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Static grass, or what’s known as flocking, is a super-easy way to lay down some grass on your model train layout. And the easiest way to put it down and give it a natural look is to use a static grass applicator.
If you think buying one is too much for your pocket right now, stay tuned to find out how you can DIY make your own applicator.
We also give a few tips and tricks on how to handle the applicator better and get the most out of it as well!
What is Static Grass?
Static grass for your train layouts is basically short fibres of nylon or polyester that stand erect on your layouts to provide a more natural-looking grass.
The best part occurs when you run a little static electricity through them and makes the fibres, or blades of grass, stand on end. It just helps to give a more believable look to your grass and is easier to use than trying to do it all by hand.
It was first introduced into the US by Boyd Models back in the 1970s. Originally, it would be applied using what’s known as a puffer bottle, which you guess it, just puffed the grass onto the layout with the hopes the air would help it stand up!
It wasn’t until the Noch brand introduced the first static electric applicators that adding static grass to your layouts really took off.
If you’re looking for the best static grass, you should take a look at both woodland scenics or something like WWS Static Grass. Both of these will run through any applicator no worries, and come in a variety of colours!
What are the Benefits of Using Static Grass Applicators?
A static grass applicator offers better control over the application of the grass blades on the surface. by applying a small electrical current to make them stand up, you’ll find that your grass looks great as soon as it hits your layout and you won’t have to spend hours trying to meticulously brush your hand-placed grass to look natural.
It’s also a really easy way to mix and match different coloured grasses for a more natural look, doesn’t cause any clumping that you’d get by placing grass by hand, and it’s easy to switch between wide area coverage to fine detailing.
This makes the entire grass layering process much simpler. You can also make weeds, tufts, and grass patches as well as add branches to trees (wire trees, of course).
The grass won’t fly all over the place and you won’t struggle to achieve consistency.
How Does a Static Grass Applicator Work?
As mentioned before, a static grass applicator is a tool used to make realistic grass for train layouts.
The concept is to spread a fine filament of PVA glue over your model landscape before using static electricity to get the grass to stand up.
These applicators are essentially what’s known as a static field generator. Which is a fancy way of saying that it just gives your entire layout a static charge that makes the grass stand on end, kind of like your own body hair if you were statically charged (like rubbing a balloon on your arm for example).
The static grass is distributed over the glue coated surface through a metal sieve while you hold a metal stick to your layout to provide it with the static charge. As the grass consistently falls from the sieve, it stands upright as it hits the charged layout. Because it’s so tiny, it’s really easy to achieve a good bond with a good layer of PVA, that will allow you to either shake off the leftover grass, or even vacuum it off the layout if you do it carefully.
Can You Make Your Own Static Grass Applicator?
The short answer is a big and relatively easy yes!
Realistically, two big factors come into play when considering buying or making your own applicator; time and money.
A quality brand machine from someone like Woodland Scenics will set you back anywhere from $70 to $150. On the flip side, this device isn’t very complicated. You can build one for yourself in a few hours and for about $20 in materials with a little dedication and work.
What Tools Do you need to make a DIY static grass applicator?
The tools you’ll need to make your own static grass applicator are listed below:
- Sieve: Any kitchen supply store should have a sieve. You can also find them in the home section of a large department store.
- Wire: You need about 2 feet of stranded wire. The size isn’t set in stone but the 18 gauge works great. Use whatever is on hand.
- Alligator clips: All electronics and hardware stores have these. A small pack shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars. You can use the leftovers to make miniature clamps or test leads.
- An electric fly swatter – depending on how you’re making yours. You can find these in your local Target or simply any hardware store. These are available all over the internet too.
- Batteries for the electric fly swatter
- Electrical tape
- Small wood shims
- Soldering gun/iron
- Motor tool equipped with metal cutting disk
- Wire crimping tool
- Wire cutters/strippers
How to Make a DIY Static Grass Applicator
There’s a bunch of different methods to make a static grass applicator, but here are the steps to make one with an electric fly swatter.
- First, unscrew the back of the fly swatter’s handle. You’ll find a small circuit boarding holding all the electronics near the zapper’s head. Two small wires protrude to the head from the head. One wire is linked to the inner web while the other to the outer. Take the whole head out. Use the screwdriver to push the halves open. Leaving enough lead for soldering new wires, clip the wires.
- Attach the kitchen sieve to the handle of the zapper. Cut the handle to stop the bars from reaching the circuit board.
- Attach two wires to the exposed wires. One has to be a few inches long and it will connect to the sieve. The other, approximately 18” long, will be attached to the layout’s scenic base with an alligator clip and nail. Solder the wires. Add a layer of electric tape for protection.
- Add a few small wooden shims to attach the sieve and handle. Use electrical tape to secure this setup.
- Join the short wire to the hopper and put an alligator clip in the longer one. Thread a little insulation through the screen. Solder the wire ends and put the batteries in.
There’s also a really good way to make one without the fly swatter using a sieve and some old Tupperware that Luke Towan of Boulder Creek Railroad goes into detail on making in this video here:
Tips for Using a Static Grass Applicator
Check out these handy tools to optimize your use of a static grass applicator.
- PVA (white glue) is undoubtedly the best glue to stick static grass in place. We’ve found that mixing in a little water with the glue helps the consistency over the terrain and also helps the grass stand a little better. Paired with the static electric applicator, this ensures perfect results. Mixes of 50/50 or 70/30 water to PVA have shown to provide the best results.
- Mix and blend static grass lengths and colors for a more realistic look. If you look at any grass in the wild (not your perfectly manicured lawn) you’ll notice that its a mix of different colours and different lengths.
The exact look will depend on your personal reference and what you want it to look like, but we’ve found that 10% short fibres to 10% medium works good on layouts like O or N. For bigger scales, HO or OO scale, for instance, grass lengths like 2mm to 4mm and above would be better. The more variation in your static grass, the more realistic it will look.
- Make the baseboard first – Paint the area a dark colour like. mud brown or as realistic to what you think the dirt below would look like. It doesnt matter how much grass you add, you’ll still see through it slightly, so a bright white baseboard is going to be an issue. When it comes to blending various grasses, your desired look will dictate the undercoat color. Our personal favorites are greens and browns.
- Static grass for train layouts can become a true challenge if they find their way into track and points. When doing trackside application, mask-off the track.
- Once you’re done layering the static grass, dust it with a little hairspray. This combined with the PVA holds your work upright in place.
The Best Static Grass Applicator[amazon box=” B0754HPNZF” tracking_id=”myhobbymodels-20″]
If you’re not going to build your own and want something that’s going to work right out of the gate and for a long time, this is our vote for the best static grass applicator on the market.
The TruePower Static Grass Applicator is a great model that comes with 3 different head attachments; these let you change how much grass you’re putting down at any one time, making sure you get a realistic-looking grass.
The only thing you need to be careful about is that it gives off a strong static electric charge, so like anything you buy or make, you need to be careful handling something with this much electricity. When it’s turned on, your biggest thing should be to absolutely not touch the ground wire!
There’s absolutely no reason you 100% definitely need to get a static grass applicator if you’re into model trains. You can always get away with sprinkling grass on with your hand, or coming up with other creative solutions.
BUT, if you want your model train layout to look the most realistic that it can, and really hold its own with the models you see online, a static grass applicator is a worthwhile investment!
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.