How to make a model town

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How to make a model town
A miniature town is sometimes used for model railways. (Photo by "click" from morguefile.)

Making a model town is a satisfying hobby and in some situations, can be big business. Models are made for trains, dioramas, war-gaming, dollhouses, architecture, film making and museums. This project includes step by step guidelines for designing and making a miniature town from scratch.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Reference picture of a town
  • Dowel rod (size depends on scale)
  • Ice lolly sticks
  • Hobby knife
  • Glue (craft glue)
  • Fine soil (grey and brown)
  • Acrylic paint (red, silver, brown, black)
  • Cardboard boxes (corrugated and non-corrugated, as needed)
  • Plastic sheet (that lines cereal boxes)
  • 12.5 by 22.5 cm (5 inch by 9 inch) brick sheets (as needed)
  • One sheet of veneer
  • Modelling clay

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  1. 1

    Plan your town. Get a picture of a small town in the type of scenery that you have for your railway. Make sure that you plan for all the eventual needs of the town, including phone poles, roads, buildings, people and vehicles. Adjust the sizes of every component for the scale that you are working on as you follow these steps. HO scale, for example, is where every 26 m (87 feet) on the model equals 30 cm (1 foot) in real life (1:87 ratio). Another popular ratio is 1:12 where 12 "model feet" are equal to one real foot (30 cm on the model represents 3.6 m).

  2. 2

    Cut phone poles from dowel rods to the proper height and glue it to the model. Use a hobby knife to trim an ice lolly stick for the other parts of the phone pole and glue these parts in place. Add thin strands of wire from pole to pole to look like the poles that you see in your picture. Paint the wire black and use paint to darken the phone pole. Wait for the paint to dry before gluing everything in place.

  3. 3

    Make dirt roads, put glue down where you want the road and use a scrap of cardboard to spread the glue evenly. Add fine soil by sprinkling it on the glue. Build this up in layers to cover the ground well.

  4. 4

    Make roads that are paved. You will need to mix the right colour of fine grit sand (or cheat by mixing in paint) to stir together with glue. Pour the mixture and spread it out. Smooth it out under a sheet of plastic and allow it to dry before peeling the plastic away.

  5. 5

    Make the frames for the buildings out of cardboard and glue. Place the buildings where you desire them. Trim off the base of the buildings so that they stand upright on uneven ground. You may want to use a small level to check the buildings so that there are no "surprises."

  6. 6

    Add windows and doors. Cut out the windows and fill them in with plastic or glass. Microscope slides work well in smaller buildings for window panes. Cut a door out of wood veneer with your hobby knife and glue it. Small ball bearings can serve as door knobs. Remember to add casements around doors and windows by gluing layers of cardboard around them like a frame.

  7. 7

    Glue on the walls and casements of the building. If you settle on brick, use 12.5 by 22.5 cm (5 inch by 9 inch) brick sheets available at model railroading stores. Cut the sheet and reposition the bricks as desired. Bricks can be cut with a hacksaw and sanded to remove tool marks. If you want to use cladding, coffee stir sticks or strips of veneer work for that.

  8. 8

    Glue on a roof. If you want tiles, again, a piece of veneer works well. Leave the veneer outside for a weathered look and then cut the ties. Glue the tiles in rows, starting at the eves and adding rows that overlap the previous rows.

  9. 9

    Make corrugated metal by tearing off the outer layer of cardboard on one side to expose the corrugations underneath. Sand out remaining stray bits but leave a little to look like damaged metal. Paint the cardboard brick red. Wait for the paint to dry. Add silver that is lightly and unevenly brushed onto parts of the roof. Wait for the paint to dry. Add rusty brown to the roof in random places.

  10. 10

    Add cars and people to your town. Suitable cars and people are available for purchase from a hobby shop. Add vehicles that are the appropriate size for your town's scale. If desired, make your own people out of modelling clay. Paint the clay after it dries.

Tips and warnings

  • Apply the finishing touches. Use an LED hooked up to a watch battery anywhere you need light (like street lights you craft from cardboard). Christmas lights can be suspended in the air above the model to simulate stars. If you add a grow light, miniature plants can be embedded into dirt in the model. Moss (for grass), bonsai trees, and miniature flowers (like the "Phacelia dubia" variety) will add a new level of realism. Peat moss and other touches can be used to fill in for other vegetation.

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