“Slow” Ballasting to get the right look

Using Woodland Scenics ballast, "wet" water, and Woodland Scenics scenic cement. Very slow, yet good looking way to apply ballast.

I've been slowly working on scenery on my mini-modules, that I plan to later install in an empire. Today I tested ballasting methods (well a ballasting method). I used the following:

  • Woodland Scenics Grey medium ballast
  • Woodland Scenics scenic cement
  • Small plastic cup
  • Plastic Pipette (used one from an Testors airbrush kit)
  • 3/4" soft bristle paint brush
  • "Wet" water, about 3oz water and 3-4 drops of liquid dish soap

To begin, collect your materials. Pour the ballast on the track using the small cup, make sure no to pile to high, or it takes longer to spread it out. I move slow, lightly tapping the ballast on the side to get the proper looking slope. Make sure to remove any that could get glued to the sides of the rails! You should go from something like this:

To this:

Now, take the eye dropper & the "wet" water, and very carefully, and SLOWLY drop one drop at a time, in every gap between the ties, over the ballast. This allows the glue to run through with out floating the ballast (WS ballast is made from nutshells). You may have to make more then one pass, but thats fine, less is more here, if you go to fast the ballast floats. after 2-3 runs, the water should have bled out into the shoulders, soaking that too, for extra measure, make one pass slowly on either side.

Update! I recently learned that using 70% Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol) works wonders. I tried it, and it eliminates the chance that the ballast will float up. You can thank Joe Fugate from Model Railroad Hobbyist!

Now, take the eye dropper, and drip the glue on, following the one drop per gap idea. Repeat 2-3 times again, the glue should also bleed out, but make the one on either shoulder again, for extra gluing power. The ballast should have ample glue on it now, allow to dry (I'd give 4+ hours). The ballasting should now have taken you from:


Following up, if you happened to float any ballast, clean it up after the glue dies. You can use sand paper, or a hobby knife, cleaning the extra pieces off. Not that you have to, as there's plenty of prototypes with ballast over the ties! Also, if some spots washed away, wait until it dries, then carefully add more with your fingers, then follow the wet & glue process again. Good luck ballasting your track, remember, slow, is fast!

Visit Ballasting Done Right (Version 2) to see an updated version of my ballasting method.

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