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I am looking for a product that I can make earth grades up to 1/2" thick that is flexible and adheres to plywood. Layout will be moved on occasion. Would also like to use the product to make hills and mountains with screen backing. I bought some stuff years ago that looked like which mush, worked well. Cant remember the name of it.
 

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I like construction foam.
It's easy to shape. A bit messy though.
 

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I am looking for a product that I can make earth grades up to 1/2" thick that is flexible and adheres to plywood. Layout will be moved on occasion. Would also like to use the product to make hills and mountains with screen backing. I bought some stuff years ago that looked like which mush, worked well. Cant remember the name of it.

ennisdavis;

I'm not sure what type of product you're looking for. Do you want something that is a loose powder and looks like real dirt? Or do you want some material to make landforms that will provide the raised shape, but needs to be painted, and/or covered with scenery material, to make it look real? Plaster, Sculptamold, or Elmer's wood filler can be used over screen to make hills & mountains. The easier, and neater, way to make plaster scenery is to use plaster-impregnated paper towels. They can be laid over the screen, or other support, while still dry, and then sprayed with water. Woodland Scenics sells these "plaster cloth" towels in small rolls. they also sell scenery materials that look like dirt, and grass. However, their products tend to be quite expensive. I prefer to use finely-sifted real dirt. (see photos) For landforms I use foam board or thin Luan plywood.

Traction Fan 🙂
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I need to build up areas and blend them, like a transition between 2 levels of plywood. Plaster is too hard.
 

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First of all, anything that is going to flex that much is going to damage whatever you put on top of it. Add some stiffening to your framework.

Expandable foam will work... but I find it hard to control. Extruded foam is a good option. It's rigid, but it will flex.

I think the product you're thinking of is Sculptamold. It is a blend of plaster, shredded newsprint, and glue. It is rigid, like plaster, but quite a bit tougher than plaster, and it can be shaped when wet ( working time is about 30 minutes) and can be cut or sanded when dry. It will take more abuse than plaster without cracking, but it's not flexible.

Basically, though, you want to build up some kind of structure underneath, then put a thin layer of landscape materials on the top to make it look like it is all made of that same material.
 

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I have used layers of corrugated cardboard. Cut to simulate land contours, 2 or 3 or 4 layers up to 3/4 inch. Then cover with paint mixed with vermiculite. Here in NJ we have little elevation change.
 

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I can recommend nothing but relay some experiences so far.

- pink insulation, stacked, cut carved. Pain to cut and trim. Typical hot wire cutters are cheap and the nichrome wire breaks a lot. Easy to "overheat"... Wire gets wedged in foam. Stinks, requires ventilation. Makes a huge mess for larger shaped things. Tried just cutting and scraping took __ even bigger mess, more pain and suffering. Plus side. Readily available at home Depot and cheap. Totally workable but look into solid hot wire tools.

- aluminum mesh insect screen over objects then cover in paper, paint etc. This works but the end result can be flexible in places. Paper can be sprayed with glue ... Paper may bunch up or fold. I used tissue paper, 1 ply tp, and thick paper towel. The thin stuff is better. I also trowelled on some spackle in a place or two as I had it out. Dries and maybe this as idea Spackle, joint compound or even plaster may be suitable to cover. The biggest issue is the result remains flexible. This could be good as you can post adjust. What I did as I was making or really experimenting making undulating terrain was first to put very thin objects down over a large area...glue them. Then cover it the result with the mesh. I then glued down points to the surface. Resulting in wavyness. In one case I went back a cut it flat with some box cutters, cutting through the mesh and removing items below it, then gluing that area down flat. I guess I would say this seems to have the most potential. But you have or should plan ahead. The edges of the cut mesh are sharp also.

- joint compound. I had some of it left over from some ancient home project and I tried make a kind of beem out it. Well it's too soupy to hold shape so I mixed it with sand. Yet the end result was very rigid and brittle.

- spackle. So I changed to this. Once again it was nice to use a still wet half used can. Well this stuff is far gooeyer than joint compound but never hardens completely. There's a plus there but I wouldn't use it for large items. Must be spread on something.

Very long winded... No doubt there's a reason for specialty products... Check theater market place also for set items.
 

