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Noel

Track bed + ballast experiments

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Track bed + ballast experiments

 

In advance of the final track laying on our layout I have decided to conduct some track bed and track ballast experiments. I also have considered replacing our existing track ballast which is currently peco form underlay, or alternatively augmenting it with some form of granular ballast material.

 

Four experiments

  1. Javis extra fine granite chippings ballast direct to ply baseboard
  2. Augment peco foam underlay with Heki 3172 medium ballast sandstone/beige
  3. Heki 3070 medium grey ballast on 5mm woodland scenics dense foam track bed strips
  4. Javis extra fine granite chippings ballast on 5mm javis cork track bed strips

 

First up I cut four wooden display boards which after the experiments are finished I will convert to display cases for stock. Then laid and glued various track bed materials, and pinned track to the boards through the track bed ready for ballasting. Then ballasted using the usual 50/50% water/PVA mix with a few drops of fairy liquid.

 

Javis 5mm cork trackbed is pre-cut down the middle with sloped shelf. Also makes it easy to bend trackbed around bends. Glued with PVA to baseboard.

IMG_0937.jpg

 

The colour of the cork is an advantage because any thin area of ballasting is less obvious afterwards

IMG_0941.jpg

 

Woodland scenics dense black foam 5mm track bed. Also pre-perforated down the middle for ease of bending on curves. Glued to baseboard with PVA

IMG_0940.jpg

 

Finally twin track on Peco foam underlay which will be augmented with supplementary ballast. I have a lot of this already laid on the layout for past 20 years and it has not perished, so I want to see if it is possible to augment with some ballast material. The underlay was lightly glued with PVA to base board.

IMG_0943.jpg

 

Four samples on respective track beds BEFORE ballasting

IMG_0967.jpg

 

No 1 - First up Javis extra fine granite direct to baseboard, spread dry by hand and gentle paint brush. Then spray with water so the PVA will absorb and penetrate the ballast all the way to the base board.

IMG_0971.jpg

 

Medical dropper lid was great for putting 50/50% PVA mix on the ballast

IMG_0984.jpg

 

PVA applied and waiting to dry, rails wiped clean with fingers and kitchen paper.

IMG_0972.jpg

 

No 2 - Next was augmenting existing Peco foam underlay track bed with medium Heki ballast in a colour that would be compatible with the Peco foam. First I spread the ballast material filling the gaps between the twin tracks and the outside shoulders of the foam underlay and sprayed with water (using fine spray bottle so not to disturb the ballast)

IMG_0991.jpg

 

Then use the eye dropper bottle to deploy the 50/50% PVA mix. As I worked on this I realised that fine grade of ballast would have been better.

IMG_0992.jpg

 

No 3 - Next was woodland scenics 5mm preformed track bed strips with Heki 3072 medium sandstone/beige ballast

IMG_0994.jpg

 

The steepness of the 5mm woodland scenics track bed meant that a lot of ballast was needed to cover the shoulders, or alternatively paint 100% PVA to the shoulders before dropping ballast onto it. I felt the medium was a little coarse and fine grain would have been better. Also I didn’t like the three colours in the mix (i.e. with some white and black mixed in).

IMG_0996.jpg

 

No 4 - Finally Javis 5mm preformed cork track bed strips ballasted with Javis extra fine granite chipping. Apply the granite dry, shape and spread with fingers and brush, removing surplus, then spray water in prep for PVA absorption, then apply PVA using eye dropper on all of the ballast.

IMG_0999.jpg

 

PVA applied waiting for it to dry for 24hrs. As this piece was done a few hours after the rest I think the PVA/water mix had started to dry and separate so the PVA did not dry 100% transparent like the other samples. I should have stirred the mix between coats.

IMG_1005.jpg

 

The results almost dry before weathering with spray paint. I will also put some static grass on the edges for the display cases later.

IMG_1012.jpg

 

BTW, all track was pinned instead of glued to track bed before ballasting.

 

Some stock on top of no 4 (cork track bed with fine granite chippings)

IMG_1016.jpg

 

Conclusions - what I learned

  • Need very soft 10mm paint brush or ladies blusher brush to spread ballast, if the brush is too hard it flicks the ballast material up on top of sleepers instead of between
  • Don’t like 5mm track beds with high shoulders - too high
  • Black dense foam exposed gaps in ballast cover (i.e. due black)
  • Like cork but only if I can get 3mm, the 5mm is too high for my taste
  • Don’t like medium ballast - too course - looks off
  • Like fine granite ballast and its dust covers sleepers nicely for weathered look
  • Do not wet ply baseboard unless 100% sealed or it will warp during the drying process
  • My existing Peco foam underlay may possibly be retainable if my next experiments with fine ballast work better than no 2.

 

I will have a better idea what the final end results are when I’ve got a chance to gently weather the track and ballast with spray paint.

