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Premium Member

Posted - 06/05/2015 :  2:57:46 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Well, been a bit slow on updates and working on the mill for the past week as I was doing a lot of prep work for the regional NMRA convention. Ran into a issue here which has sidelined me from the show and limited my bench time.

Well, balsa foam.... I was sent a sheet of low-density foam by the supplier in error, and they told me to keep it.

I keep looking at the fourth wall and that joint in the wall where I had added a stone pillar. My intention when I added the stone pillar to cover the seam was to remove one bank of ore transfer windows on this wall. But... the more I considered the planned wall to the actual plans the more I wanted to keep the structure as shown in the plans and mill pictures.

OK... I've figured out a different option for that carved wall with the pillar, so on to create a new wall..

So.. that brings me back to the low-density foam sheet. Since I need to carve a new wall without a seam in the wall, I decided now was a good time to try out the low density stuff and see if there were any major differences.

Notes on Low-Density Balsa Foam:
To begin with, the low-density foam is a **LOT SOFTER** than the high-density foam I've been using. It is so soft that I actually found that it was a bit harder to carve. I found that dental picks worked better than the #11 blade. I also found that with a medium stiff brush, not quite as stiff as a glue application brush from one of the home stores, that I could actually lightly sand the carved stones with a pass of the brush using normal pressure on the brush. This allowed me to 'soften' the stone edges easily, which is something I was struggling with using the high-density foam.

I also found that the low-density foam is a bit more 'messy' in that it leaves a mild grit dust whenever you touch or move it.

I decided to carve the ore delivery windows and then I'll use a wood footer under the chute floor to obtain a angle for the chute.

The wood header over the chute openings had a 6x6 pressed into the carved foam to form the header indent. This was a lot easier than when the same process is used with the denser foam. This indent will have a 4x6 placed in each header area over the ore chutes.

I did use the same basic technique of a brush handle tip to add texture to the wall face once the stones had been carved. I discovered that it is necessary to use a very light pressure when tapping the wall face as the foam is that soft. I used a horsehair drafting brush to clean the wall surface without 'sanding' it.

Once the stone texture was added, it had a fairly strong appearance of a bunch of pot-holes in the stones. A couple of minutes (5 minutes total on the outside) of touch-up carving and chipping with the dental picks and #11 blade, and I had a great looking stone wall.

Two coats of Acrylic Gesso were applied to the wall, allowing the first coat to dry prior to adding the second coat. Due to the amount of detail in the stone, I worked the Gesso quite a bit, not leaving any small pools of Gesso like in earlier walls. I also had to apply the Gesso with a very soft brush,

Once the second coat of Gesso had dried, I applied craft acrylics thinned a bit with acrylic airbrush medium. (Golden Mediums, Airbrush Medium #3535-4, http://www.dickblick.com/products/golden-airbrush-mediums )

Low-Density foam wall blank with ore deliver chute openings carved into the wall.

Mike Blazek's plans showing how the wall is faced with wood planking below the ore chute banks and how the openings have a wood header above the chute.

The stones with the basic coloring done. I need to add just a bit of Raw Sienna and some Ceramcoat Cloudberry Tan #02112 to add just a bit of yellow and brown hue to bring the wall hues into line to approximate the coloring of the prior walls. The wall is still wet in this picture, so there will be some tonal changes in the coloring of the stones.

The forth wall sitting upside down on the earlier wall with the stone extension. The color of the fourth wall is in the ball park. Don't forget, the top of the wall fourth wall with the chute openings will be largely covered by the wooden sleepers, so the wall will not appear as 'yellow' once completed.

Next up is the construction of the ore chutes.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 06/05/2015 3:04:01 PM

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/05/2015 :  4:20:30 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Really nice Kris. Looking forward to see how you do the ore chutes.

Oh the coloring is a perfect match from what I can see.


"And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln

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Posted - 06/05/2015 :  5:12:53 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Kris, this project is really turning you into a very fine stone mason indeed.
Great work!

