The Journey Begins


#140249 (In Topic #14055)
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Whether New, Returning Or an Experianced Modeller, A few thoughts to get you started

Hi And welcome to the forum.

Mission Statement 

We are aware that not everyone has either the space, or possibly the physical ability, to build and run a model railway but we have room for the armchair modeller too, I myself was one for many years.One of our prime concerns is the beginner in this hobby of ours. Beginners at any stage are more than welcome and we will do our very best to assist. Remember all our members were beginners at one time. There are no stupid questions, no matter how simple they may be.We have a great atmosphere on the forum with help and explanations of modelling techniques freely given. I have done my best to provide a visually stimulating workplace for us all and we have a team of Moderators who help to hold the whole thing together. So, fellow members, if we keep the aims of the forum in mind when posting we can't go far wrong, and will contribute to a stronger and healthier Your Model Railway, which is what we all want.

Bob Heath, Founder of YMRC


Above and below, and indeed throughout this forum you will find the wise words of the founder of YMRC, Bob Heath.

Sadly Bob is no longer with us, but his legacy, his knowledge and the good natured spirit, and love of our hobby that he willingly shared, lives on in our forum. So please, whether a new, or experianced modeller, read on down this thread. Although written some time ago by Bob, the information he gives is just as relevant today!

Then, come  on in and Join the fun!

The YMRC Members

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Think First

  You must now decide just what kind of a railway modeller you want to be. I help you with this in the first section below. Assuming that you are going to enter the hobby under one of the creative headings, and I sincerely hope that you are,  you then have to sit and think of the practicalities of creating a model railway. You must now ask yourself, how much space will I need? Do I have enough spare time to devote to it once I get going? How much is all this going to cost? There are no definitive answers to these questions but what follows should go some way to answering them for you.


Which Way To Go?

  If, by looking through the pages on this web site you have already made up your mind which way to go then that's great, if not, here are several possibilities for you to consider.

  The model railway fraternity usually falls into one or more of several groups. The first group that comes to mind  are the collectors. They have no interest in modelling themselves. They buy all the latest railway products, sometimes to display them, sometimes in the hope that they may gain in value and that they may make a profit or even just because they like the models for their own sake. I have no problem with this attitude but it is a far cry from the reality of modelling railways.

  Next we have the dreamer whose imagination has been fired by vistas of gleaming railway tacks and long trains rushing through magnificent countryside. These  people will have avidly studied others layouts, in the model railway press and on the internet. So much so that they may well become an expert in one or more aspects of the hobby. But, and it's a big but, they don't actually do anything. The interest is purely intellectual. There is nothing wrong with this approach except that I think they are missing out on so much.

  Next we have the armchair modeller, quite common in the model railway world. This person may well have taken this position through force of circumstances, domestic, finance, health etc, not choice. He may well turn his attention to designing working layouts in different scales with a specific prototype in mind. There again he may design for the smaller space or the mighty empire. Having designed a layout he may then turn his attention to what stock would be running on it, a working timetable perhaps. To finish off he may conjure up a particular setting for his brain child, the scenery, buildings needed, the list is endless. Like the dreamer the armchair modeller has only one limitation with his hobby and that is his imagination.

  Yet another group are the would be modellers. These people, through the adverse circumstances already mentioned, are not in a position to begin on construction of a layout but they have hopes for the future. To prepare themselves for that day they may turn their attention to finding a design that they like so that they know in advance what they would need to start such a project. It is possible that they will then turn their attention to making up some kits that they know will be needed when the big day arrives. Perhaps practice various skills, painting figures, plaster work, making trees or small line side equipment, fences, walls etc. These people are well inside the hobby and many join their local club to hone their new skills by helping others or learning from the more experienced members of their particular club. This can be a very enjoyable phase of the hobby and one I have been through myself.

  Finally there is the railway modeller. This person has been bitten by the bug and bitten hard. The model railway has become a part of their life and sometimes it is not an easy relationship. It makes demands on their time and pocket which are not always easily satisfied, especially now that the big manufacturers are producing such fine models. There is a saying among the fraternity that a model railway is never finished and I think in most modeller's experience this is quite true. As one progresses so techniques and skills improve by leaps and bounds, great you might think, and so it is but the downside of this improvement is that dissatisfaction of previous work creeps in, and, modeller's being what they are, you just have to do something about it. Another saying we have, and one that I heartily agree with, is that 'if it looks right then it is right'.

How Much Space Is Enough?

  Looking at permanent layouts first I'm pretty sure that given the enthusiasm to start modelling then space will be found in even the smallest of houses. Maybe a spare bedroom has a bare wall you could use, or more. A garden shed can be weather-proofed quite easily and cheaply. Do you have a loft area that can be boarded out and made suitable? Perhaps the garage is full of junk and a good throw out there would provide all the room you need. Have you an older house with a cellar that could be used? Possibly a conservatory that has become a waste of space, somewhere for the spiders to live and as a storeroom for the garden tools. There are many places to be looking at and with a bit of domestic cooperation much can be achieved.

