Ballasting The Track
A LOOK AT HOW TO BALLAST TRACK WORK
In this article we’ll take a look at how to go about ballasting your model railway track work. Having laid your railway track it’s worth conducting test running sessions, to make sure all your track work gives nice smooth running. Once you are happy all is okay then it’s time to move on to ballast your track work.
For ballasting there are various products on the market such as rolls / sheets of ballast underlay, ballasting kits by the likes of Deluxe Materials etc, & loose ballast in various colours & grades from the likes of Gaugemaster, DCC Concepts, Hornby, Javis, Woodland Scenics etc. Also on the market is a number of purpose made ballasting tools which helps speed up the job of ballasting, but it’s down to personal preference whether you use these tools or not.
What do i need to get started?
For ballasting the tools i usually use are:
- Container / tub – for mixing the glue & water
- A syringe – for depositing the glue mixture on to the ballast
- Teaspoon – for applying ballast material on to the trackbed
- Small screwdriver – for clearing loose ballast out point work
- Small Brush – for removing ballast chippings out of point work & rail sides
- Paint Brush – for spreading & tamping down the ballast
The materials i use are:
- PVA Glue
- Water (Use a mist spray bottle)
- Washing up liquid
- Fine OO or N gauge scale ballast
As i’m ballasting OO scale track i’m using some fine grade Woodland Scenics Red Granite ballast. I’m modelling a layout based on Scotland, where red/pink type ballast is used as can be seen on the photo above right (Highland Main line at Slochd, Scotland).
Laying the ballast
I’ve laid the track on corksheet underlay which raises the track & will give the ballast a shoulder edge. So first spoon some ballast on to the track (as shown in the photos above), i find it’s best to work on small sections at a time whilst doing this.
So as seen above use the paint brush to spread & tamp down the ballast into place. You’re aiming to get the ballast level with the sleepers & as well a straight edge to the ballast. Take your time and don’t rush whilst doing this stage.
(Photo above left) Having spread & tamped down the ballast with the paint brush, swap to the smaller brush to clear ballast chippings from the sleeper tops as well as the inside of the rail.
(Photo above right) Having brushed the ballast into place you should have something looking like this. Another tip for you is to lightly tap the rail head with the teaspoon. This helps ballast move off the sleeper tops.
Before we move on to gluing the ballast we’ll take a look at one of the ballast tools on the market. This is another method of applying the ballast. In the photo above left is one i use. It has two sets of brushes built in for spreading & tamping the ballast, as well as two groove slots that sit the ballast tool on the track.
(Photo above right) To use this tool first pour your ballast material into the angled hopper.
(Photo above left) Having filled the ballast tool slowly pull it backwards along the the track to lay down the ballast.
(Photo above right) The tool brushes sweep most of the sleepers clear of ballast whilst also leaving a nice straight shoulder edge to the ballast. Only takes seconds to apply the ballast as shown above using this tool.
So as seen in the photo above the section of track using the manual method & the ballast tool method.
Gluing the ballast
Step one is to make up the glue mix. Use a 50 : 50 mix of PVA glue & water. Pour some PVA glue into the container, i’m using some cheap PVA wood glue here.
Next pour in water with the glue & make sure you use the same amount water as the glue in the container.
Then add a couple of drops of washing up liquid to the mixture, this helps break the surface tension & helps the glue mix spread easier on the ballast.
Thoroughly stir the mixture to get any lumps out of the glue. Your aiming to having the mixture looking like milk.
Using the mist sprayer apply water to pre-damp the ballast prior to gluing. Obviously make sure all power to the track is turned OFF!!
With the syringe suck up some of the glue mixture.
Then gently apply the glue to the ballast. With the ballast being pre-wetted the glue mixture should spread very easily amongst the ballast. If you disturb any ballast just sprinkle a bit more ballast to cover the disturbed area.
Next wipe the rails to remove any glue mixture from them.
Leave the ballast for at least 12 to 24 hours to thoroughly dry out. Once dry clean the rails with a track rubber or your preferred method of track cleaning.
Ballasting Point Work
Ballasting the point work is done the same way as the rest of the track work, but taking more care around the moving parts of the point work. Before ballasting the point work if you have point motors mounted below the baseboard it’s a good idea to protect them from any glue / water. Either remove the point motor temporarily or try & tape up underneath or above around hole for the point motor point bar. Apply the ballast with the spoon & brush method. Next take a smaller brush & clean out loose ballast chippings on the Vee of the points (Photo below).
Next brush clear the side check rails of any loose ballast chippings.
Then again brush clear any loose ballast around the two moving switch rails.
The next part to pay attention to is the sliding tie bar area. Clear the ends of the tie bar area of any ballast as shown below. Use a small single bladed screwdriver to do this.
Pay attention to the area’s between the sliding tie bar & the sleepers either side of it & again the other end of the tie bar area as shown below.
Where the contact parts of the switch rail ends slide under the two out side rails check nothing is obstructing as shown in the photo below.
A quick tap again with the spoon on the rail heads to move any ballast chippings off the sides of the rails & sleeper tops.
Pre-wet the ballast with water as before.
And again as before apply the glue mixture. Take care around the moving parts of the point work.
Once the glue mixture has been applied wipe clean the rails of any glue mixture & ballast off the rails & moving parts of the point work.
As the glue dries keep checking to make sure the switch rails will still move. Let the glue dry for around 12 to 24 hours & once dry clean the rails with a track rubber etc.
Once dried the ballast should be set rock solid. Any loose bits that didn’t set with the glue, re-apply some more glue mixture & again leave to dry.
The two photos above taken twelve hours after the glue mixture had been applied & now fully dried. Any stray ballast that may of got on to the sleeper tops can be removed by using a flat bladed screwdriver to scrape clear. Then a case of running a vac over to clean up.
Next job is to weather the ballast & the rails which we’ll look at in a forth coming article.