One of the reasons I enjoy building model railways is the variety of different skills that can be learned and mastered. To develop this knowledge, I read *LOTS* of books. Here are the ones I’ve found most useful in learning the skills needed.
These books have taught me a huge amount and helped me to make better layouts. My next railway – the Great South Railway – will depend largely on the knowledge gained from them.
If you want to improve your railways, move away from your workbench and give these books a read.
Making the table/baseboard for a model railway isn’t exciting but it’s the foundation on which the success or otherwise of your railway lies. A good baseboard will make it easier to install electrics, lay track and scenery, and more comfortable to operate, it also plays a key role in how smoothly your trains will run.
So far so good.
But making baseboards requires skills and knowledge that are increasingly rare. Few of us need woodworking expertise elsewhere in life. I know that’s the case for me for at least.
Woodwork: A Step-by-step Photographic Guide was the answer to my prayers and has taught me everything I need to know for making my baseboards and has even inspired and given me the confidence to have a go at other DIY woodwork projects around the house.
It starts with the very basics, reviewing the different tools that will be needed, but then quickly moves on to cover joinery techniques, types of soft and hardwoods, and the types of jobs you’d use them for.
The joinery section is particularly useful, showing 26 types of joints and how to make them, including a table detailing the merits of each and the type of work each is best suited to.
Following these chapters are a series of tutorials on how to make various word work projects. Again, while baseboard construction is understandably not included many of the techniques covered directly crossover. Making a gateleg table for example has obvious value for baseboards with fold-away legs.
Every section of the book is presented in an easy-to-follow format with beautiful photographs that inspire and motivate and make this book hard to put down once you open it.
When returning to model trains after a gap this is the book that really helped me get back up to speed on some of the fundamental details that I’d forgotten, particularly around track formation.
Unlike many books in the model railway “space”, this one is easy to follow and is a pleasant read. It’s showing its age now – more diagrams than photographs and in black and white – and works better as a reference book to dip into for tips and ideas rather than a start-to-finish guide but it’s still proved hugely useful over the years.
At just 15 pages this isn’t a book but a pamphlet but then it’s only a few quid and it’s still a great overview of the basics of layout electrics.
While I don’t use it personally now, it’s one of my most recommended resources for those starting on their model railway journey and wanting to progress from the Hornby and Graham Farish DC starter sets.
If you’re just starting with model railways, get this! It covers the basics of everything you’ll need to know from baseboards to DCC and I’ll still dip into it from time to time.
Most of my layouts are DC (analog) but my biggest layouts are DCC and when I first started building with this I needed help. It looked so simple but I ran into constant problems and there was a whole new vocabulary to learn.
This book was my lifesaver, helped me move from analog to digital, and taught me pretty much everything I needed to know about digital electrics.
Having been trained as an electrician in the very distant past and having a full-time job managing web servers, electrics, and digital technology doesn’t worry me. The finer points of electronics haven’t been so easy however and when starting to make signaling, lighting, and other off-track electronics and even dabbling with Arduino-controlled trains I needed a bit of help.
Electronics for Dummies was that help, clarifying the points I wanted help with and providing a series of simple experiments and steps that taught me the rest. Like the guide to woodwork above, it’s not about railways but there is a huge crossover and those parts that aren’t directly necessary (the equations etc.) can be skipped over.
One word of caution. Being about electronics, the maths in this book can get involved. If maths isn’t your thing you might want to skip this title.
Having a few trains trundle around the tiny track is fun but it’s the other bits that make up a model railway that bring it to life and this book by model-making expert Iain Rice is my bible on this aspect.
What I like about Railway Modelling is the way it covers all aspects of a layout that impacts on creating a realistic railway not just the landscape or building that other books tend to focus on, with track work and using electrics included for example.
Every so often I return to this book and realize how much of my modelling has been influenced by it. It’s one of my favourite resources and one I use for learning and inspiration.
Which of these will you buy? What books have helped you the most? Share your choices below with a comment.
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.