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Aging balsa wood


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#1 Fat Brian

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 01:24 AM

How do I get a good aged look to balsa wood ? I'm going to start on a rat rod truck and want to do a bed that looks like it's made of scrap wood.

#2 vintagestang

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 02:17 AM

You could use rubbing alcohol in random places to fade stain. You could nick it up with your exacto or make rusty nail holes.

#3 VW Dave

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 02:30 AM

Personally, I wouldn't use balsa; it's pretty fragile from the get-go, and aging/weathering might be too much for it. I use a couple different sizes of craft sticks from Michaels or A.C. Moore. Here's the bed of a ratty flatbed I did for my buddy's model RR layout:

Posted Image

I pre-cut the wood with my mini chop saw, and I try to do no more than 2 in the same length; to add to the randomness/scrap wood vibe, I'll make uneven or angled end cuts as well. Notches and grooves are easily done with a file or Dremel, and I drill out my own knot holes. My weathering solution is 50% isopropyl alcohol with a splash of India ink, a recipe I picked up from my railroading buddies. I soak the wood in the solution for no more than 30 minutes, and lay it out to dry on paper towels on a plastic tray or plate that I don't care about(because it can and will stain). Let it air dry overnight, or until the pieces feel totally dry to the touch, and you're good to go. I'll randomly dry sand one or two planks to make them seem older or more worn than the others, and I add the knothole details & nails with my 005 Micron artists' pen. You can use heads from straight pins, but they're too large to represent nails in scale...they look much more like carriage bolts IMO.

A quick tip for keeping weathering solution around, as the isopropyl has a nasty habit of evaporating: An old pickle or jelly jar. I have a dollar store Tupperware-like container that I use for the soaking, but the stuff goes right back into the jar when I'm done with it.

#4 VW Dave

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 02:47 AM

I must correct my above statement about balsa wood.....the vertical posts on my flatbed job are balsa. ;)

Edited by VW Dave, 01 May 2012 - 02:48 AM.


#5 Harry P.

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 04:34 AM

I agree that balsa isn't the best choice... strips of basswood are better.

Another way to "age" the wood: First, make your cuts and chips and splits like Dave described, to make the wood pieces look old and beat up, then simply paint the wood strips with watered-down black (or brown or gray or a mix, depending on the look you want) acrylic craft paint (the kind that come in those 2 ounce plastic squeeze bottles with the flip-top cap)... then just wipe off the excess with a paper towel. You can get different effects by varying the time you leave the paint on the wood before wiping, by mixing more (or less) water with the paint, etc. And no messing with isopropyl alcohol... all you need is good old H20. Practice on a scrap piece of the same wood you'll use for the finished product to see how different colors, different paint-water ratios and different wiping times look.

Another alternative: wood stain. Comes in water-based or solvent-based. Same technique as with the acrylic paint.

#6 trogdor

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 05:10 AM

If you aren't in a hurry, and you want to plan ahead, precut all your "board" sizes and set them out in the sun. They will weather naturally on their own very quickly.

#7 Fat Brian

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 05:26 AM

Thanks Dave and Harry that's what I needed, I wanted a way to gray the wood in a natural appearing way. I will go pick up some basswood too, the grain of balsa has never looked scale to me but I didn't really know what else to go with.

#8 uncle potts

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 11:52 AM

If you have a well stocked LHS in your area you can also get oak in the same sizes as basswood. I've also used the acrylic paints that Harry mentioned and it's worked well for me. may have to try the ink and alcohol solution I like how it turned out.

#9 VW Dave

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 04:24 PM

Oak and basswood are great, but the craft sticks(popsicle sticks) and 'skinny craft sticks' from Michaels are just as good for weathering and a screaming deal with their coupons shaving at least 40% off the vig. Tongue depressors from our pedeiatrician's office are good for the skinny ones too, and they're free if nobody sees you take them. :rolleyes:

Another tip I heard about and tried for staining is a little offbeat....OK, a lot: soy sauce. Lots of us have packets in a kitchen drawer left over from countless take-out dinners, so it's essentially free. The smell of the sauce was my main concern when I tried it, but it goes away during the drying process.

On a larger piece, like a loading dock platform I did on my buddy's layout, I also like to sneak in one relatively clean board among the others.....looks like one had been replaced recently, and it adds a lot to the 'story' of the piece.

#10 Harry P.

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 04:43 PM

Oak's grain is pretty big... probably out of scale. I'd stick with basswood or popsicle sticks.

#11 Kit Basher

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 05:13 PM

Craft/ popsicle sticks (and tongue depressers) are usually made of birch, a good choice for a hobby wood, but quite a bit harder and heavier than basswood. If you need any 4" x 4"s, wooden match sticks (yes, they still make them) are made of poplar and are almost exactly to scale.