Removing Factory Numbers and Reporting Marks

After yesterday’s post about reworking a P2K automobile boxcar, Ralph Anderson posted this question:

 I just bought 2 P2K kits, ATSF 4700 cu. ft. covered hoppers, which I plan to change to cars the BNSF has renumbered and repainted. Any suggestions on how to remove the original lettering without damaging the kits?

This is a timely question, because I just finished removing the word Automobile from my Lehigh Valley automobile boxcar.  There are a few methods that I’ve used, so I’ll go through them from the most time-consuming labour-intensive to the fastest.  These methods are on a continuum from slow and safe to fast and potentially destructive to the paint around the lettering you want to remove.  They each have their place, but I’ve used the slow method most often.

To begin, here’s my basic arsenal of paint removal supplies and tools:


Safe Decanting

Maybe I’ve been beaten down by the Health and Safety crew at work, but I tend to err on the side of caution whenever I’m working with things that can hurt me.  Super Clean and Easy Off are caustic, meaning they’ll melt your skin off.  File that information under “bad things.”  To be safe, I wear rubber gloves like the orange ones shown in the photo.  I think I got these at an industrial/commercial supply store because it’s a cheaper place to shop, but whatever they sell at the grocery store will work fine.  I decant maybe 25mL of whatever product I’m using into a 400mL glass beaker, but a reused jam jar also works fine.  Only decant these products into glass containers.

I wear safety glasses and long sleeves while I’m decanting.  The point of all this is that I don’t want this stuff on my skin, lips, tongue, or in my eyes or nose.  I also do the decanting outside or at my paint booth in order to vent out any stink or gasses that the process produces.  Once the product is safely decanted, I feel that it’s safe work at my work bench or in my paint booth with the fan running.  One last thing about decanting.  Easy off is a spray foam, so I spray some of it into the Pyrex tray, then move it to the beaker.  I feel there’s less chance of getting any splashed onto me that way.

My suggestions aside, all of the products have safety information on the package that can guide you to make your own decisions about handling.  Use good judgement; don’t use these products if you don’t feel you can safely handle them.

Lettering Removal

The simplest and probably safest method to remove digits or words from a model is to simply scrape away in small increments with new scalpel blade.  I do this slowly, and I wash the loose bits of paint away with 99% alcohol.  Sometimes the alcohol softens the paint a bit while I’m working at it.  I also have a number of dental scrapers that I’ve fashioned into scraping tools with a dremel grinding disk.  The scalpel is sharper, but that’s not always a good thing.  If the paint under the lettering has softened too much, the dental tool works better.

If you work quickly enough, you can use one of the cleaners that I’ve shown above.  That’s where the beaker is handy.  Dip the Microbrush into the cleaner and apply very small amounts to the specific lettering you want to remove.  I use the scalpel or scraper to work the lettering off.  Have a cloth dampened with clean water handy, or use another clean Microbrush to wash the cleaning product off of the lettering if things start moving too quickly and too much paint is coming off.  The trick is to remove the lettering without removing the paint underneath.

To remove larger things like heralds and large print, I’ve wet sanded with 1000 or 1200 grit wet sandpaper.  You can get this at an automotive body shop supply store, or any store that sells car paint and tools to body shops.  Wet sanding also works very quickly, so I use small pieces of sandpaper stuck to things like a popsicle stick or the wrong end of a paint brush.

The last method I’ll describe is the most destructive, so use this one as a last resort.  CA debonder will dissolve model paint immediately.  Decant a VERY small amount into a glass container and use the end of a wooden toothpick that has been dampened in the debonder to burnish the lettering.  This can liquify the paint quickly, so instead of removing the paint, you might sometimes end up smearing it.  Use this method only if you’re really confident in what you’re doing.  Maybe experiment on a scrap model first.

Your Method?

Please don’t assume I’m any kind of authority on these techniques.  These methods have worked for me.  I use the scraping method most of the time because I’m usually just removing digits from a car or locomotive number.  It works best if I work slowly, and the smallest amount of weathering hides small scratches.  There must be other ways of doing this, so anyone with a different technique should offer it up!