Tips For Using Block Foam in Your Model Railroad Layout Scenery

Mountain SceneryBy Jim Hardwick

One of the most often used items in model train scenery is Styrofoam. It is so light it doesn’t add any weight to your setup, and that comes in handy when you move your layout around for display.

The composition makes it very easy to whittle into any shape you want for rolling hills, mountains, cliffs, and all sorts of items that require bulking up.

There are two drawbacks to Styrofoam. First, it doesn’t hold up to certain chemicals and can dissolve under the right conditions. Don’t even think about touching it with fire because it produces a deadly gas. The second strike against it is how easily it can be broken, and it will crumble easily if not protected and cared for properly.

Even with these few concerns, Styrofoam is the best product for many of your scenery undercover needs. Attachment of foam to your benchwork involves the use of construction type adhesives. Liquid Nails or other similar products will work, but check at your local hardware store to see what they have.

When gluing foam to anything, use broad beads of glue and flatten them so you have as much surface contact as possible. Do not try to skimp with the glue because the foam will slip and cause headaches with the entire setup.

Always cover foam with something else to help preserve it. You can seal it with some types of glazing that do not react negatively with the Styrofoam. You can use craft adhesive spray to attach other things like paper, cloth, or plastic to cover the foam and form a base for coloring or finishing.

Plaster of Paris makes a good coat for the foam, and it will leave a paintable surface for finishing that can mimic dirt, wood, or rock. One small problem with using foam underneath a hard finish is the different shrinking properties that exist. This causes cracking of scenery on occasion.

When making tunnels, a thick block of foam is ideal. If your tunnel has a curve in it, you can easily style the foam where the hole should be. Lay the foam over the track and align it the way you want and push down on the track hard enough to form an imprint in the bottom of the foam.

This gives you a perfect pattern of where to cut the foam for the tunnel. When you have the hole the way you want it, spray a sealer on the hewed out area and paint it with black paint.

One thing that foam is not the best suited for is the underlayment of your train tracks. Something more substantial that will not give under the weight of the train is better. Wood is a better product underneath the tracks, even on grade changes. A carpenter with a table saw can make the grade changes easily.

The worst thing about using foam is the mess that cutting it makes. The little beads go everywhere and want to stick to you and everything else. Always have a vacuum cleaner handy to clean up while you work. Model train scenery is a lot of work, but Styrofoam makes some of the behind the scenes work much easier.

Jimmy Hardwick has been a model train enthusiast for over 30 years, and loves helping others get started in this noble hobby. For more helpful tips and insights on model train scenery, be sure to check out his website, Model Train Mastery

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