How to model water on your railway

How to model waves on a model railwayRivers, streams, lakes and seas are something every model railway builder wants but notoriously difficult to get right. Until now.

Here’s a simple, easy and fool proof way to create beautiful waterways and waves for your layout.

A natural looking river, lake or coastline can make a huge difference to a model railway or diorama for a model. Done well they add a realism and depth. Unfortunately, they’re rarely done right and all too often end up wrecking an otherwise perfectly made scene.

But by chance I came across this video.

It reveals in a simple manner how to create incredibly authentic looking waves and waterways.

I use wood glue and varnish for my water but I usually only model slow moving or still waters. The technique uses the same material — plus a mystery extra which I’ll Martin reveal — but can also be used to create waves and ripples.

It’s a blinding obviously technique when you think about it but is one I and others I’ve spoken to hadn’t thought considered. Watch it and let me know what you think.

There’s also this technique which creates more dramatic but equally good waves.


You can get the gel Troels Kirk uses here.

Finally, for suggestions on modelling other types of water, see this handy guide.


Products you may find useful for making model water include:

Woodland Scenics Realistic Water

Woodland Scenics Water Effects,

Vallejo Model Color 500 ml Gloss Acrylic Varnish

Deluxe Materials – Aqua Magic

Of these I had the best success with Woodland Scenics range. You can also use much cheaper PVA glue as I describe here. If this has wetted your appitite for making model water, be sure to read my round up of model scenery making tips, it’s a huge collection of my best tips.

> 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 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. Great videos, inspired me to have a go at a short section of fast moving water, used the glue and toilet paper method, turned out better than i thought!

  2. Andy, thank you so much – it’s very kind of you to respond. You are right! It has cleared now – we popped it on the heater. I’m now very excited about the next layer… thank you again!

  3. Hello, I am very stressed! I am trying to make a tiny lake. I love your site and bought the PVA glue in the link above. I poured a tiny bit and it’s still bright white 12 hours later…. will it ever go clear? I poured just a few millimetres, honestly! Thank you so much!

  4. Both these videos are very well produced, of a good and unhurried length, and well narrated by the modellers (Martin and Kirk). They describe techniques you might not have thought of and likewise their selection of materials. With either video it’s clear that plenty of patience is required when modelling water if you want it to look that good. One further comment – if instead you are using a fluid resin to create your water it will of course find it’s own level (horizontal) which might or might not be exactly what you want (how “horizontal” is your baseboard?) – whereas these videos describe techniques where obviously that isn’t a problem. Furthermore, if you are deliberately creating water which is running down from a greater height
    (eg: a fast flowing stream or waterfall) either of these two techniques described here would seem to fit the bill.

  5. What is the best way of painting rock face. I’ve been building my model railway for 9 months now and I’ve built all my tunnels and a quarry, the undercoating has been applied to all the rock faces and now I’m ready for the finishing touch but I haven’t got a clue. HELP!

    • Hi Stephen, the best way is to get photographs of rock faces you want to emulate and experiment, blending different colours and achieve the desired effect. I’d start with a dark colour wash (which will fill the cracks where there would be shadows) and apply lighter matte colours – greys, reds, yellows and browns – to match the desired rock formation colours. Finish with a light colour dry brushing to accentuate edges. Don’t forget plant growth too.

      Painting rocks and rivers is more art than skill so don’t worry if it takes a few goes to get it right (I’d practice first). Use Google image search to find pictures of rock faces, experiment and above all have fun.

  6. What an excellent tutorial video – only watched the first one so far. Informative, down to earth ( well, water) and amusing too.

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