HO Twin Mills

I wanted absorb the latest Sierra West techniques in the O'Neills build before I started the no frills Twin Mills Sawmill build. I purchased the kit and the wood a year ago and I am now ready to start cutting and organizing the wood needed to build this complex. One of the most important elements of the model is the staining of the wood. Previous builds have utilized staining in a paint solution for 24 hours, wiping with homemade stains made with diluted paints and India ink stains. Now the preferred method is using pastel and alcohol. My question to the readers of this forum, especially those who have built this kit before is how should I proceed? There is a tremendous volume of wood to distress and finish. It seems like the easiest way to finish the wood would be with an India ink stain, because its quick, initially and then enhance them with pastel and alcohol, as needed, for stronger effects. Bill had answered this question once before for me and recommended the pastel and alcohol method. Before I start is that the consensus?


  • Maybe I'm old school but I would follow the directions and stain the wood the old fashion way. Soaking the wood in the stain gives you effects that arent possible with chalks. If you're going to build the most famous Sierrawest Kit, why would you cut corners?

    Just my thoughts...
  • nextceo said:

    Maybe I'm old school but I would follow the directions and stain the wood the old fashion way. Soaking the wood in the stain gives you effects that arent possible with chalks. If you're going to build the most famous Sierrawest Kit, why would you cut corners?

    Just my thoughts...

    I agree 100%. Why change a proven way to do this large kit.


  • Mitch, great to hear you're going to be working up Twin Mills. Such a signature SWSM kit and by far the largest and most detailed HO/HOn3 sawmill kit ever manufactured. If I were working up this beast, which I will some day, I would do a bit of experimenting. I'd try the bulk staining on some of the wood on the first structure and see if you like it. Try some chalk on some other wood. You'll get a good feel for what you like once you get into it. Remember both methods are very foregiving. Really look forward to this one!...ken
  • I have this bad boy of a kit as well. I like Ken's suggestion - try both and see what you like. The variety between the buildings would be great. Phil
  • Mitch do what works for you. Just post pictures man. We all love this kit.

    Id love to get my hands on it 1 day. At the moment your elections are playing havoc with our currency and the exchange rate makes it nothing more than a pipe dream for now. But ill be following along for sure.
  • I built my Twin Mills almost ten years ago, and even though several new staining methods have appeared I would still use the original soak staining method Brett described in the manual. I remember it being alcohol and India ink, with a couple of Poly Scale colors- two browns and Oily Black, in very small amounts. I recall they soaked for hours, and you varied the intensity of the stain by removing some of the pieces earlier than others.

    I can't even imagine staining that much stripwood using the alcohol- pastel chalk method. I remember tweaking the formula somewhat as I prefer my weathered untreated lumber to be more gray and less brown. Also, I have used several peeling paint methods over the years, and the first and maybe still the beast of all is the one Brett recommends in Twin Mills for the Old Mill.

    Looking forward to seeing your build- it is bringing back a lot of great memories.
  • I have been experimenting with 91% alcohol and various India inks. Mike Engler provided me information on his sawmill build and after his experimenting he was satisfied with the ink results. Anyone looking at the Sierra West gallery can find his award winning sawmill on the last page of the gallery along with some of his other wonderful Sierra West builds.

    I added one teaspoon each of Higgens waterproof black, PH Martins Sepia and PH Martins Van Dyke Brown to 15 ounces of alcohol. Here are the results.

    IMG_0004 (640x480)

    IMG_0005 (640x480)

    For comparison sake, the natural wood in the center is just that. The large stick on the right is a weathered grey color. The wood on the left was dunked in the ink stain for a few minutes then wiped off. When dry it was weathered with a steel brush. The wood on the right of the natural wood was dunked in the same stain but when the wood was pulled out of the stain it was just set down on a newspaper and left to dry without wiping. It was also weathered with a wire brush.

    I think I have all the ingredients for a soak experiment which I may do tomorrow.
  • Mitch
    I went by the instructions and my personal opinion is that is the way to go.
  • Understand that Carl and I do not disagree. But....The instructions call for Floquil and Polly S paints which are no longer available. I still have half a bottle of Polly S roof brown and the other colors but none of the oily black. I am going to substitute steam power black and mix up a batch and see what it looks like for a soak.
    The stain colors call for a mix of Floquil roof brown, Floquil grime and diosol. I just happen to have a bottle each of brown and grime ( the brown is unopened and cost $2.39!) but no diosol. I would not think the two bottles would stretch far enough for all the wood that needs to be finished. So I must get creative and experiment.

  • I will look and see what I have and send them to you if you like.
  • Thank you, Carl. That is very thoughtful of you. I literally just put some strips in my soak mixture. 8:45 PM. I would like to see how the strips look tomorrow or the next day after they dry. Soaking, ink staining and diosol staining are new to me so I am really feeling my way here. Does anyone think using steam power black instead of oily black would make much difference?

