Building your dream layout: A brick-by-brick guide to model railway buildings

Choose your perfect railway buildings: from budget-friendly paper to jaw-dropping bespoke buildings and structures.

Ah, the buildings! Those tiny houses, shops, stations and structures that transform your model railway layout from bare tracks to a bustling world. But with shelves groaning under a rainbow of options, picking the perfect ones can feel like shunting carriages at rush hour. This guide will take you through all the options and the pros and cons of each.

Building material types

Card constructions

card kit with edges coloured

Card buildings, such as this Metcalfe Nissen Army Barracks OO gauge, start from under £10 are low cost and easy way to bring life to a model railway.

Crafted from lightweight card, these beauties are budget-friendly and whip up fast, ideal for beginners or adding quick, charming detail. Think quaint cottages, rustic barns, and village pubs brimming with character. But remember, patience is a virtue – delicate parts and fiddly folds demand a steady hand. They can also be improved with a little effort.

Benefits and disadvantages of card buildings

Pros: Affordable, speedy assembly, charming aesthetics. Great for beginners.
Cons: Delicate, requires precision, limited detail and texture, durability is also a concern.

Plastic kit powerhouses

A plastic kit model coal staith for an N gauge model railway being constructed.

Plastic kit models, like this N gauge Peco coal staithe, are a fun and affordable way to add detail your model railways but take time and skill to make well.

For sturdy structures and jaw-dropping details, plastic kits reign supreme. From grand Victorian stations in HO gauge to modern industrial complexes in N gauge, they offer a vast selection and satisfying construction challenges. Be prepared to dust off the glue and razor saw, though – these kits require some modelling tools and techniques.

Benefits and disadvantages of plastic kit buildings

Pros: Durable, high detail, a wide variety of scales (N, OO, etc.), rewarding build.
Cons: Requires skill and tools, time-consuming, can be pricey.

Ready-to-place resin properties

A ready to place premade model station from Hornby

Good quality, ready-made and painted buildings, such as this Hornby Skaledale station, are expensive but a quick and easy way of adding to your layout.

Craving instant gratification? Pre-built structures and infrastructure, often made from resin are your ticket to a bustling layout, minus the construction dust and labour. Simply plant a Hornby Skaledale station or Bachmann Scenecraft on your layout and watch your world come alive.

But be prepared for a steeper price tag — Hornby stations are priced at around £50 each while Bachmann signal boxes, as delightful as they are, go for around £70 — and limited customization options. Think generic goods sheds or standard stations – not much room for bespoke charm – and lots of duplication on other layouts.

Benefits and disadvantages of resin buildings

Pros: Quick and easy, variety of styles, no assembly required, good detail depending on make.
Cons: Expensive, less modelling satisfaction, often generic styles with limited uniqueness,

Scratch-built splendor

A Cornish mine building for an N gauge model railway being constructed from foamboard. construction.

If you have time, tools and skills, it’s very rewarding to make your buildings such as this tin mine I made for an N gauge layout.

Forget cookie-cutter kits and mass-produced plastics, scratch-building unlocks a different realm of model railway magic. Here, buildings rise from your own vision, brick by brick, each one sculpted with your two hands from raw materials and spares from other kits (when it’s known as kit-bashing, aka Frankenstein for miniature buildings, as I did with this blacksmith’s forge).

Unlike pre-cut pieces and ready-to-place resin creations, scratch-built structures demand patience, precision, practice and a healthy dose of creative spirit.

Typically modellers make scratch models from wood, card, foamboard, plastic, metal and resin parts these aren’t the only materials. But one of the delights is making seeing what you can make from scraps and materials lying around the house, think coffee sticks, packaging materials, cellophane wrapping for from food cartoons for windows. Alternatively, I’ve made several abandoned buildings from air-drying clay and some modellers have used polymer clay. Essentially, the material used is down to the modeller. If it can be cut, shaped, carved, glued and painted models can be made from it.

Benefits and disadvantages of scratch buildings

Pros: Low cost although you will need paints, glues and tools. If like me, you like learning, scratch building is a wonderful pastime.

Cons: Slow, it can take weeks, even months, to make a building, especially when you’re learning how to work with different materials and don’t have all the tools.

Ready-to-place hand-crafted buildings

A hand built goods storage shed for a OO gauge model railway.

One of my hand-built good storage sheds, with internal decoration and detailing such as the bucket on the window sill.

Now, we enter the realm of true railway royalty – hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind masterpieces. These are built by experienced modellers with meticulous attention to detail, using premium materials like high-quality resin and often featuring authentic architectural flourishes and fine detailing.

Think weathered brickwork, hand-painted signs, and intricate details that make your jaw drop. Goods shed I recently built featured cracked windows and a pigeon perched on the roof.

With the highest-end models, these can also include inner detailing, lighting and more that bring a layout to life with authentic colouring and brick/stone textures to match the real-world location that your layout is based or inspired by.

They’re expensive, with prices to match those of Bachmann and Hornby resin models, but you’re paying for uniqueness, skilled labour of the modeller and stunning detail.

Benefits and disadvantages of hand-crafted buildings

Pros: Unmatched detail, unique designs and quality.
Cons: Cost (prices similar to resin ready-to-place properties), limited availability, longer wait times.

What’s right for you?

If you’re looking for a low-cost approach to getting buildings on your layout, card-based structures are for you. They’re the lowest cost route to populating a layout whether it’s N or OO/HO, are relatively easy to make and there are a huge variety of buildings including shops, churches, factories, pubs and signal boxes are available from the likes of Metcalfe and Superquick.

If you’re itching to make your own models, develop new skills and budget conscious, plastic kits from Ratio, Noch, Faller and Wills Kits are worth considering.

If you have money but not time and don’t mind having a packaged look, or perhaps a beginner looking to quick get your railway up and running, pre-made resin models from Hornby and Bachmann cover the most common building types.

If you want a unique layout, with weathered, realistic models for N gauge or OO gauge, or perhaps war game and D&D gaming, then handcrafted buildings are your perfect match. Whether it be scratch-built or bespoke made for you. I make a number of these available on my ready-made buildings and structures store.

These have passion built into each creation, meticulously replicating iconic UK structures like goods sheds, engine sheds, or charming line-side huts, and crafting bespoke beauties to your vision. The sheer joy of owning a miniature masterpiece that breathes life into your layout is truly unparalleled.

Whether you choose paper charms, plastic powerhouses, or bespoke beauties, the key is to have fun, let your creativity run wild, and build a layout that reflects your own unique railway dreams.

And if you’re looking for that extra level of detail and one-of-a-kind charm, well, my workshop door is always open. Let’s chat about bringing your dream railway buildings to life!

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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