CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, September 25, 2020

My introduction to Static Grass

Static grass is the new standard for great looking scenery. Over the past 70 years, we have come a long way from dyed sawdust, natural lichen, and ground foam. It is scary to think where we will be in 15 years. Will we plant and grow our own trees on the layout? Kidding aside, I have been studying static grass for years but never had need for it until now. Sadly, it seems that the British are much further ahead than we are when it comes to publishing articles about it. I have a half-dozen American scenery books but none really discuss it. Likewise, I can't recall (and couldn't locate if one exists on their online index) a recent Model Railroader magazine article about specific techniques for applying it. Thankfully, there is the internet. Here is an outstanding video on various static grass techniques

The Noch Grass Master 2.0 is the gold standard when it comes to static grass machines. But, it was recently upgraded to the 3.0 (now there are two options, including the "pro" model) and the price has gone up. And they are somewhat hard to find. So, after waffling enough to make Eggos proud I bought the next best thing, the Woodland Scenics' Static King. It was cheaper, and if it doesn't work I am not out as much. I didn't want to build my own as I have too many other projects going on. But, I did splurge for the A/C power adaptor which should work better than batteries. Though batteries should last a while, I never keep 9 volt batteries on hand. This way, power diminishment will never be an issue. 

My static grass was purchased from Scenic Express which offers a dizzying array of static grass brands, lengths, and colors. Being brand new, I purchase a little of this and that until I had a half-dozen different things. I also ordered some other scenery materials I ran out of, and my order added up to 15 items (see the lead off picture). The woman I worked with (I think her name was Debbie) was beyond helpful, and had their inventory seemingly memorized by catalog item number. 

I transferred each of packages of static grass to its own individual bag, and I labeled and color coded them by size. Just touching the stuff made it go everywhere on my workbench!

The first section of my layout to receive it will be pretty simple: an abandoned rail yard. I want patches of grass to be growing up around and through the train tracks, which seems simple enough. But, I don't want excessive amounts of grass on tops of the ties so I need to be careful with the glue application. So, some experimentation seemed in order. Here is a great Youtube video for modeling an abandoned yard with static grass

I built a simple test section on a pine board and ballasted some track, and laid down some dirt and ground foam on the side. After that dried, I blended equal amounts of 2mm, 4mm, and 6mm static grass in various shades of green and put it through the machine. I first misted the area with rubbing alcohol and then brushed on Elmers wood glue as the base adhesive. It seemed simple so far, and after about 30 minute I vacuumed up the excess with my shop vac. To prevent waste, my wife helped me pick out stockings to go over the shop vac's tube to reclaim the grass. And in the end, the results were... meh.

It was green... there were different shades of green (sort of)... it all stuck up... and was firmly bonded in place. But, despite using different lengths it all seemed to be the same height. It was taller than a mowed lawn, but not at all splotchy or patchy or variegated in appearance. Watching the videos again, I saw that perhaps I should do it in patches myself using different lengths. I also discovered that applying glue to small areas with a paint brush is frustrating. If you use cheap flimsy brushes they can't hold up to the weight of the wood glue. But if you use your good brushes you ruin them. I have lots of old ketchup bottles with pointed caps so I think I may try one of them to apply glue in small areas. I will still use my cheap brushes for larger areas. 

That being said, it was a fun experiment and I am excited about the possibilities of the stuff.

1 comment:

  1. Dan, when you start using static grass you can't go back to other techniques anymore. That said, I've found that many top modellers will apply grass in patches. Then they come back for a second layer of other patches with different colors. This can be done several times until you get the desired result. If you have not, you can take a look at Luke Towan's YouTube tutorials. He really breaks down the techniques in an easy and effective method. I've several people using that technique and I wish I had done it before on my own layout. Good luck with your experiments!