Static grass, aka flocking, transforms a layout, model landscape or wargame scene 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 model for ease of use, effectiveness, price and gives you the best-looking scenery?
When applied right, the tiny threads stand upright giving an unrivalled just-like-real grass and small plant effect. It’s soooo much better than the low-grade sawdust variety scatter materials that previous generations had to work with.
Update: The link to my recommended static grass applicator below has been changed a later version. This is a different colour to that in the photo and now includes a negative ion charge generator for even better application, otherwise, the product remains the same.
But getting your static grass to look good, and laying it isn’t as simple as just sprinkling it over an area of the landscape (I’ve included some tips to help at the end of this article).
Before getting into the reviews of the various applicators, it’s worth clarifying exactly what static grass is.
Static grass is a basing material used in model railways and increasingly miniature wargaming to create realistic looking grass. It was first introduced into the model community in the 1970s by Boyd Models and applicators from by Noch. Essentially, statoic grass, flock, are man-man fibre stands (typically nylon or polyester) that when charged with static electricity and sprinkled over a surface coated with glue stand upright giving a credible imitation of real grass but at much smaller scale.
The fibres are available in a variety of colours and lengths – from 1mm to 12mm – to simulate different types and seasons of grass and look appropriate for different scales and can be used to create everything from lush lawns to meadows to crop fields and grassy tufts.
The key to getting the grass to stand up is to apply a static charge across the grass as it lands on the glue covered surface, so making the fibres stand upright and for this manufacturers and an army of DIY model makers have devised a variety of static grass applicators.
The first type of applicator many modellers try is the puffer variety. Essentially, these are 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 small area quickly.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that to get the flock and fibres to stand erect a static charge needs applying and puffers don’t rarely deliver this.
Some static is generated naturally but the results don’t give result you’ll be happy wtih and it’s often a case that the fibres laying flat rather than sticking up and needing more work.
The problem is discussed in more detail here.
I’ve now given up on these and 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”.
So they sound simple, and they are, but the prices vary considerable. DIY models start from under £10, increasing to £20 to £30 for the enthusiast made variety and climbing to £50 to £150 for premium grade static gtass applicators and even hundreds of pounds for flocking machines aimed at orher uses – such as car interiors and furniture finishes.
We’ll get to which is the overall best of these in a minute but first lets take a look at how to make your own and then the various ready made models.
As said already, the concept of very simple and there are videos — like the one the below — that show how to make and build a static grass applicator from a fly zapper and tea-strainer or sieve and some tools (soldering iron etc) for the thirfty.
These are based on nothing more complicated than an electronic fly squat and tea-strainer. The ground wire inside the insect killing device goes to a clip that is attached to a nail near where you want the static grass applied and the other wires go to the metal of the tea strainer.
While these are DIY applicators 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 electrical 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. It’s hard to find a tea-strainer that has the right mesh size for the main lengths of static grass.
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.
As an aside, trust me when I say you never want to accidentally open a bag of static grass over a carpet! I’m still finding fibres from a mishap last year 🙂
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 expect to spend a lot of time refilling.
Lastly, and what I’ve found most problematic, it can be difficult to get tea strainers with the right mesh size to match the length of fibre being used. Too fine and longer strands of fibre don’t fall through before the glue sets. Too large and too many fibres fall through at once.
When these worked they’re great but too much static grass escaped and didn’t fall right bit still landed in the wet PVA with results similar to the puffer and needed multiple further layers to cover up flat-lying earlier attempts.
Then there are premium grade applicators, like the WWS range of Pro Grass applicators (such as the Grand model) that address these problems but it’s expensive. Understandably given their quality but expensive nonetheless. I have one and the results it produces are superb. The detachable detachable heads of the Grand unit allow it work with a wide range of different lengths of static grass, from the shortest 1mm to long 12mm, and a larger hopper for holding grass as you apply it make it very attractive for large layouts.
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 it doesn’t take gold here..
Instead, and after a lot of testing for the price, convenience, and ease of use and great results, 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 when covering large areas.
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 wasted.
Finally, at around £16 to £23 it is very affordable and certainly not expensive. The only downside is that it doesn’t have the exchangeable heads of the WWS Scenics model although I’ve used it successfully with 2mm to 6mm lengths.
As such, in my mind, it’s the best around static grass applicator and what I now use to achieve my best grass effects. Here’s a video of it in action:
Get it from eBay here.
This has become a longer article than I intended so I’ll finish it now but before I go here are those tips I promised.
- 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 (or 2mm and 1mm) works well on my N scale layouts. Obviously for larger scales, OO and HO scale, for example, longer lengths (2mm, 4mm and maybe 6mm and above) would be used. For wargaming and miniature figures in the 28mm to 32mm range, I’d suggest 6mm and up.
- Prepare the baseboard 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. Read my post on painting baseboards for more information.
- Place the ground clip of the applicator as near to the area being grassed as possible, ideally near the base under the applicator and move it as you move the applicator.
- Static grass can be a real pain if it gets into points and track, so mask-off track when 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.
- For added realism, apply multiple coats of static grass; using hair spray as the glue and different lengths for subsequent layers.
If you want more tips on laying static grass see this post: master class on static grass.
To get the above-mentioned applicator, just click here.
Thanks for reading!
Picture credit: The Melin Llechi layout by scenic expert Tony Hill at the Epson and Ewell model railway exhibition, 2017.
> 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.
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