10/07/2019
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How to model water on model railways

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There is a selection of ‘ready to pour’ products that make water easier than you think to model. Some of the products require heating and mixing, but generally, they are all simple to use. 

Until recently some of the mainstays of modelling water were varnishes, resins, and perspex sheets. But today just some of the manufacturers that retail water effect products are Woodland Scenics, Busch, Green Scene, Heki, Faller, Noch, and Deluxe Materials. There are various products that are best for still water and canals, whereas others are more suited for rougher water and some of the products complement each other.

How to model water on model railways: Top Tips

  • Prepare your area to be ‘watered’ with a suitable colour - grey and brown is good for coastal water, rich blue is only ever really seen in the tropics or looking out to sea. The surface of water is like a mirror, reflecting the colours around it.
  • Try to look at the real thing for appraisal rather than just thinking that water is simply blue like in a child’s painting.
  • You may have to use more than one water product. Some are, for example, ideal for smooth water; others are good for making waves and swirling water.
  • Be patient as you make model water. Allow each layer of ‘water’ to dry thoroughly before pouring on the next layer.
  • To create the appearance of a deeper river or pond, paint darker colours in the middle of the pond or river with light greys and browns along the edges.
  • Shallow layers of liquid dry much better than deep layers that might not dry at all.
  • Detail the riverbank or lakeside – add a few tall grasses and weeds.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packets in relation to the depth of each layer and the drying time.

How to model water on model railways

How to model riverbank reeds

Reeds are cheap and easy to make, you certainly don’t need to buy a bespoke ‘model railway’ product to do them well.

Plumber’s Hemp, used to help seal pipes and joints, is ideal. Its fine fibrous structure makes it perfect for several scenic applications like crops and in our case ‘reeds’.

Preparation is simple; you just need to turn it green by using a fabric dye and then let it dry out fully nice and straight. Once dry, cut it into bunches around 20-30mm long for HO/OO scale (look at the real thing if you can and make your own judgement), then dip into some PVA or white woodworking glue and fix in position. It’s best to cut it up as you need it rather than before.

Feathery asparagus leaves are another means to make reeds, this, of course, is a seasonal option, and it will also depend on whether you have access to asparagus that hasn’t had the feathery leaves removed. Dry the asparagus tops in the airing cupboard overnight. To position, simply plant by your river edge using PVA or white woodworking glue. Once in place, you may wish to spray them with cheap hairspray or diluted PVA to stop them going too brittle with age.

Often in places where there are reeds, water lilies can be found; they can be simply replicated with small blobs of green paint. Mix up two or three different shades of green for more variety. Poster paints or gouache are ideal.

Now you've got to grips with creating water for model railways, check out our guide on how to make a flowing stream diorama. 

Need more advice? Take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.

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