Greg Shinnie

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/09/2015 :  5:26:15 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the comments and encouragement Jerry and Greg. They are appreciated.

Some of the following pictures don't show the colors quite right as I was trying to get more of the 'texture' out of the stones. Still have not identified a way to consistently show the texture in the stonework.

I really need to add step numbers to the following, but I have edited this post to include the construction step numbering..

Sleeper Framework
156) The picture below shows how I started the framework for the sleepers below the chutes. I think 2x4's were used in the framing, but I chose 4x4's. I want to show the framing and rock work through some broken/missing boards on the wall, and the 4x4's are just flat easier to work with. 4x4's also have the advantage to provide more surface area to glue the wood to the rough stone surface.

I started out by placing a upright 4x4 after every 2nd ore chute, with the upright being between the center of the framing rock between the 2nd and 3rd chutes. Allow for a 4x4 header sitting on top of the vertical posts and even with the bottom of the ore chutes.

157) I then added the 4x4 header sitting on top of the vertical posts. I tried to keep the top edge of the headers even with the bottom of the ore chutes.

158) I then added some 1x8's to the framing below the ore chutes to become the 'sleepers'. I used some pre-colored 1x8's from earlier projects on one section of chutes. I then used a different earlier project stock which was more detailed with knotholes and heavy weathering for the second batch of chutes.
159) The final batch of chutes had 1x8's which I colored with Silverwood and chalks after graining the wood.
160) I used a compass needle point to add individual nail holes at the butt joints.

This picture shows how the 1x8's were added, not covering the header of the frame.

161) Time to get the chutes colored, so out came the Charcoal craft paint. All sleepers have been added in this picture also.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 06/13/2015 9:17:24 PM

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/09/2015 :  6:11:05 PM  Show Profile  Visit jbvb's Homepage  Reply with Quote
One way to highlight the texture would be to place your primary (key) light off to one side, so the light hits at a shallow angle and you get shadows in the depressed areas. A dimmer or more distant secondary (fill) light facing the surface squarely will keep the shadows from being too dark to see detail in.

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/09/2015 :  6:23:13 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Glad I stopped in. Very nice work Kris. Great coloring on the wood.

An amazing project coming to life.


"And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln

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Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 06/09/2015 :  7:58:34 PM  Show Profile  Visit CBryars2's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Excellent work - you are a true craftsman.

Can you share more on your view of balsa foam vs plaster casting? Seems based on your work that foam is less resistant to breakage, but maybe harder to carve and color?



Cant wait to see what you plan for the water wheel housing.

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/09/2015 :  11:17:11 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Lot's of teadius work being performed on the baby Kris. Your are making good progress. Interesting facts on softer balsa foam.....


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Ray Dunakin

Posted - 06/09/2015 :  11:23:20 PM  Show Profile  Visit Ray Dunakin's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I like it! Very nice work so far!

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Posted - 06/10/2015 :  12:50:22 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I too like the ore chutes.
Do you like these foams better than carving plaster? Or haven't you decided yet?

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/13/2015 :  01:39:39 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks all for dropping by to see what has been going on in the build. I appreciate all of the comments.

James; I appreciate the photo hints. I’m not one to spend much time with photos as cameras are not my thing. I use a simple Coolpix point-n-shoot with either the auto or close-up settings. That’s about as far as I care to take the photo activities. For a person who was an ophthalmology tech at one time, one would think that I would have a larger interest in cameras, but that’s not the case. I will however take your suggestion and continue to play with the lighting.

Jerry; Always glad to see ya… but we are so far from completing this build that we have not even reached the tunnel, much less the light at the end of the tunnel…. So it’s not alive yet, but there is lighting in the air….

Ted; Thanks for the complement. The stone carving goes really quickly, and the stone coloring is not at all difficult. I’m really glad to see that you have been following along and appreciate the encouragement you have been providing and your interest in the project. I’m pleased that the short review of the two different foams was of interest to you.

