Winter Layouts

December 12, 2022

Winter Layouts

With the approaching holidays, you might be itching to build winter model train scenery. We’ll explain how you should prepare and design your layout, how to make snow for your winter wonderland, and more!

Let’s get right into it.


1. Prep Your Layout

As with any build, you’ll need to set up your model rail scene or layout. Use a thick insulation foam board or baseboard to pin your tracks or glue your desired features. After you decide on the theme or period of your build, you’ll need to plan out where you want your hills, buildings, trees, water features, and so on before you add snow. You can easily create your hills and mountains by stacking pieces of foam together and gluing batting on top using Mod Podge (be sure it has enough time to dry). Or, you can use a Shaper Sheet  with some plaster to accomplish the same result.

After you add your desired features, paint the surface for detail (including rocks and streambeds) and for where you potentially want the color to stick out from the snow. This step will vary depending on how much snow you want covering your scenery. For example, are you going for a light dusting, or do you want to give the impression that a massive blizzard just passed through? If you’re not concerned about the earth showing through the snow, you can paint it white.


2. Add Flex Paste (First Layer of Snow)

Next, begin adding your first layer of snow by coating the surface of your layout with Flex Paste or baking soda mixed with white acrylic paint. Leave some areas uncoated for detail and realism. Once you’ve covered all the spots you want, feel free to put in snow drifts by rolling Flex Paste off the tip of a paintbrush. Let these dry, then continue building them up using the same strategy until they are a size you feel is appropriate.

Making Your Snow

A Christmas model train in a fake snow layout

While Flex Paste is the most convenient and recommended option, it will cost money. Some people use cheaper options, such as mixing baking soda or baking powder with shaving cream, acrylic paint, or PVA glue.

This method will work, but baking soda and baking powder are corrosive and tend to yellow over time. Adding white acrylic paint can help slow this process. But, if you go with this option, use caution around motors, bearings, or anything metallic and plastic.

Also, when mixing baking soda with paint, shaving cream, or PVA, add more baking soda if you find your mixture is too pasty or has too much liquid. If your mixture is too powdery, add more paint, shaving cream, or PVA. Add ingredients or remove ingredients until you have the texture you desire. 

If you don't mind the smell, you could also use baby powder, which is non-corrosive. But it is harder to clean up, depending on how you apply it. Again, use what you feel most comfortable with and what your budget allows. 


3. Add Snow to Your Trees

Miniature snow-painted Christmas pine tree models in model train scenery

After you add your first layer of snow, it’s the perfect time to add or paint snow to your trees. Use Flex Paste or a baking soda and white acrylic paint mixture to paint your trees where snow would accumulate. Replicate how snow naturally falls and sticks on trees after a storm. Using a photograph of a snow-covered tree for reference might be helpful.


4. Add Water Features (Optional)

Woodland Scenics made a video that describes the process of creating ice for your water features, which we have used to help explain this step. It also provides many of the tips mentioned in this guide for how to build your winter layout. 

This step is optional, but if you want to add water features like an icy small stream or pond, you’ll want to create a basin or indent using plaster cloth or something similar. Allow this to dry. Then, paint the bottom with a dark blue or black color, going lighter as you work your way up to give it the illusion of depth. 

Place rocks and gravel along the bottom and next to the shoreline for detail. Once you’re satisfied, fill your stream or pond with a combination of Realistic Water or Aqua Magic and Woodland Scenics Earth White Pigment or white acrylic paint.

First, pour a layer of Realistic Water or Aqua Magic into the designated areas and allow it to dry for 24 hours. Next, mix a little white pigment with your water modeling solution. Keep in mind that the more white pigment you add and the more you stir, the less transparent your ice will be. So, if you want to see the rock and gravel features below the surface, add and mix less pigment. Pour your new mixture over the first layer and spread it around until you have the texture you want. Let that cure for another 24 hours.

For greater detail and realism, dilute regular water with some white pigment, and go over your water areas with a paintbrush once more for another layer of ice. You don’t need to paint the whole thing. Paint around some of the edges of your water feature to create scattered pockets. This step will give your water feature some nice contrast. 

To create an icy water effect, tint Realistic Water or Aqua Magic with blue-gray or blue-tinted charcoal acrylic paint. Then, follow it with white acrylic around the edges to replicate ice. 

Alternatively, some people use plexiglass by painting the bottom with the same blue-gray or blue-tinted charcoal colors for a cold, icy water effect. Once it dries, they’ll sand the top for some opacity. Then, they’ll add patches of white paint (same as above) for additional ice details.


5. Add Icicles

Winter model train scenery should include some icicles for more realism and detail. Creating icicles is easy to do. You’ll need some Water Effect and wax paper. Squeeze a small amount of Water Effect onto the wax paper to form an icicle shape. Create as many as you need in various sizes and allow them to cure (they should be transparent once you’re done). 

Next, carefully peel them off the wax paper and glue them into position on your layout (tree branches, rooftops, rock faces, etc.) with your Water Effect. You can also use a brush or toothpick to daub small amounts of Water Effect, pulling down as you do so to create tiny icicles or various forms and shapes of ice.


6. Add Snow (Second Layer)

Model train scenery set in winter

Once everything is in place and you’ve added as much detail as you want, the final step is adding another layer of snow to your model rail scene. Again, think about how much snow you want, including how much of the landscape beneath you want to show.

Softly spray the areas where you want your snow to accumulate with Scenic Cement or another spray adhesive. This product acts as glue to hold your snow in place. Be careful not to spray areas where you don’t want the snow to stick. Covering them with a lightweight cloth or cardboard may help. 

Using Soft Flake Snow by Woodland Scenics or a powdery baking soda solution, sprinkle your snow, allowing it to fall and accumulate around your snow drifts, trees, rocks, and building features as naturally as possible. Once it’s at a depth you like, lock in the position of your snow by spraying it down with your adhesive (enough to hold it in place), followed by one last light dusting of your snow.


Experiment and Have Fun!

That’s it! You may have to experiment to achieve the quality you want. Your build will also take more or less time to complete, depending on how much detail you want to add.

We hope these tips will inspire you as you work on your Christmas model trains or your winter layout. If you’re interested in finding amazing deals on materials or sets for your model train scenery this holiday season, visit our TrainLife store page! We have everything you need to get started.

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