Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hardshell Terrain

For my terrain structure, I opted to use the hard-shell method, consisting of cardboard strips, plaster infused paper towels, and a final layer of plaster. This seemed to be a popular, tried and tested method, and though messy, the materials are very cheap and the end results are very effective.

Cardboard strips to support hard shell terrainCardboard strips to support hard shell terrain

I first started by cutting several different length strips from a cardboard box, all between ½ and 1 inch wide. The strips were then bent to the desired curvature and fastened to the benchwork with either white glue or staples, or a combination of both. I spaced each strip about 1 inch apart. For most of the strips, I didn’t require horizontal support strips, except where the vertical strips were longer and tended to sag a bit more. Crumpled newsprint under the strips also helped with support in some areas.

Cardboard strips and crumples paper for hard shell terrainCardboard strips to support hard shell terrain

At this point, I also incorporated some crock croppings that I had cast with plaster earlier. For the more rugged looking terrain features, I used the same crumpled paper method that I used for my mountain tunnel. For future planned roads, I simply cut a desired sized piece of cardboard and attached it just as I did with the other strips, ensuring a smooth grade from the upper level to the lower ground level.

Paper towel strips soaked in plasterPaper towel strips soaked in plaster

The next step was to cover the cardboard strips with plaster-impregnated paper towels. For this, I first tore sheets of paper towel into strips at various widths. Make sure you have a good mixture of thin and wide strips, as it’s a lot easier to cover a large area with wide strips then several small thin strips, and vice-versa for small areas.

Paper towel strips soaked in plasterPaper towel strips soaked in plaster

I mixed powder drywall compound into a large, shallow container with water. This took a little trial and error to get the right consistency; if too thin the paper towel strips will dry and peel, and have no rigidity. If too thick, the paper towel will just rip under the weight. I found a consistency of oatmeal worked best. Good quality paper towel also helps immensely. I had to keep stirring the plaster mixture as I went, as the plaster tended to settle to the bottom of the container. Adding a bit of water to the mixture as I worked will also keep things flowing.

Paper towel strips soaked in plasterPaper towel strips soaked in plaster

Once I had found the proper plaster mixture, I dipped each strip of paper towel into the mixture, wiping off the majority of excess plaster from the strips with my fingers. I then positions the paper towel strips horizontally across the cardboard strips, overlapping them for added strength. I didn’t worry too much if the paper towel strips sagged a bit between the cardboard support strips as this would be leveled off later with the final plaster layer. I used my fingers to smooth the strips as much as possible.

Final plaster layer of hard shell terrain width=Plaster retaining wall cast in place

After 24 hours the paper towel shell was dry, and I was left with a rigid but brittle shell. The final step was to cover everything with a final coat of plaster, which greatly strengthens the shell, and smoothes out the unsightly seams of the paper towels. I used a gypsum based plaster, but made the mistake of using a pre-mixed product, which is way more prone to cracking and shrinking then dry mix, and resulted in filling in a lot of cracks. I also cast a retaining wall (as seen above) using a paper mold that I made directly on the layout. The wall is cast with plaster of paris, and finished with hand carved bricks.

Final plaster layer of hard shell terrainFinal plaster layer of hard shell terrain

I spread a thin layer of plaster over all of the paper towel shell, thicker in some areas to eliminate low spots. I blended in all of the rock croppings and filled in any holes/joints, etc. I used a combination of my hands and small plastic spatulas to smooth and level the plaster layer and blend it with the existing bridge abutments and terrain. The ground foam and dirt/ballast that I will add later will fill in and deficiencies in the plaster. I still have a few touchups to do, but I can safely say that the plaster hard-shell is finally complete.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bridge Abutments

I’ve been avoiding the construction of the abutments for my trestle and bridge for a while, mostly because I didn’t have the slightest idea of how I was going to construct them. I am now at the point where I cannot continue my layout terrain without the abutments being in place. I knew I wanted the abutments to have a brick look, so I started to do some research on how to accomplish this. I found 2 options; the first to use brick-textured styrene, or to cast the abutments in plaster. I opted with the latter option, mainly due to the fact that the one and only hobby shop in my city didn’t carry any type of brick styrene or similar material.

Cardboard templates for bridge abutmentsCardstock molds for bridge abutments

I first started by making a cardboard template of each abutment to ensure that it fit properly on the layout. I notated on each template the front and back so I didn’t somehow mix them up. I then used each template to create a basic form out of heavy cardstock and masking tape, ensuring that the face of the mold was level and flat. Remember also that the form needs to be built in the REVERSE direction of the front of the template, or in other words, the template should lay in the form back-side facing up. This is a mistake that I narrowly avoided, which would have resulted in backwards abutments.

