How to build a basic model railway baseboard

20 September 2018
Building a model railway baseboard can be as simple as a piece of plywood from a hardware store

Build a good set of baseboards and the rest of the layout will be easy. It's simple truth no matter how much fun you have constructing scenery or buildings, if the baseboards have cavernous gaps between them or the track bed sags, you'll always wish you'd put more time in earlier.

I'm rubbish at woodwork, but I have found various ways to cheat and still produce an acceptable result. To be honest, I'm so happy with the methods I used twenty five years ago, I've not seen fit to experiment further.

My Melbridge Dock layout was built using 9mm plywood. Each board is 3' long and is nothing more than a top with 6" deep beams around the bottom. There's no cross bracing underneath to get in the way of the point motors and I didn't even varnish the wood. Despite over 100 shows, the layout still works as well as it did when we built it. It's light enough to be lifted in and out of the car by one person too.

Rather than bolt the baseboards together, I have used loose pin hinges attached to the sides. These are available from DIY stores. There's no need to try and remove the pins from normal hinges to make them, the real things have large heads on the pins that are easy to grab with pliers. As well as holding the boards together, they take care of track alignment so there's no need to fiddle around with bolts when setting the layout up, just pop the pins in and go for a cup of tea. This works well in OO, O and even finescale 3mm scale so we're confident it will be fine for everyone.

Being hopeless at woodwork, I prefer to get the plywood cut for me. My local hardware store offers the service but so do many wood yards and even B&Q. After this, I just  glued and pinned the bits together. Here's how.

What we used

Pin hammer





PVA Glue



9mm plywood

30mm panel pins

Loose pin hinges



Cutting wood accurately is a lot easier if you have the proper equipment. I don't, but I can buy my wood from a shop that does and is happy to do the work if I take in a cutting list. Try local hardware shops and wood yards.
How to build a baseboard, cutting wood


Laid out you can see the boards and backs at the top. In the middle the end piece which is at the fiddle yard end and, either side of this, the beams that run around the bottom.
How to build a baseboard, components


A couple of parts had to modified because I'd calculated wrong and we also need to cut some softwood for the fiddle yard. A Mitre-cutting tool like this will cost less than £25 and is invaluable when accuracy is required. Once you have one, you'll wonder how you managed without it.
How to build a baseboard, correcting errors


To fix the top to the side beams, I used 30mm pins and PVA glue. While nailing through the plywood isn't hard, starting the pins in the top before bringing the parts together makes life easier.
How to build a baseboard, building steps


Whilst the pre-cut wooden parts make building a square baseboard easier, it's worth keeping a carpenters square handy to check that the sides are at right angles to the baseboard tops.
How to build a baseboard, squaring up


Our completed baseboards - one for the station end and another to provide for a fiddle yard. They are both made the same way.
How to build a baseboard, complete


Loose pin hinges, available from a DIY store, are screwed either side of the boards to hold them together. Removing the pins releases the boards for transport.
How to build a baseboard, joining the boards


A hole has to be made to allow the track through to the fiddle yard. I drilled some holes and then used a padsaw to join them up into a big enough opening for a coach to pass though with about 3cm space all round. If you have a tunnel mouth handy, draw around the inside of this. Scenery will cover any untidy workmanship later.
How to build a baseboard, joining the boards 2