Model Railway Baseboards – A Low Cost Alternative

Pallets and steam trainLooking for an easy, quick, alternative to setting up your model railway on the dinner table or floor? Here’s a low cost alternative that won’t break the bank.

I got this idea from my brother who is building a shed from pallets, yes really! While visiting him at the weekend and seeing his shed I had a brain wave, if he can build a whole shed with them why not a railway? Normally, I’d recommend plywood for model railway baseboards but these can be a good alternative for those on tight budgets.

Pallets have lots of advantages for use as temporary, or perhaps even permanent, flat top and even open-frame model railway baseboard.  (If you’re confused about the different types see my guide to model railway baseboards).

  • They’re stable, pallets by their nature can support a lot of weight so they’ll support your railway, buildings and anything else you care to put on it (model railway mountains anyone?)
  • They’re practical, pallets can be accessed from all sides and you can get underneath them (for wiring, etc)
  • They can be expanded, if your model railway layout grows (and it will…) you can easily nail or screw more pallets together to grow your layout.
Pallets make great temporary baseboards but if needed can also be easily adapted and fitted with legs for longer term use.

Pallets make great temporary baseboards but if needed can also be easily adapted, added to and fitted with legs for longer-term use.

Where to get pallets

Pallets are also easy and cheap to get if you know where to look.

Warehouses, transport firms (especially road haulage firms) and DIY/ garden shops are great sources.

Alternatively, and closer to home, take a walk or drive to your local area and ask around.

Just walking around my neighbourhood, I also saw three houses with them in the front gardens after recent deliveries. After a quick conversation, the pallets were offered for free.

Once you’ve got one or two, it’s also fairly easy to fit legs to them.

You can also cover the top with polystyrene sheeting — from packaging — to provide a flat surface into which you can carve rivers and streams and build up small hills.

One last thought, if you follow this tip, make sure the pallet has dried out first. I’d also coat the wood with varnish to protect against insects.

Why not have a walk around your neighbourhood and see if there are any going?

> 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 credit, pallet table – pierre vedel, pallets and steam train – Hec Tate


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 using insulation slabs for layout use. They do not require framing as mine is 250 x 7 cm. They are covered by foil on both sides which enables DCC plus and minus (top and bottom) you only need to solder to the covering which is insulated from each other..simples ?? I would love to hear from anybody that can fault this. It lies upon a frame with 2×1 inch legs up against a wall..

    • Hi Philip, I’ve seen this done a couple of times and the owners – like you – can’t fault it. Do you have any pictures you can share? Thanks, Andy

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