Just don’t use these. Trust me.
When making a model railway, it’s often tempting to skimp on the baseboard. After all, no one will see it, it’s time-consuming and expensive so why bother?
It’s a trap I’ve fallen into lots of times over many years and many failed model railways. The baseboard is the foundation of a layout and on which everything else depends so don’t skimp.
I’ve covered best wood for your baseboard to use before but what about some of the alternatives? Here are three possible alternatives I’ve tried and quickly regretted.
On paper, this seemed like a great idea. It’s strong and flat and I had a section of the stuff spare after a failed kitchen project (that’s another story).
In reality, it was a disaster.
It’s a nightmare to drill through and I ruined several drill bits in the process. It’s too hard.
If you’re thinking of using track pins, forget it. They’ll just bend when trying to push or hammer into a worktop.
They’re also too thick. From anywhere between 27mm and 40mm, worktops are simply too thick for the pins from under-board point motors to reach through. Lastly, the laminate surface is difficult to get the glue to hold too.
Some leftovers from another failed DIY project ( there’s a pattern emerging here 😃 ) seemed a perfect choice at the time but it was, without a doubt, the worst material I’ve used for baseboards.
It doesn’t support much weight and needs a LOT of bracing and all this extra wood under the board limits where you can drill through for points and wiring.
Talking of drilling, power tools cut through it like butter, great you may think?
Yes, except they cut through it like butter. What should be small holes for wires etc quickly expanded as the drills chewed through the material in all directions.
Lastly, fluid is a no-no. Paint and watered-down PVA, used for ballasting etc, can play havoc with plasterboard, causing the surface to distort or even break up.
Now I think about it, this article would have been better titled ‘Materials from Andy’s DIY horror stories’.
Wood flooring – the clip-together type so common in DIY stores – was another home improvement gone wrong. It turned out to be a model railway failure too.
The idea was simple.
Take a simple wooden frame, perhaps a pallet (these can work for model railways), lay the boards across it; clip them together and hey presto and strong, solid, baseboard top on which I can build.
Ha Ha Ha
The DIY gods were obviously laughing at me on that day.
While this stuff has lots of potential, it also has lots of problems for railways.
Firstly, unless you’re working on an already flat surface, in which case why do you need another layer, it’s hard to get the individual boards to lay perfectly flat along the joins. Even a slight rise along the seam will cause all manner of trauma for your track work,
Secondly, those seams that you’ve just spent ages getting flat can be a problem to drill through for wires. Or rather, they become a problem when drilled through. I found applying any pressure to the seam causes them to lift up or break,
Thirdly, and lastly, the surface isn’t great to build on. Typically, the surface of this material is super smooth, which makes it a pain for paint in particular to grip. And PVA too. Whilst it goes on, dries and seems firm, it actually peels off very easily and doesn’t appear to hold for long.
So there you have it. Three materials not to build your layout out. Stick to these recommendations for the best material for baseboards or try this stuff which is increasingly common amongst modellers.
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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.