Ballast... would this work?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Gary S., Apr 27, 2007.

  1. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I am thinking that before the ballast is spread on the track, that maybe it should be pre-wetted with wet-water? Soak it in a bowl of water with a drop of soap? Maybe putting it down wet would allow it to be controlled better and it wouldn't have to be misted? Or maybe misted only a little bit?

  2. 91rioja

    91rioja Member

    I'm not sure you would have as much "spreadability control" with a damp/soupy mixture as you would with a dry one and a brush. But I have been wrong before.

    Could be fun to try on a 9" piece of track to test. . . .
  3. CAS

    CAS Member

    Not a good idea.

    I just got done ballasting my diorama. I had some loose ballast i tried to move back in between the ties. The ballast was also wet. The ballast just stuck to the brush, and sponge i was using to smooth the ballast out, with.

  4. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thanks for the info. I may give it a try on a short piece of track, just to see how it goes. Actually, I've never ballasted track before. What got me to thinking of this is I read somewhere that the Woodland Scenics ballast has a habit of "floating" around when the wet water is put on, because the WS ballast is made out of pecan shells (?) or something similar that floats. But, I guess the wet water isn't going to pool up so much that it is deep enough to float anything.
  5. Play-Doh

    Play-Doh Member

    Working with wet ballast is indeed a pain. It tends to stick to the brush making moving the ballast a pain. Also, ballast that settles into the rails and unwanted places while dry can be fixed simply by blowing on it. Wet ballast can stick to unwanted, and unseen places, and be harder to remove.

    My goal when ballasting was to try and get all the ballast exactly how I wanted it before I applied water and glue.
  6. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Gray, what causes the ballast to float is spraying to much water directly on the ballast to begin with. Spray a mist over the ballast first to pre-wet the ballast and hold it down. Then spray it heavily to wet it. And it's funny your thinking about ballasting. I was thinking about weathering the ties and ballasting too.:-D

  7. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Hey Loren!

    Over the past couple of days, I got all the ties put in the gaps between the flex track joints and switch connections. Before I ballast, I am going to weather the rail and paint the ties. Still have a way to go before I get to that point.

    I spent all day today kitbashing a large manufacturing plant, and it seems like I didn't make much progress, but dang, ALL DAY!

    Here's a pic of the building and another shot of my long shelf. The industries are taking shape!

    Attached Files:

  8. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Hey Gary

    Your layout is looking good. I really like those buildings your making. I wish I had room for something like that. Isn't putting those ties in a pain?
    I put in all my feeder wires yesterday, I don't like wiring so I am glad thats done. I also built a Atlas water tower and a sand tower, and I am working on their lumber yard. Probably won't get much done this weekend though, it's my wifes weekend off from work.:cry:

  9. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Hey, wait a sec! Weren't you doing honey-do's last weekend too?! Tell your wifey that I said you need to work on the layout all weekend so I can see some progress photos! I'd love to see photos of your Lumber Yard.

    You added the feeders after the track was layed, right? I took a different route and soldered the feeders to the flex track first. Then I drilled holes in the proper place and stuck the wires down as I installed the track. Seemed to work well.

    Oh... how about some photos of the wiring job?

    Get this... I was over at the LHS the other day, the employees and I were talking about our layouts. I had shown them my mock-up pics of the layout awhile back. They asked me how far along I would be by October. I said "I don't know, but why do you ask?" They said they set up a tour of local layouts and would like mine to be on it. Woah! They said even if I wasn't finished, that would be okay, that it is good for people to see layouts in different stages of construction. I think it would be fun to have people over so I could show them how the manual switches are done, the electromagnets, etc. And, I would also let them run the trains and do some switching. We'll see what happens.
  10. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    No, last weekend I worked on the engine service area and that's now done.
    Since so much of my track is curved, it was easier to lay the track first and then put in the feeders. That and I wanted to make sure I would be happy with this layout. I am having a ball working on this layout, and feel like this one is a keeper.
    That would be great to have a open layout tour. You have done a great job on your layout, and the magnets and manual turnout controls will be really unique. Who knows, you could even start a mini club if there were enough people interested. Good luck on it.
    I told my wife what you said and all I got was the evil eye, but I will post pics here when I can.

  11. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Gary, once the ballast is wet, don't touch it: it'll stick to everything like s*** to a blanket. Here's a copy of a post that I made elsewhere, outlining my methods for ballasting. This works well for me, but there are also many other methods that will work, too.

