Discussion in 'FAQs' started by oso2you, Dec 16, 2007.

  1. oso2you

    oso2you New Member

    What is the purpose of spraying rubbing alcohol on the layout before gluing stuff down?
  2. Roger Hensley

    Roger Hensley Member

    To thin the glue and make it spread better.
  3. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    The isopropyl alcohol acts to decrease the surface tension of the water (from what I was told way back when) which allows the glue mixture to soak into the material better. Most people find when ballasting a track section that using an eye dropper or like product filled with alcohol is necessary and used just prior to dripping the glue mixture onto the ballast. If you don't, the glue stays together in a drop and displaces the lightweight ballast out of the desired position around the rails.
  4. MCL_RDG

    MCL_RDG Member

    Rubbing Alcohol?

    You mean to tell me all this time I shoulda been using rubbing alcohol?wall1

  5. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    Hi...Any alcohol can be used...or detergent for that matter. But it should be used in the "wetting" solution applied to the ballast BEFORE you apply the glue. The glue can have some alcohol or detergent to dilute it as well...
  6. oso2you

    oso2you New Member

    I guess you could use vodka or gin but the holidays are here and........:eek:
  7. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    What happens if you just use straight glue is that the ballast (or grass) all lumps around the drop of glue and when it dries there is a sort of pock-marked moonscape look to it. Same if you put a drop of regular water on it.
    I have a hair-spray mister that I use for the alcohol; other sprayers are like water pistols and can displace the scenery material.
  8. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Remember too, alcohol is great for thinning out India ink as a wash to "age" things and make them dirty. I have a very thin solution in a spray bottle to mist it on.

    I also use alcohol to remove acrylic paint where I don't like the way a paint job is turning out, and where another layer will start to obscure details. Again, use a spray bottle to control the application. Too much can get messy and can ruin some work.
  9. Floyd

    Floyd Member

    Could someone please tell me what the ratio of glue to alcohol or wet water is to get things to stick?:confused:
  10. jbaakko

    jbaakko Active Member

    I've since given up on a wet water mix after the glue did not adhere on some ballast I was laying. When I glue, I make sure all the ballast is wet with rubbing alcohol, then soak it with glue. You might get some watery run off, so its better to do the ballast first, then the surrounding scenery.
  11. CCT70

    CCT70 Member

    I use an old 4 oz. Elmer's glue bottle with about a cap full of Alcohol and about 2 ounces of white glue and 1.5 ounces of water. I like using the Elmer's bottle as the applicator (the cone type) gives me a good flow and good control of where the glue is going in the ballast.
  12. Floyd

    Floyd Member

    Thanks for the replies all. I'll try the alcohol, soap and water mix tomorrow.....wish me luck:mrgreen:
  13. Kevinkrey

    Kevinkrey Member

    What about WS scenic cement? Still need alcohol first? ​
  14. PWRR-2207

    PWRR-2207 Rogue Islander


    I use a 50/50 mix of Rubbing Alcohol and Woodland Scenics (WS) cement. I also use the same mix for WS's other scenic ground cover materials (flock, weeds, grass, dirt, gravel, etc). A few other side benefits of dilution with alcohol are that it dries fast, rarely get a clogged mist spray nozzle and I can get Rubbing Alcohol a lot cheaper than WS Cement.

    [Yes, water and detergent are cheaper but my layout area is normally around 70% or higher humidity which means it can take up to two days or more to dry fully when I use the water-detergent solution :cry: .]

    The only time I use undiluted glue/cement/matte-medium with ballast or scenic materials is where I want to stop the materials at a specific point or limit the amount/area covered by the ground material, like a grassy strip between two roads.

    Undiluted example:
    I run a bead of pure Elmer's White Glue along the beveled portion of the roadbed several hours before ballasting. I then use my finger to spread it out so it is thick enough to see but not so thick that it appears solid white. I then apply some ballast to the glue and leave it alone. Once the glue dries, you can clean off the extra (vacuum, brush or blow off) or move it inside the ties. The glued down ballast works like a dam to hold ballast in place while you dress the tracks in preparation for gluing via eye-dropper, drip bottle or mist spray. (I also use 'a Black India Ink drop in about an ounce of Rubbing Alcohol' as a wash like ezdays before mist spray gluing down the ballast. I tried the eye-dropper thing but tend to get too much or too little on so I went back to misting.)

