7 Steps To Laying Scatter + Help A Fellow Modeller

laying scatterMike M. emailed in recently with what seemed like an easy question.

“I’d like your suggestions please, on putting down the scatter correctly”, he asked.

At first, this seemed a relatively straightforward question with a straightforward answer.

When laying scatter, as I’ve recently been doing for a scene on my N gauge layout (above), I stick to this tried and trusted technique:

  1. Paint a mix of PVA and water onto the baseboard
    I use a mix of 1 part water to 1 part PVA. This is a thick gloopy mix that will have an uneven finish which I find produces an uneven, realistic, ground surface once covered.
  2. Sprinkle the scatter over it this
  3. Let that set
    Give it time to dry fully, don’t rush this step!
  4. Place more scatter to over the first layer to vary size and colour.
    Using different colours and sizes of scatter will vary the look and make it look more realistic.
  5. Apply a fine spray of alcohol (or washing up liquid) and water over the new scatter to dampen it
    This helps the glue in the next step soak in without disturbing the scatter. I use IPA —as per track cleaning — covered here, mixed to a 1/100 IPA to water blend. Washing up liquid can work just as well.
  6. Use a syringe to drip a Water/PVA/IPA mix
    A ratio of 3 parts water, 1 part PVA and .5 part IPA (or washing up liquid) works best. The IPA helps break surface tension so reducing the potential for the water/glue to form ripples and bubbles on the surface of the scatter.
  7. Repeat from step 3 until you’re happy with the colour and texture

This is all fairly standard scatter laying stuff and produces a great surface for model railway layouts and dioramas. To this, I then typically finish off with bushes and static grass with this applicator for the final touche.

Mike’s question, and where your help is needed, was due to the detail he revealed elsewhere in his email.

He wants to apply the scatter to an area approx 12 x 8 foot in size.

Using the above technique is fine but on an area this size it’s going to take quite some work.

What suggestions and tips do you have to will help Mike cover an area of this size?

It’ll be interesting what innovative ideas are thrown up. Add your ideas and suggestions below as a comment and the commenter with the most creative answer will receive a free bag of scatter material.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. Why not use wallpaper glue, of the kind used for glassfibre wallpapers, cover it with an overdose of scatter, take a piece of baking paper to cover it and use a rolling pin to compact it. Scatter surplus to be removed with a vac…..;-)

  2. Hi, Andy

    I am new to model railways and would like to ask how to clean wheels of a loco .- the wheels won’t turn unless electricity is applied.
    Also what to do to assist the motor to turn the wheels – obviously clean up where possible but what with ?
    your help and advice would be welcomed

  3. Hey Andy, we had this problem last year. My son painted a large area in glue but the glue kept drying before we could cover the whole area with the scatter. Eventually, we laid the scatter on dry and then sprayed several coats of watered down PVA (so it could be sprayed) over the top of it. Scatter is still there so must have worked. Do I get a free bag of scatter now hehe.

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