    Part of the reason that some people have problems with ballasting is that they tend, for whatever reason, to skimp on materials. I use white glue thinned 50/50 with hot tap water (mixes faster), and water with a couple drops of dish detergent added as my "wetting" agent. If you have a slope that is so steep that the scenic material or ballast rolls off it, precoat the area with full-strength white glue. I use a 1" paint brush to apply it: being cheap, I make sure to wash it out after using, but you can also buy cheap throw-away brushes that will also work. I spread the ballast material and/or ground foam from paper cup and, in the case of ballast, use a 3/4" soft brush to spread it around to where I want it. Don't skimp on the ballast: if it rolls down the slope of the roadbed, add more until it stays where you want it. It's not really that expensive, and it'll improve the look of your roadbed. When you've got everything where you want it, flip that soft brush around, lightly grasping the ferrule between your thumb and forefinger, and with the handle laying across the rails, lightly and rapidly tap the handle with the fingers of your free hand, all the while moving the brush along the track. All of the loose ballast that's laying on the tie tops will "magically" bounce to where it should be. If the area that you're ballasting includes any turnouts, apply a bit of plastic-compatable oil to the tie tops over which the point rails move, then park the points in a mid-throw position.
    Now, using a good quality sprayer, capable of producing a fine mist, thoroughly wet the area with "wet" water. Start by spraying upward and letting the droplets fall onto the area until it is dampened. If you skip this step, you risk disturbing the scenic material with the force of the spray, and it 's not much fun to try to re-arrange wet scenic foam or ballast. When the area has been dampened, you can spray more directly. Thoroughly wet the scene: the thicker you've applied the scenic material, the more "wet" water is needed. You need to get it right down to the hardshell/foam/roadbed, or you'll end up with the glue mixture forming a crust on top, which is not bonded to the layout. You will find, on areas where the ballast is quite deep, that water will pool in low-lying areas, a sign that you've applied enough wetting agent. This step is as important as applying the glue mixture if you want to achieve a good bond.
    I use a plastic glue bottle to apply the glue mixture. It has a fairly small opening that allows the liquid glue to come out in drops, or in a stream, if I squeeze the bottle. Don't skimp on the glue. I used to use thinned matte medium, but for the price of two small bottles of the stuff, you can buy a gallon of white glue which works just as well. Because you've thoroughly soaked the area, those droplets of glue will spread readily throughout the landscaping material. Again, on thick areas, the glue mixture will pool in low spots. Don't worry about it: once the water evaporates, there'll be little residue left.
    Work in a pattern to ballast track. I usually work down the centre of the track, then go back and do each side in turn. Because of the run-off problem noted above, I usually do the trackside ground cover at the same time. When you've saturated the scene with glue, clean up your tools, and go do something else for a day or two. Scenery is like a pimple: if you keep fiddling with it, it'll get uglier.:lol:
    When the glue has finally dried, clean your track in the area. I find that there's not much in the way of glue on the railheads (the trains seem to run fine), but the tops of the rails are somewhat discoloured. Also check those turnouts to make sure that the points aren't glued to the ties in spite of the application of oil. A little back-and-forth action with your finger should free up any problem areas.
    On track with not too many turnouts, and fairly flat terrain close to the tracks, you should be able to do at least 15' or 20' of track in a couple of hours or less.

  12. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Hey DocWayne!

    Thanks for the info on the ballasting. I am looking forward to trying it, yet at the same time, I have some anxiety about it also. The obvious thing to do is make a mock-up with a short piece of track and P R A C T I C E.

    Am I correct that the ballasting should be one of the last things that is done scenically speaking?
  13. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member


    So did you do anything railroady today? Did you get all the honey-do's done? Gonna spend all day on the layout tomorrow?

    I actually spent most of the day getting started on our backyard patio instead of mrr. And tonight I am exhausted, so not sure if I am doing anything tonight.

    Oh! Back on topic... Should the rail and ties be painted before the ballast goes down?
  14. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Gary: go for the layout tour. We can talk about details closer to the date. We have 3 that I've been on in the last year. The worst problem with them is your getting to see the other layouts on tour.
    Go for full strength glue on the slopes. I tried to do it with the WS cement and it was just too watery. You could use it after you get a first layer down.
    Time for ballasting? When you can reach the tracks. I do mine before scenery, usually, although I tend to run the trains and test the layout for 10 or 12 years before I ballast.
  15. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Weather the rails and ties before you ballast. Otherwise you will weather the ballast to.
    No railroading at all today Gary, and tomorrow doesn't look to promising either.

