Tag Archives: DAS clay

The Bridge – the next chapter

Other than setting the bridge into the landscape and adding a bit of weedy flora, the road bridge is more or less done.

A Southern Region horsebox and 12T MOGO disappear under the bridge heading towards the MOD sidings...
A Southern Region horsebox and 12T MOGO disappear under the bridge heading towards the MOD sidings…

Here are the things I’ve learned:

  • Rendering stonework is not the hard part
  • Roads and lanes are very difficult. To start with, they’re not even black…
  • Pigment powder is very, very dense, no matter how little you think you’re using…
I'm going to have to think about that road surface...
I’m going to have to think about that road surface… Yes, the inside wall is whitewashed and there’s a wooden rubbing strip

So, I think it’s time to look at track… Let’s get something running!

Building Bridges

Where was I? Oh yes. I spent days, yes, days, applying stonework to my MDF bridge armature using my DAS clay technique.

In the end it looks great. A bit of a caricature of vernacular stonework if I’m honest, but as the scale gets smaller a bit of emphasis helps.

Okay. I know the arch is asymmetrical. But there’s a story behind it. At least, there will be…

A few weeks ago I was in Home Depot and I noticed in the shaky can section they had a textured “granite” spray, so this was a chance to try it out. After masking out the roadway and whitewashed walls and wooden rubbing strip I spent a happy moment in the garage carefully priming the structure. This paint goes on really thick, so take your time with several thin coats letting it dry in between

In the event it was pretty cold there, so the paint had a problem “drying” in the garage, so in the end I brought it indoors, where Mrs Hill and I spent a heady night with the bridge perched above a heating vent.

Once again, the texture was possibly a bit much, but as I started to render the surface back it started to look pretty good. I also started to pick out individual blocks in various shades of grey. Just a fine brush and a palette of black and warm white with the occasional bit of pink. Yes. Granite has pink in it. I also treated a couple of areas with a mossy green colour under ledges and in corners although these aren’t evident in the images, but will pull out when I apply the final matt varnish coat… I hope.

Initially I used dropper bottles to drip various mixtures of grey/cream to represent mortar between the stones. Moisten with “wet-water” first. If you dilute your mixtures correctly, at first the courses look pretty garish, but as the paint dries it cuts back. If I found any particular spot was looking a bit too much I used a torn edge of paper towel to soak up the excess. Once dry use a stiff dry-brush to cut it back further if required

You’ll notice that above the tracks I’ve tried to imply soot and grime from the steam and exhaust of the engines. Also, on the right I’ve started to suggest the cornerstones have been painted white for safety reasons. There will be a platform continuing under the bridge. I’m also going to place a light in there for effect – and the convenience of people waiting for a train.

Tailgating? What’s that?

And this is where I’m at. A bit of a local traffic jam on the bridge where the new NHS midwife is on her way to a prenatal home visit. Obviously, she’s new to Dartmoor from the Big City or she wouldn’t have a Morris Minor convertible. Just wait for the first real downpour or blizzard… Meanwhile the RAC guy is on the rounds, fixing the “Do Not Feed The Ponies” signs and rescuing damsels in distress.

So now the bridge awaits the application of  weathering powders and a bit of plant life sprouting from appropriate places before blending into the landscape.

The road surface – actually one of the most difficult modelling challenges – is also awaiting treatment a la Kathy Millatt, while the wooden rubbing strip is going to be aged using another fine product, MicroMark Age-It-Easy.

Now. Where Was I?

Well, summer’s over. We’ve even seen a surprise snowstorm here in New Jersey. And my sister actually lives on Dartmoor tells me they’ve had snow there as well.

So it’s back to work on the Boltorr branch. 

I’m currently working on the road bridge which forms the scenic break at the northern end of the layout. It’s built using a structure of 2mm MDF, and stonework of chips of DAS modelling clay. 

The bridge ready for trimming
The bridge ready for trimming and rendering

All stonework is finished except for some trimming and my next stage will be representing the road, actually one of the most difficult exercises in modelling. I also have some etched drain covers and rain grills to add some detail. I just have to figure how to give the road a hint of camber.

The bridge will then be ready for painting and rendering.

Devon General 46 squeezes across
Devon General 46 squeezes across

My priority now will be to get the basic landform settled so I can actually lay some track. Initially the layout will be DC, but I’m wiring it so it will be easy to convert to DCC at some point. 

Build a Road-over bridge

Impermanent Ways - volume 6... Noodle Books: 978-1-906419-99-8
Impermanent Ways – volume 6… Noodle Books: 978-1-906419-99-8
I had hoped to find a laser-cut bridge kit somewhere on the interwebs, but nothing looked quite right.

My DAS chip method is tedious, but it looks so good. I think I’m committed to it now, if only to maintain a “look” across the layout.

I looked around Google images for a bridge to base Boltorr’s on, but didn’t find an example which fitted Dumnonia’s needs better than the one illustrated on the cover of “Impermanent Ways v6“. So I’m not certain the rights’ issues involved here, but buy the book! The whole series is a huge resource if you model in this area.

The real issue when building a model bridge which never actually existed, is getting the arch right.

The image is on the oblique and needs to be adjusted
The image is on the oblique and needs to be adjusted

The photo of the bridge on the cover is on the oblique, so I used an image editor to square the perspective and match an ellipse to the arch.
I adjusted the perspective then constructed an ellipse to match the arch
I adjusted the perspective then constructed an ellipse to match the arch

I then reduced the image to black & white to produce a template. I’ll jiggle with the width of the bridge and the chord of the road deck to fit my location.

In Boltorr’s case, this means spanning the branchline, a siding and possibly an extension of the platform under the bridge. I will also have to adjust to accommodate the road level above.

I reduced the image to b/w to use as a template
I reduced the image to b/w to use as a template

The northern exit starts its evolution
The northern exit starts its evolution

At this point, I’m not considering a hi-tech solution. It’ll be a combination of printer settings and a pair of scissors.

For construction I’m going back to 2mm MDF with appliqué stonework courtesy of DAS. This provides the most stable foundation.

Boltorr Dam and the rail bridge abutments were built using foam-board which tends to take a form of its own if it possibly can. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but for engineering elements it’s a problem. MDF resists the urge to distort far better.

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…