Baseboards & Frames


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After layout design, baseboards are probably the most important feature of any model railway. They are the foundation upon which the track and scenery depend. Without a rigid, flat base the track will become uneven causing poor running and possibly derailments and de-coupling. Unfortunately most railway modellers do not give sufficient consideration to the design and construction of their baseboards.


Baseboards are standard boards consisting of a track surface with supporting frame. These are the standard boards we supply to most clients. We also manufacture benchwork or frames for those clients wishing to purchase the baseboard frames and or legs to finish the layout frames in their own way but saving much time and effort. Please visit our Benchwork Section

Example of a standard baseboard with braced legs (also features corner protectors and edge tape).

Example of benchwork or frames


In an ideal world baseboard design should commence once the track plan has been finalised. The track plan defines the layout shape, the type of scenery, and the location of critical features; for example turnouts where electric motors may be required beneath the baseboard without obstruction from the structural joinery. Computer aided layout design (CAD) is used by Professional Layout Services producing initially the track plan from the customers dimensions and requirements, before designing the structural joinery based around the track plan. Click here to visit layout design. Boards do not have to be rectangles with tack running parallel to the baseboard edges. Try and vary your ideas to avoid parallel lines, alter the baseboard shape to fit the track. This can make a layout much more visually interesting.

The advantage of using a good quality model railway CAD package like Winrail is that once the track design is complete, it is simple to move on to the design of the boards from the CAD track plan. A simple illustration of this is shown below. The X-Y grid on the CAD program allows the user to locate the exact location of any position on the layout. With a simple layout it is easy to design the location of the under board frame work to avoid fouling turnout motors. If a standard 12" frame had been used on the plan below, several turnouts would have been located on or close to the structural frame making under board motor location difficult. Careful design of the frame makes the manufacture of the baseboards simple and no obstructions when it comes to laying the track and fitting turnout motors. 

On larger layouts this can be further used to decide upon the size and shape of baseboard units before designing their structural timber work.


Over the years many materials have been tried in model railway baseboard construction. Recently construction foam and fibre boards have seen use particularly in America, however we prefer to use traditional timber. When manufacturing baseboards we take into consideration how they are going to be used with reference to size, shape and weight. It is also very important to consider access to the layout room - what is the route like to the railway room, door size, access to a loft, loft height, shape of stairs - these may all be critical when selecting board size and shape. The following is a guide to surface materials most frequently used or requested:
bulletPlywood - our preferred material for baseboard surfaces. It is strong and durable and will withstand changes in environmental conditions that other materials will not. When using a timber outside exterior grade plywood should be the chosen material, when sealed correctly it will outlast most products. Two types of plywood are generally available:
  1. Far Eastern Plywood (FE Ply) - Generally the plywood sold by the DIY 'sheds'. Depending on thickness it is usually composed from a central thick core laminate with two outer thinner laminates and a finish laminate on the outer surfaces. Can be a white or red finish. This is a low cost plywood but is better than some materials. Some reports of woodworm in this grade of plywood.
  2. Birch Plywood - If you wish to use the best then Birch Plywood is probably it! Composed of roughly equal thickness laminates throughout this material is extremely tough and durable. Track pins may need pre-drilling but the extra effort is worthwhile as birch plywood will offer many years of trouble free use. Usually a natural white timber colour. This is not cheap, but if it was good enough for the RAF, its good enough for a model railway! Ideal for making open frame and airframe boards with little softwood required.
bulletSundeala - Often recommended in publications as Sundeala is light and easily takes a track pin but proceed with caution. This high cost fibre board is best used for notice boards and that's where it should stay - on the wall. Sundeala is prone to swelling by absorbing external moisture, sagging and also curling at the edges. Our advice is use only for table top single board layouts where weight is paramount. Do not exceed 12" centres for a supporting frame under a Sundeala board as it is likely to sag. Not suitable for use in attics, sheds or garages where environmental conditions may change.
bulletMDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) - This particle board originated out of a need for a 'timber' constructional material with no grain that machines and finishes to a high standard - hence its use in furniture, particularly kitchen units. MDF is quite hard to fix a pin but for many it is a neat material although a little heavy. Do not use for baseboard frames in open frame or airframe construction, or where high strength is required. Not recommended for use below 12mm in thickness.
bulletChipboard - ideal for train set boards as low cost. Not considered by the serious enthusiast.

