I haven't seen this technique mentioned before, so pardon me folks if I'm re-inventing the wheel.
Power supply capacitors (those aluminum cylinders inside old TV's and radios) contain rolled up metal foil in a wide variety of textures and shades. The foil is made of aluminum, zinc, and various alloys - some shiny, some dull. Unpainted, it makes great stainless and plate steel, galvanized iron and aluminum, depending on the foil. Painted, it can be anything you can shape or emboss, the only limitation being that some priming is needed to overcome the porous nature of the metal.
Make sure the capacitor is discarged (short the terminals) if you don't want a nasty shock. If they're old they're probably dead, but do it anyway. It's a good habit. Now pry them apart from the bottom, avoiding damage to the containers (which make great oil storage tanks). Unwrap the foil carefully (the edges are sharp!) and separate it from the paper insulation. The paper is soaked in mineral oil. Discard it, then wash the foil in dishwashing liquid and roll onto dowel, pencils, etc. With the capacitors from a single dead TV, you'll have a substantial supply of scale sheet metal.
Some uses I've found in N-scale:
Corrugated siding. Here I simply emboss the foil using pieces from the Kibri Coal Loader as a pattern, then cut them to size. Good for that bashed up look. Poke it with a stick, tear a hole or two, add rust and serve!
Corrugated pipe loads and culverts. As above, then bend the piece around a knitting needle or dowel of appropriate diameter. Close the joint with ACC, and hide by facing inward, or downward as required.
Open top barrels. As above, but with only two or three embossed lines. Bottoms can be formed with a small punch. Closed top barrels can be made from dowel, with a bit of foil glued to the ends and filed flush, then wrapped with the embossed sides. Nice scale looking rims, if you go a little wide.
Lacing for truss bridges, using the paper doll approach. Added advantage of embossed rivets in the larger scales. Also good for fillet plates.
Coiled steel, and coilcar covers. Wrap the foil several times around a dowel, remove dowel, band with black hair or fine thread. The coils are very convincing, since they're real metal. You can also make unusual shaped covers that aren't commercially available. Just cut and bend like paper cut-outs in kids books (don't forget the tabs). You can dent these up nicely too.
Sides, roofs and ends. I used the drop-floor of a Dimi beet car, the sides of a Rapido hopper, and the drop-end of a Microtrains gondola as patterns for an Otis ballast car (embossed parts glued to styrene body - you could use filed down car bodies here too). I've also used foil to make replacement doors for chunky old Atlas cars, and the sides of a woodchip hopper as a pattern for 62' mill gondolas. Other parts can be made along the same lines.
Tip: Intalling grab irons on embossed car sides is much easier if you do it BEFORE you glue the sides to styrene! A small pin hole is all you need, then push the grab irons through. Score the styrene backing to accomodate the snipped or bent ends. Far easier than drilling holes! Don't use styrene cement to attach the embossed metal either, or you'll get warping, as I learned the hard way.
Tip: a sharp H or HB pencil makes a smooth embossing tool. Scrub the loose graphite off with a soapy toothbrush, then spray with primer.
These are just a few of the possibilities. I'm sure there are more. One of the nice things about this material is you can bash it up and it looks like real damage, such as warehouse doors hit by a forklift, or rock damage on mining structures. One project, as yet unstarted, is to emboss some gondola sides, then dent the hell out of them to simulate the damage you see in scrap service. Wrecked cars on the dead track are another possibility. A good place to display your first efforts .
Mac B. Vancouver BC