Static grass is a popular way to develop the landscaping of a model railway, and it can certainly transform the realism of the scenery in your layout. However, laying static grass can be extremely time-consuming and it's often very difficult to get it to look 'just right'.
That's where static grass applicators come in. These devices allow us to potentially solve both of these issues, but what's the best static grass applicator to use in 2023, taking into account effectiveness, ease of use and value for money?
What is static grass?
Prior to reviewing the best static grass applicators, we should take a moment to look at what static grass actually is.
Static grass is a material used in model railroad layout scenery which allows the modeller to create realistic-looking grass and reproduce grassy areas. Static grass may also be referred to as 'flocking'. Its origins date back to the 1970's when it was introduced as a scenery modelling product by Boyd Models and produced by German company Noch.
Static grass consists of man-made fibre strands that stand upright when charged with static electricity and are sprinkled over a glue-covered surface. This gives a realistic representation of real grass in the smaller scale of a model railway layout. They're commonly made from nylon, polyester or rayon.
A range of colours and lengths are available. They're typically sold in 2mm to 12mm sizes, but some can be found in lengths as low as 0.5mm. This caters for different model railway scales, as well as different requirements for the length of grass desired - anything from a well-kept lawn to a meadow.
How do static grass applicators work?
In order for static grass to be applied correctly, and to ultimately look good, we need a method to administer an electrical charge to the grass fibres as they're applied.
The static grass applicators mentioned in this guide provide us with a way to accomplish this, and they all work in a similar way.
They consist of a metal sieve which is connected to a power supply. Static grass is shaken through this, and the electrical charge is applied. This causes the fibres to stand upright when landing on the intended surface. They are held in place using a glue, such as PVC.
What's the typical cost of a static grass applicator?
Whilst they sound like a simple concept, static grass applicators can actually vary considerably in terms of cost. The starter DIY options can be purchased from around the £12 mark. This rises to between £20 - £35 for the more enthusiast models. The top of the range premium options are anywhere from £50 - £150.
Below, we'll consider which of these options is the best choice, but first let's take a look at how you can make your own static grass applicator.
How to make your own static grass applicator
The principals of a static grass applicator are relatively simple, as we've explained earlier. One can be made using a fly zapper, tea strainer or sieve and some tools, such as a soldering iron.
The advantage of making your own DIY static grass applicator is that it's cheap - they can usually be made for less than £12-15 - and they definitely accomplish the need of getting the grass fibres to stand upright. However, these also have some significant limitations.
Firstly, you'll need some practical DIY and electrical skills in order to make them and get them to work correctly. They can also be quite messy and wasteful. It's very hard to find a sieve or strainer with the appropriate sized mesh - as a result, it's difficult to control when the fibres fall through, resulting in wastage and mess.
Their capacity is also limited, which means you'll be spending a lot of time refilling the applicator when covering large areas and if you fill it up too much the fibres are going to spill out over the top.
DIY static grass applicators can certainly be an effective way of applying static grass to a model railway layout. If you've got the required practical and electrical skills, and are willing to put in a lot of time and effort, then it may be worthwhile making your own and you will save some money. However, for the majority of people we would recommend getting a ready made static grass applicator, as they save a great deal of time and effort, particularly the trial and error of getting the mesh the correct size, and they're also not particularly expensive relative to other aspects of scenery modelling.
The best static grass applicator
For consistent results in applying static grass, the range of WWS Pro Grass applicators are a great choice. We would recommend the Pro Grass Applicator - Grand Model, as despite seeming quite expensive, does actually represent very good value for money. It's extremely high quality and the results produced by it are excellent. The heads are detachable which allow it to easily apply a wide variety of static grass lengths and the large container make it very efficient, particularly on bigger layouts where you can cover larger areas without the need for constant refills.
Their Static Applicator Kits also represent good value if you need a selection of grass fibres and some glue as well.
These are definitely the way to go if you want an easy to use, efficient, high quality static grass applicator.
However, if the price of the WWS Pro Grand puts you off, there are some other great options that are also effective and produce very satisfactory results.
The Plus Power Static Grass Applicator is one of the best basic static grass applicators that we've tested. It's the best cheap alternative to the WWS Pro Grand that we would recommend. It's battery powered, so achieves the desired stand-up grass effect. It does also have a plastic container hopper, which is of reasonable size, meaning you won't be refilling too often when grassing larger areas. However, it's not as good as the WWS Pro Grand. The mesh is securely attached to the hopper which helps to avoid grass fibres falling through unintentionally, cutting down on wastage.
These are extremely affordable and can be obtained for between £15 - £30.
The downside of these options is that they're significantly less convenient than the WWS Pro Grand Applicator as they don't have the detachable heads, so only work with certain lengths of static grass. Before purchasing, be sure to check that the sieve diameter is appropriate for the length of static grass being applied. They also have a smaller grass hopper, meaning you'll have to refill much more often when covering larger areas.
Best tips & tricks for laying static grass
- Before applying static grass, prepare the area first. Ensuring that the baseboard is painted and prepared as you would like before applying static grass will increase the quality of the overall look.
- PVA glue is the best glue to secure static grass in place. A good quality glue will help the grass fibres to stand upright when using an electrical applicator.
- Increase the realism of your static grass by blending and mixing different colours and lengths. This will obviously be dependent on your personal preference and the asthetic you're aiming for.
- Mask off any vulnerable areas such as track and points before applying static grass. It can be very frustrating trying to remove grass fibres from these areas once they get into them.
- Be sure to put the ground point of the applicator as near to the application area as possible. This will ensure consistency of the electrical current being applied, meaning the fibres will stand up in the desired manner.
- Improve the look and depth of your model railway grass by applying multiple layers with differing lengths.
Check out the other articles in our scenery series for more tips and tricks for making realistic scenery for your model railway layout.
If you're a complete beginner and have just got your first train set, you'll want to refer to our article on How to Set Up a Train Set for beginners. If you're looking for a train set for kids or toddlers, see our articles on the best Hornby train set and the best wooden train sets in our train set series.