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Posted - 01/10/2004 :  10:55:27 AM  Show Profile
[Moderator's Note: This tutorial was originally posted by "MP Rich" in the Model Railroad Construction Forum. A copy of it has been moved here for archival purposes. The original thread is still open for discussion in the construction forum]

As I started putting ground cover and foliage on my layout I recognized several things. I needed lots of foliage clumps. At $6-7 per bag I was going to have a fortune in foam. The colors available in clump foliage was very limited. I wanted a clump foliage that was cheap, stiff enough to stand on its own when glued in place and with the same wide variety of colors I see in nature. Having seen an article on this forum about making your own ground turf I decided to make my own clump foliage. I feel I have found a way to make a very usable product that with a limited amount of time and effort can be tailored to suit what I wanted.
The first and hardest item to acquire is a kitchen blender that is considered disposable. I say disposable because your wife will never let you bring it back to her kitchen!! Get one from a garage sale, thrift shop, or buy the wife a new one and take the old. Donít pay much for one as you may very well ruin it.

Next get several bottles of the cheapest acrylic craft paints in different shades of green, a bottle of black, white and yellow will also be handy. With these you can mix endless color options. Find some foam of the soft type used in chair cushions and pillows. It does need to be of a light color but otherwise it is not a critical item. Some water and white glue are needed also. I have found I use enough white glue that buying it at the home center in gallon jugs is worthwhile. Gather several old containers. Plastic ice cream buckets or large butter tubs are my choice. A dozen plastic shopping bags will complete the needed materials. Plastic sheeting or aluminum foil can work for this if you donít have bags handy.

Begin by cutting pieces of foam down to 1-2Ē. Make a dozen or so. Mix a quart or so of about equal parts water and glue. Color it with a paint mix that pleases you. For the first batch I would go with one of the colors you bought . You can then mix your own as you see what it needs. The finished product seems to come out darker when it dries. The amount of paint in the water/glue mix is not fixed. I started with about a 1/3 of a small bottle. When making your own colors, start with a small amount of the lighter color and mix small amounts of the darker until you get what you want.
Now comes the only critical part of this game. If you try to get too much done and overwork the blender it WILL burn up. Add foam in small amounts and judge how the blender takes it. Allow time for the motor to cool. If you feel the motor heating or smell odd odors you should quit for that day. I am on my second junk blender so be advised and take care.
Put two or three pieces of foam in the blender and add about a cup of the colored glue mix. Cover it and try pulsing the blender to start tearing the foam apart. This is the scary part as it sounds like you are tearing the thing apart. As the blender gets into it the thing will run smoother and the foam pieces are broken down. Run the blender for short periods, stopping to add pieces a few at a time. Let the blender chew on each group until it again runs smoothly without the jerking sounds. Do not even consider putting foam in through the top while it is running. It will make you turn green. When you have chopped about a half blender full, I recommend stopping and pouring this batch out to start draining. Getting the mix too thick will heat the motor much faster.

Tape or tie the plastic or aluminum foil over the top of one of your containers, making a smooth pocket to pour the wet mixture into. Punch a bunch of small holes in the bottom and sides for the paint mix to drip through. A six penny nail worked for me. Too large a hole will let too much ground foam flow through and too small will take forever to drip through. This is a slow process as the liquid has to work its way through a bunch of foam. Lots of small holes work better than a few large holes. Make a second batch of the same color if the drain bucket will hold it or set it aside to drip and dry.
The drying process seems to be amazingly slow for a paint process. I can only guess that the glue and water make it so slow. Even after the dripping stops it may take several days to totally dry. Thatís where you need more containers so you can continue to make more while the first dries. As it dries enough to handle, you can break it up into smaller pieces to use or just wait and break it off as you use it. Sometimes the inside comes out a different color than the outside. The different drying conditions seem to cause this.

If you have a batch that is totally wrong and you just canít see nature having done that, it is not a total loss. Just break it up and feed it into the next batch you make. I have also found it useful as a course turf when run back through the blender without any liquid added. I have not however, been able to make a fine mix to use as a replacement for the fine ground foam on the market. This will give you several more options for color and texture at a cheap price.

Spread your new clump foliage around and enjoy your efforts!
Keep any left over wet mix covered and it will not dry up for several weeks.

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