Adding Ballast

by Bruce Arbo

Here is a quick sequence showing the basics of achieving a great ballast appearance. I have used this basic technique for YEARS. Follow the steps and it will not fail you but leave a step out and, well, you'll get 'less-than-great' results.
Even though I'm using Kato track for this example, the technique for ballasting track on cork roadbed is EXACTLY the same except you get to skip ballasting between the rails with the Kato track.

  • Step 1-assemble all of your material
  • Step 2-apply the ballast to the area
  • Step 3-use a series of brushes, etc. to move the ballast (manicure it) exactly where you want it (this is the step that requires patience-take your time to get it looking EXACTLY like you want it to look!)
  • Step 4-wet the ballast with 'wet' water
  • Step 5-apply the diluted white glue
  • Step 6-You're done!-(DON'T TOUCH IT!)-in 12 hours or so, the ballast will be dry-rock hard.


Here are the 'tools' used for ballasting the Kato Unitrack:

  • Ballast (in a re-purposed container for convenience - Kato Ballast has no nutritional benefits)
  • Scenic Cement
  • Diluted Alcohol
  • Eye droppers
  • Assorted dry brushes (for helping to manicure the ballast before gluing)
  • A 'Handy Dandy' gravy separator…one of the best tools one can use for applying the ballast.


The Kato ballast in the gravy separator. I'm using Kato ballast for these modules because it matches the Unitrack (I'd pick a different color ballast if I were building these modules for my home layout). The Kato ballast is, indeed, a rock, so it works well (unlike the Woodlands Scenics ballast, which is ground walnut shells, and has a tendency to float away)


The gravy separator gives you excellent control when applying the ballast; after a few moments, you'll be able to pour the ballast exactly where you want it (this greatly shortens the 'manicuring' process).


I'm using a brush (one that I like-just stiff enough, but smooth) to shape and form the ballast slope.


Shaping the slope.


AFTER you finish manicuring the ballast to your satisfaction, it is time to start the wetting process.
Gently, with an eyedropper, wet the ballast with 'wet' water (DON'T use regular water! Surface tension allows it to 'bead up')
'Wet' water is water that has an agent in it that allows it to flow better than pure water. I use rubbing alcohol because it is already diluted with water-50%, 70%, etc. It works great, is CHEAP, and has NEVER failed.
Be careful to apply the alcohol in such a way to not disturb the beautiful slope you've spent so much time 'manicuring'.
You can do this by applying the alcohol along the tie ends, allowing it to 'wick' down through the slop, AND applying it on the ground, along the bottom edge of the slope, allowing it to 'wick UP' to the top.
The alcohol wets the ballast, turning it darker, so you can easily see where it is getting 'wet'…
REALLY saturate it…make sure it is getting wet, not only on the surface of the ballast but also flowing through every little piece of miniature rock. Most importantly - DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!!!!


The alcohol-water seeps through the entire slope of ballast and, this is critical, paves the way for the glue (next step) to really saturate through the entire slope-NOT just on top.


When the ballast slope is fully saturated add the Scenic cement (diluted white glue with a matte medium added) the EXACT same way - apply it so as not to disturb the ballast (you'll find it just a bit easier as, now, the ballast is 'wet' and a little less likely to shift-although that's still possible by being heavy handed).
In this pic, I have already saturated the ballast with the scenic cement (although you can't see the 'milky' effect here).

At this point, you are done! Don't touch it. You can go back, later, if necessary, and 'fix' a spot but hopefully, you really took your time during the manicuring process, and were gentle when 'wetting' and gluing. Regardless, let it dry.

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