  If a permanent layout isn't possible, no matter what, then turn your thoughts to a portable layout. This type of layout is usually built in sections that can easily be connected together to make the whole. The layout can then be put together for a few hours of operation in an area that wouldn't tolerate a permanent fixture. At the end of the session the layout is easily taken apart and stored away. Another big advantage of the sectional layout is that each section can be worked on in turn, maybe even on the dining room table, dare I say. There are portable model railways out there where the creator is building in sections and has decided that each section will be finished in all respects before starting on the next section. Although this shows admirable restraint on the part of the builder it wouldn't be my way of doing things. I am a firm believer in getting something running reliably across the whole layout first then if a problem arises elsewhere, or you just fancy a change, you can watch the trains pass by.

  If your space is very small, or you feel that finances are too restricted at the moment, then consider a micro layout. These models require the same skills and imagination as their bigger brothers and are usually built in 2 or 3 square feet of space. There is a great link to these layouts on the 'Other Model Railways' page. There you will find all the help you need to build and run your very own micro layout. Having said all that I really don't think micro layouts are for the beginner. In my opinion they are fine as a sideline to your normal modelling, even a bit gimmicky, some would say, but not what we are about. I know I am going to get some e-mails about this but that's what I think. However you must judge for yourself as this is going to be your model railway and I am only here to help.

  So now we are down to maybe a couple of square feet, not much space there you might think but you would be wrong because this kind of space, or less, is exactly what is needed for a diorama.
What on earth is a diorama you might ask, and how does it fit in to my railway?
One dictionary definition is "A picture (or series of pictures) representing a continuous scene". What this means to us is that in a space say 12" by 12" we can make a 'picture' of anything we want which is related to railways. This picture could be, for example, a farmhouse and barn with pig sty, mud, dogs, chickens, people, the barn could be in a run down condition with planks of wood broken and missing. An industrial building perhaps, with bits of scrap lying around, wooden pallets, crates, bits of machinery here and there, workmen doing their thing. For the lineside how about a small goods shed or cattle dock, again with all the relevant bits and pieces to be found in such a scene. These are only three examples of an endless list and although taking up so little space they will need most of the modellers tools, materials, skills and techniques to make a good job of them. A further great advantage, perhaps the best from our point of view, is that they can be made as part of a complete layout which you have designed and hope to commence building at some future date. I will point you to examples on the internet and you will see exactly what I mean.
  There we have it then, as far as space goes. If you have the interest, then one way or the other, there really is no need for you not to start out on what will hopefully be a lifetimes hobby.

How Much Time Will It Take?

  Model railways don't just happen, one day just a bare board and the next there are powerful engines pulling long rakes of coaches through glorious countryside. It's a good thing too, because if that was the case then the hobby would be all the poorer for it.

  Your railway is going to be a long term project, no matter how you look at it. I can't give you times and dates, nor can anyone else. The planning and choice of layout shouldn't be a rushed affair to start with as if the wrong choice is made here then before the last piece of track is stuck down you will be considering taking it all up again, because you can see that it just isn't going to live up to your expectations or do what you want it to do.
Even while you are making progress you are going to be subjected to outside influences via the model press, maybe the internet, friends, family, so that fresh ideas and viewpoints are continually being presented to you.
Perhaps, as your skills and ideas improve, you will look back and be dissatisfied with what has gone before, so, heart breaking as it may be, you may decide that a fresh start is unavoidable. This happens to a great many modellers and is one of the reasons that we say that a model railway is never finished.

  How much time you think you are going to have to devote to the railway should be a major part of your design philosophy. It's a given fact that the larger the layout, the more time it's going to take to complete even the first stages, such as building the baseboards. If time is unavoidably short but you still want a large layout, then think about making it modular. Each module in itself will take far less time and still give a great deal of satisfaction and can be completed before beginning the next one. At least you will be able to see that things are happening in a relatively short period of time. For example you could model a branch line to a coal mine or quarry.

  There will be other demands on your time which will be more pressing than a hobby, that's for sure. I'm not trying to put anyone off here but presenting things as realistically as I can and from personal experience. On the positive side I spend a lot of time, when occupied with other jobs that don't require brainwork, shopping for example, thinking of what the next stage is on the model, or a better way of doing a particular job. I have saved myself many hundreds of hours modelling time, and a great deal of frustration, by doing this. Frustration by the way is probably public enemy number one to all modellers, and will have to be dealt with most firmly as and when it raises it's ugly head.  Hence the importance of always having something else to turn your hand or mind to on the railway.

  Like I said earlier, nothing is going to happen quickly but there will be a steady progression towards your ultimate goal, with many happy hours of modelling and quiet satisfaction in front of you, so enjoy every moment of the experience.

OK. How Much Is It Going To Cost Me?

  The bad news is that today nothing is cheap and building a model railway is no exception. The good news is that whatever the cost eventually turns out to be it will be spread over a long time. Bit like the never never really. It has to be said that cheap or expensive usually relates to our disposable income and how much of it we have to spend on our interests.

  We can divide the costs into three major areas. The first being the timber, screws, tools etc for building the baseboard plus wiring and trackwork and the basic groundwork. The baseboard could be something as simple as a plank of wood or an old door of course.

