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Ballast - Preferred Gluing Techniques

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Ballast - Preferred Gluing Techniques
Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 6:52 AM

As much as I loathe starting another thread on ballasting, I am going to do it anyhow.

After a lot of thought and research, I have decided to go with Scenic Express #40 Ballast for my new HO scale layout. This is a departure from my past practice of using Woodland Scenics Medium Ballast. 

My unresolved questions are (1) whether to use white glue or matte medium and (2) what to use for a wetting agent. On my prior layouts, I have used a water/matte medium mix (4:1), preceded by a spray of 70% isopropyl alcohol. I am leaning toward this same procedure on my new layout, but I am interested in the pros and cons.

So, two questions.

1. - Why not use isopropyl alcohol as a wetting agent?  Is there something better?

2. - Which glue makes more sense and why? White glue or matte medium?

Thanks in advance for your input.

Rich

 

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 7:15 AM

 I had to sections ballasted on my last layout, one with matte medium and one with white glue. I heard no difference in sound. SOme say matte medium is more 'flexible'.

 I always use alcohol for wetting. Around here we have hard water, a couple drops of soap in the water doesn;t work, I tried that first, two layouts ago, and all I got was a crust on top because it didn't wet anything but the surface. When I used alcohol, it soaked all the way through.

I dilute the glue with 70% alcohol too. It seems to turn white PVA glue a little bit rubbery, so that could be why it was no different than the matte medium - my white glue didn't dry to a rock hard mass either.

Isopropyl and rubbing alcohol are not the same thing - don't use rubbing alcohol. It contains oil - nothing will adhere. It's hard to give someone a rubdown with isopropyl, too. Need the oils. 

                                      --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 7:35 AM

rrinker

Isopropyl and rubbing alcohol are not the same thing - don't use rubbing alcohol. It contains oil - nothing will adhere. It's hard to give someone a rubdown with isopropyl, too. Need the oils.                   

Good point, Randy. I was carelessly using the two terms interchangeably in my initial post, so I corrected the reference to rubbing alcohol.
 
Rich

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Posted by mbinsewi on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 8:05 AM

After placing the ballast, I used a "wet water", alcohol and our hard tap water, to wet the ballast, then applied the white glue/water/alcohol solution to set it.

The ballast turned out completely glued, and does not have a crust on the top, and loose ballast underneath.

It still "digs up" easy enough if changes are needed.

Mike.

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Posted by dknelson on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 10:23 AM

I also use alcohol as a wetting agent but avoid adding more water - the more alcohol the faster it dries.  70% already has water in it (evn 90% has some); WalMart's very inexpensive isopropyl alcohol is very inexpensive because (I learned once I got it home) it is 50%!

Back in the old days Model Railroader used to recommend photographer's developing liquid as the wetting agent.  

I myself use Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement for ballasting.  I suspect it is something I could make myself, and cheaper, but it works for me.  To apply (both the cement and the wetting agent), I get medicine droppers or plastic needle-less syringes real cheap at an unusual store we have in the Milwaukee area called American Science and Surplus (one is in Chicago too).  More control than a pipette.

Dave Nelson 

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Posted by Deane Johnson on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 10:56 AM

dk, do you use the Scenic Cement as it comes without thinning or modification?  I suspect so, but thought it best to ask.

Deane

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 11:41 AM

I use isopropyl alcohol straight for wet water.  I mix white glue 1:4 with tap water.  I apply the alcohol with a pipette and the glue in the old glue bottle I mix it in.  Spraying just makes a mess.

I like the other IPA, India Pale Ale, to lubricate myself while ballasting.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by rrebell on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 1:23 PM

I prefer the matt medium. White glue will soffen when you go back and use water based scenery ways, matt will not but since good scenery is a layering proccesess, I go matt.

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Posted by selector on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 2:41 PM

I use carpenters' glue.  I wet with the usual drug store 70% iso and spray it, not dribble it.  I then dribble on a rather thin mix of the glue, water, and two drops of detergent.  I do sometimes get more of a crust here and there, but it has never affected my results.  To soften if a repair is needed, or if you need to alter super-elevation, just pour a wee bit of water, wait-two-three, and then gouge away the ballast.

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Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 3:08 PM

dknelson
Back in the old days Model Railroader used to recommend photographer's developing liquid as the wetting agent.