Ray; Thanks for the input. I’ve also got to point out that I just took another look at your web site. I continue to be inspired by your published work, and your ‘Modeler’s Resource’ photos are something I hope every member of this forum takes a moment to review. Lots of wonderful examples for us to draw from when working on various detail components and ideas for the finish of those components. http://www.raydunakin.com/Site/Modelers_Resource.html is Ray’s ‘consultation’ page for those interested.

Cameron and Bob; Thanks guys for coming along for the ride and giving some thought to the whole ‘foam’ idea.

I can say that with the balsa foam, I have finally been able to achieve the very fine textures and 3-D relief which I have always sought. Not only can I easily achieve the desired results, but I have surpassed and overcome all the issues I had with plaster.
1. Undercuts are super easy to carve and there is virtual no chipping to worry about. Breakage or chipping of very thin (1/32 inch and thinner) pieces of foam is easily avoided when shaping the foam.
2. General carving and texturing techniques are easy to apply and can be achieved very quickly, much more quickly than when working with plaster media. One can use a multitude of tools, from knives, files, wax files, toothpicks, sandpapers, anything to emboss with… the list is endless, to shape and texture the foam. Foam is much more versatile and less demanding to work with than plaster. I can carve a wall and add substantially more detail in about one-quarter of the time it would take to carve a plaster wall without any of the additional detail texture.
3. Acrylic Gesso appears to be really useful. It creates a barrier without any destruction of the foam surface texture. With Gesso, the foam is not likely to be damaged by the inadvertent bump or scratch. The use of Gesso is not necessary to prime the foam prior to painting, but I sure do like how it seals the foam.
4. One can easily move from a cement/stucco wall to a brick wall just by not carving the surface and the finished product will look much better than plaster with just a simple stain.
5. Foam is a lot lighter than plaster, so for those who work with modules, dioramas or other applications where weight is a factor, foam is by far the right medium to choose. I am unable to think of an issue, other than the thickness and cost of the stock foam, which would prevent one from using selecting foam over plaster where weight is a concern.
6. The only disadvantages of balsa foam which I have discovered/identified are:
-- a. For large scenery areas, like on a mountain layout, balsa foam not be the preferred choice simply due to cost. If weight is an issue and a large area of rock/stone need to be represented, than the Bragdon products ( https://www.bragdonent.com ) would make a better choice cost wise.
-- b. Finding foam in thin sheets for structure work is not possible. It appears that balsa foam is not made in sheet thickness less than ½ inch. 1 inch thickness is the ‘sheet’ foam stock which most modelers would find useful is available. Various sized blocks of foam, several inches in multiple dimensions are also available.
-- c. When large sheets (say 4 inch square and larger) are cut thinner than about 1/4th inch, the foam becomes very brittle. But with care, I believe that even foam this thin can be easily carved if placed on a solid flat surface while working the foam.
-- d. Balsa foam is somewhat expensive, so the overall size of the project needs to be reviewed. I think that this factor would only become an issue for uses in scenery or as a project/diorama base.
-- e. One needs to consider how the joint edges will be finished. Remember, unless a bit of time is spent shaping the edge to the thickness desired, one is working with ½ inch or 1 inch edge pieces.

The ease of carving and adding texture to balsa foam is beyond my ability to describe. I’m sure that there are many tools and techniques which I’m unaware of which would make the foam medium even more versatile. The only way one can really appreciate the qualities and attributes of balsa foam is to experience it.

I will state that I’ll for sure attempt to use foam instead of plaster whenever possible in future projects. I believe that the material can be fabricated into fine detail structures in HO scale and larger if the denser/heavy foam is used. The lighter “soft foam” would be a good choice for small amounts of scenery in any scale, with cost being the limiting factor. Also, structures in O-scale or larger may be good candidates for the use of the lighter foam, esp. if the structure is of a concrete or cinder block construction. O-scale brick structures may be constructed with ease if the denser foam is used in which the brick courses are carved.

Please be aware that the heavy or high density foam can be used as a master for creating casting molds.

