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Scenery construction methods?

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Scenery construction methods?
Posted by hon30critter on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 10:25 PM

I would like to ask those of you who have experience with building scenery what methods you would recommend?

The Barrie Allandale Railway Modellers will be at the point in the construction of our new permanent layout where we can start building scenery sometime in the early fall. Very few members have any real scenery construction experience. My experience is about 'zero'.

I'm not looking for detailed 'how to' tutorials, but I would like to hear why you recommend (or don't recommend) any particular method.

Here is what the layout looks like now:

We want the terrain to resemble central and mid-northern Ontario, i.e. lots of trees and rock outcroppings and some decent sized hills. There will be one (or possibly two) river scenes where the river will fall approx. 12" over its' 3' - 4' length, and the sides of the river valley will be fairly steep but not vertical. There will be some reasonably high hills in the center of the layout with the same rocky, heavily treed appearance, but they will not be mountainous as in like the Rocky Mountains.

One of our requirements is that the scenery be fairly sturdy. Given that this is a club layout, we don't want something that you can poke your finger through. We would also like the trees to be supported well enough that they will stand up straight even when bumped a bit.

One thing I should mention is that we have a source for lots of pink foam insulation scraps. One of our members is in the construction business.

How would you do it?

Thanks,

Dave

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Posted by BNSF UP and others modeler on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 10:50 PM

Cardboard strips with plaster cloth, chicken wire with plaster cloth, pink insulation carved to shape with plaster, sculptamould, etc. Take your pick. From there you can carve it an then add your choice of dirt texture or paint, and then ground cover. Hope this helps!

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Posted by hon30critter on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 11:05 PM

BNSF UP and others modeler
Cardboard strips with plaster cloth, chicken wire with plaster cloth, pink insulation carved to shape with plaster, sculptamould, etc. Take your pick. From there you can carve it an then add your choice of dirt texture or paint, and then ground cover. Hope this helps!

Thanks, but I think you missed the point of my question. I am fully aware of all of the various methods of building scenery. Perhaps I should have spelled that out. What I was asking is which specific method you preferred and why?

Dave

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Posted by "JaBear" on Thursday, June 21, 2018 5:25 AM
Gidday Dave, chicken wire because after attaching it to the wood work, it can be pushed into various shapes, then old cotton sheets cut into workable strips which are then dipped into a plaster of Paris soup.
 
Chicken wire may not be the cheapest foundation, and her-in-doors may object if her sheets go missing, (for goodness sake don’t get caught!!) but we, the builders at the Club, felt it was the most robust method of nearly vertical scenery construction.
 
We also used cardboard strips, a hot glue gun and P of P dipped paper towels, but…
 
Cheers, the Bear.Smile

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, June 21, 2018 5:53 AM

Only method I have tried is cardboard stips and plaster cloth - cheap and cheerful.  Cardboard is generally free.  Cost is for some glue sticks, plaster cloth and plaster and you can used scrap wood for supports.  You can get plaster cloth much cheaper than the model scenery companies on Ebay or Amazon.  I went a little crazy with the carboard strips but you don't have to:

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by snjroy on Thursday, June 21, 2018 6:36 AM

Dave, your point about "rough" handling in club conditions is an excellent one. Our club layout has literally been butchered in some areas due to leaning, maintenance, etc. I am trying to convince my club colleagues to prevent this by planning ahead. For example, I would like to install a space where users can put their locos on the rails without damaging anything - something like painted wood surfaces where people can deposit their loco before placing it on the track. I would also install other leaning pads of that sort on other strategic areas. I'm also thinking of putting some plasting moldings to cover the top of our fascia. Plaster, paint and styrofoam are fragile...

Simon

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Posted by bearman on Thursday, June 21, 2018 7:24 AM

I use pieces of insulation foam, covered with plaster cloth and then wall joint compound mostly because I do not want to fuss around with cardboard strips or a lot of plaster.

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by Medina1128 on Thursday, June 21, 2018 7:42 AM

hon30critter

 

BNSF UP and others modeler
Cardboard strips with plaster cloth, chicken wire with plaster cloth, pink insulation carved to shape with plaster, sculptamould, etc. Take your pick. From there you can carve it an then add your choice of dirt texture or paint, and then ground cover. Hope this helps!

 

Thanks, but I think you missed the point of my question. I am fully aware of all of the various methods of building scenery. Perhaps I should have spelled that out. What I was asking is which specific method you preferred and why?

Dave

 

It largely depends on the size of the area to be scenicked. For small to medium-sized areas, I use foam. For large areas, I use cardboard strips, covered with a layer of plaster cloth. What it comes down to, is, basically, cost effectiveness.

