Adding a Water Feature to my N Scale Layout
Let me start out by saying that this was my very first attempt at creating a water feature. I put if off for almost a year because I was too nervous about getting started on it.
The thing that had me nervous the most was the permanence of the material. Once its poured and cured, there’s really no going back, especially if you affix a model into it like I did. The other thing that had me nervous was the risk of getting it on the floor. The room I use in my apartment is fully carpeted with new white carpets. It’s bad enough I’ve already smudged some rust color pastels into it, I didn’t want to add a gooey epoxy-like material to the mix. In the end it wasn’t as bad as I expected and I think the extra time allowed me to get it right the first time.
When I initially designed the layout I had a good idea of where the water feature was going to go but it wasn’t until I had the car barge built that I was able to finalize the track arrangement and surrounding scenery. I knew I had a little more space available width-wise than actually needed for the car float so I decide to take the opportunity to model an active pier and an abandoned one. One on each side of the slip for the barge. This is also accurate to the prototype and allowed me to model some of the surrounding area.
The car barge ended up larger than I anticipated even though I had used measurements from Sylvan’s website when planning the space. I had to modify the track plan to accommodate a curved turnout and float apron. It ended up working out for the best though as I was originally planning to kitbash a 3 track barge but ended up sticking with Sylvan's 2 track design. I prefer the 3 track design but it would have required quite a bit more space for the apron and lead. Unfortunately, the curve from the yard to the apron is incredibly sharp in either scenario. On the next layout I'll make sure to allocate more space for a gentler curve as well as as a proper 3 track car barge.
Once I settled on where the barge was going to live I began to cut out the scenery. I built the layout atop two 1” slabs of foam, so I simply cut off one layer in the proper shape. From there I mocked up the scene with the barge and apron in place. While doing this, I realized the barge was lower than I wanted so I built up the base of the water area with strips of 1/8” cork I had laying around. This would later cause some problems when the mixture cured.
After building up the scene to my desired height, I began filling all the cracks in the scenery with a plaster mix I had on hand. This is very important to do because the water material is runny and will find any way out of your model it can.
Once the plaster dried I sanded it smooth and painted it a drab olive green. I used Vallejo US Olive Drab for the shallow areas along the edges and Ger. Cam Dark Green for the deeper middle sections. This helped create the illusion of depth under the shallow resin mixture. Unfortunately for me I did all of this 8-10 months before I ever poured the water mixture so by the time I was ready to pour, I had to clean off months of dust and repaint a few places.
After painting the base of the harbor, I began building the sea wall/breakwater. I shaped the edges of these areas to a 45 degree angle or so and poured the smallest talus I could find along the foam. Basically I allowed gravity to do most of the work for me. This allowed it to take on a natural appearance. In retrospect I should have used a mixture of different size talus or at least ground up the small talus into even smaller pieces but I still like the look. I glued the talus down with the standard mixture of water and white glue. I stained it with a mixture of India Ink and alcohol using a fat, soft brush. After that, I added some dingy green scenery foam to represent the high tide line. I plan to continue detailing the area with washed up junk as well.
An “active” pier is located on the south side of the slip (right hand side). I wanted to model a different style sea wall here to emphasize this section of pier was man made, or at least man modified. I used a sheet-metal-style styrene material for the sea wall here and painted it almost exclusively with rust paints and chalks. I glued it in place at a 90 degree angle as seen on the prototype and added a few pipes and docking cleats as details. Once the sea wall was in place I added a coating of Woodland Scenics Smooth It to the length of the pier. After sanding it smooth, I used a scale ruler and a fresh X-Acto blade to cut concrete segments into the material. I painted the concrete segments with W.S. Concrete and weathered it with the same India Ink and alcohol mixture used on the talus. I also used some assorted chalks to create a more dusty appearance.
Once all of this was done, it was time to position the car barge along with the car apron. The apron on the prototype was pretty basic so I simply used a double girder bridge with a very basic “float” I designed to sit underneath it. The tracks on the bridge did not match up exactly with the parallel tracks on the barge so I had to modify to the bridge. I ended up removing the track from the bridge and shaving down the inner edge of some of the ties so the northern track was no longer perfectly parallel. It’s pretty subtle and you probably wouldn’t know it unless I pointed it out, but it allowed me to line up the tracks fairly accurately. Still, the track isn’t perfect between the barge and the apron, but it’s close enough that I’ve only had one or two derailments over it.
After a few tests to make sure everything was working smoothly, I decided to lightly glue the barge and apron in place. I originally didn’t want to affix the barge to the layout permanently but ultimately I realized that if I wanted reliable operation I’d have to make sure it didn't budge.
With the barge and apron in place I added one final detail to the scene. I purchased 6 mooring posts from Model Tech Studios which are made from a cast metal material (lead or aluminum probably). I primed and painted them a few different shades of wood brown and gray. I didn’t like the molded on rope so I decided to use something more realistic. My wife had a thin burlap twine so I used that to cover the molded rope. The effect is a little bulky over the molded rope but looks good enough in my opinion. Much better than a molded on detail alone.