1. I have found that coloring the foam with craft acrylics and ‘modeler’s acrylics’ (Vallejo paints) has shown that the foam is much easier to color than plaster media. Control of the paint is much like a ‘sealed’ plaster casting, but the painted foam dries to look more like raw/unsealed plaster. I have not worked with high gloss acrylics, but so far all experience has results where the painted foam dries to a very flat matte.
2. I have found that foam stains in much the same way as a raw/unsealed plaster would. The foam will soak large volumes of stain deep into the foam. I believe that with some experience, one would be able to take advantage of how the foam absorbs stains, and possibly stain the foam prior to shaping. This may be of value in some applications, such as representing wood using foam.
3. Balsa foam has a prolonged drying time when using a high volume of solvent or stains. I’m beginning to feel that it takes about one week, possibly longer, for the foam to fully dry. Wet or moist foam however, does not present the same carving/shaping issues as moist or wet plaster.
4. I have not tried to produce the ‘water spotting’ when using stains, like an A-I wash, with a hair dryer. I’m not sure, but being able to produce some of the wood weathering effects ala: Greenberg & Nash may not be possible due to the inability to get the foam to heat and dry quickly.
5. I have found that the use of soft pastel chalks and weathering powders appear to work about the same as on wood. When compared to plaster, the color saturation does not appear to be as strong when applying to balsa foam. (I reserve the right to change this opinion as I have not have enough experience to claim that this is a fully valid statement.)
6. I have found that the use of acrylic Gesso makes it easier to control staining and painting of the foam. I recommend the use of acrylic Gesso as a primer prior to staining or painting.
7. I have found that if a heavy wash (ie: Silverwood or A-I) is used over painted foam, almost all of the color values are lost. I have discovered that I actually feel this is an advantage as it allows one to obtain different values in the mortar and stone coloring. For myself, I actually prefer the process of applying a heavy wash to a painted stone surface. Allowing the foam to dry for a 24 hour period and then repainting the stones appears to add additional ‘composition and blending’ of the individual stones. Doing the same with plaster results in limited additional shadowing and often a bit of gloss or luster to the surfaces instead of the matte finish of most stone.
8. The use of combined stone and plaster shows that the plaster is much more difficult to carve and control the coloring to match surrounding surfaces.

I much prefer the foam (by quantum leaps) over plaster. My largest issue is the non-availability of very thin sheet stock. I do have 6 projects (3 orphans and 3 dioramas in the planning stages) where I will be using foam instead of plaster. One of the projects is a mill with the stone interior walls being visible to viewing. (Read a stone walled mill with full interior detailing.)

Overall, I have found that my experience with balsa foam has far exceeded my expectations. As I am still a novice with the medium, I know that I have a lot to learn about the properties and possible applications of balsa foam. But I've discovered and proven to myself that I’m able to produce carved/shaped items in significantly less time which have more texture/detail using the foam than I could ever produce with a plaster based material.

I'm also very pleased with the foam's properties as far as accidental damage. Foam also does not crack/chip as easily as plaster. You can throw a carved foam piece against a concrete floor and have no or very minor damage. Sharp instruments do not 'scratch' foam as easily as plaster surfaces. Water does not appear to damage the foam, so I suspect that humidity will not affect or create possible cracking or breaking of joints as can be found with plaster.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/13/2015 :  08:25:34 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
A fine detailed summary of how to work with this foam. Thanks for all the information so far on this huge project.


"And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/13/2015 :  10:17:35 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
What Jerry said!


Modeling 1890s (because the voices in my head told me to)

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Posted - 06/13/2015 :  11:23:47 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks Kris, That was more excellent information. I think I need to find some of this 1" sheets.

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Premium Member

Posted - 06/14/2015 :  02:04:54 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks Gentlemen for checking-in and the comments.

Bob; See page 1 of this thread for a couple of suggestions on where to obtain balsa foam if you can't find it locally.

