Some sound advice

“Hi there!,

I’ve seen many people asking how to model water effects, and i’d like to share some tips from my n scale layout, if you like it, feel free to share it with everyone.

First of all, just paint with acrylic colours, and model water as you wish (waves, sea, deep water, etc). in my case, i painted dark blue to deep water, and mixes with white to model superficial water. white paint for waves with a normal brush to give those “foam” effects.

Finally, when paint get dry, cover the painted area with “mod podge” (i had some difficults to get it, because in my country (chile), nobody sells it).

Wait to dry, and enjoy the effect of waves, glow effect, and the best…on a cheap way!


“Hi Alistair,

I am just starting on the journey but I have quickly realized that catering to the hobby can be like pouring money down a big hole , with proper this and proper that could cost me a small fortune.

I have just laid the ballast for my track. This was after much deliberation -how much track to have and where to put it. I used all the help I could get from all different sources and then set up the lay out ,making sure the joins were square and then running the train (flying Scotsman) to make sure the turns were not too tight and that everything was tickety boo.

I priced up some ballast for the track but it seemed a bit expensive, and so used GAP7, gritty sand that is used to lay pavers. This appears to be about the right scale and works well. I got a 20Kg bag for $10 as opposed to about $50 worth of modelers stuff.

I used the accepted method of application (soaking and 50% glue)and after leaving it all to dry overnight, got out my dustbuster and gave it a once over. Of course some of the ballast was removed during this operation as well as the oversupply of ballast about the track.

During the track laying phase I had run the train around the track to ensure its smooth running as well as making sure the points were working,and carefully wiped any goo off the track as I went. This was repeated the next day when dry.

The carefully removed ballast (with the dustbuster) was replaced with homemade grass –to give it a more operational look.

The grass was made using a tip from another trainer. I used sawdust that I had for my fish smoker and put it in a jar with some green food colouring.Works well ,how green is dependent on the amount of colouring used obviously but I must have managed it alright because the grass is green and didn’t take too long to dry out, in fact it just soaked it up and I sort of judged when to stop.

The main thing is that I am happy with the way things have gone.

My next challenge is to assemble the cut out models that I have bought so that I can set up the rest of the landscape scenery to suit.

I have already thought of using the back boards as a way of extending this, because I have limited myself to an area of only 1.2 x 2.4.

I have braced the track bed and converted a single bed wooden frame (off the side of the road)to elevate the track to about eye height when sitting down (about 1.2m). This was achieved by using the beds’ slats as the legs. With 3 legs down each side the table is surprisingly level and also stable .



Some sound advice from Frank. Don’t be shy with your tips if you have any – please do share!

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

That’s your lot for today.

Please do keep ’em coming. Realy. Otherwise there’d would be no blog at all..

And if today is the day you grab inertia by the scruff of the neck and make a start, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



48 Responses to Some sound advice

  1. THOMAS says:


  2. robert coe says:

    Excellent advice. I started out in a small way with good intentions using one of the track packs. Very modest. However, as i followed the instructions on the pack I found that I could have a further pack with points and more track to expand my layout. Then, again I fould more packs to make the layout even bigger and so it went on and on and on. I had caught the bug. Rolling stock and locomotives came next as well as electrification of the points, level crossings, signal boxes, buildings, etc. Until I realised I had spent out more than £3,000 and the whole thing looked wonderful, but did not work. A little wisdom for others. Keep it simple stupid. Next time maybe?

  3. Dave G says:

    The waves look great, Sebastian!

    Which version of Mod Podge did you use to get such a good effect?

    Dave G

  4. Dave says:

    That water looks great, I need to make a seaside scene for mine. I’m going to use this method. Thanks for sharing.

  5. john creasey says:

    great water effect. I found ballast expensive, i used grey roofing grit that i fined down in a blender. I also use dry tea from tea bags as ‘earth’ cover and a base for grass that allows bare area to show through

  6. Willie Kerr (Glasgow) says:

    Very realistic Sebastian. Don’t think you can get Mod Podge in the UK I will have to look at my store of e-mails for tips on water.

  7. Neil Duffin says:

    Looks fantastic. Excuse my total ignorance, but what is “Mod Podge”?

