CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Matte Medium, Scenic Cement, or White Glue?

I am gearing up to do some ballasting in the future, so I started gathering supplies. I don't profess to be a scenery expert, and in fact it is one of the aspects of the hobby I enjoy the least. But, I am smart enough to know where to go for helpful advice and tips... Dave Frary! He is the author of the popular book on scenery, and I have several editions of it. He is a big proponent of matte medium for securing scenery and ballast and after building several layouts I also think it works best for me too.

White glue is much cheaper and can be found in any store, but it has two drawbacks that I have noticed. The first is that it sometimes dries white, or shiny, and that just looks terrible on scenery. If you bother to read the forums online, you will find heated discussions on whether it is the glue that causes the shininess or not. Don't believe me? Go ahead and Google it. In a couple of hours when your head hurts, come back and finish reading this. My experience is that it can leave things shiny. The second drawback is that the glue breaks down if it subsequently gets wet, something that frequently happens with me when I put down "layers" of scenery materials during initial scenery, ballasting, and final detailing.

Some also claim white glue leads to "quieter" trains over ballasted track, and others say the same thing for matte medium. Who knows?

Matte medium dries hard and inflexible, and isn't susceptible to further applications of water. That means that you can't redo stuff by soaking in water and having it become flexible. I am okay with that, but not everyone is. I switched over to Woodland Scenics "Scenic Cement" and it worked great but it was pricey. When I heard that it was just repackaged matte medium, I decided to go straight to the source and make my own.

Dave Frary in his book (page 32) explains how commercial matte medium sometimes contains talc powder, which is useful for artists but not for us modelers as it can also make scenery turn white. So, he advocates first diluting the matte medium with water and then letting it sit for a week or more so that the talc settles to the bottom. The stuff on top, which is the adhesive and water that is useful, is then decanted into another container and you are ready to go. Since I have a lot of ballasting ahead of me, I decided to get started with this process.

I went to the store and purchased a bottle of Matte Medium, which is normally $17 for 16 ounces. Since every craft store seems to mail my wife coupons each week, I snagged one and paid only about $8. Not every store has it, though, and most store employees don't know what it is. Then, I searched high and low for a suitable jar and finally settled on a large pickle jar... once washed, of course. I don't even eat dill pickles!

The recipe is to take the matte medium from the store and pour it into the large jar. Then, rinse out the container with three additional portions of water (I used water that was filtered through our Brita filter) and a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol or dish soap to break up the surface tension. You are supposed to let it sit for at least a week, but since I didn't need it right away I let it sit for a month. After that, I poured the top liquid into a large juice container and the smaller matte medium container (I peeled off the label so I wouldn't be confused down the road) and left the talc at the bottom. Boy that stuff is sticky! I had to use a metal spoon to pry it off of the bottom of the glass jar. But, with the talc thrown out, I washed out the pickle jar and it is ready for the next batch.

1 comment:

  1. I use 50/50 white glue/water for ballast and scenery. I find it works great, especially when you want to change it or pull up/salvage track. Just don't use to much glue, or the ballast will look shiny.
    Harrison Smith

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