row scrubbers
    Get hold of some kitchen scrubbers, the ones with a soft sponge on one side and a rough dark green pad on the other. Cut off the rough space and cut it into rows. It makes great hedge rows. For added effect glue on some xxx to serve as branches growing up from the ground.
  6. Baseboards from cardboard
    I can’t comment on how effective this tip is as I’ve never actually used it but various people have suggested glueing layers of thick cardboard — from packaging boxes — together to create a lightweight baseboard.
  7. Soil for scatter
    One of the moderators on the MRE community group uses this technique. Essentially, take some soil from your garden, filter it down into scatter sizes grains; cook it in an oven to dry it out and remove any insects (or freeze it for 72 hours) and you have a ground cover that’s so convincing it could be real… If you’re thinking environmentally and don’t want to harm insects, there are audio insect repellents that claim they can ultrasonic frequencies and magnetic waves to repel them.

    How to make your own plaster cloth

    Pastercloth is great for landscaping and old shirts are great for plastercloth.


  8. Plaster cloth from old clothes 
    Plaster cloth is a fantastic material for making hills but it can get expensive and let’s face it’s got to be better and give a great feeling of satisfaction if you make your own. Luckily, it’s very easy. Read how I make mine from old T-shirts.
  9. Rockfall from corks
    There are so many uses for old wine bottle corks around a model railway I could write a whole article on this alone. Until then, here are some pointers: ground up to make rock fall or coal; rubbed on track to clean it: with a paper clip pushed into one end to serve as a micro applicator for lubrication oils to motors and wheels, and finally, as a base on which to stand figures when painting.

    how to make water for your model railway

    Tissue paper makes wonderful waves.


  10. Making waves, from tissue paper
    For this tip, I have to give credit to the ever-inventive Martin and his YouTube channel. For details on how to use tissue paper and create those awesome waves, read the article now.
  11. Not just for Christmas, flicking flames and candlelights
    A great source for building lights. The flickering candle lights also give very effective fire effects for use in a bonfire or house scene. Even better, they often come with a battery power source so don’t need extra wiring.
  12. Tasty ground cover and scatter, raid the herb rack
    Ground herbs can make excellent scatter, but be wary of rodents and insects that might then be attracted to your layout. A word of warning, however, they can attract a variety of wildlife onto your layout who will enjoy snacks.
  13. Pipework and gutters from cotton buds
    If you’re a fan of paper card buildings, you’ll probably want to add gutters and pipe work. You could buy custom-made plastic kits, the Ratio 538 set for example, or you could reach for ear swabs. Just cut off the cotton wool tips at the end, paint and you have downpipes. Cut them in half, along the length, and you’ve got gutters. Cotton buds can also be used for cleaning track. 
  14. Stained glass church windows — break out the chocolates
    Admittedly, I’d use felt tip pens to colour the window film if making stained glass church windows others have used the coloured wrappers of sweets. Just hut the wrappers up and glue them to the film and you have a very credible stained glass look.
  15. Ground foam and vegetation from sponges
    Take an old sponge, pop it in a food blender, colour with greens and browns and you have great vegetation. It’s simple, effective, fun and a lot cheaper than buying the commercial stuff.

When using recycled organic matter, twigs and roots for trees etc, remember insects maybe be lurking in them so dry them out before use. Equally, if using foodstuffs on your layout, tea leaves for scatter, animals and insects may find them tasty so keep the layout clean.

What household items have you recycled for your models, train layouts and dioramas? Share your suggestions in a comment below.

  1. I use the thin clear plastic lids from yogurt pots for a number of things such as for glazing buildings, loco’s, carriages, also for sticking groups of OO gauge people to form a scene e.g. a group of schoolboys queing to get on a coach for a school outing. I also use them for palettes when painting using humbrol paints. I mix colours on them, then the tops can just be put in the waste once the painting has finished.

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