Adding The Grab Irons

In this section we'll address how to make your own grab irons and install them in a professional manner.


Your model should resemble this at the end of this section with grab irons installed on the sides, ends and even the roof!

As you have probably noticed, the older wood cars had numerous grab irons installed around the perimeter of the car and that they were all individually installed!
The mere thought of installing all of these could drive you to drinking but when you also take into consideration they must to be straight, in line and parallel, well you might as well throw in the towel right now! Well it really isn't that hard to perform a quality installation, all you need is a plan plus a few jigs,

Its the jigs which will not only speed up the process of drilling all those holes but will ensure they line up correctly.

Fabricating The Jigs

The grab iron jigs can be made from various rigid types of material, brass being the traditional choice. The last few I made were with styrene which is easier to work with and has stood the test of time.
The jigs are essentially a series of holes laid out in the same pattern as the grab irons with a border added to aid in aligning the jig on the model.


Here are a couple of Grab Iron Jigs I made some time ago. A styrene one on the left & a brass one on the right.
We'll be making the much improved Mark II version!

Step 1 - Jig Layout

You will need to assemble your tools (dividers, pin vise & drills, ruler, square), scale plans and material to fabricate the jig from.
In this example I used 0.030" sheet styrene and 2" x 10" HO scale strip styrene.


Gather your tools & materials - scale diagram, dividers, ruler, square, pin vise & drills and styrene.

First step is to cut out a piece of the 0.030 sheet styrene for the main panel of the jig, about 1" x 2". It should be large enough to go from the bottom of the car side to the top and about twice as wide as the grab irons. We can always trim it down later, but it's next to impossible to make it larger. Ensure the piece is perfectly square and the edges are straight.

Step 2 - Vertical Lines

We now need to mark out where to drill the holes.
Start with the set of grab irons that appear on the right hand end of the car side. These often start near the bottom of the wall and extend up to the roof line.

Using the dividers, set them to the distance the grab irons are set in from the edge of the car body.


Using the scale diagram for reference, the dividers are set to the distance the grab irons are from the edge of the car.

Now transfer this dimension to your styrene sheet.
Place one of the divider points against the styrene edge and the other point on top of the styrene.
Now drag the dividers up the long side of the styrene carefully scribing the line.


Carefully scribe the right hand side of the grab irons.

We now need to mark the left side of the grab irons.
Now set the dividers to the width of the grab irons plus the distance scribed in the previous step.
If you are using the grab irons that came with your kit, measure their width to determine the width of the grab irons.
If you are making your own grab irons, then set your dividers to that width.
The grab iron width plus the off-set will be the distance the left side of the grab irons are from the edge of the car.


Measuring the width of the supplied grab irons. Using the dividers to measure/record the dimension is far more accurate than using a ruler.

Once again, scribe this line on the styrene sheet.
You should now have two vertical, parallel scribed lines.


Scribing the second vertical line. Distance equals the width of the grab iron plus the off-set from the previous step.

Step 3 - Horizontal Lines

We now need to mark out the height of the grab irons.

Refering to the scale diagram again, set your dividers to the height the first grab iron is from the bottom edge of the car.


Measuring the height of the grab iron from the bottom of the car.

Now scribe this horizontal line across your jig. Remember to keep one of the divider's legs tightly against the styrene piece as you scribe the line.

Repeat this process for all the grab irons in this ladder. Note the distance beteween the rungs is usualy the same.


Scribing the horizontal lines.

Once you have scribed the horizontal lines you will end up with a column of scribed squares.


Here is the jig with the vertical and horizontal lines.
I have highlighted them a pencil so you can see them in the photograph.

Step 4 - Drill The Holes

Next up is to drill the holes for the grab iron rungs.

Using a drill that is slightly wider than to wire used for the grab irons, carefully drill a hole where each of the scribed lines intersect.
Thus if you have 5 rungs, you need to drill 10 holes.
Now I use 0.012" wire for my grab irons, so I drilled 0.015" holes.

