Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday Tips: Start Early & Use Fresh Plaster

Before I get to today's tips, here's one that transcends them all (for model railroading, anyway):

Start Early/Start Now

The earlier you start, the earlier you'll make the inevitable mistakes, and the earlier you'll learn from them and build your skills. How many of us know folks that have been in the hobby for decades, and yet still haven't even tried scenery, or built benchwork, or - worse of all - haven't even started a layout?

I can certainly relate. I've been in this hobby ever since Christmas, 1982 when my brother(!) got a train set & my dad took me to K&B Toy & Hobby at the (old) mall in Waterbury, CT to buy more track for it. I got my first Model Railroader magazine there (January, 1983 issue - which I still have) and it contained pretty much what it still contains today: lots of articles on how to get started in every aspect of the hobby.

And here I am, closing in on 40 years later, making the mistakes and learning the things I should've learned back in the early '80s. I would have been SO much further along in the hobby by now. But like many folks, I favored perfection over progress - and that kept me from even getting started on some things for years. And even after finally getting started, this left-brained OCD continues to be a headwind in my hobby.

The Struggle is Real.

So, I'm (again, finally) working on scenery and needed some new rock castings & I had some Woodland Scenics rubber rock molds on-hand, as well as an opened (but sealed) box of Plaster of Paris.

I mixed it according to the directions - 2 parts plaster, 1 part water.

Then poured scraped the mixture into the molds. It didn't actually pour. That should have been my first clue to the failure to come...

After waiting over 24 hours, the plaster finally dried - but it didn't look right...

And removing the castings was not only a pain, but they came out all crumbly . . . and useless.

ONLY THEN did I remember all this like it was a dream. Yup, I'd forgotten I went through this exact same process almost a year ago. With the same failed results.

One of the best reasons to keep a blog is to record your mistakes as well as your successes. Makes a great reference tool - provided you remember to actually consult it(!)

So, after reading my previous post, I actually did go to the hobby shop and got a carton of Woodland Scenics Lightweight Hydrocal. But while I was waiting in line, I noticed a handy chart on the carton comparing the qualities of the hydrocal with other WS plasters. Given my previous experience, I decided to go with the strongest stuff available, weight be darned (this layout ain't portable).

Brandy-new carton of plaster (though I should check to see if there's a "sell by" date - who knows how long it's been on the shelf waiting to be purchased...)

I mixed it according to the instructions - and this time, the plaster actually poured!

I sprayed "wet water" into the molds before pouring the plaster into them (makes the castings easier to remove). And since I had more than I needed for the molds I'd planned on filling, I just poured the rest of the plaster in sections of the larger molds.

And EUREKA! Everything came out just as I'd hoped (though didn't dare to expect). Nice, true fidelity, hard rock castings. They just need to be colored and put into place.

Other than being sure to use fresh plaster, I learned a couple of other things along the way you may find helpful:
  1. Use fresh plaster (I guess I can't stress this enough, if only to myself)
  2. Make sure your "wet water" (tap water with a "couple of drops" of dishwashing liquid) that you spray into the molds as a mold release doesn't have SO much soap that it leaves bubbles in the molds. Those bubbles will create hundreds of tiny voids on your rock faces. Ask me how I know. (however, the resulting castings make GREAT models of lava rocks!! #consolations)
  3. Do a better job than I did of scraping the excess plaster off the molds. In other words, don't overfill the molds. If you do, your castings will be more difficult to remove from the mold and, once you finally get the castings out, you'll have more flash to trim off.
So those are my tips for this week. Hope you at least find them entertaining, if not helpful. And if this post motivates you to get out of the armchair and get to some modeling, I hope you'll let me know!

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