When you bought your 3D printer, you likely envisioned printing rolling stock, buildings, and detail parts to bring your model railroad to life. There’s no doubt you’ll make some amazing things that way, but you should also use it to print tools and accessories that will make your modeling life easier and more enjoyable.
Makers helping makers
There are thousands of printable objects already designed by model makers such as yourself, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
One of the best sources is MakerBot’s Thingiverse. You can set up a free account even if your 3D printer is made by a different manufacturer.
Get involved in the community aspect too. Follow creators you like and leave feedback on objects you print. And if you start designing your own objects, return the favor by sharing them with the community.
Tips for working with these objects
Read the instructions from the creator and comments from others before printing an object. Some of these will be simple and straightforward, while others have dozens of files and customization options.
Pay attention to the following before starting your prints …
Was the object designed for a filament or resin printer?
Most creators will tell you the printer they used and the material they used to print it. Models with fine detail will work best in a resin printer, while others requiring strength and durability will work best in a filament printer.
Will the object fit in your printer?
Size definitely matters in 3D printing! Always check that a model will fit within your printer’s build volume. If it doesn’t, you may need to break it into smaller objects that can be glued together after printing.
Do you need to customize the object before printing it?
Some objects let users customize text and other attributes before printing. Creators will explain how to do this before you slice your object for printing.
Do you need to print all of the files?
Some of these objects, particularly the storage systems, include dozens of files. These provide options so you can customize the system to your specific needs. You may not need to print some of the files, and you might need to print multiples of other files. Read the creator’s instructions before printing.
What print settings should you use?
Most creators will share the the printer they used and the relevant print settings. You will get the best results if you use the same settings on your printer, even if your printer is a different brand.
Do you need to slice the object?
Many objects come with printer-ready .stl or .ctb files. As long as the file format and settings are compatible with your printer, you can use them right away. Others are provided in their native format, and you will have to process them through your slicing software before you can print them. You will also need to slice any objects that you customized.
Do you need to buy additional hardware to assemble the object?
Sometimes objects require screws, nuts, washers, and other hardware for assembly. Check the creator’s instructions to see if you’ll need to buy anything.
Track and roadway tools
You’re probably eager to just run your trains, so let’s start by printing some tools that will get your track laid and your trains rolling down the tracks.
2. Ballast spreaders
Spreading ballast along your tracks adds realism to your train layout, but it is also one of the messiest and most dreaded tasks in model railroading. These simple but effective ballast spreaders will make your work quicker, easier, and neater.
Download HO gauge ballast spreader by OSTycoon
Download N gauge ballast spreader by Skyjumper
3. HO track cleaner
Keeping your track clean is essential to keeping your trains running smoothly. Manually cleaning the tracks can be tedious, especially on a large layout. This HO gauge track cleaner clips to an axle on your rolling stock. All you have to do is attach a swatch of clean paper towel or microfiber cloth and run your train around the layout with it.
Download HO gauge track cleaner by OSTycoon
Note that no version is available for N scale as this could damage their tiny axles.
4. HO road-marking stencils
Adding detail to your roadways will make them stand out and look more realistic. This set of stencils makes it easy to add markings without struggling with freehand painting. It includes 16 stencils covering things such as parking spaces, crosswalks, direction arrows, traffic signs, and more. You can print them all or just the ones you plan to use.
Download HO road-marking stencils by 3d-druckfactory
Although no N scale version of these available, you can still use them on your N scale layout by printing them at 54.375% of their original size.
5. N gauge parallel track tool
When laying parallel tracks, it is critical to maintain a safe and consistent distance between each set of tracks. This simple tool will make laying parallel tracks accurate and easy. It is designed for both 26.5 mm and 30 mm track distances with handy center marking notches for both distances.
Download N gauge parallel track tool by gapollo
No HO gauge version of this was provided. We don’t recommend scaling it up for printing as the measurements may not remain precise enough.
Model making tools
Modeling tools are expensive, but your 3D printer can make some useful ones for just pennies. This is the category where material strength and durability matters the most, so check the designers’ recommendations for what type of filament to use. PETG or ABS is likely to be better than PLA for some of these prints.
6. Sanding block
Sanding surfaces smooth is a basic modeling technique, but the sanding blocks you can buy at the hardware store are often too big and clunky for hobby work. This 3-piece sanding block assembly is sized perfectly for model makers. The screw is 3D printed, so you won’t need to buy any hardware to assemble it.
Download sanding block by Remi-Rafael
7. Machine vice
A small vice is essential for holding small parts while you work on them. Vices sized for model making can be expensive and metal ones risk damaging delicate parts. This 8-piece vice is fully functional yet gentle enough for small parts. The gears and screws are 3D printed, so you won’t need to buy any hardware to assemble it.
Download machine vice by The Goofy
8. Crocz crocodile clips / clamps
Clips and clamps are your best friend when holding small model parts together for assembling and waiting for the glue to dry. These crocodile shaped clamps are fun to use yet gentle enough for model parts.
Download Crocz by muzz64
9. Cap for cutters
Your wire and sprue cutters are likely some the most used tools in your modeling toolbox. But storing them unprotected risks damaging their blades and your flesh. This simple cap is all you need to protect you and your cutting tools.