    PS: I also run a bead of Elmer's White Glue and spread it any place I want ballast/foliage/grass/weeds to appear near/on the roadbed or under the ballast.
  15. oso2you

    oso2you New Member

    Great help

    Thanks to all for the great info. I certainly know where to come and ask when I have a question........and I suspect I'll have many more.:wave:

  16. Floyd

    Floyd Member

    Well fellers I mixed the glue, alcohol mix and did not have much luck as far as spraying it on. I mixed thoroughly before I started then shook the mixture several times during the process. The stuff would not mist when I pumped the spray on my bottle. Thinking that the sprayhead was plugged, I removed the pump and put some alcohol in an empty bottle and sprayed pure alcohol through. It worked like a charm then but when I placed the sprayer back onto the bottle of mix the same thing happened......No spray just thick drips, got it all over my fingers and hands.WHAT A MESS I ENDED UP WITH.:eek::eek::eek:
    I then put more alcohol into the 50/50 mix I already had. Probably ended up with 75/50 percent mix....Still unable to mist it on. What I did get on worked well. Can someone tell me what in the tarnation I am doing wrongwall1wall1
  17. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    What you're doing wrong is that you're trying to spray the glue. Yukk!:eek: This not only clogs-up your sprayer, but it also blasts glue all over the place: track, buildings, backdrop, wherever.:p I use alcohol, too, but always in a glass, with just a little ice. ;) For ballasting or scenery, I use tap water with a few drops of liquid dish detergent added, and mist it over the area to be worked on. The technique is the same whether you use "wet" water or an alcohol/water mix. Use a good quality sprayer that will give a fine mist, and aim the spray upwards at first, so that the droplets fall onto the scenery. After things have been dampened, you can spray directly at the area without worrying about blowing scenic material all over the place. Wet the area thoroughly: not doing so is one of the major reasons that people have problems ballasting or applying scenic effects. The water must penetrate to the very bottom of the loose material, as the glue mixture will not penetrate where the area has not been wetted, resulting in a poor bond, a hardened crust atop loose material, or "balling" of the scenic material on the glue droplets. You can successfully apply scenic material over an inch deep if you wet it properly. When water pools at the edges of the ballast or in low spots in your ground contours, you've got it wet enough.
    Some people prefer matte medium for bonding the scenic material in place, and while it works well, you can buy a gallon of white glue for about the same cost as two 8 ounce bottles of matte medium. Anybody who tells you that white glue dries shiny is not using enough wetting agent. To dilute either white glue or matte medium, I use hot tap water, as it mixes more readily than cold. A 50/50 mixture of water and glue is about right, but you can probably go as much as 60-65% water if necessary. Apply the glue mixture with a plastic applicator bottle - the one I have, from an unknown source, applies drops when inverted, and a stream when squeezed. Someone has commented that the bottle for contact lense solution works well, but any container that gives you some control over the rate of flow will work. Older magazines suggest an eyedropper, which works, but requires constant refilling. This type of applicator lets you put the glue where you want it, and the wetting agent draws it to where it's needed. On deep applications of material, don't worry if the glue also pools in the low spots - it indicates that you've applied enough.
    Any of this scenery work will take time to dry - I allow a minimum of 24 hours, but heavy applications can take up to a week. Find something else to do in the meantime. :rolleyes: Don't touch anything when it's wet, even if it needs "fixing" - you'll only make it worse. Scenery is very easy to repair or touch-up, when it's dry, using the same techniques on a smaller scale.
    Here are some pictures:
    Ballast, sub-ballast, rip-rap, and ground cover all applied at the same time - the glue ran into the nearby riverbed (which was fortunately just bare plywood) and dripped onto the floor below. It took several days to dry, but everything is bonded securely in place.

    Same thing here, although the ground cover was only carried out as far as the fence lines on either side of the track. Any place where the terrain is so steep that the dry scenic material won't stay in place should be painted with full-strength white glue before spreading the scenic material, then successive layers can be applied as necessary. I use a 3/4" brush for this, and if you wash it out promptly, it'll last a long time. :-D When you've got it the way you want it, wet down the area thoroughly along with everything else, and then apply diluted white glue as you would anywhere.

  18. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    To spray wood glue or matte medium, you need to dilute it down to a 20% (1 part glue/matte medium - 4 parts alchohol) or even down to 10%) as anything less will plug up the sprayer. Add a couple of drops of soap to the mixture.

    Purpose of Soap
    Glue or matte medium, by itself, regardless of how well it is diluted, will blob on the ballast or ground foam scenery and will not soak into the dry ballast or scenery. There is "surface tension" between the ballast/scenery and the glue/alchohol/water. A couple of drops of soap in the mixture will break that surface tension.

    As an experiment, you can float a paper clip in a glass of water and the paper clip won't sink to the bottom. Add a small touch of soap and the paper clip immediately sink to the bottom of the glass. The soap breaks the surface tension between the paper clip and the water so that the paper clip plunges to the bottom of the glass. Same thing with the ballast/scenery, your base scenery (plaster/Styrofoam/etc), and the glue.

