Elle Towan
February 24, 2016
6 min read

13 Essential Tools for Modeling Scenery

Building realistic scenery is our ultimate goal, it’s by no means an easy feat. It takes great patience and many hours of practice, they key is to try and try again. Trial and error is your friend, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started on a project only to be disappointed by the end result after hours and hours of work! You feel like giving up! But it all depends on how you view your failure, a failure can often be viewed as a success because now you have taught yourself how not to do it in the future, you’ve just narrowed down your list of your do’s and don’ts… you have gained some invaluable experience.

There are a few things we can do however to increase or chances of getting it right the first time, one of those things is being prepared with the right tools. It took me a while to realize the value of preparation, there is a perception that “Ah it’s just a hobby, I don’t need to put effort into it, if I really enjoy it it will just come naturally”, this is far from the truth. Just like a good job or career, time needs to be invested into your hobby if you want to get results.

Below I have compiled a list of 13 essential tools that I always have ready to go when I’m working on any scenery project, the list will differ slightly depending on the project for example, scenery vs structure building vs weathering ect;This list will get you started on “SCENERY”
The list will surely grow over time as you gain experience and start creating more complex projects but as a starting point this will get your feet off the ground.


Clear area to work:

Not a tool as such but essential nonetheless! Sounds obvious but the last thing you want is a cluttered or shared work-space. Another problem when building scenery is stuff tends to go everywhere so unless you are working on a model railway in a dedicated space or modules that can be relocated, you’ll want a comfortable space where you can afford to make a mess and not bother those around you. Interested in building this exact work-bench? Here's the tutorial: "Building a Work Bench"


Tweezers or small pointy nosed pliers:

Necessary for placing small details like bushes and shrubs. Also very handy for removing misplaced details without disturbing the surrounding scenery.


Sharp Hobby Knife and spare blades:

This is more necessary when building small details like signs, fences and when building the tree armature kits but also comes in very handy for trimming and shaving terrain and scenery.Not sure how or why a hobby knife would be necessary for making a Woodland Scenics tree armature kit?​Watch the tutorial and find out why: "Realistic Trees"


Pin Vice and small drill bits:

A small power drill can also be used like a dremel however for the more delicate areas a pin vice works great. It also helps prevent over doing it, you can take away small amounts of material at a time and achieve very precise drilling.


Eye dropper:

Essential for applying the wetting agent (alcohol or wet water) as well as applying the glue in delicate areas where precise application is necessary. For example, around already placed buildings and other similar details. This tool gets used a lot.


Stocking, rubber band and an old spray can lid:

(Dirt Applicator)​This will help you get an even uniform base layer of dirt over your terrain, very fine soil is often needed for modelling roads and sifting your dirt texture through a stocking will get you only the very fine dirt necessary for modelling roads.To get a good demonstration of me using this dirt applicator, watch "Realistic Scenery Vol - 3" I use it quite a bit.


Felt tip pen:

I use this a lot in the planning stage when I’m marking out the topography, I also use it quite a bit for marking positions of fences, posts and the outline of buildings that I plan to incorporate into the scene. I often think of an idea while modelling and it ends up looking quite good only to completely forget how I did it the next day, so having a pen and paper close by is good for writing down ideas and techniques.


Disposable containers/cups:

You never know when these will come in handy. I often find cups full of water, glue, dirt, ground foam and other random bits and pieces. You’ll need disposable cups especially when it comes to using resins and creating water scenes.


Static grass applicator:

This can be the most expensive tool but this will yield the best results, there are a few commercial types available online or if you feel up to it I have a tutorial on making your own from scratch which will be much cheaper. I have two tutorials demonstrating the method to build one from scratch. They are cheap and reliable, watch "Static Grass Applicator - The Body" to get started.


Fine mist spray bottle:

In addition to the eye dropper this is fantastic for applying the wetting agent and glue to larger areas. Just be sure to use a fine mist bottle otherwise larger droplets of water can act like meteors on your layout and leave behind massive craters in your scenery. Sometimes you can find fine mist sprayers around your house, a lot of hair product bottles with spray tops are fine misters, like non pressurized hair sprays and face and skin sprays.


Paper towels:

You never know when you’ll need to mop up a spill or soak up the excess glue on the scenery or even just wipe the glue off your fingers. Paper towels are more useful than you think.


Paint brushes:

Variety, used for applying the base layer of paint over the scenery as well as application of weathering powders and also I use them to tease the scenery around like ballast and ground foam.



Great for directing short bursts of air to help clean and remove localized areas from excess foam dirt or anything else. Also can help forming waves and ripples as shown in my tutorial “Realistic Scenery Volume 3”

This list above is not definitive by any means but it will get you started and on the right track in building your own realistic scenery.
When I first started in modelling scenery I would imagine a scene, grab a piece of foam and start modelling. The models took a very long time to finish and the main reason was not having the right tools and materials on hand, I’d model up to a point then realize I needed some more materials or tools then two days later once I’d got what I needed I’d continue.
Having a small basket or toolbox with your basic set of tools ready to go helps keep you motivated to build that masterpiece you’ve been dreaming about.  



Download the files associated with the project. All files are included in a zip for convenience.


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