Oh, before I forget, I've been handling the 'soft foam' with the Gesso primer, and I have found that it is very durable. So add to the above comments that a Gesso primer works on both foam types to provide a very durable finish. I have no concern about having the foam handled by the public in clinic/model shows due to how tough the finish is with the Gesso. My earlier concerns have been eliminated regarding the ability of carved foam to remain undamaged in show settings.

Construct the Ore Chutes:
Well, it's time to fill the holes in the wall with some wood sticks. This is where I wish this was a Sierra West Scale Models kit as I know that Brett would have a much more elegant solution for making the chutes. I would normally make a jig since I have 15 chutes to construct, but I have chosen to do each chute individually to minimize the amount of spackling work later as the chute holes are not identical.

As a side note, it would probably have been better if I had make a deep embossing in the foam with an appropriate sized tool and then carved out the foam to create the chute openings.

In the construction of the chutes, use a scrap of square stock, like a 10x or 12x and toothpicks to assist in the placement of the chute members. Square stock and toothpicks will also help in the removal of any excess glue which weeps out of the glue site/joints as well as assisting with keeping components square/flush.

162) Cut colored 2x12 stock to the width of each chute opening. Four (4) pieces of equal length will be required for each opening.
163) Lid stain all cut ends.
164) Glue the header of each opening into place making sure that the front edge of the header is flush to the wall face.
165) Using a #17 blade, make cuts to create an approximate 45 degree angel in the foam for the ore chute floor. Rest the blade(bevel up) against the 4x4 sleeper frame header. Holding the blade at the 45 degree angle make cuts by pushing the blade into the foam. Make as many cuts as needed to match the width of the chute opening.. Make the cuts approximately 1/2 inch deep against and below the back wall of the opening.
166) Holding the knife blade against the edge of the 2x12 header with the chisel edge down, make cuts at an approximate 60 degree angle. The cuts need to be approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep to intersect with the 45 degree angle cuts. The objective is to intersect the earlier 45 degree cuts in the foam below and behind the chute opening.
167) Using a #11 blade, place the blade against the chute interior wall. Holding the blade at about a 60 degree angle, push the knife blade into the foam until the heel of the blade comes into contact with the 4x4 sleeper header. Try not to cut the 4x4 sleeper header.
168) Use the #11 blade to remove the triangle shaped foam cut from the foam.
169) Use the #11 blade to smooth/finish the chute floor and to remove any loose/excess foam.
170) Touch-up chute interior where foam is exposed with charcoal colored paint using a soft #1 filbert or liner brush. This is where a thick craft paint is handy as you can almost 'shovel' the paint into the opening.
171) Using the 2x12's prepared earlier, glue a 2x12 to the floor of the chute opening. To obtain the correct alignment, the 2x12 is laid on the top edge of the 4x4 sleeper header with the front edge of the 2x12 flush with the face of the 4x4. Then push the 2x12 down onto the foam floor, thus placing the 2x12 at the 45 degree angle and all face surfaces flush with the front wall. Note that there will be a small gap where the 2x12 rested against the 4x4 sleeper frame header. This will be hidden in a later step.
172) Glue a 2nd 2x12 behind/on top of the first board. Overlap the first 2x12 by approximately 6 scale inches. This will result in an exposed edge of the 2x12 being placed.
173) Glue a 3rd 2x12 on top of the first 2x12. Align the back edge of the board against the existing 2x12 lip, making the floor of the chute flush with the chute floor extending approximately 6 scale inches beyond the sleeper frame header. Make sure to verify the 2x12 angles prior to the glue drying.
173) If needed, touch up any damage or exposed foam within the chute opening with the charcoal colored paint.
174) Cut a 2x10 to fit below the bank of chute openings. This will sit on top of the sleeper frame header and flush against the bottom side of the extended shoot floor. This covers the gap created earlier between the 2x12 floor board and the 4x4 sleeper frame header.
175) Wire brush and stain the cut ends of the 2x10.
176) Place (do not glue) the 2x10 in place below the bank of chute openings resting the 2x10 on the 4x4 sleeper frame header.
177) Mark the 2x10 so that you are able to identify where the chute openings are located above the 2x10.
178) Rough-up/chew-up one edge of the 2x10 below the chute openings. This is to represent damage from shoveling ore into the chutes. Use a #11 blade tip held sideways and/or dental picks to create damage to the edge and face of the 2x10.
179) Sand the 2x10 face and edge with a green pad and or sanding stick/emery board to remove fuzz/splinters from the board edge and face.
180) Apply a light A-I or Silverwood wash to the areas of the 2x10 which were damaged. Apply the wash while holding the 2x10 against a rag or paper towel. Apply just enough wash so that the area between the damage is stained via capillary action.
181) Glue the 2x10 into place on top of the 4x4 sleeper frame header, with the top edge flush to the bottom surface of the chute floor. The objective is to cover the existing gap between the 4x4 and chute floor board.
182) Sand the 2x12 edge extension flush to the 2x10 face.
183) Cut the chute side walls from colored 2x6 stock. Cut the boards so that the lengths extend past the chute floor lip by about 1/4 inch.
184) Lid stain all cut ends.
185) Edge glue the 2x6 to the 2x12 floor. Additional glue can be added to the 2x6 surface which contacts the chute wall. Make sure that the wall board is vertical to the floor boards and wall opening, that the board edge sits flush on the front floor board and that the board extents past the front faces by about 1/4 inch.
186) Edge glue a second 2x6 on top of the first 2x6. Verify the board edge sits flush on top of the first board and that the board extends past the face of wall by about 1/4 inch. These two boards form the walls of the chute and do not fully cover the interior stones forming the chute openings.

