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7237 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  4:17:16 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This is a HO scale scratch build of the New York Mill located in Blackhawk, Colorado. The model will be built using plans from Michael Blazek. ( http://blazeksplan.com ) This build will focus on the use of balsa foam as a building material in HO scale.

For those interested, a few pictures (which one can zoom in for better views) and site plan of the mill can be viewed here:

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.


7237 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  4:19:00 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Additional Sandbox Build Threads:
Small Miner's Cabin: (HO Scale)
-- Base hues for wood coloring
-- Carving Plaster Castings
-- Coloring Plaster Castings for Colorado Clear Creek area.
-- Mortar line coloring in plaster cast stone walls.
-- Faded/worn paint on individual boards

Colin's Cabin: (HO Scale)
-- Base Yellow-Orange Hues for Wood Coloring.
-- Verifying Coloring Plaster Castings for Colorado Clear Creek area.
-- Simulated Concrete Using Stripwood and Mortar Line Coloring Mix.
-- Leadville, Colorado: pictures of Scandinavian Influence on Structures
-- Dry-Brushing with Builders-in-Square Yellow Wood Stain.
-- Coloring and Install of Laser-Cut window Products vs. Styrene Window Castings

Lucas's Cabin: (HO Scale)
-- Clapboard siding how-to.
-- Quick and effective clapboard coloring technique.
-- Obtaining grey-blue 'haze' on corrugated roofing.
-- 'Defines' of brush staining and wood graining techniques.

Seth's Cabin (HO Scale)
-- Board and batten siding how to.
-- Coloring stripwood with Prismacolor markers including evaluation.
-- Using Sandable Hard Gesso to represent concrete texture in HO scale.
-- Testing of colored graphite pencils to color rolled paper roofing paper stock edges.

I want to try using some construction and weathering techniques which are new, at least to myself and the uncommon modeling medium of balsa foam. I feel that prior to continuing on to some craftsman kits and continuing on two major projects, I want to increase my building material options as well as stone carving/coloring techniques. Building the New York Mill using Mike Blazekís plans will provide the opportunity to expand my skill sets in using Mike Blazekís plans and test different techniques with balsa foam.

As I have never used balsa foam before, this is a complete experiment. Please note that I may use more traditional modeling techniques and materials dependent on the application and my comfort with balsa foam. In theory, I could make the entire diorama, excluding dirt, foliage and water, from balsa foam.

I will attempt to show/describe:
-- The effect or technique which I want to achieve or try out.
-- How I approached the effect/technique(s), what tools I used and in what order so that others may be able to reproduce the effect(s) should one wish to capture the effect or try out the technique.
-- The results of the various attempts, and what I think I may want to consider for the future.

My overall goal is to create a notebook for future reference. I hope the notebook will also contain your thoughts and suggestions as that will only add perspective to the notes.

I will not be building the structure to my usual standards as these builds will be in the sandbox. As such, I'll be building the models only to layout or front of layout quality. I probably will not keep any of the models, but will donate the completed structures or mini-dioramas to a few local clubs.

Build Goals:
I chose this structure for a test trial of balsa foam as the modeling material for multiple reasons.
1) The structure has stone, concrete, wood and metal materials used in its construction. This provides an opportunity to see if I can reproduce some or all of these materials in the balsa foam with appropriate detailing in HO scale. The structure also has shapes including broken stone, round tubes and different variations of wood thickness to offer as carving/sculpting challenges.
2) I wanted to determine if my method of coloring stones used in the structure will work with balsa foam as the modeling material.
3) The structure overall is not a structure common to layouts or dioramas.
4) The structure has additional supporting structures, like the water flume, which may be made out of balsa foam or traditional modeling materials and add additional visual interest to the model. Iím hoping that this additional visual interest will limit the experimentation aspect of this build when viewing the completed diorama.
5) Openings (doors and window) within the structure are mostly very deep/wide. As I will be working with rather thick slabs of balsa foam, I suspect that this will become an advantage during the carving of the structure walls.