    Why Use Alchohol?
    Alcohol will evaporate faster than water. It is available at your local hardware / paint / building supply store at a very reasonable price. I've applied one layer of ballast/ground foam scenery in one evening and by the next evening, the ballast/scenery is rock hard, ready to apply the next layer of scenery.

    Painting The Scene
    Depending on the method you have used to create your scenery base, you will be staring at white plaster, pink or blue styrofoam, or some other basic colour. Some scenery books use the features of the plaster as a start for scenicking. Because I'm into module railroading and I use styrofoam and spackling compound to create my scenery, I don't have that luxury as I'm staring at a whole bunch of pink and white. As a first step, I take a flat grey or brown latex paint (the quart size available for about $15 at your local paint store) and apply 2/3 coats to the base scenery to get rid of that white/pink/blue/etc look. The colour you use will depend upon the type of scenery you will be creating - grey sedimentary rock, brownish igneous, prairie, etc, etc. Once I've applied these coats, I let it all dry.

    Drybrushing Latex Paint
    Another trick is to dry brush some "accents" into your scenery. As I use styrofoam cut to shape with a hot wire and painted with grey paint, I end up with nice "ridges" in the scenery base. I can accent these ridges by lightly dry-brushing a darker grey over these ridges. I simply dip a 1" brush into the paint, brush out the excess onto a piece of newspaper, and then drybrush the painted styrofoam ridges. The operative word here is "dry". While a lot of this will be covered with scenery, there will be enough that will be left bare, particularly on the steep slopes.

    While the paint is still wet from dry-brushing, I apply some earth-tone scenery (see below for techniques). Some of the ground foam will stick to the dry-brushed paint while some of it will fall to the bottom of the slope. The effect is quite outstanding!

    Applying Paint Effects
    Painting the scenery with two coats as described above will produce a uniform monotonous look to the scenery, the objective being to cover up the pink and white. Here's where applying a little bit of mixed paint will produce some nice effects. My base coat is light grey representing sedimentary rocks. I lightly dab a 1" paint brush into some flat latex brown and mix it up on a piece of paper or index card. I then lightly touch the paint brush into some flat latex black and swirl it into the brown. If I have too much paint on the brush, I simply brush it out on a piece of newspaper. I then lightly brush this mixture on the end of the paint brush onto the scenery creating "accents". Where you create the accents will depend on what the slope and contours of your base scenery will look like. While the paint is still wet, I apply my first layer of ground foam scenery.

    I do the "dry-brushing" and the "paint effects" both at the same time, covering no more than a 2'x 2' or 3'x 3' area in one session at a time. This includes applying the ground foam scenery.

    I apply the scenery first and the ballast last. If I apply the ballast first, followed by the scenery, I find that the scenery will end up on the ballast. While this effect might be okay for an unused siding, it's not the effect that I want for my busy railroad.

    Take Your Time - Savour the Experience!
    Don't try to scenic your whole layout at one sitting. You're going to get tired and you are going to lose those "creative juices" on where and what colours you want to apply, particularly in applying those subsequent layers of ground foam scenery. Take your time and enjoy the process of creating your scenery. You may even want to go out and buy one of those artist's berets and white smocks to get you in the mood (VBG!).

    Doing scenery is a creative process. Be well rested and in the mood to create the scenery. If you aren't in the mood, don't do the scenicking that evening. Do something else. Save the scenicking for another day when you are in the mood. You probably don't know what I'm talking about and you probably think I'm off my rocker when I talk about scenicking being a "creative process". But you will when you start applying the scenery. You have to go through the experience to understand what the creative process is all about.

    Don't try to scenic or ballast your layout in one evening. It won't work. Do all of your scenicking first and then apply the ballast. Or, scenic a large area of your layout and, after all of the scenery has been applied to that area, then apply the ballast. I usually scenic a 2'x 2' or a 2'x 3' section of my modules in an evening. Or, I apply one layer of ground foam in one or two evening before I apply the next layer of ground foam.

    Scenery Research
    I'm not an artist. Once I get beyond the basic colours of Red, Orange, Yellow Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet, I'm completely "colour blind". This is where some "scenery research" comes into play. Before starting all of this, I take photos of rocks faces, slopes, ground surface, etc. This helps with the creative process in applying the scenery.

    Even then, I'm still colour challenged. So, I call on a colour expert - my wife - to mix up some colours for me and to recommend which colours I should apply first. A good way to get your spouse involved in this hobby - even if it's only for a few minutes of consultation and mixing.