Step 5 - Add The Perimeter

We now need to add a perimeter to two sides of the jig which will help us locate the jig on the model when drilling the holes.

I used 2" x 10" HO scale styrene here though anything approximating that size will work fine.

The next step is most critical. Flip the sheet styrene over so that the top side is aganst the desk top.
Cut two pieces of the strip styrene about the same lengths as two adjacent edges of the jig.
Now butt these pieces against the side of the jig, be sure you place these pieces against the two sides of the jig that are on the outside edges of the car.
Now apply your liquid glue along the joint.
Don't use too much glue otherwise you will glue the jig to the desk top - don't ask me how I know this!


The jig pieces laid out ready to be glued.
Note the sheet styrene piece has been flipped over.


The finished jig with the alignment edges attached.
The jig is sitting face down on the desk.

This completes the construction of the grab iron jig for the right end of a car side.

You will need to follow the same approach to make a jig for the left end of the car side along with the car ends.
When I was done, I had four jigs - three for the walls and one for the roof grab irons!

Drilling Holes

In this section we finally get to work on the car!

Step 6 - Drill The GRab Iron Holes

Place your car body on a flat surface under good lighting conditions.
Place your first grab iron drilling jig over the model sliding it over until the raised edges butt up against the car side end and bottom, refer to the following photo.


Drilling jig in place on the car body.
Notice how the raised edges on the jig ensure proper alignment.

The next step is to drill all those holes!

Using the pinvise and drill from before (0.015" in my case), carfully drill each of the holes while holding the jig firmly in place.
Do not rush the drilling otherwise you'll break the drill.
A hole about 1/4" deep will be more than adequate.
Repeat for all the grab irons. Don't forget those on the roof!


Caefully drill all the grab iron holes.
Ensure the jig doesn't move in the procees.

Installing Grab Irons

Step 7 - Bending Grab Irons

Most kits include pre-formed grab irons. I chose to make my own using thinner wire - 0.012" in this case.

Some of the HOn3 kits I have built on pass did not come with pre-formed grab irons but where supplied with straight wire and jigs to make your own grab irons.


Here is an example of grab iron jigs that were supllied in some Grandt Line HOn3 kits.


To make a grab iron, you insert one end of the wire in one of the holes and bend it over.


You then bend it over the edge of the jig and cut the excess off.


Here is the finished grab iron. With little practice you can bend tighter corners though you may still need to touch it up with a pair of pliers.


Since the width of the grab irons on my model did not match any of those in the commercial jigs, I made my own.
Simply drill a hole in a piece of styrene the same distance from the styrene edge as the width of your grab irons.

Now proceed to bend as many grab irons as needed plus a few spares.

Step 8 - Installing The Grab Irons

The next step involves another jig, albeit very simple - a strip of 0.020" styrene!

Starting at one part of the model, install the first few grab irons.
Make sure they fit comfortably in the holes, ensure they are true and the wires are not distorted.
Leave the grab irons sitting a little higher than what they will ultimately be installed at.
Slide the piece of 0.020" styrene under them.

Now put a small drop of ACC on the end of pin and touch this to each leg of the first grab iron.
Carefully push this grab iron down unil it just rests on the styrene spacer.
Repeat this step for the remining grab irons.


One set of grab irons in place with the styrene spacer ensuring a uniform spacing.

Here are some photos of the finished model - well no really finshed, but coomplete to this point of the assembly process.


Side view with grab irons in place.


End view. I was able to re-use the right side jig to position the two right end grab irons because their spacing was the same but had to make a new jig for the grab irons on the left.


Three quarters view. Note the grab iron "ladders" on each side of the corner line up - try doing that without a jig!


Don't over look the grab irons on the roof.

Additional information about making grab iron jigs can be found on the Labelle web site: Grab Irons, Straight Every Time

This completes this section of the kit aassembly.


This Web page is maintained by Grant Knowles and was last updated on Dec, 2015.