Build Reference Threads:
Wrought Iron Smoke Stack:
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=44474
b) Cable Attachments: http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=17844&whichpage=7
a) http://railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=37052&whichpage=20
b) http://www.canonicalblue.org/BlackhawkCentralCity/builds/KimberMill/
Making Custom Windows:
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/discussion/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=18821
(Note: Picture links for TrainClown are broken. He is currently reloading the pictures in the thread. Pictures may not be needed however as the procedure is easy to understand. Reference pg. 2 for alternate technique with pictures from UKGuy)
Mill Details:
a) Mill Electrical Power http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa2000018870/PP/
b) Electrical connection by Ensign: http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/data/Ensign/201579165743_P4174309.jpg and http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=40025
c) Power pole construction thread: http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=29120&whichpage=1
d) Steam piping from scratch: http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=42339
Weathering How-To: Wall Signs
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=38442
Water How-To:
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=43627&whichpage=25
b) YouTube video 71 installments on water & river scenery. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ncTR3p-kHI
c) Trols Kirk: How to on making water/waves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMtXDlS0Tdg
d) SRM Kit Builds by GregW - Whitewater.
---- http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=16781&whichpage=1
---- http://railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=17659&whichpage=1
---- http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=16704
Coloring Corrugated Foil for Roofing:
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=7437&whichpage=15
Creating and Coloring Asphalt (Tar Paper) Roofing:
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=33473&whichpage=1
Making Foam Board Diorama Base:
a) http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=5843
Howe Truss Bridge - Hermosa Creek Bridge:

In the first two Sandbox build threads threads, the documentation format made it difficult visually and I restated various techniques multiple times. I will now only refer to a given technique by name and define the technique only once in the 'Defines'.

As I do plan on using some wood in the construction of this model, I have included techniques from past builds below. I will be adding to this list as I Ďdiscoverí techniques for future use with balsa foam.

Tools and Techniques
This will become a subset of steps within the general construction sequence. The "Tools and Technique" header will indicate a new process or technique for future reference. The new or modified process will be denoted by using a letter following the general construction sequence number. For example:
1) Color sub-roof material with marker.
2) Measure and cut sub-roof.
Tools and Techniques
3a) Use new ACME corner cutter to cut sub-roof template.
4b) Squash coyote with roof underside to avoid coloring of top side.
5) Draw shingle row guidelines.

Lid Stain
1) Wire brush cut wood ends on both surfaces.
2) Stain stripwood cut ends with only minor wicking of stain solution.
3) Control the volume of stain applied by using only the stain remaining in the lid after shaking the solution bottle. It may be necessary to tilt the lid to obtain some of the solution.
4) Dip the wood into the stain and then pull the piece of wood between the forefinger and thumb, applying moderate pressure. Pull the wood with the fingers pinching the wood from the middle of the wood piece towards the end. This will pull the stain to the end of the wood piece.

For the following two techniques apply wash using brush hairs by ferrule to control volume of wash applied. (Use brush hairs between lines in drawing below.)

Brush Top - Pull
1) Use the brush hairs by the ferrule to control the amount of stain applied.
2) Load the brush with wash.
3) Lightly tap on paper towel to unload excessive stain.
4) Lightly touch brush hairs just below ferrule to wood piece and pull brush placing stain on the edge with extra stain going onto the surface opposite of pull.

Brush Top - Roll
1) Load brush with stain.
2) Lightly tap on paper towel to unload excessive stain.
3) Lightly lay brush hairs just below ferrule on wood edge and roll the brush to deposit the stain.
4) This allows some control of with amount of wicking by length of time in contact with the wood, the amount of brush pressure and the amount of wash loaded in the brush.

Use emery board to sand object. Emery board may be cut to fit sanding need.

Use green paint and varnish stripper pad or kitchen scrub pad to sand surface. Fold or cut pad as needed.

Standard sanding techniques using a sanding block, Northwest Shortline Tru-Sander, sanding wand or small 4-inch power sander such as a Jarmac.