  16. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    I did the ballasting on my layout as soon as the basic landforms were finished: otherwise, most of the ballast and glue would've ended-up on the floor, as most of the layout is roadbed on open grid. That's why the track on the grade to my proposed second level is not yet ballasted. Also, there's some trackage through the industrial area of Dunnville that hasn't been ballasted, as I still need to be able to remove some buildings in order to be able to install a backdrop. I usually do at least the basic ground cover along the tracks at the same time as the ballasting, which tends to fix the lineside structures in place.

    Definitely paint the rails before ballasting, and if you wish, the ties, too. I used Polly Scale paint, mostly browns, for my rails, but other than incidental slop from painting the rails, I didn't bother with the ties. I still intend to go over all of my track to weather the ties and ballast, but at least it has a more-or-less "finished" appearance.
    For painting the rails, I used a fairly stiff 1/2" brush to apply the paint, unthinned, right out of the bottle. The stiff bristles let you work the paint around the moulded spike heads, and the bigger brush holds more paint so that you can get farther on one brushload. On a lot of the switches, I used a greasy black colour, as the prototype does grease the moveable points. I generally do the turnouts first (make sure to not lock the points in place with too much paint). :wink: On plain track with no turnouts, I paint about 12' to 15' at a time, then use a clean, dry rag, wrapped over my fingertip, to rub the excess paint from the top of the rails. Let the paint cure fully, at least 24 hours, before proceeding with ballasting. Many folks like to use an airbrush for this task, but I didn't want overspray filling the layout room with excess paint dust. Also, while I like Polly Scale for brushing, I don't like it for spraying. Floquil is too stinky for this job. Even with a brush, this work goes quickly, and you don't have to do it all in one session.
    Don't let the ballasting scare you: if you use my method, or even a different one, follow the steps outlined, making sure that eveything is the way you want it before applying any wetting agent. And when you do finally get to the wetting part, and especially the glue part, don't be dismayed by the mess: when you're done for the day, clean your tools, sprayers, whatever, shut off the lights, and don't come back for a look until the next day. It will look better, even though not all areas will be completely dry. There were several areas on my layout that took over a week to dry, and the trackside "lakes" of thinned white glue finally disappeared. :)

  17. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Thank you for the offer of assistance. Last year I visited a couple of layouts on the tour, and one thing I would do different (I think) is that I would let my visitors actually run the trains and i would talk to them about operations. Possibly I would do a mini-op session with the visitors.

    I'll be back in touch as October rolls aroound.
  18. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Wayne, thank you again for the information. Can you believe that, after having ready your posts and put some thought in it, I am actually looking forward to ballasting? :)

    I think I will get out there today and start painting the rails.
  19. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Actually, Gary, I do believe it! Painting the rails can be a bit tedious, but you have to remember, you don't usually have a deadline to meet. I did mine when I had a bit of time to spare, but not enough to really get into a bigger project. You can paint one turnout, then call it a day, or, as I did every once in a while, paint 'til the paint bottle was empty.:-D I was amazed at the difference that this simple step makes in the appearance of the layout: I'd rate it as almost as much of an improvement as the ballasting.:thumb:
    As for the ballasting itself, this is scenery without a great deal of cost, not much effort (wait until you get into making trees - enjoyable, but much slower), and not a lot of special skills involved either. And again, no deadline, so enjoy yourself.

  20. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I understand your point. One of the great things that makes this hobby interesting is the variety of activities involved. If I feel like working on a structure, I do that. If I feel like weathering rolling stock, I do that.... scenery, trackwork, electrical wiring, uncoupling magnets, tune-ups, decoders... I do whatever I feel like doing, and no great rush to get everything completed. I can see that this hobby should keep me occupied for years to come, as I approach the TwiLgHt YeArS... I'm 47 now.

    Another question for you: The little bit of rail I painted today, I found to be real easy. The paint brush would fit right in the groove on the side of the rail. I did not paint the side of the top of the track. I included a drawing of what I am talking about. Where the blue arrow is, I did not paint. Where the green arrow is, I did paint. Really I should paint the entire side, but it sure was easy to just put the paintbrush in the groove and go. A

    Any thoughts on not painting the side of the "top" of the rail? It looks okay to me.

    Attached Files:

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