How to Build Model Train Buildings

September 27, 2021

How to Build Model Train Buildings

Perhaps you’ve got your model train building area established, along with your model tracks and trains laid out. You’re ready to start adding buildings or structures to your model but aren’t sure where to begin. After all, maybe this is your first time learning how to build model train buildings. Well, read on because we will talk about a few things to consider if you’re a beginner or need inspiration on where to start.


Decide the Time Period for Your Model Train Buildings

You might already have this figured out, so feel free to skip ahead to the next section if that’s the case. If you haven’t, you will need to decide the time period you’re trying to replicate. For example, are you trying to go with an old farm town from the 1930s, ‘40s, or ‘60s? Or is it going to be more of a busy small town from the 1980s? If it’s an old farm town from the 1930s or something similar, you will need to build structures related to farming. A barn, metal or concrete wheat granary, and farmhouse will all create that farming community vibe. It’s up to you how you want it to look. Just know that consistency in your design will ensure that it all blends nicely.


Decide if You Want to Build It from Scratch or Use a Model Kit

Next, decide if you intend to build your structures from scratch or use a model kit. Many train model hobbyists like to make their buildings from materials they buy at a local grocery store or use whatever they have lying around, like cardboard, wooden dowels, and styrofoam. Others buy model kits from a local or online train model store and put them together themselves. For example, at TrainLife, we sell and distribute train model kits and supplies to train enthusiasts. 

Most prefer to go this route since it saves a significant amount of time and effort, and you can easily add in your creations whenever you want. Plus, model kits already come pre-made, meaning you don’t have to worry about sizing or measuring your pieces. The downside is that some model kits, particularly the wooden ones, will require you to cut the individual pieces out with a hobby knife. This process can get tedious, as small pieces can easily break if not handled with care. However, the small parts will increase the detailing on your builds.


Choose Your Building Material Type

You can pick whatever you please, but if you decide to use model kits for building your structures, you can use wood or plastic to accomplish this – or both. Both are excellent materials, but some find that plastic is easier to work with than wood. The downside to plastic is that it’s harder to create or paint certain textures, like wood surfaces, as opposed to a wooden model kit.

Wooden kits are perfect if you’re looking to add wooden buildings as part of your layout. Many wooden kits come with an adhesive that enables you to stick pieces together, although you will still need to add glue to hold everything else together. The con to using a wooden kit, as we mentioned earlier, is the pieces are more delicate to work with and require more cutting than plastic.


What’s the Environment?

Just as you will need to decide on the time period of your build, you will also need to determine the environment surrounding your structures. Will it be in a desert? Do you plan to have pine-covered mountains surrounding your village? Are you going to have some open fields with a hill or two? Your buildings will likely (or should) match the environment you choose. 

For example, if you want to have a pine-forested mountain as your environment, the textures and colors of your buildings should match that environment. The same is true for a desert environment. It’s up to you. Once you have an environment decided, you will have an easier time getting started with your buildings/structures. You’ll know what materials and tools to collect, what models to buy, and what paint colors to use.


How Many Structures and Buildings Do You Want to Add?

Zoomed out view of a small-scale model train and town

In other words, how complex do you want your build to be? It might sound like a no-brainer, but it helps if you establish how many structures you intend to build and add to your layout. If you want to create a city around your track but only have one or two buildings, your city will feel empty. Of course, the more structures you add, the more life it will have, and the more it will start to feel like a bustling city. On the other hand, you may want to attempt a more straightforward build and only have one or two buildings. For this reason, selecting a specific environment or era can make your decisions easier about how many structures to include. A farming community or a quiet train station may be of your style if you only want to add a couple of buildings, for example.


Time to Build!

Hopefully, these items are helpful to you as you learn how to build model train buildings or find the inspiration you need to get started. If you’re still stuck on where to begin, you may want to try a small-build test to help get the creative juices flowing. Often, simply starting is enough to help you find your vision of what you want to build. Don’t forget to check out our article about the best supplies to use when building your model train buildings.

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