 

Sound

Strangely and rather bizarrely the cork was significantly quieter than the woodland scenics dense foam. Direct to baseboard was obviously the loudest but looked the best without the huge trackbed shoulder. The quietest by a wide margin was the Peco foam underlay which was augmented by Heki medium ballast, despite the amount of PVA applied.

 

Next experiments

No 5 - will be 3mm cork with a fine bright beigh/sandstone colour

No 6 - will be 3mm dense foam with a fine bright beigh/sandstone colour

No 7 - will be Peco foam underlay augmented with fine beigh/sandstone colour ballast

 

I anticipate that no 7 may be a good enough compromise for our existing track work, which will save a massive amount of time, and that no 5 will suffice for the remaining track to be laid on the lowest level for the branch line using code 75 rail.

 

Last Word

Direct to baseboard was by far my favourite in appearance, perhaps with a lighter colour next time, but the sound is deafening so regrettably I will pass on that one.

 

Good night for now. More to follow in due course as experiments continue. :)

Edited by Noel

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Noel, brilliant stuff, for a novice like me its great to see how stuff is done. Hope to see more photos soon

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Noel, interesting results. I used the 3mm cork which I bought off eBay in 2m roll x 500mm wide. The fine ballast looks superior and I'm returning to this thread when its time for me to ballast my own track, thanks.

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Noel, the fine ballast does look very good. I bought cork flooring expansion strips for our club layout from Charles Cantrill,good website and do mail order, very fast!! 7mm thick but they offer a custom service. Might be worth checking out. Also they do offer model railway products. I did find your posts interesting.

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Good work Noel. Something that works very well for me is mixing some Isopropyl Alcohol (often referred to as Rubbing Alcohol) into your water mister. You only need a small amount, 5% maybe, or a capful in my language. This acts as an emulsifier as far as I know and the glue gets absorbed into the ballast much quicker and more evenly. You can pick this up in a chemists easily enough, I think its about €10 for a litre. If you've ever come across Al Mayo on Youtube, he give an interesting how-to, if you don't mind the heavy rap music in the background!

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Noel, interesting results. I used the 3mm cork which I bought off eBay in 2m roll x 500mm wide. The fine ballast looks superior and I'm returning to this thread when its time for me to ballast my own track, thanks.

 

Hi Tony. It's 35 years since I have ballasted track, and the method I used then was quite different (ie. direct to baseboard, emulsion paint, pin track on wet paint, then sieve ballast material over track, wait to dry, then vacuum up surplus). With N gauge you may prefer an extra fine ballast. It seems N gauge ballast looks great with 00 gauge track

 

Noel, the fine ballast does look very good. I bought cork flooring expansion strips for our club layout from Charles Cantrill,good website and do mail order, very fast!! 7mm thick but they offer a custom service. Might be worth checking out. Also they do offer model railway products. I did find your posts interesting.

 

Thanks Mike, will check out his site for 3mm cork.

 

Good work Noel. Something that works very well for me is mixing some Isopropyl Alcohol (often referred to as Rubbing Alcohol) into your water mister. You only need a small amount, 5% maybe, or a capful in my language. This acts as an emulsifier as far as I know and the glue gets absorbed into the ballast much quicker and more evenly. You can pick this up in a chemists easily enough, I think its about €10 for a litre. If you've ever come across Al Mayo on Youtube, he give an interesting how-to, if you don't mind the heavy rap music in the background!

 

Cheers Dave. Enjoyed his video, he's entertaining yet concise and informative unlike many boring long winded youtube videos 'look what I made mom' that yap on for ages off the core subject matter. If I can get a bit of Isopropyl Alcohol in the local chemist I might try that with the next experiments. Is it compatible interaction wise with the 'fairy liquid' in the 50/50% PVA/water mix?

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"Is it compatible interaction wise with the 'fairy liquid' in the 50/50% PVA/water mix?"

 

When I read this first I didn't pick up that you had some washing up liquid in your mix. I think they are doing the same job basically, so I would use one or the other.

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Hi Tony. It's 35 years since I have ballasted track, and the method I used then was quite different (ie. direct to baseboard, emulsion paint, pin track on wet paint, then sieve ballast material over track, wait to dry, then vacuum up surplus). With N gauge you may prefer an extra fine ballast. It seems N gauge ballast looks great with 00 gauge track

 

 

 

Thanks Mike, will check out his site for 3mm cork.

 

 

 

Cheers Dave. Enjoyed his video, he's entertaining yet concise and informative unlike many boring long winded youtube videos 'look what I made mom' that yap on for ages off the core subject matter. If I can get a bit of Isopropyl Alcohol in the local chemist I might try that with the next experiments. Is it compatible interaction wise with the 'fairy liquid' in the 50/50% PVA/water mix?