  Next come buildings, signals, bridges and dozens of smaller items, none of which cost much taken individually but when multiplied up the total can be quite surprising. Many of these items can be made at little or no cost if you try your hand at scratchbuilding.
  Lastly of course we have the locomotives and rolling stock, not all of which has to be brand new in their nice shiny boxes.

  Many modellers operating on a tight budget make a pause on the main project and spend many hours, which may well spread into weeks, depending on how much modelling time they have, constructing a kit or designing something they may wish to add later on. Kits, for example, when assembled don't take up a lot of space and can be put away until the time comes for them to be incorporated in the main layout.

  There are also many pleasant hours to be spent deciding on how you are going to operate your railway. Will it be to a timetable, using time itself as a factor as prototype practice, or a series of laid down movements which have to be made in a set sequence to enable the free flow of passenger and/or goods traffic.
There are more money saving ideas under materials, many of which I use myself.

  So you can see there is no reason for things to come to a standstill because of a temporary financial restraint as there will always be something to fill your time constructively and enjoyably.
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Prototype Or Freelance?

There are several things to consider here, such as whether you are going to model a freelance situation or a prototypical one. If prototypical which company and in what era, the steam age, modern times or the meeting point of the two? What kind of running do you want to do when the rails are down, continuous, there and back or a mix of the two? The kind of running you decide on will be the lynch pin of the whole model because your basic track design will have to reflect this choice.

You may say that you don't want to be bothered with any of this, you just want to see some trains running. A quick answer would be, don't we all. However that's not very helpful, so I would only say that in my experience of other modellers, who have said the same thing, they have quickly changed their minds as their model began to take shape and they could see the possibilities. Their ever growing skills are then being applied to a model that means something, that has a purpose.

A decision taken now, on the choices shown below, could well save you a lot of money on kit that is inappropriate but in the long run would make no difference if by some chance you stayed with just wanting to see your trains go round and round.

Your Choice 

Is a love of the real thing the driving force behind your desire to build a model railway? If so then you will probably be choosing to model a particular prototype.
Unless your choice is the modern era, where you can go and look with your own eyes, take photographs, sketches and measurements, then there will be a fair amount of research in front of you to find out how things really were, and how different to your memories.
Why would I want to research anything you may ask? Well, if you are presenting your model as the XYZ branch of the GWR in between the years 1945 and 1960 then it is only right that you should make some effort to see that it is as accurate as your chosen scale, skill and space allow. A am not saying that your layout should be a photographic image of the chosen time and place but it should at least have the correct rolling stock on it's rails, and the correct signals. Find photographs of the station buildings and reproduce them the best you can. Make sure that any road vehicles are of the appropriate type for that period. There are many things to look for and implement into your model and they will all add to your pleasure and satisfaction as each one is made to the best of your ability.

If, however, you are like me and prototype railways aren't your primary interest then consider going down the freelance road. The demands and skill requirements on the freelance modeller are just as great as those who desire to reproduce a prototype. You can model something that might have been, on the GWR for example, a line that feeds an imaginary town from somewhere in the west country because of the demands of a local industry that you have invented. Maybe a dockland scene with grimy buildings and overhead cranes everywhere, retaining walls covered with years of soot and dirt. The list of scenes that can make good models is almost endless.
Or, you could go the whole freelance hog and just build a good looking model with the things that you like on it, and with all different kinds and eras of engines and rolling stock. The choice is yours and always remember we are doing this for pleasure, our pleasure. So, wherever your final choice leads you, make sure you enjoy the experience.

Continuous Run Or A There And Back?

There are really three choices here, continuous run, there-and-back, or a combination of the two. I feel quite certain that to the non railway modeller the continuous run layout is the only and obvious choice. This is what you see in the major toy stores or at Christmas and on the big manufacturers packing materials and for obvious reasons, after all this is a train, and it needs to be seen to be doing what it is that trains do and nothing is easier to arrange than a train going round in a circle pulling a couple of coaches or a mixed bag of wagons.

A continuous run on a model railway does exactly the same thing but with much greater complexity. The continuous run only happens as and when the operator chooses. The big difference, in the vast majority of cases, is that this is not usually obvious to the onlooker, unless the operator wants it to be. On the model railway the continuous run comes in many guises but in my view it has one serious drawback and that is the amount of room that is needed to accommodate it. In spite of my above remarks I have seen some very nice layouts in narrow gauge where lack of room to swing big curves has had no detrimental effect on the models appearance. Indeed, with very careful planning and attention to detail I have seen this lack of space turned into a virtue.

There and back system

Our second choice, and my personal favourite, is the there-and-back system. The train starts at point A, travels to point B, is turned by one method or another and then returns to point A. This type of layout can be used in the smallest of spaces and when combined, as is usually the case, with a fiddle yard, or even two fiddle yards, then the operational possibilities are almost limitless and can follow very closely prototypical practice. This is not to say that a continuous run layout can't follow prototype operation, of course it can, as can be seen in some very fine models on the internet and the model press.


Thirdly we have a combination of these two systems. Here we have the best of all worlds it would appear but once more we have a large space requirement for the continuous run.
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Scales & Gauges.

