Building a shed fit for your model railway - 5 things you can do - Model Railway Engineer

Building a shed fit for your model railway – 5 things you can do

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model railway shedShed’s are the third most popular location for model railways yet they’re fraught with peril for layouts. My new layout will be built in a shed and here’s how I’m equipping mine to make it the perfect home for model trains.

Shed’s are common homes for our trains. In a poll on locations for model railways back in March, a third of MRE followers said their layout was housed there.

This will be no surprise for shedders

If done well they make ideal rooms don’t take up living space, and of course, most us are happiest when pottering around in them.

As Gordon Thorburn — author of the Bible on all things shed, Men and Sheds — writes is “a man’s intellectual pantry, his workshop, his spiritual home”.

If fact, sheds are such good homes for model railways — and man caves — that I’ve decided to put my new layout in one and am in the process of having it built and fitted, as I mentioned here.

But sheds in their basic form are a far from ideal bedfellows for model railways.

Heat in the summer and cold in the winter can cause rail contraction and expansion; water and damp are constant foes while humidity and insects are no friends of electronics and delicate scenery.

Here are the five things I’ve done to combat these problems and make my shed a safe, secure and comfortable home for my new model railway.

Build it to be waterproof

Water will not only destroy a model railway but also the shed itself given time. For this reason, I set out to make my shed as water resistant as possible from the ground up, literally.

Before my shed was even ready, I had a 6 inch reinforced concrete base laid. Concrete, of course, is the best base on which to be a shed, providing a strong, long lasting and level base but I specified a couple of extras for my base.

It’s reinforced and includes a waterproof layer and finishes six inches above ground level so it’s safe from any surface water that may build up around it.

For the shed construction itself, I specified I water resistant treated wood for the shiplap walls (shiplap being a variety of tongue and groove wood that’s stronger than overlapping cladding) and extra thick roofing felt.

These combined should keep the water out. I’ll also fit guttering before Autumn, budget allowing. This will help keep rain fall off the walls

Design Out Damp

Even with the water preventative measures above, the fact that sheds sit outside surrounded by plants and soil means damp can still be a problem.

The single biggest to prevent damp is air flow.

Especially under the floor where the wood is closest to the ground.

Counter damp and prevent it getting a hold and rotting away the wood and material of my layout

I had the shed lifted up off the concrete on bearer boards. The primary purpose of these is to allow air to circulate below the flooring and dry out damp before it gets a hold.

As a further measure, I also had air holes placed within the shed walls.

These allow air to also circulate inside the shed. (They are also covered with a fine grill to prevent creepy crawlies getting in).

Finally, I’ve acquired a small heater to keep the inside dry. This will also help paint and glues dry quicker.

Exterminate temperature extremes

Shed’s get too hot in the summer. Too cold in the winter. Unless….

Temperature is a key factor for both human creature comfort and the layout in the cold winter months.

Essentially, it’s a case of insulating the walls and roof.

Initially, I considered 8mil thick polystyrene sheets. I use these for scenery construction and have quite a few from my last project.

After thinking it through however I changed my mind. The shed will not only be home for my layout but also a workshop and modelling workbench and the some of the paints and thinners will eat away the polystyrene.

My shed will not only be home for my layout but also a workshop and modelling workbench and the some of the paints and thinners will eat away the polystyrene.

Instead, I opted for Biard’s Double Aluminium Bubble Foil Insulation. This is supplied in rolls and was simply fixed to the walls and internal roof in a fun afternoon over the May Bank holiday weekend my staple gun.

Putting it in the roof may seem strange but it works wonders. In the winter months, what heat there is rises up and is trapped by the insulating layer. In summer, the blazing heat of the sun will be radiated back out thanks to the double-sided nature of the bubble foil.

A small electric heater will also be used during the cold winter months while a small fan near the above mentioned air vents will create a cooling air flow in the summer.

Secure the shed

In their basic format, most sheds are gift wrapped box of surprises for thieves.

Doubly so for if they contain your expensive model trains and while I won’t be storing the running stock within it I want my shed to be secure.

First up, I used a tip from this article on securing shed for bikes. In a nutshell, replace the hinge screws with nuts and bolts so they can’t be levered off and secure them with a dab of superglue.

Then I added another lock, this one with a steel bracket covering the screw holes and replaced the low-grade lock and screws on the existing barrel lock with security screws that once tightened can’t be undone.

Additionally, a movement sensor and alarm are fitted inside and a sheet of 5mil MDF fitted over the window to both prevent would be art full doggers looking in and prevent ingress should they break the glass.

Power up

Power is essential for a model railway shed and although it’s tempting to just run a lead from the house for my purposes this isn’t recommended.

Obviously, there will be power for the layout, heating and lighting but also the extractor fan and assorted tools I’ll use at the workbench — my Dremel, airbrush compressor in particular.

Additionally, the alarm system will need to be on 24/7 and for which the cabling will need to be protected.

This all points to a more permanent power supply.

Electricity is, of course, a specialist subject so I’ll leave this to the qualified experts. There’s a good description of the kind of thing I have in mind over on the shed blog.

Essentially, it’s a case of having a properly fused power supply with a secure cable run to the shed. In my case, I’m using armoured cabling but the shed blog suggests burying it underground.

The choice of yours but the key is to get a supply that’s sufficient for the load being placed on it by equipment and accessories in the shed and the cabling is protected from harm — accidental of otherwise.

This is the sister post to my previous article on sheds for model railways. Read that post here



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  1. Ian - May 11, 2017

    Can’t fault the logic.
    But..what size of shed did u end up building?
    Did you have a budget before starting ?

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