  8. Ken Leal says:

    As Rolf Harris would say “Can you see what it is yet?” If the answer is YES then it ok. It some times pays to over scale. On buildings I use paper clips as guttering and drain pipes, the eyes and brain will compensate.
    At the far side of the base board grass would be a flat green surface.
    The water is great, what’s ‘mod podge’?
    In the UK, I go to a lot of model railway shows, the modelling is brilliant, but most of the street scene are spotless, there’s never any rubbish.
    Ken Leal

  9. Roland Burch says:

    Sebastian, you did a great job. The water is so real and peaceful.

    Frank, thanks for the ideas.

  10. Bill Antonette says:

    I just Goggled Mod Podge and found that it is the brand name fo a line of crafter supplies. One of the largest sellers is Walmart. They’re all over the USA and everywhere else according to their claims. I’m willing to bet $5 US of my own money that if you can’t find it locally you will on the internet.
    Until now, i’ve never heard of the stuff. But from what I see here I’m certainly going to try it. Bill Antonette

  11. Bob says:

    Looks great! You are right about substituting materials when possible.The only thing you can’t replace in this truly remarkable and multi-generational hobby are the memories you share with someone you love ie son or grandson. Viewed from this perspective everything else is secondary!!

  12. Tom says:

    Sebastian the water looks great: realistic thanks for sharing.
    Frank the advise well received. thanks for sharing.

    Mod Podge comes in a bottle fluid ounces. Used for gluing, sealing, layered, non toxic matte finish … check out or Michaels probably other craft stores handle it. price $4.47. thought I would share this with you.

    best regards,

  13. Ken S. says:

    I just did a quick search for Mod Podge on eBay and found a number of listings.

  14. Ross Johnston says:

    Congratulations on you seawater scene. It looks very realistic. I would like to see your whole layout so how about sending some photos. Cheers Ross

  15. Don spittle says:

    Mod podge can be made Mix 50/50 PVA Glue and water shake well before each use. Don

  16. chris says:

    Thanks for the tips, please keep them coming

  17. paul Otway says:

    I like the water effect.

  18. Jim in NC says:

    Fantastically realistic water effects!

  19. Ralph Berry says:

    Great stuff Don but add a drop of washing up liquid and you have the best scenic modeling glue ever.

  20. john says:

    I have never seem a sea shore modelled as well as that. Water is difficult to model at the best of times even still and flat and the result is normally dead and life lifeless. This sea shore looks alive and wonderful. Well done indeed.

  21. Frank Edgcombe says:

    Just a tip. I work as a librarian and we have multitudes of electric pencil sharpners in our library. Pencil shavings are great. They can become rusty steel loadings (painted rusty) undergrowth (painted green or brown) steel waste (painted steel color). Junk along the tracks (colored brown, rust, green etc). They make excellent wood putty for filing holes in wood (the savings missed with white glue set up like concrete, much stronger than wood putty, because of the particles of carbon and hold screws really well.) More tips to follow.

  22. Franklin says:

    Really like your model seawater! I live in the UK (Northamptonshire) and I have seen Mod Podge sold in a local stationers shop called Colemans. About a year ago I saw a very good video on Utube about making ‘water’ for a harbour scene with some very realistic waves made with Mod Podge. The video was made in America.

  23. Maurice Towne USN ret says:

    If you think model Railroad Hobby is cheap to have, get out of it before you start

  24. jim morris says:

    Very nice.

  25. Dave Biddles says:

    Very VERY nice – Is the sea really Blue in Chile ? Off the UK it’s dirty, grey and Chilly . . . . – also seeking a UK Friend to take me down the path of TT {GWR} (Wales) ie. – hold my metephorical hand while I dip a first toe in that (grey) water ! ( If Bob will oblige ) DaveB

  26. Rod Mackay says:

    For the second poster who said his layout wouldn’t work, you don’t say why? I’m guessing if the whole thing doesn’t work, you’re looking at a constant short circuit.
    First thing to try, if your layout is simple DC controlled, is disconnect the controller from the layout and just run two wires from it to a loco’s wheels. If the controller is OK and you are touching the wires to wheels on opposite sides and which have electrical pickups, it should go. Now you know the controller and a loco work, or you take them back to the shop and go “Oi!”
    Next, assuming you haven’t fixed all the track down irrevocably, reconnect controller to track but take some track joints apart to break the layout up into sections, and with one train only try powering up and see if it works. As you reconnect each section of the layout, if you join a bit on and everything suddenly stops, you’ve narrowed down the problem.
    Now follow the path of the current through all the rails and points, see if there’s somewhere positive meets negative?
    The most likely cause is a reverse or “balloon” loop formation; however, another cause could be if you used any points where the crossing of the two rails (where the routes divide) is “live” electrically, and makes the route not in use either both-rails-positive or both-rails-negative. This sort of point needs insulating railjoiners beyond the crossing if there is a feed from the controller to the “blunt” end of the points via another route. Good hunting!