    Applying the Ballast/Scenery
    Ballast/scenery is applied dry. I mix up the ballast scenery in paper coffee cups as I can put a plastic lid on the cup when I've finished applying the ballast/scenery. I use a 1" paint brush to move the ballast/scenery around. Hold the coffee cup in one hand and tap the back of your hand with the wooden handle of the paint brush. This way, you can better control the application of the ballast/scenery to the roadbed/scenery base.

    For example, tap some ballast into the middle of the tracks using the above technique - not too much. It's easier to apply more ballast than to remove the ballast from the tracks. You will end up with a ridge of ballast in the middle of the tracks. Use the brush to move the ballast in place. No need to drop ballast to the outside of the tracks as the brushing will automatically pour over the sides of the tracks and onto the outside. On steep slopes, lay down a thin strip of glue (50/50 or 40/60). This will catch the loose ballast and hold it in place.

    On ground foam scenery, use a light touch with the brush. It's best to apply the ground foam scenery in layers as you can look at the finished product before deciding the next colours you want to apply.

    Another trick is to "blow" the scenery into place. I use a "turkey baster" that has the rubber bulb on the end. A very light squeeze on the bulb (the operative word here is "very light") will blow the blobs of dry scenery into place, off of the tracks, or out of where you don't want the scenery to be.

    Wet The Ballast/Scenery Well
    Once you have your dry ballast/scenery in place, soak the ballast/scenery with alcohol. I use a spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle. The mist setting works the best. The alcohol should almost be flowing out of the ballast/scenery. Spray upwards and let the mist float down. Applying the alchohol directly will blow the ballast/scenery out of position.

    Apply The Glue/Matte Medium
    There are various ways to apply the glue/matte medium. Regardless of which way you go, the glue/matte medium needs to be diluted. I've used squirt bottles and I've also used spray bottles. My preference is spray bottles but that's my preference and may not be yours. A lot of glue/matte medium isn't required as it will be distributed throughout the wetted ballast/scenery applied in the previous step. And, if you apply your scenery in layers, you will be applying more glue to that which has already been laid down.

    When you have finished spraying the ballast/scenery, it will look as if you have had a scale 10" of rain fall on your layout. Have no fear! It will have all disappeared within 24 hours - which is the main reason I prefer to use alcohol instead of water.

    If you use a dropper or squirt bottle to apply your glue/matte medium, it may "blob" into little white puddles, even though it is absorbed into the ballast or scenery. Simply spray the blobs with alcohol until the blob is diluted into the scenery.

    Keep The Glue Out of the Switch Points!!
    Be careful how you apply the glue/ matte medium around the switch points. Regardless of how much care you take, the switch points will probably glue up due to the "wicking action" of the glue/soap/alcohol/water. To reduce the amount of glue, take an index card, fold it in half, cut it to size, and place it over the switch points.

    If the points are glued, don't force them! Squirt some alcohol on the points, let the alcohol stand for 5 minutes, then move the points. Wipe the glue off of the contact points. This may take several operations.

    Applying Subsequent Layers of Scenery
    I like to apply my scenery in different layers, starting with the earthy colours. I glue the earthy colours in place using the above procedures, letting the earthy colours dry. I can then stand back and try to visualize what the ground should look like next. I then apply the darker fine grassy colours, working my way up to the coarser and lighter colours.

    Earthy colours will cover the complete layout whereas the coarser lighter colours may cover only parts of the layout or the scene.

    Clean the Rails!
    The glue/matte medium will definitely stick to the rails and will insulate the tracks. Cleaning the tracks is a multi-step process. I start off with a J-cloth soaked in alchohol and wrapped in my index finger. I rub the J-cloth along each rail. After this, I use my "Bright Boy" to polish the top of the rails. Close examination will clearly indicate where blobs of glue may still be clinging to the rails. Be careful around the switch points as some turnouts can be very fragile.

    Remember, the idea in applying scenery and ballast is to have fun. The scenery and ballast, combined with weathering the rails can produce a most dramatic effect to your layout.

    Bob M.
  19. Floyd

    Floyd Member

    Bob and Wayne.....Thanks for the detailed information relating to my problem of applying the glue/mix. I'll bet you were laughing your head off when you read that I was trying to spray the stuff on:mrgreen::mrgreen::mrgreen:. I'll take the advice given and get back to work . I really appreciate and value your input.

  20. railwaybob

    railwaybob Member

    Hello Floyd. No, I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at myself recalling when I did the same thing about 12 months ago.

    I've been very fortunate as I belong to a model railroad club, Ottawa Valley HOTRAK where we periodically run some clinics. One of our scenery experts gave a clinic so I took his methods and refined then into my own.

    Our club is a "module railroad" club and this weekend is our largest meet every. If you're interested in what the layout looks like, click on the link to "setups".

    Bob M.

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