I think you mean Photo Flo, which is still around.  It was the last step of the film development process to prevent water marks on the negatives.

One diluted it 1:200 so a 16 oz bottle would make 100 quarts or 25 gallons.  That would make it the most cost effective solution you could use.

Henry

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Posted by hornblower on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 3:32 PM

I use a 50/50 mix of water and Isopropyl alcohol for a wetting agent as it wicks into the ballast instantly.  I then apply a 50/50 mix of matte medium and water.  I have used both white glue and matte medium on my layout but prefer matt medium as it always dries flat.  I have had several ground cover applications messed up because the white glue dried glossy instead of flat (not always but sometimes).

One tip I'd like to share is using contact lens solution bottles to apply your wetting agents and glue mixtures.  These bottles give you the control of a pipette but will store enough wetting agent or glue mix to complete an entire project.  Most of us know someone that wears contacts.  Ask them to save their empty solution bottles for you.  Bottles for hard contact solutions tend to be smaller and handier for tight places.  Travel size bottles are good for tight spots, too.  Most of these bottles have a tip that can be gently pried out/off of the top of the bottle for filling.  The tips pop right back in/on and rarely leak, even after several refillings.  

Hornblower

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Posted by gmpullman on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 3:37 PM

I've used Mod-Podge Matte for all of my ballasting and I'm very satisfied with the results. I dilute it to about 50% with distilled water.

 

https://tinyurl.com/snxdj2p

 

 

 IMG_2915 by Edmund, on Flickr

I have several fine misting spray pumps. Some have an adjustable nozzle so I can get an even finer mist. It's all about letting the wetting agent fall onto the ballast or scenery material like a fine drizzle.

I use 99% isopropyl alcohol diluted to about 60-70%. The 99% is simply what I have on hand so I dilute it as needed. I also add just a drop or two of whatever detergent I have handy. This probably adds a little "working time" to the alcohol mix.

I enjoy ballasting. It really brings out the realism in the track work.

Good Luck, Ed

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Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 5:37 PM

I don't think there is a scientifically established proportion for either the alcohol or the glue.  I'm sure a higher percentage of alcohol evaporates faster, but that may not be important for how you ballast. 

Eventually you decide you are going to bed, wake up go to work and head back downstairs in the evening to do more ballasting.  If it's dry at 3 am or 3 pm, it makes no difference.

Henry

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Posted by dknelson on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 6:01 PM

Deane Johnson

dk, do you use the Scenic Cement as it comes without thinning or modification?  I suspect so, but thought it best to ask.

Deane   

I use it just as it comes.  The solids in it tend to settle over time so if I don't do a great job of shaking the bottle in practical effect it is thinned, and still seems to work OK - but usually I shake it really well.  

Dave Nelson

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 8:04 PM

I appreciate all of the replies to my questions. I am feeling more and more comfortable with my inclination to stick with isopropryl alcohol as the wetting agent and matte medium as the adhesive.

Rich

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Posted by wvg_ca on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 8:16 PM

I use alcohol as a wetting agent, 70 per cent or better sprayed onto the ballast  .. where i differ is that i use DAP adhesive [thinned with a bit of dish soap] as a wetting medium, I do believe that a bit of give in that step reduces the amount of final noise ..

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Posted by doctorwayne on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 9:11 PM

I use ordinary tap water (apparently, Lake Ontario's water is only hard in the winter) with a couple drops of dish detergent and white glue- between 1/3-1/2 glue, with the appropriate amount of water.
I have used matte medium in one area of the layout, simply because I had it on-hand.  It worked well enough and had one big plus over white glue - that was the price, as an 8oz. bottle of it cost half as much as a gallon of white glue. 

I'm speaking here of Imperial gallons and ounces, so that's 160 Imperial ounces in an Imperial gallon.  My 8oz bottle of matte medium was about $9.00, while the gallon of white glue was around $22.00.  A gallon of matte medium - I don't know if it was even sold in that size - would have been somewhere around $180.00 - a big plus for sure!

Anyway, if you prefer it and can afford, use it.   I saw no difference from white glue, other than the cost.