Because at the start of life for this forum, January 2006,  it is mainly for beginners I am only going to include the four main scales that are most freely available commercially in the United Kingdom. If you are already a reasonably skilled modeller in another branch of modelling, and are turning your attention to modelling railways, then there are more accurate scale/gauge combinations but much has to be made by hand and they are not really for the newcomer to modelling. You may notice that there are five sections below, not four. This is because the last one is not a different scale to the previous four but a combination of two of them.

The list will begin with the largest scale/gauge of the four mentioned above :

0 Gauge which is 7mm scale, 32mm gauge and 1:43.

There really isn't all that much commercial RTR (ready to run ) equipment made for this scale and what there is I find expensive, my pockets being fairly shallow at the best of times. There are many kits and component parts available in specialist shops and on the internet. Where 0 gauge really comes into it's own is in it's suitability for scratchbuilding and I have to admit that 0 gauge rolling stock makes a very impressive sight when seen in action and modelled by someone who knows what they are about. 0 gauge is of course well suited to the outdoors and makes a splendid addition to any garden. If your cheque book does extend to 0 gauge then there is a new flexible track from Peco which will make the life of a beginner much easier.

00 Gauge which is 4mm scale, 16.5mm gauge and 1:76

This is a British system only, although it has many followers in various parts of the world, especially Australia. The most common of the model railway scales in the UK. It is very well catered for commercially both on the RTR market and with kits of every description. This is the scale you will find in the 'train sets' that are bought every christmas for children all over the country. Boxed train sets can sometimes be a good buy for the modeller too, as occasionally the set is cheaper than if the different bits were bought separately. If, like myself, you live on the continent then everything has to be done through the post or over the internet  from the UK.

H0 Gauge which is 3.5mm scale, 16.5mm gauge and 1:87

This is the scale that most of the rest of the world uses and you will notice that the gauge is the same as 00. This ratio of scale and gauge is more exact then 00. Very well catered for locos and rolling stock but with maybe fewer kits and component parts available in the UK. The USA and Europe has a dream market for H0. Trains in this scale will run quite happily on 00 gauge track and because the continental and American trains are bigger than ours a lot of the time the fact that they are built to a smaller scale, 3.5mm, will not be so obvious. Sounds ideal, I hear you say, why bother with 00 if H0 is more accurate and so many people use it? Good question but with an easy answer, H0 hardly caters at all  for the British outline scene. You may well see the label 00/H0 on a boxed train and this means that the model inside the box will run on both 00 and H0 track but the model itself is built to a scale of 4mm, ie. 00.

N Gauge which is 9mm gauge and 1:148

This is the smallest of the scales we are going to be dealing with, although there are smaller. More and more equipment is coming on the market for this scale as it gains popularity in leaps and bounds. A couple of the main reasons for this is firstly it's size, you can get so much more in a given space with N gauge, and secondly the vast improvement in both the models themselves and their running qualities. The down side of this smallness is the more difficult task that scratchbuilders have in building locomotives and other rolling stock. In fact it may well be that N will overtake 00 in popularity as the space advantage is a very big one in this age of ever smaller houses. Personally I will stick with 00, both for it's larger models and the ease with which scratch building can be carried out.

Narrow Gauge :

Not confined to any particular scale or gauge but is a combination of two of them and is an increasingly popular area to be working in. Not really for the beginner but if you really, really like the look of it then why not. The two most popular narrow gauge combinations are probably 00/H0 on N gauge 9mm rails and gauge 0 running on 00/H0 16.5mm rails. There are kits available but not that many. When I say kits I mean for rolling stock , as narrow gauge is identical in all other respects with it's other scale brothers. This means that if you are modelling 4mm scale rolling stock on N gauge track then all else on your model is built to 4mm scale. The same goes for 0 gauge 7mm scale rolling stock on 00 16.5mm track, everything else is built to 7mm scale. One of the big advantages of these different scale/gauge combinations is that of space saving. If modelling in 0n30, for example, your scale is 7mm, which would normally be 0 gauge and taking up a lot of room, not to mention expense, however you will be using 16.5mm track so the space taken would be the same as if you were using 4mm 00 gauge.
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Layout Design.

You should now know what it is that you want to build and the Scale & Gauge, so designing a layout to fit your requirements is the next step forward. The following remarks apply to all scales and gauges. We start off with choice of track because your choice here will decide what you can and can't do on your layout plan. The reason for this being that set-track, for example, as it's name suggests, comes in preformed curves taking up an unalterable amount of space and this needs to be taken into consideration when drawing out your plan.

What Type Of Track?

There are three main choices here for the beginner, set-track, that's the type found in train set boxes, flexible track, and the make your own variety. Unless the beginner is already an experienced modeller in another field it would be unusual to start with hand made track.
Starting with set-track there are various manufacturers to choose from with quite a wide price differential. The continental manufacturers are very good with their set track components. Set-track's biggest advantage is that it can be taken straight from the box, clicked together in the formation that you want and there you are. The straights will be kink free and the curves won't derail your ready to run stock. You know your trains are going to run on it ok because that's what it was designed for. It's also a big advantage to have it ready ballasted, some manufacturers are better than others at this but you would have to compare for yourself. Simplicity in wiring is the name of the game here, especially when it comes to complicated point formations as the trackwork is usually ready wired and can come complete with motor to operate it. With regard to comparative costs much would depend on the size of railway you are going for but a quick tour of the manufacturers on line sites will soon show how much you can expect to pay for what you want to do.