  27. Jim says:

    Has anyone ever used kitty liter as ballast. I have heard pros and cons about this. I have found some for about 3 or 4 dollars for a gallon size jug that is a perfect color. Some say it is a clay product and not to use it. Would it be OK if it were sealed by the water/glue mix? Any comments??

  28. Michael says:

    Sebastian: Outstanding water on the beach!, Maybe, for fun and sport, hide a tiny speaker near the beach, and play Seagulls and wave crashing sounds! Thanks for the tips!

  29. Frank Kaleba says:

    Wonderful waves on the shore – how did you make them?

  30. Gary P. Dettl says:

    Great water. i will use your technique. Thanks for sharing

  31. Gerry says:

    I must say, Sebastian’s water looks absolutely marvelous…

  32. Stephen says:

    Sebastian. very impressive water effects.

  33. Dennis. Cork says:

    Very good 10/ 10

  34. harry young says:

    i use kitter litter…… great….

  35. Michael Childs says:

    Sebastian, Muy Bueno!

  36. Susan Cannon says:

    Sebastian – great work!! Since you say Mod Podge is hard to get in Chile, take a look on the internet for instructions on how to make your own. I have heard that ModPodge is just watered down regular glue, like Elmer’s Glue (water-based, non-toxic). You may be able to make a very good substitute with glue that you can get at a local store – and quite often much less expensive. Keep up the good work!!

  37. Dan says:

    Great work Sebastian, a high end look for a rock bottom price.. it is interesting how we modelers deal with the expense of this hobby. We become like Klinger in MASH, or the James Garner character in the Great Escape, we scrounge for just the right effect. The other day a neighboring town re-oiled the roads then laid down some nice new grey aggregate. Not all stuck, of course, so I scooped up some extra (about 3 lbs worth (1.5 k) . 3-4 ounces of this in the hobby store will set you back close to $5. This rock is too large for ballast, but great for landscape material. Keep the ideas running, and thanks to Al for the forum.

  38. ROBERT SCHWORM says:

    Check out this guy at marklin of sweden on youtube for his seaside scene. Used toilet paper and 50/50 glue blus acrylics. Super job.

  39. Jorge Medina says:

    Very nice work. I also use some every day items to model on my layout. The water looks amazing, please share the details.

  40. Bill in Virginia says:

    Fantastic modeling of water effects! You’ve taught an old dog some very useful tricks. And thanks to other commenters who added in additional details. I’ll give this a try at some point

  41. Dear Al. I’m retired at age 80 and have built many layouts over the years. It is for
    sure that ” repurposing ” materials is good and in the 1950’s it was necessary as
    we did not have all the neat things , including printed buildings, that are available
    now. It is an aquired skill which is handy even today. So congratulations to Frank
    for being practical……RJ..ex locomotive electrician

  42. Robert Brady says:

    I can hear the waves breaking goo d job.
    The Critic

  43. Elmer Banks says:

    I use a sand produced for a process in gas extraction in North America (Pa.). Costs nothing if you find Marcellius shale crews at work. Lucky me. Great for N scale. Sabastian’s water and cliffs look great. And I like that Frank is using print out buildings. I have been kitbashing the buildings; extra deep windows, painting ( your card has to be a bit heavier) and using the prints as background against walls. Very cost effective. Nice to learn new methods from around the world. Great people here! Tony.

  44. Charles Eyster says:

    Sebastian, your ocean water with depths and the illusion of waves is incredible! It ranks as the best that I have ever seen. You definitely captured the aerial view of ocean water. Not to ignore your rocks either, as they are quite well done. Excellent suggestions in making it too. Thank you, Charles in New Jersey near the Atlantic Ocean.

  45. Your mind and your ability is the cataloge of your modeling experince and that-s that!

  46. To Frank and everyone discussing tiny-grained stuff like ballast and grass, to get the right effect considering the scale is very important. What looks great in O and ok in HO might look way too chunky in N or Z. Please don’t forget to mention your modeling scale!

  47. Btw I model N, and am procrastinating about getting started with scenery. Anybody have hints about how to shake that off and get moving?

  48. Geoff Plumb says:

    Tickety Boo advice indeed

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