Model Train Baseboards – The Foundation For Your Model Railroads Success!

Base boards are used for building your model train on. Your tracks are attached to this base board and your scenery is built on it. Once you have decided the size of the area you have to work with, then you can determine the size of your train models base board.

Other factors for choosing your trains’ base board are your budget and if it is going to be a fixed or portable set up. There are 5 popular materials that are used for building base boards for model trains. In this article you will learn about which ones they are along with their pros and cons.

Top 5 Materials for Making Quality Base boards

Plywood is a man-made board that is made out of thin wood layer sheets. The multiple layers are glued together and the outside sheets will have the grain running in the same direction. This design minimizes the board from warping. The glue used is a formaldehyde derivative, which means, you should always wear a mask when you are cutting this material.

Plywood is the preferred board material for model railroad base boards. It is durable, strong and can handle any changes in its environment (like moisture) that other materials can’t. There are 2 types of plywood:

  1. Birch Plywood – is extremely durable and tough. If you want the best this is it. When attaching your track with track pins to this material, because of its hardness, most likely you will need to pre drill the holes. The only downside to Birch Plywood is that it does cost more but experience railroaders know that it is well worth the extra cost.
  2. Far Eastern Plywood (FE Ply) – Because this plywood is less expensive to manufacture it does cost less. It is better than some other materials but it does not compare to Birch Plywood. You will find this plywood being used a lot with ‘DIY Shed Kits’. There have also been some reports of wood worm in this grade of plywood.

MEPS – this is also an engineered wood product. It is produced from softwood that has been turned into wood fibers. These fibers are held together with resin and wax and then formed into a board. Again, when cutting this board wear a mask as it also contains formaldehyde.

Both of these base boards will serve you well. They are both strong and do not warp or split. You will need to use power tools for cutting and drilling holes. If you are making a portable baseboard then keep in mind that these materials can be heavy to move.

Sundeala – This product is available in the UK. These boards are made from newspapers that have been recycled and are becoming popular with model railroaders for base boards. The plus sides of Sundeala boards are:

  • Easy to work with as they take track pins without drilling.
  • They are light in weight.
  • They can be cut and molded with a strong knife so no power tools are needed.

The downside of these expensive boards is their softness can break down easier. They are prone to break, crack, sag, curl on the edges and can swell from moisture.

If weight is your main factor then go ahead and use this board. But make sure you use 12″ centers for the underneath support frame as this will combat any sagging possibilities.

Particle Board (chipboard) – this man-made board is made from sawdust, sawmill shavings and wood chips. These materials are held with resin glue and compressed together. The way these boards are made makes them denser, cheaper, lighter and more uniform than plywood. But Particle Boards are a weak fiber and have the tendency to absorb moister.

You can easily combat this potential problem by simply sealing the board with oil based paint. Its low-cost does make it popular but serious railroad enthusiasts never consider using it.

MDF (Medium Density Fiber board) – this particle board has a hard smooth outside finish. Therefore it is used on things like; kitchen cabinets and highway road signs. The boards are a bit heavier than plywood and not as strong. So it needs to be on 12″ centers for the underneath support framing and you should never go below 12 mm in thickness.

As you can see there are several choices for building base boards. Your choice will most likely come down to these 6 questions:

  1. What tools are available for you to use.
  2. What conditions your railroad will be used in.
  3. The cost of the board material.
  4. The availability of the board material in your area.
  5. The size of the area you can set up your railroad.
  6. Is your railroad going to be a fixed or portable set up.