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Make your Own Ballast

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  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: CT
  • 18 posts
Make your Own Ballast
Posted by mbvan1 on Friday, December 29, 2006 10:18 PM

Has anyone come up with an idea of how to make ballast. It can be expensive to purchase. I was thinking of grinding walnut shells

Also, what do most people use? Fine or Course

Thanks

  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
  • 19,721 posts
Posted by selector on Friday, December 29, 2006 11:51 PM

Apparently, that is what Woodland Scenics uses.  If you have a good grinder and a screen, no reason you can't make your own.  Just dye it to a couple of close colours for blending.

In my case, I live right on a beach on the Strait of Georgia.  The sand is mostly free of stuff that will migrate towards a magnet, so I have used it for two layouts.  It is greyish and salt and pepper combo, and looks quite nice.  Its granular size is in the order of 1/32", so it is fine enough for HO.  Some have used filter sand and filler sands for aquaria, and others have used fine kitty litter.  Some sandbox sands should be a good bet.

  • Member since
    June, 2004
  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
  • 25,489 posts
Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Friday, December 29, 2006 11:53 PM
I've used ground up walnut shells, ground pecan shells, I've even used scratch grit (small granite pebbles) smashed down as small as I can get them.

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  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: New Jersey, US
  • 379 posts
Posted by topcopdoc on Saturday, December 30, 2006 7:52 AM

Check out e-mails on 12-03-06 ref. Ballast.

Repeating mine:

I use WS fine ballast for the main line but it is too large for the yard. I searched around but could not anything small enough.

I finally found just the right size and color I needed. I went to the rock quarry and got a pail of "blue stone dust." I filter it once with mesh from a screen door and then through a flour sifter that my wife is still looking for. The rock left from the first filtering I use as "riprap" around the mountain base. The rock left from second filtering is about the size of coarse ballast and I use it on river bed edges. The "fines" left over I used in the yard. 

Doc

Pennsylvania Railroad The Standard Railroad of the World
  • Member since
    July, 2003
  • From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
  • 13,177 posts
Posted by cacole on Wednesday, January 03, 2007 6:20 PM
Go to a gunsmith that sells reloading supplies and get a bag of polishing medium.  This is ground up walnut shells that is used in a casing polisher by people who do their own reloading.  It comes in various sized granules, so ask for the smallest. If you can find the right size for your needs, you'll only need to dye it the desired color.
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,447 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, January 04, 2007 11:13 AM
 You all must have an abundance of walnut shells ! I live in the northeast and to buy enough pecans or walnuts to get shells for ballast would cost me thousands !  ---- Banged Head [banghead]
  • Member since
    December, 2003
  • 84 posts
Posted by sansouci on Friday, January 05, 2007 5:01 PM
Do you think putting walnut, almond or pistachio nut shells in a blender/food processor would work? Don't want to annoy the wife/chef if it destroys the blades!
  • Member since
    July, 2003
  • From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
  • 13,177 posts
Posted by cacole on Friday, January 05, 2007 7:06 PM

I don't know what the shell fragments would do to a blender's blades, but someone mentioned here a couple of months ago that they add a little water to help the cutting action.

You should be able to find a cheap blender at a yard sale or flea market for less than $5 that you can use to make your own ballast and ground foam.

  • Member since
    November, 2002
  • From: "Steel, Steam and Thunder"Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • 1,005 posts
Posted by TheK4Kid on Saturday, January 06, 2007 10:12 PM

A buddy of mine showed me a really neat and inexpensive way to do it. He used cat litter, and used different colors of RIT DYE to color it.

Some of it was s natural light grey in color and he didn't dye it, just put it down like any other ballast. 

Works great, and it's CHEAP!!!!! 

 

 TheK4Kid 

  • Member since
    January, 2007
  • From: Gouldsboro, PA
  • 33 posts
Posted by BillS1935 on Sunday, January 07, 2007 7:07 AM

 

I intend to use cat litter also, we use Johnnycat for our cats it's cheap and grey, the larger pieces can be crushed down. BUT, I had read some time ago that it absorbs the moisture.

I do run a dehumidifier but under 65 degrees it doesnt work as well, and for economic reasons I dont heat the basement unless needed, it is around a steady 56 degrees unless the temps drop very low. 

Does anyone know of any downside to using this litter in these conditions.