 

 

 

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Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, June 21, 2018 8:53 AM

I used a bag of hydrocal and paper towels because it was cheap.  If you make cardboard webbing with large gaps, the towels sag into the hole.  I lke Rio Grande's webbing.

My next RR will be foam and sculptamold, because I want it moveable and light.

Henry

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Posted by RR_Mel on Thursday, June 21, 2018 9:44 AM

I’ve used premix Paper Mache for over 50 years as a sub base for it’s strength and durability.  Paper Mache has it’s problems with shrinkage when drying, it shrinks by about ¼” per square foot.  If well anchored to ¾” plywood it will force warpage as it dries.  Allow for the shrinkage and it’s great stuff.  I use Saran Wrap as a separator so that the Paper Mache doesn’t stick and then staples to hold it when dry.  The Saran Wrap easily pulls off after the Paper Mache dries.  
 
It’s very durable as a sub base and is easily cut with small carpenter saws when fully dry.  At ¼” thick it’s strong as nails.  I’ve never had any cracks even after 30 years on my current layout.
 
It drills and cuts easy and can be added to later for modifications down the road.  At a ¼” thickness it is self supporting and very strong.  I used Hydrocal for rocks on top of the Paper Mache with some support during the Hydrocal drying process and the Paper Mache will support the weight after it dries.
 
 
Mel
 
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
 
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Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, June 21, 2018 10:44 AM

Thanks Henry,

I've found it can be kind of cool to actually make landforms with the cardboard strips as you add them from left to right or right to left, almost like you are digitally raster scanning the land form.  Add just enough support structure as needed.

 

bearman

I use pieces of insulation foam, covered with plaster cloth and then wall joint compound mostly because I do not want to fuss around with cardboard strips or a lot of plaster.

 

I used plaster cloth over my card board strips.  Above the plaster cloth, you can use wall joint compound instead of a lot of plaster.  So the cardboard strips and lots of plaster are not a necessary combination.

Basically for what goes under:

- Foam - con is cost.  It's hard to say if its faster than cardboard strips cause you still have to carve it or hot metal slice it.  If you carve and/or shave you will have some mess there.

- Cardboard strips - cheaper (cardboards is free, hot glue sticks a few bucks for a pack).  Very little mess, but takes some time to cut and lay in.  Not much time if you just make a big web.

 

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by Choops on Thursday, June 21, 2018 11:44 AM

I always used cardboard strips and plaster cloth.  very easy and cheap.

With a club you can haveeveryone working with different skill levels. (eg cutting strips,  gluing to edge of baseboard, shaping group,  group adding cross pieces.)

also allows for quick changes.  add more push down. 

cover with wet newspaper and let sit for a while to see if you like the way it looks.

Steve

Modeling Union Pacific between Cheyenne and Laramie in 1957 (roughly)
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Posted by doctorwayne on Thursday, June 21, 2018 12:46 PM

I used Durabond 90 patching plaster over aluminum window screen.  Where support is needed to prevent sagging during application of the plaster, or to achieve a particular shape or contour, I screw temporary (or permanent) wood supports (1"x2" or plywood cut-to-suit).  While I doubt that it would support my full weight (not that much), I have, while standing on a stepstool, bent and reached about four and a half feet into a particularly deep spot on the layout, supporting myself with one hand on the plaster terrain.  There is a support under there somewhere.

For a fairly large club layout, this option might be too expensive, although I've not priced aluminum screen or Durabond lately.

Wayne

 

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Posted by Silverliner266 on Thursday, June 21, 2018 1:07 PM

I've recently started building a small N Scale layout after 10 years away from the hobby. I didn't have a ton of scery expereince before so I decided to try a couple of different techniques already mentioned here by others. 

 

Foam board and spackle

Pros: This method is relatively quick and since my base is also foam board it was cheap because I got to use my leftovers. It also has the most structural integrity if you're worried about people making contact with the layout. 

Cons: You are still working with pieces of square foam, if you don't to enough carving the mountain or hill will end up being suspiciously geometric. Clean-up is another con, shaved foam board gets absolutely everywhere and likes to cling to people and things. 

 

Cardboard and covering 

 

Pros: Cheap (I used an empty case of beer) and fairly simple. It also is the easiest to rip out a piece and try again if you don't like the shape. 

 

Cons: I found it difficult for making smaller terrain such as N scale hills and it lacks the structural integrity of other methods. 

 

Newspaper Macheish (I used wadded up balls on newspaper soaked in glue diluted with water then covered with a sheet of paper) 

 

Pros: On my layout it is producing the most convincing rock textures, it is super cheap and you can easily add it to method 1 or 2 if you don't like how it turned out. 

 

Cons: Since each layer has to dry making a structure of an real size is either time consuming or requires a base made of a different material. 

