Choosing A Baseboard For Your Layout

When it comes to choosing a baseboard for your layout different modellers will have different considerations. Key factors in the choice include:

  • Weight
  • Cost & Budget
  • Ease of Assembly
  • Ease of Transport
  • Desired Size and Shape

I’ve tried an assortment of styles over time, and it’s fair to say some of them have been pretty poor. All that despite the best of intentions.

As a child my first baseboard was the cheapest and simplest I’ve ever had. And equally probably the cheapest and simplest you could ever get. I had at the time an 8′ x 4′ 00 gauge layout using a Hornby starter set. This was built on two 4′ x 2′ 10mm pieces of chipboard and joined together by a pair of hooks. Run quality was not the best but this certainly ticked the boxes for price and ease of assembly. At the end of a running session the buildings good be removed and boards stored pretty much anywhere.

From here I progressed to my first self build layout as an adult. However I use the term adult loosely. For what I wanted to achieve at the time the design was very naive and consisted of loft floor chipboard panels and 4″x2″ planed softwood.

Whilst the design was intended to be cheap and simple, the lofty ambitions of portability failed massively. Unless you are going for a static layout that is never to be moved I do not recommend this approach. The end result ultimately was a layout that was almost bomb proof and weighed a tonne. Certainly not the portable idea I was targetting

Light and portable.

To go lightweight and portable there is only really one solution, and that is plywood. A hybrid method combining PSE and a plywood top is a decent option and does not add to the weight too significantly. It also helps to keep the cost down.

To be truly light and portable though you can’t beat a full ply carcass and top, even if not always the easiest to cut. However, with the advances in modern technology there is a solution to this like most things.

Laser Cut Baseboards

Having learnt my lessons on previous layouts, you now won’t find me using anything else. In recent years there has been a surge in popularity for accurate laser cutting. Now, you can get build at home baseboard kits in almost any size and shape combination imaginable.

Assembly these kits couldn’t really be easier, and with the better quality ones you don’t even need any tools. Some would argue you can also just push fit with no need to glue. However I would not recommend that.

A quick google search for model railway baseboards returns a veritable feast of results, 136,000 when I did it just now. It is very easy to get lost in the pages of results and not be sure what you are looking for. Ultimately the only things I can recommend is 8mm thick boards, and keeping the section length to 120cm / 8ft.

8mm thickness will weigh more, and cost a bit more, that I cannot deny. What I can confirm though is I have ‘cut corners’ before on 6mm thickness and wished I hadn’t. I just found the quality of the 6mm ones a bit lacking. Something that was born out by a couple of the cross members snapping when I put too much pressure on them during assembly.

If as a modeller you have any desires for portability I would recommend sticking to 4ft sections, maybe 5 as an absolute maximum. Why? As well as being easier to carry, anything longer than 150cm / 5 ft is unlikely to fit in a car once built up. Suddenly you risk being into van hire territory, not somewhere I ever want to be again.

A key investment

Hopefully my thoughts have helped, and if just one person can learn from the errors I have made over the years then that is a positive result. A baseboard is the foundation of modelling hopes and dreams.

When thinking about longevity of any possible layout, it is almost certainly the most important investment you will make. And whilst a good quality baseboard may on the face of it seem expensive and possibly and extravagance, it will prove to be money well spent. Even if saving up means it is a few more weeks / months until you can play trains and get going in this hobby.

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