DAS Ist Good

Perhaps it comes as a result of growing up in the era I did but whenever I think of the word DAS I hear it in my mind with a dodgy German accent delivered by Siegfried in Get Smart or Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes. I’m not sure of the provenance of DAS modelling clay but wherever it comes from I’ve used it extensively in the last three modelling projects on Morpeth over the last 12 months. This can partly be explained by the fact that for me it’s a new modelling medium and I’m still in the discovery phase of what I can achieve with it. However it’s not exactly a “new” medium at all: it was released in this country when I was about 10 years of age and I can specifically remember buying a pack at the time. All I managed to model with it was an impression of the inside of my closed fist and it took me over 40 years to get around to finding a more productive use for this versatile product. And no, I didn’t hold onto the unused portion of the pack for 40 years! 🙂

The first two projects I’ve used DAS in have employed it as a “smear” medium, where a thin (about 2mm to 3mm) layer of the clay is smeared over a substrate using white glue to help it adhere. This has worked fine but I ran up against a bit of a limitation with this method on the project I’m working on now. The one element of the scenery on  the “wharf” module of Morpeth that I’ve been most troubled about is the creek and it’s emergence from the backdrop. I’ve built a number of bridges that were reasonably close to backdrops over the years (the HO Upper Hunter and the creek module on Stringybark Creek being two examples) and I’ve always managed to get the watercourse to merge with the backdrop by painting a representation of the creek disappearing into the distance. To be completely accurate I should say that I’ve always got my mum to do this bit as she’s been a keen painter for years and has way more artistic talent than me. The problem with this plan is that Morpeth has a photo backdrop and I wasn’t all that sure I could get the 3D scenery to marry up to the photo realistic backdrop with the transition being formed by a hand painted creek. Another reason I was hesitant to paint a water course on the backdrop was that I wanted to cram as many structures on this module as possible and having a good 400mm of meandering creek chewing up the available real estate wasn’t part of the programme. So a good while back I decided that I was going to have the creek emerge from a large culvert or set of pipes to allow me to build a bank over the top of the creek onto which I could build a crowded town scene.

With the bridge essentially complete I started to test things out and, as usual, there was less space than I’d hoped for. The distances between the backdrop, the track over the bridge and the edges of the benchwork were very tight: I had to find a credible way of allowing the “water” to flow under the town and yet hold back the banks and landscape with bricks and cut stone. My first attempt at making this work was to place a long length of 6mm thick MDF along the back of the creek forming a wall that would be covered later by scribed brick. As soon as I saw this in place I knew it wasn’t going to work, no matter how good the brickwork looked. I also tested a small length of MDF by coating it with DAS on one side. What I suspected would happen did happen: it warped like a banana. The lesson from this is that you use the materials that suit the purpose and MDF is simply not suitable where any type of water based product needs to come into contact with it. I went out and bought some more of my favourite ply over the weekend. So the Great Wall of Morpeth was a flop.

Fortuitously the August issue of the Gauge O Guild’s Gazette turned up in the mail a couple of weeks before this and I got around to reading it last week. In it there’s an article by John Mileson where he describes the building of a stone barn where small blocks of DAS modelling clay are used as individual stones to form the walls. Bingo! I decided that what I didn’t like about the long MDF wall was the uninterrupted vista of brick. What I’ve decided to do is break this in half: the bottom half will be a stone foundation made from stacks of individual blocks of DAS with the upper half being formed from the smear method of a thin layer of DAS scribed to look like brick. The water will flow through a culvert formed by a square cutting in the based of the foundation.

Having made the decision about the stone and brick surfaces I now needed to choose a suitable substrate for my stone foundation. I didn’t want to use wood to avoid the extra weight this would introduce so I decided to make up the base of the model from rigid extruded foam. I cut two sections of 50mm thick material to size and fitted these into the corners of the space at the rear of the bridge and then lay a “slab” of 25mm thick material over the top of these. The gap formed between the two thicker sections forms the culvert. The exterior sides of these sections of foam will be clad in a wall of DAS “stone” that I’ve formed using a small piece of ply, some strip wood and a rolling-pin: an idea in the Gazette article. Once I had rolled out a small section of DAS to a uniform thickness, I cut up the stones in the soft DAS using a hobby knife: the stones are 10mmx15mm in size with the corner stones being 10mmx17.5mm. When these have dried I will give each a light sand and jab at them with a scriber to give them “patina” and then glue them along the front of the foam. They will sit on a narrow shelf of card I glued to the underside of the sections of foam. To make the job easier I’ll glue the stones on the individual sections of foam separately and only glue these together when I’m forced to. I’ll grout the gaps and colour the stones when everything is glued together in one section.

Describing this is far more complicated than doing it. I’ll post a couple of photos and let you know how I get on.

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