Although I've used a number of Woodland Scenics products over the years I wanted to try a few more, and have a go a doing an entire piece 'The Woodland Scenics Way'. "The Scenery Kit" presents an opportunity to do this in a single package as it contains pretty much everything you need, except the locomotive and figures, to create the little scene show on this page. I got mine from ecScenics (who also stock all of the various materials separately).
In this review I'll concentrate my efforts on a few personal insights, opinions and things I discovered along the way, rather than giving a detailed step by step.
Full instructions are included with the kit (and they're pretty good too) however there are a few video tutorials on the Woodland Scenics website that are also worth viewing. Don't rely on them entirely though because as I will explain, I have my doubts about the usefulness of some of them.
Various wooden panels are supplied to make up the box and these are easy to assemble. You'll need some PVA glue, sandpaper, and black paint. Okay, so not everything is included in the kit but would you really want the added cost of including stock items like that? Me neither.
Two components of the kit come pre-cast in plaster: the culvert and some rock faces.
There's not much to say about the culvert however the rocks are a bit more interesting: why use plaster rock faces when you could sculpt them or use real rocks? Surely it's just a way for Woodland Scenics to make more money by selling lumps of plaster, moulds, or at the very least the materials to make your own moulds and casts?
Well actually, no it isn't. There are a number of reasons why these rock: (pun intended)
Sculpting is great if you can do it but these have lots of excellent rocky detail with zero skill required on your part.
These are much lighter than real rocks.
You can stain these in different colours using the Woodland Scenics Earth Color Liquid Pigments (more about them later), whereas you'd have to paint real rocks.
Of course the down side is that if you use the same cast over and over again it might be easy to spot the repetition on your terrain; but that's not an issue here.
There have been a number of occasions when I've used jute scrim (from a builder's supplier), and plaster to make models and support jackets for latex moulds, and it's a very messy job. I'd not used commercially produced plaster impregnated bandage before and I have to say that although it's more expensive than scrim and plaster, it's so much less mess that it's well worth it and I can certainly see myself using it again. The Woodland Scenics Plaster Cloth also comes in a nice 8" width that is great for landscaping.
One thing to watch out for is that when you dip it in water, as instructed, it goes from relatively stiff to ultra-floppy in a fraction of a second. If you're prepared, you'll be holding it by two corners, so it doesn't start getting folded up and sticking to itself as you lift it back out. The kit contains a little more than you need to make the model but there's not so much extra that you can afford to be wasteful.
Once, years ago, I tried Lightweight Hydrocal for casting and didn't like it. The normal procedure when mixing plaster is to add plaster to water, but Lightweight Hydrocal floats making it a swine to mix without getting air bubbles and lumps. On this project it's used for sticking the pre-cast pieces in place, patching up, and for additional landscaping. Consequently, bubbles are not really an issue (and if you're not worried about bubbles you can beat the lumps out of it). It does the job, but it's still horrible stuff to mix.
The kit includes a length of HO gauge track and a length of trackbed foam, however you could use another gauge of track (if you have it), replace the track with a road, or simply omit it altogether depending on what you wanted to display on the finished piece e.g. a military vehicle. In fact with a little sawing you could easily change the shape of the wooden sides of the display structure and create a scene with very different contours.
The locomotive that I wanted to display was HO guage so I used the track however I omitted the trackbed foam. The foam is intended to replace the traditional cork underlay used by railway modellers to reduce noise and vibration. The instructions on using it were an addendum to the kit's instructions and, having done a little more research on the web, I concluded that proper use of it would have made the application of the plaster bandage more complicated. Given that reducing vibration is not an issue on a display piece such as this I decided not to bother.
These were one of the products that I had not used before and was particularly interested to try. I'm pleased with the results and have since gone on to obtain a Woodland Scenics Earth Colour Kit (a full set of the pigments), so I can try them for other things.
The instructions talk of mixing 1/4 teaspoon (1/8 for black), of the pigment with a number of teaspoons of water. If that makes sense to you - fine. If like me you're wondering "How on earth am I going to measure a 1/4 teaspoon?" (never mind how you'll get it out of the little pot) then just be aware that it translates to diluting the pigment 1:16 (1:32 for black), and, having realised that you can measure it out in drops, brushloads, or anything else that comes to hand. I found those ratios too diluted, but better too weak than too strong. You can always apply more but as this stuff works by staining the plaster you'll have problems if you overdo it.
Another thing to bear in mind with this colouring technique is that you'll need to be extra careful not to get glue or anything else that will affect porosity onto the plaster... unless that's your intention. The technique for doing the rocks is to use a couple of colours on the plaster (to stain it), then seal it with Scenic Cement, and then apply a black wash. The black wash gathers into the nooks and crannies much more than the initial colours because of the sealing stage. The whole thing is then sealed with more Scenic Cement.
