Building a Diorama – Snow and Finishing Touches

21 03 2012

We’ve been working on our project diorama for some time now. Like any model railroad large or small, “finished” is an elusive goal. But our little module is looking about as finished as most model railroads ever get. This week, a few final details before we call it “complete.”

Guardrails

To keep drivers from going off the hillside on the icy roads, we need a few simple guardrails. All you’ll need is some 3/16″ dowel, stain (both of which you probably have left over from making trees,) some HO Scale eye bolts and string. For tools, you’ll need a 3/16″ drill to put them in the ground, a small pin vise with a No. 80 bit, small hobby saw, tweezers and cyano-acrylate adhesive (CA – or “Crazy Glue.”)

guardposts

Most of the materials and tools needed to make the guardrails are seen here. HO scale lift rings make perfect holders for our cable.

Begin by making the posts. Stain the dowel and cut it into lengths, about 1 inch long. They don’t have to be exactly the same, but you can make a quick jig by clamping a block on your workbench about 1 inch from your cut line. Since these are wooden posts and they’re going to be planted in the ground, precision isn’t important. A perfect cut isn’t necessary either – in fact a rough edge looks good. You can further age and texture the posts by scraping the hobby saw against them to create deeper grain and adding additional coats of stain.

threading cable

A pair of fine-point tweezers are very helpful when threading the cable.

With the posts cut, drill a pair of No. 80 holes in one side, spaced about 3/8″ apart. This is easiest to do with a small pin vise. The No. 80 bits are very small and very fragile. You will likely break several in the course of this, or any, project. Then simply insert one of the eyelets (these were Detail Associates part no. SY 2206) in each hole. They are a snug fit.

Space the posts out until they look right along  the shoulder of the road – again, precise measurements won’t make this look any better. Drill a 3/16″ hole for each post in the foam base, just far enough to seat the post. Put in a drop of white glue and insert the posts with the eyelets facing the road. Allow the glue to set before proceeding to the final step.

finished guardrail

The far end of the cables are anchored into a post set in the ground. A simple modeling project like this adds a lot to a scene for just a few dollars.

The last part of this project is the most challenging, unless you enjoy threading needles or building model sailing ships. Start at one end, on the bottom row of eyelets and thread the “cable” through each post. A pair of tweezers is a big help here. The last post was sunk deeper in the ground with only one eyelet. This was used as a turnback. Once through the last one, come back through the upper row. Secure the thread to the last eyelet with a small drop of CA. Once set, work back the line with CA to the first eyelet (directly below the last) and cut the thread. It’s not really that hard, it just requires a little patience.

Let It Snow!

You can certainly model winter without snow. (Actually, the snow on this diorama is the first I’ve seen in months!) But a little fresh powder can really add a sense of chill to the scene. You can add as much or as little as you’d like. Rather than simply dump it everywhere, I went with a more subtle approach.

snow

To create the look that much of the snow has melted, concentrate powder in places it tends to linger. Concentrated, the snow highlights the detail in the scenery, instead of covering it.

Adding the snow is not much different from other groundcover, but you can use a couple of different techniques to get different snow textures. Use ordinary baking powder to make the flakes. For a general dusting or for soft, smooth surfaces, apply the snow as you did the earlier groundcover. Sprinkle on the snow, wet with 70% isopropyl alcohol and glue with diluted white glue (50/50 glue/water.) You can use a dropper or a mister (an old spray bottle works great) to apply the glue.

road snow

Beneath the trees, only a fine dusting of snow remains. But along the road, the huge chunks left by the plow will need a few more days of sun to disappear.

If you’re not going for a complete whiteout, concentrate your piles “in the shadows” along the base of rocks and hillsides. A canopy of trees also tends to keep a lot of snow off the ground, so these areas should be lightly covered as well. I found sprinkling through the model trees themselves actually gave excellent results. If you want to model a fresh snow, still clinging to the leaves, spray the trees with some cheap, tacky hairspray and sprinkle on the snow.

Along the road, where the snow would be piled from plows, the snow needs a more jagged texture. Here, put a bead of diluted glue down first, along the shoulders, then sprinkle on the snow. I found that pinching the baking powder between my fingers caused it to clump very nicely before it fell to the ground. The glue will absorb into the piles from below, preserving the texture.

Water and Ice

water

Woodland Scenics Water Effects makes great streams and icicles. The white water in the ditch will dry clear, as will those streaks on the plastic below.

Our display needed just one more detail. Since it looks like the last snowfall is melting away quickly, we need a little water in our drainage ditch. While we’re at it, we’ll make a few icicles for the rocks as well. To make both, I used Woodland Scenics Water Effects. This is a stiff medium that dries clear and glossy. Woodland Scenics makes another product for creating larger or deeper water for streams, lakes, etc. The Effects coating will be enough for this project however.

Start with the stream by squirting a bead of the medium along the ground at the bottom of the ditch. Use a small toothpick or nail to work it around rocks, grass, etc. You can also create a few puddles beside the tracks and the road. The water goes on very white, but it will dry clear. While you’re applying the water, squirt some on an old plastic bag. Use the toothpick to draw the water into streaks. These will become our icicles later.

Ice

Once dry, the icicles are glued to the rock faces using the same water effects medium. The glossy glazing and thin strips are a subtle but important detail that rewards the careful observer.

After the streaks on the plastic bag have dried, they can be peeled off and make wonderful icicles. It may take a few attempts until you figure out how thick, long and wide to make the streaks, but a little practice is all you need. Use the same water effects to glue the ice to the rocks. Apply a small bead of water along the edges, and press the cycles in with the tip of a hobby knife.

Our winter scene is finally complete – and just in time too! We hope you’ve found this series helpful. Spring is here, and with it will come more modeling projects to try. Stay tuned. In the mean time, share with us your modeling, inspired by these articles or not, with us on our Facebook page.

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One response

4 04 2012
La Giara da Andrea

Great information. Lucky me I ran across your site by chance (stumbleupon). I’ve book marked it for later!

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