Not included in this section are items classed as Specialist Joinery e.g. Spirals and Traversers, Backscene Boards, Diorama Boards, Folding Baseboards, Control Panel Draws and Lifting Sections. Click here to visit Specialist Joinery.


Professional Layout Services will manufacture baseboards according to customer requirements. The most popular types of construction include:

bulletTraditional. The most popular construction method best suited to layout with a high track density. Simply constructed from a sheet material top surface (usually plywood for the enthusiast, and chipboard or MDF for those on a more restricted budget or children) with a soft wood jointed frame on the underside. These baseboards can be produced to most sizes and shapes. Click here to view our price list for standard size traditional baseboards.


bulletOpen Frame. This method of construction is often preferred by the railway modeller that has evolved their design concept to include gradients and a greater proportion of scenery than is possible on a traditional layout. The layout is constructed from a softwood jointed mesh (similar to the frame of a traditional board) allowing 'risers' to be fixed to the frame to lift the track bed to the required height. The timber track base is therefore cut to the shape of the track and any trackside buildings, leaving areas open for scenic development. Track beds are usually plywood as this material has greater structural strength where only a small proportion of material is supported by the risers. The frame and the track bed can be used as anchor points for the scenery support, often chicken wire. The level of the base frame should be the lowest point on the layout (datum), usually a water feature. Very complex shapes and sizes can be produced using this method of construction.



bulletAir Frame. On some of the most developed scenic layouts, the scenery may dominate with bridges carrying tracks over deep valleys and track passing in tunnels through hills and mountains. The change in height between datum and mountain tops may be several feet requiring a more advanced baseboard construction. Air frame construction uses plywood formers cut to the required profile to support the track and scenery. Softwood is used only to brace joints in the plywood. Huge structures can be produced using this method of construction. .


Again we will manufacture baseboard legs or a supporting frame to your design or our standard design. Some of the most popular layout supports are:


Cabinets or Base Units - Where model railway layouts are a permanent structure in a building or room it is worthwhile giving consideration to the overall appearance of the completed model railway. Standard braced legs or trestles offer a low cost solution whilst a carrier frame is very useful if the model may need moving, however storage cabinets can be more than useful to store stock or other household items making use of what otherwise may be wasted space or a mass of boxes. The solution below shows a layout in a garden summer house that features simple sliding doors to tidy up the underside of the boards rather than a curtain. Other solutions can include bespoke furniture or kitchen base units.


Braced Legs - The most popular supports are braced legs shown in the images below. These are made to the requested height from softwood and feature a simple diagonal brace from the bottom leg cross member to the layout frame using a backflap hinge at each end of the brace. These legs are permanent/semi-permanent feature. These legs can feature an adjustable foot allowing adjustments of up to 40mm to allow for an uneven floor.



Trestles - Traditional trestles are a simple answer to baseboard support. They are ideal for table top train sets, layouts in occasional use/semi-permanent or exhibition layouts. We will manufacture wood trestles illustrated below to your requirements or supply steel trestles as illustrated right.




Carrier Frame - The ideal solution to the single board layouts Can be made from one board for access but usually not larger then 120" x 60") causing a problem if permanently left erected. The layout is supported on a carrier frame on castors to allow movement. Ideal for the garage when a layout has to be moved for access or to actually allow the car into the garage! Also ideal in the home to allow the board to be moved for cleaning or when not required.

For larger 'single' baseboards that need moving we manufacture a more heavy duty carrier frame as shown below.



As mentioned above and on our standard baseboard price list page we offer several additional features/accessories on our baseboards if requested and suitable for the type of board to be constructed.

bulletCastors to allow a board to be moved.
bulletAdjustable layout feet.
bulletEngineers dowels for accurate alignment of two or more board.
bulletCorner protectors/edge tape - particularly useful on table top boards where children are involved. Edge tape helps reduce the risk of splinters (risk still remains).
bulletCable holes - easier to drill at the frame stage.
bulletUndercoat finish to protect the surface timber and provide a base for scenery.


For more details of baseboard design and construction please contact us.





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