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Beginners Guide to Building Model Railroad Benchwork & Model Railway Baseboards

Updated on May 16, 2011
Open Frame
Open Frame | Source
Solid Top
Solid Top
Girder Frame
Girder Frame | Source

Stable benchwork / baseboard are critical for smooth running

As with a real railroad or railway, the most important aspect of the whole system is the foundations that the tracks are laid on. Get it wrong and disaster is is just around the next curve. Trains cannot run properly unless the rails and ties/sleepers are on a firm foundations and serious derailments can be costly and fatal.

The same applies in the world of model railroading / model railways. Firm and stable benchwork / baseboard are critical for a lifetime of smooth running trouble free running. Cost-cutting at this stage is a major recipe for disaster.

Railroads / Railways are not Roller Coaster :

The first and most important stage of building a new model railroading / model railway layout is getting the base right. Unsupported benchwork / baseboards which undulate like a roller coaster will provide poor running layout from day one. It is critical to get the this aspect of your new model railroad / model railway right from the very beginning long before you run your first trains. The temptation is getting something running as soon as possible, but failure to provide a stable and strong support base will lead quickly to disappointment.

Small Temporary Layout to Play Trains :

If you must get something running quickly to keep up your enthusiasm while building your masterpiece layout, then a small temporary layout can provide welcome relief while building proceeds on the main layout. However, be careful you don’t get attached to the temporary layout and spend all your time ‘playing trains’.

Open Frame, Girder and Solid benchwork / baseboards :

Open frame, girder and solid are the three types of model railroading benchwork / model railway baseboards. The solid type is the most popular as they simplest way to create a strong benchwork / baseboard. However, this type base has its down side as all the scenery has to be above the railroad / railway, when in reality scenery is above and below the level of the railroad / railway. A good example of this, is where a lot of railroads / railways follow the course of a river down a valley.

The Classic 4 x 8 Foot Base : The Beginners Layout

Yet, the simple nature of solid tops make them ideal for starters. Many model railroaders and railway modellers start this way, and the classic 4 x 8 foot base is often know as the beginners layout because of the easy of construction. Although the problem with the classic 4 x 8 foot base is that is hard to reach into the middle and it does take up a lot of space in a room.

Cut an operating well in the middle of base solves many of the access problems. However, the 4 x 8 foot base doesn’t have to be just for the beginners. Many interesting layouts have been built on the classic 4 x 8 foot base.

Woodworking Skill are needed :

While solid top 4 x 8 foot base with timber framing underneath for support is easy to construct and well within the capabilities of the average DIY person, open frame, girder benchwork / baseboards require more than simple woodworking skills. They can be quite complex, but extremely strong. These types of base give the builder the opportunity to run the railroad / railway through the scenery above and below the rail level.

They are not recommended for beginners unless you have really good woodworking skills or know somebody that can build you one. Careful pre-planning is critical for these types of base. You really need to know exactly where your tracks are going before you put in the trackbeds, whereas a solid top 4 x 8 foot base gives you plenty of space to change and re-align track formations.

Basic Materials :

These days must people go for 1/2 inch (8mm) thick plywood for the trackbed with approximately 3/4 x 2 inch timber framing to support it. This makes light but strong bases. You will require extra 3/4 x 2 inch timber framing to make legs so your layout at the correct operating hight. When purchasing all this timber it is very important to find a good quality supplier.

If you go to a DIY store makes sure that the plywood sheet is not warped and the timber framing is not bowed, especially if it has been stored upright. Stable benchwork / baseboard must be flat and not warped, otherwise you are opening yourself up to poor running.

While model railroading benchwork / model railway baseboards are only part of building a layout, it is one of the most critical part of the construction of your layout. Of course, you need to do all the planning of your layout first. It’s pointless building a base without a plan. Once the model railroading benchwork / model railway baseboards are complete, it’s time to start laying the track and step closer to ‘playing trains’.

© David Lloyd-Jones 2011


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    • Midnight Oil profile imageAUTHOR

      Midnight Oil 

      7 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Railroads / Railways are not Roller Coaster : The first and most important stage of building a new model railroading / model railway layout is getting the base right.


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