  • Model Railroad Hobbyist has a guide to using acrylic paints that includes a color chart including, among other things, equivalents to oily black and roof brown.
  • Hey Mitch, I believe how you work the wood after the staining is what makes the build. Coloring is such a variable and would encourage the use of a technique you are comfortable with and can reproduce on a large lot of strip wood such as that needed for a kit like Twin Mills. The natural variation you'll get is a plus. Less stress more having fun building this impressive kit...
  • I completed my soaking experiment to see how the color would turn out using the original instructions. Here are the results compared to the India ink and alcohol method.

    IMG_0005 (640x480)

    IMG_0006 (640x480)

    The alcohol strips are on the left and the soak parts on the right. The strips have received the wire brush treatment. A natural strip is between for comparison. I am satisfied with the alcohol results which is much easier to execute.

    I will quit dithering and get to work.

  • Left, right, I guess it depends on which way you lean. Both I'm sure would result in a nice build. And please quit dithering. I have never used that word. My way would have included inappropriate language. Mitch, we look forward to seeing your progress.
  • A bit of progress here.

    I think this is a shot of the 2 X 10 strips flashing off the alcohol after they are stained. There are 17 groups of wood that need to be finished and these strips are the contents of one bag.

    IMG_0007 (640x480)

    The start of the first wall.

    IMG_0002 (640x480)

    IMG_0001 (640x480)

    IMG_0003 (640x480)
  • Looks great Mitch. Looks like a great collection of structures in the background, do you have pictures of your layout in a thread anywhere?

  • Small Forrest needed for all that lumber Mitch. Good start buddy.
  • Mitch, I'm following closely since I need to take this one on as well. Good luck!!
  • edited December 2016
    You're off and running, Mitch!
    If I could offer one tip at this stage…be careful of your board spacing. It's a little tough to tell, but in the last picture it looks like there are gaps in between all the boards. If you decide to add lights to the structure, it'll look funny if there's a gap next to each board. (A lesson I learned the hard way on a different model!)

    It's okay to butt a board right up next to its neighbor--especially if the 2 are of distinct colors. On a model, too many gaps will establish an unnatural pattern. When interior lighting is added, the gaps will become more obvious and odd looking. It'll look sort of like a corn crib (farm sheds built to let air in so corn could dry):



    I'm not intending to be overly critical, just wanted to bring it to your attention. Anyone who takes on The Twin Mills ends up with a jewel in their modeling crown, so we're all rooting for you! Keep yup the good work!
  • Spoken like a true gentleman. The smart man, which I'm sure Mitch is, would listen to both you and Bill. Things like nail holes, board spacing, roofing shingles raised too much can be too obvious. Less is probably more in most cases. Now that is my point of view. That and 5 dollars will get you a coffee at Starbucks.

    Mitch we look forward to your postings to share in the progress with you. May it be a rewarding trip. In addition you and everyone else gets to share the great advice you receive from fine modelers like Ken and Bill. Only a fool would not welcome their input.
    Alan, don't say it.
  • Thank you Steve, Phil, Wes and Ed for your comments. All constructive criticism is welcome.
    I took Bill's comment about board spacing to heart and replaced many of the 2 X 10 boards with 2 X 12 boards. How does he just whip up those pictures to make a good point?
    The windows have been installed in the right wall, the mating left wall is complete and it's on to the trusses.
  • Bill goes the extra mile, to help the modeler. Sharing his pictures is one way he can assist the modeler. It's not important for him to be correct, but to be helpful.
    I'm doing a G scale build now. That's like 4 times the size of HO. It makes you adjust. I think HO is the most difficult scale to maintain accuracy. Not counting N and Z of course.
  • Bill's suggestion is so important. When I was building my Woodcutter's Shack I took gaps in the siding to a new level. It definitely looked like the picture above. I tried to explain that the woodcutter needed extra air-conditioning in the deep south. Phil
  • I have not purchased the rail I need to complete the sawmill. Its about time I got around to it. The directions say I need 144 inches of code 55 rail and 36 inches of code 70 rail. Do any of the forum members have rail that I could purchase from them? I hate to buy 100 feet from Micro Engineering if I do not have to.

  • Rail used to be available from internet hobby stores - is this not the case anymore?
  • Mitch. Check out Big Discount Trains on ebay. He carries all Micro Engineering products.
  • I looked at Google shopping and the only thing I saw were $52.00 for 99 feet of Code 55.
  • Ed,
    I emailed Discount Trains. We will see what the response is. Thanks for the tip.
  • Mitch, I have code 70 non-weathered. Let me know if you need some. It is in 3 foot sections. HO by the way. Not HOn3.
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