Grain wood
1) Apply following to both surfaces of wood pieces.
2) Use file card or stiff welders wire brush (wire bristles stiffer than wire paint scraping brush) to add grain to wood. Draw, never push, the wood under the tool with medium pressure.
3) Use a brass or steel wire brush to add additional grain texture.
4) Scribe a few longer grain lines with tip of #11 blade.
5) Sand with green abrasive pad.

Polish wood
Use photo copy paper or emery board for baby finger nails to sand object lightly.

Brush ends
1)All stripwood surfaces or both sides of stripwood are held on flat surface.
2) Hold piece(s) flat on surface to to the cut end.
3) Use medium pressure and 6-8 strokes of a wire brush.
4) Brush needs to go from all bristles on flat surface onto wood end, going about 1/4 inch past the cut wood end.
5) Lid stain ends with light A-I wash or Silverwood unless otherwise noted.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 12/13/2017 2:37:34 PM
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7237 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  5:32:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Balsa Foam Notes:
As balsa foam in not a common modeling material for model railroaders, I thought that it might be entertaining and interesting to see if a foreground model could be constructed in HO scale from this material. Balsa foam was designed for industrial modelers and is gaining popularity in the military and fantasy gaming modeling web sites. The material appears to favor being used in larger scales, 1/48th and larger.

A couple of notes about balsa foam may be of value to those who wish to use it as a modeling material.

1) Balsa Foam is available in two different densities. Both densities are essentially the same. The same sculpting techniques can be used on either.
2) Balsa Foam is different from all other kinds of foam. It was developed specifically for three-dimensional design and model making. One can easily create the shape and the detail needed using simple tools, files and sanding. Models may be created using 3-D carving/sculpting techniques as well as the more traditional modeling process which model railroaders are familiar with.
3) Balsa Foam is being used by a growing number of industrial designers and model builders because of how easily and quickly one can create detailed shapes.
4) Hot Wire cutting does not work with Balsa Foam because it is very resistant to heat.
5) Balsa Foam has no "memory" or rebound, it will hold an impression. This means that you can create many different types of surface detail by simply pressing the appropriate object into the surface. Surface texture can be enhanced using a tool to make impressions.
6) Glues such as ACC, wood glue, white glue and hot glue all work on balsa foam.
7) Balsa Foam can be painted with any kind of water-based or solvent-based paint.
8) Solvent-based paints tend to leave surface texture intact. Acrylic paints tend to fill the texture.
9) Balsa Foam II (heavy or dense foam) can be used to make the positive master for a negative fiberglass or silicone molds.
10) Balsa-Foam is rated as non-toxic. However, the Balsa Foam dust can be abrasive and can cause mechanical eye irritation if dust gets in eyes.
11) Balsa Foam will corrode and tarnish all metals and metal alloys. Wipe off metal and steel tools after using them with Balsa Foam. Prolonged contact will result in rusting or tarnishing if the tools are not cleaned after each use.
12) Balsa Foam can be obtained from art supply companies and craft stores such as Michaels. One can also locate the material on-line from sites like Dick Blick, The Compleat Sculptor ( http://www.sculpt.com/catalog_98/craft/BalsaFoam.htm ) and Amazon.

Take a quick look at the following links prior to working with the foam. I suspect the following files for downloading will be very useful:

Balsa Foam Instructions and Technique Sheet:

Health And Safety:
Downloadable MSDS Sheet PDF

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 04/27/2016 12:49:01 PM
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7237 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  6:53:56 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This is my starting material. One can see the 1 inch thick balsa foam, plans from Mike Blazek and a couple of hack saw blades.

I choose to use the denser balsa foam, Balsa Foam II. I'm hoping that the higher density foam will provide better detail and texture in HO scale than the lighter foam.

I copied the 4 pages of mill plans from Mike Blazek at a Kinko's to obtain high quality copies. I made 2 copies of each plan page.

