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Weighty Matters

by Peter Whatley

At a recent open day, I was collared by a couple of participants who were curious about how I had added weight to my locos and where to acquire suitable weights.  It occurred to me that perhaps this info wasn’t as readily available as I thought, so here are my sources and the options I’ve discovered.


I’ve provided web addresses for various UK sources at the end of this article.  If you live elsewhere, there should be suppliers in the same fields in your neck of the woods.  Search the web with the key words I’ve used.


First principles: some added weight is, in my opinion, a good thing in any loco.  Weight aids tracking and increases haulage capacity.  My personal preference is to get every LGB loco I possess up to 2.5 kilos, so most of the added weight goes into 4-wheelers.  Worried about the gears?  Don’t be.  They are (or should be) designed to handle the stresses of hauling many kilos of trailing load.  Pack that weight in!


What materials to use?  In principle, anything that is on hand, but in practice we are talking about either steel or lead.  Steel is cheap, but not inherently flexible, so hard to squeeze into round or small spaces.  It is also guaranteed to rust, expanding in the process.  That could be catastrophic in your prized loco!  If you must use steel, always wrap it in something, or lacquer it.


Lead is the logical alternative.  It’s soft, so easily shaped to a desired space and comes in various useful forms.  On the other hand, it’s a POISON.   In fact it’s an accumulative poison, meaning that once it enters your body it will stay there for ever: your body cannot get rid of it.  Absorb enough lead and you will suffer all manner of nastiness.  Now, before we all panic, the chances of a casual user getting lead poison are very small indeed.  However, handling lead directly, via lead dust (e.g. by sawing it) or inhaling its fumes is to be avoided.  In particular, melting lead to mould it should only ever be done in a chemistry lab fume cupboard!


How to obtain lead?   In years gone by, it was easy: get some lead weights from your local angling shop or lead shot (for shotgun cartridges) from the gun shop.  These days lead is strongly frowned upon in angling and you will probably get some funny looks – or worse – if trying to buy several kilos of lead shot on its own in your local gunsmiths.  Luckily, help is at hand from the diving community.  They use various forms of lead as ballast and have numerous Internet suppliers.


The simplest form of lead to buy is lead shot, normally supplied as 2mm balls.  These will roll anywhere and everywhere, so must be trapped in some form of container.  I prefer to use the plastic cash bags used for handling coins by every UK bank.  Your own should give you a lifetime’s supply free if you simply ask for some.  For added security, seal the flap with a piece of insulating tape.  Bags that are not fully filled can be gently prodded into all manner of small spaces.The pictures show a bag containing 250 grams of lead shot which has then been inserted with a twin into the cab of my LGB Schoema diesel.  A fully filled bag will contain over 500 grams of lead.


For a notch up in sophistication (and price per kilo), try ready-formed bags of divers’ shot as in the picture below.  These come in 1 kilo increments, all in a tough, sewn fabric bag which also has a pronounced over sewn lip at one end.  That lip can take a screw or nail to attach it securely to one or more points in your loco.





If lead shot is not suitable, an alternative is lead strip.  No, not from the church roof, but rather in the form used by dolls house modellers.  Typically such strip comes with a self-adhesive strip on one side and lacquered against corrosion on the other.  The stuff I’ve used is supplied in 1 metre rolls of varying widths, usually 1.6mm thick. 


Because it’s self-adhesive, considerable thickness can easily be built up.  The rather poor picture below shows how 2 linear metres of 16mm wide strip was built up in twenty 100mm lengths in a Piko BR80’s side tanks. 


Should none of these sources provide sufficient weight for you, “bulk” supplies are available in the form of pre-formed divers weights or sash window weights.  Neither is ideal.  The divers’ weights are designed to be worn on a belt, so are curved and have loops at either side.  It may be necessary to saw them to shape.  Watch for that dust!  Sash window weights are probably a better bet, though usually only the “make up” pieces make economic sense.  Window weights have a hole drilled through for the cord that means wasted space unless you will be using an attaching bolt through the hole.



UK Internet sources for lead:


Lead strip:


Lead shot & divers weights:


Sash window weights: