How To Ballast Revealed | Watch These 3 Top Videos + Tips

3 Intermediate 3 Comments

Watch these 3 top guides on how to easily add a super realistic ballast finish to your railway.

Adding ballast to your model railway will make a huge difference to the authenticity of your layout. Unfortunately it can also take a long time and if done badly play havoc with the smooth running of your trains.

But it needn’t be this way, as these tip filled video’s reveal.

Before watching, however here’s a quick recap of recommended steps before adding the actual ballast:

1. Paint The Base Board

This helps blend the ballast with that of the underlying material and adjacent scenery. I mix up paint to the same colour as the scatter gravel, apply this under where the ballast will lay and then gradually mix it to the colour of the neighbouring surface material.

2. Protect Delicate Areas

This is touched on in the video’s below but it’s important enough to warrant mentioning first. Cover particularly delicate track areas – points, turntables and the like – before using ballast. They may be tiny to look at but they’re ideal for getting between rails and springs and causing chaos to your points.  

3. Secure The Track And Test

Using glue, water and depositing the ballast material on your track can cause problems. Securing your track with pins and then test running the trains before ballasting will help you troubleshoot if trains don’t run after or sections of track, points etc, don’t function correctly.

4. Pick the right ballast

There are lots of different ballast modelling materials to match the size of track you model in (N or OO gauge for example) and even different colours to reflect different materials. For N gauge use small/fine ballast; for OO and above, use medium and large. For colour, ballast on modern railways is a grey stone/quartz type material but in the past, other materials have been used, even sand and ash.

Use scatter material if you want one of these latter materials for ballast. This is all covered here.

Now for the videos.

#1 Jenny Kirk’s How to ballast model railway track

 I really like Jenny’s approach and the results she achieves. Along with good close up video work showing the techniques, she also includes a several really good tips during the video – mixing some black ink with the PVA glue to add a dirt effect really struck a chord with me as this is an effect I’ve been looking to achieve for some time.

#2 Woodland Scenics How To Ballast

Woodland Scenics not only make a great range of scatter and ballast material, they do a great how-to video too 🙂

Just as with Jenny’s video, there are some great tips in this video, using the pen to discolour the track beforehand will save a lot of time for example. The end result is wonderfully inspiring and I can’t wait until I next ballast to try adding soil colour after the main ballast application.

#3 DJ Trains How To Ballast A Siding

I’m a big fan of DJTrains on YouTube and this video on ballasting a siding is a good example of why.

DJ really knows his stuff and this video just oozes knowledge and expertise to achieving a realistic track and ballast finish. The peripheral tip about moving sleepers around is worth watching the video for alone if you’re working on your sidings.

Bonus – Ballast and Track Weathering

Just to inspire you, watch this short from Everard Junction on track and ballast weathering.

 

The only problem with ballasting is it’s time-consuming. After a lot of experimentation, I now use this ballasting tool which has saved my hours, probably days, inputting ballast down and can’t recommend it enough.

Summary

  • Ballasting isn’t difficult but can be time-consuming.
  • Get the ballasting tool mentioned above to make it easier and save time.
  • There are many grades (size) of ballast available fit your gauge of track. Get small/fine ballast for N gauge; medium/large for OO (Hornby) railways.

As always, if you have any questions, join me on Facebook by liking my page and dropping me a line there. I’m more than happy to help wherever I can.



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  1. RT @modelrailwayeng: Just posted, How To Ballast Revealed | Watch These 3 Top Videos – http://t.co/udWDyxTDkX

  2. Hi Andy
    I’m currently ballasting my re-developed goods yard (changed my mind about the look of it numerous times), whilst painstakingly making sure the ballast goes in the right place etc I often wondered why the ballast isn’t just put down first & track layed on top of it?

    • Hi! I don’t think I’ve encountered a modeller yet who hasn’t/doesn’t redo their ballast several times, practice makes perfect? 🙂 To answer your question, the sleepers should lie in the ballast – with the ballast “lapping” the tops of the sleepers so mirroring real railways to hold the sleepers in place. If you put the ballast down and then put the track on top it wouldn’t have this effect. And, and having tried this, there’s also the problem that as you push the track down onto the ballast it tends to spread and move around. Also, the thought of putting track down and trying to join it together and get the wiring in place with the ballast in place makes me shudder. Much easier to work on a solid flat base. Andy

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