I also obtained a couple of hack saw blades with a higher tooth count. I'll use these blades to cut and shape the foam.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.
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8784 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  7:50:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hi Kris, this looks like an interesting mill to model.
And using this Balsa foam on it will be equally interesting to watch.
I've never even heard of Balsa foam before.
Best of luck with your efforts!

Greg Shinnie
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Ray Dunakin

3289 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  8:29:41 PM  Show Profile  Visit Ray Dunakin's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Very interesting! I'm curious to see how this material works out. It sounds like it may be similar to Precision Board, a high-density urethane foam product.
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New Zealand
1206 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2015 :  8:40:51 PM  Show Profile  Send mark_dalrymple an AOL message  Reply with Quote
I'm watching with interest, kris.

I too have never heard of this product. It looks like an interesting subject mater to test this modelling medium on.

Cheers, Mark.
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12500 Posts

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  1:34:43 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Kris good to see you back at the bench.

This looks like a very interesting build. The mill itself is beautiful. And a new building material.

I'm sure you will get a good following on this. You can count me in for sure.


"And in the end, itís not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln
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7237 Posts

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  3:33:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thank you Gentleman for the kind comments and to all who have taken a peek.

Ray, I have been using blocks of some sort of foam on my workbench to store my knives and sharps in since the 80's, but I have no idea of what kind of foam it is. I suspect that it may be the material which you reference however. It does carve easily with simple tools. It also takes impressions well. It is very dense, and does not have the air holes like balsa foam.

Well, to start with, I decided to cut the foam in half to give myself two pieces about 1/2 inch thick. Figured that this would be a good introduction to the material.

1) Prior to removing the Balsa Foam from it's packing, I totally removed all of my metal tools and measuring devices from the work area. This included my scale rulers, dial calipers, squares, metal blocks etc.
2) I got out as many plastic tools as I thought I would be using and replaced metal rulers and stuff with plastic counterparts.
3) I than removed my medical bracelet. I don't wear any rings or a watch, but if you do, I would suggest that you also remove them prior to getting into the foam.
4) I then opened the foam package. I measured and marked half inch increments around the foam. I just punched the marks into the foam with the tip of my triangle.
5) I then used the hacksaw blade and attempted to cut the foam into even halves.

The amount of foam dust (like sawdust) from this process was amazing, and I was/am truly shocked at the volume of dust generated. I also found that trying to keep the saw blade parallel was a bit of a chore.

The foam cut fairly easily, but if you have a friend with a ban saw, go grab a bottle of cinnamon whiskey, your foam and pay him a visit. Make sure to cut the foam prior to getting into the good stuff however....

Really, it was a lot of sawing, and a ban saw would make the cuts a lot cleaner. I would love to have been able to cut the foam into quarter inch panels, but they would be really brittle. It may be possible with a ban saw however. If I knew of someone with a ban saw, I would try to get quarter inch think panels to work with.

I then cleaned up my work area using paper towels and 409 cleaner. (I work on a large glass plate over the desktop).

In the pictures below, one can see the 'stock' clean face on the left, and how I got a bunch of texture on the 'cut' side.

One thing I have noted is that this material has lots of little air bubble holes, like one can get with plaster. I'm hoping that these will be sealed with the sealing and painting processes.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 01/04/2015 3:52:00 PM
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12500 Posts

Posted - 01/04/2015 :  5:32:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I will assume you wore a dust mask? Or did you just brave it?


"And in the end, itís not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln
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7237 Posts

Posted - 01/05/2015 :  4:49:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Jerry.. Thanks for following along. I did not use a dusk mask as I was using the armstrong cutting method vs power tools. I just tipped the foam on it's edges and lightly tapped on the desktop surface. The volume of foam dust which falls out of the cut is something to behold.

I wanted up update my status on the carving of the wall and the detail for HO scale.

I have to admit that I'm ecstatic over the stone detail I have been able to obtain. The 3-d detail along with crumbling mortar joint and stone is something I could never achieve with a plaster or hydrocal.

