How to make the three most common woodwork joints

Wood work joints for model railway baseboardsIf you’re building a model railway baseboard from wood you’ll need to join various bits of wood together. Here’s how to make the three most common wood work joints in model railway baseboard construction.

Butt Joint – General Use

butt jointThe simplest and most common wood work join, with two ends just joined together requiring no special tools and materials or shaping of the wood.

They’ll be used in all manner of places during baseboard and support construction but if not done correctly can be a weak joint that will cause problems later.

Personally, I always try to use a half-lap joint (coming up next) but the speed and ease of but joints means they’ll invariably be used somewhere in a baseboard construction. If you do use them, use Polyvinyl acetate – PVA glue and long screws – double the length of the piece of wood that they pass through first, as shown in this video. Personally, I’d drill pilot holes for the screws but that’s just me.

Half Lap Joints – For Frame Construction

wood work lap half lap jointsOne of the strongest joints but what makes them useful for baseboards is their ability to resist twisting and diagonal distortion. For making the core frame on which a plywood top rests and creating centre supports they can’t be beaten.

Instead of just joining two pieces together as with a butt joint, half the wood from each member is cut away where they meet so they  overlap creating solid join that doesn’t twist.

At first half lap joints might appear a challenge to make but they’re really not that difficult. This video packed with advice shows takes you through the steps necessary.

Mortise and Tenon – Vertical Leg Joins

Mortin and Tenon jointWhile half lap joints above are ideal for the frames and horizontal supports running under your baseboard, Mortis and Tenon joins are my preferred choice for fixing the legs of a baseboard to the frame. 

I use them for leg joins as they are undoubtedly the strongest of all joints and the most stable – if there’s one place you don’t want movement in a layout it’s between the legs and upper frame work.

They’re also the most complex to make of the joints here but thankfully you won’t need many of them – just one for each leg.

There’s a nice walk through on how to make them, again without expensive specialist power tools below. With a little bit of practice they’re not too difficult and the stability they give to your layout they are well worth the effort.


This is the companion article for my earlier post on the best wood for model railway baseboards. If you have any questions on the construction of baseboards please get in touch and I’ll try to help.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

Picture credits: Butt joint illustration, Half-Lap joint illustration, Mortis and Tenon joint illustration.

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.
  1. I am a genuine newbie, just starting to make an H.O. gauge railroad. I just came across your site and very much appreciate all your info on baseboards and how to make the appropriate joints for the construction. Am looking forward to looking further into your articles as I progress in this new endeavor. Thanks for all your valuable info!

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