The question of “What is the best wood or material for Model Railway Baseboards?” is something I’ve been asked a lot recently. And it’s one for which there are many answers! The choice of woods available is quite wide ranging, and each has its benefits and its downsides. So lets take a look at what woods there are and the types of baseboards they’re suitable for.
One of the strongest as cheapest woods available to the railroad modeller. Plywood generally comes in 8′ x 4′ sheets and can be purchased from any Timber merchants or DIY store. 1/2″ ply will be more than adequate for most flat topped model railway baseboards, and with just a simple frame to support it, a plywood sheet will provide a very solid and durable baseboard. The only downside is that for beginners, it’s quite tough stuff so you’ll need to drill holes in your baseboard as required to fit point motors, signals and lighting, plus track pins will need to be hammered in with a small tack hammer. That said, Plywood is the number one choice for serious enthusiasts all over the world, who want a stable, reliable base for their layout.
Another man-made board that’s suitable for Flat Topped Model Railway Baseboards is chipboard. Made from big chunks of sawdust, it’s very cheap and quite strong, but as with plywood it’ll need a good solid support frame and the baseboard will need drilling for point motors, signals and lighting. Also, if your layout is to be stored in an area that could possibly get a little damp, chipboard is susceptible to absorbing moisture and going very soft and mushy. So bear than in mind when choosing your baseboard.
MDF or Medium Density Fibre Board is another readily available sheet wood, but its sheer density would require the use of rather hefty track pins, which could look unsightly on smaller scale model railway layouts. Also the dust created when cutting and drilling MDF can irritate your lungs and breathing, so a mask should be worn at all times when working with it. This I feel would become very tiresome indeed when constructing or working on a large number of baseboard tasks.
Planed Soft Wood
If you’re looking to build a more advanced layout with a little more dynamic scenery than a what is possible on a flat topped baseboard, then maybe an open framed baseboard made with Planed Soft Wood could be the best choice. With an open framed baseboard, there is no flat top to it. Instead the trackbase is cut to the width required and fixed to cross-members, which are also shaped to take on the additional role as formers for the scenery & landscaping.
Sundeala has been around for many years and is the lightest, softest, easiest to work with “Wood” to work with for Model Railway Baseboards, but it can be a little more difficult to get hold of than a regular sheet of MDF or plywood. Whilst technically not a wood as such either, it’s made from compressed recycled newspaper, and its most common use in in noticeboards. It’s extremely easy to cut. You can cut through a 1/2″ think sheet quite easily with just a sharp utility knide.
It’s also quite flexible too, so if you’re looking to build a layout that needs to be stored vertically, I’d avoid Sundeala as it has a tendency to bend easily. Sundeala does have its benefits though in that it has quite a soft, workable surface, allowing you to simply push track pins into the baseboard. For beginners looking to build a flat baseboard that’s easy to drill (you can poke holes in Sundeala with a small screwdriver!) and cut, then Sundeala would be my ideal choice. You just need to make sure it’s supported on a good, solid frame with plenty of cross braces and Sundeala will serve you very well indeed.
Sundeala should be avoided however if the layout is to be built in a loft, basement, garage or shed. Due to it being made primarily from Paper, its tendency to absorb water is quite high. The supporting frame will also need to be cross braced every 12″ too, to eliminate anyrisk of sagging.
My personal choice for simple, single flat top baseboards has to be Sundeala. Whilst it’s a little more expensive than plywood, it’s very easy for a beginner to work with, enabling anyone with little or no woodworking experience to build a good, solid baseboard very quickly. Plus track laying can be done by virtually anyone as the track pins will push into Sundeala very easily indeed.
For more complex boards such as the one in the picture above, or ones to be constructed in a Loft, Garage, Shed or Basement, Plywood is our first and only choice. If you choose Marine grade or exterior grade ply your baseboard should last for many many years will little or no sign of deterioration at all.
Where To Buy Sundeala?
Most Timber merchants can get Sundeala to order, although there are a few places online that can supply Sundeala pre-cut into manageable pieces, especially for Model Railway Baseboards. See the link below for more info.
The other alternative is to opt for a proprietary Baseboard Kit such as these found at the link below: