Structural Scenery

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Simple Guide

STRUCTURAL SCENERY

As part of the layout planning process the baseboard construction method should have given consideration to the scenery. This may simply involve the provision of a drop baseboard to allow a water feature, or may be as complicated as an open frame baseboard with scenic profile timberwork. If you have chosen to use flat baseboards or are already committed to flat boards then all is not lost. The Woodland Scenics Sub Terrain Lightweight System is designed to add scenic features to a flat baseboard. This method of structural scenery is not covered in this website as we suggest you visit the manufacturer at http://www.woodlandscenics.com We can supply and install Woodland Scenics Sub Terrain Lightweight System if required. 

If you wish to add simple tunnels or hills to a flat layout we have added a simple guide to scenery at Simple Guide

 

THE STRUCTURAL SUPPORT

The nature of the structural support depends upon the type of model railway under construction. The railway companies and engineers of Great Britain were fortunate that most of our population centres are not in remote areas and therefore connecting these centres was often easier than some of their European and American counterparts. Railways of the UK feature cuttings, embankments, tunnels and bridges simply to keep the gradients as shallow as possible, we do not have the need for some of the extreme engineering used in other regions of the world. As such most UK based model railway layouts scenically are simple featuring undulating terrain which does not require extravagant structural support. This can usually be achieved using polystyrene sheets or a weave of cardboard strengthened and waterproofed with varnish. The image below left shows this method under construction integrated with plywood track supports. A more expensive construction foam can be used as shown in the images to the right. This foam has a greater density when compared to polystyrene and does not suffer from the 'debris' problems shown in the left image. Both types of foam can be cut with a hot wire cutter to reduce debris - please follow manufacturers instructions regarding foam vapour.

 

European and American model railways tend to be more extreme in terms of the scenery due to the wide variety of landscapes available to model. The more spectacular locations tend to impress and influence the model maker. The following images show the joinery involved in the construction of baseboards with scenic features for a large European layout. The change in height from the bottom of the baseboard frame to the top of the scenery is almost one metre. The design of these baseboards can be seen in our scenery planning section Scenic Design These methods are frequently used on UK layouts but with less severe height gains unless some very remote locations are chosen.

Construction begins with the manufacture of a softwood frame to give the baseboard strength and allow it to be carried and transported without damage to the finished scenery. This particular baseboard was to be made in two sections to allow delivery from our workshop to the customers residence. Once the two base frames have been manufactured the joining profile between the two baseboards is added using plywood. To ensure scenic continuity between the two boards two identical profiles are made. These joining  profiles are manufactured to the final finished shape and are designed to act as track supports for both visible track and track hidden in tunnels. Key scenic features may also cross the baseboard join including rivers, cliff faces and areas for buildings and structures.

 

With the base frame and join profiles added the remaining scenic supports are added for both the track and scenery. This images shows track being supported by a variety of methods including softwood risers fixed to the base frame and full plywood risers again fixed to the base frame but allowing a greater change in height. Track beds should be supported at regular intervals to prevent sagging and to make fixing the track easier. 
Once the inner frame is complete outer scenic profiles or fascias can be added to key everything together and provide a neat finish. We prefer to use MDF for this purpose as it is splinter free and provides a smooth surface for paint finishing if required (usually a neutral non scenic colour e.g. black or grey).

The shape of the outer finished terrain is clearly visible in this image. Note how the fascia drops to form a river gorge to the left.

 

COMPLETING THE STRUCTURAL WORK

Once the structural support is in place a covering is required to form the base landscape. Where timber supports have been used we prefer to form the landscape from 6mm square galvanised pet mesh covered with plaster bandage. This mesh is more expensive than chicken wire but is fine enough to prevent the plaster bandage sagging into the mesh which may show on the finished product. Where mesh work cannot be used we follow the method outlined above using sheets of 50mm polystyrene sheet obtained from builders merchants. The images below show how the above baseboards move towards completion using these methods.

This image shows an extreme change in height formed with plywood risers and 6mm galvanised mesh. The mesh is fixed using staples, we use an airline and air staple gun due to the large number of staples used. It is possible to use a hand staple gun to achieve the same appearance. Care must be used when using these adult only tools. Always wear protective clothing particularly eye protectors. Note the untidy nature of the support structure. This will not be seen once the mesh is covered. It is more important to ensure the mesh is rigid to prevent flexing of the mesh that will result in potential damage later. Note how structures such as tunnel mouths and retaining walls can be fitted at this stage but remember to mask them off before progressing with the scenery.
Access may be restricted in some areas and using galvanised mesh may be difficult. In these areas we layer polystyrene sheets which are then carefully carved using a kitchen knife to the required shape. The polystyrene sheets are fixed using a fast grab solvent free adhesive applied by a cartridge gun.

Care is needed when carving polystyrene and should only be undertaken by adults.  Always wear protective clothing particularly eye protectors.

The galvanised mesh is then covered with plaster bandage. For the inexperienced plaster bandage is best applied in small sections as it is easier to handle. Do not buy plaster bandage well in advance of its use as it is prone to 'going off'. Buy within a few days of use and beware of any allergies or reactions to skin contact. Again always wear protective clothing particularly eye protectors. Follow the manufacturers instructions. Use decorators flexible filler or caulk to fill any gaps and to seal the joins between timber and plaster bandage. This helps prevent crack lines appearing at the joins.
Plaster bandage generally needs to be covered to disguise the woven bandage which may show through the covering scenery. Modelling plaster can be applied as thin skim or textured paint may offer sufficient coverage and is easier to apply. We prefer to use a waterproof tile cement/grout as a covering layer. This can be applied directly over sheet polystyrene without the need for plaster bandage. 

Note the masked tunnel entrance. Masking tape prevents the plaster and tile cement discolouring the product and reduces cleaning later.

 

 

 

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