Saturday 29 April 2023


I have some lamps that I will shortly be adding to the platform at Hexworthy, and I had thought it would be nice to add lighting to the station building too - after all, there's no point in the platform lamps being the only source of light. I'd added the DC voltage regulator connected to the 16V AC supply via a switch on the control panel when I wired up the playground, and I had some assorted LEDs and resistors to hand.

To complement the platform lamps I thought there should be lighting under the canopy. I had some tiny surface-mount LEDs (SMLED) with wires attached, the wires were passed through holes punched through the foam walls just under the canopy and the LEDs were fixed under the canopy bracing with a dot of superglue. For the indoor lights normal 3mm LEDs were used, I tried white but the colour was too stark and blue, so I settled on yellow, a bit too yellow but it looks OK. The corridor and booking office share an LED in a hole in the wall, inserted through the ceiling, while the right-hand room has an LED pushed through the wall from the old goods shed. Being made from polystyrene foam it is very easy to make holes in the walls for wires or LEDs. 

From above the lighting installation is not so neat! The rear upper roms house the connections out of sight. The power comes up in the back left corner (seen in the previous photo), and the negative is a bare single-core wire that all the LED negative wires could be connected to. This is a bit nerve racking as one downside of a polystyrene foam building is it isn't compatible with a soldering iron! The four canopy LEDs are wired from the 5-way terminal block rear right, and each have their own resistor. However, the four indoor LEDs are wired in parallel pairs sharing a resistor, mainly to save terminal block space. From the upstairs rooms an LED pokes through the wall to light the front centre room, while another serves the old goods shed via a hole in the end wall. 

In a darkened room the effect works quite well, the canopy lights are remarkably bright, the indoor lights a bit yellow but give a cosy feel. As I'd previously painted the inside walls there is little light bleed, except where I poked LEDs through holes in the walls - light seems to travel through the walls and make them glow (as seen where the goods shed meets the station). Some black paper or foil around the sides of the LED might stop this. 

I then had an idea. Could I put a light inside the phonebox? Well it seems with one of the SMLEDs it isn't that hard! Here the LED is glued to a square of black paper (to stop the top of the phonebox glowing), the wires bound in heat-shrink to protect them and keep them stiff. 

Installation needed a hole drilling through the clay base, then punching through the polystyrene landscape and foam-core board. The wire was then passed through and connected up underneath, and the phonebox glued in place. 

The result works quite nicely. Being a plastic phonebox it does glow through the red, although it isn't so obvious to the eye as it looks in this photo. I may go for a bigger resistor to dim it a little. I like the way this is largely hidden by the water tower from some angles, but comes into view as a splash of red in daylight or now as a glowing beacon in the dark - rather like real old phoneboxes did. 

Sunday 23 April 2023

Growing trees - Part 3

I'd meant to post pictures of the completed trees planted on the layout once they were done, but shortly afterwards I went down with Covid, and I have only now got around to this update!

Since the baseboard is foam-core board and landscape is expanded polystyrene covered in a PVA-soaked tissue and tile grout skin, planting the trees is easy. A dental probe is used to punch a hole through the hard skin of the scenery after which the tree can be "planted", it's wire "root" pushing easily through polystyrene and foam-core. The wire and base of the trunk are coated with matt modge-podge to hold it and if needed gound cover is pushed out the way to allow the trunk to sit on the landscape, any gaps being disguised with a little extra ground foam scatter. 

The right-hand end of the layout now looks quite wooded, as is the intention since the river valleys are filled with trees. Although the trees form a row only one tree deep the use of denser foliage on trees in the centre suggest the woodland is more dense than it actually is. One tree sits at the front adding depth to the scene and acting as a view-blocker, while the trees at the right-hand end very effectively screen the track exit. With the tree at the front too, the exit is not easily visible even looking along the layout. 

You may notice some flowers and grass tufts have been added, the flowers adding a welcome splash of coulour but hopefully in a subtle way while the tufts add more variety to the grassy areas. 

At the left hand end a couple of large trees break up the scene and help disguise the compressed road, the tree at the rear having more dense foliage. I added some commercial poplar trees behind the station where there is a narrow embankment, hopefully adding some visual interest. 

The playground is now fully assembled and set into the scene, and backed by trees to give a woodland effect. It has gained a fence (Ratio) and some gates. The rear fence is attached to the playground sub-base while at the front it is fixed to the embankment, which along with the low undergrowth completely disguises the edge of the sub-base. The playground surface has a brown scatter representing the bark chippings that once seemed popular for such playgrounds. Some flowers (pansies?) line the embankment and there appear to be some bluebells in the woods. 