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If I had to different elements and knew they would have to be separated, or occasionally subjected to slight movement in different planes, I would use aluminum window screen held to profile via small risers and hot glued into the profile I needed. IOW, build a very light framework, glued or screwed, that will provide the sub-structure or frame for scenery. Over that framework, hot glue expanses of cut/trimmed aluminum window screen material. Then, over the screen, you can slather any depth of spackle, water putty, Durabond, or the goop that I have used very successfully for three layouts running, a formula provided by Joe Fugate: 1 part Portland cement powder combined with 2 parts plaster of Paris, and four parts of FINELY ground vermiculite. Joe doesn't mention doing this, but I found that it dries too bright/white, so I added a pinch of each of brown and 'mesa' coloured masonry dye. You'll not want to mix double batches of this to speed things; it's a very bad idea. Ask me how I learned this once, and then again a layout later.

Here's the trick, tho', and the point: You place between the two frame elements you want the terrain to appear around a thin barrier of something, maybe drawer liner. You cut to shape, drape it over the upper frame member to which you'd like the terrain to climb to provide that blended slope, and tape it so that it won't fall while you work. Cover any nearby tracks already in place. Then, begin to mix those batches, if more than one will be needed, and slather the slurry you make over the window screen pieces hot-glued previously over your new sub-frame. Work quickly, but don't leave large gobs...jiggle the surfaces a bit and blend them while you can, very soon after ladling the goop into place. Wait for it to set, about 15 minutes, but it will still be quite wet for a few hours. Now is the time to spray glue and blow some varieties of ground foam all over it while it is still wet. Otherwise, you'll have to spray the dickens out of it next day or next month when you go to affix ground foam over it to green it up. Do it NOW! (T'is why I said to cover the tracks first.)

The product will be dry and hard over night, assuming you run a dehumidifier or that your train room doesn't typically exceed 66% humidity. If you thought ahead to make the new sub-frame removable, or slidable, do that and you have bared your drape separator. You can go ahead and remove that, slide the sub-frame with terrain back into place, and it should fit like a close-fitting glove.

An example:

The entire mountain above the few conifers you see planted above the portal was liftable.



Another: Taken early during construction. Looks messy, but it got a lot better.

 

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- pink insulation, stacked, cut carved. Pain to cut and trim. Typical hot wire cutters are cheap and the nichrome wire breaks a lot. Easy to "overheat"... Wire gets wedged in foam. Stinks, requires ventilation. Makes a huge mess for larger shaped things. Tried just cutting and scraping took __ even bigger mess, more pain and suffering. Plus side. Readily available at home Depot and cheap. Totally workable but look into solid hot wire tools.
I agree about the hot wire cutters. Not worth it in my book.

Cutting and grasping... that kind of depends on you. I do the gross shaping with a serrated knife, like a fish scale. 99% of the material comes off in big chunks. Fine shaping is done with a rasp or sanding sponge. Yes, you get lots of foam dust, but a minute or two with a hand-held vacuum and it's all gone. I'd hardly characterize it as "pain and suffering". Quick and easy if you ask me. Obviously, everyone has their own preferences, and tolerance for 'in-process mess", but most of us would not find it too hard.
 

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I don't know of any material that is flexible which is used for model railroad scenery construction.

You say the layout may be moved occasionally. Are you building it in modules that can be disassembled and taken to a show?

My scenery is all made from cardboard backing or cardboard strips over which plaster cloth is used and finally Sculptimold. It is extremely rigid and I'm certain it would crack if moved very much.

Cardboard backing and polyester batting is used under plaster cloth and Sculptimold when I am working on a fairly straight exposed Dolomite rock wall. For terrain with more contours, plain cardboard strips under plaster cloth and Sculptimold is used.

This is cardboard strip under plaster cloth and Sculptimold:



This is cardboard backing with polyester batting under plaster cloth and Sculptimold:



This photo shows the cardboard backing before any work was started on the finish of the wall:



This is a mix of cardboard strips, polyester batting, and plain old wood after the plaster cloth is applied, but before the Scultimold has been applied.



Finished results. Note the far right of the photo behind the signal box; the rock wall has Sculptimold carved and is drying waiting for paint:

 
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