How to make model railroad scenery

Written by jane smith
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How to make model railroad scenery

Model railroads can consist of a simple circle of track at the base of a Christmas tree or be an elaborate, whole-house system of platforms, ramps, and shelves running through walls and around the room near the ceiling. Model railroad scenery can be made from almost anything. The trick is to use the correct scale for your particular train. Common scales are garden scale, OH, HO, N and Z.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Train set
  • 4- by 8-foot wooden layout table
  • Plastic-canvas sheets
  • Staple gun
  • Power drill
  • Jigsaw
  • Dish pan or storage box full of sand
  • Burlap cloth
  • Plaster of Paris mix
  • Water
  • Clear silicone adhesive
  • 2-inch trim paintbrush
  • Crushed gravel dust
  • Small, medium and large river pebbles
  • Sand, sawdust and coffee grounds
  • Clear epoxy
  • Newspapers
  • Wall sizing
  • Spanish moss
  • Acrylic paints and brushes
  • Florist wire
  • Green floral tape

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Decide where the high and low points will be on the layout. Use a carpenter's pencil to mark an approximate position for each major landscape feature, such as ponds, hills, tunnels and bridge approaches. In the landscape diagram, the blue area is a water feature, thin black lines crossed by thick black lines represent tracks, and the green areas represent tunnels.

    How to make model railroad scenery
  2. 2

    Use plastic canvas to make an armature for each tunnel. An armature provides shape and support by varying height, depth and position. Bend the plastic canvas into a U-shape along its length. Attach the edges to your layout using a staple gun. Use the scale chart at the end of this article to decide how long, high and wide your tunnel should be.

  3. 3

    Outline the shape of your lake. Use a power drill to make a 1/2-inch diameter pilot hole. Insert a jigsaw with a 1/4-inch blade into the hole and cut along the outline. Lay the cut-out piece of wood on a pile of wet sand and mark the outline. Dig into the sand inside the outline to create the shape and depth you want for your lake. You should have a deep area tapering to a shallow spot.

  4. 4

    Soak burlap cloth in plaster of Paris mix and smooth it into the lake bed you made in the sand. Keep adding more plaster-soaked cloth until the entire lake bed is covered, about 2 inches past the outline of the lake. Allow to harden.

  5. 5

    Place the hardened plaster lake bed into the outline cut in the layout table. Seal the edges with clear silicone adhesive. Use a 2-inch trim paintbrush to apply clear silicone adhesive to the entire lake bed. Sprinkle the lake bed with crushed gravel dust. Attach several large river pebbles along the lake shore, and scatter smaller pebbles in the lake bed. Sprinkle sand along the shoreline. Fill the lake with clear epoxy.

  6. 6

    Tear newspapers into small squares and mix with wall sizing according to package directions to make papier-mâché. Cover the tunnel armatures with a 1/4- to 1/2-inch thickness of papier-mâché. Allow to dry completely, which could take 24 to 36 hours. Add additional layers of papier-mâché as desired, allowing it to dry completely between layers. Build a rise near one end of the lake, and another shorter rise along part of the front, 1/2 inch per layer.

  7. 7

    Lay your track, smoothing and levelling the track bed as needed.

  8. 8

    Use clumps of Spanish moss to disguise the edges of the lake and any other parts of your layout that look rough or too artificial. Use green, brown, and blue spray and liquid acrylic paints to colour the Spanish moss and fill in any unfinished surfaces of the layout. Sprinkle sand, sawdust and coffee grounds to make "dirt" in areas where you think it looks best.

  9. 9

    Create tree trunks using floral wire and green floral tape. Refer to the scale charts to decide how tall and thick the trunks should be. Shape each tree a little differently for added realism. Glue Spanish moss along the limbs and allow to dry. Spray each tree with a mix of green and yellow on the tops and brown on the trunks to give them a more realistic colour.

  10. 10

    Drop a handful of trees onto your layout. Drill a hole close to the spot where each tree dropped. Insert the trunks into the holes and secure with a bead of clear silicone adhesive.

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