Note that the model needs to be allowed to dry in between each stage so patience is definitely a virtue if you're to do this stage properly.
I've already mentioned the use of Scenic Cement for sealing the Earth Color Liquid Pigments however it is also used for fixing various scatter material in place, and for fixing clump foliage to tree armatures. Scenic Cement was in fact the main product/technique that I was interested to try because while we TerraGenesists tend to sprinkle scatter material onto wet PVA, the Woodland Scenics way is to apply your scatter materials and then spray Scenic Cement to fix them. The advantage of tho Woodland Scenics method is that you can apply your various grades and colours of scatter and, if it's not going well, you can tip (or vacuum) it all off and start again. You don't fix it until you're happy with it.
Of course if you do need to start over then you waste some material but in fact if you engage your brain and follow the guidance in the instructions then you'll probably achieve a good result the first time around. It's reassuring however to know that you can start over if you need to.
As for the product itself, the Scenic Cement works rather well, however I have big issues with the applicator.
I have to confess that initially, silly me didn't notice the tiny symbols moulded onto the nozzle of the sprayer indicating that it has two off positions, one for mist, and one for squirt. Thus I assumed that it work like a typical sprayer and the first time I used the thing I blasted my carefully applied ballast all over the place. Having recovered from this I performed a number of tests; whose results baffled me until I finally noticed the symbols. As a consequence of this I used up all of the supplied Scenic Cement before finishing the kit and had to buy some more.
New bottle in hand I completed the model however my experience of the sprayer is that it has a very inconvenient tendency to splatter when you want it to mist.
Something I tried along the way was to put the Scenic Cement into an ordinary sprayer that I obtained for a couple of quid from a garden centre. This worked much better however my cries of "Eureka!" were fairly short lived because when I came to use it again the following day it had clogged up and was destined for the trash can. Perhaps another garden sprayer, rinsed out between uses, is the answer. As I said, I now have another bottle of Scenic Cement and will report back if/when I find a better way of applying it.
While we're an the subject of adhesives, I'll also say a few words about Hob-e-Tac adhesive starting with: I don't like it.
I used it to stick the track down and sprinkled ballast onto it and it will hold scatter materials that are so applied, but it's not great. It will of course only grip the scatter material that comes into good contact with it so you still need to apply Scenic Cement. It's also the case that while it's easy enough to apply to large areas it's rather more difficult to apply in smaller amounts. It's also used to attach clump foliage to tree armatures and to attach field grass but as I'll explain later, I wasn't impressed with it's ability to do either. In fact the only thing that it was any good for was to stick down clump foliage that was being used as bushes.
The instructions suggest that you can apply the scatter materials in any order and if fact there's probably some mileage in switching back and forth. I chose to apply the talus first as I was concerned that I might need to add additional Earth Color pigment to match it in with the plaster rocks. I didn't because I'd already succeeded in my effort to match my treatment of the rocks to the talus.
Ballast is one of those weird model making products that looks right even though it's way out of scale. Given that I'd displaying a HO gauge train each of these pieces of ballast would be as big as a man's fist in my scale world; but it looks good, so who cares?
There's not really a much else I can say about these products; they do what they're supposed to and look good. I said above that I manage to blast them with the sprayer and my recommendation is to use a pipette (a plastic drinking straw will do), to apply drops of the glue to things like talus and ballast rather than spraying.
The kit contains six different colours and textures of turf. The suggested technique is to apply Green Blend Blended Turf first (there is more of this supplied than any of the others), and then use the other colours for accenting. The image below shows the model at this stage i.e. after the application of accenting colours but prior to the application of bushes and scrub.
The kit has good quantities of each product and although I used most of the Green Blended Turf, I have enough of the accenting colours left over to do another half dozen models of this size. Various application techniques are described and tips are given about what colours to use on which areas. In a nutshell: you use darker greens in hollows and places where you'd get a good amount of moisture and more yellowy colours where it would tend to dry out. The "Woodland Scenics Way" is basically to keep on sprinkling until you're happy with it and then spray it with glue to fix it.
I have used Woodland Scenics Turf before and I like it. I really like the Woodland Scenics method of applying the material and then spraying it. If I can just find a decent reliable way of spraying the glue...
The Woodland Scenics tree armatures were something of a surprise to me. Of course I'd seen them before, looking all flat and kinda plasticy brown in their packets, and wasn't at all inspired to give them a try, but they really are a delight to use. The plastic is kind of weird in that when you bend and twist it, it stays exactly where you put it. I'd also anticipated that I'd probably want to paint them but found that, after bending them to shape, they caught the light in an entirely different way to when they were flat, such that they no longer looked like brown plastic and didn't need paint. I did find that the Scenic Cement made them a bit glossy but a coat of matt varnish soon sorted that out.
