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Modelling Hills

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Method 1: Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric)

Case Study: My Experience of this method

My layout is based on a town that is situated in a valley surrounded by hills. There are two tunnels at either end and the railway line runs into a cutting before entering either tunnel. As pictured below I have already produced the bank on the far side of my layout using the Papier-mâché method. The bank on the nearside is to be constructed using modelling rock and this is how I did it.

Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric) - Model Railway

Firstly, I needed to build a structure to hold the modelling rock in the position I wanted. I chose to use polystyrene because it was light and easy to shape. I positioned and glued the blocks in place allowing time for the glue to dry before cutting them to shape with a craft knife. Once I was happy with this supporting structure I cut sections of model rock to size and placed them on the structure to get an idea of the shape they would create. I quickly realised that the modelling rock would sag in the middle without support, which would produce an unrealistic and unnatural looking bank. To solve this I glued additional pieces of polystyrene in the centre of the bank.

Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric) - Model Railway

I also realised that once wet the modelling rock would become heavy and would not necessarily stick to the polystyrene when stretched across the structure to form the bank. To overcome this problem I decided to glue the first layer of model rock in position (made up of three pieces).

Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric) - Model Railway Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric) - Model Railway

The second layer was made up of one single length of modelling rock that would be laid across all three sections of the first layer. I applied water to the first layer using a large paint brush before applying the second layer. The second layer was completely submerged in water before being stretched across the first layer which made for a good bond between the two layers (bottom left).

Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric) - Model Railway Modelling Rock (Plaster impregnated fabric) - Model Railway

I then gave these two layers time to dry before applying a scatter undercoat of earth brown paint. At the same time I painted the polystyrene black to better define the boundary of my layout. The final step was to erect a fence and apply static grass to the entire bank.


Evaluation: I am very happy with the overall look of this method. It was very easy and was less messy than papier-mâché (or at least the way I did it). It only took two layers of modelling rock to produce what I believe is a hard and durable bank. I will be using this method on all my future layouts in place of papier-mâché.


Standard Chicken Wire Method

Materials: Model rock, chicken wire, wire cutters, bowl of water, gloves (gets messy).

Standard Instructions: Using the chicken wire, produce the shape of your hill (other materials can be used as a supporting structure). The chicken wire is used as a frame for the model rock. Use wire cutters where needed. If this is to be a permanent structure, you can secure the wire to your board. Once the chicken wire structure is complete you can now start applying the modelling rock. First cut the model rock to length, then run it through the bowl water making sure it becomes wet all over. Then lay it on the chicken wire. Repeat this making sure you over lap each piece until all the wire is covered.

Decoration: Hornby suggest that before you let it dry that you should apply the scatter to it. You can also add the scatter after it has dried, using the normal method.

Tunnels: If you wish to make a tunnel with this method simply leave a hole in the chicken wire either end and rap the modelling rock around the edges of the tunnel. Once finished a plastic stone imitation tunnel entrance can be put in place to finish the look off.

Evaluation: This produces a more durable structure than the papier-mâché, but it is also heavier. It does not lend itself to modification or add-ons as when the model rock goes hard that is it (additions would need to be glued). With the paper method you can add more on as the paper will re-soften with water. This method also does not produce a smooth finish as good as the paper but this does not matter if you plan to apply scatter over it. Model rock also costs more as unlike newspapers you are unlikely to find it lying around the house.

Method 2: Papier-mâché.

Below is a picture of a ballast mound produced using this method:

Ballast Hill

Evaluation: This is the most simplest method as all the materials should be found around the house. This also makes it the cheapest option. The result is a durable, light structure that can take some knocks.

Materials: Newspaper, PVA glue (flour and water glue will work), water, a bowl, and some thick card.

Preparation: Mix in the bowl a solution of 50% PVA and 50% water. Tear some or the newspaper into strips. With the card, cut out the footprint shape of your hill (this will be the base).

Instructions: Using the card as a base, build up the shape of the hill with balls of screwed up newspaper, making them as compact as possible. Glue these down with PVA glue (not the PVA water mix) until you have the rough shape you want. Then take a strip of newspaper and run it through the PVA water mix (allowing it to absorb the mixture) and lay it across the screwed up newspaper. These strips will give the hill its smoothness and will dry hard.

Decoration: Once the the hill is dry it is ready for painting and then having scatter applied.

Tunnels: If you wish to make a tunnel with this method you will have to use a support structure to give you a frame to apply the Papier-mâché to.

Method 3: Polystyrene/Styrofoam.

Evaluation: Favoured by many modellers, polystyrene produces a very light and robust scenery. It is easily moulded into shape and can produce almost any land form. It can be a bit messy so best to keep a vacuum handy. 

Materials: Polystyrene/Styrofoam tiles, craft knife, rasp (wood file), vacuum, poly filler, NO More Nails or equivalent adhesive.

Instructions: Cut the sheets to the basic required shape using the craft knife. Build up layers like a pyramid to increase the height of the hill and stick the sheets together with the no more nails adhesive. I have also seen car body filler used. Take the corners of the sheets off with the craft knife and use these off cuts to fill in the groves between the layers. Use a rasp to take off any excess and to round the polystyrene into the shape you desire. Then use some poly filler to fill in any gaps and to give the hill a smoother surface. Each step is illustrated below.

Polystyrene Styrofoam Hill   

 Polystyrene Styrofoam Hill

Polystyrene Styrofoam Hill   

 Polystyrene Styrofoam Hill

Decoration: Paint the surface once dried with water colours or what every you have at hand. Then apply your particular shade of scatter, after first covering the surface first with a mix of 50% PVA glue and 50% water.

Tunnels: Can be used to make a tunnel but it will not be very strong if the structure is narrow. Use a wooden structure to build and support the top of the tunnel first and then use the polystyrene/Styrofoam to fill in the sides and to create the desired look.

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