HO Scale 33” & 36” Wheel Painting Mask Side-by-Side Comparison

Products from American Model Builders, MinuteMan Scale Models, and Modeler's Choice.

This side-by-side compares four separate wheel painting masks, for both 33” and 36” wheels in HO scale. One of each size comes from American Model Builders, MinuteMan Scale Models, and Modeler's Choice.

Wheel painting it tough to do by hand, constantly rolling the wheels, the ability to only do the outside, or inside at one time,
not to mention the fact that its tough to keep paint off the tread of the wheels! American Model Builders, MinuteMan Scale
Models, and Modeler's Choice have solved this problem with their wheel painting masks.

American Model Builders offers a laser cut acrylic mask that holds 4 wheel sets. They're offered in 33” and 36” sizes, and
are assembled with liquid plastic cement, the wheels are friction/tension held.

MinuteMan Scale Models offers wheel masks, made from laser cut acrylic clear plastic, and hold 4 wheel sets. They come
fully assembled, in 33” and 36” sizes, with the wheels being friction/tension held.

The Modeler's Choice version is made from laser cut white styrene plastic, and holds 8 wheel sets. They also come in 33”
and 36” sizes, and secure closed with a rubber band.

Side-by-Side Comparison:

Review of each product:

The American Model Builders manufacturer provided sample product was easy to assemble. My only concern happens
to be the fragility of the rings that cover the tread. I broke one on my first test fit. It took a little effort to place a Branchline Code 88, 36” wheel into the 36” wheel mask, and upon removal managed to break the ring. After a little CA and some filing to allow placement of the wheels to be slightly easier, it works great.

AMB recommends using Ambroid ProWeld for assembly. I did not have any on hand, so I used M.E.K. (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) to assemble the 36” wheel mask, and it seems to have worked well.

Using the masks to paint is fairly simple. Place the wheel sets into the mask and spray away. Wearing gloves, I simply held the mask in my left hand while I sprayed with my right hand. I started with a layer of Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer, then went over it with a thinned (70%) coat of House of Kolor military brown (30%). None of the paint bled into the treads, so they work as advertised.

Seems my concerns with the fragility were valid. During painting with the 36” mask, a 2nd ring developed a crack. That's not it, during the removal of the axles, a 3rd ring completely sheered off. The worst part about the 3rd ring's damage is that I was not even removing that axle at the time! In an email reply, Dave from AMB informed me that it is known that P2K wheels are slightly larger then Kadee, and the Branchline wheels may have the same “problem”, thus causing enough stress to the mask to fracture it.

Illustration 1: Damaged AMB 36" wheel mask.

For the 33” mask I decided to scour my collection for a set of Kadee wheels to verify that the mask does work correctly on Kadee wheel sets.

I must thank American Model Builders for providing their product free of charge for this uncensored, unscripted review & comparison, and thank Dave for his quick replies to my emails. Please let them know your heard about their product on Model Railroad Tips.

The MinuteMan Scale Models product came fully assembled in a nice cardboard box. The sides are neatly held together with a nut & bolt. The fingers of the mask were protected by a foam block. I had issues with the fit on some Athearn 36” wheels, but after some testing, I determined it was the wheels that were bad, not the masks.

The MinuteMan Scale Models masks are also laser cut acrylic, like the American Model Builders version. The individual fingers are much thicker, and the base is much longer then the AMB version. The rings that hold the wheels are also thicker.

I noticed that the laser cutting on the inside of the rings was a bit rough, but this did not seem to effect it's masking ability. I tested the 36” version with some BLMA wheels, and the 33” version with some Athearn wheels. Both worked equally well.

Illustration 2: MinuteMan Scale Models 33" wheel mask, with Athearn 33" wheels.

The Modeler's Choice product holds 8 axles, versus the 4 axles of the previous two versions. It is made from laser cut
styrene. Wheels are inserted into one side of the mask, then the opposite side is placed on, then secured with the two end sheets, with a tab/slot construction. The end sheets are secured with a rubber band. I've attempted the suggested 3 sided box idea suggested in the instructions, but it never seemed to work well for me.

I've noticed that painting the axles on with the Modeler's Choice version tends to be a little more difficult due to the
construction, but I do like the option to paint enough axles for a 6 axle freight or passenger car all at once.

One various test runs, masking worked perfectly. I've used the masks several times with Branchline, Intermountain, and
Reboxx code 88 wheels, and the paint has never bled. I've also cleaned the 36” mask once, by soaking it in some 91%
Isopropyl Alcohol. This did not effect the masking ability, and may actually improve the fit of the wheels, if done occasionally.

When only painting 4 axles with the Modeler's Choice mask, I suggest you use some tape to mask the unused holes, so that you will not need to clean them for later use.

A downside to the Modeler's Choice masks, is that you need to provide the rubber bands, and the paints tend to dry them out so they only last through a few uses.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, I feel that all three manufacturers have hit the spot with these masks. I only wish that one of them would offer 28” and 38” options, and quite possibly some 40”, 42” and 45” options for locomotive wheels.

The American Model Builders version suffers from lack of durability, though with proper use (Kadee wheels only), they should last a long time. Assembly was iffy, but can be accomplished with CA adhesive. The MinuteMan Scale Models version comes assembled, thus saving the assembly time, and looks to fit all manufacturers wheels. Last the Modeler's Choice version has the advantage of fitting double the wheels, however is a little more difficult to load, and requires the user to provide rubber bands to secure the ends.

All masks worked out equally well, and fulfilled their intended purpose.

Thanks again to American Model Builders for sponsoring this article.

© 2009-2011, 2019, Josh Baakko, http://www.modelrailroadtips.com