Keep paper models from warping

Last Updated on November 4, 2021 by Dave Farquhar

I use a lot of miniature paper buildings on my train layout. The usual knock on paper as a modeling material is that it’s prone to warp. But there’s a simple solution for that, and seven years of St. Louis summers hasn’t made it fail on me yet. Here’s how I keep paper models from warping.

The first trick is to use the right glue. Second, brace the corners and edges with wood. Cheap square dowels from the hardware store or square basswood from the hobby shop does the trick. Just cut them to length and glue them into the corners and edges. Clamp with clothespins.

keep paper models from warping
Krylon Fixatif. A paper modeler’s best friend.

Finally, bring in the secret weapon. It’s called Krylon Fixatif. Artists use it to keep their pencil, chalk, or charcoal drawings from accidentally rubbing off the paper, but it also has the effect of sealing out moisture. A piece of paper sprayed thoroughly with it takes on a stiff, plastic-like feeling, almost like a playing card.

Just build your paper model, and then when you’re finished with it and the glue is dry, take it outside and spray it down with the Fixatif and let it dry. It gives off some unpleasant fumes, so don’t use it indoors.

I have paper buildings that I built in 2004 and 2005 that I sprayed with this stuff, and they’ve shown no signs of warping. St. Louis’ humidity is as famous as Cardinals baseball, and my train layout is in the basement, where humidity tends to be worse. But even in that harsh environment, it’s been fine.

My budget doesn’t allow me to make my buildings from much of anything more exotic or expensive than paper right now–I still have one son using diapers and formula–but there’s nothing wrong with that. All it takes to make it work is the proper tool.

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3 thoughts on “Keep paper models from warping

  • February 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    You describe a plastic “feel”. Does the fixative change the model’s finish at all? By that I mean does the paper remain matte, become glossy, or change to some satin middle ground?

    • February 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

      It does make the finish glossier, so if you want a dull finish, you’ll need to follow up with some Dullcote or similar dull finish. Thanks for bringing that up; I should have remembered to mention it.

  • February 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    I’ve been lucky – I found a local dollar store that sells foamcore boards at $1 for a 24×30 sheet. With N scale, that’s a half a city right there…

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