ballasting questions

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Just reading along with this thread, as I am nowhere near the ballasting stage, but I have an extreme noob question about glueing the ballast. Delute the glue, but then you spray it over the spread out ballast using your air brush?

Or is the process more or less using an old glue type bottle?
The idea is to adhere the ballast grains in place to prevent the tracks there from changing geometry, but also to keep the grains from migrating off the rails due to the passage overhead of rolling stock. The rails will vibrate, even in that scale, and over time the nice groomed ballast will look a mess. So, you need much more than an air brush can deliver unless you're prepared to spend hours doing this....hours upon hours. Hence, you groom the bllast, dribble 70% drug store strength isopropyl alcohol into it until you know it's penetrated mostly (some say to let it run out the bottom of the ballast. It's not going to do you or your wallet any good there.) and when it is done, you then dribble a solution of diluted white or yellow glue to which a couple of drops of liquid dish detergent have been added. Again, you only need to soak the top 1/4" or so to form a hard shell, thus encapsulating the looser grains under it. You can harden the entire depth, but I have found it to be unnecessary.

Work on about three feet of the groomed ballast at a time. Wet it, then glue it, wipe the rail tops very carefully so as not to disturb the ballast grains, and then move on to another three feet of ballast. Doing to much track at a time runs the risk of hardened glue left atop the rails where it will interfere with electrical contact.


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ScottoT - I spray the ballast with an isopropyl alcohol/water mixture (50:50) and then dribble the glue/water mixture on it. As long as you are careful, it (the glue) never gets on the rails. If so, wipe it off right away. I wipe the rails anyway after I finish a section, as the overspray from the alcohol/water assists in cleaning the trackwork.

Edit - Looks like Crandell gave more or less the same response while I was typing.
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I use a slightly different method, but the principle is the same.

I skip the wetting-with-alcohol step. Instead, I dilute white glue or matte medium (Modge Podge) with alcohol. Then I dribble the alcohol-diluted adhesive onto the groomed ballast until the ballast is thoroughly saturated. The alcohol-diluted adhesive is self-wetting, so the separate step of first wetting the ballast with alcohol is not necessary.

  1. I use actual rock ballast (from Arizona Rock & Mineral), not the crushed walnut shell ballast such as Woodland Scenics.
  2. I dribble the alcohol-diluted adhesive onto the ballast with an eye dropper.
  3. I'm working in N-scale, which may or may not make a difference.

This one-step method has worked well for me on my small N-scale layout.

- Jeff
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Jeff - Interesting approach. I may try that method on the next section that I ballast. I do use the Woodland Scenics walnut shell and I wonder whether or not it might "float".
you only need to soak the top 1/4" or so
Crandell - what scale are you in that your ballast is a 1/4" deep?

I also use Jeff's method, diluting with alcohol rather than water, but I use a drip bottle, think diner style ketchup bottle, as an applicator. Its just easier for me than repeatedly refilling a pipette or eye dropper. I drip between the rails first, then each of the sides. I use a couple of different brands of ballast, one I know is real rock (Scenery West) and I don't know the composition of the other, nor do I remember the brand -- it went from the bag it came in into a Zip Lock plastic storage container, but I've never had a problem with the solution moving the ballast. Just make sure the glue solution drips onto the ballast.


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Kevin, my scale is HO. The ballast between the ties is shallow, perhaps 1/8", but the ballast outside the tie ends can be considerably deeper. It depends on its angle of repose locally. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to