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Ballasting Woes

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Ballasting Woes
Posted by GP-9_Man11786 on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:14 AM

Last night I attemtped to ballast another section of main line and it ended in disaster. I got the Woodland Scenits spread out and looking great, then sprayed it down with denatured alcohol. Then the trouble started. I grabbed my spray bottle with roughly 50/50 mix of matte medium and water and some more alcohol added. Instead of a mist, the moisture shot out like it wS coming out of a fire hose and blassted away some of the ballast. And then after about five minutes the stayer quit spraying completely. 

My question is, is there a better way to do this? How can keep the sprayer gumming up and messing up the ballast? How do I fix the messed up ballast?

And help is greatly appreciated.

Modeling the Pennsylvania Railroad in N Scale.

www.prr-nscale.blogspot.com 

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Posted by floridaflyer on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:21 AM

I use an eye dropper to apply the adhesive, less mess, more control

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:23 AM

Try to add ballast or even scrape all of the ballst away, if all else fails.

Here is how I do my ballasting. Once the ballast is properly in place and shaped, I spray the track and ballast generously with "wet water" - a mix of 70% isopropyl alcohol and water, or just water, to which I have added afew drops of detergent. I have a plastic bottle (the squeezable kind) to which a have attached a hyperdermic needle, allowing me to accurately place tiny drops of glue (or whatever else  you use) without risking any spillage or ballast being blown away.

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Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:26 AM

Sounds like you have the misting with "wet water" part down OK.

It is the application of the matte medium that seems to be the problem.

Some folks use eye droppers, which is accurate but very tedious. There are pipettes that will hold a bit more medium and these may be a good way to go. For larger sections some use bottles like condiment dispensers.

What I have found is that I begin the stream (droplets, actually) on or near the rail or tie so I don't disturb the ballast. Too strong of a stream will disturb it.

The W-S ballast is very light and "fluffy" so, easily disturbed.

You should see the whitish matte medium spreading and flowing throughout the ballast. It will almost flood the area, stop adding matte just before you get to the "soaking" stage but it does take quite a bit and will take many hours to dry.

Resist the temptation to mess with it while it is still wet. You can re-wet it with alcohol the next day or two to clean up some mistakes.

I have good luck with Mod-Podge as my matte medium.

This is my arsenal of ballasting tools. I like the Nalgene laboratory wash bottles as my matte medium applicators as you don't have to turn them over to apply the liquid. I can control the flow easily.

Good Luck, Ed

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Posted by richhotrain on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:39 AM

floridaflyer

I use an eye dropper to apply the adhesive, less mess, more control

 

I do the same thing. I spray the isopropyl alcohol first. That part of your technique is fine. But, trying to spray the matte medium mix is the problem, While the ballast is wet from the alcohol spray, use an eye dropper or, better yet, a baster to apply the matte medium mix. It is somewhat slow going with an eye dropper or baster but not all that slow.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by G Paine on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:42 AM

What Ed does is about what I do. I have a large eye dropper that is for giving liquid medicine to young children; it holds quite a bit and works well. At Boothbay Railway Village, we have a bunch of smaller Elmers Glue bottles with a 50-50 mix inside. They do a good job for large areas as well.

Both the eye dropper and Elmers bottles come apart easily for cleaning when they get gunked up with glue, which sounds like what may have happened to your spray bottle. We have some Woodland Scenics 'Scenic Sprayer' bottles, and have to remember to flush them with water after every use; otherwise, they clog up and are next to impossible to clean.

George In Midcoast Maine, 'bout halfway up the Rockland branch 

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 11:02 AM

I'm also a matte medium sprayer. Here's a couple of tips...

Use 91% alcohol when misting to wet things. It's much more powerful than the lower % stuff. WS ballasting needs ALL the help it can get and this works well.

ALWAYS clean your spray head immediately after applying the matte medium with it. Alcohol can cut and clean it if it gets clogged, but better yet is a thorough rinsing by spraying clean water through it until you're certain the matte medium is flushed out. You can then screw it back onto the matte medium bottle, just don't spray through it until you're ready to do the next batch. It'll be ready to go when prepped like this.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by SouthPenn on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 11:39 AM

I dribble a mixture of white glue and wet water down the middle of the ties. If your water is wet enough, you can see it wicking to the outside of the rails although it might take some dribbling there too.

South Penn
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Posted by selector on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 11:51 AM

I seem to recall using a sprayer on my W/S ballast, the darker brown walnut shell stuff.  Never again...for either material.

Find yourself a wood glue bottle with a tapered nib-like opening, one you either pull up or twist up.  Adjust as necessary, and I even use tape over the opening and make a pinhole in the tape.  I dribble my isopropyl alcohol into the ballast with the nib held very close to the ballast so that the stream doesn't displace any of the grains it took me a while to groom neatly.  I don't use enough to see the solution running out the bottom of the ballast...that's wasteful IMO.  I use an intuitive amount until I am sure between 80-90% of the ballast is 'wet', and then I dribble on a weak glue solution the same way.  In five hours it is dry and I have since moved on another 10' or more, depending on free time.

