Adding a Realistic Pond to Your Layout

Adding water to your layout is one of the best ways to achieve a dynamic, realistic looking scene. Even if you don’t plan to include a river or major water feature in your landscape, whether due to size or the geographical theme of your route, small scenes such as ponds are a great natural element that can be included in just about any railroad. In this article, we’re going to look at how to add a relatively small pond scene as a means of filling a corner of a scene.

Items Needed

Step One

Before you begin the groundwork for your water scene, it’s important to consider how it will fit into your landscape. Unless you plan to include a waterfall, cascading river, or you’re planning a manmade water feature, the most realistic location for your water will be at the lowest terrain height in your scene.

Once you’ve chosen the most logical spot, it’s time to start preparing the scenery. Perhaps surprisingly, adding the water itself will likely be the easiest part of this process. How the scene is prepared beforehand will play a much more important role in how it turns out.

We’ve been working on this layout for a while now, and some aspects are further along than others. While the scenery has been largely completed in some spots, we’re only just beginning in this area as we wanted to add the water first. The initial step in this process (after forming the topography) is to paint the base of the pond or river an appropriate shade of brown. You’ll notice from the photos that there’s a lot of “junk” which has been painted over. This is because we used this spot as a workspace while working on earlier sections of the layout, keeping in mind that it wouldn’t necessarily matter how junky this area became, since it would be largely covered up.

Step Two

Once the area has been painted, it has to be sealed. This is perhaps the most crucial step in the process, as it will ensure that the water mixture you pour won’t seep through any cracks in the benchwork. If your landscape has been constructed out of Plaster Cloth as ours has, it’s also important to seal any segments of this which the water will come into contact with. This means that you should have a rough idea of the depth of your pond or river before you move onto the next step, and seal accordingly.

We’re using GE clear silicone caulk (the same material you would use to seal a bathtub) which is available at most hardware stores. It’s fairly flexible, and can be spread easily with a paint brush. Once applied, this will require about 12 hours to dry before you can move onto the next step.

Step Three

Now that your caulk has dried, it’s safe to add the water – but we’re not ready for it yet! We want to create as realistic a scene as possible, both alongside and under the water. For this, some scenic elements need to be added first.

To add an extra bit of dynamic interest, we’re placing some boulders and rocks into the pond which will be partially submerged. This should give the scene a more natural feel. For this, we’re using Woodland Scenics Ready Rocks – these are great for this purpose as they’re fully weathered and look fantastic. These can be adhered to the pond or river bed using the same caulk we used to seal the scene.

Once the rocks have been added to your liking, we’re going to come back with some reeds. These should be placed near the bank of the pond or river, but not out of it. For this, we’re using JTT Cattails cut to different heights for some “natural” variation. These can be fixed in place with either caulk or white glue. We’re using Scenic Express TAK-E-GLUE, but any white glue will get the job done.

We now have our major elements installed, so it’s time to create the bed for the pond or river. Again we’ll be using white glue, this time making sure to cover the entire space that the water will occupy.

For the bed itself, we’re using Woodland Scenics Fine Brown Talus to give a rocky or pebbly appearance. Once this is spread fairly evenly, we’re going to come back with some Dark Brown Fine Turf while the glue is still wet, and use this to fill in the cracks to create a light top layer of silt. Once this is applied, we’ll lightly spray some Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement over the top to ensure that everything is secure in preparation for adding the water.

Step Four

Now that the scenery is in place, we can add the base layer of our “dry land” scenery on the banks. This should be done before pouring the water, as there will likely be some overlap. How this looks will be completely up to you, and the scene you’re creating. For our layout, we’ve added some muddy, lightly sanded banks, with grass and natural growth above this. We will eventually detail this area with a mix of static grass and Woodland Scenics Brier Patch to create a wild, overgrown appearance. But we’ll save that for another day.

Step Five

Now comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for – adding the water! There are various different water options available, some which are more suited to recreating certain types of water than others. We’ve gone with the standard Woodland Scenics Realistic Water as this dries smoothly without ripples, just as we want for our pond.

When pouring, you’ll find that the water has a thick enough consistency to be controlled as you cover the area. This will mean that you’ll need to take care to cover the entire pond bed equally, as it won’t necessarily flow naturally into all corners. If the water has trouble making into any spots, simply grab a small paint brush and gently brush it over. You might see some bubbles form. If so, just grab a pin or the nub of a paint brush and lightly tap them to help them dissipate.

Most water materials will have a cloudy tone to them when first poured. Don’t be alarmed by this – they will clear up as they dry, which usually takes around 24 hours. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to turn your focus to other areas on your railroad, as anything that touches the water could impact it’s permanent appearance or get stuck. It should be noted that most water materials will shrink a little as they dry. If the finished pond looks a little shallow once dry, you can always come back again and add another layer of water on top.

Once the water has dried, you can continue to build your scene around it, perhaps adding some additional details such as lily pads or someone fishing. From here, it’s up to you!

Happy railroading!