As mentioned, I use water with a couple drops of dish detergent added.  To my nose, it smells a lot better than isopropyl alcohol, and because I usually ballast in long runs or add ground cover to a wide area, I'm not at all interested in fast drying.  In fact, it would be a drawback for me. 
I also have quite a few areas where fill and ballast are rather deep due to the terrain over which the track passes - if it takes a week or more to harden, I have plenty of other stuff that requires my attention, and am in no rush.

Removing ballast and/or ground cover is easy, as it's soluble in wet water, but I've never had any problems when adding new stuff next to areas installed previously, simply because even if the old stuff re-softens because I accidentally pre-wet it, it simply rehardens if I don't otherwise disturb it.

I've never had an issue with ballast crusting on top and remaining loose underneath, simply because I always make sure to pre-wet the area thoroughly, until I see water running from the bottom of the ballast or supporting fill.

To summarise:  The water is cheap, the few drops of dish detergent is cheap, the gallon of white glue is cheap (when compared to matte medium), and because I'm cheap, too, it saves me enough money that I can go buy a big bottle of alcohol.  Rule G is not in effect in my layout room.

Wayne

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Posted by Medina1128 on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 10:03 PM

I use 70% isopropyl alcohol for my wetting agent. In our area, we have rock hard water, so I add a little more Dawn dishwashing detergent than usual. I save gallon milk jugs so I can make up a gallon of wet water at a time. After applying the ballast, I spray the alcohol to thoroughly wet the ballast. I wait 5 minutes, then dribble the diluted white glue with those translucent condiment bottles found at burger joints. They're cheap at Walmart.

I mix my diluted white glue 60:40 water to glue. I find that if I don't use all of the diluted white glue in a short time (about a month), it tends to separate. When I mix the glue/water in the bottle, I drop a large fishing weight into the bottle. The weight works just like the rattle ball in a rattle can of spray paint.

The next time I make some wet water, I think I'm going to try a gallon of distilled water as it's only 88¢/gallon. Without the hardness of tap water, it may require less detergent than tap water.

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Posted by rrebell on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 10:01 AM

doctorwayne

I use ordinary tap water (apparently, Lake Ontario's water is only hard in the winter) with a couple drops of dish detergent and white glue- between 1/3-1/2 glue, with the appropriate amount of water.
I have used matte medium in one area of the layout, simply because I had it on-hand.  It worked well enough and had one big plus over white glue - that was the price, as an 8oz. bottle of it cost half as much as a gallon of white glue. 

I'm speaking here of Imperial gallons and ounces, so that's 160 Imperial ounces in an Imperial gallon.  My 8oz bottle of matte medium was about $9.00, while the gallon of white glue was around $22.00.  A gallon of matte medium - I don't know if it was even sold in that size - would have been somewhere around $180.00 - a big plus for sure!

Anyway, if you prefer it and can afford, use it.   I saw no difference from white glue, other than the cost.

As mentioned, I use water with a couple drops of dish detergent added.  To my nose, it smells a lot better than isopropyl alcohol, and because I usually ballast in long runs or add ground cover to a wide area, I'm not at all interested in fast drying.  In fact, it would be a drawback for me. 
I also have quite a few areas where fill and ballast are rather deep due to the terrain over which the track passes - if it takes a week or more to harden, I have plenty of other stuff that requires my attention, and am in no rush.

Removing ballast and/or ground cover is easy, as it's soluble in wet water, but I've never had any problems when adding new stuff next to areas installed previously, simply because even if the old stuff re-softens because I accidentally pre-wet it, it simply rehardens if I don't otherwise disturb it.

I've never had an issue with ballast crusting on top and remaining loose underneath, simply because I always make sure to pre-wet the area thoroughly, until I see water running from the bottom of the ballast or supporting fill.

To summarise:  The water is cheap, the few drops of dish detergent is cheap, the gallon of white glue is cheap (when compared to matte medium), and because I'm cheap, too, it saves me enough money that I can go buy a big bottle of alcohol.  Rule G is not in effect in my layout room.

Wayne

 

matt medium $53 a gallon vs white glue at $22. Formula for white glue  2-to-1, matt 4-to-1, not much difference in cost.

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Posted by jjdamnit on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 11:17 AM

Hello All,

As I have posted before...

Check out this thread: Instant Track-Tackit Ballast Adhesive Questions

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 12:50 PM

Yea, well, I'll just stick to the way of doing ballast that I described in an earlier post in here.

No need to constantly reinvent an already simple process.

