04/01/2019
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A complete guide to model railway baseboard construction

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The most important parts of any model railway are the baseboards. Here’s our step-by-step guide to model railway baseboard construction.

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

This is all fine but what happens if you’re not any good at woodwork? Is your only option buying in the services of a professional baseboard making company?

Not in our experience. You see, for those of you that will admit you’re rubbish at woodwork, we have found various ways to cheat and still produce an acceptable result. In fact, we have seen countless good results from the methods we have been using for over 25 years, we've not seen fit to experiment further. And we have the results to prove that there is no need with some of our layouts built using these methods, despite over 100 shows, many thousands of miles on the road and storage in less than ideal conditions, still work as well as they did when we built it. They’re light enough to be lifted in and out of the car by one person too.

What you’ll need

  • Pin hammer
  • Square
  • Drill
  • Padsaw
  • PVA Glue
  • 9mm plywood
  • 30mm panel pins
  • Loose pin hinges

Before you start: You need to decide on the size of baseboard you’re going to create. Too many modellers get carried away and aspire to build a huge model railways without considering the practicalities of such a project.

To start with you need to work out what size boards you’ll be able to actually get into your ‘build room’. And what you can fit in your car? Don’t make the schoolboy error of getting pieces of wood that are simply too big for your car and/or doorway. Also, what can you lift? If you can get some help to lift the pieces of wood, great but if you’ll be carrying these solo don’t go mad on size!

Next, work out what size model railway you’re going to build based on your selected trackplan. BRM includes accurate trackplans for all layouts that appear within the magazine should you need inspiration. There are also three useful bookazines - ‘The BRM Guide to Trackplans & Layout Design Vol. 1, 2 and 3 – which include a huge selection of trackplans to suit all sizes.

Remember to leave space around the track for scenery. We’ve seen modellers create baseboards to fit their trackplan, but not leave enough space around the edges to cater for buildings and scenery. You need to consider how you’re going to break-up your baseboards into manageable sections. Ideally you want each section to be the same size so for a 12ft x 2ft layout we recommend you split this into three 4ft x 2ft sections.

If you ask most modellers about model railway baseboard materials they will always come back with plywood. A top tip from us - make you use 9mm. Anything thinner than 9mm will need bracing to stop it sagging. It’s readily available, reasonably light and plenty strong enough.

 

How to build a model railway baseboard

**Cutting wood accurately requires a specific skill that very few of us possess. Therefore, this step-by-step guide is written for the majority of you who may require a little assistance with cutting the wood for your baseboard accurately – for those of you that can do it yourself, we admire you! To find someone local in your area that will be able to do just the job, try local hardware shops and wood yards. Larger branches of B&Q also offer this service – but check your local branch out online before you make the trip especially.**

 

1

It’s really easy to make simple mistakes with your measurements, so expect to have to make adjustments. We had to make some small modifications and also needed 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. A very worthwhile investment.
Cutting baseboard wood

2

To fix the top to the side beams, we 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.
hammering nails to baseboard wood

3

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.
carpenters square on model railway baseboard

4

Our completed baseboard. This is the one for the station end of a layout, the other has a larger end to provide cover for fiddle yard. This is the same but without the backscene.
Completed baseboard

5

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 transportation.
loose pin hinges on model railway baseboards

6

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

 

Top Tip

I keep hitting my thumb with the hammer!

A Nail Gripper is available from most DIY stores for £3. The rubber tool grips the nail in slots around the edge. If you want to save a few quid or just don't have the gripper to hand, push the nail through some cardboard and use this to hold it in place while you start it.

hitting thumb with hammer

 

Model railway baseboard construction isn’t as scary as most modellers think. If you’ve followed our advice you’ll now have a strong, yet light model railway baseboard. Don’t get too hung up with any imperfections on the board itself. It will all be covered up with the model railway anyway. The edges will be visible so we recommend you sand these smooth and apply paint. This picture shows a BRM Project Layout called ‘Edgeworth’. You’ll see how we’ve painted the edges black. This layout also includes an impressive backscene which further adds to the visual appeal of the model railway.

Click here for even more easy-to-follow practical articles and videos from the team behind BRM magazine.

 
 

 

 
 

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