Monday, November 28, 2011

Building the beach

I hummed-and-hawed a long time before getting started on the beachfront scene. I was very hesitant about cutting into the Styrofoam until one evening I simply picked up my saw and started hacking away. Although it turns out I cut a little too deep, it was easily fixed up. If you’ve got a similar task ahead of you, don’t hesitate, just get started, it’s better to make a start and deal with what happens than to wait for a magic moment when you think you can do it perfectly.

[I cut the styrofoam out in small chunks]

The beachfront shapes are formed through a trial-and-error approach of gluing small Styrofoam pieces into areas that need building up, grinding down the foam to approximate shapes with my Dremel tool, layering in wood filler and poly-fila, grinding that to shape once dry, and repeating the filling and grinding process – with a bit of sanding near the end - until the resulting shapes are to your liking.

[Here it is after all the rough cutting is finished]

[Beginning to shape the terrain with foam blocks and filler]

On the cleanliness side, I draped a plastic drop-cloth over the layout to prevent the dust and particles from messing up the other areas. I also wore a breathing mask during the grinding and sanding operations. And don’t be dumb like me and wear corduroy

[In the midst of shaping]

As I mentioned, I used tubes of wood filler and poly-fila for the shaping media. Turns out I had some partially used tubes in the workshop left over from some other projects, so I decided to use them up on this project instead of letting them go to waste. It’s sort of an expensive way to shape the terrain since new tubes from the store aren’t cheap. If you’re starting completely from scratch, I’d probably use some sort of powdered plaster mix to keep costs low if you have a lot of terrain building to do. However, if you just have a small amount as I did with this beachfront, although buying filler in tubes isn’t very cost effective, the ready-made stuff doesn’t require mixing, and the squeeze tube makes it easy to apply – can’t beat the convenience. I should also note that before applying any of this stuff to the layout, I slathered a bit on some foam scraps and let it dry to make sure it bonded solidly to the foam and didn’t eat away at it or show any other adverse chemical reactions.

In the centre section I glopped on the poly-fila a little too thick. This causes a mesh of cracks – not deep ones though – to form on the surface as it sets up and hardens. This wasn’t a big problem because my plan was to surface the shapes with sand and the cracks would be concealed in the process. Also, it takes much longer for the poly-fila, or any filler for that matter, to harden when it’s put on too thick. To help you determine if it’s hard enough for the next stages of work, you need to both press it periodically to determine its hardness, and also ascertain if it’s cool to the touch. If it is, that means it’s still setting up and not ready. If it’s at room temperature it’s ok. I had to leave the thickest portions for 4 or 5 days (!) until I was satisfied it was ready, but I was probably being too cautious. So, if I had to do this again I’d be more patient and build the terrain up in relatively thin layers.

[This is the sand after sieving]

The terrain that will make up the sandy beach is painted with Tamiya Flat Earth, and areas that are to be covered with water are simply painted black.

[This is what got removed from the sand!]

To prepare for pouring the water, I had to add a fascia to the front of the scene in order to hold the water material in. This was made from pieces of 0.020 inch styrene glued to the layout’s Styrofoam substrate. It was also painted black.

The sand I used was some I collected at a beach last summer. After letting it dry out, it has to be sieved to remove over size debris. I bought a cheap kitchen sieve for this job – take it from me, in order to maintain harmony in the house, don’t use one from your kitchen I’m always surprised by how much stuff gets separated out during the sieving process. The sieved sand isn’t strictly HO scale, but it has a passable look.

[After shaping and painting, but before applying the sand]

Bonding the sand to the terrain was a two step process. The first part simply involved painting the terrain with a thin, even coat of white glue and pouring the sieved sand onto it. Don’t worry about getting the sand shaped properly. Just make sure that everything is covered. When it’s all in place, tamp it down lightly with your fingers. That’s it. Let it dry for a day.

The next day I came back and used an old paint brush to sweep the excess sand into the ocean area and then scoop it into my stock bag so as not to let much of it go to waste. Once I’d scooped up as much as I could, I vacuumed up all the remaining loose sand from the terrain, ocean bed, and anywhere else it had gotten into. It didn’t look too bad after step 1. And, actually, you could stop here if you want to, but the next step adds some tones and helps seal the surface.

[Applying the first sand covering]

The second step is basically just sprinkling some loose sand, along with a little ground dark green scenic foam, and gluing it in place with some thinned white glue. The glue mixture is just a 50 / 50 mix of white glue and water with a few drops of 70% isopropyl alcohol (IPA) added. The IPA is used to partially reduce the surface tension of the water in order to help make it flow better. Without the IPA, when you drop the glue / water mix on the terrain it will clump up into balls and may or may not eventually soak into the terrain. So, lightly sprinkle the beach with sand and ground foam to get the look you’re after, use an eye-dropper to carefully wet a section of the surface with some IPA straight from the bottle (this further helps the water / glue mix soak deep into the scenic material by breaking down the surface tension of the water), and then, using another eye-dropper, apply the water/glue mix. Don’t worry if you get a few little white puddles here and there –it’ll eventually soak into the terrain. If you get big puddles, I normally use a little bit of paper towel soak up the excess. Don’t scrub the surface with the paper towel, just gently touch the surface with it and let its absorbency do the work for you – this way you minimize disturbances to the surface material. Work your way across the beach until all the loose material is glued down. I normally leave it for a day to dry, but you may find it dried after just a few hours depending on the local humidity.

[The first sand application is drying]

Well, that’s it for beach building. I’m moving on to pouring the ocean, but for now, I’m going to take a toast break:

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