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Model Railway Track Ballast

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Method 1: Ballast Scatter

Method 2: Ballast Scatter Mats

Method 3: Ballast Sponge Underlay

Method 4: Paint or glued scatter

Method 1: Ballast Scatter (Possibly the most popular and best looking method)


Model Railway Shelve Diesel Yard


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


1.  They allow for relatively mess free scenic modelling.

2.  They don't make changing your layout difficult as they can be modelled over easily.

3.  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).

4.  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


1.  It looks less realistic than the ballast scatter (method 1) above



Experience:  I 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 below)


Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067 Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067 Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067


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 (see below).


 Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067 Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067 Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067


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.


Model Railway Ballast Scatter Mats R8067 - Point Motors


Method 3: 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.

Gaugemaster Track Underlay

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 to Hornby).  


Note: 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 done.


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. 

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