I've used this stuff before for bushes and scrub and it works great for that purpose. Using it to make trees was a new and not entirely pleasant experience. I love the end results, but not the method.
I mentioned before that there are some instructional videos on Woodland Scenics own site and you might be interested to note the following points about the one on making trees:
1. After applying the glue the guy sets it aside to dry while he proceeds with one that he did earlier. At the top of the process it describes the process as "Fast and Fun". I found that it takes a couple of hours for the Hob-e-Tac adhesive to dry. I guess my definition of fast is different to theirs.
2. The guy then dips the armature into a tray of clump foliage. Have a guess whether or not that is likely to achieve even coverage. If you guessed "not" then my experience agrees with you.
3. Observe how carefully he puts the trees down and take a guess whether those little dabs of glue on the ends of the branches are going to hold the foliage, or whether it'll all start falling off in a few minutes?
Now in fairness, with relation to the last point, the written instructions do suggest to give it a good spraying with Scenic Cement to fix it all in place. However the image to the left shows what it, in my experience, a typical morning after scene. As you can see, quite a bit of the foliage has fallen off and there are ends of branches showing.
Of course the wayward clumps can be reattached with more Hob-e-Tac adhesive and I found that after 2 or 3 reattachment sessions and 3 or 4 applications of Scenic Cement the three trees that I used in the train scene were pretty robust. Not sling 'em in a rucksack and haul them down to your gaming venue kind of robust, but robust enough that they'll stand being nudged when placing figures near them.
Fast? Fun? I thought not so I asked on the TerraGenesis forum, scoured the Internet for information, and bought another pack of trees in a bid to figure out a better way of doing it, and here, I think, is the answer:
The tree in the image to the right took about 15 minutes to make, and that's from bending the armature to having the clump foliage SECURELY in place. As you may already have guessed, I did it by dabbing thick superglue onto the ends of the branches and applying clumps of foliage one at a time. Additional clumps can then be added by sticking one clump to another with more dabs of superglue.
This was another surprise product because I really didn't like the look of it in the pack and thought I might leave it off. However I figured that the whole point of the kits was to give the things a try, and I'm glad I did.
In the pack it looks, well, how can I put this politely, erm, pants? It doesn't look a whole lot better when you pull off a piece and tease it apart as directed in the instructions. The situation improves somewhat after applying it to the model, spraying it with glue, and pressing it down. As it begins to hug the ground it starts to look rather interesting and after sprinkling on some fine turf:
A pair of nail scissors came in very handy for snipping off wayward strands and made it look much more plant like. I think the results speak for themselves and I'll definitely be using this stuff again.
This was another surprise item. I've used it before and liked it however that was with terrain that had a polystyrene substructure and only the thinnest coating of plaster. The Woodland Scenics instructions say to get a bunch of hairs, dip them into glue, and apply them to the model. That doesn't really work for me because I think that the clumps end up looking too tightly packed. I had been used to laying a few hairs onto the surface and punching them into it using a specially shaped needle (made by cutting a sewing needle across the eye to make a forked end). While this punching method works great on polystyrene, it clearly wasn't going to work with a layer of plaster as thick as that created here. In the end I resorted to 'planting' the hairs one at a time by dipping them into a drop of superglue and placing them where I wanted them to go. Laborious, but worth it I think.
Another aspect of this stuff were I disagree with Woodland Scenics is that they suggest cutting the hairs to length before adding them to the model. In my experience this makes them hard to handle so I applied longer lengths and trimmed them down with nail scissors when the glue had dried.
The loco and figures are not part of the kit of course but just in case you are wondering:
The body of the Loco was an eBay bargain and I mounted it on a chassis and bogies that I made up using a Dapol kit of a Deltic. I had to shorten the chassis by about an inch and mess about with a few other things; so it's not accurate however it satisfies my memories of these things thundering past on the train line near where I grew up.
The figures (shepherd, dog, sheep, deer, fox, and hare are from two Noch kits which I also obtained from ecScenics. I repainted them because although they come ready painted they were not quite to my liking (the shepherd had buttons on his waistcoat that stood out like sore thumbs and the sheep were a bit too 'yellow' for my liking. Much better though than the alternative of having an ork herding squigs.
If you've read all of the above rather than just skipping down to the conclusion you'll already be aware that I liked pretty much all of the materials with the exception of the Lightweight Hydrocal and the spray bottle. The kit is a great way to try them all and could easily be converted to depict anything from a military diorama to a band of dwarves and hobbits setting out on a quest for dragon's gold.
Copyright & Credits
TerraGenesis was created in 1997 by Gary James and is currently owned, edited and maintained by Andy Slater, however the ideas and opinions expressed are those of the individual contributors. TerraGenesis and its content are © Andy Slater, unless otherwise stated, and should not be reproduced without permission.
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