The Best Wood For A Model Railway Baseboard, updated for 2024

Thinking of building your first real model railway? Arguably one of the biggest jobs you’ll face is making the baseboard for your layout. Once you’ve decided on size and shape, the next question on most hobbyists’ to-do lists is what’s the best wood to use for the baseboard? Check out these answers from gurus across the Internet.

There are stages hobbyists go through with their model railways.

There’s the excitement of getting their first railway set and building their first simple layout often on the floor or table; then comes building a layout on a table dedicated to their new hobby before going all out to build a permanent layout.

If you’re at the first two stages, either working on the floor or table life is pretty easy.

You just need a spare corner of the floor or an old table.

But if you’re thinking of moving up to a dedicated baseboard and a solid top (rather than an open-framed construction or a modular baseboard which are now my preferred option) this is the post for you.

> If you’re still thinking about which type to build, my guide on the advantages and disadvantages of different baseboards will help.

Model Railway Baseboard and track construction

Model Railway Baseboard and track construction at Miniatur Wunderland. Picture, (c)

You want something sturdy enough to support not just the track, but also the electrics, buildings, maybe hills and mountains while also being soft and flexible enough to push track pins into it and drill small holes for wiring yet sturdy enough not to distort.

Questions, questions, questions.

But what about answers?

Here’s what the folks over at the forums and RMweb came up with in answer to what’s the best wood for a model railway baseboard.

Best wood for model railway baseboard legs 

For the legs and framework of your railway baseboard, you’ll need good old-fashioned timber.

  • The overall opinion is 44 x 44mm Plain Squared Edged (PSE) is best for the legs, cut to the length you require for your height and frame supporting the surface layer.

I’ve previously used thinner timber only to find it crack or split later. This wood has the strength required without the weight of other materials.


  • The framework like the legs is best made from square-planed timber (PSE). This has the strength to brace the top surface while being lightweight. I prefer 44mm x 34mm PSE for this.

Best wood for the model railway base

  • The de facto standard for the best wood to use for the top of your model railway baseboard is Plywood (available from home DIY stores). This is strong enough to secure your track, buildings and scenery but easy to work with, allowing track pins to be easily pushed in for example.
  • Ply-wood (sheets of wood veneer) is strong, flexible and cheap. Use a thickness of 9mm or 12mm.  Less than this and it won’t be strong enough to support the layout, any thicker and it’ll be difficult to cut through for wires etc.
  • Sundeala, essentially recycled paper, is also a popular choice although Plywood has now replaced it as the preferred board
  • Although tempting, MDF is not recommended on the forums (as covered at length in a topic post on It can be hard to drive pins into, creates dust and is vulnerable to moisture/humidity.  It’s also not good if you have accidental spillages — not that anyone would ever rest a cup of tea on their layout, would they…

A word of advice from the forums is that both Sundeala and MDF can sag so make sure you don’t have large expanses of the board without a support framework underneath. (see

For both timber and surface board, B&Q and other timber and DIY stores can supply PSE and plywood; some model railway shops will be able to supply surface board cut to standard sizes but again your local branch of one of the national DIY chains will also be able to help.

Extra: This post focuses on wood model railway baseboards as that’s what I’ve used in the past but it’s also possible to use Styrofoam as a base.

For more advice on building baseboards, I recommend, Designing and Building Model Railway Baseboards (or here for American readers)  Helpful illustrations, instructions, and plans on making different types of boards keep this on my shelf and I still refer to it before starting any new layout. 




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 have found a much better material to make a baseboard. It’s Sign Board or sometimes called Correx Fluted Board. The reason is that it’s lightweight and easy to cut or shape than Plywood. You can cut it with a Stanley knife! And probably cheaper too. You can get it in various sizes and it even comes in 8 foot by 4 foot size. The thickness varies but 6mm to 10mm would strong enough. When you look at it from the side it’s a box shaped sections – hollow all the way along. But it is still really strong. It will take track pins to. I fixed a piece of track to an off-cut and it didn’t move at all. The added advantage is that you can run wires down the channels for the train electrics. It’s safe none toxic and can be joined more easily than any other board. A large board would still need a wooden frame, just really to attach legs. But I reckon one person could lift the 8 foot board and fit it to the frame on their own. It normally comes in black or white, but black is cheaper for some reason. You can also paint it!

    • Hi Graham, thanks for the suggestion! That sounds like a really interesting material to use as a baseboard that I’ve not heard mentioned before. And I really like the built-in channels for wiring. I’ll try to get hold of some and take a look and also ask on the MRE community if anyone else has used it and report back here. Thanks again, Andy.

  2. Hi just starting out on model railways and although sundeala is mentioned,diy merchants in my area know nothing of it. I was pointed in the direction of mdf 9mm ahead of the other options. Hopefully i can lay my track without too much trouble.

  3. Hi Andy,
    After many decades of living in houses too full of peopleses to accommodate a model railway, at long last I see a light at the end of the tunnel ie a house with a garage!
    Throughout those decades, I’ve always been aware of the recommendation to use plywood top board (which puzzles me) or Sundeala (which mystifies me); and to avoid chipboard, MDF, hardboard & insulation board (all such warnings being entirely understandably unsuitable).
    Despite my having seen Sundeala recommended in model railway print over several decades, I’ve never seen it in a shop or timber merchant or DiY store. Does it really exist? And isn’t Plywood to hard for pins?
    And in all those decades, I’ve never seen pine T&G floorboards suggested. Easy to transport home, easy to cut (if laid transversely ;o). If one planes-off a tongue here & there, easy to remove/replace. Any reason why not pine T&G?