Download cap for cutters by Profi550
10. Precision measuring tools
According to their designer, 3D printing this set of tools can save you at least $100. It includes a set of calipers, fillet gauges, feeler gauges, and hole gauges in 12 downloadable files. You can print them all or just the ones you need.
Download precision measuring tools by jhoward679
These are labeled as “precision” tools, but they are not likely to be as precise as tools purchased from a manufacturer. They are likely good enough for hobby work though. If you require a high level of precision, first calibrate your printer with the calibration tools listed in the next section.
11. Dremel table saw / disc sander / shaper
This masterful design will turn your Dremel rotary tool into a mini machine shop. It contains 24 files, some of which require printing multiple quantities. You’ll also need to purchase some machine screws and nuts to complete this project. Be sure to review the detailed printing and assembly instructions provided by its designer.
Download Dremel table saw / disc sander / shaper by AlbertGBarber
3D printing tools
If you want to design your own 3D-printed parts, you’ll need to understand your printer’s capabilities and limits. These tools will help you test and learn about your 3D printer. They will also help you troubleshoot problems if you’re struggling to get quality prints.
12. Wall thickness calibration test piece
3D printers and slicers vary greatly in the resolution their print resolutions. This wall thickness test piece will help you learn what your printer can and can’t print. It can also show you the effect that changing nozzles or adjusting slicer settings has on your prints. If you design your own parts, this is also a good visual reference.
Download wall thickness calibration test piece by MiseryBot
13. Bridge calibration test pieces
Bridging in 3D printing is when the filament is laid in mid-air as it spans from one support to another. This set of test pieces will help you learn the distance you can span without sagging. Start by printing the shortest one. If successful, continue printing each larger one until you find the limits of your printer, material, and print settings.
14. Overhang angle test object
This set of four objects with gradually increasing overhang angles will teach you what your printer, material, and print settings are capable of. Print these small test strips to assure success before you print larger and more complex objects with angled or arched overhangs.
Download overhang angle test object by zumili
15. Calibration ruler
This object will test the calibration of your X, Y and Z axes with a combination of rulers and holes. Compare your print to a manufactured ruler to see whether your printer’s objects are true to size. You can also check for perfectly round holes which indicate the 3 axes are calibrated consistently with each other.
Download calibration ruler by RichieC
16. Filament clip
Use this simple clip to prevent your filament from unspooling after you unload it from your printer and put it in storage. The files include designs for 1.75 mm filament and 2.85 mm (aka 3 mm) filament.
Download filament clip by Lyl3
17. Customizable filament swatch
If you buy a lot of filament spools, this swatch will be a great reference for each one. The text on each swatch is customizable for the material type and color, and the swatch itself includes a variety of mini-tests (such as wall thickness, bridging, and shapes). The designer also includes files to print a handy storage box and lid to keep your swatches organized.
Download customizable filament swatch by makkuro
Model railroaders have an insatiable need to store train parts and modeling supplies. Printing these storage systems will save you a lot of money! And they adapt to your specific needs better than store-bought containers and racks can.
18. Modular hobby paint rack system
You likely have a lot of disorganize paint bottles and brushes. This modular hobby paint rack system by gsargent will help you customize a rack to organize them on your workbench. This system offers paint bottle sections in four different configurations along with cutouts sized to match popular hobby paint brands. A fifth section is designed to hold paint brushes, tools, and most importantly a cup of water for cleaning your brushes. Mix and match components to store exactly what you need.
The designer intends to keep adding to this system to accommodate more brands of paint, so if you don’t see what you need now, check back again later.
19. Modular tool caddy
Having your tools organized makes for a pleasant model-making experience. This modular tool caddy has a small footprint but offers is very customizable. Print out the rail base, then print the specific tool holders you need for your collection. You can combine several bases together to build a larger system and swap out modules as your needs change.
Download modular tool caddy by siderits
20. Dremel bit storage
Your Dremel tool is one of your most versatile tools, and you have likely acquired many bits for it. Keep those bits organized and easily accessible with this bit storage rack. The top contains holes sized for the most common Dremel bits, and the back has two pullout drawers to organize other stuff.
Download Dremel bit storage by Rogarat
21. Small parts boxes with covers
Organize your “junk” drawers with these boxes designed for small parts. This collection contains boxes of various footprints and depths to let you custom fit them to any sized drawer. Affix a label to the provided surface for easy part identification and access, or print the optional covers for stacking or transporting.
Download boxes for small parts by SD-product
22. Small storage system
If transporting parts is important to you, this storage system is the way to go. It includes several larger cases that hold small boxes of varying sizes to organize parts and drill bits. There’s even a storage rack that lets you transport several cases together.
Download small storage system by CaptainObvious
23. Stackable bins organizer
If you prefer stackable storage to reduce the clutter on your workbench, then this series of organizers by sartemch is for you. There are three series – original, mini, micro – that start with different footprints. Select the footprint that works for your space and printer then customize your stackable bins with different heights and compartment configurations.
We’re just getting started …
These are just a few of the thousands of free downloads the 3D-printing community offers, but they can go a long way towards making your model railroading more organized and enjoyable.
New objects are always being added to Thingiverse and other sites, so be on the lookout for designs that can help you.
And if you create your own designs, be sure to share with the modeling community.