Ballasting N scale track, could this work be more fussy?

ChrisNH's picture


I made my foray into ballasting track last night. I am using two sources as my howto. Cody Grivno's article in Model Railroader and Joe Fugates Siskiyou Site. Joes section on ballasting is on the second page of that thread. He covers this on the video too.. but I did not have that up last night.

Anyway, I am currently using woodland scenics fine light gray ballast because "thats what I have"(R). This stuff is incredibly fussy. Even the the bristles from the softest and smallest brush has enough spring to sent the particles everywhere. I ended up using a toothpick to spread the little bits as best I could. At my current rate of speed, I have will my 3x5 layout ballasted in 2012.

Does anyone have suggestions for spreading and evening ballast on N-scale track. Would my experience be different with one of the ground rock products like Arizona Rock & Mineral or Highball? They might be something for me to try on a future layout.

So far the part I was worried about.. the light weight crushed walnut shell of WS ballast floating around.. has not occured pre-wetting wth 70% isopropyl and using a 3:1 white glue mixture per Joe's thread. Per Cody's article, I am starting with the middle and letting the part I did last night dry. Tonight I will spread glue on the shoulders and get that started.

Thanks in advance for any advice. Please keep in mind I work in N scale.. I will post some pics on my blog along with the far more succesful project coloring my cast plaster bridge abutments.


Babbo_Enzo's picture

I can't see any big

I can't see any big difference with yours, but I know it was not a mess:


A preliminary brush with dilited glue?

Any tip?



Great Links Enzo!

I can't add anything to the video by Denny Turani.

Some bits of ballast are going to fly around.  Once done ballasting an area a vacuum is a must.  An old nylon stocking over the end of the vacuum nozzle will collect loose scenic material for reuse.  I poke a finger into the stocking, down the nozzle to create a pocket in the end of the nozzle and then rubber band the stocking in place.  Once done vacuuming I hold the nozzle over a container and shut off the vacuum to let the collected ballast etc. drop into the container.

MLR makes a ballast spreader tool.  I have not tried it though and I know some modelers swear at them.  I sprinkle ballast from a cup, but I am in HO.  A brush is how I spread it out.  It's not the quickest scenic task I can think of.  It takes time.

ChrisNH's picture

Denny, I will check out those

Denny, I will check out those videos this weekend. Did you use Woodland Scenics ballast?


“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”           My modest progress Blog

Marty McGuirk's picture

Try a piece of packing foam

 The soft kind. Cut a small piece wide enough to just fit between the rails - it will make it much easier to spread the ballast. 



Marty McGuirk, Manassas, VA


ChrisNH's picture

Thanks, I will try that..

Thanks, I will try that.. sounds like a great idea.

I was having a hard time again today. I think I also need to use a stronger glue solution then the 3:1 water to glue that I had been using.


 ed: reviewing my books I think 50/50 mix would have been better..

“If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.”           My modest progress Blog

arthurhouston's picture

Ballesting in N Scale


First I would not do what Cory in MR video does.  I use a bush that I bought at the hardware store in paint dept.

1/2 inch wide, and was vary cheap.  I place and spread ballest where I what it.  Next wet with wet water. Water with dishwasher detergent added.  About 2 to 3 drops per spray bottle.  After wetting the ballest I apply white glue and water dripped on.  Mixture is about 1/3 glue and 2/3 water.  Apply glue untill every thing is white.

Come back in two days.  Then use vacume to pick up lose stuff. Great suggest given above.  I use 3 in one oil around switches to stop glue from sticking. I go back and work any extra ballest off of ties and next to rails.

Never put glue down and then sprinkle balast.  No recovery from mistakes.

Number ONE tip I can give is be patient and do not rush.


ceo eerielackamoneyrr's picture

Hi Chris      I model in HO,

Hi Chris

     I model in HO, but I use WS fine ballast in my yard and industrial areas (also N scale roadbed). I find that it takes a lot more patience with fine than it does with the medium that I use on main lines. The fine tends to "float" a little more-so than medium, but the above methods are still the best. I use a VERY soft 1/2" brush to spread between the rails, then straight 70% alcohol to pre-wet, then 50/50 white glue and water. I find that when I pre-wet, if I apply the alcohol with an eye dropper from the outside of the rails, it will soak it its way into the center area without displacing the ballast as much. Same goes for applying the glue. Its not one of my favorite tasks, but with patience and fortitude, the results will be rewarding.

                                         Good Luck       Gerry S.

dfandrews's picture

John's Ballast, and other thoughts


I was just going through some old supplies, and encountered a half full bag of John's Ballast, that I had used on my N-scale layout.  I don't recall ever having the problems described on your thread.  I always used a soft brush for contouring, diluted white glue applied with an eyedropper, after wetting everything with water that had a few drops of joy dishwashing detergent.  John's is finely ground limestone.

I just remembered a problem.  I first tried some other brand of dishwashing detergent (palmolive, I think) for a wetting agent, and it would not do the job; I was getting lumps and clumps.  So, Joy works, others may not.

I also just found an unopened bag of Highball Products limestone ballast.  Haven't used it, but it should work.  Instructions say 2 Tablespoons of liquid detergent per pint of water, and white glue mixed 1 part glue to 4 parts water.  Googling "Highball Products"  shows that it is currently in business, and available from Walthers.

{Edit:  still can't spell!}


Rincon Pacific Rwy, 1960.  HO scale std. gauge - interchange with SP.


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