Introduction to Weathering

I have been weathering models for over 25 years and in this time, have undertaken many weathering presentations, including to individuals, clubs and at exhibitions.
In this series of articles about I will present the methods I use for weathering. There are other methods, some just as effective, some less so. The methods I use focus around Carrs modelling powders.

What is Weathering ?

Weathering is the process of applying a finish to a model to give it the appearance of having been used with visual effects of 'wear and tear'. Weathering usually takes the form of natural effects caused by the climate and environment and of 'man-made' effects such as spillages, neglect, leakages, rust, grease etc.

Why Weather ?

Most ready to run models are provided in an 'ex-works' condition which on the prototype was very quickly lost when used in service. Some prototype vehicles were allowed to accumulate significantly more weathering effects than others. Some were hardly ever cleaned, if ever.

The reason one weathers models is to gain extra realism in appearance.

Different types of Weathering

During my modelling activities, I have defined two main types of weathering which I refers to as:

  • Light Dusting - light weathering which on the prototype, would have appeared within a few months of service. This is ideal for the modeller starting out with weathering as it only introduces slight changes to models
  • The Full Works - heavy weathering due to years of neglect. Some people call this the 'Full Monty'. Typically, this finish is that of steam locos at the end of steam in the late 1960's. This type of weathering makes substantial visual changes to a model and is not usually for the feint hearted!

I consider weathering to be a form of art - one is effectively painting a 3D picture. The resulting model is effectively an expression of art.


There are two key pre-requisites to weathering:

  • Preparation/Research
  • Paint what you see, not what you think you see

Preparation is the most important factor of weathering. Preparation takes the form of research. Weathering cannot be done successfully without researching the prototype which the model represents to see how it was affected by weathering.
There is only one way to do this type of research and that is in the form of photographic evidence. Wherever possible, use colour photographs.
Ian Allan and a few other publishers produce a large collection of 'Heyday of...' and 'Steam in/around...' titled books for around £15 each which are absolutely superb for this purpose and indeed, I have collected many of them during my modelling activities. Perhaps I should also mention this MROL website which contains a large selection of useful photographs.

The purpose of the research is to observe how weathering affected the prototype, the tones and textures which appeared, where leakages occurred, where rust was common, where accumulations of dirt, coal etc. appeared.

One commonly missed effect of weathering is one I call the 'plimsoll line' effect. It is well known that if one observes the plimsoll line of a ship in dry dock, the effects of sea water appear to go further up the side of the hull amidships than at the bow or stern. The same effect appears on railway vehicles.

Weathering on railway vehicles comes from one of two places, from the sky (top) downwards and from the bottom (track) upwards.

The weathering which comes from the sky is predominantly air/environmental pollutants whereas that which comes from the track is predominantly brake dust or material thrown up from the track (track weathering).

That which comes up from the track can be observed as conforming with the 'plimsoll line' concept where it rises up a vehicle higher amidships than at the ends. This is particularly noticeable on coaches and diesels. It is not usually observed on steam locos because they are surrounded with so much particulate environmental pollution that they become completely covered in dirt.
The purpose of research is to see how these effects appear on a specific prototype.

Weathering varies with geographical location. Even within the UK, it can be observed that in the 1960's period for example, WR weathering tended to be grey with a tinge of brown, but the ER has a tinge of black instead of brown. This is possibly caused by the different coal used and the areas through which the railway vehicles passed.

Between countries, there is a significant difference in weathering, primarily due to environment and often due to different materials used e.g. brake blocks.

I cannot stress the importance of photos when weathering models. You really stand no chance of doing it successfully without them...unless you've done so many before! With photographs, you can actually paint what you see and not what you think you see. Once you are painting what you see, then the results of your work will be much more realistic.

What Tools are Needed

Traditionally, modellers have used materials such as sprays, boot polish and dirty washes. However, there are much more suitable purpose-made products available today for the job. I use Carrs modelling powders for weathering because I believe that they give realistic textures and tones. They are easy to use and if you get things wrong, you can wipe them off with a damp cloth and start again. Carrs powders are very slightly greasy to the touch and are rubbed into the grain of the paintwork of a model. The specifics of how this is done is covered in the other weathering articles on this site. Unpainted finishes such as bare plastic do not generally take the powders well and need painting first.

My weathering toolkit consists of:

  • A selection of Carrs modelling powders. I use 'Shades of Mud' (browns), 'Shades of Grey' (greys) and 'Rust and Coal Dust' (blacks, whites, rust red)
  • An old tooth brush with fairly stiff bristles
  • A selection of paint brushes for placing the powders on a model
  • Weathering related paints such as grease, black, track colour etc
  • Screwdrivers for taking models apart and putting them together again
  • A mixing palette - an artist is only as good as the colours in his/her palette
  • A small container of water
  • Tissues for soaking water and wiping models
  • A face mask - to protect from dust of powders
  • Sheets of newspaper under the work area
  • Good lighting
  • Good ventilation

I should warn that weathering of models can be a very messy exercise but the resulting model appearance will be well worth the mess. Be prepared to get your hands dirty...very dirty!

Preparatory Work

I usually take the opportunity when weathering rolling stock to fix up minor non-weathering issues such as:

  • Painting wheel rims
  • Placing real coal in coal bunkers and tenders
  • Replacing wheels
  • Replacing couplings
  • Adding any fittings such as brake/heating pipes
  • Fitting head and tail lamps (usually done last)

Only the items more closely related to weathering will be covered in this series of articles.

General Comments

Many RTR models these days have a paint finish which will not take Carrs powders because the finish is too smooth and/or shiny. This makes a 'light dusting' finish difficult. This problem can be resolved by painting a model with a matt varnish or fully repainting prior to applying powders.

Related Articles

Index of Articles

Graham Plowman