Building a Model Railroad – Part 7: Baseboards

The layout as of the end of February 2021

For the last couple of months I’ve been slowly cutting and gluing the baseboards for the layout. I needed to do this now so that I would know for sure where the bottom edge of the backdrop should be. I’m a little over half done but that’s enough to let me start hanging the backdrop, so I figured I’d write this up now before I change tacks.

Each color represents a different sheet of plywood.

Before I made any cuts I pulled up my trackplan in Illustrator, created a new layer and drew out the baseboards so that they would use the material I had on hand efficiently and would meet up (mostly) where there was bracing underneath. Each baseboard will initially consist of a piece of 1″ foam laminated to a piece of 1/4″ plywood. This will then be built up another 2 inches to track level with additional foam insulation and Woodland Scenics risers. This additional height is to allow for the proper elevation above the water areas which will be poured or painted on 1/2″ plywood on top of the 1″ foam.

As always, I need a bigger garage :-/

I bought all the foam and plywood I was going to need for the baseboards back in September before the weather got bad (no cap on my pickup means no Home Depot runs in the snow) and the baby was born. They’ve been leaning against the wall in the garage ever since. Six sheets of 1/4″ plywood, 5 sheets of 1″ foam (I already had one sheet at home) and 3 sheets of 2″ foam should be adequate for both the baseboards and all the additional scenery.

Cutting large sheets of plywood accurately has never been something I’m particularly good at or enjoy doing. They’re unwieldy and the saw can easily wander off course. To make things a little easier I threw together a cutting jig from some old 2×3 studs. It has stops at one end and supports spaced so that I could cut 2′ and 4′ wide pieces. I later added some supports to facilitate cutting the 16″ wide pieces that I would need for the staging yard. I also cut a wide straightedge from an old piece of plywood that I could clamp to the jig such that the clamps wouldn’t be in the way of the saw motor when I was cutting from right to left behind the stops (being right handed this is my preferred direction).

Cutting the plywood into the basic sizes I needed went fairly quickly. I then took all the pieces down to the basement and marked out where to cut for the access hatch and the coved fascia corners. I then cut those out with my jigsaw. The cuts aren’t perfect but they’ll be sanded back anywhere that might interfere with fascia.

Most of the plywood shaped and in place.

I worked my way from the front of the layout to the back, along the back wall, then down the staging/mill peninsula. Once I was happy with the plywood pieces I used them as patterns to score and snap the 1″ foam layer.

I laminated the foam to the plywood with Pliobond II Premium wood glue. I’ve used Liquid Nails in the past and this is far superior. The foam will rip apart before the glue joint will break. It does require a complete even coat, but that’s fairly easy to achieve with a scraper and roller. I was only able to glue up one baseboard at a time because I didn’t have enough heavy things to weight more than one down with. So this process took a little over a week.

The Woodland Scenic’s foam cutter isn’t the best, but I already had it and it worked adequately in the end.

Once the panels were dry I trimmed any excess off with a hot wire foam cutter so that the foam and plywood were exactly the same size.

You might ask what purpose the plywood serves. It’s true that the 1″ foam alone is more than rigid enough to provide the necessary support for everything that will be on the layout but the plywood allows me to screw each baseboard to the benchwork from below and provides an excellent surface to mount switch machines to.

There were two spots along the back wall where the panels didn’t meet at a benchwork cross member. Since I was trying to keep as many pieces as possible 4′ or less in all dimensions it was easier to just move the cross members. This may require that I adjust the position of a turnout but that shouldn’t be too difficult.

This is the point where I stopped. Getting this far allows me to put the backdrop up along the walls and I need to figure out what I’m going to do for the peninsula backdrop before I laminate any more baseboards as their sizes may change. I also need some additional support for the baseboards on either side of the peninsula backdrop and I don’t have any more I-beams… So that’s another problem to solve.


6 Replies to “Building a Model Railroad – Part 7: Baseboards”

  1. This was great fun to read and “4. Place the plywood on the foam and weigh it down with every heavy thing you own.” oh my gosh I laughed when I saw this. That’s exactly(!) my process step too. Every book, every can, anything handy. Ha!


    1. I found myself wishing I had a home gym so I could put all the free weights to use 🙂

      1. Ha! In my case I’d be hoping I wasn’t setting myself up to hear Krista tease: “Finally good to see those weights being used…”

  2. Just came across your blog and progress is impressive and I like the way you have written up the different stages.
    However the most surprising and interesting part for me is your use of the West Tacoma Newsprint mill as a large part of operations. I visited the mill in August 1999 but at a weekend and nothing was working. However I thought it would make a good prototype and am planning some modules on this theme. Seeing your track plan really helps, as I missed drawing one up on the day.
    Look forward to following this over the months
    Alan Sewell
    Hertford, United Kingdom

    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks! I’m glad you’ve found the posts interesting so far.

      I think you and I are the only people on the planet modeling the mill 🙂 I’d like to see some photos of your modules whenever you get them built. If you took any photos of the mill structures (specifically the wood chip dumper) during your visit, I’d love to see those as well!

      – Chris

  3. Hi Chris
    I actually have a friend here in the UK who has built some modules in N-gauge based on the mill. I persuaded him to use it as the basis for his module as I think it is ideal for a smallish layout. I will let you know how mine develops but it takes a lower priority that the work on my main layout which is a logging shortline based on Simpson at Shelton and the Columbia and Cowlitz at Longview.

    I did take photos of some of the structures in 1999. One thing I did not notice was where chemical tanks would be unloaded
    I can e-mail them to you if I can have your e-mail? You can e-mail on my aol.account. I also have some briefs notes from my late friend John Henderson of Tacoma on the railroad operations and can send those as well.

    Let me know what you want


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