methods of model railway baseboard
Once one has graduated from operating the
train on the kitchen floor, thoughts must turn towards building baseboards
to support your model railway. Baseboards may be installed permanently in
a room or loft or may be designed to be portable. I would always advise
that your layout be designed to be portable should you wish to preserve
your work. Whatever you may think at the time, circumstances can
change and a new home for your layout may be required. Sadly, the most
common reason for such a move is divorce! (Could be that you spend too
long with the trains!).
I advise you build your layout on a series of
baseboards which can be unplugged and transported. This means that from
the start, you should design each board to fit through any difficult
aperture you may have (such as a loft door) and that the joints are placed
in the best possible positions. Wiring should pass from one board to the
next using multi-pin plugs and consideration given to stable rail joints.
The baseboards needs to be as light as
possible, dimensionally stable and sufficiently rigid to prevent twisting.
Sadly, most baseboards do not conform to these requirements. The layout
may be subjected to changes in humidity which will affect timber. The
conventional baseboard is made of a softwood frame with plywood or some
other material applied to one side.
Such a baseboard can distort considerably as
the timber swells or contracts and it is only too easy to twist resulting
in the destruction of your miniature world. Unless you are making a model of the Fens or
Belgium, a flat board will not be really what you want. It is far better
that the sides of your board follow the contours of your topography. Do
not forget that you will need sufficient space underneath to house things
like point motors, transformers etc..
In my view, the best material for baseboard
construction is plywood. Softwood can, of course, be used for packing
pieces. For most needs, plywood supplied by your local DIY shop will
suffice. Some plywood types are more dense and as a consequence
weigh hugely more. Unless you intend to float your model on a pond,
waterproof ply, apart from its extra weight, is far more expensive and
unnecessary. Birch plywood is the best quality for thin sheets.
There are other timber composites but
they are much much heavier and can be difficult to work. These include MDF,
chipboard, hardboard and block board which should always be avoided.
As far as I am concerned, trackbed should
always be built out of thin plywood. This allows a vibrator system to be
installed that can be most useful in 'unsticking' stalled locos. Any form
of pulpboard, (and that includes Sundeala) should be avoided at all costs
as these can move around all over the place if they become a bit damp.
The simplest method was used on County Gate.
It works well but the result, while stiff and transportable, is not the
lightest. The deep 1/4" cross members prevent any twisting of the board while
the sides follow the contours of the land.
the baseboard for our
A lighter solution has been found by John
Chivers of the Barry and Penarth Model Railway club. Here, the side
members are fabricated from thin ply (could be 3 or 4mm) which are made into a
cellular structure using 1" pine spacers. The depth of the sides should be
dictated by the required topography and the correct shape can be cut with
a jigsaw once the board is constructed.
images by John Chivers
Immensely strong structures can be fabricated
using very thin ply indeed. An example is the system supplied by
Baseboards which uses thin birch ply. This modular system can be
adapted to almost anything required. It is quite possible to fabricate
such a system from scratch although some woodworking skill is required.
Now we move on to more hi tech solutions. The
most promising is sandwich foam boards which are supplied for insulation
in DIY shops such as B&Q. These are rigid and very light but do need to be
set into a frame of thin ply, say 1/4". The best foam for modelling contours is the
blue closed cell foam which can be supplied by the composite aviation
industry. It can be hot wired to size for you. In my opinion, this type of
construction offers the best strength to weight ratio. The 3" foam board
must be set on battens leaving enough space below to accommodate all the
'fancy bits'. Do not forget to provide suitable flat areas for mounting
any buildings you wish to include.
However you build your baseboards, do not forget to incorporate sufficient
holes to allow wiring to be passed down from one end to the other and from
front to back. Places where motors need to be fitted need to have enough
space to work on the motors. I generally make the trackbed much wider at
these locations to cover the hole.
Some may prefer to incorporate the backdrop
into the baseboard design. Remember, there are no corners in skies and one
on your layout will ruin the overall effect. In H0/00 scale, a radius of
6" is sufficient. I make my backdrops in sheet aluminium as the
material is completely smooth and is lightweight. Most sheet metal shops
are happy to cut and roll sheets at very economical prices. See
information. Backdrops made in plywood will always show grain and those
made in hardboard or MDF will weigh a ton!
The image below shows a lightweight solution
for a small diorama with overhead lighting.
My new 'vertical' layout, Cliffhanger is
based on a plywood frame with 5" insulating foam built up to form the
Cliffhanger under construction
Civil engineering structures need to be
installed fairly early on. You will find it much easier this way. The
viaduct on our layout was completed and fully painted and detailed before
the baseboard was constructed. It was then built into the baseboard. it
would have been really hard doing it any other way.
Do not forget to provide mounting
points for any buildings that may be fitted to the module.
Buildings should be constructed on
lightweight sub-boards, such as foam board. This enables fine detailing
around the building to be completed on the workbench. Buildings that are
to be presented on sloping ground need special consideration. In such
cases, it is preferable to build these models on a larger sub-base and
even include the road, if one exists, alongside. In such cases, I build
the structures with with a foam board 'pillar' which is attached to a
baseboard cross member. If you are modelling, say a village or a farm
complex, there is a lot to be said in constructing the entire thing on a
sub board on the workbench.
Do not forget The plywood track base should be wide
enough to accommodate such things as platforms, station buildings, engine
shed etc. where necessary.
There are numerous solutions to supporting
your baseboards, from the conventional wood trestle to more sophisticated
built in trestle system
conventional home made
trestles (plan here)
commercial metal trestles
some even use
At County Gate, our boards are large and
heavy and we prefer to support them on our own steel demountable stands.
I recommend mould makers' register pins and
sockets which are often advertised in the magazines to align boards.
To fix the boards together, we first opted
for Securit toggle catches which attach one board to the next. When
erecting at an exhibition, each stand is first assembled, (about 2 minutes
each), the lights are then added before the baseboards are fitted. The
stands can then be easily rolled into the hall and the railway joined
together in situ.
We found that the Securit toggles were
not sufficiently strong to completely pull the boards together. They were
also not adjustable.
We have now installed heavy duty adjustable
toggles which do an amazing job. They can be obtained from
There are many possibilities when selecting
the plugs and sockets to join one baseboard to the next. We use 'D'
connectors and DIN plugs/sockets and have been pleased with the results.
Such animals can be purchased at Maplins or other specialist suppliers.