Adding ballast to your model railway will make a huge difference to the authenticity of your layout. Unfortunately, it can also take a long time and if done badly play havoc with the smooth running of your trains.
But it needn’t be this way, as these tip-filled video’s reveal.
Before watching, however here’s a quick recap of recommended steps before adding the actual ballast:
1. Paint The Base Board
This helps blend the ballast with that of the underlying material and adjacent scenery. After applying a protective layer of varnish, I mix up paint to the same colour as the scatter gravel, apply this where the ballast will lay and then gradually mix it to the colour of the neighbouring surface material.
2. Secure The Track And Test The Track
Using glue to fix down your track can cause problems and interfere with the running of your trains even before you get to ballasting. Glue might get stuck to the top of the rails or you might dislodge wiring for example. Always make sure your trains run flawlessly before moving on to ballasting, Ballasting can cause enough problems by itself and you don’t want to be troubleshooting both rogue ballast on your points on top of glue and errant wiring. Fix one problem at a time so prove your track work before ballasting.
3. Protect Delicate Areas
This is touched on in the video’s below but it’s important enough to warrant mentioning first. Cover particularly delicate track areas — points, turntables and the like — with masking tape before working with ballast. They may be tiny to look at but ballast granules are just ideal for getting between rails and springs and causing chaos to your points.
4. Pick the right ballast
There are lots of different ballast modelling materials to match the size of track you model in (medium and fine, N or OO gauge for example) and even different colours to reflect different materials.
For N gauge use small/fine ballast; for OO and above, use medium and large.
For colour, ballast on modern railways is a grey stone/quartz type material but in the past, other materials have been used, even sand and ash. Use scatter material if you want one of these latter materials for ballast. This is all covered here.
Now for the videos.
#1 Jenny Kirk’s How to ballast model railway track
I really like Jenny’s approach and the results she achieves. Along with good close up video work showing the techniques, she also includes a several really good tips during the video — mixing some black ink with the PVA glue to add a dirt effect really struck a chord with me as this is an effect I’ve been looking to achieve for some time.
#2 Woodland Scenics How To Ballast
Woodland Scenics not only make a great range of scatter and ballast material, they do a great how-to video too 😊
Just as with Jenny’s video, there are some great tips in this video, using the pen to discolour the track beforehand will save a lot of time for example. The end result is wonderfully inspiring and I can’t wait until I next ballast to try adding soil colour after the main ballast application.
#3 DJ Trains How To Ballast A Siding
I’m a big fan of DJTrains on YouTube and this video on ballasting a siding is a good example of why.
DJ really knows his stuff and this video just oozes knowledge and expertise to achieving a realistic track and ballast finish. The peripheral tip about moving sleepers around is worth watching the video for alone if you’re working on your sidings.
Bonus — Ballast and Track Weathering
Just to inspire you, watch this short from Everard Junction on track and ballast weathering.
The only problem with ballasting is it’s time-consuming. After a lot of experimentation, I now use this ballasting tool for OO/HO and recommend this as the best N gauge ballasting tool which has saved my hours, probably days, inputting ballast down and can’t recommend it enough.
- Ballasting isn’t difficult but can be time-consuming.
- Get the ballasting tools mentioned above to make it easier and save time.
- There are many grades (size) of ballast available fit your gauge of track. Get small/fine ballast for N gauge; medium/large for OO (Hornby) railways.
- Damp the ballast down with water before applying the glue — a fine mist spray works best. The leave for a few minutes to allow the water to seep into the ballast before gluing.
- Mix white glue with water, a 50/50 mix, and then add a dash of washing up liquid or IPA and apply with a syringe.
Lastly, if you want to see some of the best ballasting on an award-winning layout, take a look at Mike Buick’s work above (top picture). I interviewed Mike a while back and am looking forward to trying his technique out on my next layout.
Go and try one of these techniques out now. It would be great to hear how you got on and any further tips you have via the comments below.
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