Pay for real rock grains.  Use aquarium sand, 'sharp' sand from hardware stores for filling between pavers or using in sandboxes, or if you live near a beach, rinse and clean beach sand.  Be sure to use a magnet over any materials you collect to ensure nothing that might want to gravitate toward your moving locomotive parts will be left in the material.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 12:54 PM

I prefer to apply the glue mixture as drops rather than a spray.  This allows more control over where the glue goes, especially important if you're ballasting in an area where there's already scenery or structures in-place nearby.  It also allows you to apply sufficient glue to allow it to penetrate right through the ballast to the roadbed.

Once the ballast has been groomed to the appearance you want, mist it thoroughly with "wet" water.  The wetting is key to getting a good bond, but it also makes application of the glue or matte medium mixture easy.  Soak the ballast until the water runs from the bottom of it.
I use the dropper-type bottle shown below to apply the glue mixture.  When inverted, it allows drops to fall without squeezing the container, and the rate is fast enough that you simply move along the track fairly quickly.  I do between the rails first, then each side in-turn.  The only time consuming part is re-filling the rather small bottle.

   

Grooming the ballast takes the most time, and I found that using real rock takes considerably longer than Woodland Scenics ballast.  For a 12' stretch of double track, it took well over an hour to get the ballast looking neat.  Adding the wet water took less than two minutes, even though some areas along the verges were fairly deep.  Applying the glue mixture took maybe 10 minutes.

Ballast added using a paper cup:

...groomed using brushes:

...wetted:

...glue applied:

...track back in service:

This area took quite a while to dry:

I've used both matte medium and white glue for ballasting and can see no difference in appearance or in sound transmission.  Since a gallon of white glue is considerably cheaper than a gallon of matte medium, most of my ballast and ground cover is held in place with white glue.
Another advantage to white glue is that it's easier to undo when you decide to change the track layout or add or remove a turnout:  simply spray well with wet water, let sit for a couple of minutes, then lift the track, scrape up the ballast residue, and start afresh.  With matte medium, removal requires alcohol.  

Here's a turnout to be moved:

After unsoldering the trail joiners and pulling the track spikes, the area was soaked with a spray of wet water.  After a few minutes and a little help with a scraper, the turnout was lifted:

...and a few more minutes had the site cleaned:

...a new turnout in place:

...and re-ballasted:

Wayne

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Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:06 PM

GP-9_Man11786
I grabbed my spray bottle with roughly 50/50 mix of matte medium and water and some more alcohol added.

Just another tip or two.

I don't add anything to the matte medium except to dilute it with distilled water. Sometimes I pour the unused portions into a storage bottle (not back into the original container to avoid contamination/unnecessary diluting) so I don't want the alcohol or any other chemicals to react with the M-M.

Also... less is better! Go lightly with the ballast on your first application. So much easier to add a bit more or fill in thin spots a day or so later than it is to try to correct too much ballast.

And... I like to lightly tap the rail before the first misting to shake any stray ballast off the rail. I'm with Selector on the Woodland Scenics stuff. Tried it once or twice and I'll never use it again. Real stone is the best choice for me.

Hope you have better luck with your next attempt,

Ed

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Posted by wp8thsub on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:11 PM

GP-9_Man11786
I grabbed my spray bottle with roughly 50/50 mix of matte medium and water and some more alcohol added.

I'll reinforce the suggestion others have made to avoid spraying adhesive.  It's far less predictable and too dependent on the variabilites of the sprayer.

Another issue could be the use of alcohol with the glue mixture.  Alcohol works great for pre-wetting scenery materials, including ballast, but it's best used alone or with water.  Adding it to glue, either white glue or matte medium, can cause the glue to develop clumps which can come out of the applicator at random, ruining whatever they land on.

One more thing to consider is cleaning matte medium out of a sprayer.  Unlike white glue, matte medium isn't readily soluble in water when it dries, so it can easily clog applicators unless they're very thoroughly cleaned after use, and even then dried material can get where it's hard to remove.  White glue can be cleaned with water even after it dries, so a sprayer will stay working well longer.  If you really want to use a sprayer, I'd recommend white glue.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by wp8thsub on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:15 PM

gmpullman
I'm with Selector on the Woodland Scenics stuff. Tried it once or twice and I'll never use it again.

I'm with you guys too.  I CAN'T STAND Woodland Scenics ballast.  I know there are others on this forum more favorably disposed toward it, but there's no comparison between WS ballast and real rock.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by rrebell on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:29 PM

GP-9_Man11786

Last night I attemtped to ballast another section of main line and it ended in disaster. I got the Woodland Scenits spread out and looking great, then sprayed it down with denatured alcohol. Then the trouble started. I grabbed my spray bottle with roughly 50/50 mix of matte medium and water and some more alcohol added. Instead of a mist, the moisture shot out like it wS coming out of a fire hose and blassted away some of the ballast. And then after about five minutes the stayer quit spraying completely. 