Mike.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 3:29 PM

rrebell
matt medium $53 a gallon vs white glue at $22. Formula for white glue 2-to-1, matt 4-to-1, not much difference in cost.

That certainly sounds much more reasonable.

Wayne

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Posted by hornblower on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 6:45 PM

rrebell
matt medium $53 a gallon vs white glue at $22. Formula for white glue  2-to-1, matt 4-to-1, not much difference in cost.

I always use the 50 percent off coupons I get from Michaels craft stores to buy expensive products like the big jars of Mod Podge Matte Medium.  

Hornblower

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Posted by wp8thsub on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 10:45 PM

richhotrain
...I have decided to go with Scenic Express #40 Ballast for my new HO scale layout.

I am feeling more and more comfortable with my inclination to stick with isopropryl alcohol as the wetting agent...

Now for me to be a wet blanket here, but I don't recommend that option.

Scenic Express specifically recommends on its product labeling NOT to use alcohol as a wetting agent for their ballast.

For many years I used alcohol when ballasting, and never had an issue.  I tried it on Scenic Express ballast and it didn't work well at all.  Bubbles formed within the ballast, that burst to the surface as the material dried.  I had to keep monitoring the ballasted area, which was quite large, to puncture the bubbles and re-shape the ballast so the whole project wouldn't be ruined.

Later I looked at the Scenic Express label, which actually advised to use water with some detergent instead.  I switched to water and dish soap for the remainder of my ballasting, which worked perfectly.

As I understand it, Scenic Express adds color to the rock material, so I suspect something in that was reacting with the alcohol.  If you want to use alcohol, try it in a small area first to make absolutley sure you're not going to have trouble.

Ideal Coal Unload

by wp8thsub, on Flickr

Scenic Express ballast, wetted with water + dish soap, should be 100% reliable.  I've finished hundreds of feet of track with it.  It's all glued with 50:50 diluted Elmer's white glue.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by doctorwayne on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 11:06 PM

Great lookin' trackwork (as usual) Rob, and an industry large enough to actually need rail service.  Very nicely done!

Wayne

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Posted by wp8thsub on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 11:46 PM

doctorwayne
Great lookin' trackwork (as usual) Rob, and an industry large enough to actually need rail service.  Very nicely done!

Thanks Wayne!  The kind words are much appreciated.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, February 13, 2020 6:05 AM

wp8thsub
  

Scenic Express specifically recommends on its product labeling NOT to use alcohol as a wetting agent for their ballast.

Rob, thanks for your reply. As you know, your prior layout photos have inspired me to use Scenic Express rock ballast on my new layout.

Regarding the use of 70% isopropyl alcohol, I can find nothing on the Scenic Express web site or on the bottle of ballast warning against the use of isopropyl alcohol. Perhaps they recently changed the product in some way to accept isopropyl as a wetting agent.

In any event, I do not wish to simply ignore your cautionary advice, so I have sent an email this morning to Scenic Express, specifically addressing this issue. I will let everyone know how they respond to my question about the use of isopropyl alcohol.

Rich

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, February 13, 2020 6:11 AM

wp8thsub
 
doctorwayne
Great lookin' trackwork (as usual) Rob, and an industry large enough to actually need rail service.  Very nicely done!

Thanks Wayne!  The kind words are much appreciated. 



I agree with Wayne, great work and very nice job.  Everything turned out nice and it's been an inspiration to me.  I've already tried some of your techniques doing riverbeds and water, and scrub brush on my previous layout and look forward to trying more going forward.  Thanks for the caution about Scenic Express ballast - I have that on hand too so will avoid the alcohol.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by wp8thsub on Thursday, February 13, 2020 9:34 PM

richhotrain
...I can find nothing on the Scenic Express web site or on the bottle of ballast warning against the use of isopropyl alcohol.

It may have been on an older container.  I got my initial stuff when it may have still been something of a trial product.   The labeling on the newer containers I have still recommends water + detergent, but they no longer have any wording about alcohol.  Every time I get more the label seems to be different.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by wp8thsub on Thursday, February 13, 2020 9:35 PM

riogrande5761
I agree with Wayne, great work and very nice job.  Everything turned out nice and it's been an inspiration to me.

You're too kind, Jim.  Just out here trying to help.

Rob Spangler

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