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How-to: Improve a pantograph by applying a copper strip

JR East

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Hello Fans, 


There are several ways to mimic the copper strip(s) on the contact surface of a pantograph. Of course, you can paint them. Another way to proceed is to stick on them a thin band of (real) copper to make it as real as possible. 


Let me share with you, step-by-step, the way I proceed. 


Click on the pictures to have them bigger, it'll hep you to see the details. 




1 - As it's N gauge, you'll need some tools / accessories



  • A headband magnifier (better with led like mine) - Can be purchased out of (e.g.) Amazon for 20 euros. Any fixed magnifier can be used but without magnifier ... no way!




  • A roll of adhesive copper. You can purchase it for a couple of euros at Amazon (HERE some examples) or anywhere else.
  • Ideally, a 7 mm width would be perfect, but 6.3 mm and 6.4 mm fits too. The one I've purchased at Amazon is HERE ( (0.24inch x 66ft) 




  • Standard scissors to cut a strip in the copper roll
  • Your wife’s tweezers or your very fine tweezers

  • couple of toothpicks 

  • A cutter (we'll not use it to cut ...)




  • A precision flush cutter




And as usual .... Time ... time .... time ... don't rush in any case!!!




2 - Let's get some reference


Measuring is key for knowing the width of the pantograph's copper surface.




A good option is to place a ruler (mine has got a rubber band below, it's a good protective device) an shoot with your cellphone




As you can see here, the length is about 7 mm ... 




... meaning I'll have to play a bit to center it properly with my 6,3 mm copper strip. Anyway, keep in mind that nobody will have such a close view on it.




For narrowest pantograph, you can for sure cut a part of the copper strip to lower the width. 




3 - Time to cut


This is where you'll have to do it very accurately. Too wide, too narrow, not perfectly rectangle will lead to poor result




After having cut a strip out of the roll, peel it partially but just a small length 


Then, with your headband magnifier, look to the pantograph an memorize the width of the plastic part you'll have to cover with the copper strip. It's the only way to proceed, be confident. Once done, take the strip in one hand ...




... put the copper strip between the pliers jaw ...




... and slowly adjust to the size you've memorized. Once done, stop breathing and pinch firmly to cut. 




You should have a perfect rectangle, cut to the right size.




If not ... do, do again .... do again until it's done properly. 


The more you'll do, the better and faster you'll succeed. 




4 - Transferring or not, that is the question


It's now time to remove it from the flush cutter edge and transferring  the small copper piece to something much more maneuverable. 




Good option is to remove the strip by the middle of it. Take care not to breaking it into 2 pieces, proceed gently 




Option to transfer it to a toothpick is possible, especially by sticking one end to the tip of the toothpick. Usually, the adhesive side is sticking less on the wood than on the metal of the tweezers


5 - Applying, here is the tricky step


The golden rule : if for any reason the sticking process doesn't work (eg the strip is diverting from the straight line and goes right or left, or it doesn't apply correctly), unsticking and sticking again is not a good idea. It'll provide in a poor result. Start again from step 3 with a new cut. 




It's where I realized I'm missing a 3rd and 4th arm / hand to be able to capture the picture as I'm applying the strip. 


Let me depict what I did. With the toothpick, I've approached the other end of the strip (the one not stuck to the toothpick) of the right position. Then using either another toothpick or (like here) the tip of the cutter's blade, I've pressed the end of the copper strip to the pantograph. If it's not perfectly place, at this step, you can unstick and do it again.




On this picture, you can see that the strip is (roughly) well aligned with the pantograph, thus you can start pressing with the tip of a toothpick (or of the cutter's blade) to stick it totally ... 




... up to be stuck to the hollow in the pantograph, and also the side of it. 




If you proceed properly, you should be having this result : a strip, covering exactly the pantograph, where it should be. 


If it's not centered or diverting left or right or ....... it's too late, you'll have to follow the 'Golden rule'. 




5 - Final result and some considerations


Despite I'm trained to do it, I was obliged to start again at the step 3 for this 'How-To' (2 times !!!) and it's not due to the fact I was shooting for making it. 




What really gives a great satisfaction is obtaining two beautiful strips on the same pantograph, perfectly aligned, exactly the same size and correctly stuck to the plastic. 




Keep in mind that nobody will look so close to the pantograh. Simply consider it'll give an incredible look and feel when you look at you trainset from a normal distance. 


If for any reason, it doesn't please you anymore, it's very easy to unstick to revert to the original grey pantograph (what is not so easy when you paint it). 


I hope it'll help you. 





Edited by JR East
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I looked sideways at trying some copper leafing a long time back, but never got around to it. Adhesive was going to be the tricky part on the plastic and copper. Also wondered what copper paint pen or paint would do. Going to have to find a few extra pantographs in the misc parts boxes and experiment. Come to think of it old Tomytec plastic pantographs may work for some experimentation. knew I had a reason to toss all those in a plastic bag! But as you mention these solutions would require some solvent and tedious scraping if you decide to get rid of it!


thanks very much for taking the time to put this tutorial together, very much appreciated!



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  • JR East changed the title to How-to: Improve a pantograph by applying a copper strip
18 hours ago, cteno4 said:

Doh! yes should be over in rolling stock here. made so.







Did you made a shot or the result ? Good to see how it goes now



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3 hours ago, JR East said:

Did you made a shot or the result ? Good to see how it goes now



?? My post was I just moved the topic over here to the rolling sock forum, as it was in the tool forum. Rolling stock is were topics like this are, tool forum is mainly talk about tools specifically.



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On 12/11/2021 at 8:17 PM, cteno4 said:

?? My post was I just moved the topic over here to the rolling sock forum, as it was in the tool forum. Rolling stock is were topics like this are, tool forum is mainly talk about tools specifically.



Sorry Jeff, mustunderstanding of mine. 


May I suggest to do the same with my other #How-To for consistency reason ? 



Edited by JR East
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