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Ballasting Tips

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There is no absolute right nor wrong way to ballast and hundreds of brilliant youtube tutorials. Just thought I'd share my experiences in photos.

Javis fine granite looks well with code 75 or code 100 track (00 gauge). This little spreader is handy for straight sections other wise spoon it on dry and use a brush to spread


Use a spoon or screwdriver handle to tap the top of the rails and cause the ballast to move off the sleeper ties and in between them. The percussion helps the ballast settle between the ties and not on top of the sleepers. Less tidying up later after gluing. In photo below an strip of balsa wood wrapped in grease proof paper is used to form an edge where a station platform will go (ie to stop ballast shoulder spreading sideways).


If you end up with too much dry ballast material it can be reduced with a degree of precision using a vacuum cleaner with a stocking to collect the surplus ballast for later reuse.


Mist spray the dry ballast with water (inc a few drops of either IPA or fairy liquid). Ensure a gentle mist so the spray doesn't blow the ballast around. By pre-wetting the ballast material when you later add the PVA/water glue mix it will flow and be absorbed into every crevice of the ballast.


Then apply PVA glue 50% diluted with water, also add a few drops of IPA to aid flow. Use an eye dropper or puppet spread it liberally down the centre of the track and at each side of the track (ie ballast shoulder). It should spread thinly right through. 


Before applying glue judicious wet all the ballast material using a mist bottle sprayer (water plus a little IPA or few drops of fairy liquid). Don't worry about the mess, the PVA glue dries clear and can easily be wiped off the top of the rails.


When doing points much more time is needed to get ballast in between the sleepers without risk of fouling or gluing the points moving parts or tie bar. But with practice you'll get quicker. These self adhesive  point motor hole covers are ballast coloured to if ballast is too thin around the tie bar it won't be too visible. Because these are electrofrog points wired as recommended the point blades are not used for electrical conductivity so don't worry about a bit of glue or later paint weathering getting in there. With Insulfrog points you would need to keep the point blades 100% spotless and free from both glue and pain or the rails won't conduct when switched. Another advantage of electrofrog points. Also visible in photo below is a Kadee under track uncoupling magnet. This one magnet will be sufficient for the entire yard and facilitate delayed uncoupling too. Avoid ballast and glue getting between the point blades.


TIP: Do not have the point motors installed under the baseboard at this stage (avoid PVA mix dribbling down the point motor hole and fouling the point motor internals). Its not rocket science to keep the tie bar free from PVA glue and keep ballast getting between the point blades. The first point you ballast will take and age but you'll get pretty quick after that. TIP: Keep moving the point to sure no stray ballast got under the tie bar nor between the blades, also helps to move it a few times for the first few hours the glue is drying. Next morning its easy with a small headed screw driver or tweezers to remove the od bit of stray ballast glued to the inside of a rail.


Allow 24hrs minimum for PVA mix to harden, I normally allow TWO days for ballast to dry before track cleaning or weathering. Once fully dry Test all points move freely and that there is no stray ballast at points (eg inside check rails, point blades, etc). Then mask point blades and airbrush weathering colour (usually sleeper grim over the ballasted track and especially the sides of the rails. Sleeper grim will dull the shine toy track just enough and look like real world rust rather than some of the excessively red colours rust materials. Note tie bar is free in photo below.


Weather the track and ballast material with an airbrush. Its quiet quick, one pass each side plus one pass over the centre of the track and a pass along the side of each rail. IMHO sleeper grime ends up looking more like real world rusty track than some of the overly red rust materials on sale.


I mask just the point blades when air brushing weathering colours over the track work.


Postits are useful for marking spots were ballasting may need some touching up or more weathering needed.

Unballasted track can look a little raw and train set like before ballasting


But Ballasting makes a world of a difference to how track can look and help cheat that 5ft3in gauge look.



