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Making stencils

by Doc

For some years, I have been creating scale lineside buildings utilising extruded polystyrene sheets. They are pleasant to use, cut easily and fix together with waterproof PVA to make a solidly bonded, light building. The brick finish has been made with stencils from Bromley Dollshouse and most effective this has been too, both in 16mm scale and, more recently, 7/8ths scale.

One shortcoming of buying available stencils is that we are trapped into the wrong scale whichever we choose. At 16mm, the 1/24th brick pattern is a little too small and at 7/8ths scale, the 1/12th scale too big. In addition, though they do offer a couple of bonds, the choice is limited. The very worst feature is the stonework stencils. Random stone works well enough for a crude wall but their dressed stone stencil just looks like concrete blocks and won't do at all to represent the sorts of stonework I see all around me in the East Midlands.

One of my daughters is a sculptor, a precarious way to exist, to say the least of it, even if, as she does, you possess a First Class Honours degree in Fine Art from Chelsea and an MA from the Royal College of Art. To be able to eat, she has done every kind of job imaginable while running a studio and turning out work. Respect due. It means that she often gives me arty things as gifts and last Christmas was no exception. She gave me a vast pile of stencilling blanks and an Antex Craft Cutmaster Stencil Tool. It's just the ticket. The very fine tip reaches 390 degrees and permits the cutting of stencils as through butter. We should all have such daughters. The kit is available at Flints online store and I can't recommend it too highly.

Making a first attempt

I live in the kitchen garden of what people call a stately home. Once inhabited by a famous Admiral and slept in by Queen Bess if you are gullible enough, it was once self-sufficient in everything. It had an ice house and a lake just for gleaning the ice. They made their own coal gas which they stored in their very own gasometer. I live in half the garden where they grew all the fruit and veg they needed and, being sore afraid of scrumpers, they surrounded the plot with a 9 foot high wall, stone on the outside for swank, red brick inside to absorb heat from the sun. My bit is always falling down so I have become an ace stonemason and bricky over 30 years.

A section of my wall untouched since Guy Fawkes visited.

Now, you can see why I would want to make miniature stonework to look like that, can't you? The stone is locally quarried so that half the buildings in the area look just like it. You can also see that Jigstones doesn't do it to have the same simple coursed appearance.

The method

The first thing was to take stock of the general patterns and work out the dimensions for scale purposes. This stonework is a mixture of various sizes of stone, only dressed on the front and sides. The biggest stones are 7 inches high and the smallest are just under half that size. Just so you know, a thin lime mortar was used and the wall is a composite affair built on the vaguest of foundations. Between the stone and brick is rubble infill with no ties. On the top are shedding bricks to create a lip for the rain and on top of those, semi-circular red capping bricks. On the stone side, the shedding bricks are red but on the brick side, they are massive blues. 

With a felt pen, I drew a series of parallel lines at scale distances apart then vaguely put in some vertical joint lines. With the same felt pen, I drew round every stone, leaving some nicely rounded off blank spaces to cut out with the hot iron.
Simple marking below, more complex above.

I must say, it worked more easily than I had imagined it would. You cut without pressure with the marked out work on some heat resistant surface.  I discovered that I then needed to hold the stencil up in front of my rheumy old eyes to fine-tune the holes to thin down some of the remaining plastic that would represent the joints. Not wishing to wreck my first job, I had been a bit cautious with cutting. 
You can see that the joints would be a bit thick if I left it like this.

Last of all, it was necessary to sand the surfaces to remove some bobbly melted bits.
Now, the stencil could be tried out. I shall have to refine some joints, maybe use less sloppy grout and find a good way to butt up two runs better than I managed here. Normally, I would have allowed one run to set first. So far, I'm pleased and I may well cut an even bigger stencil, though I have to say it adds to the difficulty of stencilling.

And now, with a bit of masonry paint, first a wash of dark grey (mid stone mixed with black), then mid stone dry brushed fairly crudely across in several directions, then picking out some colour with tints, including chocolate brown, we have a reasonable representation of my wall.

This walling could use some vertical streaks of weathering but, essentially, once 
incorporated into some building, I think it will look good enough.

The joints are a bit wider than I'd like but I don't want to weaken the stencil by thinning the plastic much more. I shall also experiment with working on the soft paste a bit to suggest more surface crumbling than is shown here. I'm pleased enough with the performance of the stencil material and the hot cutter to now turn my attention to a decent tunnel mouth.

A Tunnel Portal

Not only was it necessary to lift the present tunnel portal to allow the taller 7/8ths locos underneath, but I never really liked the look of the old ones. The design really bore little relationship to stonework. It seemed however that nobody made a brick tunnel mouth in 16mm scale so I had what I could get. It was always my plan to create something better and now I had the perfect motivation. In one move I could satisfy both needs. 

Having removed the old portal, I used it to trace the old 'hole' and then made that bigger. Using my bought brick stencil as a size guide, I then drew a row of bricks all round the entrance. Very carefully and slowly, I cut out the stencil to ensure nice thin mortar joints and gave it a try with grout. It seemed very neat. 
First run of the stencil for the tunnel mouth bricks.

After that, it was a matter of carefully building up the brickwork on both sides.

Of course, having cut a stonework stencil, I can now also make a stone built tunnel mouth. I slightly prefer it though, of course, I have added buttresses which helps gladden the eye.