Hobbyists hoping to craft the most alluring and intricate landscapes and railway systems tend to build their own train tables. The baseboard is a crucial component of this setup, but choosing the best wood for model railway can be challenging. After all, you’re for something that’s both light and sturdy.
The best wood for a model railway baseboard is either a softwood or hardwood plywood sheet. These wood can be cut to size and are lightweight and sturdy enough to support model railways and their surrounding landscaping. Pine plywood is an affordable and accessible baseboard option.
If you’re considering building your own train table, you’ll want to ensure that you choose the best type of wood for your setup. Fortunately, several tried-and-true options are bound to be on-budget and durable.
Why Model Railways Need Baseboards?
Any model railway enthusiast can tell you that the baseboard is the foundation for everything. Your trains, landscapes, and models rely on a structurally sound baseboard to avoid sagging, sinking, and breaking.
Model railway baseboards are also created out of lightweight materials. Otherwise, the model train setup can be nearly impossible to move around your home.
Softer baseboard material is also easier to puncture with staples and nails. If you’re building a gorgeous landscape for your model railway to travel across, you’ll want to choose a baseboard material that’s easy to work with.
Hardwoods are heavy, making them the better choice for stabilization. However, plywood is lighter and softer, making it the better choice for portability and workability. As such, it’s almost always best to build your baseboard with plywood.
However, there are several types of plywood from which to choose. To choose a suitable material for your baseboard, you’ll need to compare the qualities, features, and prices of these different plywood types.
What are The Best Wood Types for a Model Railway Baseboard?
Lightweight plywood is the best building material for model railway baseboards. But there are multiple types of wood that are used to create plywood.
As such, you’ll likely need to choose from among the following three types:
While you could choose composite plywood, this type of wood is more likely to splinter under pressure than softwood options. Still, some types of softwood plywood are more flexible, affordable, and easily stained than others.
Additionally, hardwood plywood sheets could provide extra stability for heavier designs and setups with multiple lines and trains. The right option depends on your desired outcome, budget, and preferences.
If affordability is one of your top priorities, you might want to choose pine plywood. That’s because it’s one of the most budget-friendly types of wood. In addition, because it grows quickly and spreads easily across much of the Northern Hemisphere, pine lumber is nearly everywhere.
You can use a high-quality ½-inch (1.27 cm) pine plywood board for detailed landscape work and multiple railway lines. Slimmer options work better for collapsible tables and hand-painted surfaces. Overall, this wood type is compatible with nearly all train table projects and builds.
You may want to choose these nifty pine plywood planks if you’re working with a rectangular frame. They can be quickly cut to size and are supportive enough to form a strong baseboard for single-train tables.
- An excellent option for train table baseboards, frames, and legs
- One of the most affordable softwood plywoods
- Available at most lumber supply stores
- Sturdy enough to support multiple lines and heavy decoration
- Cheaper cuts can have warps, holes, or significant cracks
- Slim plywood sheets may bend under heavier rigs
Maple wood tends to feature a beautiful, delicate grain that easily stains. If you’re looking to build a rustic train table with plenty of natural charm, you may want to choose maple plywood.
This is hardwood, making it one of the more durable wood types and a solid option for larger setups. However, you can expect to spend a little more on this cream-colored wood than you would on alternatives like pine.
- One of the most naturally gorgeous types of plywood
- Stains and sands easily
- It has a natural light color that’s easy to paint
- Can withstand heavier setups and multiple model trains
- It can be costlier than pine plywood
- It may be too heavy for smaller train tables and setups
Besides pine, birch is probably the most budget-friendly and accessible type of plywood for model train baseboard building. They’re durable enough to support multiple train lines and plenty of decors.
However, birch can be tricky to stain. In addition, if you don’t sand your birch plywood, it can also be challenging to glue down materials. As such, this option may require a little more preparation than maple or high-quality pine.
Are you looking to build a large, sturdy baseboard for a multi-train table? If so, you may want to consider investing in these birch plywood sheets. You can form seamless connections by adhering them to a sturdy frame and joining their corners.
- One of the most popular hardwood plywood options
- Often less expensive than oak or walnut woods
- An excellent choice for heavy landscapes and decor
- It doesn’t stain easily
- May not accept adhesives as quickly as other wood types
How To Choose the Right Model Railway Baseboard Material?
Now that you’re familiar with different kinds of plywood, it’s time to review the four steps in choosing the best model railway baseboard material:
- Measuring your space
- Creating a design blueprint
- Browsing wood types
- Purchasing plenty of supplies
If this is your first carpentry-based project, you might feel unsure or a little overwhelmed. However, choosing the right type of wood for your model railway baseboard is as simple as the steps I’ve mentioned above.
I’ll quickly review these steps to ensure you feel more comfortable and confident about your baseboard build. As you might guess, the first thing you’ll need to do is figure out how large your baseboard needs to be.
1. Measure Your Space
Before you start building your model railway baseboard, you must determine how large your model railway will be. After all, the baseboard is the foundation for your model towns, landscapes, and railway lines. Therefore, its size can dictate the look and depth of your overall setup.
The best way to measure your space is to use a metal measuring tape. These extend and retract quickly, allowing you to get quick measurements. You’ll need to know how tall your table will be, as well as how wide and deep it will be.
Most model railway baseboards are square or nearly square, though you can build any shape that fits your home or game room. The ideal height for most model railway setups is about three feet.
Shorter boards can put too much stress on your lower back, especially during long hours of work. However, tall setups can also be challenging to work with, so it’s important to ensure that you’re placing your baseboard at a comfortable height for both standing and sitting.
2. Create a Design Blueprint
Before choosing a wood type, it’s a great idea to sketch a basic design for your baseboard. Do you know what you’d like your future model railway baseboard to look like? Be sure to consider the top of the baseboard as well as its support structure.
For example, the standard model railway consists of a top (baseboard), legs, and structural support beams. If you use a thick—more than 12mm (1.2 cm)—baseboard, it’s vital to ensure that your structure’s legs and supports are capable of supporting the weight of this wooden sheet.
If it’s your first time designing and building a model railway baseboard, you may want to take a little extra time to research standard building techniques and designs. After all, if you’re unfamiliar with basic carpentry, your first baseboard build can be a tad overwhelming.
A helpful book, such as Designing and Building Model Railway Baseboards by Ron Pybus, could be a great resource to help inspire and educate you on the basics of baseboard building.
After understanding the step-by-step process of building a sturdy model railway baseboard, you’re likely to feel more confident about choosing the right wood type.
3. Browse Wood Types
After deciding on your baseboard design, you want to choose your wood. Do you know what type of plywood would work best for your design, budget, and preferences? Remember, pine and birch tend to be affordable and accessible, though walnut and oak plywood may be slightly sturdier.
Still, the only way to figure out which type of wood is best for your build is to browse and compare the many plywood types. But there’s at least one guiding factor to keep in mind while shopping: The ideal model railway baseboard is between 9mm (0.9 cm) and 12mm (1.2 cm) thick.
4. Purchase Plenty of Supplies
It’s always better to have a little leftover material than to run out halfway through a project. Even if you’re confident in your measurements, it’s wise to purchase a bit of extra plywood. You never know just how crucial that extra inch or two can be while attaching your baseboard to a frame.
Besides, giving yourself a little material leeway is an excellent way to avoid last-minute shopping trips. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to return to a home improvement store in the middle of a build, only to find out that they’ve suddenly sold out of that one thing you need!