How To Make Landscape Scatter Materials On A Budget – Thrifty Thursday Model Building Tip, #1

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Coffee granules - budget dirt for model railwayIf you’re looking for soil, dirty or sand material for your landscape, park any thoughts of buying scatter materials and head to the kitchen with this weeks Thrifty Thursday Model Railway Building Tip.

Welcome to a new series of money saving model railway building tips. Every Thursday, Model Railway Engineer will bring you a simple but effective cost saving technique for your N, OO, HO or O railway hobby.

The aim of these hints is to primarily save money but don’t for a minute assume that just because these model making tips don’t cost much they aren’t any good.

As you’ll see from this first money saving suggestion, the results achieved on a budget can be just as good if not better than expensive model making materials.

Dirt, Soil and Ground Cover On  A Budget

The first tip is one of my favourites of the series planned, not just because it’s a great model budgeting tip but because the results are just damn brilliant.

Instead of spending between £1.50 and £3 on scatter, materials go and make yourself your favourite hot drink. And while you’re about it, nick a bit of the tea, coffee or chocolate you’re using.

Now sprinkle the tea leaves, coffee granules or chocolate powder on your layout and secure with a small amount of watered down PVA.  Now go and enjoy your drink while it the glue dries.

The colour and texture can be changed by mixing tea and coffee and different strengths and flavours of coffee in particular. Mixing a light roast coffee with dark tea leaves, for example, can create very realistic soil for example.


When mixing the glue, use a higher glue to water mixture than would normally be used (for ballasting etc). High water content can cause the colours to run or the granules to breakdown. For some landscape modelling, running colours can be useful (around water features for example) but in most cases, this isn’t useful. Alternatively, paint the PVA onto the surface to be covered and let it dry a little first before scattering the scatter.  I’d recommend testing and perfecting your technique first before applying it on your model railway layout.


Finally, if you have some chalk pastels grinding these up and adding them to your drink based scatter can add an extra element to the colour and texture of your ground cover.

The only problem you’ll have with this technique is keeping your little figures from eating the scenery 🙂

Come back next Thursday for another model railway building on a budget tip.

Thrifty Thursday Model Railway Budget Tips


#1 How To Make Landscape Scatter Materials On A Budget
#2 The Lowest Cost Static Grass Applicator
#3 DIY Budget Hedges
#4 How To Make Tree Stumps, For Free!



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  1. vasos papageorgiou - May 14, 2015

    Love it very good tip looks brilliant

  2. clayton D'Cruz - April 10, 2017

    wouldn’t the layout smell of coffee ?

    • Hi Clayton, it can do for a little while but this quickly fades leaving just great looking ground cover for a fraction of the price. Andy

  3. Jeremy Butler - August 25, 2017

    This brings back memories. I did this years ago with my mums used tea leaves. Thanks for reminding me.

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