The ease of carving is beyond description. I've had two issues with carving so far. The first is making sure that I don't go to deep into the foam, creating unwanted depth in the mortar lines. This is easily resolved however in the texturing step. The end result is of a stone set deep into the wall or crumbling.

The second issue is the volume of stones I have carved. Carving is so simple and the foam is such a joy to carve in that I have carved substantially more stones than I ever intended. This issue is that this wall will be a bear to paint due to the volume of stones.

To carve the walls I have used a #11 X-acto blade almost exclusively.

To texture the wall, I have used two tools. The first is a small scrap of stripwood, like a HO scale 6x10 and the second is a cosmetic sample brush.

The process followed to create this wall is as follows:
Carving the Walls
6) Measure the wall height from the plans.
7) Cut a length of balsa foam slightly larger than the actual wall size to allow for some sanding to ensure that the two opposite walls will be of equal height. To cut the foam first score a line in the foam. (I used a small knitting needle.)
7a) Use the hacksaw blade to start the cut along the scored cut line. Complete the cut using an X-acto knife by following the established cut line with multiple light strokes.
8) Use a very fine felt tipped pen to create carving guide lines without scoring the foam. I used a .05 Micron pen to create a light line on the foam. I created guide carving guide lines about 1/2 inch apart. Use these lines in the carving process to keep the stones basically horizontal along the wall length.
9) Use the carving tool of choice. I used a dental pick (curved scraper), a fine knitting needle and #11 blade. I found that I did almost all of my carving with the knife. Simply turn the knife sideways or use at various angles and light short scraping motions to carve the foam. Use a larger, very soft brush to clean the wall as the carving process is executed.
10) Once some of the stones are carved, use the end of the scrap stripwood and press random stones down into the wall. This will result in depressed stones as the stone will depress along the carved edges.
11) Use the tip of the cosmetic sample brush handle (which is plastic) to tap the stones at random using a light-to-medium pressure. You will note that the stones will take on an incredible amount of 3-d texture. I tried the handle tips of various sized paint brushes, but found that the plastic tip of the cosmetic sample brush worked the best for the stone sizes I had carved. I tamped the entire wall face where I had carved the stones.

In the pictures below, one can get a feel for the texture of the wall. Note that I had to decrease the image file size from 97% to 38% to be able to post the picture, so a lot of the crisp details of the stone edges has been lost.

One will also note that there are a few carved stones next to the flat wall surface to show how the textured stones have a realistic 3-d effect.

The second picture shows the primary tools used in carving and texturing the wall.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.

Edited by - hon3_rr on 01/05/2015 4:52:10 PM
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12500 Posts

Posted - 01/05/2015 :  5:20:05 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Kris that's a dam nice looking wall. Can't wait to see it painted or stained.


"And in the end, itís not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln
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George D

16071 Posts

Posted - 01/05/2015 :  7:19:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
You make it sound easy, Kris. Like Jerry, I'm looking forward to seeing the wall painted.

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7237 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2015 :  6:16:47 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks Jerry and George for the comments and for peeking in.

George, it is actually easier to cave and texture the foam than it is to post this stuff, and it also takes less time. So yeah... it's easy.

Well, the first wall is fully carved and textured. The blank (uncarved surface) on the wall will be planked.

The second photo is of a O-scale sample siding sitting on top of where the siding will be added. I'll probably do the HO siding with this type of coloring and weathering out of wood. But this gives a clue on where I'm headed with the siding for this area.

The final photo shows a plaster stone foundation with the coloring which I'll be trying to capture for the stone area of the wall.

-- KP --
Life is to short to build all of the models I want to.
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Crew Chief

684 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2015 :  11:04:40 PM  Show Profile  Visit ocalicreek's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Squash Coyote? What is that?


My Train Blog: http://ocalicreek.blogspot.com/
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32555 Posts

Posted - 01/07/2015 :  08:46:20 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Kris, like some of the others, I had never heard of this product before. I looks like it makes a great medium for carving stone walls and foundations!

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