Improved Closet Scenery

I wrote a few weeks back about upgrading the scenery in the corner of my layout as it enters the closet. It was some of the first scenery I did on the layout, and even in a couple of years, it wasn’t up to the standard of more recently sceniced areas as I have learned to apply static grass and other improved techniques.

Pictures of the work in progress adding improved ground cover base and Static Grass in the corner.

There is nothing earth shattering in what I did. A better base layer of Scenic Express sifted soil, followed by Woodland Scenics gravel for the driveways, and then a mix of 2mm, 4mm and 6mm long Static Grass layers of “patchy” grass from WWScenics in the UK (they sell direct or through Amazon in the past at least). Over the course of a few days, the new layers were built up after the old was scraped away, and I worked to blend it to the areas with previously applied static grass to avoid a visible seam in the scenery.

Before and after views of the closet area and the upgraded scenery.

So again, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to tear things out and try again. I am much happier with this corner of the layout now. Looking at it, I think I will also at some point do this “scenic upgrade” to the staging areas as well that had my older attempts at scenery. It will help bring the whole layout together, even though the scenery on the staging traversers is really just to hide the pink foam!

Fencing Toronto Carpet

I am always looking to make some progress, even slow progress. For the Toronto Carpet main site, now that the one outbuilding is done-ish, I can start to look at finishing the Scenery around it. This is actually about the hardest to reach area on the whole layout because of the peninsula, so it would be really nice to actually finish the scenery in this area. There is still a little bit of detailing to do to the building, but it lifts out easily, it is doing scenery in this area that is really tough. With that in mind, I’ve been searching for a different look, the site in 2022 has metal fencing, that is probably a more modern addition, but doing a fancy metal fence would help to differentiate the site a little from the home made chain link, wood or metal panel fences I have made elsewhere on the layout.

Using my helping hands from a friend to hold etched fence to solder parts together to make longer gates, and prepping for painting in the paintbooth.

I finally found an etched metal fence that I really liked, from Langley Models in the UK. It was however, cost prohibitive until I found an Ontario based retailer of British Models,, who had the etches I was looking for, and the gate set, and they had them on clear-out sale. Yes, I cleared them out! I now had more than enough fence to cover the area I was looking for. In terms of install, I wanted to have gates across the track, because the fence is etched, I would make them so they were open, I don’t want the risk of them swinging and shorting out on the layout. To make the winder gates, I cut posts and parts with hinges and locks from the gate set, and then spliced in blank fence sections from those etches. Some extra brass strip for bracing on the gates, and then soldered them on a flat surface (in this case a bit of scrap 1×3). Just a little bit of flux paste, and a tiny touch from a hot iron with some solder on the tip, and the fences were lengthened. I also made longer sections of the plain fence to make handling and painting a bit easier for me than many shorter segments.

Painting the fences was a pretty straightforward shot in the paint booth. Tried black primer on these for the first time. Figured it would help to keep them from showing too much etched brass through on missed areas if I used black primer and then glossy paint over-top. Installation was fiddlier. They don’t have good long legs. I added a couple of pins to hit holes drilled in the scenery, but there are a couple of spots that are now begging for the scenery to be blended around them to hide glue marks. Oh well, it happens, fixable, but annoying!

Installed fences on the Toronto Carpet yard. I like the look of different fences. I know the modern site has a metalwork fence, Don’t know if the 1950’s era did, but I like the look, and can always change it later if I change my mind.

As with so many projects, it unlocks more to do, or uncovers, I don’t even know some days! Still, progress is always a positive! There is now another block of area where I can get in and apply some static grass and scenery, it shows how much I need to formulate my plan for finishing painting the roads to actually get started on doing so, especially back here at the hardest to reach area. Might as well start there so I never have to go back in there, and so I finish the area where I am reaching over the most other scenery first!

First building of Toronto Carpet done

I wrote last week about progress on three buildings on the layout being made here. The first of these, over the course of the rest of last weekend and a couple of evenings this week, has reached what I call the first stage of completeness, done enough to look good on the layout. Further details and weathering/aging to the building will come, but I don’t have all the bits and pieces I need (a seemingly all to constant issue).