My question is, is there a better way to do this? How can keep the sprayer gumming up and messing up the ballast? How do I fix the messed up ballast?

And help is greatly appreciated.

 

The proper formula for Matt Medium to water is ussually 1 part Matt Medium to 4 parts water. Use an eye dropper instead of a spray, more control but the spray is fine for the pre spray. Also use wet water instead of alcohol, start with just a mist and then more and more till it is wet. The Woodland Scenics stuff is great, I like the final look better but you can't spray on it with heaver sprays as it is lighter stuff. Last I tend to do two coats of Matt as the water in the first spray delutes it some, so the second dose with just a fine mist of water first, locks it in very well and makes sure you don't have any loose areas. Done a 30x15'+ layout this way and never a problem.

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Posted by zstripe on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:41 PM

I basically use Wayne's method....

Have Fun! Big Smile

Frank

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:54 PM

wp8thsub
 
gmpullman
I'm with Selector on the Woodland Scenics stuff. Tried it once or twice and I'll never use it again.

 

I'm with you guys too.  I CAN'T STAND Woodland Scenics ballast.  I know there are others on this forum more favorably disposed toward it, but there's no comparison between WS ballast and real rock.

 

I can't remember the brand I use because it's been awhile but it seems to be made from crushed rocks.

As far as OP I think the problem is the sprayer is clogging up. I don't usually use sprayers except for large areas of scenery with nothing else near by. Dripping the glue mixture onto the work area is my way to do it. One drop at a time out of a plastic bottle. Sometimes I use a paintbrush and let it drip off.

j.......

Modeling a fictional version of California set in the 1990s Lone Wolf and Santa Fe Railroad
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Posted by azrail on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 1:59 PM

WS "ballast" is actually ground up walnut shells, so it is more likely to "float" than real rock gravel. The only ballast that I know is actual rock is Arizona Rock & Mineral. I use the plain old drugstore rubbing alcohol to wet the ballast, using an oral syringe.

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Posted by kasskaboose on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 2:07 PM

SouthPenn

I dribble a mixture of white glue and wet water down the middle of the ties. If your water is wet enough, you can see it wicking to the outside of the rails although it might take some dribbling there too.

 
I do what SouthPen and Dr. Wayne describe.  I used the wet water in a spray bottle with horrible results b/c of how the spray went everywhere and eventually the glue clogged the straw in the bottle.  Don't put ANY glue through a spray bottle!
 
After finding a better solution from reading the forums (THANKS all!), I use water with a few drops of dish detergent to get the ballast ready.  I then do a combination of SouthPenn and Dr. Wayne's technique do by removing the top of an Elmer's glue bottle and put wet water along the track center.   
 
 
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Posted by BATMAN on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 2:51 PM

I have large ketchup and mustard bottles that have those twist tops on them. You can really adjust the flow of the wetting agent and glue by just twisting the top ever so slightly. I get a lot of miles out of filling those babies once. I think they are about 1 Litre in size. When I am done I just run the top of the glue one under hot water to make sure it doesn't glue shut.

Having such large containers really speeds things up. It would take a lot of squirts with an eyedropper to empty one of those containers and cover as much track.

Brent

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Posted by tin can on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 5:50 PM

I use the suction device designed to clean out a baby's nose to dispense dilute white glue on wet ballast.  Works great...

Remember the tin can; the MKT's central Texas branch...
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Posted by joe323 on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 9:52 PM

Just to chime in on this thread.  I go to the local RX store and asked them for children's medicine dropper and gave give you one for free.  My wife has several spray bottles she uses for Mary Kay products.  No idea what for so sweetly ask for one and fill it with wet Water.  I mist the wet Water on the ballast wait 5 minutes and then dribble a 50/50 white glue/water mix.  Let dry overnight and done.

Joe Staten Island West 

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Thursday, March 3, 2016 7:33 PM

My "wet water" is isopropyl alcohol straight from the bottle.  The stuff is cheap enough that diluting it is not worth the effort.  The higher concentration of alcohol seems to make the glue wick through the ballast better, and with no extra water in the mixture the glue dries faster.  I apply it with a pipette.

I use thinned white glue applied from a small Elmer's bottle.  I fill several of them at a time so I don't have to keep running down for a refill.

Spraying anything makes a mess.  No thanks.

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

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Posted by GP-9_Man11786 on Friday, March 4, 2016 8:05 AM

Thanks for all the suggestions guys. I went ahead and acquired a medicine dropper and was much more successful. 

Modeling the Pennsylvania Railroad in N Scale.

www.prr-nscale.blogspot.com 

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