Model Railway Track Ballast
Method 1: Ballast Scatter
Ballast Scatter Mats
Ballast Sponge Underlay
Method 4: Paint or glued scatter
Method 1: Ballast Scatter (Possibly the most
popular and best looking method)
The first step is to paint the board the colour of Your scatter.
You don't have too but in my experience it pays to, as there might be some small
bits of the board visible.
The second step is top pin or glue down your layout, making sure
that its all connected well and that the trains run without
derailing of stalling. It's best to run the layout to make shore
all the problems are ironed out before you ballast. Scatter and
glue can stop points from moving or working correctly. It is
best to tape the sensitive areas (the areas around the moving
track sections and their pickups).
The third step is to tip some of the scatter on to your track
and with a paint brush or a piece of card, move the scatter in between all
the sleepers to a level just below the top of the sleepers. The card is
useful for creating a straight line of scatter about 1cm away from the track
to form the edge of the track bed.
The fourth step. Once the scatter is were u want it and it looks
good, you need to fix it in place. To do this you need to make up a mix of 50%
PVA glue and 50% water. to this u add just a drop of washing up liquid. This
helps break down the surface tension of the water and helps it flow. You then
simply apply this mixture to the scatter and you should see it soak in. Some
people recommend a dropper for applying this mixture, but I used an old PVA glue
bottle as what I didn't use stayed good for next time. it also allowed me to
shake the mixture to make sure it was mixed well. This then needs to be left for
24 hours+ and trust me it needs it.
The last stage is to run a track cleaner over the track to
remove any glue and clean any lose scatter away. If like me some scatter
glued to the tract or the sleepers just use a small screwdriver to remove
it. Make sure that the inside edges of the track is cleared or scatter as it
will cause your trains to de-rail.
Note: Ballast scatter is
produced by many companies. It is best to pick one as there are slight colour
differences. This method is the most realistic and is favoured by most modellers
but it is messy and does mean that changing your layout at a later date will be
more difficult and re using any of your track almost impossible. If you think
you might want to change you layout or want to use the track on a future layout
the sponge ballast is the best bet.
Method 2: Ballast Scatter Mats
Scatter mats are simply rolled sheets of paper that have scatter
pre fixed to the surface. Its advantages over other
methods are that
They allow for relatively mess free scenic modelling.
They don't make changing your layout difficult as they can be
modelled over easily.
The track is simply pinned down over the top of the ballast mat
meaning if you wanted to change your layout you can reuse all
your old track (not possible using the ballast method).
It's very cheap with each mat covering metres of double track
bed and only costing £4.00 (New
Modellers Shop) for a 1200mm x 305mm roll.
Its disadvantages are
It looks less realistic than the ballast scatter (method 1)
used the extra fine granite scatter mat produced by Hornby
R8067. Hornby no longer produced this product but the extra fine
ballast mat from Javis Scenics is almost identical. I decided to
use this method because I did not want to permanently fix my
track to the layout (a result of method 1 'ballast scatter') and
it seemed the quickest way to ballast my entire layout (which it
was). I used approximately 4-5 rolls to cover the 12m of double
track bed and sidings. I think the results are very effective
and only second in appearance to method 1 which I did not want
to use for reasons mentioned above.
The scatter on Javis Scenics
extra fine ballast
mats is also sold loose. This means that any gaps or areas that
are difficult for you to use the mat in, should be able to be
filled in / blended into the mats using this scatter.
1) Simply cut the mat to the size required using either
scissors or a craft knife. If the shape is more unusual I would
advise you to use some plain paper to make a template of the
shape needed and then trace the shape on to the back of the
ballast mat. Remember to trace the template face down otherwise
you will get a mirror image of the shape you want. (picture 3
2) Spread glue (I used PVA see above) over the area
and press the scenic scatter mat on to the board. Best to work
the mat from one end to the other so you can iron out all the
wrinkles and reduce air pockets. Place some weights where
necessary (corners are advisable) while the glue dries to stop
the edges curling up and to reduce wrinkles in the mat.
3) Any gaps especially between sheets can be filled
with lose scatter. I found that when I unravelled each mat their
was a certain amount of scatter that had not be fixed to the
backing paper. I collected this and used it to fill the gaps
between each section of mat. Simply apply some glue to the gap
and sprinkle the scatter over the top. Once covered press down
on the scatter to make sure it has been imbedded into the glue
Note: If you plan to mount
your point motors beneath your points you are advised to cut the
holes before you glue the ballast mat down. After you have glued
the mat over the pre-cut point motor hole simply cut a slit in
the mat to allow the point motors arm to move freely and then
push the point motor and mounting prongs through the ballast
mat. All that's left to do is relay your track and re-connect
the point motor to the point. The result was a very effective
camouflaging the point motor.
Ballast Sponge Underlay
Both HORNBY and PECO make a sponge underlay to represent
ballast. Gaugemaster have also produced an underlay, but this underlay
consists of a foam rubber base covered with fine ballast partials. The
overall look is more realistic than the plain foam from Hornby or PECO. The
purpose of the underlay is to mimic a full ballast mound. This comes
in a reel for the straights and bends and in sections for the points and
crossings. The sponge is simply put under the track with the sleepers of the
track fitting in the groves in the sponge. Its then pinned down with track
pins along with the track. This method is not cheap but it is less messy
than the alternative.
I used this on my first layout and it was very quick to
install and looked pretty good. Its not however as realistic as the other
methods unless you use the Gaugemaster underlay. I used the straight sponge
for the points, cutting it to fit, as this was much cheaper than buy the
custom made sections that fit perfectly. One of the main advantages of this
method is that as your layout changes you can easily remove the ballast.
Another advantage to this is that is dampens some of the noise which the
trains make and reduces wheel bounce, which improves performance (according
The sponge ballast has sleeper spacing according to the spacing of that
companies track, hence HORNBY track will not fit well in PECO sponge
underlay and will require either stretching or compressing which is easily
Method 4: paint or glued scatter
You glue aggregate to the baseboard along the areas where
your track is going to be fixed, you then fix the track on top of this. OR
you could simply paint the baseboard grey to look like ballast. both these
methods are simple and will not result in any point problems, but the
overall look is poor.