the art of making model buildings

The cottage shown above built by Roye England highlights how important it is to mount your buildings on sub boards because it is a lot easier to detail the building exterior on the workbench rather than on the layout itself. I use foam board for that job.




Some still use this material and some very good results can be had too. Care does have to be taken to protect the material from humidity by using shellac or some modern equivalent.

resin cast

Many ready made models, (Hornby Scaledale for instance), are now available to the modeller. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, there can be distortions which spoil the model. It is a medium that can be used at home to make multiple copies. I personally find it a far better system to make multiple chimneys than whole buildings.

plastic kits and building sheets

There are now some really first class kits available. Of note are those by Wills and Ratio. They can be easily 'kitbashed' to produce unique structures. I will always look at their ranges before embarking upon a scratch build. In addition, Wills produce a comprehensive range of plastic sheets well moulded to simulate brick, slates, cobbles etc. They also produce an excellent range of building accessories such as drain pipe, windows, etc.

Many of the structures on County Gate are produced from these materials. In 20/20 hindsight, I would not have used some of their roofing sheets. I should have laid individual tiles or slates.

engine shed at County Gate

vacuum formed structures

Some buildings, often semi-relief, are supplied as vacuum mouldings. Langley supply a good range and with a little work, excellent models result.

bass wood kits

As mentioned earlier, a huge range is available, mostly for American prototypes. A large selection of of timber is also available for scratch building. 

cast plaster

A few manufacturers have developed this technique to near perfection. In the UK, Townstreet is about as good as it gets. I used many of their panels and kits to produce the buildings on the County Gate harbour module.

I have to say that working with plaster could not be more messy. Some things are better not in plaster due to excessive thickness. An example would be open doors. I favour using such castings in conjunction with photo etched and metal cast details for the best effect. It is certainly harder to glue components together but without doubt, the texture is perfect for brick or stonework and it is a breeze to colour wash for realistic results.

The downside? Well the models weigh a bloody ton and if you intend to exhibit your layout, you had better get some very strong friends to help!


These days, we are spoilt for choice. Plastic details from Wills and a plethora of excellent photo etches from folks such as Langley, Muswell Models, Shirescenes and Scalelink. A huge range of detail castings are available so frankly, there really is no longer an excuse for not getting it right. Some suppliers can be found in our resources pages.

foam board

This versatile material is available from most good model shops. I use it when I have to scratch build. The walls of my Glenthorne Hotel were built in this way. I now wish I had not used plastic sheet for the roofs, though.

The technique was pioneered by Emmanuel Nouaillier and frankly, these days I am a disciple! The results are near perfect and light structures are a result.

architectural details

When people used to have pride in their buildings, a great deal of ornamentation would be found. Fancy brickwork, bargeboards and detailing can be quite hard to make. Luckily, folks like Langley Miniatures and Scalelink have an excellent range of details in white metal castings and brass etchings. Details are available from many other sources too.



You will start to have problems if you decide to accurately model an actual building. Details such as those shown above are very challenging to make. This is when you have to blast into the 21st century and use some new technology.

For computer Luddites, give up at this point and go buy a kit!

Flat bed lasers can accurately cut certain materials with extraordinary accuracy. They are also capable of engraving. They usually work with a material called Rowmark, which is a bit like Plasticard but stronger. Companies such as York Modelmaking will happily take on special commissions. They prefer that drawings are produced in vector (CDR, AI, DXF or DWG formats) but for a further charge will convert a normal drawing to this format. Dimensions must be given on the drawing of course. Below are examples of their work. Rowmark can be glued with MEK and takes paint easily. They also supply a comprehensive selection of doors and windows that will cover most needs.


Langley Miniatures supply an extraordinary range of white metal cast details such as carved stone windows, porticos and corbels. If you wish to model a specific prototype and require several, you are going to have to make a pattern and cast them in resin.

I start off by carving the pattern in modelling clay and then follow the methods described by Nigel Lawton.

Sometimes you may even have to produce guttering of a shape that is not commercially available. It is possible to manufacture a die and form aluminium foil to the shape you require. The result is good but delicate. Your other alternative is to make masters have cast in resin.

Chimneys can also be challenging, particularly if you have a lot to make. Again, you may very well have to consider making a pattern and cast in resin.


You can have the best possible model but it will look dreadful unless properly painted. At times, I take longer to painted than I have taken to scratch build the model! Painting is covered in the next chapter.