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Using Free Plans to Build a Scale Model Building

Updated on June 2, 2011
The initial framing of the farmstand.
The initial framing of the farmstand. | Source
Roof and fold down counter.
Roof and fold down counter. | Source
Finished model with all of the detail added.
Finished model with all of the detail added. | Source
Another shot of the farm stand O scale  model with details.
Another shot of the farm stand O scale model with details. | Source

Scratch Building from Free Plans

Scratch building structures for your model railroad layout is not as difficult as you might imagine. Armed with free blueprints or plans found on the web, a sharp hobby knife and a handful of scale lumber, one can put together a nice looking model and be able to say they built it from scratch.

Here's what you need:

  • White glue or craft glue
  • Scale lumber
  • Printed plans
  • Wax paper
  • T-pins
  • Cutting surface such as stiff cardboard
  • Sharp hobby knife
  • Straight edge
  • Scale ruler

For the plans you'll want to search the web for some free plans. Government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture have published many plans for farm buildings over the years and many can be obtained from State University web sites. The plan I found for my farm stand was available from several sources. I found it initially by searching Google Images for "farm stand".

Other good sources for plans are home improvement books and magazines. Google Books is another good source as they have scanned in a many old magazines such as Popular Mechanics which have plans for things like shed and garages. Historic building plans can be found through the Library of Congress's American Memory Project which documents historic buildings throughout the country. Many include photos and drawings but beware - you can lose yourself for hours on this site. Of course hobby specific magazines like Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette also publish plans in every issue although they tend to be more complicated buildings.

My suggestion is to pick a small building such as this farm stand to start with. Even a small building represents quite a challenge when you are building from scratch and you'll be amazed by how much lumber you'll need to complete it.

Once you have your plan printed out you'll need a scale ruler to convert the dimensions to the scale you are modeling. I model in O scale and farm stand plans actually turned out to be in 1/4 scale so the plans were already close. Scale rulers can be purchased or even better printed out for free from online sources. Just be sure to click "print to fit page" off when you print them out.

Using Scale Lumber

You'll build the mini version of the building just like you would the prototype. The wood will be scale lumber which can be purchased at your local hobby store or through sources such as Northeastern Scale Lumber Company, Kappler Scale Lumber or Mt. Albert Scale Lumber. Use scale two by fours to form the framework of your farm stand. The walls can be clad using wooden coffee stirrers procured via your daily caffeine habit or by the box from an office supply company or Ebay. You can enhance the grain of your scale lumber by dragging the edge of a razor saw, steel wool or a wire brush along the length of the lumber. Be sure to remove any fuzz that remains. To age and weather the lumber before use, soak it in a mixture of India ink and alcohol or very thinned paint. If you use paint wipe it off with a piece of cloth so that it just soaks into the wood and doesn't hide the grain.

If you have access to a copier you can enlarge or shrink the plan to the correct scale size and then place wax paper on top of the plan securing it with pins. Now you can lay out your walls on top of the plan. Another method is to use a sheet of glass on top of the plan. Glue some pieces of wood to form a jig to hold the pieces in place. The jig can be removed later by sliding a razor blade underneath.

Use white glue or super glue to hold the pieces together. If the walls stick to the wax paper after drying, the wax paper can be removed easily with a razor blade. Sand off any wax that remains.

The roof can be made from scale corrugated metal and weathered. Weather the corrugated roof using paint or treat it chemically using photo etching solution. You can buy scale corrugated metal or make your own.


The magic of a simple structure like this is all of the great detail you can add. I searched the web and pulled a lot of graphics into Adobe Photoshop to create posters and signs. My stand has an advertisement for a local county fair (complete with Bilbo the Flying Pig), ads for tent revival meeting and signs for fresh eggs and produce.

You can get scale figures veggies, crates, basket, pails, brooms etc from lots of different vendors including Woodland Scenics, Hamm River Model Products, Mile Post Model Works and others. Have fun!

Copyright 2011 - Edward M. Fielding


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