Saturday, March 26, 2011

Experiments with Static Grass

For a long, long time, the scenery on my Marbelup Valley Railway has been very barren, partly because I was unsure as to how to represent a WA "summer" look.

Like many, I guess, I have been tempted by the static grass applicators such as the Noch Grassmaster but deterred by the high price. After some research, I found a UK company which makes a product similar to the Grassmaster and also a more basic "economy" version called Grasstech.  I did an online order for the Grasstech "Original" which turns out to be based on an electronic fly swat with a tea strainer in place of the fly swat.  There are lots of DIY articles on the Internet based on the same concept but this one was ready to go and not too expensive.

I already had a bag of Heki static grass which was a yellow-green and about 6 mm long, so I also ordered some other colours in a shorter length from Modellers Warehouse in Qld while waiting for the applicator to arrive.  They have quite a range made by Polak in the Czech Republic.

Here is a photo of my first attempt at creating a fenced paddock using the 6 mm Heki grass and Polak 2 mm grass for the more "wild" areas.
The grass tufts, e.g. near the tree in the foreground, were glued on after the static grass and are by Silflor - see previous blog. Since I took these photos, I have added more tufts to give a "3D" looked to the grassed areas outside the passock. I also added some more grass to the hillside below the bogie timber wagon as the bare "earth" patches looked unnatural.

As well as the Heki grass for the "paddock", I generally used Polak 8209 2 mm "ochre straw" grass on the higher parts of the embankments, and a mixture of 8209 and 8208 2 mm "green-yellow" on the lower parts near the track.  I will have to get some more S scale sheep to populate the paddock now.

Here are a couple of newer photos showing further progress:

The basic technique, which I am still refining, starts with applying diluted PVA glue to the ground surface.  I applied the glue from a small plastic squeeze bottle and spread it with my finger for the initial tests.  Then I progressed to using a 12 mm flat paintbrush to spread the glue. I just have to remember to wash the brush out after each session.

Once an area has been glued, I have been doing a max. of about 150 x 150 mm at a time, the earth wire from the static applicator should be clipped onto a pin or small nail which is inserted into the glued area.  Then it is simply a matter of putting a pinch or two of the desired colours into the applicator and shaking it over the area while holding the press-button on the side to generate the static voltage. If an area of glue is not connected to the main glue zone, then the isolated patch should be done separately with the earth wire inserted into it.

Initially, I was a little disappointed that the the grass strands were not fully vertical, but I quite like the overall effect.  Maybe the more expensive applicators are better in this regard, but I have never seen one in action.

It has proven to fairly easy to blend different shades of grass and it is also easy to rework an area to vary the colour slightly or to add more grass if needed.  Over a few days, I have done an area 400 mm wide by about 2 metre long.  I am certainly getting quicker as I get more practice.  So far, I have used one 25g pack of the Polak 8209 grass ($7.95), and smaller quantities of other colours.  

I plan to add more trees and bushes, etc. later but I will concentrate on getting some basic colour into the layout initially.

Because of the various electronic devices on my layout, including DCC and signalling systems, I took some precautions to minimise the risk of damage from the static applicator.  I moved trains some distance away from the area I was working on, and fitted alligator clip leads across the rails either side of the work zone to prevent any damage to the train detector circuits which connected to each track section.

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