December 2, 2022

10 tips for beginner layout designers


10 tips for beginner layout builders: contains thousands of articles, images and videos. Here we have collected ten links to some of the best stories for people who are just starting their layout journey.

1. Learn to use a track template

A track planner model, like the green HO scale one pictured above, helps you turn your sketchy ideas into a buildable track plan. See the article.

2. Simplified model railroad benches with foam

Foam platform panels

In many situations, extruded foam board insulation is a viable alternative for countertops built on flat surfaces or open grids. With proper support, rigid foam can easily hold anything a modeler could want on a layout. See the article.

3. How to transfer a track plan from paper to the model railroad bench

A drywall t-square with a tape measure on a workbench

If you’ve never done this before, the first thing you’ll probably learn is that no matter how carefully you measured, the track will almost always take up more space on the layout than on paper. It is important to take your time and be precise, because any error in calculation will hamper the laying of the tracks. See the article.

4. Laying rails: adhesives, nails or spikes?

Track and road underlay can be attached to foam board insulation with construction adhesives designed for use with foam board

Track and platform can be attached to foam board insulation with construction adhesives designed for use with foam board. See the article.

5. How to cut and fit sectional and flextrack

Cutting rail with a miter box and fine tooth razor will produce clean square cuts in almost any type of rail used on a small scale

Rail cutting is a common activity that becomes important as soon as someone starts building a model railroad. Small layouts built with sectional tracks usually fit together quite well, but when flextrack is used it is often necessary to cut the ends of the tracks to fit. See the article.

6. Quick and easy flextrack

flextrack upper band

Bonding flextrack to plywood or other surfaces is nothing new. But laying tracks with DAP’s All Purpose Adhesive Putty is – and in my opinion, a far superior technique to traditional track laying methods. See the article.

7. Banish derailments on your model railroad

Each track joint must be carefully aligned, properly adjusted and level. Aim along the rail to check alignment through the rail joinery. Once the track is nailed, use a fine file to smooth the top and inside corner of the track joint until you can slide a fingernail over it. See the article.

8. Set the turnouts

Checking a switch with a National Model Railroad Association standards gauge.

Many modelers build their layouts with commercial turnouts in the expectation that these components will be ready to install. However, building my HO Ohio Southern has convinced me that most commercial turnouts are truly “ready to finish”. They may need a little tuning to ensure smooth performance and reliable operation. See the article.

9. How to wire a network for two-train operation

The initial objective of a new model railroader flush with locomotives, track and rolling stock is to operate two trains on its layout at the same time, each with independent speed and direction control. This mile post can be reached with cabling from the control cabin. With two DC power supplies, SPDT rocker switches, and a hardware cable, you can split any layout into electrical blocks that will allow two trains to run independently. See the article.

10. An introduction to the basics of track wiring

Diagram showing the path taken by the power of a booster, through a bus and to the track.

There is probably no other aspect of our hobby that creates more anxiety and confusion for newcomers than wiring. When you start at absolute zero on the learning curve, it can be daunting at times. However, at the most basic level, what we are trying to do is get electricity from a power source to the tracks so our trains can run. See the article.

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