Guide to Model Railway Baseboards

Guide to Model Railway Baseboards

Perhaps you have been running model trains in a non-dedicated space and are now looking to build a dedicated layout? Maybe you have moved to a new house and now finally have the space to build a model railway? When planning a model railway one of the first considerations will be the baseboard. There are many aspects to consider such as where the layout will be located, the ideal height, and choice of materials. In this article, we explore some of the key points that need to be considered when researching, planning and building model railway baseboards.

What are model railway baseboards?

Model railway baseboards consist of flat pieces of wood usually mounted on legs which provide a base on which the layout resides. They form what is essentially a custom built dedicated table for a model railway. They are the starting point for placing track, building scenery and integrating electrics. As a result, they form an extremely important part in the process of building a model railway.

Having a good baseboard is vital to prevent future problems and to ensure the smooth operation of the layout. Failing to ensure the baseboard is of an adequate strength and rigidity can lead to issues with buckling or sagging which will cause poor track alignment and bad running. Making a mistake with the baseboard can prove extremely hard to rectify and very costly down the line. For this reason, it is important to take your time, do your research, plan accurately, and make sure you get it right to minimise the chance of future problems.

Do I really need a baseboard?

In most cases, yes. This will, of course, depend on the size and complexity of the layout. For a basic train set with just a small amount of track, a few lengths of wood or a sturdy table top are maybe all that's required. However, more sophisticated layouts should be built on dedicated baseboards to ensure adequate support and provide a solid foundation for placing track and integrating electrics.

Running a model railway directly on a carpeted floor is generally not a good idea. This can cause excessive fibres and dust to be caught in the gearing and electrical components of locomotives resulting in premature wear and loco failure. There is also potential for the lubricating oil in model trains to cause damage to carpet, which can be extremely difficult to remove. Not to mention things at ground level can be easily trodden on! For these reasons, it's best to keep model railways and carpets away from each other.

Finding a suitable location

Baseboards can be located just about anywhere (within reason). The best place for you will depend on how much space is available. Generally, the area chosen should be dry and free from excessive dust and humidity.

Model railways can be built in dedicated rooms, lofts, garages, basements, sheds or outbuildings provided they meet these criteria. Each of these locations represent different challenges which are covered in more detail in the best place to build a model railway.

Model railway baseboard material

Model railway baseboards are what the foundations are to a home. They should provide adequate support for the layout and be of a solid construction to ensure structural integrity for years to come. Therefore, they should be constructed using good quality woods to support the track, electrics and any scenery, while at the same time being soft enough to drill holes where required and easily push track pins into.

If the layout is portable or semi-permanent - perhaps being exhibited at model railway exhibitions - then this will present another set of challenges. In this case, you will need to think carefully about the choice of materials used as they need to be robust enough to withstand the rigours of being regularly transported, whilst also being light enough so that they can be transported easily.

Recommended woods for model railway baseboards:

12mm Marine Plywood - Amazon

12mm Birch Plywood - Amazon

View our article on the best wood for a model railway baseboard for more detailed information regarding the most suitable types of wood to use.

Ideal Height for Model Railway Baseboard

There is no right or wrong answer as to the ideal height for a model railway baseboard. It is a subjective decision and is going to depend on your needs, preferences and who will be operating and viewing the layout. You will also need to consider any restrictions you may have in terms of space.

With this in mind, you need to strike a balance between having the baseboard low enough to be able to easily reach across to the furthest track, and high enough to comfortably access underneath when required. You should also consider whether you will be sitting, standing (or both) whilst operating the layout - this will affect how far you can reach across.

The consensus among model railway engineers is that the ideal height for a model railway is somewhere between 42'' and 52''. This provides a good balance and allows the 'best of both worlds' in terms of practicality, comfort and accessibility.

For portable or semi-permanent layouts that are being built with the intention of exhibiting at a model railway exhibition, then the height of the baseboard will need to be at a level that allows viewers to comfortably see the layout.

Model Railway Baseboards Ready Made

Another option could be to simply purchase a readymade baseboard or use model railway baseboards kits, rather than constructing one yourself. This could be suitable if you have limited time or simply don't enjoy constructing baseboards and prefer to focus on other areas of the hobby. However, many modellers view baseboard construction as an enjoyable aspect of building model railways, so buying a pre-built kit would obviously not be suitable in this case. See our post on the advantages and disadvantages of getting model railway baseboards ready made for more detailed discussion on this.

Overview

This article has given a brief overview regarding the planning and construction of model railway baseboards. After selecting a suitable location, it is important to plan accurately and build using the most suitable materials to ensure the chance of future problems is reduced. Refer to the other articles on this site for more detailed information and guides on model railway baseboard building.