Next we come to flexi track and for most beginners, again it doesn't matter much which scale you have chosen, this would probably be one of the Peco products. The track itself comes in yard lengths and needs care in laying both straight, curved and parallel lengths. Not that this is a difficult job, and Peco supply a cheap gauge to make life easier for you, it's just that you can't just plonk it down as you can with the set-track. A big advantage with flexi track is that it can be laid to curves of your choice with infinite variations. From really sharp, usually hidden, corners, to gently flowing curves which please the eye. Depending on the intricacy of your plan the wiring can become quite complicated, and with normal DC operation there will be a lot of it, unless you have the simplest of layouts. The pointwork, of which there is a wide variety to choose from, is fairly easy to lay and can be operated by several methods which I will go into elsewhere. Overall cost is quite reasonable, especially if using a lot of straight lengths, which can be bought in 25 yard packs. If you are designing a small layout then you might think that 25 yards, or 75 feet, is one hell of a lot of track but it can be surprising how quickly even a small layout can devour track footage.

Finally we come to the hand made track. There is no doubt that this is the way to go for a far more accurate representation of prototype rail. You would have complete freedom of scale and gauge, and, given the necessary skill, pointwork of any style you wanted. You could build your track to fit the situation, as in real life, rather than making the situation fit the track. There is a reasonable choice of track making components on the market and various societies which supply components for the various scales and gauges as well as all the help you would need if you got into difficulties.

That, broadly speaking is that. I have tried not to show a particular preference for any of the above as this will be a personal choice for the modeller to make. Having said that the section on track laying will only be dealing with flexi track because that is my track of choice and the only one I have any experience of. Set-track doesn't need much of an explanation and I have no inclination for hand made track as I am quite happy with the appearance of the track I use.

The Layout Plan Itself.

If you get carried away this part can take weeks as each successive effort brings out more ideas, and therefor more alterations, to the master plan. Not that there is anything wrong with this as a great deal of pleasure can be derived from the planning stage of any model railway. Of course this only applies if your layout is going to be a freelance one. If you are modelling a particular prototype then the plan, with necessary modifications, is already done for you. A good idea for the beginner is to invest a couple of quid, or less, in either Cyril Freezer's book "60 Plans For Small Locations" or "Track Plans For Various Locations" by the same author. Preferably get both as they are so informative and cheap. (the books are mentioned in "Books & Magazines" ). Here will be found a multiplicity of plans useful to the beginner, plans that have been tried and tested by thousands of modellers over many years.

When transferring your ideas to paper you must remember to allow plenty of room for turnouts as, in 00 for example, each turnout takes about 9" of space so if you are using a simple crossover that's 18" of your valuable real estate gone. The same applies to curves, be as generous as you possibly can as this will more than repay you with smooth, easy running of your stock. Don't be tempted to make that curve just a little bit tighter then it will all fit. If you do that then as sure as eggs is eggs the first train that tries to negotiate that curve will be off the rails. I believe Peco will supply, free of charge, paper templates of their turnouts which you can then lay out on a full size plan, or directly on your baseboard top, if you have got that far. Using set-track does alleviate some of the planning problems in that you know the dimensions of the curves that are available and they will either fit into your space or they won't. You may also find that set-track turnouts are shorter than the flexible track kind.

Being a cheap skate I cut up varying widths and lengths of corn flake packets to represent track and turnouts and then lay them out as shown in the photograph. Although not 100%accurate it does show me when a thing is definitely a no no. If things start looking a bit tight then I take a lot more care with laying the card out.

If you are at the paper and pencil stage then a good idea is to draw the thing out full size on the back of an old or very cheap roll of wallpaper. You can also see then how long a platform you need to accommodate the length of trains you want to run. Bear in mind that in 00 a 4 coach train needs a good five feet of platform length, unless you don't mind your passengers having a long drop when they step out of their carriage. This only applies of course with bogey coaching stock and if you also want to have the locomotive alongside the platform. If your railway is using the old 4 and 6 wheelers then you will need much less. Less still if yours is going to be an industrial or goods line only. If a fiddle yard is part of your plan then you must also make it long enough to accommodate the length of trains you intend running
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Hints & Tips.

A list of a lot of little things that may help with saving time and money and in the process maybe add to your modelling skills and the things you are able to achieve. The materials listed here, and their usage, will also be found under the 'Materials' heading.


Help With The Small Things.


Bluetac : Very good for holding things temporarily in place, or even permanently in some cases. I use a tiny little spot under the feet of my figures so that they can easily be moved to new locations without marking the original spot.
Brick Bonds : An illustrated guide to the diferent brick bonds that scratchbuilders might find useful.
Buttons : Good for many kinds of wheels, pulley's etc.

