Monday, November 26, 2018

Dental Tools Or “Picks”

At almost every train show I attend, a tool vendor is there.  Being a tool collector, I have to see if they have a new tool I can obtain to make my modeling easier.  Among my favorite modeling tools I have purchased from the various tool vendors are dental tools or “picks.”   I have also obtained used dental picks from my dentist for a great price - free.   My son Michael, who passed recently, helped me to build a fairly large collection.  To my surprise, when he was in elementary school, he told his dentist his father was a model railroader in need of used modeling tools which resulted in him bringing home an envelope of ten or more each visit for several years.

Dental picks collection.
(click or tap on photos to enlarge)

I use dental picks to help build every freight car I work on.  At first glance, the dental picks all look alike; however, that is not the case.  As you look close at various dental picks made from high quality steel, you can see dental picks come in various handle sizes with various ends.  I will share with you several of my favorites.  I do not know the specific name a dentist uses to identify each dental pick type I will share here; therefore, I will identify them with names I use.

The first dental tool I want to share with you is one with a simple straight or slightly curved tapered tip. I use this tool in a model session if I need to open a closed tip on a CA glue bottle or cement tube.  Being made of a high quality steel, it is strong enough to quickly open a closed tip without bending or breaking.  The tip on the pick with the yellow band in the following photo, I attempted to straighten with a pliers.

A strong tip to reopen closed tips on CA bottles.

 Another very useful dental pick type has ends shaped like hooks.  A dental tool with this tip I like to use to help grab wire to assist treading it on a model such as the train line through underframe members on a freight car.  In addition, this dental pick with hook is very handy for pulling out an underbody or floor assembly pressed too far into a freight car body during assembly, especially on plastic freight cars.   The thin hook goes in easy under the underbody or floor to pull it out.

Dental picks with curved tips

I have used the dental pick with hooks to make uncoupling tools .  I combined the dental pick with a hook with a pen barrel and added a screw eye for hanging.  The dental tool with hook works very well to hook trip pins on Kadee and other coupler types to uncouple them during operation sessions.

Uncoupling or load removal shop made tools

Screw eye for hanging for easy access.

Another neat use for a dental pick with hook is to remove loads from freight cars like coal loads from hoppers.  I have drilled a tiny hole in the corner on one end of each load through which the hook passes easily to slip under the load to pull the load out of the freight car.

Coal load being removed with dental pick.

When I scratch build a model or upgrade a plastic freight car  I almost always use a scriber.  On a plastic wood sheathed freight car I will use it to scribe grooves between boards back in the area where I have removed molded on detail such as grab irons or ladder rungs.  Here you see ones I made using dental picks.  I ground a 60 degree angle on each side of the tip.  The scriber cuts a fine curl as it should when pulled across material such as styrene plastic.

Note the curl a sharp correctly ground scriber should produce.

Dental picks shown below have different tips I use to apply putty for fillings flaws that need filling.  For example,  on a resin freight car there are times a tiny gap may occur after gluing a car end to side or when roof is glued to the basic freight box of car side and ends.  The dental tools shown here are excellent for the task.

Dental picks with good tips for use with fillers.

Dental picks in this photo have different scraping tips.  I use this type of scraper to clean up areas on cars I have carved off grab irons and ladder rungs and to clean off burrs in an area where I used a scriber.  I use them to clean off glue.  Another time I will use them is to help level putty that was applied to an area.

Dental picks with tips I like for scraping.

Finally, dental picks with another type tip I use for scraping and shaping areas.   I like the smaller tips on these dental picks to get into areas where the above tips do not fit well.  In addition,  I use a dental tool with this type tip to shape putty or MEK Goop, (plastic melted in Methyl Ethyl Ketone) applied to model areas.

Dental picks with smaller tips for scraping and shaping.

I have shared with you some of my favorite dental picks in my dental tool "picks" collection.  And, I have tried to provide a use I have for a particular tool with a particular end.  I hope I have peaked your interest in dental tools to give their use in your modeling a try.

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.
Lester Breuer


  1. Les, thanks for sharing these great ideas. You have such a wealth of knowledge and it makes for better modeling. I wonder when my next dentist appointment is????

  2. Thank You for the kind words. May you dentist be generous as I am hearing some are and some are not.

  3. Lester, I enjoyed your Running Extra article about adding ladders to boxcars. I have questions about making a scribe lfrom a dental pick like you mentioned in the article and here on your blog:
    1. You said the sides of the pick should be ground to a 60° angle. Do you mean just the right and left sides, or front and back as well? I could not tell from the photos.
    2. Is there a simple way to gauge the width of the lines being scribed so that they match the rest of the siding on a model? Any assistance is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Bill Gill