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What is Plaster Cloth and How Do You Use it For Models, Miniatures and Terrains?

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Roll of plaster cloth, gauze covered with plaster.

Roll of gauze impregnated plaster cloth used to model miniature and railroad scenes.

Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
Question: What is Plaster Cloth and How Do You Use it For Models, Miniatures and Terrains?
Plaster Cloth is a form of gauze embedded with plaster, commonly used for plaster casts for broken limbs. It comes in rolls of material, usually 4,5 or 8 inches wide by ten or fifteen feet long. To use it you cut suitable lengths of plaster cloth, dip them in a bowl of water until the material is wet, but not dissolving completely (usually one or two seconds), allow the excess water to drain back into your container and apply the strips to a super structure of woven cardboard strips (to make tunnels and caves) or rough shaped styrofoam or apply it over crumpled newspaper, wire netting, or insulating foam.
Answer:

Working with plaster cloth for models and displays is easiest if you have:

  • suitable length strips (6 inches or longer ) precut to length.
  • Have a tray or large bowl of room temperature water to dip your strips in, located close to the terrain you are covering.
  • Lay the moistened strips across the area you are working on to overlap them, or cross them in different directions to make the surface more secure.
  • Lay the strips with the plaster 'bumps' on the top surface, to give you the most plaster to smooth over the cloth.
  • Use at least two layers of plaster cloth over each terrain base. Allow previous layers to begin to set up before you add another layer, this helps to avoid over wetting or sagging.
  • Smooth the plaster to shape soon after laying the strips.
  • If you have a spray bottle of water, you can set the plaster cloth in place and spray it to wet it. This method is usually less messy for tight spaces than dipping and draping the plaster cloth.

Notes

Do not allow the plaster cloth to become too wet. You want it to be thoroughly moist but not dripping with water.

Plaster cloth becomes brittle if you re wet or re work it. It is best to give it an overcoat of heavy paint or modelling material to strengthen it.

Plaster heats up as it hardens, usually setting in fifteen to thirty minutes and takes at least 24 hours to cure, although it may be hard to the touch much earlier than that. Plaster cloth will need to have a finished layer applied over the cloth to hide the weave of the cloth. You can 'paint' the scenery with a thin layer of plaster to which color has been applied. This will make your plaster layer over the plaster cloth thicker and will hide the weave of the fabric.

Less expensive alternative

- Mix up regular Plaster of Paris and dip paper towels, strips of paper towels or strips of old cotton sheets into the plaster, then apply them to your scenery base. Do not mix up too much plaster at one time, as it may set up before you have time to dip and apply a lot of paper towels.

Do not flush plaster dust or plaster down your sink, it can easily clog drains. Allow the plaster to setup hard, then dispose of it in a trash can. Allow solids in your dipping tray to settle, then pour off the water, allowing the plaster grains to dry out, then displose of them.

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