For this building, I am doing a combination of paint and Panpastels for the brick and trim colouring. The windows for this are Tichy frame windows, which while not 100% accurate for the masonry walls, for this building, represent a “good enough” compromise in the interest of actually getting the building constructed. The painting starts with a coat of grey primer, followed by the application of pan pastels. For this building, I just a mix of colours, mostly a “Raw Umber” base with “Red Iron Oxide Shade” overtop for a reddish-brown brick that gives the sense of the mortar lines without them being glowing white stripes on the building. I then used a mix of various greys, black and white for staining around locations where water would run down. Once I was happy with this base layer, I sprayed it with a rattlecan flat sealant. I think, Jason Shron from Rapido actually recommended this Behr (Home Depot) rattle can when I asked him what he was using to seal his roads once he had weathered them with PanPastels (note to self, I really need to start working on my roads again sometime!).

Pan Pastels before sealing on the layout, then into the spray booth for sealer and green trim. My selection of PanPastels are shown (yes, labelled with the label-maker as the packaging is labelled on the bottom!).

PanPastels come in a range of 92 colours, they can be blended and you can achieve a range of effects for buildings, roads, and rolling stock weathering with them. The picture above shows the limited range of colours I have. I have bought ones that feel brick or grime toned for doing structures mostly. Some time I will branch out and try them on rolling stock. I am very much in the “seal the pastels” camp, as they don’t bond on their own. This is important for things being handled, as they will come off and I have left fingerprints in models. The downside is, even a clear tones the colour down. It is not uncommon to find you need to go back and bump up details like the grime and water rundown effects on buildings, but these layers are less likely to get damaged by future handling than the main brick finish is.

“Finished” building in place on the layout.Now I can think about blending it into the pavement and the surrounding scenery getting polished off.

One down, two (and a bridge) to go for Toronto Carpet. I have started the second Toronto Carpet building. Now that I’ve got some space on the workbench, I can take it back off the layout and start working on the brick detail for it, which will be one of the more complicated patterns I have tried, wish me luck in re-creating it!

More Buildings, more Cricut Experimenting

One of the nice things about a small layout, is everything is done in moderation, there is not a lot of any one thing. This comes in handy where it comes to Buildings/Structures, as no two buildings are the same, and modelling a real area, I can’t really stick in generic space fillers, all 18 buildings/structures are as accurate as I can manage in 1/87th scale of the real buildings, or at least achieving that is my goal. In the past week and a bit I have made a dent in 3 more buildings, bringing me to 14 of 18 started.

#1 – S.F. Bowser, Southeast corner of Mowat Avenue & Liberty Street

First up, a building that will be a lot of work, and which you really won’t be able to see. This is the last of my front edge see through buildings, and is at the corner of Liberty Street and Mowat Avenue. It is important that this building be see through, as there are two switches at its front door, and to date, I haven’t gotten to 100% reliable operation through them. Some of it is I think, rolling stock related, some of it is the switches which are the middle of the giant “bat’leth” of track a friend custom built for this complex corner of the layout. The real building here has large multi-pane windows. Putting in a building with just big openings wouldn’t work for me, because I would know its wrong, and when I stick a camera into the layout, there are angles you can see it, and I’d know its wrong. After some thought, I realized that with a thin 0.020″ piece of Styrene, the Cricut could probably cut an inner layer to the wall cores I have been cutting, that could be laminated inside the wall and create the appearance of the windows. What I didn’t contemplate, was how long it would take for the Cricut to cut out the huge number of window panes. I set it to run one evening…and 8 hours later when I got up, it was still only half way through cutting. I decided to cancel the cut as they were scored enough that using a burnishing tool, I could pop the openings out. This was another slow and careful process, as too much force risked ripping the mullions that were to be left behind. I did tear some, but not beyond careful repairing with the parts that tore off and gentle application of liquid cement.

Using the Cricut to cut both a thicker “core” and a thinner “window” layer to be laminated together to make a wall.

