Static grass transforms a layout 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 applicator for ease of use, effectiveness and price and gives you the best-looking scenery?
Static grass from Woodland Scenics and others has revolutionised realistic ground cover on model railways. 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.
To help, 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, 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 really deliver this. Some static is generated naturally but I’m rarely happy with the results and it’s often a case of disappointing results with the fibres laying flat rather than sticking up and needing more puffs to get a result.
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.
Charged Up: How Applicators Work
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”.
The concept is 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).
While these 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 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.
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 you’ll 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.
When these worked they’re great but too much static grass escaped and didn’t fall right bit still landed in the wet PVA resulting in results similar to the puffer and needed multiple further layers get to cover up flat lying earlier attempts.
The top of the range but not the winner
Then there are premium grade applicators, like the Noch Grass Master, that address these problems but they’re expensive.
If you have the money however they are very good and the Noch model is easily the most flexible applicator here. There’s even a nozzle attachment — available extra — for applying grass in confined areas.
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 I’ve ruled it out here.
My choice: the best applicator
Instead, 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 be wasted.
Finally, at around £16 to £23 it is very affordable and certainly not expensive.
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.
Top Tips For Laying Static Grass
- 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 works well on my N scale layouts. Obviously for larger scales, OO and HO, for example, longer lengths would be used.
- 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.
- 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.
Picture credit: The Melin Llechi layout by scenic expert Tony Hill at the Epson and Ewell model railway exhibition, 2017.
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