Before plaster cloth - Printable Version

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Before plaster cloth - Academy Staff - 08-18-2011

This tutorial about using cardboard, paper and paste was part of a larger discussion regarding this subject. The pictures and step-by-step were originally posted by TrainClown on Jan. 14 and 15, 2006. This has been recreated in part for its historical significance and includes a rare picture of the old codger himself.


Re: Before plaster cloth - TrainClown - 08-18-2011

The way my dad built layouts, the old fashioned way. He used paper-mache and cardboard.

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Re: Before plaster cloth - TrainClown - 08-18-2011

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Re: Before plaster cloth - TrainClown - 08-18-2011

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Re: Before plaster cloth - TrainClown - 08-18-2011

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Re: Before plaster cloth - TrainClown - 08-18-2011

Quote:Editor's Note: It is apparent that there are some photos missing, we can't replace them at this time, but perhaps in the future, but we did think this tutorial was important enough to keep, even with the missing photos.
Howdy fellas.

You are right when you thought it was a different technique. It is a much easier and predictable method I use. I will elaborate. What I use is the commercial application of papier-mache'.
What you described was the nursery school method. Most people have no idea of the practical applications of this lost art. It is used by the film industry all the time. Have you seen the WW2 movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!"? If you have you will remember the famous scene where the airport is bombed and lots of planes are blown to bits. All those planes were papier-mache'. That's one reason why they blew up so well.

One big clue is that you can never get the smooth surface I did with the nursery technique.

I will now explain the professional technique. I have been working in a professional way with this technique ever since I was 6 years old and my dad had me making Easter eggs for his displays out of balloons. I still use it in the construction of puppets and sets. This is the best way to apply paper-mache' on any project.

Once the base of your scenery is prepared, and this can be done with screen wire, cardboard strips, Styrofoam carved to shape, or masking tape jumping a gap, then it's time to mix the paste. I use vinyl wall paper paste because it sticks better than regular paste (although regular paste works too) Take my tip and don't use white glue for this job as it dries too fast and doesn't have the "slip" quality that paste has that allows the paper strips to be taxied into a perfect flat position. Paste is also cheaper in the long run. I bought 20 litres five years ago for $35 and I am still using it.

The best paper to use for the initial coat is ordinary news paper. This type of paper is sized and will shrink less than most other papers. I go to the local news paper office and buy the end of the rolls for $2. These are perfectly clean and have about an inch or so paper left on the roll. I stuck a piece of rope through the tube and hung it from the rafters in the basement. I just pull down a section and cut it off with a blade. Old news papers are just as good, although your fingers will pick up the ink as you work, but this washes off as soon as you wash up. You want to work with half a sheet of news paper at a time, so start by cutting a stacked news paper in half with a big knife, and put the pile of paper where you can reach it easily. I like to fan them out so I can grab one sheet at a time with wet pasty hands.

The best paper to use, best meaning strongest, is brown paper, like painters masking brown paper. This is a bit more challenging to use as it isn't sized and shrinks way more than news print. This tends to pull the paper out of corners, but the tension really sets up a strong surface when it gets a few layers built up.

Building up layers is the whole secret to this technique. The more layers, the stronger it will be.

Here is an important note!You must always let the paper completely dry in between coats for best results.

Here is why. You put on one layer and let it dry, it shrinks a bit. You put on a second layer and let it dry and that layer shrinks a bit also. Now your building up dynamic tension between the layers. Put on 3 coats of paper like this and you can tap it with your finger and it will ring like a bell and make a nice "bong" sound. If you cut it apart, it will hold it's shape.

If you just put 3 coats on without letting it dry in between coats, then you have lost the dynamic tension, the surface isn't nearly as strong, almost rubbery like, and will go "thud" when you tap it. If you cut it apart, it will not hold its shape and the edges will curl up on you.

Set up your work station on a non-porous surface. To your right there should be 2 bowls. One has the paste in it with a 2" or 3" brush, the other has warm water in it and a sponge. Have a good sharp pair of scissors ready too. Dull scissors will make it all frustrating.




