The best static grass applicator – plus 5 tips on how to apply static grassOn September 12, 2016 Intermediate 5 Comments Tags: HowTo, Static Grass
With a lot of static grass to lay down for my new model railway I went in search of the best static grass applicator for price, convenience and ease of use.
Static grass transforms a layout but laying the stuff is a time hog and getting it to look right even more so. Static grass applicators promise to solve both problems but which is best all round applicator?
Static grass from Woodland Scenics and others has revolutionised realistic ground cover on model railways. When applied right, the tiny threads stand upright giving an unrivaled just-like-real grass and small plant effect. It’s soooo much better than the low grade sawdust variety scatter materials of previous generations had to work with.
But getting your static grass to look good, and laying it isn’t as simple as just sprinkling it over an area of landscape.
To help, manufacturers and an army of DIY model makers have devised a variety of static grass applicators.
The first type of applicator many modelers try is the puffer variety. Essentially, a plastic bottle with a mesh lid. Filling the bottle and squeezing it sends a shower of grass fibres over the target area. They’re cheap and can distribute grass over a reasonable area quickly.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that to get the nylon fibres to stand erect a static charge needs applying and puffers don’t deliver this.
With puffers alone, you’ll just get a matt of flattish grass. The problem is discussed in more detail here.
So we can rule these out as the best applicator.
As mentioned above, what’s really needed is a way of applying an electrical charge to energise the fibres as they are dispensed.
This is what the remainder of the applicators seen here do and they all work in roughly the same way.
The static grass is shaken through a metal sieve over the layout. The sieve is connected to a power supply charging to the fibres as they fall making them stand upright when they land on the “ground”.
The concept is very simple and there are videos – like the one the below – that show how you can make your own basic versions of these from a fly squat and tea-strainer.
While these are cheap – prices from around £8 to £12 – and they’re certainly effective for getting static grass to stand up they need some DIY skills and typically have other limitations.
For starters, they can be wasteful and messy. Once the grass is placed into the pan bits start to fall through the mesh straight away.
And the fibres can also spill out over the top, resulting in grass falling before you even get the applicator over the region of landscape you want to work on.
Equally, they’re limited in capacity. The tea-strainer variety only holds a small amount of grass. If you’re working on a large area of landscape you’ll spend a lot of time refilling.
Lastly, it can be difficult to get tea strainers with the right mesh size to match the length of fibre being used. Certainly, the tea-strainer types I’ve tried are too fine for some longer strands of fibre and not enough gets laid down before the glue sets.
The top of the range but not the winner
There are premium grade applicators, like the Noch Grass Master, that address these problems but they’re expensive.
If you have the money however they are very good and the Noch model is easily the most flexible applicator here. There’s even a nozzle attachment – available extra – for applying grass in confined areas.
Indeed, it’s only the price that puts me off. If I have around £100 to spend on my trains I’d much rather buy a new loco than a tool I’ll only use occasionally hence why I’ve ruled it out here.
Instead, for the price, convenience, and ease of use, it’s this applicator that gets my recommendation.
It’s electric so produces the sought after stand-up effect.
It’s got a plastic container pot attached to the mesh so can hold a reasonable volume of static grass – you’re not continually refilling.
The mesh clips over the top of the pot so when not spreading material just leave it upright and none fall through the mesh and be wasted.
Finally, at around £16 it is very affordable, certainly comparable to the other types above.
As such, in my mind, it’s the best around static grass applicator.
Tips for laying static grass
- PVA, aka white glue, is the best glue to fix static grass in place and adding a little water seems to help the grass stand upright when using an electric applicator. Mixes of 70/30 or 50/50 water to PVA seemed to produce the best results in my experiments.
- Blend and mix static grass colours and lengths to get the most realistic look. Obviously, the exact look you want will be based on personal preference but I find 10 percent medium to 90 percent short fibres works well on my N scale layouts. Obviously for larger scales, OO and HO for example, longer lengths would be used.
- Prepare the base first, painting the area and even adding a fine scatter material before using static grass significantly improves the finished look. As with blending different grasses, the undercoat colour depends on your desired look but brown and greens work best for me.
- Static grass can be a real pain if it gets into points and track, so mask-off track if applying it trackside.
- Apply a light dusting of hairspray to your static grass once finished. This will work with the PVA to hold it in place and upright.
Once you’ve got your applicator have a go at laying some grass. If you want ideas on how best to do this read my master class on static grass for tips.
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