Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Scenery Status: Static Grass

The way I figure it, there are at least 3 levels of "basic" scenery that move you beyond the Plywood Pacific or Foam Central.
First, you can just paint the "ground" . . .

That's already an improvement, and by far the easiest to do.

The second stage takes a bit more effort, but the results reflect the extra work . . .

Just adding a layer of fine ground foam texture gives you an immediate effect and is a firm step toward more realism. Extra effort here to vary the shades of color pays off as well.

One step beyond paint and ground foam though is static grass. It's at the top end of "basic" scenery and certainly requires more effort, but the results are nothing short of amazing. True - there's still a lot of scenery left to do after applying the grass - but even this level of scenery really starts to make the layout look like something.

Here's a quick rundown of how I do mine.

First, the materials . . .

Here I have all my different colors and lengths all laid out, ready for combining and mixing to match the overall tone I'm looking for (while maintaining some overall variety in both color and length).

I start by adding the different colors and lengths into a glass jar and break it up and stir it with a wooden handle. I find that using a glass jar and a wood stirrer rather than paper cups and plastic spoons keeps the grass from getting too statically charged and going all over the place before I'm ready. Makes it much easier to manage.

I stole this next tip from Marty McGuirk, but with a twist. He gave me the idea of mixing the grasses in a made-up "cocktail shaker." He used paper cups for this, but I use glass jars - taped together to keep the fine fibers from leaking out (and to keep the jars together, of course). Shake in all directions - you really can't mix it too much.

Once the grass is all mixed, add it to your applicator and keep one of the jars nearby for later.

Here's an area that has been painted and has had ground foam added. It's all dry and ready to have glue spread on top of it for the grass.

I use full-strength glue, spread as thinly as possible with a brush, doing only about a square foot at a time. Once the glue is spread, I mist the area very lightly with "wet water", stick my grounding pin into the area, and then shake the applicator over the glue.

If, like the Valley Line, you have grass and weeds growing between the rails, you can add spots of glue - just try to keep the glue between the ties rather than on top of them.

Pro Tip: Joe Atkinson reminding me to be sure to ballast the track first before adding grass. If you do it afterwards, the ballast may just be suspended mid-air. Certainly not the look we're after.

The area will look very light at first (due to the light color of the glue), but will darken as it dries.

Soon after I apply the grass - just as the glue has started to "bite" - I go over it with a vacuum to get the fibers to really stand up, and to remove all the excess grass that's laying about.

But note three things:
  • Be sure to cover the nozzle with a nylon or something similar that will catch the grass.
  • Hold the nozzle just close enough to get the grass to stand up - not so close you pull it out of the glue.
  • Dump the grass you catch into the glass jar you set-aside so you can reuse it.

In some areas, I add a bit more textured foam before adding grass - as in the low lying area here between the Ballantine's siding and the mainline.

You can add clumps & rows of weeds by applying dots and lines of glue.

Note the masking tape "dam" to keep the grass from dumping onto the floor.

Lots of grass added to the siding and also along (and a little bit on) the mainline.

And here's the finished effect....

Applying static grass is one of those things that can be a bit intimidating at first, but like so many things in this hobby, the trick is to Just Do It. If you're worried about messing up, try applying some grass to a piece of scrap cardboard until you get the hang of it. 

The important thing is to just try it. I think you'll find - like I am - that you get better the more you do it. And I think you'll agree that the effect is definitely worth the effort.


  1. I just had a ceiling put on my basement above the layout last week, so I have no excuses to not start on scenery. But static grass does look scary... even if people say it is easy. What brand of unit do you have?

    1. I'm not gonna lie - I wouldn't say static grass is "easy" per se. It takes some practice like everything else. But I promise you that it does get easier the more you do it. Maybe practice on some scrap cardboard until you get the hang of it. Otherwise, go ahead and dive in with doing it on the layout. You can always go over it a second time after spraying on some cheap hairspray. As for the unit - I use an older Noch GrassMaster. If I were buying new though, I'd want to try out the new Woodland Scenics model.

  2. Hi Chris

    One option for the mixing of the grass is a cheap coffee grinder our an old mini food processor. They do not seem to cut the fibers and do a good job breaking up the "clumps" that sometime form during storage.

    The grass looks great.

    1. Hey Bob! What a great idea! Have you had any problems with it creating a huge mess as all the fibers get charged? This may be a great way to create large batches of mix for future use - heh, and a way to justify making just one mess :^)