Making an entrance

Morwellham mine in DevonProgress update on my temporary mini diorama / model railway layout and how I’m making the timber mine entrance.

My temporary mini diorama / model railway layout, which I started recently, features a railway disappearing below ground into a mine.

For most of us, mine workings conjure up images of large tall buildings housing pit head equipment and machinery. But for many small, early, mine workings this wasn’t the case; they were more often just holes in the ground or hill side.

This is certainly the case for the one I’m basing this model on. The Morwellham mine in Devon. It’s literally a hole into the hillside above the river Tamar in Devon. Wood support the sides and roof of the mine and that’s it, as seen in this image that I took while visiting the site last year.

It’s more akin to a tunnel entrance on an American timber or logging railway than those typically seen in the UK.

To recreate this, I built up the surrounding hillsides with Polystyrene packing foam, cut to shape and glued in place. Unlike most tunnel portals on model railways, you won’t be able to see the walls of the tunnel into the mine so I just left a space inside the Polystyrene foam hills that was tall and wide enough for the track and trains to pass and didn’t worry about decorating the sides. The tree canopy for the top of the hills is created from expanding foam topped with ground foam, as described here.

If you look carefully at the photo of the real mine above, you’ll notice the upright pillars are round in same, undoubtedly from local trees.

To recreate this look, I used twigs for the garden for the wooden vertical support pillars. These were dried and microwaved first to remove any bugs that might be lurking within in.

Across the top of these, planks of wood have been laid and for these I cut up coffee stirrers.

Making a wooden fronted mineThese have been painted a reddish colour. A home brew wash of Vallejo acrylics, will be applied next to bring the colour down to something more like the real thing but the Red should show through revealing the wood grain. I use Vallejo colours concrete (ref 71.131 ) and natural wood (70:834) for the mix but as always experiment to find the colour match you want.

The vegetation around the mine is my own home-made ground foam with the occasional sea-foam branch protruding. To this I’ll add some bright Green scatter to give the impression of leaves visible in the real photo, again using a DIY recipe for the scatter.

Making this simple mine/tunnel entrance is proving fun to make and create and I’ve learnt a few things alone the way.

Notably, balancing coffee stirrers on twigs is painstakingly difficult 🙂

When making models such as this work from the inside out, eg place the inner parts first.  Initially, I put the outer twigs either side of the rails in place first. But it was then very difficult to place the inner twigs and cross beams behind these. Working inside out would have been much easier and I ended up scrapping the first attempt.

Secondly, trying to hold the twigs and coffee stirrers in place by hand while waiting for the glue to set is impossible. I made up a jig – a bit of wood with some polythene wrapped around it so the PVA on the twigs etc doesn’t glue to that as well – around which I could position the twigs and stirrers.

I’d love to hear from anyone else working on a timber tunnel entrance and see your work. If you’re not a member, please join the online community for MRE and share your pictures there.

> 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.  
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 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,

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