Facebook Page
Construction Tips - Model Railroading Tips, Tricks and Techniques

Construction Tips

Do you have construction tips to share? Email them to me here.

Foam Base
I met a man at a model rail show today, he had a beautiful layout made entirely out of white foam, built up in layers to form a hill. The foam was painted out of a mix of water, white glue and dirt he had brushed up (scraped on a hard surface with a brush is a better description) from dry clay under his house. The next bit was a thin layer of old carpet felt underlay, with some large trees and an array of small trees/shrubs. It looked really effective. -Nick Sherwin

I have found a very easy form of making benckwork. I think it should be called Open/Box type. As I was trying to decide how I was going to build my bench work, I just happen to take down an old King Size waterbed, with the underside dressers, 6 feet long and 20 inches wide.

All I did was take 2 by 4's for the legs, screwed in the ends, and 1 by 6's cut down the centers as braces. Very strong indeed. Just fill in the gaps and pick your top material. Also it gives you storage space without having to build shelf's or drawers, "as the drawers are already built for you." Also you could build down into it to run lower level track for staging. "Lots of possibility here." This way if I move, it will come down with out much work to dismantle. -Larry L. Doub

Get even more construction tips with Robert Anderson's Model Train Help
Model Train Help eBook 4th Edition

Hardshell Base
To form your hardshell base, many have used cardboard, screen with plaster soaked paper towels. Cardboard has its merits, easy to work and form, but lacks positive strength and this can cause cracking in your shell. Screen helps to give the lateral strength to eliminate stress cracking but is rather expensive.

The alternative, believe it or not is free! Onion sacks, orange bags are a nylon mesh type screen and used in conjunction with cardboard or scrap lumber give you a wonderful base to drape your paper toweling/plaster on. This gives you the lateral strength needed (similar to 2.5 wire mesh used in real plaster work) to eliminate stress cracking and gives you a solid hardshell that will last a lifetime or until you build your next layout. -Todd

When you need to paint two colors on the same model, first paint the 1st color, wait to dry at least 24 hours, then use any masking tape to make your line. Now, spray the area that is to be painted the new color AT THE EDGE OF THE TAPE with dullcoat, sealing the tape. let dry for 30 min. or so and then paint the second color. What a great paint line this leaves. No bleeding, just a great line. -Lester Larrew

Abrasive Board
When working on small plastic parts, I found that by employing a finger nail abrasive board, located in most beauty departments of various grits will help to neatly remove the small burrs from these parts. -Marty

Hot Glue
I have found an easy and more realistic way to attach track to the roadbed. I found that A low temp. hot glue gun is great for gluing down track, it's easy to pull up if you screw up, and you don't have large nails sticking up in the most unrealistic way! It is also easier to use, no more hammers and nails for me! -Dan Charles

Building Materials
Our club (Montreal N-Trak) has built many of our modules with the cast off materials of construction sites and home renovation projects. Usually people don`t mind if you help them get rid of their scrap material. I don`t think we have spent a dime on lumber or styro-foam over the last six or seven years. This is one proven way of saving money, recycling and keeping module construction moving! -Vince Crysler

Curves and Grades
To make a foam grade, you will need two 4' straight edges, two clamps with insulation shoes and a hot wire cutter. And a 2" thick foam 4' long for HO. (1 ½" thick for N, 1" thick for Z) To make a 2% (apx) grade sandwich the foam with the straight edges and clamp them at 1"at one end and 2"at the other end. Cut with hot wire. You will end up with a 4' long foam, 2" wide. One inch high at one end and two inches high at the other end. You now got a straight grade. To curve it, use the carpenter technique of kerf-bending. Cut out ‘V’ ½" wide halfway through the 2" wide foam. Cut 1" slits on the other side between the ‘V’ bottom. Now put the kerf-bending on the foam. Bend it towards your desire radius. Hold in place with toothpicks. Double check center of curve for sharpness. Mark base foam around the sides of kerf-bending foam. Remove kerf-bending foam. Cut out slot on base foam. Insert kerf-bending foam into slot. You now have a secured grade curve on a flat surface. You can try to fill up those ‘V’ opening with the ‘V’ clippings that are now on your floor. -Drew Dubler

Instead of interwoven corrugated cardboard covered with hydrocal dipped paper towels,I'm using inter woven self-stick fiberglass spackling tape covered with aerosol can (insulation) foam for elevated terrain (hillsides, tunnels,etc.). It expands quite a bit and requires a lot of trimming; but is very light and rigid. After trimming, I plan to paint it with a neutral (gray, tan, green) latex paint and work up the scenery from there. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has tried this and what their results were. -George Kerwer

For wiring use telephone wire. Take the plastic off and reveal all the little wires. Take those to do your electrical. It does work the same and it is great. -Marc Leonard

A Good Foundation
I have been working on a trainset for a few months now. For the base of my train set I used aluminum siding Insulation, it is usually pink or light blue and can be found at a local hardware store and ranges from about $5.00 to $7.00 for a 3' by 8' piece. Its basically foam but built like plywood. The good thing about this material is that it can be cut into smaller pieces and built up to become mountains. (Don't use spraypaint on it, it will melt.) -Zach Rubin

Access Hatch
One way to hold an access hatch in place when it rests against the layout from below is to simply hold it up with bungi (sp) cords. I have a removable harbor surface that has been held up against the bottom of my layout in this way for some time. I remove it about once a week. No screws/no latches. -John Hanks

Cardboard Base
For fast construction of cardboard web scenery base, use a clamp-style staple-gun instead of glue and clothespins to connect the cardboard strips. While an office stapler may work, the industrial-strength staple gun will be easier to work with and can use larger staplers. -Bill Siggelkow