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Canons Cross - Building the baseboard

09 August 2010

Baseboards are the foundation of any model railway and time spent producing a good base will be well rewarded. There are many different ways of making a baseboard but unless one is a carpenter, simplicity is the answer. The top (the surface on which the track is laid) needs to be flat and with as few joins as possible. There are various materials in sheet form all of which can usually be cut to size by the timber suppliers, though a small charge may be made if more than one cut is required. Many local builders’ merchants will do more without charge.

Materials not to be used are chipboard and MDF. These are both hard and heavy and it is difficult to pin track down. Hardboard is too thin and flexible as well as being too hard a surface. Block board is suitable except for its weight and cost. Plywood is the best and if possible it is better to use the more expensive but better quality ‘birch ply'.

Cheap plywood is not so stable (ie: it will  warp), has less strength at the edges and needs more care to get a decent finish. It pays dividends to use good materials for a long lasting baseboard. A simple way to make the frame is to use planed timber ensuring that there are as few knots as possible and it is straight. Best not to buy a pre-packed bundle from the major stores as you are likely to be disappointed in the quality.

Assuming the railway is going to be portable or transportable the size of each baseboard should be approximately 1,210mm x 600mm    (4’ 0” x 2’ 0”). The reasoning for this is that this size baseboard is not too heavy and will pack into many different makes of cars (saving hiring a van if you are thinking of taking it to exhibitions).

The depth of the board (excluding the model railway) will be about 80mm (3½”) deep. The sides, ends and cross brace are made from 71mm x 21mm (3” x 1”) planed timber which is usually finished in metric sizes, the imperial measurements being nominal so the finished product is slightly smaller. To strengthen the corners 34mm x 34mm x 70mm (2¾” x 2¾” x 1¼”) square blocks are used to join side and ends by gluing (PVA) and screwing from both sides and ends.

These blocks are as long as the depth of the side members. At this stage do not fit the middle cross member because it may not have to be in the centre to avoid turnouts on top of the board. Also two 10mm diameter holes need to be drilled in the cross pieces before fixing, this is for the wiring going from one end of the board to the other. These holes are to one edge approximately a third of the way in from each end and are fixed to the top edge just under the ply top. Again this will be discussed later on.

The ply top is glued and pinned on with panel pins or moulding pins. To give a flat and smooth surface the panel pins need to be punched just below the surface. The easiest way to do this stage is on the floor unless there is a large flat suitable area available. This method should ensure the resultant board is flat. The diagonal cross brace between the legs on board ‘C’ must be measured to fit. This brace is to steady the layout longitudinally.

There are various methods of raising the baseboards off the ground. Height is whatever suits the builder but layouts that are taken to exhibitions are usually approximately one metre high. The baseboard can be put onto trestles or something similar to a ‘Workmate’ but this will be expensive as several will be required. It is fairly easy to make ‘A’ frame type trestles but this is not the most rigid method of erecting a layout. The way the BRM layout will be supported is that one baseboard will have four legs while the others will have two legs and ‘piggy back’ onto it. The four legged base board would be one of the middle ones. This method means that only one board requires four legs and the remainder only need two each.

It is important, especially when the layout is portable, that the legs are detachable - it is also one of the easiest methods of fixing legs. The legs consist of 34mm x 34mm x 1000mm (1¼” square x 39”) verticals and 6mm (¼”) 50mm (2”) wide cross members thus two legs and the cross members make an ‘H’. To fix these legs to the base board a pocket is made in each corner consisting of a similar block to the corner pieces but spaced so the legs slot into the space between. To ensure that the legs are rigid and do not fall out when the layout is lifted a bolt is inserted through the edge of the board and the legs secured with a washer and wing nut. For added rigidity the base board with four legs has a cross brace between the legs on one side at an angle making a triangle.

Joining the baseboards together uses an easy and simple method. By using 75mm removable pin hinges one half of the hinge is fixed on the side piece end and the other on the next board and the hinge pin joins or separates each board from the other. The removable pin on these hinges may be very stiff to move and a suitable large nail can be substituted. A bolt, washer and wing nut is inserted between the two boards to stop them accidentally pulling apart. It is useful to have all nuts and bolts the same length and thread to enable full compatibility. For uneven floors, packing pieces (ie: 6mm ply off cuts) or leg adjusters may be necessary to keep the layout level.

If the layout is to be packed up for transportation ‘end boards’ will be required. These boards are plain 6mm plywood and fit on to each end with the bolts used for joining the boards together when the layout is being used. These boards join two sections of the layout, one on top of the other and are bolted on each end. The depth of the end boards is dependent on the height of the scenery on each section so that there is sufficient distance between them so that nothing on the layout will be damaged.

