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I'm building a shelf layout, I surveyed my stock of ballast and saw how little I have, and also considered the cost (this layout is a medium detail concept, e.g. code 100 track and really basic scenery as it will be shared between children and adults). I thought I should save the good stuff for future work. So I looked in the back yard and saw some beach sand. I remembered a problem with it, the metallic minerals in it can become conductive and mess up the occupancy detection. So I improvised a "panning" system. I put a little sand in a stainless steel pan, put a neodymium magnet under the pan, and swoosh the sand around. A big swatch of magnetic material collects around the magnet. Then I dump the remaining sand for further processing, and dump the magnetic material into a waste container by pulling the magnet away from the back of the pan. I repeat this process until minimal magnetic materials remain.

Then, I ballast with the sand. I mix the standard 50/50 white glue/water mixture (I guess about 30ml at one time), but I also add 6 to 8 drops of black acrylic hobby paint. So far it's working quite well, of course it's not as fine and realistic as commercial ballast, but if you had a huge layout to do and not much money, this might help.

The roadbed is 1-1/4" foam window sealing strip.


Here's the magnet at work:


Curse You, Red Baron!
Staff member
Excellent! You can also make it a little more fine if you get a kitchen strainer with a mesh that you like and sift it before you wet, or wash it!

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