Roofing Our Models
By Grant Knowles

The finishing "top" on all structures is what we commonly refer to as the "roof".
In the world of Model Railroading, what we do with the roof is as important if more so as the rest of the structure, so lets explore roofs in detail and how we model them.

What is a Roof?

The key purpose of a roof is to protect the building contents from Mother Nature. This really means - to keep precipitation away from the building.
Thus the roof must:

Roofs Add Character

The use of multiple roof angles, types and covering materials help to make the building interesting to look at as well as telling something about the history of the structure.

The shingled roof indicates the financial stature and presence of the main building. The tar paper roofs (cheaper building material) covers the later economy based extensions.

Not all roofs shed the water. Here the purpose of the water tank roof isn't to keep the water out but debris that could plug up the workings.

Roof Types
Roofs come in many differen shapes, sizes and coverings. Some of the more common roofs include:
  • Wood
  • Asphalt
  • Slate
Tar Paper
  • Corrugated
  • Raised Seam
  • Copper
  • Logs
  • Strip

What Does the Roof Tell Us?
Aside from protecting the contents, the roof also tells us a little about the building and environments themselves.
The technology used to build the roof will indicate an era, a more durable roof will imply presence while the material used will speak to what is readily available and cost effective. A metal roof will cost more to install but will last longer than a tar paper roof which is why they appear most often on industrial buildings.
Similarly a slate roof will speak wealth versus a shake shingle roof.

Roof Foundations
It's now time to examine how to install a roof on our model.

Before we install the roofing material, we need to ensure we have a solid foundation underneath otherwise our efforts will be for naught.
Often we use sheeting materialsuch a heavy cardboard of sheet styrene to glue the roofing material to. The problem is, the sheet stock may warp over time if we do not have some extra bracing underneath, particularly on the large expanses.
This is a simple procedure involving bridging the gaps with some stowt strip wood.

A heavy piece of string wood follows the ridge line between the two gables with other pieces mounted perpedicular extending to the edge of the building.

The sub roof material is then glued to the structure and roof bracing. Here some heavy weights hold the cardboard in place until the glue dries.

Various products on the market: Clockwise from the top left, North Eastern Scale Models – Laser Cut Shingles Campbell’s Gummed Paper Shingles – an old stand by! Builders In Scale – laser cut slate shingles, Temagami Station – thin laser cut shingles from kit Builders In Scale – laser cut ornate shingles.

Lets move on the next step and discuss roof coverings.

Shingles are by far the most common roofing material in the 1800 and 1900's so we'll start with them.

There are Various commericial products on the market that will do a wonderful job of replicating shingles:
(Clockwise from the top left)
- North Eastern Scale Models – Laser Cut Shingles,
- Campbell’s Gummed Paper Shingles – an old stand by!
- Builders In Scale – laser cut slate shingles,
- Temagami Station – thin laser cut shingles from kit,
- Builders In Scale – laser cut ornate shingles.

To install Campbells shingles.

1. Draw horizontal lines on the sub roof.
2. Tear sections of shingles longer than the roof.
3. With a paint brush, wet just the upper half of the strip along it’s length.
4. Lay shingles along the lines.
5. Careful to stay on the line, the lower edge of the shingle strip will buckle up – ideal.
6. Press down until the glue “bits” – not long.
7. Repeat for each successive row.
8. Let dry over night.
9. Trim edge with scissors.
10. Paint with various colours.

The finished shingles installed and coloured with appropriate weathered colours.

Hand Laid shingles.

Another way to make a shingle roof is to lay the shingles individually! Don't worry, this is not has hard as it sounds.

Must first make shingles from thin cigar wrappers or very thin veneer. First cut strips across the grain about 16 inches wide. Next cut these strips into shingels about 1 ft wide. This is a long process so take you time and don;t worry if the shingles are not exactly to dimension.

Next draw horizontal lines on the sub roof at 1 ft spacing to align the shingles with.
Put a dab of glue on a scrap card, stab a shingle with a sewing pin, touch it in the glue then place the shingle on the roof.
Repeat process, again, and again and again! Each succeeding row should overlap the previous one by about 4 scale inches.
Keep the shingles in line as much as possible, but don't be afraid to show a shingle or two dislodged for an "old" look.

Here is the shingling in process. Note the horizontal lines to align the shingles with.

Here is the finished roof. A light coating of Drftwood stain gives the roof an "aged" look. Black chalk has been added around the chimney.

Metal Roofs

Let’s move on to another populare rooffing material - metal.
Metal roofs are most often comprised of large sheet panels of material vs that of smaller individual shingles.
Metal roofs are more expnsive to install and require special tools and skill sets thus they are found most often on industrial buildings where longeverty is required.