  1. TEST ALL TRACK WIRING IS 100% ok before ballasting (now its easy to fix later much more difficult)
  3. Apply the ballast material dry - use 1/2" brush or ballast spreader 
  4. Use spoon to tap rails and bounce most surplus ballast off the tops of sleepers
  5. Wet the ballast material with water mist spray before glue (this helps PVA penetrate right through to baseboard or track bed material such as closed cell foam or cork).
  6. Apply PVA glue mix 50% diluted with water plus few drops of IPA or Fairy liquid. Apply judiciously and don't worry about the mess now. Use an eye dropper or pippet to apply the glue/water mix. 
  7. Be very careful not to glue moving parts of points nor point motors (suggest remove during ballasting)
  8. One ballast has been wetted with PVA glue DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TOUCH IT or try to move it. Do that later when its dried (ie remove or add ballast)
  9. Recommend allowing TWO DAYS for ballast to dry before touching up, or track weathering, or tidying up stray ballast on top of sleepers or glued to the inside of rails.
  10. The PVA ballast mix will effectively glue the track to the base board or track bed material

Personally I use a double layer of closed cell foam track bed, one layer to cover entire baseboard, the other layer as track bed. This is vital to ensure PVA never comes into contact with ply baseboard material creating a sound bridge and noising baseboard guitar effect when trains are running. PVA cork track beds are notoriously noisy as once the PVA/Ballast shoulder has hardened the edges contact the base board and transmit running noise and amplify it across entire base board. Closed cell foam doesn't alow PVA to permeate through to track bed and the second later ensures even the edges cannot contact the base board (eg like hard as rock cork bed).

It can look a scary mess mid process but it ends well in the end and tidy

Have fun.


Edited by Noel
Type - Lexdysia
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Excellent tutorial Noel.

A few quick questions, (from a rookie) - (1) Is Javis fine granite your preferred ballast ? - I think I spotted a Woodland Scenics bottle in the background, who obvious produce a wide range of ballast material. (2) If not planning to heavily weather the ballast, would you recommend an alternative ballast variety ? (3) Is the cork track bed really that bad for noise transmission ? - it appears to be widely used amongst modellers.

Thank you,


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51 minutes ago, Rush and Lusk said:

Excellent tutorial Noel.

A few quick questions, (from a rookie) - (1) Is Javis fine granite your preferred ballast ? - I think I spotted a Woodland Scenics bottle in the background, who obvious produce a wide range of ballast material. (2) If not planning to heavily weather the ballast, would you recommend an alternative ballast variety ? (3) Is the cork track bed really that bad for noise transmission ? - it appears to be widely used amongst modellers.

Thank you,


Cheers George

1) Its just the colour that I thought suited this layout (grey and darkish) and I had done a number of test strips with it for display cases over the years. I store it in woodland scenics container because its easier to dispense and better than the leaking perishable plastic bags it comes in. It is actual granite. I've used woodland scenics on other layouts and was happy with it. 

2) I only lightly weather the ballast, the woodland scenics fine grey is nice, less dust. Too much sleeper grime and the grey would be lost. Some folks weather the track separately before ballasting.

3) Cork has been the universal track bed for generations. It was a bit of a myth that it acts as a sound insulator, its porous so the PVA mix goes right through it making it rigid, and particularly at the ballast shoulder edges. A pal in WMRC introduced me to 3mm closed cell foam some years ago and I did a few experiments with it. It was not pourous, but the PVA ran to the edges (ie ballast shoulder) creating a sound bridge direct to the base board, so I use an extra under layer of 3mm closed cell foam covering the whole baseboard so that nothing on the surface is in direct contact with the wooden part of the modular baseboards. This ensures 6mm of foam between all track and the baseboard with no PVA edges. Its easy to cut to shape, and inexpensive. It may seem a bit OTT, but some layout baseboards can be sound amplifiers with a guitar effect, especially plywood.


Double layer of 3mm closed cell dense foam 




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PS: After TIP. After cleaning track post ballasting and weathering I did the usual speed step 1 running test along the track work over all points to check electrical continuity and cleaness of track, But there as one section of track were an MM 141 kept stalling only at speed step 1, or a slight judder. I spent two evenings trying to find the cause, the track top was spottless, no apparent lumps of ballast stuck to the rails, but no luck. It wasn't until I had natural day light that I discovered wearing an optimiser that there was one tiny tiny piece of granite nudging a wheel flange enough to interrupt perfect electrical continuity. After all the work and wiring to have perfect electrofrog point I wasn't having that. A scalpel removed it an perfect speed step 1 running was achieved. But it bugged the hell out of me until I eliminated it.

Running a wagon along the track after ballasting was usually good enough to allow ones hand feel if there were any grit affecting rail contact or flange contact, but missed this tiny bit of grit.

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