TimberSurf’s Model Railway  

Modelling Tips, Links & Guides for Model Railways

Lumsdonia Railway

A web page for my indulgence and sharing ideas and irregular updates on my Model railway

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Techniques, tools and methods to help scratch build

   SCRATCH BUILDING - Section 700

Tips 700

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Plan your build, materials, construction, methods then list and sketch on paper. Draw and cut in thin cardboard and assemble as a test piece. This will ensure that the fit on the layout, the size and proportions are all good before you launch the time consuming detailed build. Ensure all necessary materials are on hand (order if not).

Measure/check twice, cut once!

Tip 701

 Pre works

Make yourself a woodworkers bench hook, use to steady your work while you saw.

Make a second with an edge rebate for sanding edges square

There are several methods that can be used to cut plastic sheet.

For thin sheet, you don't have to cut through it all the way, simply score heavily with a scalpel or craft knife using a steel rule as a guide, then bend and snap the piece off.

You can even use heavy duty scissors (although I would not recommend for long cuts)

An old paper shear also works well if you can find one (the modern roller types do not work well)

For Wills sheets, score a deep line with an olfa tool {Olfa 204B Plastic Scriber S Type or TAMIYA Plastic Scriber II (74091) or Tip912 or use an xacto saw.

If vertical joints between sheets are unavoidable on wide structures, try to plan to have the join at the point were a drain pipe would be situated, thus it can be covered from view when the drainpipe is added. The largest size of sheet is available from SE Finecast

Although you can buy square bar and fabricate windows to any size, until you develop your skills, they are readily available to purchase from many sources, see the Links page for suppliers. There are a number of 3D printed sites offering them as well. Laser cutting suppliers can also supply. Both laser and 3D printers offer bespoke service for specific designs!

Large flat plastic sheeting is hard to come by for free (and has no texture), but clear plastic is readily available as a byproduct of household packaging, blister packs, front display windows,etc. Old CD jewel cases are a great source of thick plastic.

Collect any clear plastic that is reasonably thick and store for future use. Just chop out the flat bits. Vid Bit No.11

For industrial buildings (and even domestic lean too's/conservatories, consider using roof lights. They break up otherwise plain expanses of roofing and offer the opportunity to "see" into building. Particularly nice if you have complex truss work in the roof, with internal lighting, it shows off your work.

Tip 702

 Work steady bench hook

Tip 703

 Free clear plastic

Tip 704

 Let there be light!

Tip 705

 Easy windows

Tip 706

 Joint cover

Tip 707

 Cutting methods

Tip 709

 Drain pipe joint

Rather than hold a try square on a strip to cut squarely, buy a chop board or chop shears, it saves a huge amount of time when repetitive cutting and easily gives uniform lengths with square ends very quickly. Also good for angles and with a depth stop, quick length definition.

Tip 708

 Strip chopper

To make drain pipe joint sleeves, wrap a piece of bare copper wire around the pipe, twist ends together at the back and glue the twist into a hole in the wall. A double wrap will give the impression of the two bulges at either end of the joint sleeve.

Tip 710


There are probably more suppliers of materials than you think! Check out the links for plastic and brass. Difficult components like ladders, ladder cage, steps, windows, gutters, drain pipe, and railings are all readily available off the shelf. Laser cut supplies also supply parts like fans, finials, air con, trusses, roof vents and windows. Scale model Scenery and Lcut both do extensive ranges of parts.

Tip 711


Don’t forget to incorporate LED lighting in your building! Even if you cant solder and don't have any skills in electronics, LED’s with pre made leads are readily available, just connect with a Choc block to a PSU or battery box. To make it realistic, envisage from the start and plan walls and floors to seal off the light from other rooms, after a little testing, you may need to paint inner walls to stop light bleeding through the wall!

Tip 712

 Magnetic Gluing Jig

Consider buying a Magnetic Gluing Jig, an invaluable tool for holding work while the glue dries, Proses do a similar bracket style magnetic clamp system. Not cheap, but worth it if you really get into scratch building.

Tip 713

 Industrial piping

Use plastic tube or 3.5mm plastic hollow lollipop sticks or Ear buds to make industrial pipe. Insert and glue a cocktail stick in one end, add two 3mm washers as the pipe flanges, then stick another tube on.

Tip 714

 Fixing windows

Although plastic solvent cement works well at gluing clear plastics, some materials will be incompatible, plus as it is very thin, it will bleed into viewable areas and cause unsightly ‘frosting’. UHU/Bostik works well, but as it is thick, can be difficult to apply and without stringing! The perfect glue is Glue ‘n’ Glaze as it is the right consistency, dries clear and can even be drawn across small apertures as the window itself.

Tip 717

 Glass doors

If you need a glass door to be open, use a thick piece of clear plastic and mask off the windows with masking tape, paint round the edges as the frame. Vid Bit No.11

Tip 715

 Mitre Box

If you need to cut strip/bar/tube which is too thick for your chopper, buy a Mitre Box, to saw at right angles and 45 degrees.

Small modellers aluminium ones are available, ensure you use a saw that fits snuggly to the slots.

This costs a fraction of the others, I  paid £10, only downside is there is no depth stop

Tip 716


Of course this is down to personal preference and specialist as mentioned above can be had, but you should consider the basics to be:-

Knife - Scalpel or craft knife

Saw - fine and coarse Xacto type

File- Metal (4in) or fine sandpaper/carborundum

Pin Vice - for drilling small holes

Tweezers - fairly essential

Rules - 6in, 8in &12in

Try square - For right angles

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