Chalk : In various colours can be ground up and used for weathering.
Coffee grounds : Keep these and dry them out and the result makes a very good scatter material.
Containers : You will need containers of all shapes, sizes and materials for all the bits and pieces that you will inevitably collect. You can't have too many, believe me.
Craft knives : You don't have to lash out here with the big bucks to get you started. Try the plastic ones with the snap-off blades that are sold in all the tool places.
Cutting mats : Again not essential but they are kind to your craft knives.

Double sided tape : If you get a short length of this material and stick one side onto a flat surface, thick card, wood or similar, then the exposed sticky surface is ideal for standing your small people and animals on whilst painting them. When the paint is dry the figures are easily plucked off the sticky surface. The piece of tape can be used time and again. You could of course use any sticky tape and just apply a little glue to the tape backing to attach it to your holder with the sticky side up.

Florists Wire : Brilliant for making tree trunks in any scale also for hand rails, signal operation, fencing wire etc. Comes in varying thicknesses.

Glass work surface : I use an old piece of plate glass off a discarded coffee table but for many years I used the side window from a scrapped car. Makes a very good work surface, flat and level. Easy to clean off dried paint and glue.

Help from Fellow members, don't be shy, ask away !

Kebab sticks : Good for telephone posts, ground posts, fence posts, canopy supports, hand rails etc all depending on the scale you are working in.
Keep it clean : This doesn't just apply to the track and rolling stock wheels but to the whole layout. Don't let bits of rubbish and dust accumulate as it's the first thing that viewers see, either of the layout itself or in any photographs you take.
Knife Blades : Try and get into the habit of putting the blade cover back on when you have finished using it, or sliding the blade back into it's holder. These blades are deadly when they come into contact with the users flesh.

Matchsticks : Same as kebab sticks, again depending on scale, wagon loads of cut timber, timber stacks in yards, it's imagination time. Matches come in a wide range of thickness.
Masking Tape : Has a textured surface that takes paint well, good for wagon and truck covers.

Old track : Keep the rails for old girder work, abandoned rail lengths in old workshops, scale dependent once more.

Paint brushes : Take great care of these, cheap or expensive. Don't let them dry out whilst dirty. The cheaper ones are good for 'sweepìng up' in odd corners and cleaning dust off locomotives, or anything else on the layout.
Paint Stripper : Want to get rid of that old colour scheme on your model then use this.
Painting Figures : Click on the link for an excellent article on painting the r layout. Painting Figures
Peco point motor mounting : When mounting the motor from beneath the baseboard through the large hole that is needed all your ballast can soon vanish through it. So before clicking the four legs of the motor to the point lay a thin piece of card over the hole and pass the legs through that before clicking to the point. Paint the card first, roughly the same colour as your ballast.
Pegs : Can be used as clamps for the not too delicate work.
Pencil - soft : A really soft pencil can be used as a simple weathering agent, just run the pencil over your object and then gently rub the lines with your finger.
Press studs : Come in different sizes and make excellent wheels. Depending on scale they could be for hand trucks,  luggage trollies, hand wheels, steering wheels, wheels on cranes, small wagons and much more.

Sawdust : It's uses are extolled elsewhere, under 'Projects'  'Scatters' , but do keep a bag  handy even if you are not going to use it straight away.
Shay Tips : Improvements to the Bachmann Shay.
Shellac : Use for sealing PVA joints and weatherproofing your card models.
Soldering :  Help with this most necessary of tasks on the model railway. Click on the link.
Soldering Guide : More information on this necessary skill.
Sticky labels : Similar or same as the kind you stick on food bags. Apart from their obvious use to tell you what is in your boxes they are great for window frames and bars as they slice very easily when laid on a sheet of glass, good for all scales.
String : The very thin kind can easily be made to represent hose pipes when painted as well as ropes and cables. Scale dependent again for string size.
Suede brush : The metal kind that is. Brilliant for cleaning off rolling stock wheels.
Syringe : I use one of these to place my 50/50 water/PVA glue to stick down scatter and ballast, very precise in use. I use a thicker needle for the glue and a very fine one for placing small drops of oil accurately.

Tea bag strings : The strings that come with some tea bags are the ideal size for thick and thin ropes in both 00 and N gauges.
Tea leaves : Same as coffee grounds. When dried very good as a scatter. material.
Tips & Tricks : Dozens of them from a Wargamers site. Many of them good for us.
Tips : Ten good ones. An American site but applicable to all.
Tissues : Apart from wiping up a spilt mess, good for paint brush wiping, making curtains and frosted glass for your windows.
Toilet paper : As above but cheaper.
Toothpicks : As match sticks and kebab sticks. Different scales, different uses but all good. Apply minute blobs of glue, grease or oil.
Track cleaning : People use many things but some of the most common are a soft bit of cloth moistened with rubbing spirit or meths, the Peco, or other type, track cleaning rubber, which I favour myself. Or you can buy all types of things to either attach to your rolling stock and let that push it round the layout or there are purpose built trucks and wagons with the same purpose. Finally there is the electronic type which a lot of people swear by. Whichever you go for do not neglect track cleaning as it will make a world of difference to your rolling stock performance and don't forget the trucks and coaches, their wheels also get dirty.