    • Hi Chris, if you Google Sundeala there are a number of merchants selling it. Re plywood, I use 9mm and 12mm on my layouts and have never had an issue with Hornby or Gaugemaster pins on it (see for a comparison of the different pins). TBH, I’ve not heard or thought of using T&G boards before. I’ll look into it. Best wishes, Andy

    • Yes, David, it’s fine and lots of people do it (including me) just remember to leave space for any wiring or electronics and make them easy to remove for when you need to get to the underside of the board. Andy

  4. Plywood ? who needs plywood ?
    Falkirk MRC/Altstetten-n-gauge
    Built on a lightweight open ply frame and covered with a fiberglass skin.
    20 feet X 4 feet in 4 sections and really is very light to carry.
    2 people are all that it needs to take it to the many exhibitions it has been to in the 20 something years since it was built and does not warp with transport or moisture.
    More people are preferred but 2 fit fellas can handle it.
    Really is an impressive sight the first time you see it.

  5. At 63yrs, I am only now returning to the idea of a model railway (after a gap of 52 years).  Phoned Wickes and Jewsons this morning to ask advice about model railway baseboard materials but nobody had a clue how to help.  “Sundeala, what’s that Sir”?  Nobody is ‘allowed’ under H&S to cut/saw ply-board in store for the customer anymore (I am unable to do this myself). A model railway shop in Devon even  recommended MDF !!

    So, it is not turning out to be so easy after all…

    Useful comments above from other contributors, thank you.

  6. I have set up O gauge,HO, and N in the basement area is 15′ X 30′. Have some houses to set up yet, trains need the trainsformers set up too. I am setting up the HO trains now. The set is a (u). I have to wire everything. It is hard for me, bec ause I have all timers, and a heart that works on top only. I am 70 years old. I love my trains and will buy more stuff. Thanks, BILL

  7. I am a 69 year old grandpa. This month my wife allowed me to buy several H O train sets at garage sales. I built a 4×8 table. The top is plywood.
    Since I have zero funds. I can wait till I money for cork or go another route. What do you think of this idea. I have 3/4×3 inch pine boards. I will uses a table saw to cut the thickness to 1/4 or 1/2 inch and the width will be the size of the track. I will nail the track to the board.

    • Thanks for your comment Richard. If you can successfully cut the boards why not? The only thing I’d add is to support it across the length and width to prevent warping over time. Let us know how it develops. Thanks, Andy

  8. Why doesn’t anybody use doors for layout boards?
    Modern flat core doors are very stable available in standard 78″ x 30″ sizes.
    The ones to use are the plywood faced ones in the”white” unfinished. Not the hardboard faced ones they are too hard to get the track pins in. The doors have the edges as softwood with a “Dufaylite” core interior, like egg boxes. Very strong, the edges need to take hinges and locks.
    Places like B & Q often have deals on these, buy 4 for £?.

    • Peter, many do. I guess most people don’t have spare doors lying around and if you don’t it makes more sense to create a baseboard that fits your needs rather than buying a door. Thanks for the reminder though.

  9. Hi,
    I’m looking to have a station on the outside of a third radius curve rails,
    Can’t seem to find anything would the Metcalfe po235 stone platform kit fit.?

    • Hi Laurie, various card kits should do fine and do card kits from which you can make your own, which would be my preferred choice as you can then construct it to fit perfectly. One consideration as your station will be on the outside however is to ensure the longest carriages and loco don’t overhang and interfere with the platforms. Let me know how you get on. Andy

  10. I have built my most recent n gauge layout using a baseboard of 22mm bathroom grade flooring board. Why bathroom grade? It’s moisture resistant therefore very stable which really helps for n gauge trackwork. The rear of the baseboard is fitted to a 100mm by 50mm wallplate that runs the entire length of the layout supported at 400mm centres. From one end to another the layout is 7400mm long so stability is everything. Bathroom grade chipboard is not expensive and takes away a lot of pain further down the build. How else do you have an 8 platform station with a further 2 through roads? Richard H. 

    • Hi Richard, that’s a nice size layout, especially for N gauge! As said, I do use a variety of material and mix and match as needed. For an 8 platform station I’d agree a lot of support is needed either with thick board or board under-board structs. Do you mount the point motors under the boards? Just wandering if the 22mm board isn’t too thick to the rods from the motors to the points?

  11. I have an O gauge layout using 6mm MDF as a baseboard. Each 8ftx2ft baseboard is built as a box section with cross bracing so that it is both reasonably light but strong. Each 8ft section can be tilted on its side to get to the underside. Each section also acts as a district for DCC. The layout is in a garage and has not warped or twisted and there is no dust as I have sealed the MDF with dilute PVA. Finally, MDF is cheaper than ply. I can provide a picture of its construction. 39KA

    • Hi Keith, this article is a roundup of views from not just me but other modellers and the general consensus is that MDF isn’t the best material to use. Having said this it certainly can be used. I use it without problem on one of my layouts and if it works for you that’s great! I’d love to see pictures of your layout – could you email them – andy @ modelrailwayengineer . com (spaces added).


  12. I, as a rank beginner find a lot of inspiration on u tube,but I use loft flooring as a base board,giving it a coat of varnish as a sealant It will take track pins and screws and can be drilled.Congrat on all of your articles

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