Model Structures Set Tone For Railroad Layout

Scale Structures


Kit-Bashing or

Scratch Building

Building dioramas and other model layouts that involve more than a single subject can get pretty involved and if you are talking more than 5 or 6 structures, can start to resemble a real estate investment. 

And it is worse than house hunting, you can never find the building model that is in your scale, has a footprint for the area you have available, serves a logical purpose, and has the look you want. 

You will find a variety of manufacturers work off the same plans storehouse and as a result, come up with kits that very closely resemble one another.

There are alternatives. 

Two of the most popular are kitbashing and scratchbuilding. A third player is cardstock modeling of buildings and other structures. These are available as downloadable products. They can be reduced or blown up to the scale you are working with and then assembled without much of a fuss. 

It is the building from scratch and altering of kits (usually plastic) that requires a little more thought and planning. 

Bear in mind that when it comes to model railroad layouts, the buildings serve the layout. In other words trains need a purposeful destination before track is laid.  You don’t lay track and then try to find a building that will fit a particular siding. 

At some point in the planning process the buildings and the tracks will need to come together. If you aren’t sure what will fit where pull together a list of the desired buildings complete with footprint dimensions. Cut the “footprints” out of cardboard locate them on the layout and then stream track in an around them.

Bashing A Kit 

This is a method I used successfully to create a railroad shed (right) and a granary for an N-Scale layout. I will to briefly cover kit bashing as it is similar to scratch building. In kit bashing I use parts from several kits to get a completely different structure.

Find a structure you want to build now what? All buildings can be broken down into smaller components, look at the overall building to see the logical breaks or boxes. Look to see how it would be built in the real world. Then put your model together the same way.

A dilapidated line shack
If you want to show the interior, you should finish that as well and make your roof removable. If you do not intend to finish the interior, it is much easier to do the roof. For removable roofs to look good, I have always built them with rafters and cross bracing to give them stability and strength.  

If you are kit bashing to produce a building you will need to have in mind the building purpose and ultimate sitting when you are trying to figure out what walls you can keep, which must go and how you will deal with the roof elements of the structure. 

Bear in mind the roof is of prime importance in a model because the viewer is looking down on the structure and sloppy fitting roofs will do more than leak. 

Given a plastic wall, brick, stone or clapboard, there isn’t much that can’t be used in some type of building so be careful what you throw away. A good junk bin is a modeler’s best friend. 

Building From Scratch

Compared to kit-bashing, scratch building structures offers a lot of individualism as modelers pretty much have their choice of materials for construction. Instead of using existing parts or complete kits. After kit-bashing a couple of buildings for my woodshed railroad empire in N Scale, I started one from scratch. This is a factory built to resemble one in Nashua, NH

 Building stock for scratch building can be plain sheets, strips, bars, tubes, rods, or even structural shapes such as L or T girders - stock can also be embossed or textured and even printed to reproduce a certain prototype material (such as plastic sheet embossed with grooves to mimic scale siding).

For example, to scratch-build a small board fence for a military diorama, modelers could use plastic rod stock or melted sprue (depending on scale) to form the vertical posts, then use plastic bar stock to form horizontal rails affixed to the posts, lay plastic strip stock vertically on the horizontal rails (distressed with a wire brush to mimic wood grain - additionally the modeler can use thin strips of actual wood), trimming the top and bottoms of the strips to be even, add detailing like nail holes (using a small pin), and then finishing and distressing (weathering, or making a model look like it has been used via dust, dirt, stains, and wear). Note that because of the ease in cutting, shaping, gluing, and finishing it, plastic is the favorite material of scratch-builders (who over the decades have used material ranging from wood and metal to foamboard and gravel).
There are several ways to create designs for scratch building projects ranging from scaling photographs to get accurate dimensions, but generally modelers gets plans of a prototype, or designs his own, transfers these plans to paper or other material as patterns (much easier since the arrival of household computer printers and copiers), and uses these patterns to cut, trim and affix the stock together to form the model. Finishing work (such as sanding and polishing, painting, weathering, distressing by forming dents and rust, dust, etc.) is done to complete the model and (hopefully) bring it to a life-like state.

Nashua's B&M Depot

Note: It is perfectly fine for the scratch-builder of today to use otherwise-hard-to-model commercial detail parts, such as window castings for structures, or wheels and tires assemblies for motor trucks, whenever possible - the base model, such as the walls and floors of the building, or the cab and chassis of the truck, or the sides, ends, and floor of the freight gondola's is what counts as scratch-building.

Make Sure Your Building Isn't Mortar Bored

You Can Save on Model Railroad Structures

There are many structure model kits in both wood and plastic you can use to grace your model railroad layout,dioramas, or even structures for slot car raceways. But the cost of these kits is increasing dramatically as the quality sharpens and details increase.

Increasingly, paper and cardstock structure models are offering a practical and economical alternative.

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