How To Add Details To A Model Railroad Or Diorama

Xuron® Model 450BN Bent Nose Pliers hold and place detail pieces

Tom’s Corner

Tips, techniques and commentary from Master Model Railroader Tom Piccirillo

Some people say, “It’s all in the details.” This is certainly true for award-winning scale models. Models are submitted for judging at contests, and much of the “score” needed to win an award is derived by the clean installation and proper placement of details.

Author Tom Piccirillo.
For example, full size piers are supported on pilings driven into a river bed. They are braced by wood beams that are bolted to them; however, many small-scale models are constructed by gluing the braces to the pilings. Any judge “in the know” (most of them) will notice the lack of bolt details and will penalize the model’s score.

Scale-size molded-plastic bolts are commercially available, but are too tiny to handle with bare fingers. These tiny bolts need to be glued into tiny drilled holes, and usually at locations that cannot be reached with standard needle nose pliers. I found the best tool to use here is the Xuron #450BN Bent Nose Pliers.

The bent nose of these pliers holds the bolt at the perfect angle for dipping into a spot of glue and for inserting its shank into the pre-drilled hole. The handle angles away from the framework of the pier and avoids snagging the bracing.

Model 450BN Bent Nose Plier holding a scale model sized plastic bolt
Model 450BN Bent Nose Pliers holding a scale model sized plastic bolt

These pliers make it easy to place all kinds of details, like railings, hand wheels, roof details, locomotive parts, scale-size lights . . . even figures.

Here’s a pigeon figure being placed on the chimney of a model building. The bent nose of the plier easily holds the figure at the correct angle for precise placement.

Xuron® Model 450BN Bent Nose Pliers hold and position detail pieces
Xuron® Model 450BN Bent Nose Pliers hold and place detail pieces

Top-scoring models show no signs of glue used in assembly. Unsightly blobs of glue ruin the realistic appearance of scale models, and judges keep this in mind when determining a model’s score. So, it’s important that the location of glue is not only precise, but also held to a minimum. That’s where the Xuron #860 Dispensing Bottle is needed . . . it lets you apply just the right amount of glue exactly where you need it. Just fill the bottle (2 oz, 56.69 grams) with your favorite glue (works best with white wood-working glues) and squeeze to apply. Includes 3 nozzles . . . extra fine, fine, and medium for precise applications . . . plus a spout for large areas.

The Model 860 Dispensing Bottle comes with three stainless steel needles for precion application of glue, paint, oil and more
The Model 860 Dispensing Bottle comes with three stainless steel needles for precision application of glue, paint, oil and more

Have questions for Tom or want share your experience detailing a model railroad or diorama? Simply comment on this post and we’ll be pleased to start a conversation!


Tom Piccirillo

Tom Piccirillo started building scale models at age 12 after discovering a copy of the April 1964 issue of Model Railroader magazine for sale at a local corner store. After receiving his degree in mechanical engineering in 1974, he pursued a management career in well-known industries, such as Burroughs Corporation and Ohaus Scale, and holds patents on electronic connectors. His most-recent tenure was president of Micro-Mark where, for 24 years, he developed and marketed ingenious tools for builders of scale models. Tom is a prolific author and has written many how-to articles for the hobby press, including Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, The NG&SL Gazette, Fine Scale Modeler, Dollhouse Miniatures, and Great Model Railroads. In 2009, Tom earned his Master Model Railroader certification, and has been awarded the Paul Mallery Trophy for model building excellence. Currently a member of the Hobby Manufacturers Association, Tom consults for major USA and international producers of tool and hobby products, providing editorial and photographic services in addition to Marketing Analytics. He is perhaps best-known for the construction and operation of the O scale Somerset County Traction System, which he has described not only in magazines, but also on Public Television. Tom is also former-president of The New Jersey Live Steamers, where he operates his home-workshop-built 1/12th scale locomotives and cars. He is restoring an antique Mercedes-Benz automobile, and is an accomplished jazz rhythm guitarist.


  1. Robie MacDonald says

    Very informative article. I especially enjoyed the story about the employment or the BN 450. The import of glue, the amount reqited and application was a great reminder. You applicators seem to be the answer. Please kee up the good work and I will look for Xuron MR SHOW. Robie MacDonald

  2. David Emery says

    Are the glue bottles solvent-proof? I’ve been using a very thin (.008) needle A-West bottle to apply MEK, but I’ve noticed that over the years the solvent eventually damages the bottle.

    • Tom Piccirillo says

      Hello Dave,

      This is a good question. I will check into the MEK to be sure it’s not going to damage the bottles — I’ll be back to you with an answer.

      thank you!

    • Abby Robey says

      Hello Dave,

      We did some research and found that MEK does not react well with LDPE (low density polyethylene), which is the type of material the bottles are made from. We don’t recommend dispensing MEK in our bottles. Thank you for checking with us!

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