Introduction: Revitalize an HO Flatcar With...Toothpicks!

About: I love building. A mechanical engineering student, most of my instructables involve modeling projects, K'nex ball machines, and Lego creations. I am also a model railroader, and I enjoy science (astronomy is m…

     The other day I got some more rolling stock for my HO model railroad. To my dismay, one flatcar was missing its decking. What to do? Well, being the thrifty and creative type, I cast about for a suitable solution, and at last decided to use toothpicks (a readily available and quite affordable commodity) to repair the car. Since there seem to be very few model railroad instructables, I decided to post it!
     The result was surprisingly realistic, and makes a handsome addition to my freight car fleet. So without further ado...let's revitalize a flatcar!

Step 1: Supplies

     Okay, you won't get far if you don't have the proper supplies! Everything for this project should be readily available to the average person. You will need:

-Toothpicks (You'll need roughly 100)
-A flatcar (I used HO, may not work in other scales)
-A pair of good, sharp scissors
-hobby/X-acto knife (optional)
-Glue (I used tacky glue, but plain ol' Emer's white glue and similar products should work also)
-Cup (optional)
-Strip of scrap cardboard

Step 2: A Word of Warning Before You Start...

     Please remember that you will be using sharp objects and should handle them with care. Even if you think you are being extremely careful, something can go wrong and make you end up in a band-aid (like me). Take your time, and have fun with fewer injuries!

Step 3: Begin Assembly

     Ok, now that you have all your supplies together and the formalities are over, it's time to start building! If your flatcar still has a plastic "deck", you will need to remove it. They are generally attached by little plastic pins on the underside. If you like, you can also remove the wheel trucks. This will keep the frame from sliding about while you work.
     Now you should have a flatcar frame with a hollowed-out top. Get a toothpick, and cut off one end with the scissors, just past the point where it begins to taper. Next you'll need to measure your flatcar's width. (Remember to measure from the inside edges.) Mine was just under 11/4 inches wide.
     Get the toothpick and lay it beside the ruler. Measure with the flat end at the zero. Make a little mark on the toothpick at the width you measured on the flatcar, and cut the toothpick with the scissors using the mark you made. You should now have three sections of toothpick. Throw away the smallest fragment, but keep the other two. The piece with both ends flat will be used in the decking, while you can use the longer tapered piece for staves.
     Also, I used a cup while cutting the toothpicks to help keep them from flying everywhere when cut.

Step 4: Sanding and Test-fit

     Repeat the cuts in Step 3 until you have enough toothpicks to fill the flatcar from end to end. Mine took 81, but depending on your particular model it may take more or less.
     While you cut, you should sand down the ends of each toothpick a little. This will help make the cuts from earlier a bit cleaner, and will be essential if a toothpick won't fit into the groove.
     As you finish with this sanding, you should test-fit your toothpicks, lining them up and making sure you have enough to fill the entire length of the flatcar. Simply set a toothpick on the flatcar and slide it flush against the others. If you have an irregular space at one end (such as where a brake wheel extends partly into the end of the deck), you can cut the toothpicks to fit the space.
     When you have finished, dump all of the toothpicks and proceed to the next step.

Step 5: Gluing the Deck

     Now, you might have noticed at the end of the last step that all those slats fall out pretty easily. So now we need to glue em' down. Get your trusty tube of tacky glue (or some other similar adhesive) and put two beads down each side of the car. You might want to only go partway at first if you have a fast-drying glue.
     It may be tempting to start slapping down your "planks", but if you do so now you will end up with unseemly globs of glue oozing up through the decking. It may dry clear, but it's still not pretty. Instead, use the strip of cardboard to spread the glue around, being careful to get the entire length of the car and not to get it over the sides. This will make the glue go farther, and will prevent excess seepage.
     Now your glue is laid and 'splayed', start to put the toothpicks back into the deck space. Drop them into position and push them firmly up next to each previous toothpick. Put them all into position and...

Step 6: You're Done!

     Congratulations! You just refinished your own HO flatcar! It will make a fine, professional looking addition to your freight car fleet. Plus, you saved a bundle by using cheap household materials instead of expensive plastic parts.
     Here are some pictures of how mine turned out, and a comparison with a "regular" flatcar with the factory-made plastic decking. If you want your flatcar to have staves, continue to the next step. And, of course, I have more pictures of the end result in the very last step.

Step 7: Adding Staves

     Now, you could leave the flatcar nice and...well, flat; but what if you want it for special applications? For carrying some loads you might need staves...and here's how!
     First, get those toothpick pieces I told you not to throw out earlier. (I used 26) Take the hobby knife and cut a notch halfway through the bottom on the flat end. Remove the little bit of wood, and then shave off the sides in a tapering square. That's about it; stick the cut end in the stave slots along the flatcar's side (you may need to test-fit first) and firmly shove in to hold. If you want to use the flatcar again without staves, leave them like this, allowing friction to hold them in place. If you want the staves more securely and permanently placed, you can add a dab of glue to the end before putting each toothpick in its slot.
     In addition to being removable, these toothpick staves work on other flatcars which may not have a toothpick deck. Since I am perpetually losing my flatcar staves, this makes for an easy way to replace them!

Step 8: Some Pictures of the End Result

     Well, that's it! You've made a great modification to your flatcar that will add variety and flavor to your car roster. I assume you could stain the toothpicks if you wanted for a darker look, and weathering possibilities are always endless. Enjoy your revitalized flatcar, and see how mine looks on my (highly) unfinished layout. Thanks for building!