In the last episode I elected to go with the 'Track Mat' as a base material for my layout. As mentioned previously these come in a variety of different colours, dimensions and textures. I suggest shopping around, yes - eBay does offer good prices but you can never be 100% sure of what the Mat will look like as the pictures online are often not brilliant. If you've got the time and patience get down to a model shop so you can do a bit of window shopping and then you'll probably be able to shave a few quid off your Track Mat by buying online, but I have found prices in shops to be pretty competitive and reasonable anyway.
If you are thinking of finding your local model shop - pick a good one. In past (young Andy) experience, Model Shops can be very hit and miss. Sometimes they'll cater for a wide variety of modelling such as warcraft and erm other things like that... (Modelzone in Holborn, London is pretty good for this) but some will more resemble toy-shops who stock a few train sets on the side. If you're lucky though, you will stumble upon one that pretty much specialises in just trains (yay!). These definitely tend to be the best in terms of quantity and quality of stock. My shop of choice is John Dutfield in Chelmsford, Essex however off the top of my head there's a really good one in Betwys-y-Coed, North Wales.....
This is what I went with... Gaugemaster Ballest affect TrackMat measuring in at 1m x .75m. This does means I'll have to buy two roles per board in order to cover it, however you may struggle as I did to find (both in shop and online) a Mat bigger enough to cover a 2.5 x 3ft space!
Next comes the messy part - glueing the paper to the wood.
PVA Glue will do the job very well, but I'd definitely recommend watering it down to create a sort of wallpaper-esque paste. The model railway online forums will suggest a variety of different Glue:Water ratios but I went with 70:30. This should make the glue easy to spread but thick enough to take some adhesion.
In true blue-peter fashion, lay down some newspaper - I made sure to pick one up on the tube that day so don't judge my political or culture choice - and start laying on that glue. Many people will elect to glue the back of the Mat but I figured glueing the wood would actually be far easier and far less messy and it ended up worked just as well. Don't be scared, you'll want a decent coating all over. I used a jug to mix the clue which also came in handy in a sort of 'pour and spread' technique.
Find yourself a Leah/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Colleague/Parent/Cat* to help you lay down the Mat. I found it easier to lay the Mat straight from the roll and then trim it once it had dried rather than a cut-to-size first. Make sure your Leah/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Colleague/Parent/Cat* also comes with a good supply of heavy duty University literature. This will act as a very good weight to let the glue set especially at the edges. You'll notice that the Mat looks a little 'bobbely' and uneven... To sort this out I used the Oxford Dictionary pictured above to 'iron out' these creases. Push down on the book pretty firmly and move it slowly across the board - it'll work a treat. To cover the final 3rd (pictured above left) I hacked one of the rolls in half with a knife (above right - be careful now kids), again to make it easier to lay.
*A cat will definitely not be of any use to you.
I repeated with the 2nd board and then left the glue to dry for 24 hours. Where possible keep as much weight on the Mat as possible to help it stick. You could use lots of books, but I turned the 2nd board upside down and placed it on the first. I then put the coffee table in our living-room on top of this Board-Ballast sandwich to help weigh it down and I must say am very pleased with the results....
And there we have it. You'll notice the 'bobbles' have been smoothed out by the combination of Dictionary-Iron and allowing the Mats to dry underneath a coffee table... There are a few blemishes, but hey this was my first ever go at this what do you expect?! The join line on each board is noticeable yes - however don't forget we will be adding grass/roads/other scenery at a later date so these will eventually be covered up.
The only thing I will say is the Gaugemaster Track Mat's actual Ballast effect - which essentially is made up of very small wood shavings stuck onto paper, was that it's pretty loosely stuck down. By this I mean you will create a massive mess as these little flakes of grey unattach and sprinkle themselves all over your living room when moving the boards about. This was very annoying, however I found, or rather my flat mate found, a rather ingenious way of solving (or at least greatly improving) this problem.
Join me in the next episode to find out what it is as we also lay down the track!