Plaster of Paris bridge abutment

I used plaster of paris for the castings, mixing it to the consistency of oatmeal. I then quickly filled the form to about 1cm thick, shaking the form to evenly settle the plaster. While the plaster set, I butted books up against each edge of the form to prevent the form’s walls from bowing. Cardstock worked fine for this type of casting, as long as the plaster wasn’t too moist and runny, which would warp and tear the form.

Plaster of Paris bridge abutment with carved bricksPlaster of Paris bridge abutment with carved bricks

After the casting set for about 10-15 minutes, I gently tore away the paper form. I then smoothed out and rough edges, which were most apparent on the back side. At this point the plaster was solid, but still wet enough to carve. I used a ruler and a scissor blade to carve the bricks. After the cast was a little firmer, I etched cracks and gouges in the bricks to make them look a bit more weathered. I then gave the abutment a final brush with a firm nylon brush, giving the plaster some texture, as well as removed any loose plaster pieces.

Finished bridge abutmentsFinished bridge abutments

Because plaster (especially plaster of paris) has such a fast setting time and short window to work with, I only cast and carved one abutment at a time. If I had even poured two at the same time, the second would be too hard to carve by the time I finished the first.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Walthers White Tower Restaurant

I recently completed my Walther’s White Tower Restaurant kit, which I completed in just a couple days, opposed to my last 2 structures which took over a month! I know the kit is a lot simpler then my last 2 structures, however as my skills get better, so does the time that it takes to complete them.

Walthers White Castle kit

Like my Merchant’s Row I kit, this one needed a lot of masking. The kit calls for white exterior walls and silver trim, but I decided to change this. I first sprayed the walls with Testor’s light aircraft gray paint. Once dry, I started carefully masking the exterior trim by cutting very small pieces of masking tape and smoothing it down with a small flat head jeweler’s screwdriver. I then hand painted the trim a dark gray.

Interior lighting connectionsScratch built White Castle interior

I scratch built the entire interior, including the tables, benches, and counters, all from styrene. The black and white tile flooring is just a print out on plain printer paper of a pattern I made in Photoshop. For lighting, I used a small 12v automotive bulb that I attached to the top corner of the kitchen walls. I hid the leads behind the kitchen walls so they were out of sight, and have them exiting the building out of the rear base.

Back side of White Castle kitWalthers White Castle kit

Just like I did for my Merchant’s Row I kit, the exterior of the building simply slides over the interior, making for very easy access to the inside lighting/furniture in case anything ever needs to be fixed, changed, or added. I did not use the window glazing that was included in this kit, as it was very poor quality and opaque. I instead used clear styrene from Evergreen.

Walthers White Castle kitWhite Castle kit with awning supports

The window awnings were designed in Photoshop and printed on printer paper. I then cut the awnings out and glued them to a thin strip of styrene. I drilled small holes with a thumb drill into the exterior walls, and shaped supports out of thin steel wire, which then slid into the holes. I then glued the awnings to the supports and exterior wall.

Interior furnishings with lightingWhite Castle kit at night

The decals used were included with the kit; however I did some slight modifications. The “White Castle Hamburgers” decals also had “5 cents” and “buy a bagful!” in the design, but I opted to not include these as it made the signs look too cluttered. For the decals, I first applied a gloss coat to the structure, and added the decal once the gloss coat was dry. The decal was then covered with a second gloss coat. This was to reduce the visibility of the glossy decal backing. I then sprayed the entire structure with dull coat to get rid of any luster.

Atlas Telephone Pole and Shanty kit

I also did this small Atlas Telephone Shanty kit at the same time, which I purchased for $0.99 at a hobby clearance store in Calgary last month.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Walthers Merchant's Row I

The weather this September was even nicer then it was in July and August, and to be honest, it was difficult to stay indoors to do any work on my layout, especially in the basement which has not even one window. Even with the beautiful weather, I still managed to find some time to finally tackle and complete my Walther’s Merchants Row I kit.
Walthers Merchant’s Row

I received this kit as a Christmas gift last year from a friend, and finally pulled it out of the box about 2 months ago. I started by constructing the basic shell; the 4 walls and 2 doors, leaving the roof and window glazing off to more easily paint the walls. I finalized my paint schemes before I started painting, comparing colours on paper to ensure they didn’t clash with each other. I then started painting; small section by small section.
Masking Walthers Merchant’s Row 1 building for painting

This structure has lots of detailed sections and components, all on one common piece of styrene. I found (at least for myself) that you need two basic skills to successfully paint this: patience and masking tape. After painting each section, I made sure it was completely dry before painting the next. This ensured that overlapping colours did not bleed together, and that I didn’t accidently put my fingers in wet paint while painting a different section. Masking tape was also essential for straight, crisp lines. I don’t have a very steady hand, so painting a straight edge freehand is almost impossible for me.
Masking Walthers Merchant’s Row 1 windows for paintingPainting Merchant’s Row 1 almost complete