Before I laminated the mullion layer to the core, I wanted to apply brick to the layout side, and make any adjustments to the window openings for the door or window lintels. This building is one where I am using a lot of off-cuts and remnants from other projects. I save almost every off-cut of brick sheet, and a lot of bits of blank styrene from the walls. Someday down the line I will do another purge and get rid of them, but while I am actively layout building, having lots of scraps comes in handy for a lot of reasons.

A lot of work for a building where 100% of the detail faces away from the operator into the layout!

#2 – Starting Toronto Carpet

The Toronto Carpet complex on my layout is three buildings, two of which are connected by a sky bridge over Mowat Avenue. To make this work, I first need to do the western part, Barrymore Cloth. Once this is done, it will set a hard support for one end of the bridge. I don’t think I will build the bridge until the main Toronto Carpet building is done, so I can make sure it fits between to final buildings, rather than between a plastic building and a foam mock-up.

I have only cut the core on this building, and put it in place to check dimensions. That said, the Core of this building is layered, and boy did I have a bad day cutting. I managed to need three takes at this because I screwed up the dimensions in the Cricut cutting program twice before getting all the walls and the depth plates to create the pattern of areas set back from each other. It was, a frustrating day between the time, the mistakes, and wasting styrene. I didn’t throw anything out, but the leftovers of the first attempts won’t be useful for much other than braces and hidden parts of buildings.

Test fitting the first part of the Toronto Carpet Factory on the west side of Mowat Avenue.

This building has some interesting and unique brickwork that I really want to try and re-create, so I am going to be doing a lot of careful brick laying before I connect the walls. I will write about the brickwork whenever I actually do some of it. Same for the windows, I think I am going to try something new for me, we shall see how it goes and report either way!

#3 – Toronto Carpet Factory – 72 Fraser Avenue

The third building in my recent mini wave of progress is 72 Fraser Avenue, a second building on the main Toronto Carpet Factory Block. It is not rail served on my layout, and is a background space filler. It is being built using tried and true techniques now, with some adjustments. This is the first time I have tried to use the Cricut to cut openings for commercial windows. I have cut to use my own 3D printed and resin cast, vinyl windows, and Cricut windows as above. For this building, I am using Tichy Trains windows as they are close enough to the actual buildings. There is no point in making work for myself when something off the shelf can be used.

Working on test fitting the walls, and the almost ready for primer and paint building on the layout.

For this building, I am going to paint the windows and door separately, so I can finish the brick, then once its sealed, pop in the windows, glaze them and call it a day. Still lots of work to do, but over the course of a couple of nights, it is always gratifying to see a building go from a board mock-up and drawings/measurements to a physical object I can hold and look at and really feel it becoming a part of the layout.


My current work target is to get the buildings along the backdrop done, so I can then work from the backdrop out improving and finishing scenery. To get there, two of these buildings need to be done, as do two others. Both the other two need some more work in creating 3D printed windows for resin casting. I’ve been putting that off finding excuses to not spend even more time in my layout room on the computer (since I spend all day there on my work computer), but I am going to need to do some of the computer work so I can keep on with the actual layout building. Seeing what I can get done certainly isn’t hurting the motivation to do more on the computer so I can keep the progress happening.

Don’t be afraid to do things over

When I started building Liberty Village in the summer of 2018, it was (and remains) far and away my biggest attempt at a layout or diorama. I am constantly learning and improving skills in many areas, one of which, is scenery. Some of the first scenery I did was in the staging yards, especially the CPR end in the closet as I wanted to be “done” in the most constricted working space. Over time, the quality of my early scenery between the staging traverser and the boundary of the layout has gnawed at me as not being good enough. There was a discernible line in quality between the earliest areas and the later areas as you come out of the closet, and it was bothering me.

So, at lunch today on a work from home day, I started scraping at the scenery to remove some of the old cover. When I did this part of the layout, I bought the wrong ScenicExpress dirt, I bought coarse sifted instead of fine, which meant it had large pebbles, virtual boulders in it. I sifted out the worst myself, and tried to hand remove the biggest, but the area looked entirely wrong for southern Ontario with these big rocks just sitting there. Then, on top of that, I used a heavy ground foam to create access roads and grass. It just looked awful, especially compared to the areas immediately adjacent with fine soil, and static grass applied. I know I can do better, so I worked to strip away the worst of what I had done, and re-do it.

