Tag Archives: applied blocks

Time to get the mortar in – II

Yesterday’s efforts weren’t as effective as I would have hoped.

The blocking and embossing techniques are good at establishing the texture of a stone wall, but so far, all I’ve tried has knocked all the effort back into blandness, only a step up from using embossed plastic card.

So, for the next step, I’ve taken some time over making up a dilute wash of a vaguely cement/mortar type colour. The thing is, you can be too careful. At first the mix was far too dilute, and for me the correct mix seemed to be just past the point when you start thinking, “This must be too thick.” In fact in the end I went even further.

To apply the mortar I arranged surfaces to be treated as close to the horizontal plane as practicable. At first I used an ingenious combination of third-hands and a digital level to set the plane. But let me tell you. Don’t waste your time. If it looks close to, it’ll be okay.

Dropper and Dopper - see what I did there?
Dropper and Dopper – see what I did there?

So, here is the first pass. I used a dropper bottle, available from your recycling bin or local craft store, to dribble my acrylic mortar slurry – in this case, a slightly green tinged beige suggesting moss and algae for this location by a Dartmoor river/stream/leat – and after seeing how it was drying out, dopped off any excess with a stencil sponge. Is “dopped” a word? I think you know what I mean.

Already showing more character, even if it's looking like a new wall although the
Already showing more character, even if it’s looking like a new wall although the “mortar” drops back as it dries

Once that rendering was dry, I dropped a slightly thinner black wash to give a little more relief. Once again, areas which took too much paint were adjusted with the sponge dopper

Close to good... finishing will be done on the layout with other landscape features rendered in
Close to good… finishing will be done on the layout with other landscape features rendered in

The effect is far more evident to the naked eye, and will get a little more apparent upon receiving its final fine matte coat in situ.

So, the next step is the entire Boltorr dam wall itself. I learnt a lot from the smaller bridge abutments, so hopefully I’ll get this done quite quickly.

Before the structure is set in stone, as it were, I want to fix a couple of features, some iron rings, and possibly, where my masonry looks a bit suspect, a couple of ties, all nice and rusty and streaking down the wall.

I also need to get the roof of the brick arches correctly coloured before I forget!

Materials used: foam board, DAS Clay, PVA glue, heat glue, UHU cement, cheap acrylics and paint samples, Woodland Scenics Earth Colors Kit C1215, various cheap brushes and sponges, clay roller.

Boltorr Dam – The Next Step…

Okaaayyyyyyy… So it’s taken me a long time. But how long do you think it takes to build a dam?

Well, the structural components are all stoned up. I sprayed it all to get a uniform base to start with. The can was labeled as “Matt”, but obviously “matt” means something different here in the US.

It looks alright, but like a wet wall after a downpour, at the moment. But it’s going to work. I have texturing, weathering and adapting it into the landscape to do yet. So there’s time to sort it out.

The basic elements
The basic elements

I’ve checked the basic fit and alignment on the layout and it’s looking pretty good from any angle.

Looking up the leat, to Boltorr dam
Looking up the leat, to Boltorr dam

And if you were a rambler, having wandered down to the Boltorr Brook, you could look back and see this view of the dam, under the rail bridge.

A long way up - if you're an inch tall
A long way up – if you’re an inch tall

My next step is to get some mortar, a couple of iron eyes and fittings to add to the interest, possibly some plant life in the crevices, then finally fix it so I can lay track over the bridge.

Crossing the abyss...
Crossing the abyss…

The Mason’s Arms

Since Dartmoor is largely made of granite it largely follows that most structures on the moors utilise this hard and heavy stone.

Curiously, a by product of the aging of granite is china clay. At school we referred to it as rotten granite. The southwest remains one of the most important producers of china clay in the world and its transport to more industrial areas is still largely done by rail.

Rolling the clay to about 1mm thick
Rolling the clay to about 1mm thick

Anyway, significant permanent structures on the Boltorr branch will be built of granite, or at least, I hope they’ll look like they are.

I’ve tried a couple of techniques. I rejected using embossed plastic card because it looks rather too sterile and certainly too flat. But, so far I think I’ve achieved the best results with air curing clay over foam board.

Broken chips and "biscuits".. Fingers do an excellent job of breaking up into scale size blocks
Broken chips and “biscuits”. Fingers do an excellent job of breaking up into scale size blocks

The dam was made by gluing a thin veneer of DAS clay over the board structure, then embossing stones onto the surface. This worked fairly well, but the results do not match the technique I have settled on. That is to make dressed stone looking chips of clay and sticking them on individually.

This sounds tedious, and to a degree it is a bit more labour intensive than just embossing the stones, but it’s far more satisfying and gives a more realistic 3D surface texture. It also make it easier to place reasonable looking corner blocks, cornices and other embellishments.

The building blocks are made by rolling DAS clay to a thickness of about 1mm. I do this by using a crumpled sheet of non-stick aluminium sheet – as used in cooking – a couple of coffee stirrers or similar and a clay roller.

DAS clay, cured biscuits and rough blocks, corner blocks ready for use
DAS clay, cured biscuits and rough blocks, corner blocks ready for use
Looking upstream with the new, more adequate retaining walls. Partially treated, but I'll wait until the whole structure is in place before final rendering and weathering
Looking upstream with the new, more adequate retaining walls. Partially treated, but I’ll wait until the whole structure is in place before final rendering and weathering

The clay “biscuits” take up to 48 hours to completely cure and dry. Then I just break them up as randomly as I can aiming for blocks with sides around 4mm to 6mm long. This represents 12-18 inches to scale. Some end up a little larger, some smaller. It doesn’t matter. Any that seem too big I just break in half.

Corner blocks are made by cutting strips from the biscuit and snipping off appropriate blocks squarely with a pair of side snips.

Since these structures are purely functional a bit of variation adds to the charm, so I measure very little. It just has to look right.

Next: How to build a granite dam…