Hardshell Scenery For Your Model Railroad

Sometimes an Idea Just Hits You...

I was in my workshop the other day and as I walked past my drywall tools I spotted some fiber mesh drywall tape when a light went off in my head… Instead of plaster cloth, why not put down fiber tape and coat it with a hard shell covering?

What is fiber tape? Fiber tape is a sticky backed nylon or fiberglass mesh tape used in the construction industry to reinforce materials such as drywall compound over joints. Fiber tape can be used in a wide range of applications including hard shell scenery on your model railroad.

Fiber tape
Fiber Tape in 3' by 75' and 2" by 100' rolls

Installing the Tape

Installing the fiber tape is  pretty straight forward. Lay the material in place and cut to fit. Fiber tape has a sticky backing  and that helps hold it in over the cardboard strips. A little hot melt glue here and there holds the tape firm allowing you to pull the tape tight over the cardboard strips which eliminates a lot of the rib effect you get when applying wet plaster cloth over the strips.

Adding hot melt glue along the track spline locks the tape in place. This is more important on a modular layout that may be susceptible to twisting movement when moved. 

Fiber mesh installed and held in place at the edges with drops of hotmelt glue. Note: my railroad is modular and, the facia needs to be removable so cardboard along the front edge of the layout supports the scenery. Hard board facia will be added later.

Top Coat Material

Once the fiber tape is in place you’re ready to add the top coat such as plaster or a setting type joint compound.

I prefer using a setting joint compound, the type you mix, because it has a slower setting time than plaster.  Setting-type joint compounds come in a variety of drying times.  One example is EasySand 45 which is available in 5,20,45, and 90-minute setting times.

What you do not want to use is any pre-mixed drywall compound. Pre-mixed joint compounds are designed to be applied in thin layers. Apply it any thicker than about 1/8″ and it will crack as it dries because the material has a high shrinkage rate.

Fiber Mesh Tape Coated With EasySand 45
Fiber mesh with one coat of EasySand 45 layered on top.

Applying the Top Coat

The secret to adding the top coat is to mix the material to a consistency slightly thinner than that of toothpaste. Not so thick that it clumps but not so thin that it falls through the mesh as it’s applied. 

When applying the top coat hold your putty knife at almost 90 degrees to the mesh and drag it along the fiber tape. Try to avoid pushing it through the fiber mesh.  On larger areas take your time and don’t worry if you get full coverage on the first coat. It usually takes 2 coats to fill the fiber mesh.  

I used a one inch paint brush as the compound starts to set and gently brush across the top of the coat to remove sharp edges left from your putty knife. 

Hopefully, this has inspired you to try hardshell scenery. I believe it is more economical than using expensive styrofoam.

Happy Modeling!  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Search Posts

Top Posts

More Articles.

Model Railroad Benchwork

Model Railroad Benchwork

Choosing a style of model railroad benchwork can be overwhelming. There are so many different construction styles and techniques along with other deciding factors such

Read More »

Prototype Waybills

Operations on my layout have evolved from basic car cards and waybills, to switch lists,  and now to what some call “prototype waybills”. Before I

Read More »