Weathering : If you want to add a bit of weathering, making things look dirty or well used, things like pavements, walls, concrete etc then try this, it's FREE. Find a small glass container, or plastic, put some water in it and whenever you do any work with water colours, doesn't matter what colour, use the water in the container as the first cleaner for your paint brush. After awhile this water will become a muddy, grey, horrible messy colour but ideal for a spot of weathering. If whatever it is that you are weathering has highlights then put a wash of the mucky stuff on then lightly wipe it off again to see the effect.
Wheel cleaning : On trucks and coaches it is easy as the wheels are free moving but it can be difficult on power driven wheels. I use a shoe box full of soft cloth and turn the locomotive upside down on this and then I have a twin wire lead which I fasten to the live track with crocodile clips and the other two bared ends I touch to the motor's wheels to move them to a new position for cleaning.  For the cleaning itself I use an old metal suede brush.

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Useful Materials.

This is a list of materials that will find many uses in the construction of your model railway. Some will be obvious and some not so obvious. Most are easily obtainable and where they are more difficult I have tried to give a link to an online supplier. It's best to start getting together those that you think you may use sooner rather than later. A lot of them, and their usage, will also be found under the Hints & Tips heading.


Biro, Empty - Good for scribing brickwork on various materials.
Bluetac - I use minute blobs on the feet of my figures to stick on pieces of card while I paint them also to locate them around the railway.
Buttons : Great for wheels of all kinds as well as pulley's.

Cardboard - Start off collecting freebies. Have a look round the kitchen for cereal boxes and other packaging, some of it is of surprisingly high quality. The best quality you have to get from art shops, photographic suppliers, or printers.
Chalk - Coloured chalks, when turned into a powder, make a good weathering medium, not harsh in use.
Clear Plastic Sheet - Don't know the proper name for this but it is the stuff that is a 'window' in many boxes so that you can see what's inside without opening the box. Great for windows.
Coffee Grounds, dried - Great for use as scatters.
Containers, empty - Glass, plastic, cardboard, all kinds as you will be needing plenty to hold all your bits and pieces.
Copper Tape : Coming in lots of sizes on Ebay.
Cork - In sheets for rail underlay, makes for quieter running, offcuts can be ground up for ballast and coloured after laying.

Drinking straws - For pipes or tubing, depending on scale.
Dyes, different colours - For colouring sawdust.

Gum, liquid paper - For brickpapers and other light weight sticking jobs.

Humbrol Paints : Showing the range of Humbrol paints now under the Airfix banner.

Kebab sticks - For the BBQ but very useful to us as timber lengths, telegraph poles, posts, again depending on scale.

Labels, sticky - As well as the obvious use will also cut very thin with a sharp blade for window bars.

Masking Tape - As well as it's obvious use it has a handy texture for things like covers. Try painting a strip and let your imagination work on it.
Matchsticks - For posts, wagon loads, timber yard stacks and other things, depending on the scale you are using.
Metal Foil : Excellent material for adding that metal finish to your plastic models.
Metals : Angles, tubes and shets, different sizes from Terrain Warehouse.
Micro Krystal Clear : Very handy glue type substance that makes great small windows.
Milliput - A two part epoxy very useful for modelling all kinds of things from people to chimney pots. Sets rock hard.

Paints - water colour, acrylic, enamel, emulsion, all kinds for different jobs but only in smallish quantities.
Paper - Of reasonable quality, for rolling into tubes of all types.
Paper - Waterproof - For Inkjet and laser printers. A UK supplier.
Paper - Waterproof - For Inkjet and laser printers. A USA supplier.
Plaster - I use both plaster of paris, for fine work, like casting, otherwise any cheapo stuff. Good for ground cover, hill sides, casting almost anything, a hundred uses around the layout.
Plywood Sheets : Ideal for modelling in thickness from 0.4mm and 305mm x 305mm.
Polythene Bags - Freezer bags or the like as more containers for scatter etc.
PVA, white wood working glue - Obviously for woodwork and as one of the best adhesives for card modelling.

Sand, fine - Another good scatter and for use on river banks or country roads.
Sawdust - Has many uses as will be seen elsewhere on the site.
Shellac - Either dry flakes, to mix yourself with methylated spirits, or ready mixed button polish or knotting. There are two links on the suppliers page from AG Woodcare and Tiranti
String - The very thin kind. Makes good hose pipes when it is coloured appropriately, depending on scale.
Suede Brush - Very handy for cleaning rolling stock wheels.

Tea bag strings - Handy for ropes, cables etc, scale dependent.
Tea leaves, dried - Start drying out those used tea bags. Makes great earth scatter and as an addition to ballast.
Toothpicks - Same as for matchsticks depending on shape. Some have fancy ends.
Toilet Roll - Keep handy on the work bench to mop spills up and wipe paint brushes on. The plain kind also makes excellent curtains in all scales.

UHU glue - Or similar, stringless preferably.

Varnish - both gloss and matt, usually in small quantities and not at the beginning unless you are going to varnish your baseboard as added protection.

