Over the past 50 years, on the building of a model railroads either for myself or for other people, I have learnt many aspects of model making. One aspect is, you never stop learning. I still am.

When I first started into the realms of Railroad Modelling, the knowledge I gained from watching other people work gave me much pleasure.  The questions I asked, of these people I watched, must have run into the thousands. All were very helpful in putting up with this very young teenager who wanted a railroad for himself.

What I have learnt over these last 50 years has given me much more pleasure than you could imagine. Now, I would like to share that knowledge with you.

This is going to be an in depth study into how to improve your skill level by either laying track for bullet proof running or making  scratchbuilt structures plus  - Tree making  - Track ballasting   -  Lighting (for that theatrical approach) and to photographing the layout, when all is ready. Whatever the subject, I’ll try and deal with it in as much detail as possible. Okay, lets make a start.

 The  Woodwork for open grid baseboards

All wood used in the making of a baseboard has got to last for years, so get the best wood possible. Seasoned wood is the best, as it will not warp. The size of the wood is also important, I, like most other enthusiasts, use 3” or 4” by 1” for all main frames. 2” by 2” I use for the legs. The meaning of open grid baseboards means just that. If your baseboard size is an 8’ by 4’ your open framing will be every foot. This allows you to build below as well as above the baseboards for scenic details. More on this aspect a little later. See fig 1 for a drawing of the open grid baseboards.

Fig 1

Represents one 8’ by 4’ layout.

The size of your layout might not be an 8’ by 4’; it might be smaller or larger. Whatever size you make it, just make sure that the open grid baseboards are spaced at one-foot intervals. Or at least no more than 18"


The black squares in the corners and around the edges represent the 2” by 2” square legs.

There are various ways to make your Benchwork from Lgirder to cookie cutting. I use a similar method to Lgirder inasmuch as I use stilts on an open grid to raise the main baseboard above the framework to allow scenery to be built below tracks. Also I very often use cookie cutting. For my cookie cutting, I nearly always use ˝” Chipboard with ˝” insulation screwed to it. For my logging layout, there were occasions were I needed to raise the tracks quite sharply, in this case I would just use 1/8" plywood with the ˝” insulation board glued to the plywood. I tend to use a combination of stilts to raise the main board and cookie cutting to raise track work. Photos show both stilts and cookie cutting methods.

There are a number of ways to place "Stilts" to the main frame for raising the track bed up. 1 is to just use some 2" X 1" and clamp it in place - screw it in, as per photo below.

The other way and probably the best is to use a cutout stilt. These are cut from 2" X 2" timber with a slot to sit on the main base boards, once screwed together, they will never move.

This is my main frame "below", showing just the legs and open grid, at 12" X 18", this is now ready to add the stilts to raise the first level of track work. Also enables scenery to be built below. I shy away from angled bracing as I may from time to time have the need to crawl underneath it. That why I use the brace behind leg and main beam. (Photo above)

Three photos show various stages of cookie cutting, "A" shows the 1/8" plywood  and 1/2" Insulation side by side ready for gluing. "B" shows it in place and ready to be lifted on stilts. "C" shows it in place and ready for the track.

Once the baseboards have been made, you must now make a decision on what material you are going to use for the track bed. I personally use ˝” chipboard with ˝” insulation board (Sound Board) on the top. One reason is for strength (The chipboard) and the other (Insulation) for easy pinning of track pins when laying the track. Also using insulation board, (Sound Board)  makes for much quieter running.

Once the chipboard and insulation is in place, now is a good time to paint the insulation board an earth colour. Just use an ordinary household emulsion paint (Matte finish) 

Apart from anything else, the insulation board will be sealed and easier to cut and it looks nice also. Now on to laying the tracks, assuming you have a track plan in mind.

Track Laying

These are the tools needed to lay track.

Needle nose pliers

Small file

Rail cutters

Fine saw

600/800-grade wet/dry paper

Track gauge (Peco - RED)

2’ Metal ruler

Band-Aid (maybe)

Knife (Craft type)

Soldering gun and solder

Now all that remains is the type of track to use. Probably the best track and points to use in model railroading ( just my opinion) has got to be PECO, unless you require to make your own track.

 With PECO track and points, you have the added option of using either code 100 or Finescale code 75. for HO, and for N-scale they do the equivalent.  It really doesn’t matter which of the two you use, because by the time the track is ballasted, the entire track will look just fine anyway. Also by using PECO track and points, you will have the added advantage of being able to use the PECO PL10 point motor to fit underneath should you so wish to do so.  There is also another PECO addition which can be added to the PL10's, and that is the PL13. This is actually a switch  to enable lights to be turned on or off with the throwing of the point (Turnout). The PL10 fits under the PECO point (turnout) and then the PL13 fits under that. So once the point (Turnout) is thrown and the PL13 is in fact wired to say a signal light, it will change from Green to Red if that's what the colours are on your signal.

