Saturday, December 28, 2013

090 The Navajo Mining Railway - Staining Crossties for On30

I plan to get some track done in the next few days.  There is still a switch and some flex track to be I'll try to do that tomorrow.  We are going to need some crossties, so let's do that tonight so they have time to dry thoroughly.

This is EASY to do...but can be extremely messy.  I've done it a follow the instructions to a "T" and you won't go to work next week with black stained fingers.  First, clear off your work area and put on old clothes.  I wear an old black T-shirt and old jeans...and no socks.  You'll need a metal pan to catch accidents.

I've got two bags of crossties.  We'll do about 2,500 of them, then stain more if needed.  Always had a hard time estimating how many I need, so now I just do half of what I need.  These are sugarpine ties and they take dye really easy.

You need a bottle of black shoe or boot dye.  This is DYE and not shoe polish.  A mistake here will have you throwing out ties.   ALWAYS keep this powerful dye in a bag with a zip lock closure.  Don't think you'll ever spill a drop....just try me.  Or ask my friend Coalfinger Ken how he got his nickname!  Special note: other colors of dye such as gray or blue do NOT always work as they are more colorant than dye, so be careful and experiment.

You'll need some isopropyl alcohol.  Don't worry about the water content or alcohol percentage.  Just get the cheapest you can find and keep the empty bottles.

You can use disposable gloves, but I like the heavy dishwashing/housework kind.  I have one pair that is ONLY for dying ties and keep them in a bag labeled for this purpose.  You'll also need a glass jar, drinking glass with a wide opening or possibly an old tin can.  This is the dye bath.  I've covered my pan with two sheets of paper towel.

A long pair of tweezers will help you keep your fingers out of the dye.  A few stir sticks, like a popsicle stick, are helpful for mixing the dye solution.

I poured about 4 oz of alcohol into the glass, and added about 1/2 oz of black shoe dye. Stir with a popsicle stick.  Normally I start out with a light/thin wash solution, and gradually keep adding dye until it gets as dark as I want it.  I'll dye a handful of ties with each level of darkness giving me a mixed assortment of weathered ties.

Take a handful of ties.  Don't try to work with more than this.  Drop it into the solution.

Using your popsicle stick, stir the ties around in the solution making sure they are well coated.  Leave them in for 5-10 minutes or so.  Different ties, and even different batches of ties from the same materials, will stain differently.

Let the ties soak up the dye.  Watch them and stir occasionally to get them a bit darker than you would like them to be.  The colorant lightens up as the ties dry, usually to a nice weathered looking silver/gray color.

Fish the ties out with your tweezers, shaking off the excess fluid.  Put them on the towels and stir them around.  Try to get the wetness off of them as quickly as you can and unstick any ties that are together.

I usually use my hand to mix them up and stir them around.

Using another pan, paper plate or towel, move the ties you just stained to a dryer towel and let them dry out.

Add some more black dye...or in my case, I got the dye mix too dark, so I'm going to pour out some dye into the empty alcohol bottle and put more clear alcohol into the glass.  This will make the solution lighter.

Stain, dump, stir and move them to a drying towel.

Here you can see them drying out and turning a light gray.  One batch is slightly lighter than the other.

The alcohol dries quickly, but sugarpine sucks it up deep into the tie causing them to swell.  Getting them dry quickly is important, so I put them under a hot lamp.

Again I thin out the black dye and stain another handful....dry, move, make some more.  I did this five times with a total of 2,500 crossties.

When putting away your suppliers, put all dye materials in zipper bags and label them properly.  Spills occur, as do leaks.  Do not take chances or something will get destroyed.

I keep all my staining materials in one plastic box and I hide it from everyone so that accidents don't occur.  Trust the man with the black finger this necessary step!

Here we have five plates full of ties, each a slightly different shade.  These ties have not been distressed yet, but will on the layout.  I stain them now so that 100% of the tie has color.  You cannot stain a tie that has glue or glue residue on it.  Once they are glued down, I'll distress and sand them flat, then give them a spray coating of tie stain just before laying rail.

Stand by for laying track!


  1. Tsk! Tsk! Scott, You neglected to mention that neither shoe dye nor leather dye are color-fast (will faded in ultraviolet light-i.e. sunlight, florescent, etc.)

  2. Howdy Ben! Ink is certainly not color fast and I only use it for washes. As to shoe dye, I have models over 20 years old that have not faded and sat in my office near a window for years. Do you have a good suggestion for a black wash?


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