All the woodworking requires basic hand tools and assumes that an electric drill is available. If more advanced tools are to hand such as an electric saw this would speed up the proceedings. Jigs could be made for the repetitive jobs, such as drilling holes for screws and cutting the blocks. All holes should be drilled and counter sunk with pilot holes for the screws.
A small base will be required for the control panel. This will be similar to a small table as it is required to be fitted on either side of the layout (depending on home or show operation) and needs to stand alone but will be clipped onto the baseboard to ensure stability.

Note that the actual size of the control stand is dependent on the size of the control panel. There is a shelf on the lower cross braces for the storage of transformers. It is advisable to bolt the control panel onto the baseboard to ensure stability. One bolt in a suitable position will suffice.

Cutting list

Following a practical hobby such as railway modelling implies that you will, at some stage, be spending a considerable amount of money on your pastime. This will have an important effect on what you can or cannot achieve - for example, it is no good deciding on building a large layout if you do not have a large budget. In other words be realistic as to what you can comfortably afford (or are allowed to spend by the household authorities!). It is all too easy when thinking about beginning a new layout to get carried away with the planning and forget what it might all actually cost, so it is a good idea at an early stage to think about setting a budget.

Don’t forget to add into your budget easily overlooked items such as PVA glue, track pins, knife blades, paint, scenic scatter, layout wire, etc. These can often mount up to a considerable sum, and many modellers often forget to cost them into the list of requirements when putting a budget together.

The estimate for the overall cost of building Canons Cross is in the region of £700-£800, plus the cost of rolling stock. Expenditure can be spread over many weeks/months as not all the components will be needed at once. The probable breakdown of expenditure would be baseboards, track, electrical items and scenery.

Building the baseboards will be the time when most of the costs are incurred in a short time but after that the expenditure can be spread over a longer period of time. However, after the layout is built there is still value sitting around, whereas with money spent on many other hobbies there is nothing to show for the time or money spent other than memories. The amount of time spent building the layout will vary depending how often work is carried out, but it will give many hours of pleasure during its construction.

Parts for a baseboard, cut to size, ready for assembly A completed board with wiring holes in the centre
A leg is temporarily used to position the leg pockets The blocks are glued and held in position, until set
The clamps are removed and pilot holes drilled Fixing the block in place and marking the bolt hole
Once aligned, drilling through the frame and leg The leg firmly bolted in place in the leg pocket


Hand saw
Screw driver (Phillips or Flat depending on type of screws used)
Nail punch
Electric drill
Drill bits (for screws and bolts) - sizes 6.5mm, 4mm and 2mm
Countersink bit
Glass paper


6mm Birch plywood
2 sheets 2,400mm x 1,200 (8’ x 4’)

PSE Softwood

12 off 2.4m lengths 71mm x 21mm (3” x 1”)
7 off 2.4m lengths 34mm x 34mm (1¼” x 1¼”)  
1 off 1.8m length 50mm x 20mm (2” x 1”)
1 off 1.8m length 15mm x 34mm (5/8” x 1¼”)
Second sheet of ply and timber off cuts will provide material for control panel and some end boards.

PVA Glue

5/8” Panel pins
94 off 1¼” No.6 countersunk screws*
56 off  ¾” No.6countersunk screws*
22 off M5 70mm long bolts
(roofing type with large round heads slotted)
22 off M5 washers
22 off M5 wing nuts
3 pair 75mm removable pin hinges     

* It may be cheaper to purchase a box of 200 screws


Plywood         £25.00 per sheet
71mm x 21mm timber      £6.00 per 2.4m length
34mm x 34mm timber    £4.00 per 2.4m length
20mm x 50mm timber    £2.00 per 1.8m length
15mm x 34mm timber    £2.00 per 1.8m length
Hinges         £2.00 per pair
Nuts, bolts, washers     50p per set (N, B,  W)
PVA Glue         £3.50 (also used for scenery)
Screws         £3.00
Pins         50p

TOTAL COST:        £177.00


(All Peco)
20 yards Code 100 ‘Streamline’ track    
Electro-frog medium radius code 100 points
8 Left-hand (SL-E96)
8 Right-hand (SL-E95)
1 L/H Catch Turnout (SL-85)
16 Point motors (PL-10)
(Additional motor for catch point if required)
6 Point motor adaptor bases (PL-12)
3 Packs nickel silver rail joiners (SL-10)
2 Packs insulated rail joiners (SL-11)
1 Pack track pins (SL-14)
4 Buffer stops (SL-40)

Green, yellow and grey wire
(see materials listed under ‘Wiring the Layout’)
2mm thick cork underlay
PVA glue


In addition to the tools already listed before
Small fine-toothed razor saw
Small hand-held drill or low voltage hobby drill
2mm drill bit
4mm drill bit
Pin hammer
Small craft knife
Small soldering iron, 25 watts max

To learn more about track laying on BRM's project layout, Canons Cross, visit here

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