Styrene is perhaps the easiest material for scratchbuilders and, as well all know, it comes in a range of thicknesses to suit most applications. But styrene isn’t cheap anymore and any chance to get some for free is always welcome.

Quite a few years ago now I was around at one of my mate’s places helping him with something on his layout when I noticed some very finely detailed HO scale military models sitting on a desk in the corner of the room. It turned that my mate’s son was a very keen military modeler … so keen in fact that the models I was looking at were all scratchbuilt … and the detail that he incorporated into his models was exquisite.

There were scratchbuilt map cases, sweat rags, finely raised detail on the dashboard of a model of an Australian Army Land Rover, and much more. Some of the detail was much finer than anything I had been able to achieve and of course I had to quiz this 16 year old kid on the materials and techniques that he was using.

When we got to the really fine detail that he was building into his models I asked him where he had been able to find such thin styrene, no one in the country town where we lived sold it and not every hobby shop down in Sydney sold styrene that thin either.

David rummaged in a drawer in the desk for a few moments and then produced the lid of a margarine container. Yep, that’s what he had been using, the lid of a margarine container! And that’s what I’ve been using for fine detail ever since.



Maybe the lid of a margarine container doesn’t sound very professional but it works, and it really is free styrene … it costs nothing.

All you have to do is give it a good wash in hot soapy water, cut around the inner edge of the raised lip, establish two straight edges that intersect at 90 degrees, and you’ve got a small sheet of very thin styrene that you can use for just about any fine detail.

You can glue it with any adhesive that works with plastic and it will take paint with no problem at all. I used it extensively when I was scratchbuilding in N scale and my paint of choice then was Tamiya water-based paints that I applied with an ordinary brush.

Try it and you’ll probably never let another margarine container lid disappear into the garbage bin.