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Friday, December 29, 2006

Lessons Learned - Hydrocal and screen wire

I'd like to start by thanking John Warren for his inspiration and help. As I have begun to put some scenery onto the Parkdale Railroad, I found John's RailImages to be of extreme value. This picture in particular encouraged me to try screen wire. John uses drywall mud, but I chose to try Hydrocal. This picture is belongs to John Warren and is used with his permission.

Here is an early picture of how Hydrocal applied directly to window screen wire looks.

Notice the effect when you wad and crumple the screen wire into a ball before you hang it up. Just kinda smooth it out some while you are putting it in place. I like the effect, it looks very natural to me. Since I am using 1/2 inch foam board as a back drop veritical, you cannot staple the screenwire to the foam. I hold the plast in place using trusty old drywall screws. I also use those same screws to 'pin' foam parts together while the foam cement is setting. Works fine and the screws are reusable if you want to economize.

More on my frustrations with foam.

Running 24 gauge wire through 2 inch foam is not trivial. The 24 gauge I have is just not stiff enough to push through a small hole without bucklilng and jaming. 20 is easy, 24 is hard. Every signal, sensor, led, and there are dozens of each one on my layout are connected with two or more 24 gauge wires. Conduit would make it possible, but that is more of a hastle than drilling a hole in plywood. But putting little wires through foam is only ONE of the long list of issues I have with foam.

The main problem I find with foam is the ridiculous expectations that are set by those who hard sell it on the web and in the hobby shop. I have tried it, expected it to save time, lower cost and improve quality. It did none of those for me. My views and words about foam were formed by my own experiences with the material, not some intellectual endeavor.

I built a yard on it, 18" x 96", you think I could slice that 2" think foam straight, ugly. The yard, mind you was noisy compared to the rest of the layout that was cork on wood. I used foam glue to attach the track (not latex caulk which I learned about later) and had one heck of a time getting it straight. That's where I got so frustrated trying to run 24 gauge feeders. Then I had to use duct tape to secure the wires and it was butt ugly when I got done. I scrapped that entire layout, salvaged every piece of track and board. I spent more time removing and cleaning up the track on the foam than the rest of the entire layout. All because foam don't hold no nail.

On my first layout, I needed a small mountain so I decided to make one out of scrap foampieces. What a mess, carving foam sounds so easy, the results, were, well awful. I still have it to remind me of how hard it was. I covered it with plaster cloth to see if it would help. now it has a good surface, but the shape is, well poorly shaped foam. I tried using foam to do some neat little work on a part of my new layout. Looks like crap. More work I'll have to redo.

So I thought, I am just not a good enough craftsman. So I started to look around; Denver has a lot of train shows and I go to most of them. There, I frequently get to see for myself the results others get from foam. And you would think that the work that gets to the train shows is the better work wouldn't you? To tell the truth, the results that I typically see are the kind I am diligently working to avoid.

Over the winter, I saw this nifty idea of using foam and glue on paper to build tunnel portals. I spent about 4 weeks of time and a lot of money on foam, special glue and software to print rocks and make the portals. Ugly is a good word. I ripped them out and have replaced them with plaster portals, even made a mold and cast a couple of my own. Really nice, in comparison the foam mess.

Trying to build with foam has left me been thoroughly disappointed, and seeing about the same quality at the train shows as I can do was equally discouraging. Then I received the first edition of the MRR video series and saw them using WS plaster cloth over cardboard. Looked so easy, I thought I'd try it. Then I tried some screen wire and hydrocal. Actally very easy and the results out of the chute much better than anything I have been able to do before. All I had ever heard or read about before was how messy plaster is, use foam instead.

Well I am here to tell you that plaster has been a blessing to me, the quality is such a huge improvement. I have found a good use for all that foam I paid big money for. It makes great form backing for mountains to attach screen wire. I'd rather use plywood than the foam but since I have it, I use it.

Foam has proved to be of no value to my modeling, and has resulted in unsatisfactory results every where I have used it. The pictures I see on the web, well, I try to not be personal, but I don't see very many successes. Your milage may vary, I tell it like I see it.

I wrote this to put my experiences and my 'percieved bias' in perspective. A bias is an unreasonable, unsupportable conclusion. From what I see, the overwhelming bias is for foam.



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