Guides & Advice

A quick introduction to building model train scenery

Written by Tom | 18th August 2020

Building a world for your trains to drive through can enhance the whole experience of having model trains as a hobby. With that, comes the challenge of making the scenery look as realistic as possible. At Catawiki we know how important scenery is – we even featured a gigantic train scene in one of our TV adverts a few years ago. Now, we're asking our toys experts, Marijn Zeevalk and Kees Smit, for their tips on building model scenery .

More than just a rabbit hole for locomotive enthusiasts, model trains' scenery serves as a window into specific periods and places in time. “Scenery includes the landscape, surrounding trains and tracks, such as buildings, trees, cars, figures,” says Kees. “People love the challenge of making a model world that can be fantasy or the opposite; one that resembles a small piece of the real world. In fact, the trains themselves might be secondary to the world enthusiasts create around them ”. For those interested in 'scenery building', however, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Think about scale


Scale and gauge are important as proportional indicators that will help guide you when you're buying or making scenery additions. And they can also help you set up your display to your preferred size. Scale indicates how the model train replica compares to the actual train in size. “There are various sizes models,” says Marijn. "1:87 is H0 , for example, which means that the original object is 87 times bigger than the scale model. For N Gauge  (1: 160, where gauge is another term for scale), it is 160 times bigger and so on ”.  

Scale is important to know, not just for personal preference, but so you have an idea on how much space your layout will take up

So how does this translate to helping you decide on your scenery? Consider this: G scale models are larger and well suited for outdoor displays while an N scale is a more compact set that may work better for those drawn to cuter, more delicate displays or those with smaller spaces. Ultimately it’s all down to taste, capacity and the effect you want your layout to have. 

Get a starter kit

If you’re new to model trains, it might be good to ease yourself into creating scenery by using a kit. Rather than immediately trying to build everything yourself. Alongside the tracks and trains, you can often find a range of scenery options included, such as buildings, miniature trees, shrubbery and rock moulds. 

“Kits usually include scale models based on real items, while any material which is made from scratch needs to be designed, created, painted etc.”, explains Marijn. “It's sort of a hobby within a hobby, but people do this too when they have a feel for what they like and the equipment used”. If you do invest in a kit, don’t splash out on the most extravagant set immediately. “Be aware that some models look like plastic and others are more realistic. The price usually dictates this! Be careful with the glue, because too much glue can ruin a building kit. So start with cheap kits to practice on before you buy expensive ones”.

Starter kits will include a range of models and scenery additions so you have a selection to begin with

Learn to landscape

A scene or landscape for your trains can be as detailed or sparse as you like. Take the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg for example; it’s the world’s largest model train set with over 900 trains and a mini-city, complete with an airport and ambulances. But you needn’t overdo it at the start, just have a few necessary materials to hand. “Start with deciding on the type of track (oval, loop, linear) you want, alongside the station[s]. Then move onto the landscape”, says Marijn. “Use screendoor material and cast for building mountains, though there are several other techniques used too, so it’s worth researching online. Invest in a natural paint colour for grass and forests which will immediately make scenery more lifelike”. 

You can build mountains out of screendoor material and cast, or purchase extras like premade groundcover to simulate grass

If you’re looking for more elaborate materials as you progress, head to a hobby shop. Most come stocked with a variety of paints, objects and inspiration – you’ll find things like premade groundcover which when sprinkled onto wet paint or an adhesive surface, can simulate the appearance of grass. 

Building model train scenery should ultimately be fun, but it does require a touch of forward-planning and practicality, says Marijn. “Know what you want to build and try to get information first, to make sure that what you have in mind is realistic. Create an account on one of the big online forums (such as 3-rail Forum), as there are a lot of smart and experienced people active there who can help you out”. 


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Discover more Model Trains | Model Trains Scenery | Toys & Models

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