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Posted by BATMAN on Thursday, June 21, 2018 2:18 PM

Dave, take a look at this stuff. It is dirt cheap and holds its form and is easily shaped. Once shaped just put whatever you want over top of it as far as goop by itself, goop with towels or paper goes. I have done lots of hills with cardboard and various muck. This stuff was heaven sent for the Model Railroader.Laugh And that's coming from a heathen.Smile, Wink & Grin

https://www.homedepot.ca/en/home/p.175-gauge-galvanized-metal-lath-27-inch-x-84-inch.1000808020.html 

I am not going to recommend any method as they all have their pluses and minuses. However a few observations from over the decades. Cardboard strips and Plaster of Paris work, and is cheap. However, it tends to get damaged easier and in a club situation may be needing constant repair as it will be exposed to a lot of people traffic. Also IMO it tends to look tired before sturdier landforms do. Again a club situation may speed this along as well.

With my Wife running a large full-service animal hospital for years, I have accumulated boxes of plaster wrap for making cast that was expired (best before date) How that stuff expires no one knows. Don't waste money buying the ready to go rolls, just buy a big box of Plaster of Paris powder and use old sheets or tea towels. The end result is the same and much cheaper. Also, you can just dunk big squares of material and put it in place, instead of just doing little strips. I don't know why but I find it messier using the ready to go rolls than just dunking big hunks of material in a bucket of goop.

Foam: I stacked layers of foam to make hills and have found them quite durable so far. They wiggle when bumped and thus tend to get less damage to them. If a little chunk gets knocked out just slap some gray paint on it, fixed. I used both caulk or hot glue between the layers. It is easy to mount trees and other things to foam.

Here is homework for the crew responsible if you go with foam.

Hydrocal and other hard setting goo is durable and may be a good choice. When chipped a splash of paint and it is repaired. Harder to mount things to though.

You can use rock molds for outcroppings, however, molds cost money and you just keep making the same rock(s) over and over again. What I have done is use foam to make rock outcroppings. No two look the same. Also, you can take a bread knife and cut a very thin slice of foam if space is a problem, and just glue it to the surface.

I don't think you should necessarily use just one method. Consider all factors of wear, cost, type of landscape and go from there.

 Using more than one method.

  

  

As I was doing house renovations, I was laying marble floors and porcelian floors and every time I had leftover thinset and grout it went in the trainroom. It still needs painting and dirt and foliage. It is hard as nails.

  

 On the left side of the tunnel entrance, I had to slice a thin bit of foam to make a rock face in the tunnel as there was not enough room for a cast that was strong enough. I have sliced foam rock faces as thin as 1/8" to deal with limited space and it was a perfect solution.

  

Here is a pic of my tunnel liner made out of aluminum foil. In some cases aluminum can be used as rock outcroppings as well, it takes more effort to finish it off with dirt and foliage, but can help you out of a "space" situation.

  

 

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, June 21, 2018 2:25 PM

 If you can get scrap extruded foam free/cheap, I'd build up the basic forms with that and then cover with webbing/plaster. Webbing and plaster is plenty strong enough to self support, however for areas that may see rough/careless handling, adding the extra backing of foam will make it that much more sturdy and less likely to crack.get pushed in if someone leans on it. Sticking trees in would be no more difficult than with plaster over webbing alone. Overkill for most, but for a public/display layout AND if the foam is free, bulk it up and make it stronger.

                                     --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Thursday, June 21, 2018 3:11 PM

Hey Dave -

I used rigid foam insulation sheets (1" and 2") stacked pancake-style and following design contours. I'm satisfied with the results, but my benchwork is 1/2" plywood decking on rectangular framing which lends itself to the sheet goods idea.

For your girder and riser system, I'd go with the interlocking plaited cardboard strips. We've used that at my former club, and after twenty years of rugged use, things are still study. Of course we didn't go as crazy as riogrande5761, but we did cover the matrix with paper towels soaked in soupy plaster. The strips are stapled and/or hot glued, and the towels are laid on in several overlapping layers. Some places have a wireframe shell formed from chicken wire, but I think those were either subsequent repairs or modifications. I think this would fit in well with your rolling hills landscape. 

Hope this helps.

Robert 

LINK to SNSR Blog


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Posted by cowman on Thursday, June 21, 2018 7:20 PM

If I am reading you correctly, the answer is all methods. 

Each method has advantages and disadvantages.  I use extruded foam, as I have a lot of scraps too.  It is very good in areas where you want to plant trees.  An awl to poke a hole, a dab of glue, plant tree.  A mountain where you are going to be putting puffball trees, then cardboard strips or wire covered with strips of either plaster soaked cloths or glue soaked paper towels is fast and easy. 