Once I was content with all of that, I waited another 6 months or so to actually pour the water mixture. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it I just didn’t have the time during the summer months.
Finally on a rainy weekend in the fall of ‘22 I decided it was time to pour this stuff. I had everything I needed. Two bottles of Woodland Scenics realistic water (one would have been enough), one bottle of W.S. Murky Water Tint, one container of W.S. Water Ripples, a plastic drop cloth and some clear acrylic to seal off the ends of the layout with. By this point I watched enough Woodland Scenics and Luke Towan videos that I felt confident finally diving in.
The first thing I did was to add a plastic drop cloth under the layout. I had a feeling I’d spring a leak some place and I didn’t want to further damage my carpet (I’m really glad I did this because over the course of the week I ended up losing almost the entire first bottle I poured). It was fairly easy for me to position the drop cloth since all I had to do was pick up the layout and slip it underneath.
Once that was in place I began to cut the clear acrylic to fit the open end of the layout. I didn’t have the right tools to cut the acrylic so I ended up with some odd, jagged shapes which I used anyway. I fastened the acrylic to the fascia with a hot glue gun and filled in the corners between the pieces. I made sure to be pretty generous here as I didn’t want any leaks on the front edge of the layout. My biggest mistake here was adding too much hot glue to the inside edge. It made it very difficult to remove the hot glue from the cured water mixture at the end of everything.
With the edges sealed and the floor protected I was ready to start pouring.
I chose the murky water tint to best replicate the nasty waters of New York harbor. The murky tint along with the olive green base proved to be the right color combination. The tint called for 8 drops per ounce of water material. For one pint (one bottle) this was something like 128 drops. That felt overkill to me so I used around 30-40 drops per 8 oz. I poured the bottle of water into two small solo cups and began mixing in the tint. The water material has a cloudy/creamy appearance so it’s a bit difficult to eyeball the tint at this point. Once it looked mixed well I began pouring.
The base of the harbor wasn’t perfectly level and this was due in part to my use of cork as a base (the white glue I used to glue the cork down warped it slightly). The water product is self leveling anyway so I wasn’t very worried. I just did my best to evenly pour the material into the harbor and around the barge and apron without dripping on the models.
One bottle gave me depth I was looking for but after two days I noticed there was a leak. The mixture found its way between the two layers of foam I used for my base. I figured it would solidify in the crack and plug it up but over the course of the next few days I noticed more and more accumulating into a bladder on the drop cloth. By midweek the water level in the harbor had dropped significantly and the bladder had grown so I knew I was going to need to do a second pour.
After a full week of curing I mixed up the second bottle the same way as the first and began the second pour. I was gambling heavily that the original leak filled itself in and thankfully I was right. I used a small handheld heat gun across the surface to help pop any bubbles that formed. After another week of curing I was left with a wonderful, smooth and glossy water feature.
At this point I removed the clear acrylic dams I built on the edge of the layout. This actually proved to be more difficult than I thought. At first I tried to soften the hot glue with my handheld blowtorch but this had little effect. I ended up using a sharp, new blade and slowly trimming my way through the glue and cured water. I damaged both the edge of the water scene as well as my fascia in the process. I’m not sure what a better option would have been to remove the acrylic dam but I wish I poured the water before I attached and painted the fascia.
Next was to add the waves.
Unlike the car barge, I didn’t want to affix the tug boat model into the water for a few reasons. For one, the model isn’t done yet and I need to be able to work on it on my workbench. Secondly, the model is flat on the bottom so as to sit on top of the modeled water. So if I placed it onto the scenery base and poured the water around it like I did with the barge, it would be submerged. I decided to make a simple template out of cardboard to place where the tug was going to live. This allowed me to build waves around the model without risking unintentionally affixing it to the layout while also avoiding it looking like its simply sitting on top of the waves.
Woodland Scenics Water Ripples is like a thick jelly compared to the pourable water product. This allows you to sculpt it into waves. I mixed in the murky tint more generously this time and began applying the ripples to the surface with a wide, square, soft brush. At first I used a stippling technique but noticed the effect looked better if I dragged the brush towards the shore slightly after a healthy stipple. This gave the effect of waves being blown toward shore.
You need to be careful around any models you’re doing this near as it has a tendency to stick to the edge and climb. I ended up getting too close to the barge and now have a few gooey globs sticking off the side of the model. The waves dried to the consistency of rubber so I was able to trim some of the excess off the barge. What remains looks a bit like waves hitting the ship but certainly wasn’t an intentional effect I was going for.
Because I have no experience with other water products out there I can’t comment on similarities or differences between them. But overall I’m really happy with how this water scene turned out using Woodland Scenics Realistic Water. The completed scene is just the right color and texture to match the look of New York Harbor.
In future models I’ll make sure to pour any water effects that are along the edge of the layout before installing the fascia. Other than that there isn’t much else I think I would do differently. The product is very easy to work with and my anxieties quickly dissipated once I finally got started.
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Hope you guys enjoyed this little project and are looking forward to seeing more!