A surprising but ideal ready-made base for a fun small model railway

It’s not an obvious choice but this baby accessory turns out to be a perfect small model railway base.

To most people, model trains conjure up images of large expanses of wood and boards filling lofts and spare rooms. Yet they needn’t be. Many, many, people create miniature model layouts that give hours of pleasure.

Layouts, such as this one, are just a few feet in length and can be tucked away when not in use but what if you don’t have space for large layout or the the woodworking facilities to make a baseboard you can fold up when not in use? You could opt a box layout – such as the £35 layout in a box – but these have bit limited operating fun. You could go for modular baseboards I’m increasingly using but these still need something to rest on.

While recently browsing for furniture for our new house (and model railway room) I stumbled across baby changing tables. I have no idea why Amazon decided to show these to me it I but once I’d seen a them an idea dawned on me.

They might seem a strange choice as the home for a model railway but these could be ideal for a small layout. They’re compact, study and have built in storage for train accessories and tools while the layout is under construction and with a few easy modifications they make a really great home for your trains.

Finding the right one however took a bit longer than expected. There are naturally lots available but many failed the selection process at one point or another.

Some which looked great on first inspection turned out to be fractionally too small. Others had plastic construction which while strong could be problematic to paint and fix track and scenery too.  I also found some in high street shops that could work but cost a lot more.

Eventually, I went with this one.

The Right Size

oo gauge model railway table

The table, enough space for a small OO switching layout and storage.

Although compact enough so it can be hidden out of sight when not used, it is large enough for an OO gauge switching layout or an oval for continuous running in N gauge or  narrow gauge themed 009 is possible. Alternatively, an interesting layout in Z gauge easily sits within the 80cm x 44cm (31.5″ x 17″) usable area of the top shelf. There are plenty of layout plans available that will fit this over at carendt.com.

The top shelf, on which the layout sits, is also just the right thickness. Thick enough to support the weight of a layout but thin enough to easily drill holes if you want to pass wires etc through.

The raised edges, more of these in a minute, are also slightly higher than N or Z gauge rolling stock when on the rails and so provides a degree of protection for the trains.

The Right Material

It’s also made of wood, not plastic or metal, so it’s strong but track, scenery and buildings can be easily glued to the it and it holds paint well. The white finish is also looks and feels more like house-hold furniture so making it a better, more natural, fit for living areas.

Self-Contained

table with N or 009 train

The table, with N/009 track; a simple fun layout could easily fits.

The practicalities making and running trains in a living spaces are another benefit of this particular table.

I’ve written before about trains falling off my layouts and even losing items of model making amongst the fibres of carpets. As this will reside in a carpeted living area both of these would be real concerns. Equally,  spilt or dropped paint and glue wrecking flooring would not be good news.

This table however has a built-in answer to these problems: raised sides on the shelves (6.5cm / 2.5″ above the shelf).

Some other baby nappy changing boards I nearly bought had open fronts and no sides to the other shelves. I guess for changing a baby an open front has advantages but for layout where the train or other items can run off and fall to the floor this isn’t a desirable feature and ruled out a number of otherwise good tables.

Additions

To the basic construction, I also made some additions and adjustments although these aren’t necessary and the table I went with can be used perfectly without them.

the table with a Z gauge layout

An interesting Z gauge layout fits really well.

Casters were fitted to the legs so it can be easily moved around and hidden when not in use. Holes were drilled in the rear the wooden lip for power to feed through and the glue was added in addition to the dowels and screw supports for each shelf to stop the centre of the selves flexing.

To aid scenery modelling, I used some of the foam packaging that the unit came in to make a base that the track sits on. The track could of course be glued or nailed to the wood (it’s MDF approx 7mm thick) but using the foam means provides a raised surface I can easily cut into it to create rivers and lakes etc and given the miniature railway a sense of true landscaping.

I’m really pleased with the result and for less than £70 (including the extra bits I added) it’s a very affordable way of getting a baseboard that’s big enough to have a small but fun railway in, has self-contained storage for the various bits that go with it during construction and operation and it can be tucked away of sight when not in use.

What next?

With these extra bits, this baby changing table has become the brilliant base for a small but fully formed and very enjoyable layout that can be kept in the corner of any room and pulled out when wanted. And at under £70 for the table itself and the few extra bits mentioned, its very affordable while being bigger and enabling more track than many smaller alternatives.

On the shelves, I’ll also be adding some of cheap plastic storage boxes that keep the tools, materials and trains being used organised and I might add some decoration – such as railway sign – to the front to add a bit of atmosphere and interest.

Finally, as an extra, a hinged lid could also be easily added to protect the layout when not in use or a see-through perspex lid could be just as easily fitted so the layout can remain on display all the time.

In conclusion, while a baby changing table may seem a strange base for a railway, pick the right one and they can be ideal home for your layout.

The table I’m using is available from Amazon UK. Other tables are available but check the overall dimensions, materials used and thickness of the top shelf.

Footnote: Just for clarification. This unit does need self-assembly but it’s no harder to do than other typical flat-pack furniture. The words ready-made in the title of this post refer to all the necessary parts coming included and no carpentry skills or specialist tools are needed to make it.

 


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