Each method works a little better in certain uses, however, if you are only going to use one method, I think foam  is the most versitle way to go.It can be flat areas or steep cliffs, it's easy to carve a stream bed or other below grade needs.  You can attach plaster castings of rocks to it or you can carve your rock face into it.

I use inexpensive caulk for an adhesive.

Good luck,

Richard

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Posted by railandsail on Thursday, June 21, 2018 8:13 PM

I recall earmarking a few good videos i had run across on several occassions. only I fogot where I put the references. I just found one of them,..

How to Make Easy Hills & Mountains for Model Train Layouts and Dioramas

 
I'll look for the others

Brian

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Posted by BNSF UP and others modeler on Thursday, June 21, 2018 10:38 PM

I'm sorry Hon3 critter.EmbarrassedCrying I thought you wanted different methods. My apologies, although, to my defense, I like almost all of the options I listed!Big Smile

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Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, June 21, 2018 11:09 PM

Thanks for all the answers everyone. As with the other layout construction questions that I have asked, your answers will help us focus on how we want to do things.

As I mentioned, we have a source for pink or blue foam scraps including larger blocks which are not carried in the building supply stores. That will give foam an edge I think, but the decisions haven't been made yet.

Brent, thanks for the suggestion on the expanded aluminum mesh. The price is certainly attractive and it would allow for larger areas to be worked on at one time than the foam would. It would also be faster than cardboard slats.

Mel, the papier mache is interesting but I'm a little concerned about the shrinkage issue. It could be applied in short sections with the gaps being filled in after the initial sections have dried.

Steve, thanks for bring up the subject of how to divide up the various individual tasks.

Wayne, how thick do you apply the Durabond? I have worked with it before and it certainly does set up rock hard! I'm guessing that you would require a masonary bit to drill holes.

Simon, thanks for reminding me about providing work surfaces for assembling trains. We had discussed building some pull-out shelves in a few spots. We also discussed building some shelving units on wheels that could be used to unbox cars and would then provide a place to temporarily store the boxes out of the way under the layout.

My initial thoughts are to use foam in the large open area in the center of the peninsula, and then use the mesh that Brent suggested or cardboard strips in the narrower areas between the different track levels. The large center area could actually be built on foam slabs away from the layout and just dropped into place. It would be easy to fill the gaps between the center area and the sub roadbed.

Brian, I can't see the video.

Thank you everyone! The fog is clearing! I'm beginning to form some concrete ideas about how to do the scenery base.

Please keep the suggestions coming.

Dave

 

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Posted by railandsail on Thursday, June 21, 2018 11:47 PM

I corrected that video link,...I think
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C6aHEoUWYg

I believe with all this new ECCESSIVE advertising, etc on videos etc it makes it harder to makethe exact link. Apparently the link I provided before was to a portion of the video that was already running??

 
...makes use of 'quilt batting'

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 22, 2018 12:04 AM

Thanks Brian. The new link works. Interesting idea. Another option to consider.

Dave

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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 22, 2018 1:08 AM

RR_Mel
I’ve used premix Paper Mache for over 50 years as a sub base for it’s strength and durability.

Hi Mel:

Where do you get your Papier Mache and who is the manufacturer?

EDIT: I found a product called 'Celluclay'. Is that what you use? Also, how large an area will a 5 lb. bag cover?

Thanks,

Dave

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, June 22, 2018 8:42 AM

You could always try both methods (foam and cardboard strips) and that way you can see how they both work and gain a sense of you you like/dislike/prefer.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by BATMAN on Friday, June 22, 2018 11:07 AM

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BATTRAIN1

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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 22, 2018 11:16 AM

Brent, that will be an interesting scene!

Dave

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Posted by rrebell on Friday, June 22, 2018 12:02 PM

I prefer beaded foam. You can get it for free alot of the time and cuts like butter with a hot wire. I cover this with plaster cloth (cheap if you buy in bulk non name brand). Then I do a type of zip texturing for dirt. Trees stand up well in this and can be stuck anywhere. Rock castings can be blended in with no troubles. With practice in is not very messy. Note: most people it seems do not know how to use plaster cloth, you don't just lay it on and leave it and you need to put one side up on some brands as the other side has little plaster and you need to smoth the plaster or you get little holes. Another thing people forget to do is get rid of loose strings.

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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 22, 2018 12:50 PM

Hi rrebell:

Thanks for the suggestions.

We are hoping to be able to get pink foam scraps for free. One of our members is a stone mason and he says he can get a ton of it from the construction sites he is on.

Dave

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Posted by railandsail on Friday, June 22, 2018 5:25 PM

I think one problem with the papier maches and cardboad is they are materials that can absorb moisture over time, and thus possible develop molds, etc

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