Here are some typical model roofing materials:

(Left to right)
- Builders In Scale Ribbed Seam Roofing – comes in various widths.
- Campbell's (famous) Corrugated Metal – available in various widths. (Great for both roofs and walls).
- Grandt Line plastic corrugated panels.

Here is the Campbell’s Corrugated roofing installed on a yard structure. Note the randomness of the finish – we’ll talk more about how to achieve that later. Installed like shingles, lower row is done first this time over lapping adjacent panels. Next row over laps the previous to allow water to run off Ridge is made from a smaller piece folded over. Lean To has a shingle roof.

Metal roof built the same way. BIS Ribbed Roof panels used. These were also “aged” the same way as the Campbell’s. Shingles used on the smaller roofs. Building has a cardboard sub roof. Panels held in place with double sided carpet tape Has great holding capacity.

Creating "aged" Metal Roofing

Here is the fun part.
You could spray paint the metal roof panels and achieve wonderfull results. What I'd like to present here is another method that will provide more of the randomness experienced with mother nature.

First cut the roofing material into logical widths, e.g. 3, 4 or 6 ft.
In a well ventilated space, e.g. your spray paint booth, set up the following:
- Tray with PC Card etching solution – Radio Shack
- Tray with clean water
- Tweezers
- Your freshly cut roof pieces.

The Process;
- Put one piece in the etching solution.
- Watch carefully, it will start to bubble afer a minute or less and rise to the surface.
- When it starts to bubble, you don’t have much time to pull it out of the solution and drop into the water bath to cease the etching.
- Note different brands react at different rates!

Here is the finished product. If you want some really old looking pieces, leave them in the longer in the etchant. Let them dry over night. Sort by size, aging, etc.

Installing the metal roof panels is straight forward.
Assemble your sub roof panel for the building. Thin sheet plywood or styrene works well. You want to use something that is not likely to warp over time.

Place a piece of double sided tape across the bottom row, e.g. carpet tape.
Start the first piece over hanging the roof end and bottom by a few scale inches. Press down in place.
In this example, we are using the Rib Seam Roofing, the next panel over laps by one ridge.
Line up the next piece and press in place.
Repeat until you reach the end.
You may have to trim the last piece to over hang the correct amount.
Repeat for the next row over lapping the previous row and aligning the ribs.
Finally a ridge cap is installed made from the same material. This was glued in place with epoxy.

Paper Roofs

The other common roofing product in early buildings was made from roofing felt type materials.

Just about any flat stock material can be used as long as it’s surface resemble the desired roof material.
(Clockwise from the top left)
- Black heavy textured paper provided in a kit
- White not as heavy textured paper provided in a kit.
- My favourite – Sobey’s “my Compliments” Tissue paper.
- Textured paper sold be Vintage Reproductions to resemble roofing paper. This comes in a number of realistic colours though I'm not certain they are still available.

Install you sub roof with horizontal lines for the roofing felt.
Glue each row in place one at a time. Adjacent joins should over lap as well with successive rows.
you can trim the over hang with scissors after all installed.
Ridge piece will be required.

Lets install a roof made with the facial tissue to represent a flat roof.
Shingles, rolled roofing and sheet metal will not work on a flat roof as there is no slope to drain the water off.
Instead a sealed roof that can withstand “standing” water is required.
Typically this would be tar paper with sealed seams.

Materials required – This has got to be the cheapest roof to model!
- Tissue paper cut into 3 ft wide strips. Don’t used textured paper!
- Black (grey) paint – this paint will also act as our adhesive.
- Paint brush.

- Apply the first piece.
- Put some paint on the roof panel.
- Drop the tissue in place with tweezers.
- Carefully paint over.
- Repeat for each piece.
Remember to over lap each adjacent piece until the whole roof is covered.
Run the paper up the sides a bit to ensure the water doesn’t leak over the edge.

Use a fine tipped black mark the “paint” on the tar lines between the sheets.
Could also use a fine tipped paint brush with glossy black paint.

Using multiple roofing materials adds character and interest to the model.

Roof Details

We must not forget that other details are required to "complete" the roofs.
Typically there is other “stuff” on them that is required for the buidling to function, e.g. air conditioners, chimneys as well as general clutter and junk.

Chimneys are the most common detail to be added.
Don't foreget to include flashing around the base where it “passes” through the roofing.
Note the chalk weathering representing soot around the stack and weeping down the roof.

Notice the "see through" appearance with the rolled roofing
The detailed wood frame with rafters was built first then roofing paper was applied.
We also have wire struts to hold the roof up.
The upper roof is covered in shingles
EThe right etension has a tar paper surface with a metal panel patch.

Junk, and more junk
Wood planks have been thrown up on the roof to hold down loose tar paper.
We also have pigeons on the roof.
Note the chimney in the corner of the building as well as one in the roof.

This Web page is maintained by Grant Knowles and was last updated on March 25, 2009.