This installment deals with something I've struggled with for some time. Brick sheet. More importantly, the mortar lines. Brick is by far the most prevalent of building materials for early steel mills and coke plants. Or, more to the point, likely THE most prevalent building material for heavy industry prior to WWII. Corrugated siding was making it's way in. But for two reasons (1. Brick was cheap and 2. Labor was cheap), brick made the most sense in that time period. It would stand up to almost anything, wouldn't burn, and would bear a heavier load than wood in almost every instance. So, modeling brick buildings in a heavy industry setting in the steam or transition era railroading is a must.
I began by doing some photographic research on Google Image for brick wall detail. Specifically for walls either in a steel mill, or that had been in a mill. I wanted to get a feel for the way the walls looked, the color of the mortar, stains, weathering, aging, repairs, everything. And, as I was building quite a few brick buildings in the By Product Coke Works and the 55' of steel mill on our clubs layout, I would need a method of painting and adding mortar that wasn't too laborious or costly. The By Product plant alone is 26" long and 11" wide. And Building 1 at the rolling mill will be 72" long and 13" wide. That's a lot of brick mortar to model.
The photo below is the one that I think has the best reference all in one image. It's from an old mill building that has since become part of some up-scale office complex. You can see they've built a new interior and upper floors from corrugated sheet. But left the original "patina" in tact. A popular thing to do with the "sophisticated crowd." I love the brick itself. Starting at the top, we can see a demarcation line, where there must have been a roof about 2' down from the top. The brick and mortar above is more clean, and below it's stained and filthy. Random bricks are used as far as color and hew. I'm guessing bricks that weren't uniform in finish and color were cheaper at the time, and so this is prevalent in a mill where the owners weren't worried about aesthetics, but functionality. There is a section of brick and mortar at the left of the doors that leads me to believe there was a repair done. So the bricks were cleaned in some manner, and new mortar used. And then there is the bricked up window. Completely different brick used here, and obviously fresh mortar. This is something I think is important to include in your modeling. It can show several things. Additions to equipment inside a building can necessitate a window being eliminated. New construction can make a window obsolete. In many industries, windows were used to get more light in during the day, but later after a window was broken too often from vibration or for other reasons, I can see the plant manager saying, "get rid of that window. Just brick it up. I'm tired of having to have it replaced." All of these things can tell the observer that the building in the scene has been there for quite a while. And that progress has been non-stop at this mill. Then there is the small section about head level to the right of the doors that's got new mortar. Another repair. Likely a process called, "tuck pointing." Where loose or broken mortar is removed, and fresh mortar is "tucked" into the space with the "point" of a trowel. Another important, and easy to "add" detail. I put that in quotes for a reason that I'll get to later.
All that being said, I think for most modelers, it can be frustrating finding that one method that works for you across the board on most brick models and scratch built projects. So I started watching videos on YouTube, and decided to try the Humbrol method. It looked almost fool proof. $65 worth of the necessary products later, I tried this new method out on the JT Products brick sheet I chose for this project. Meet problem #1. JT Product brick sheet looks OK, but the mortar lines are a bid wide. I knew this going in, but thought the Humbrol method may still work. Well, it didn't. Most "wash" methods rely on capillary action between the bricks. With the wide mortar lines on the JT Plastics sheet, that was a failure. I also tried the Vellejo method. Also a failure due to the need to capillary action. I'm sure either of these methods would work great on a injection molded wall like most of Walthers kits. But the majority of brick sheet is vacuum formed. And lacks the minute detail that a molding die formed wall would have. I sent up a flare on the Steel Mill Modelers FB page, and Roberts Brick Mortar was recommended.
I started the project by selecting what I thought was the right color for my buildings. Depending on where you live, or where the building is supposed to be, the bricks will be a different color than somewhere else. I'm from the Allegheny Mountains part of Western NY and Western Penna. As memory serves, the bricks there tend to be a darker red, with a tint of brown. So I began combing the hobby shops for the right color. I have never been boxed in by the mindset that paint colors have to be for what the manufacturer tells you they are for. They are all just colors, and you can ignore the "military" or "race car" monikers. The color I chose was Testors Military WWII German Panzer Root Braun RAL 8012 Semi-Gloss. I think this is just about the closest my imagination can get to what those bricks looked like back home. I may even take a jar with me at some point when I go home for a visit and find a building and paint a 1" square portion of a brick and see how well it matches. That's likely overboard, but I'd like to know.
This portion of the model shows how much I covered it. I didn't go crazy with an even coat, as I knew I was going to add mortar and weathering. And I wanted to slightly vary the color of the bricks as well. And I saved a bit of paint and airbrush time. Hey, I'm Scottish by descent, so this was a good thing in my mind.
Bob Schwab is, what I'm guessing, one of those modelers who one day had had enough of all the methods for detailing mortar lines, and set out to find an easier and faster way. And that he did. Roberts Brick Mortar is by far the easiest and quickest method I have ever used in brick detailing. I went to his page and decided I'd order the 4 oz. jar for $15.95, as I knew I was going to detail a "ton" of brick walls. If you're only doing one building, even something remotely large, I'd get the 1 oz, as this stuff goes a long way. Also of note, Bob is a nice guy with a great product, but he's a one man show. Just like a ton of both the old, and new cottage industry types in model railroading. I completely respect these guys. And hope to be one very soon with some 3D printed products. BUT, that also means that if you're one of those instant gratification types that always overnights products, YOU need to put that aside for this company. I'm a day's shipping from Milwaukee, and I waited a week. And that's just fine. I had plenty of other things to finish on this model, and the product is COMPLETELY worth the wait. So, please have patients when ordering. As I said, it's well worth it.