Now that you all set to go, put a piece of paper on the table and wet it down with the sponge. Get it good and wet, and wipe up any pooling water with the sponge. Once you have done that pick up the paper by the top edge and turn it over so the wet saturated side is down. This is best done with printed news paper as the ink can act as a moisture block, this is also necessary with thick brown paper so you can wet both sides. You wet the paper like this so the paper doesn't leech all the moisture out of the paste and the strips dry prematurely.



Now you put the paste on with the brush in liberal amounts. Be sure to cover every bit of the paper surface and leave an extra thick margin along the top edge of the paper.



Now your going to "Book" the paper. This means you pick up the edge closest to you and fold it up to meet the edge at the top, and lightly push out the air bubbles being careful not to press too hard and dislodge the paste.





Now your going to do this again, picking up the folded edge and putting it about half an inch, or 1 cm, away from the dual edges of the paper.





You see, you want to leave the two edges of the paper sticking out above the fold, and in the next step you will see why. Pick up the booked paper carefully so as not to disturb the way the paper is laying and cut it into strips with your scissors.



The strips will fall to the table in a pile, and this is okay. You will cut the strips to the width you need. The general rule is: The smaller the circumference you are covering, the narrower the strip. You want the strips to lay flat on what ever you are working on. You will notice, if you look back at my layout, that a majority of the strips are quite wide. First coats are the trickiest to apply and require the most fiddling, but subsequent layers go much faster.



Once you have the strips cut, place them pm a pallet of some kind to move them around easy.



Now take the sponge and clean up the table of excess paste, otherwise it will build up an awful mess.



Now you have you project. For this demonstration I am covering one of my famous Half Trash Cans. I cut a big plastic pail in half and make a cardboard wall for the opening. Kitchen catchers fit them nice and they make a novel trash can in the bathroom or office.



Here is a good tip. If you are ever covering something that the paste will not stick to, cover it first with masking tape. You can see I covered the plastic can with masking tape so the papier mache' would stick.

Start by picking up one of the strips. Hold it with the 2 edges up.



Drop the folded edge down and spread the 2 edges apart with your thumb and index finger. Keep the top edge in your right hand and drop the bottom edge down with the left and open the paper strip carefully, so as not to inadvertently tear it.



Now apply the paper strips to your project overlapping them about 1/4 of the width of the paper.



Smooth the piece of paper out. It is not necessary to remove the paste, but remove all the air bubbles you can or these will create voids.



And that's it. Keep this up you have the whole thing covered and then let it dry. You can put a fan on it to speed up the drying time. Just a cold fan, because if you put heat on it then the paper will shrink too fast and pull itself out of details, like inside a valley crease.

Once the first layer is dry take a piece of 80 grit sand paper and run it over the work to get rid of any bits sticking up and dust caught in the paste.

Important note! If you are going to add plaster details you should rough up the spot where you are going to put the plaster with a bit of sand paper first so the surface has "teeth" and the plaster has something to hold on to. Sometimes I put staples in and put the plaster over them to help hold it in place.

Paint the paper surface once you are all done applying paper and you will be surprised how strong it will become. The paint fills in the pours on the surface and creates a hard surface that really adds to the dynamic tension built up in the paper shell. If you were to put on five or six coats of paper, then you could remove the interior stuff you used to make the shape and have just a hollow shell, quite strong and light. This would be especially good on modules where weight is a factor. You could also house Tortoise machines or gizmos inside hollow mountains.

On my layout, I wanted to put plaster on the tracks to make them look snowed on, but I didn't sand all around the tracks. I painted the shell with flat latex and this left a porous enough surface for the plaster to hold on. This is an okay thing to do on flat areas, but on a cliff face you should rough it up and give the plaster something to hang on to better.

I made this half can during the beginning of the Iraq war, hence the paint job.



You can make any number of boxes to hold whatever you like, like this one I made to store and sort my strip wood.

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I just hot glued it together and gave it one coat of paper to bring it all together.

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Re: Before plaster cloth - TrainClown - 08-18-2011

Well, there you have it. A life times worth of technique and experience for you to take and do what ever you like. You should try and give this method a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results, and it's cheap and easy.

This tutorial is in dedicated to my father who taught me everything I know about papier mache'. He was the master. I am just a chip off the ol' block.

TrainClown

Here's the ol' block himself, dreaming of trains:

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