 

 

IPA widely available from electronic parts supplies , RS , Farnell etc ( farnell have no delivery charges ) . I have loads so if you want a small amount , Il bring some to you next time we meet - great video

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Thanks Noel great demo and advice. My track is an absolute disaster area and my ballasting skills are very poor. I find it a challenge to try get the track level and the curves so that they don't derail a train, I'm not able to cut track neatly and I have old hornby stuff and running on budget. A 141 and 2 cravens made 3 laps of the single line last night and stayed on the road, and I thought that was an achievement! when one has overcome the challenge of laying consistent track the correct application of ballasting makes the scene so complete. There are some great examples by modellers on here and well done Noel for the tips.

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Experiment no 2 finished by weathering track with a light spray of RailMatch sleeper grime on rail sides and track. The Peco foam underlay has blending in better than I had expected and the spray made all the difference. Also after the spray the medium grade ballast doesn't look as bad as before.

 

IMG_1075.jpg

 

Both of these are virtually silent btw.

 

IMG_1076.jpg

 

Next up will be woodland scenics fine buff ballast with the Peco underlay and another with medium for comparison.

Edited by Noel

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Some pics of samples with better light

 

IMG_1089.jpg

 

IMG_1088.jpg

 

IMG_1087.jpg

 

A busy weekend ahead . . .

Edited by Noel

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Some ballast experiment samples weathered a little and with static grass

 

TrackBedBallast00.jpg

 

Javis fine granite chipping direct to baseboard

TrackBedBallast01.jpg

 

Foam underlay augmented with heki ballast

TrackBedBallast02.jpg

 

The static grass applicator cost only €15 on eBay back in 2015 and seems to be a Chinese copy of brand name products that retail in excess of €130.

Edited by Noel

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The Javis ballast looks perfect so does the grass.

Where did you get the brake van? it's beautiful. :-bd

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Excellent stuff - love the 20T brake van too!

 

Cheers JB. I'm very fond of those lovely 20T brake vans myself. Have four of them now, three RTR from IFM, and one kit from SSM in the pipeline. Will weather them in the fullness of time. :) Loose coupled 2 axle goods wagons are my nostalgia era, plenty of interesting pick up freight shunting operations.

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The Javis ballast looks perfect so does the grass.

Where did you get the brake van? it's beautiful. :-bd

 

Thanks, yes I like the Javis myself, although perhaps it is a little dark with indoor lighting for a model layout, but that's just a personal preference. I'm going to try two more samples with Woodland Scenics fine and medium buff which is quite bright, but when lightly weathered with sleeper grime may end up looking ok as a compromise. I'm a bit odd because I like scenery and rolling stock to look pleasing to the eye rather than necessarily prototypically accurate.

 

The brake van came from Irish Freight Models (IFM). Personally I'm extremely happy with it, but I don't want to get my wrist slapped again for praising them too highly despite my personal opinion. They are RTR and not inexpensive, but personally worth it to have three of these iconic brake vans on the layout because all my freight is 2 axel loose coupled stock typical of the 60s era. I like the way he has simulated felt texture on the roof.

 

Will post more pics of another few ballast samples in a day or two. Need to get my hands on a little PC vacuum cleaner, because a household one is too powerful for recovering surplus static grass (i.e. after glue has set), it can tear it off the base board if you get too close even 24hrs after PVA has set.

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Cheers JB. I'm very fond of those lovely 20T brake vans myself. Have four of them now, three RTR from IFM, and one kit from SSM in the pipeline. Will weather them in the fullness of time. :) Loose coupled 2 axle goods wagons are my nostalgia era, plenty of interesting pick up freight shunting operations.

 

Me too. There was so much variety then compared to today. The railways catered for so much more than containers and "customers" in identikit tin tubes.....

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Next two experiments.

 

No 6 - 3mm closed cell foam track bed, woodland scenics medium buff ballast, gently weathered and rail sides sprayed with RailMatch sleeper grime.

IMG_1182.jpg

 

IMG_1176.jpg

 

 

No 7 - Not happy with this (next two pics) - existing Peco form underlay augmented with Woodland scenics fine+medium buff ballast slightly weathered with railmatch sleeper grime. A bit of a mess and was difficult to keep ballast off the sleepers.

IMG_1180.jpg

 

IMG_1181.jpg

 

I was leaning towards augmenting the existing Peco foam underlay as a compromise because of its incredible sound proofing, but have decided it has to go.

 

A few more trials to do, but right now I am favouring the 3mm closed cell foam track bed as a replacement with woodland scenics medium buff ballast (which initially is too bright, but fine when weathered with sleeper grime). 3mm cork is still an option, but I have decided against both the 5mm track bed options (woodland scenics and javis cork) as they are just too high. Tried woodland scenics N-guage foam, but the closed cell foam Junctionmad has sourced (thanks btw) seems to have better sound proofing and is easier to cut with a knife, also seems to return to shape better when squashed.

 

Other decision is that I'd prefer a warm brownish colour tint for the ballast rather than modern grey, which while more authentic seems a little less attractive visually in indoor lighting.

Edited by Noel
typo

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