Before, during and after today’s new ground cover. Even with the glue still setting, the area looks so much better.

I didn’t want, or need to strip away all the existing scenery back to styrofoam subbed. What was there will provide some texture, and some of it poking through isn’t going to be a bad thing for variety of appearance. Once I vacuumed up any scraped material, I laid new gravel roads, and then properly sifted soil. After that has had a couple of days to set up, I can go back and add detail colour and static grass to help blend this area into the layout.

I’ve been busy as well of late working on buildings for the layout, I will write about that progress this weekend, as there are some interesting continuing developments in my working with the Cricut. My message for now, don’t be afraid if something isn’t right and isn’t making you happy with your layout, to take it out and do it over. I am already much happier than I was when I look into this corner.

Moving on to the next Building

Having taken a bit of a break from serious layout work through August and the first half of September, last weekend I pulled the Cricut out and started drawing walls and windows. The Building at 20 Mowat Avenue is one that is compressed in size to fill space between two others that are more focused in 18 Mowat Avenue and Canadian General Electric.

The Cricut out and cutting walls, then laminating vinyl window frames onto clear styrene, and weeding the window panes. Once the walls were cut, I then use them to prep the brick sheet to be laminated on before cutting out the windows.

This is a pretty small building, its selectively compressed to fit the space. My approach to building buildings has been to use a thick base of 0.060″ styrene to match the foundations I installed at the start of layout building. With the Cricut, I can now cut out the building cores, and work to laminate on brick or stone details. Once the brick is laminated onto to the core, I use the openings cut by the Cricut to open out the windows from the inside. I can then file, shave and nibble the openings to fit the windows. For this building, I am again using vinyl to create the window patterns. With the windows, I can check and see how much space I need to trim to fit. As with many things, I leave my windows cut by the Cricut a bit small, as it is much easier to make the openings larger than it is to fill in gaps if they are too big. That is a bit less critical with the vinyl windows, as it is a lot easier to re-cut them to a larger size and on buildings using either commercial plastic windows, or on buildings where I need to do 3D printed windows and cast them in resin to create the right look and feel.

My technique for “painting” with Pan Pastels, using a micro applicator to get good coverage into the tight spots that I can’t get into for good coverage with the sponge on the brick.

I am still learning how I want to paint my buildings. I’ve done a bit of everything on the layout. I do like the PanPastels powdered pigment, as I am starting to get the hang of applying them and not filling in the brick mortar lines. I have found this easier than going back with paint washes or mortar washes to pick out the brick lines as I have had to do on buildings painted with the airbrush or a spray can. I think there is need for both techniques as I go depending on the building, so improving how I do things is important. On this latest building, I am continuing to work with experimenting in weathering and aging the building as I go. Nothing crazy, but getting a feel for applying a bit of grey where water would run off the window. As the PanPastels don’t self adhere permanently without being oversprayed with a fixative, you can treat them like an oil, and pull them down, move them after application. This meant that I could dab on grey, and move it about using vertical strokes to create the appearance of water runoff. I am waiting on some more colours (I need white) to finish this work before I spray the building to seal it. The one thing I don’t like, and that I am still working on, is the clear spray inevitably changes the appearance of the pastels. It darkens them (not the end of the world), but can cause fine detail to disappear (more of a problem). I am finding that I have to be, more generous in how much PanPastel I apply so that what looks good before I spray, still is visible after! There is a feel to this, and I’m not sure I am there yet, but I would rather underapply now and go back and add more over, than overdo it.

From hardboard mockup to styrene, to primed and then partially painted with PanPastels. Not bad for a weekend and a couple of evenings work.

The next few buildings are ones that are not as compressed to fit and fill space, and that will help create the sense of being in Liberty Village by representing actual major buildings, like Canadian General Electric and the Toronto Carpet Factory. This of course, is all in my seemingly pathological effort to avoid cutting out the windows on Hinde & Dauch and actually moving it along… someday…It is a hobby after all, at least I have things to work on even if a lot of the time it is to avoid a slow and fiddly task that even when I make progress on it, seems to daunt me!