Getting started with your model railroad starts by deciding the scale, the era and the locale that you want to model and whether it will be prototypical or freelanced. Once you have made up your mind on those things, then you can develop a track-plan. Once you have your track-plan in hand, then you can start building your benchwork.
Model railroad benchwork construction is comprised of the following three elements:
- Supporting structure
- Platform or grid
Supporting Structure: Methods
1. Simple modular benchwork: Your supporting structure for your model railroad benchwork could be an old ping-pong table, an old kitchen table, or it could be something you build from scratch using lumber from the local hardware store. This video by Luke Towan explains how to build your own modular benchwork. If you are planning to make this a permanent part of your household, it is highly recommended that you start in the beginning with a substantial and solid structure as described in the video.
2. Grid and Spline Method: Some model railroaders who wish to have a very uneven terrain use the spline system of benchwork starting with a grid for a supporting structure, then adding risers and finally add a spline subroadbed on top of the risers, as demonstrated in this 2-part video by Bill Scobie. This would be ideal for a railroad running through mountains and valleys.
3. Easy: An easier method for building model railroad benchwork has been developed by Woodland Scenics, called Mod-U-Rail. These are ordered online and arrive inboxes of pre-cut, pre-drilled wood sections that you can put together into modules that you can then connect together to form whatever size and shape layout that you need to fit your track-plan.
The platform of your model railroad is what you put on top of the supporting structure upon which you will build your subroadbed, the structure that actually supports the track.
1. For simple modular benchwork as in numbers 1 and 3 above, the platform will usually consist of 1/4' or 1/2" plywood or Homasote cut to match the dimensions of the top of the supporting structure. You may wish to leave a 1-2" overhang, or you can curve the corners of the platform to make your layout more esthetically pleasing and also to prevent operators from bruising their hips on sharp wooden corners.
2. For the grid and spline method (number 2 above), the platform will usually be a combination of chicken wire or screening material. After this is in place, it is covered with plaster-cloth to develop an irregular, mountainous terrain.
1. You may use Homasote on top of the plywood for your subroadbed, to which you can then either nail or glue down your roadbed and track.
2. Or, use one or more sheets of construction foam on top of the plywood. The benefits of using foam are:
- You can still create mountains and valleys on your layout by cutting out pieces of foam between the tracks to make valleys and using the cut out pieces to build mountains. Cover that with plaster-cloth.
- It's easy to run wiring for your tracks, turnouts and structures through small channels in the foam rather than having to crawl under the layout.
- Gluing roadbed and track to the foam is just as easy as nailing them down.
- Trains run a lot quieter on a foam surface that they do on wood.
Once you've got your benchwork completed, now you're ready to put down some track.
Mod-U-Rail Stand - Straight, square and corner