Building a model railway requires space. Lot’s of it. But with the silly prices of houses now it’s hard to justify a room to our hobby and so model railways in sheds are increasingly popular.
And yet while model railways and garden sheds are natural bedfellows in many respects there are challenges.
- The electrics of a railway won’t mix well with the often damp climate of a garden.
- In the Summer, the heat can play havoc with rails and the cold and wet of Winter can damage scenery.
- And that’s before we consider other potential hazards like mould, the discomfort of working in temperature extremes or the risk of keeping expensive components where they can be easily stolen.
If only there was a handy guide for overcoming these things and transforming a garden shed into a paradise for your model railway….
More shed articles from ModelRailwayEngineer.com
Here then are my top 7 tips from across the Internet on how make a garden shed fit for your model railway.
#1 Secure that shed
Let’s face it, wooden sheds are easy to break into.
And given the value and time invested in your railway, bolstering the locks and protection has to be very high on the agenda of things to do before transferring your railway to its new home.
First up on the security checklist should be the locks and hinges.
Get a strong lock, ideally several and preferably key operated.
The same applies to the hinges.
The standard hinges on most shed doors can often be smashed or levered off with a crowbar and very little force. A trip to B&Q or alternative and picking up stronger hinges is a must.
And when fitting the lock and new hinges, replace the screws holding them with one-way screws.
These are tamper proof screws, available from hardware stores, that once fitted can’t be easily unscrewed. Without them, a burglar could come along and just remove the screws holding the lock or hinges in place.
Thankfully, such one-way screws aren’t expensive and absolutely worth the cost and are available from Amazon and other good hardware stores.
If you plan on keeping expensive tools or rolling stock in the shed (and the recommendation is you don’t do this) an alarm should be fitted.
If you use one make sure it can’t be disabled easily with either sunken or shielded cabling or a battery backup in place. A movement sensing external light can also discourage would-be thieves.
#2 Easy electrics
Electrics aren’t easy and there are regulations involved so getting an electrician to connect your shed up to the house mains supply is well worth doing.
And in the process get more power points fitted will make building and operating your model railway in a shed much much easier.
From experience, I’d recommend having at least double the number of power sockets you expect and placing a main fuse box / isolator switch where the electrics come into the shed so you can easily and quickly cut off of all power.
Neal Ball’s model railway shed, a contender for Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces Shed of the year
#3 Cover up windows
If the shed has windows cover them up.
A lot of theft is opportunistic and if a thief can’t see what’s inside the shed they probably won’t waste the time, effort and risk of breaking in to find out. A Blind or net curtainss, suggested by Apollo on rmweb.co.uk, will be fine.
This is also advisable to keep sunlight off the layout which will fade colours on your models.
#4 Keep It Warm
Ice and sub-zero or even low temperatures can wreak a lot of damage to a model railway. A layer of insulation on the inner walls, floor and roof are a must and if possible a small heater on a timer will save your scenery and make it habitable.
For insulation, there are various suggestions, from polystyrene — Tonycee on modelrailwayforum.co.uk — to loft insulation material. Although see Electrics above for a caution on mixing wiring and some insulating materials.
Shed fanatics recommend topping the inlay with a layer of plywood (5mm) too. For more tips on keeping a shed warm, see the post here.
#5 Keep It Dry
Unless you’re repurposing an old shed with a leaky roof and it’s on a concrete base and raised off the ground you shouldn’t have a problem with water getting in. However, condensation can be an issue, leading to rust on your rails and spoilt books and magazines if you have them.
Fitting a ventilation fan to allow air to circulate and having the shed raised off the ground will solve most damp problems.
#6 Keep it cool
Most the problems tackled so far are the result of the Winter season but sheds have their share of Summer torment too, chiefly heat.
The high temperatures of summer can buckle rails, crack plaster and dry out glues.
Having a ventilation fan will help but a small air conditioning unit or fan for the hottest months will be the best option.
#7 Insects & rodents
A garden shed is a playground for insects and even birds and rodents that will delight on munching on your railway but there are things you can do.
Firstly, block up any holes to stop animals and birds getting in. If you fitted a ventilation point (above) make sure it has a cover or fan and simply nail spare wood over other gaps to the outside.
Secondly, use organic pest control dusts along joints and corners to ward off insects. An organic powder such as Oa2ki Organic Powder will work wonders.
Watch Calvertfilm‘s guide to building a model railway in which he explains the process of building a shed for his model railway.
Along with the 7 tips above to improve the fabric and environment of a shed for your railway, there are other things you can do to turn what is essentially a wooden box into a model railway eden. My favourites include:
A bench area directly next the layout makes model making much easier. The great thing about sheds is that you can fit a bench area easily and tailor it to your precise needs — such a height and tool holding bays etc.
A small hinged flap, or window, over the workbench to provide extra ventilation when working with glues, paints and airbrush is one of the best additions. Having this near or directly next to the workbench so I particles from spray cans and the airbrush blow directly outwards makes a shed better for model work than a spare room. (Keep this small so and sealable so its not a way in for animals or thieves)
Felt covered shelves:
Shelves around the layout, some covered with felt to protect the models etc resting on them, will make life a lot easier.
I have to thank Slackbladder on newrailwaymodellers.co.uk for this last tip, it’s so good I can’t leave it out. Alongside environmental and railway facilities, don’t forget a few human luxuries — a kettle, for example, will make your “man cave” time a lot more comfortable. And a mini-fridge will really improve modelling time.
And on the subject of kettles, it’s time for a cuppa so I’ll leave you here. If you have a railway in your shed or are in the process or building it, why not share the results of your hard work and share them with the Model Railway Engineer Builder’s community
> Picture Neal Ball’s model railway shed.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. 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.