At the right-hand end the trees can be seen to hide the exit track, while the tree at the front frames a scene around the bridge. My wife observed that the tree at the front has become a regular feature of my layouts, including Loctern Quay and Awngate! At the rear a tree by the stream both disguises the join in the backscene and casts a shadow where the stream meets the backscene. Grass tufts can be seen in the fields too. 

Tuesday 4 April 2023

Growing trees - Part 2

 Another method of adding foliage to the trees is to use a fibrous material and a separate scatter material.

I think my fibrous material came from Green Scene although I don't see it listed now, the Woodland Scenics polyfibre looks similar. The leaves can use any scatter material, I use a fine ground foam from various sources. 

The fibre is applied in a similar way to the foliage matting, but there are differences. I tended to cut off a chunk and tease out to a large "cloud", then cut smaller pieces from it to attach to the tree, using matt modge podge. This material is teased out to a much greater extent than foliage matting, taking up many times its initial volume.

The fibres fill out the tree shape, effectively providing the twigs without leaves. I suppose it looks like a winter tree, although the transition between the plastic branches and the fine fibres looks rather abrupt. At this stage the tree is sprayed liberally with hairspray and the chosen scatter applied, sprinkled from all sides - including from below, but mainly from above and the sides. A repeat hairspray application and scatter make sure the covering is secure and even.

The result is a more bulbous tree with a relatively dense covering of leaves, although the leaves are around the outside of the tree shape and not through it - as often seen on real trees. I guess the foliage could be less dense if the fibres are teased out even more, although if that leaves the fibres visible I find the result less convincing. 

In this tree line-up tree one (on the left) uses Woodland Scenics dark green foliage, two uses Heiki-flor foliage in light green, tree four (far right) uses Woodland Scenics mid green foliage, but tree three (third from left) uses the fibres and foam scatter as shown above. The resulting different shape of the foliage adds variety, and the denser foliage can be useful when using the tree to block out a background or give the appearance of more dense woodland. It is also useful to be able to use a wider range of scatter material colours and textures. 

Monday 3 April 2023

Growing trees - Part 1

Hexworthy sits in a valley which hosts many trees, in fact some parts by the river are densely wooded. That means I'd need trees, and quite a lot of them. While I have made trees using the traditional (and effective) twisted wire method, it takes a long time - and my results weren't always that good. However, I have discovered Woodland Scenics "tree armatures", plastic mouldings for trees 5 to 7 inches tall, a pack contains 12 in 4 designs. 

The procedure I use is as follows:
  • Cut off the base, any moulding lines and release marks
  • Drill the base "peg" to accept a piece of straightened paper-clip wire, superglued in place. Drilling has to be done slowly and in brief bursts as the plastic melts easily, binding the drill
  • Now the armatures are dunked in boiling water for a few minutes, this warms the plastic making it more malleable. 
  • Remove and shake/dab off excess water, taking care not to get scalded - but the tree itself won't be too hot to touch
  • Now twist the trunk. I grip at the lowest set of branches (sometimes pliers helps) and at the next set of branches up and firmly twist through about 60 degrees. Repeat at the next set of branches up, and the next... it gets easier as the trunk tapers. Each 60 degree (ish) twist means branches now fan out all around the tree
  • Each branch then is then shaped and has its own branches twisted to hopefully natural shapes that fill the space
This is actually quite easy, although the pointy branches are not kind to the thumbs. 

The next step was to paint the trunks, mainly to try and get rid of the plasticky look. I mixed a colour close to that of the plastic so any bits not covered wouldn't stand out, with a little matt modge podge in with the acrylic paint to help it stick and stay matt. A thinner darker wash was run into the texture of the trunks although to be honest it made little difference. Maybe spraying would have been quicker, probably dry-brushing with different colours would have given a better effect but taken much longer...

Placing on the layout helps to figure out what trees will fit where, and is an encouragement. A hole is punched through the top layer of scenery and the wire "root" pushed into the foam below. 

Foliage can come from different sources, but the Woodland Scenics foliage works well, as does the similar Heiki-Flor foliage. Small pieces are cut then teased out in all 3 dimensions - tweezers help - to get a delicate spread. This is then threaded onto a branch covered with a little matt modge podge. In the process a lot of the foam "leaves" fall off, so when the tree is complete it is sprayed liberally with hairspray and the fallen leaves sprinkled back on. 

The effect works well, surprisingly well given it's ease, and can result in pleasingly light and delicate foliage - although the density of the tree depends how much foliage is applied and how far it is teased out. While not exactly quick - I guess the whole process takes about 2.5-3 hours per tree in total - these trees are much quicker to make than completely hand-made trees and look far better than most shop-bought trees.