08 June 2022
We all aspire to achieve realistic-looking grass on our model railway, this useful guide provides information on the varieties of static grass available on the market, top tips on how to apply it, plus ideas on creating a multitude of different looks for your next model railway.
All model railways need scenery, but modelling realistic grass is arguably the most important aspect of scenic modelling. There are numerous ways of modelling grass, but one of the easiest and most effective is using static grass.
What is static grass?
Static grass is longish fibre particles that, when applied to the landscape using specific tools, give a carpet tuft effect with the grass fibres standing upright in the ground. Static grass can also be known as electrostatic grass.
These fibres vary in both length and colour to represent different locations, types and seasons of the year. Typically, shorter grasses in a garden setting, longer at the trackside or rough areas of land or fields where weeds grow taller, the latter may take several layers to get the desired effect.
How to add static grass to your model railway
As with using any scatter material, it is necessary to paint the landscape fully in brown or green (acrylics are ideal) before covering it with static grass. This is because the fibres will stand upright and the base colour of the scenery will be visible when looking from above through the fibres.
To fix static grass to the landscape, static grass glue needs to be used. Work in areas of about 100 square cms at a time (less if you are new to this) - by limiting yourself to this area, you know that the glue will still be tacky as you apply the grass.
Before you cover the landscape in adhesive, half fill up your grass tool (electronic device or puffer bottle) with the chosen static grasses. Do this before you paint on the glue because you need to work quite quickly after the glue is painted onto the landscape.
Not all the static grass fibres stick to the glue the first time, which means they can be reused if collected either by shaking the layout (if small enough), or using a covered hoover nozzle.
This easy-to-follow video shows you how it's done.
What's the best static grass glue to use?
PVA, aka white glue, is widely regarded as the best glue to fix static grass in place and adding a little water seems to help the grass stand upright when using an electric applicator. However, there are plenty of different glues available that are specifically designed for static grass application, just ensure that you select a glue designed to be used for your baseboard and that it is quick drying.
When it comes to adding further layers, you don’t want to flatten or glue over the strands already in place, which is why there are other products available like layering spray to help build texture, also hairspray works well at this stage.
How to use a static grass applicator
The video above uses a 'puffer bottle' as the tool of application, however, if you're planning a lot of scenery, or looking to build several layouts in the future, an electronic static grass tool is a wise investment. Make sure you do your research on which one to buy, some will only do 2mm grass, as the mesh is not big enough for the longer grass to go through.
On this occasion, we're going to use a hopper-type grass tool. There are several designs and they all work in the same way. You fit batteries in the handle and the top, with a mesh in it, unscrews so you can pour grass fibres in. Once loaded, remember to keep the mesh upwards, or it can get very messy! There's no need to fill it up.
The grass tool has to be earthed. Push a pin into the glue and clip the lead to this, or clip the lead to the metal part of a screwdriver and push that into the glue. Whatever you do, do not clip it to the rails. Switch the tool on and shake it so the fibres fall out onto the glue. As they fall through the mesh, they will be charged with static electricity and should stand up straight when they land in the glue.
Below, Howard Smith demonstrates how easy it is to create realistic grass on your model railway layout using the War World Scenics Pro Grass Precision Static Grass Applicator.
What about length and scale?
Available in different lengths, from 1mm to 20mm, what length of static grass fibre you opt for is really down to the scale you're modelling in and what type of grass you're hoping to depict. Again, variety is key here, apart from perhaps the lawns at Buckingham Palace, most grass isn't the same length, so having some variety will help make it look realistic. Also key is picking a size that is representative of the scale you're modelling in.
To find out more about modelling overgrown grass, read our practical guide by clicking here.
What is the best colour to use?
It is advisable to mix up grass fibres using a few different colours to create a more realistic look. As a bare minimum, we advise using a green and beige mix - a 50:50 mix for summer grass. If you model the spring, use a bit less beige, for autumn and winter, a bit more. Look carefully at photos to gauge the right colours. We also mix different manufacturer's materials - they all work the same way so there isn't a problem doing this.
The best advice is to look at photos, decide on the season you're modelling first and have a play - there are many different shades and textures out there to help get the desired look.
What other types of 'grass' for model railways are available?
There is a huge range of materials on the market to represent grass and ground cover. Other options to static grass include;
- Sawdust-based scatter material in numerous colours
- Finely chopped pieces of foam in various sizes including very fine, fine, medium and coarse
- Scatter materials for specific seasons and locations such as a moorland mixture
- Grass mats, which are sold in both large and small sizes
- Tall grasses are sold in a number of colours. Clumps of grasses
Looking to model seasons? See the below guides to help you capture the look.
Looking for more advice on adding lineside variety to your model railway - our guide explains all.
If you're thinking of tackling water on your layout? Our guide on how to model water here should be your first port of call.
Need more advice? Take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.