I wasn't quite prepared for what it would be like, as I guessed it was some sort of putty maybe. Boy was I wrong. The packaging said to shake well, and apply with a brush. Brush? OK. *shake shake shake*. It sounded like I was shaking a jar of chocolate milk. Not brick mortar. When I opened the jar, I was presented with a slightly frothy liquid. Admittedly, a bit skeptical at this point, I selected one of my trusty Humbrol brushes, and dipped it in. A white, watery (it's water based), milky liquid coated the bristle's. You can sort of see the consistency in the photo. As well as see about the size of the brush I chose in relation to the size of one of these 18 pane windows.
You can also observe the coverage that I found works best. The directions state that a nice even coat will work, and then let it dry to a haze before wiping off with a damp cloth. After doing the other two sides of this structure, I observed the following: 1. Apply with a slight swirling method of your brush, and spread it out. 2. Once you spread it out, wait a moment before working more and let it wet into the mortar joints. 3. If a large amount is sitting ON TOP of the faces of bricks at this point, swipe it away with your brush and encourage it into a mortar joint. Leaving a very thin film on top of a brick face is OK, but no pooling. 4. Apply it with the surface parrallel to the ground.
You can work the entire side of a building. Don't worry about it drying for too long. It's water based, and once it's dry, your damp cloth will work fine, with little effort, to remove it from the brick faces. Another thing, as I stated, the product is water based. It's not going to fully dry in 10 minutes. Even though it might appear that it's going to. And LEAVE THE STRUCTURE FLAT while it's drying. The below photograph is right after I made it to the bottom of the wall with Bob's product. I then set it aside and did something else for about 2-3 hours. If you're like me, that's easy to do.
This photograph is what it will look like when it's completely cured. DON'T PANIC. It's water based, and this is part of the process. If your model doesn't look like this, leave it alone until it does.
Now, the wiping off step. I thought a lot about the type of cloth to use. My OCD compels me to think things through. What I knew from reading Bob's page was that a light touch and a DAMP cloth would do the trick. But there was a warning about DPM walls. I have a DPM wall section, so I took a look at it. Large, shallow mortar lines. Just like on the JT Plastic sheet. It was recommended that wiping at a 45 degree angle to the mortar lines method be used. Also, I got to thinking, I'd be wiping excess mortar off the faces of the bricks, but not want to get down in between them. And old wash cloth or the ever popular micro fiber would have little "fingers" on them. And are meant to clean things down in the nooks and crannies. So those were out. When we had our son, we were gifted gauze diapers. The moment I opened the packages I thought, "no way is this going to work for pee and poo." They were like a top bed sheet, but you could see though them. So, I put them away. But, they are SMOOTH. No little "fingers" of cloth. And, at $12 for a dozen, you'd have enough for the rest of your modeling career for brick detailing. When I moisten the cloth, I dip a portion of the cloth in my dish of water, then wring it out, then push that portion into a dry portion. Again, Bob's product is water based. So too much water on your cloth and you'll reactivate all of it, and likely wipe it out of the mortar lines.
If you do do that, DON'T PANIC. You can re-apply Roberts Brick Mortar and start that area over again. You can also vary the amount you remove. As you can see in the below image, I removed more in some places, and less in others. I wanted to give the building a look of many years of service and repairs. Places that normally need repairs are the corners of buildings, around windows and doors, and around vents and foundations. I wanted this area to appear that the vent may have been added or updated, and perhaps a repair around the window. Once you've wiped off all the excess, and sit back and look at your project, you're likely to think, "crap, that's REALLY white. It doesn't look right at all." Like the brick paper kits of old, it looks a bit fake. But we're not done.
Bob recommends diluted India Ink in the form of a wash to tone down the mortar. Having never worked with ink at all, I returned to YouTube and watched some videos. There are two types, water based and alcohol based. Each comes in water proof, and non-water proof. Water based ink that becomes water proof when dry? Wrap your noodle around that for a moment.
A trip to our local art supply store, Carlsons Art Supply in Lombard IL, yielded more information. They were quite helpful, and recommended Higgins #44201 Black India Ink. It's water based, so you can dilute it with water, and will dry water proof, to it's sealed. Again, I was skeptical about making the mortar too dark, and also purchased Bright White ink to mix into gray. I also dreaded having to essentially paint the wash into all the mortar lines. Well, you don't have to dread anything. And save the money and step of mixing grey. I also experimented with applying the wash, and then wiping the excess off. Another step you can skip. Mix the ink 1:1 with water, use the same size or similar brush to apply, and spread it out. Equal coverage is the goal here. Keep the face of the building your working on flat, cover the entire surface THINLY, and allow to dry. You'll be able to watch the solution wet onto the mortar, and just a thin film will stay on the brick. Now, about that part I mentioned about "adding" tuck pointing or repairs. Here's the easy part. Keep the ink wash away from wherever you want to look new or repaired. Like I did in the photograph below, just above the vent. And to the right of the window, and then above it. A note, this ink is waterproof when dry. So, if you don't like an area, or want an area to be more dirty, you'll need to add more solution BEFORE the first coat is completely dry.
Below is the "South" wall of this structure. I used my wiping method here for the excess ink. You can see it leaves broad areas that look wiped. I have no intention of redoing this side. As in a photograph you can see this (it's taken with my iPhone6), but in sunlight and naked eyes, you can't. I'm OK with this. Also, with the naked eye it looks quite natural. I plan to go back in with a fine brush and make some of the bricks black, and others brown. A random pattern. On my next building, I'll do this before I start the mortar process. It's all learning. I hope this article helps you with modeling brick structures more realistically. And if you like this article or found it helpful, please leave a comment and share the article with your friends.