Wire, florists - Makes excellent tree formers, point rodding, hand rails, fencing, railings, again scale dependent. Comes in various thicknesses.
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Here you will find a list of tools you will need for your workbench. Some of them will be more of an added bonus but the majority will be the ordinary tools that most people will already have and if not then easy to procure. As with most tools however it is always true that the more you can afford the better the tool will be and the longer it will last. The tools printed in blue are the usual links that will take you to the various sites for the tools involved.


Artists Pen : Lining Pen. Excellent for lining and drawing stright lines on anything.
Chopper : A great tool for rapid and accurate cutting of wood, Styrene strip & rod and small profiles.
Clamps of various sizes - At a push in some cases you can use a clothes peg but there are many small plastic clamps on the market today and they too can come packed by the half dozen. Make sure you get the type where the jaws are parallel to each other.
Clamp Stands : To go with the item shown below.
Clamps : For painting models.
Corrugated Iron Tool : Neat tool for making corrugated iron. For H0, N and 0 scales.
Cutting Pad - Not essential, especially if you are using a glass modelling surface but they are kind to blade edges and last a long time.
Craft knives - This is one area where you can save money at first because although the blades on cheap knives are inferior and won't last very long they are still sharp enough for the job while they do last and you get a lot of blades for your money. These are the snap off type that come in a plastic holder.
Drill - Electric :  preferable but not essential.
Drill Bits - Various sizes for most materials, metal, wood and walls.
Drills - How to sharpen them.
Electrostatic Grass : Do it yourself application tool. Fellas on the forum have made this so it works.
Empty biro - The tip makes a different type of scriber.
Files - Again of various sizes and cuts.
Fretsaw : Very handy for cutting out those awkward shapes. Of course you could just avoid the awkward shapes.
Gauges - Back To Back : For O, 00 finescale, 00 universal, EM & Protofour, scroll down the page.
Geometry set - The ones sold for school children will be adequate.
Grassinator : Static grass applicator from Ztrains.
Guillotine Type 1 : Specifically designed to enable you to cut to repeatable lengths of plastic strips such as Styrene, Plasticard, Evergreen or Plastrut.
Hammer - Obvious again.
Hot Wire Cutters : For polystyrene and foam.
Kitchen Roll - As above and to wipe up other messes, of which there will probably be a lot if you are anything like me.
Mini Drill : A very handy item indeed and one which comes quite cheaply nowadays.
Multimeter : How to use one. Clear instructions for this very useful tool.
Needle Files : These usually come in a pack of varying cross sections for different jobs.
Nibbler : Makes inside cuts in plastic and metal easy. Very useful for the scratchbuilder.
Paint brushes - Like the craft knives you don't have to spend a lot of money at first as the brushes will be used mainly on rougher work. Available on sheets at many cheapo shops.
Painting Stand Set : For spray work. Tamiya
Pens and Pencils - Obvious.
Right Angled Drill Attachment : This very handy gadget lets you into those awkward places.
Ruler - Metric or otherwise, depends what your preferred unit of measurement is, in most cases today that will be metric.
Rulers :  In scales 0, H0, N, H0n2 and H0n3.
Sandpaper - In various grades, can be good for road surfaces, depending on grade and scale of model, as well as it's more obvious use.
Sandpaper : Everything you ever wanted to know about sandpaper. Important for scratchbuilders.
Saws - Both woodworking and metal cutting.
Saws Razor - All types for modelling purposes.
Scissors - For their obvious uses.
Screwdrivers - You will need at least a couple, preferable with exchangeable bits, also very small ones for the more delicate jobs.
Set Square - Obvious uses for baseboard building and squaring up anything from platform edges to building sides.
Spirit level - Essential for baseboard and track laying.
Soldering iron - I can't really give advice here as I use a soldering gun but I can say that you need a lot of heat as quick as you can get it. Don't forget the damp sponge to clean the tip with.
Solder Sation : Very nice tool from Maplins and on offer at the moment.
Steel straight edge - Essential when using sharp blades.
Steel scriber - For scribing plaster or card work.
Super Spray : A paint spraying system from Phoenix Paints which uses cigarette lighter gas.
Superstrip : Strip the paint from your plastic models, can be used over and over again. From Phoenix Paints.
Tapping Drill Sizes : The tables accessible from this page cover both imperial and metric threads commonly available.
Toilet roll - Wiping your paintbrush, the plain kind also makes good window curtains or frosted glass.
Track Cutter - Xuron - I have no experience of this tool but it has an excellent reputation and if you have to do much track cutting could prove a good investment. Click on the link for more information and price.
Tweezers - Sprung : A very useful tool from Maplin's. Self gripping, handy for soldering.
Wheel Puller :  Suitable for H0 and 00 wheels. A very nice, well made addition to your toolbox.
Wire Strippers - Some people never use them while others wouldn't be without. Click on the link below for a precision wire stripper.
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Barchester is in the usergroup ‘Super-moderators’
Holding post, work in progress, nearly there


Wasnie me, a big boy did it and ran away

"Why did you volunteer ? I didn't Sir, the other three stepped backwards"
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