Note in the pictures below that the 2x6 board extends beyond the wall face by approximately 1/4 inch.

187) Use Flush nip cutter to cut 2x6 ends flush to the 2x12 floor. Rest the nipper jaw flush and vertical to the 2x10 so that the cut 2x6's will be parallel to the wall face and flush with the chute floor.

Picture shows placement of flush nipper to cut the 2x6 wall boards parallel to the wall face and flush with the chute floor.

188) Flood a light A-I wash on the exposed ends of the 2x6 wall boards and all interior chute surfaces. Draw a small amount of the wash over the front edge of the 2x12 chute floor and down the face of the sleepers below the chute.
189) Apply a wash of diluted brown ink or MikeC's #8 ink stain ( http://rustystumps.com/RSSMDownloads/Inking%20Stripwood.pdf ) to all interior chute surfaces and a small amount of wash down the sleepers below the chute opening. I used MikeC's #8.
190) Stipple a small volume of Silverwood to all of the extended wall board surfaces, front edge of the 2x12 floor board, the 2x10 and all sleeper boards. Make sure to add just a bit of extra Silverwood to the butt joints of the sleeper boards.
190) Apply a light dusting of finely sifted dirt (dirt sifted through 3 layers of panty hose) using a soft #1 round brush. Apply the dirt to all interior chute surfaces and to the sleepers below the chute opening. Tap or blow out excess dirt onto a piece of paper to recover excess for future use.
191) Apply a light dusting of Bragdon Enterprises Dust Bowl Brown weathering powder to the inside of the chute and a small amount down the face of the sleepers below the chute opening. Use a soft nylon hair brush to apply the weathering powder.
192) Set the weathering powders and dust with clear ETOH applied via a stippling brush stroke.
193) Cut colored 4x6's to length to fit indentation(s) above chute banks.
194) Lightly weather the colored 4x6's with a light A-I wash using a stipple brush stroke. Hold the 4x6 against a rag or paper towel while applying the A-I wash.
195) Glue the 4x6 into the indentation above each bank of chutes.

Pictures of scratch built ore chutes in balsa foam wall. Note the subtle weathering of the sleepers and the damaged sleeper below the ore chute openings.

As always, comments on the good, bad and ugly are always welcome. Next up is a bit of spackling work.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 06/14/2015 03:31:17 AM

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