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Sanding Rails – Good or Bad Idea?

Neil posted this question:

“I just watched a video on how to spray the track with Earth Brown paint. The dried paint on the top of the rails was then sanded with #2 sandpaper. Sanding rails didn’t seem smart to me? Has anyone done this, or am I worried about nothing?”

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17 Responses to Sanding Rails – Good or Bad Idea?

  • Stevesays:

    I’ve used wet and dry paper on my rails before to clean off any glue that I may have accidentally got on the track when ballasting track as long as its a really fine grit not course you’ll be fine course grit will ruin the track also u can use kitchen sponge with the green cleaning pad on one side to clean the track.

  • james bsays:

    Sandpaper will leave microscopic scratches on the rail head.

  • stevebsays:

    If you were to sand rails you must be especially careful in cleaning the rail area when done. That said, I do not recommend using any grade of sandpaper. Course will leave scratches on the rail that will lead to degradation over time, fine will leave very small particles which are difficult to see and clean. Both grades are prone to getting into moving parts. I would use a Scotch Brite pad. It may leave some particles but are softer and more easily removed. A trick I have used is to coat the top of the rails with something like petroleum jelly. The paint will be looser and can be wiped off and small areas may require the use of the SB pad

  • David Stokessays:

    Many modellers do not recommend sanding rails. Sometimes however it may be necessary to use an abrasive to remove crud – the weapon of choice should be a “rail rubber”. This is a rubber eraser with a very very fine emery grit embedded made and sold by Peco and others for this purpose. Even so go lightly. Steve mentions Scotch Brite – that is a newy on me but because it is not a grit based product it doesn’t abrade rails to the same extent. It might product micro plastic particles which are not good for the environment.

  • Joseph M Raphunsays:

    There are multiple grades of Scotch-Brite sponges… The most common is green which I use in the kitchen to clean up pots and pans… It will leave scratches in my opinion…there are also blue and pink which are progressively less abrasive… I use the pink in the bathroom to clean the vanity basin, something which something extremely sensitive to scratching, and they work just fine, so I would recommend the pink Scotch-Brite sponge if you want to clean your railheads… Also the sponge side, moistened with some type of rail safe solvent or cleaner would make a good second pass, to remove any particles left behind, again, in my opinion…

  • Herveysays:

    If you have a good quality filtered respirator mask and nitrile gloves a cloth with some lacquer thinner on it will remove just about any paint. All you need is a little elbow grease. This stuff is really not user friendly so don’t try it without the proper protective equipment.
    The problem with abrasives even the very fine ones is they will scratch your rails and will result in dirt traps that will cause you nothing but headaches going forward.

  • Jim Johnstonsays:

    I generally apply a darkened acrylic wash when I am “weathering” track on my layout. Naturally some of the wash goes where I did not intend it to go and I just let it get a point of near complete dryness and give the rail heads a quick pass over with the edge of an old, no longer used credit card. The easily removes any of the offending paint. A light vacuuming and the system is all good to go.

  • Sundaramsays:

    Use of Abrasive rubber seems a good option as well. I have used it to good effect over the years. These are sold in many Railroad hobby stores.

  • Tim Johnsonsays:

    One of the best thing to use is the “OLD SCHOOL” Pink rubber eraser. It will rub most things off, just remember to vacuum up the little shreds of eraser.

  • Rudolph William Blawsays:

    After painting my rails, I used a razor blade to remove the paint from the top of the rail. If you have to, use 440 grid paper or finer (the stuff I used for polishing glass optical fiber when I worked in the fiber optic industry would possibly be harmless and work, but I wouldn’t know where to get that). Generally speaking, avoid any sanding paper if you can. I used a pink eraser to remove spots.

  • Brucesays:

    I have watched many videos on rail painting and track cleaning. Of course, there are many opinions, but most say using sandpaper of any kind is bad. They say the scratches left on the rail collect dirt quicker and it gets on the wheels of your locomotives which causes poor electrical connection. I have used lacquer, acrylic, and latex paints on my rails and found none of them stick very well (they might if you used a primer, but I have never seen anyone do that). As recommended by several modelers on YouTube, I use nothing more than a small block of hardwood to burnish the top of the rails. With lacquer, you may want to do it just before it completely dries, but acrylic and latex will come off after drying. As mentioned by others, the old credit card and pink eraser would probably work just as well.

  • Kim Fokkensays:

    I have been using track eraser which is a very fine grit flat bar which is design for cleaning rails and is it purchased at train hobby retailers.

  • Frank Bsays:

    Track rubbers leave particles of grit and rubber on the track. Any kind of sandpaper will leave grit.
    This is bad for contact and bad for loco gears and motors.

    I suggest the best thing, immediately after painting, is to gently wipe the paint off the top of the rails with a tissue slightly dampened with the appropriate paint solvent.

    Any paint remaining when dry, scrape off (as suggested above), with an old credit card or piece of wood or anything that does not scratch the rails.

  • Joe Graffisays:

    2,000 grit “wet’n’dry” (black) sandpaper with 70% alcohol. Not only cleans the rail but polishes it. Then I go over whatever portion I have just “sanded” with a “blue gene” pad (could use a piece of course fabric attached to a kitchen sponge), dampen it with 70% alcohol and clean off the rails.
    That being said; I cut long strips of blue painter’s tape a little less than 1/16″ wide and mask the top of the rails before I spray. When it’s dry, just pull the tape. Wait 12 hours and wipe with the “blue jean pad” (described above) and you have nice, clean rails with weathered sides..

  • Joesays:

    I’ve used 2 different methods to clear the rail tops after painting. While the paint is still wet, run a cloth over the tops to remove paint. Otherwise, I’ve used the Bright Boy from Walthers with good success. Although it is mildly abrasive, I haven’t found that it scores the rail the way sandpaper does.

  • Juan C.says:

    I don’t have enough years on this hobbie, but I use 1.500 and 2.000 grit paper with a piece of wood to hold it over both rails, when they are shiny, I just wipe both rails with alcohol on a piece of cloth, until it dosen’t came dirty, then I vacum all. (I can’t find rail erasers at home, Colombia)
    Probably it is a mistake, but it look to me that it works well, any case the wheels of any loco, don’t have the shine the rails recently clean have.

  • Steve Harrissays:

    On most projects I use the solvent cleaner specifically designed for cleaning PVC windows.
    It’s safe on most plastics and “death” to paints. Used sparingly on a cloth or tissue it should get the excess of including oily deposits. Great for cleaning paint brushes as well.

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