PECO also make set-track curves in various radii, which you could use instead of flexitrack.  Flexitrack to my mind is the best way to go as you can alter the shape in any way you desire. I have always used PECO electro frogs, (Live frogs) as they are really easy to use if you follow my wiring instructions. If you prefer to use the Insulated frogs for your railroad, then again, these work fine and only require two feeder wires to power up the tracks, plus of course additional wiring for any additional rail breaks which you may need.

. If you want to raise the track slightly to give the impression of a well-maintained main line, then I would use 1/16th cork sheeting. Whether you use the cork sheet or not, both ways of laying the track will look fine when it is ballasted. Okay, let me describe how I would lay one yard of track. First of all, with a sharp knife, cut off two of the end sleepers to allow the metal rail joiners to slip on easy. Do this at both ends. Now, after marking where you want your first piece of track to be laid, place a track pin at either side of the track on a sleeper (Tie), two sleepers in (Not in the middle as this will reduce the gauge slightly) Now with the needle nose pliers, press the track pins into the insulation board. At this stage please check that the pins have not bent down the edges of the sleepers. If they have, gently raise them up a little with the knife. At this stage, I assume that the track is a straight piece and not curved anywhere. If it is a straight piece, then lay the 2’ steel rule up to the sleepers so as to keep the track straight and the same distance from the edge of the baseboard. Move along to the end of the track and repeat the stage of track pinning. When both ends are done, make sure all is still straight with the steel rule and pin the rest of the track, every five inches or so, again checking that the pins haven’t gone too far down.

That’s the first piece down, now on to the next yard of track or maybe a point in you case. I don’t know, but which ever it is, the same method applies for laying trouble free running.

Lets for the purpose of instruction, lay another yard of track onto the first, and solder the two together. As with the first yard, snip off two sleepers from either end once again. Place metal rail joiners on to the new piece of track and place it at the end of the first piece of track. Now very carefully, making sure that the track is flat on the insulation board, bring it into the first piece of track. Don’t lift it as you bring it into the other rails as you will bend the metal joiners and cause derailments at a later date. Just be careful, and take your time. At this stage, sight down the two pieces of track and make sure that the two are in fact straight, if they are, then pin the second yard down as you did the first one. After which you can solder the joints for good electrical contact.

If you have never soldered rail joints before, then here is how it’s done. My soldering gun is of the instant type, press the trigger and it’s on. Some others need time to heat up. Which ever type you use, make sure it’s hot and ready for use. Here goes. - With the gun hot, place the tip of the gun or iron onto the rail joiners and apply the solder to the rails, not the gun or iron, if the gun is hot enough, the solder will flow underneath the metal joiners for a good connection.

Remember the 600/800-grade wet/dry you bought, use a small piece and gently go over the top of the rails to clean them off. Now run your fingers along the tops of the rails. If there are any height differences, now is the time to file it down a little then go over it once again with the 600/800 wet/dry. When you file the track, just file one way, not backwards and forwards. Don’t forget to run your fingers inside the track as well. This is what is called Bullet Proofing the track. As a further check that the two pieces of track a 100% right, grab one of your freight cars and roll it over the track joints to see if all is well. It should glide over the track like silk.

The same method applies for laying points, except not all points are in fact soldered because some will need plastic rail joiners so as not to get feed back from the controllers.

When buying PECO points, they all come with ample documentation as to how to wire them up, so there is no need for me to explain how this is done.

Lets now take the job of laying track a little further for track, which has to go around curves. This time, it is easier to solder two pieces of track together first before pinning it down. Just lay two yards of track down on a flat surface and join the tracks together then solder them as you did before, with the exception of the track pins, it is the same procedure. When the two are ready for use, just Pickup the two yards, one yard in each hand and very carefully bend the two halves together to form a horseshoe. Now lay the track down at the place you wish to join these tracks to, and you will notice that the ends of the tracks have staggered.   Don’t panic. Lay one end of the track onto the end of the ones previously laid, so that the horseshoe tracks overlay the old track. Now with a knife, make a cut mark over the longest rail and snip it off and file it up. This end is now ready to join to the other two. When all is pinned down, you will notice that once again at the other end, there is a staggered rail end,  mark with a knife the long end so it is the same length as the other one, then cut it off and file it. Once again, when all is pinned down use your fingers to check for any irregularities, if there are any, file them away and try you freight car once again. This is my method for fool proof running with no derailments. Your whole railroad depends on how well you lay your track & Points (Turnouts) so take great care laying each and every piece of track work.