I used a hobby knife to cut small pieces of masking tape for almost all straight edges, using a small flat jeweler’s screwdriver to push the masking tape hard to reach areas. This came in especially handy when painting the window frames (as seen above). The extra time it took to mask and allow the paint to dry really made the difference in the end, not to mention how it made up for the shortfalls in my free-hand painting skills.
Back side of Merchant’s Row 1 kitLeft side of Merchant’s Row 1 kit
Once the basic structure was painted, I used a white wash on the red brick sections to highlight the bricks, then sprayed the entire model with Testors Dull Coat. I then used clear styrene for the window glazing. For the blinds, I used Google image search to find several different types of blinds, then shrunk them down in Adobe Photo Shop to the sizes I needed. I then printed the blinds out on a colour printer, and cut them out as needed. I then glued them to the back of the clear styrene windows.
Printed window blinds on 8x10 photo paperBlind assortment on 8” x 10” matt photo paper

I wanted do a couple interior scenes just for fun, as well as add some interior lighting. I was posed with 2 issues however. The first was that I did not want to light every window in the structure, and second was that I needed to divide up the interior, as the kit has so many windows that it looked unrealistic when you looked in a window at one end and could see all the way through to the other end!
Interior styrene walls of Merchant’s Row 1 buildingInterior styrene walls of Merchant’s Row 1 building

To divide the structure into interior rooms, I first cut a base from a bulk sheet of styrene which fit perfectly inside the structure to act as the floor. I then made interior walls with styrene, gluing them to the base. I made sure that the building’s shell slid easily over this interior “unit”, ensuring that the interior walls didn’t rub against the exterior shell. I built the interior as a removable insert so I could more easily work on the interior scenes and lighting, both now and in the future.
Merchant’s Row 1 kit furnished interiorAntique Shop furnishings

I used cardstock from a craft store for the flooring and walls, mimicking carpet and wood flooring, and painted and wallpapered walls. I put a large piece of cardstock towards the back of the interior unit, reaching all the way up to the roof, blocking out all light from reaching the rear windows of the building. For the second floor, I built individual small rooms from a combination of styrene and card stock which I then glued directly to the inside of the outer shell. For the rooms I wanted lit, I simply cut a small doorway opening to allow light in, and for the ones I wanted dark, I just left them sealed.
Barber Shop furnishingsEmerald Café Shop furnishings

The interior scenes are furnished mostly with painted accessories from a Model Power interior accessories kit. I printed small photographs and paintings I found online on a colour printer then cut them out and glued them to the walls to represent full sized artwork. For the grocery and clothing storefronts, I built small photo holders from styrene, and glued these behind the windows. I then took images of real storefronts, re-sized them, and printed on a colour printer. I then cut them out and inserted them into these small holders behind the window glazing. I now have storefronts that look like they have real window displays. You can read full instructions on this method in this month’s Model Railroader magazine (October, 2011).
Styrene plastic light diffuser boxStyrene plastic light diffuser box

Styrene plastic light diffuser box

Lighting the unit is achieved by a light box that I built out of styrene. It is lit with 3 small 12 volt incandescent bulbs, and is painted black on the top, back, and sides so light only glows from the front and bottom. The box sits snugly in a slot I left in the building above the main floor walls and behind the second floor rooms. Light from the bottom of the light box lights all of the main level consistently, while the light glowing from the front of the light box lights the top level rooms through the small doorways. I opted to use a light box as the styrene diffuses the light evenly and reduces harsh shadows. The incandescent bulbs are preferred over LED’s as they have a warm, yellow glow (which is difficult to replicate with LED’s), even though incandescent bulbs are not as efficient and give off lots of heat.
Merchant’s Row Kit with light boxSecond level furnishings with light diffuser

Second level furnishings with light diffuserInterior rooms with light box

I finished the model with dry transfer decals from Woodland Scenics; transferred directly to the window gazing as well as signs included with the Merchant’s row kit. The “Mitch’s Antiques” and “T&B Clothing” signs, as well as the coke product logos were all printed on photo paper, then cut and glued to the structure/signs. The final product turned out pretty good, or at least as good as I wanted it to. I took my time on this one, and I think it paid off!
Walthers Merchant’s Row 1 KitWalthers Merchant’s Row 1 Kit

Backside of completed building – Lilly’s Pleasure PalaceLit Merchant’s Row kit

Emerald Café lit upStorefront at night

Walthers Merchant’s RowWalthers Merchant’s Row

I’ve now started working on a Walther’s White Tower kit, which I plan on building as a bank (possibly). The cold, fall weather is definitely here, and summer is officially gone. Time to start working again in my basement on my actual layout!