Thanks,

  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: New Jersey, US
  • 379 posts
Posted by topcopdoc on Sunday, January 07, 2007 8:41 AM

I looked at cat litter before I found the "Blue Stone" dust. I could not find one litter with small enough particles and it lacked the different colors ballast has. I also did not want those big blue chips most litter had. The ability of litter to absorb large quantities of liquids might be a problem also when it comes to using glue. You do not need it drying out the glue before it sets.

The guy at the stone quarry let me take all the stone dust I wanted for free. One bucket opposed to 100 truck loads a day would not be missed. I also use some colored sands I get at Michaels Craft Store ($1.00 a bag) on the layout but not for ballast.

Doc  

Pennsylvania Railroad The Standard Railroad of the World
  • Member since
    July, 2003
  • From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
  • 13,177 posts
Posted by cacole on Monday, January 08, 2007 10:16 AM

If you're going to try cat litter, read the package label carefully and don't get a brand that says it has "clumping action" or anything similar.  The only brand I have found that is suitable for use as HO ballast is Cat's Pride, made by Oil-Dri Corporation.  It is kaolin clay that does not swell up or clump when wet, so you can use rubbing alcohol and 50/50 water/glue mix to fasten it down without having to worry about it swelling up into a huge mass of goo.

It can also be used to soak up oil spills and drips in your driveway or garage, because the primary use of it is to clean up oil spills.  Selling it as cat litter is secondary to Oil-Dri's primary business.

  • Member since
    January, 2007
  • From: Gouldsboro, PA
  • 33 posts
Posted by BillS1935 on Monday, January 08, 2007 12:09 PM

The only brand I have found that is suitable for use as HO ballast is Cat's Pride, made by Oil-Dri Corporation.
 

Thanks I'll take your suggestion next time we're up to the pet shop.

  • Member since
    January, 2007
  • From: Gouldsboro, PA
  • 33 posts
Posted by BillS1935 on Monday, January 08, 2007 1:13 PM

Cat Pride, made by Oil-Dry Corporation. It is kaolin clay that does not swell up or clump when wet, so you can use rubbing alcohol and 50/50 water/glue mix to fasten it down without having to worry about it swelling up into a huge mass of goo.

 I never heard of using rubbing alcohol, how is that applied. Thanks,

  • Member since
    July, 2003
  • From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
  • 13,177 posts
Posted by cacole on Monday, January 08, 2007 2:14 PM

After spreading the ballast, I spray it with rubbing alcohol, dribble on the 50/50 white glue mix, and then spray again with rubbing alcohol to insure that the glue is evenly distributed.

Many people use plain water with a couple of drops of liquid dishwashing detergent in it, but I have found that rubbing alcohol evaporates faster so the ballast dries quicker.

  • Member since
    January, 2007
  • From: Gouldsboro, PA
  • 33 posts
Posted by BillS1935 on Monday, January 08, 2007 2:23 PM

 

(Rubbing Alcohol) .. True- so it does, good thinking, thanks.

  • Member since
    December, 2006
  • From: Ohio
  • 22 posts
Posted by HV Branch on Sunday, January 14, 2007 9:53 AM

Last year I cleaned out my roof gutters and found small bits of gravel in the bottom of the gutters. I saved that material and washed it to remove small bits of leaves and other debris. After drying, the gravel looked good so I spread some as ballast, sprayed it with rubbing alcohol as a wetting agent then dribbled matte media ( a polymar adhesive ) on it.

I have also used clay and it cracks badly and makes the yard tracks look like earthquake faults.

HV Branch

  • Member since
    October, 2005
  • From: Ulster Co. NY
  • 1,456 posts
Posted by larak on Sunday, January 14, 2007 8:08 PM

I've done the gutter trick in the past. A bit large for HO but great for O.

For HO and probably N, just get some sand and run it through a coarse kitchen strainer. (Buy a large one at the dollar store - DO NOT borrow from the wife). Sand comes in many colors. It might be free in your neighborhood. If not, home centers have it by the bag. I got five gallons from the cemetery where I volunteer. The mix of minerals gives a nice color and texture blend and it's as easy to install as the fake stuff.

I actually like it better than some of the expensive commercial ballast products which can often be too large or too monochromatic.

Good luck,

Karl

 

 

The mind is like a parachute. It works better when it's open.  www.stremy.net

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