Model Railway Baseboard
The Baseboard is one of the most important parts
of the model railway. It's size will determine your track layout.
The bigger the better, but you should consider both the space it
will take up and it's weight (they become heavy very quickly). It's
best to have a fixed baseboard, but for most people like me this
is not practical. Most people only want, and have room for
a "Part Time" model railway,
which needs to be put away at the end of the day. At the bottom
of the page I have set out ways of
constructing your baseboard.
The location of your railway is also important.
When you ask most people where to put a model railway they say in
the attic. This is fine and many people have done this but it's
only practical if the loft area has already been converted, otherwise
you are going to have to get people in to hook up power points and
lighting. Without a conversion an attic is cold and dusty, two things
that don't go well with your models, your health and your comfort.
The same goes for locating your layout in your garage, shed or unconverted
basement, unless you already have power, lighting and heating installed.
Some people like the idea of a garden model railway but that comes
with a whole host of new problems including leaves on the line which
will result in a crash.
When it comes to location consider the following:
Is there a safe source of electricity available? You will need
power for lighting and to power your layout. You may also need heating.
- Temperature is a consideration for both you and your models. When
temperatures drop below 0 degree Celsius, moisture in the air and
your models begin to freeze and the plastic becomes brittle. I am
assuming you would not be operating your layout in freezing conditions
as this is not good for either you or your layout, but your layout
will be subjected to them at night when you are asleep. Freezing
temperatures and damp can lead to condensation freezing on your
layout and as water expands when it freezes, it can cause damage
to your products. Not to mention that many electronic items have
a minimum operational temperature.
- Old steel rails rust so does any other unprotected steel. Garages,
attic sheds and basements all suffer from damp humid air if they
are not converted. The last thing you want is to have to carry out
constant maintenance or repair models due to rust.
If you have a job you will probably be sick to death of health and
safety, but you must consider this. Think of your own heath in terms
of sitting in a cold damp room, and think of your safety in terms
of, do you think you can climb the ladder into the attic or, are
those electrics safe in a damp environment? If your in any doubt
get someone in to check it. The safest and in my opinion the best
place for your layout is in a spare bedroom.
- Railway models are expensive as you probably know. An average
layout with just three train sets (loco plus carriages) can cost
as much as £300+. Do you trust the padlock on your shed to keep
your products secure? Many garage locking systems allow them to
be opened by a simple screwdriver. If you are going to keep your
layout in either of these locations you need added security or you
need to remove your rolling stock after every run.
- How easy is it to use the layout? If something derails, is it within arms reach?
- Is there room for expansion? Is the space available large
enough? You may find that no space is large enough but one of them
will have to do.
There are a few ways to locate your "Part Time" Railway
1. You can hinge the base board onto the wall. You can
do this by fixing a wooden batten to the wall making sure it's level.
Fixing another batten to one side of the board and linking them
by some hinges that are easy to get at any DIY store. To keep
the board level you can fit two legs to the other side of the board
again with hinges so that the legs will fold away. To prevent the
board falling back down you can fix another batten onto the wall
where the top of the board comes to rest with a piece of wood fixed
to it with one screw so that it can be turned to hold the board
2. Simply rest the base board on a surface such as
a table or in my case a bed, when you want to use it. Then pick
it up and put it against a wall, in my case down the side of the
bed. The big problem with this is that the model may get damaged
whilst being moved and just as the hinged method, everything must
be able to lift of the board.
3. Build a layout on a shelf. Some of the most rewarding
layouts in terms of operations is a shunting yard, moving wagons
back and forwards into sidings takes skill. By building on a shelf
the model will not get in the way and all the components can be
fixed to the shelf. It also means all the rolling stock can stay
out, and you can set up a scene which you can get enjoyment from
just looking at it.
A word of advice!!!
Please wear masks when cutting wood and cleaning up saw dust. All
wood, especially man made boards (e.g. MDF), are carcinogenic (cancer
causing) to some extent. Some exotic hard woods are as carcinogenic
as asbestos, but don't worry as these types of wood are rare.
The most basic baseboard construction
uses a soft wood batten construction underneath a large fibre board.
You first construct the soft wood batten structure and then fix
it to the bottom of the board with screws. The battens give the
board its rigidity which is very much needed when using some of
the softer fibre boards.
There are many types of fibre boards
that can and have been used to serve as the base for a model railway
such as paper board, fibre board, MDF, ply board, and chip board.
They all have different weights and strength properties but remember
it is important to keep the weight down and that the board is easy
to work with (cut etc). Below are two reviews for the boards I have
The first board
I tried was recommended by Hornby over 10+ years ago. Its a paper
based board and is just about soft enough to push track pins in.
This board needs support as it will sag at the edges. It does not
produce small fibres and is easy to drill and cut. Being paper
board it is very dense and so is reasonably heavy, probably twice
the weight of the other board I have used. This board can take being
moved about as mine has lasted over 10+ years being moved between
two houses, being cut in halve for transportation, and It has great
compression resisting properties, being walked over daily when it
was on the floor when I was young.
The second board
I used was a very soft fibre board that was used for notice boards.
This was so soft that you could simply stab a hole in it rather
than drill a hole. I used some light softwood (2cm X 1cm) to give
it rigidity and strength. This produced an incredibly light base
board that was strong enough to support a good amount of weight.
The board in question is pictured above as a shelf layout. The only
problem with this board is that it produces a lot of fibres when
cut. To reduce this I used PVA glue to seal the sides of the board
that were cut, sealing in the fibres. I will probably use this wood
again on a static layout. but it is not suitable for a layout that
will get bashed around.