How to Paint a Brass Locomotive

Written by michelle schaefer
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How to Paint a Brass Locomotive
Learn how to paint a brass locomotive model. (rusty steam locomotive image by Max Safronov from

A finely crafted brass model locomotive is a work of art, yet painting a brass locomotive yourself can seem like a daunting task. Doing the job yourself takes time and patience, yet with a reasonable set of skills and good directions anybody can get it done. The final result of any paint job is only as good as the preparation work. A brass locomotive is no exception to this rule; time spent on preparing the model will pay off in the end.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Screwdriver
  • Dish soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Cotton rags
  • White spirit
  • Paint thinner
  • Metal primer paint
  • Model colour paint
  • Airbrush

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  1. 1

    Remove the cab, boiler and tender from the locomotive. Removing these parts makes it easier to clean and paint them. On some models these parts are not easily removed; if that is the case, leave them in place. Be careful not to damage any part that is removed. If you feel you cannot remove a part without damaging it, leave it attached to the model.

  2. 2

    Scrub the parts with an old toothbrush in warm soapy water. Wipe the parts down with a cotton cloth dampened with white spirit to prepare the brass for painting. Use a paper towel to handle the parts after washing. Touching the parts with bare hands may get grease and oils on the model and cause adhesion problems with the paint.

  3. 3

    Paint the parts with metal primer using an airbrush and allow to dry for 24 hours. Inspect the parts for any bare spots and repaint as required.

  4. 4

    Paint the locomotive using the colour of your choice. Paint several thin coats of colour instead of one heavy coat. Multiple thin coats give better paint coverage and reduce the chance of runs and drips. Most locomotives were black with dark grey fireboxes. Allow the paint to dry for 48 hours.

  5. 5

    Apply decals as required according to the decal manufacturer's instructions. Spray a clear flat topcoat over the finished locomotive shell to seal any decals and protect the paint.

  6. 6

    Reassemble the locomotive taking care not to scratch the paint. Install the cab, boiler, tender and any other parts removed in Step 1. Apply any touch ups or details as required.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a cardboard paper towel tube or coat hanger to hold the model for painting.
  • Use window cleaner such as Windex instead of water to thin acrylic paints. Window cleaner will give a smoother finish and dry faster.
  • Paint fumes can be toxic. Paint only in a well ventilated area.
  • Always clean your airbrush immediately after use.

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