There are lots of tools and techniques to distribute ballast. From gently scattering the tiny grey pebbles with a spoon or fingers to containers that promise to do the work for you, I’ve tried many over the years with differing results (I cover the best of these in the free MRE guide to ballasting).
The manual techniques tend to end up spreading the stuff all over the place and can be quite wasteful.
I’ve also bought more than a few of the cheap spreaders doing the rounds. But many of these don’t seem designed for the track size, despite the packaging and advertising saying it’s for N or OO gauge track, and several also seem to break very easily.
The best tool I’ve found for getting the ballast it’s wanted so far is the Proses model.
Like others, it’s a simple plastic box into which you the ballast at the top and it pours out the bottom. A divider runs diagonally from top to bottom focusing the ballast flow to a slit at the bottom and through which the ballast falls.
This slot is the correct width for N or OO/HO gauge track (it’s available in different sizes) so the ballast drops down the centre of the track and on either side of the rails, even creating the raised shoulder just as is seen on real railways.
How to use the Proses ballast spreader
Simply place the spreader on the track, fill the container with your chosen ballast and pull it along the rails. The amount of ballast is determined by the speed at which you pull it along, a few trial attempts on a spare bit of track figured this out.
With the ballast applied, it’s then just a case of running your finger over the ballast to clear the sleepers off (tapping the rails with a spoon also dislodging any rogue bits). And that’s it. There’s not a lot else to say. Glue (watered-down PVA etc) is applied with a syringe.
Here’s a video showing it in action:
I’ve been using these for over a year now and I’ve yet to find a major flaw with it. It’s yet to fall apart, as has happened with at least one other model I’ve had, and once you’ve figured out the appropriate speed to pull it along depositing the ballast neatly down the middle and either side of the rails.
The only advice I’d give is to work from the end of the track instead of the other way. This saves you from getting to the of the track before you’ve used up all the ballast in the container which falls out onto the track as you lift it off.
It may seem a bit expensive for what is essentially a small plastic box but time and wasted ballast saved compared to other models and techniques more than makes up for the £15 or so it costs.
> 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.
Full disclosure: The reviews I share here come from hands-on experience establised over many decades of making and building models and model railways. I personally test each product, often for weeks or months, before writing about it. For this review, I purchased the product myself at the regular price, and the seller had no idea it would end up featured here. No special treatment or behind-the-scenes deals – just honest feedback on my experiences of using this product.
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.