How my money-saving-Nija wife is helping helping me make a model railway baseboard for free

palletsHow my money-saving-Ninja wife is helping helping me make a model railway baseboard for free.

I’m writing this on the way to Cornwall for my regular visit to see my two boys.

I split up with my now ex-wife a few years back and my two little boys, although not so little now, went with her to Cornwall 🙁

Desperate to see them I went through round-after-round with solicitors. Result: I now see them monthly hence being on this lovely GWR train.

Why I am telling you this?

Because it has direct impact on my model railway construction.

The solicitor bills and financial chaos from the divorce clobbered me. Equally, the cost of tickets for these train journeys (and hotel booking) every month puts a serious dent in my wallet. My model railways therefore need to be done on a tight budget. Very, very, tight.

As a result, I’m always looking for tips to make model railways without spending money. You can see the evidence of this in many of the tips I’ve written previously.

My secret weapon

Luckily, I have a secret weapon in my search for building model railways on a budget.

I met Christina after my divorce and we married in 2013.

Aide from all her other wonderful qualities, she’s a money saving-saving-Ninja. Not only is she a black belt in finding the best deals and offers when buying stuff for my railways she’ll verbally karate-kick me into tomorrow if I don’t find low cost ways of building them.

Baseboards on a budget

The latest example of this is in the next step in the construction of my Great South Railway layout – the baseboards.

As I’ve said this is going to be a huge build and will require lots of wood for the baseboards.

As buying the material from B&Q isn’t going to happen I need to find a way of getting wood free to keep my wallet and my financial ninja happy.

It was a trip to see my brother that provided the answer.

Under construction. The she my brother built from pallets while still being built.

Under construction. The shed my brother built from pallets, picture mid-construction.

He’s built a garden shed (see picture right) from old warehouse pallets. Its a great shed actually but it gave me the idea – make the baseboards from pallets!

This isn’t an entirely new idea. I covered the using pallets, here, and the cleverly named OO gauge ‘pallet lane’ layout described here also uses them.

The reasons are simple: pallets can make great foundations for model railways.

Different types provide all the surface configuration options needed. Open boarded units allow easy access for wiring, Euro style pallets (the type with gaps between the slats) are ideal for when recessed areas are needed on the layout – valleys and rivers for example – while others have a flat surface suitable for fields and townscapes..

Finally, they can also be screwed together to make larger areas and are robust but don’t weigh a lot.

There is a downside to using pallets though.

Some pallets are treated with harmful chemicals agent used so this needs checking. Don’t just pick up any old pallet you find! Luckily, there’s a handy write up on this here, together with a breakout on the different types mentioned above.

There are also potential problems if the pallets are low grade and you need to be wary of nails embedded in them during sawing and the like. Modular Model Railways has a piece about using old timber that touches on these issues here but through careful selection I don’t see this being an issue.

So, I’m now in the hunt for pallets. I’m told supermarkets, builders yards and staff at industrial units are happy to hand them over if asked nicely. Alternatively, if you must spend money, there are various Internet sites that will sell them to you. being the most obvious one.

For the legs, I’ll be going skip raiding.

There’s a lot of building work going on at the moment so there are plenty of skips with suitable wood to use – 2″ x 1″ (44 x 21mm) and around 1000mm in length. Obviously, I’ll ask first but I’m very confident I’ll find the wood needed.

Aside from sourcing cheap wood for the baseboards, an understanding of how to make up the baseboards will also be needed. If you’re new to this or would like a guide I can recommend Designing and Building Model Railway Baseboards by Ronald Pybus via Amazon here and Brian Lambert’s The Newcomer’s Guide to Model Railways available here. Both are hugely popular and taught me a thing or two.

That’s my work for the next few weeks set and it’ll give me the baseboards I need and on a budget so I can fund the next trip to Cornwall and see my boys.

Picture: Republished from Phil Parker, via flickr under creative commons license.

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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