Building Model Railroad Structures Kits

A model railroad would be complete without at least a few structures. Even in a rural setting, you'll find outbuildings, railroad sheds, and bridges. With a little care, your buildings can be one of the highlights of your layout. From combining different modeling materials to adding lights, interiors, and other details, it is easy to make your buildings unique, even if you start with a common kit.

  • 01 of 04

    Choosing Plastic, Cardstock, or Wood Kits

    Plastic windows being installed on a plastic model kit.
    The clear plastic windows are installed using clear parts cement. This prevents any hazing on the "glass." Craft paper window shades complete the look. The interior will be visible, but not clearly enough to pick out great details.

    Ryan C. Kunkle

    Although you can buy ready-made structures that can be placed without modification onto the railroad layout, they are often expensive and not entirely realistic. For those looking for a realistic, modifiable structure, choose a kit.

    • Plastic kits: These are by far the most common structure model kits on the market. These come in a wide a range of architectural styles and difficulty levels; however, from painting to gluing and even some simple modifications to enhance the basic kit, even a kit easy enough for a beginner can be made into a one-of-a-kind project. For example, if you don’t like the color of the structure pieces as they come out of the box, you can airbrush the parts first and then put them together. This is much easier than trying to paint structures after they have already been built.
    • Cardstock kits: Despite the overwhelming options in plastic kits, cardstock is making a comeback. These aren't the paper models of decades past. Thanks to laser-cutting technology, these kits fit together with surprising ease, accuracy, and strength. Laser kits are made with thin sheets of precut wood that seem to require a little more skill and time to do them well, but probably look a little better and appear more realistic on the layout. If you are looking to expand beyond your plastic cities, these kits are a great way to get started. These are also good kits for younger modelers since the building materials, tools and adhesives are so familiar.
    • Wood kits: Because most learn with a plastic kit, the wood "craftsman" kits may seem a bit intimidating. In fact, wood is in many ways an easier material to model with than plastic. Start with a simple kit, and you'll master the basics in no time and be ready for more challenging projects.
  • 02 of 04

    Scratch-Building a Structure

    Finished coal shed ready for painting

    Ryan C. Kunkle

    Scratch-building can be a very scary word for beginners, but it shouldn't be. Scratch-building refers to the activity of building a brand-new building from raw material, such as wood. s with kits, starting with something simple is a great way to get started. A basic structure like coal unloading shed will build your skills and confidence for more elaborate projects to come.

    If you're modeling in a scale that doesn't have structures available or you want to become a Master Model Railroader and submit the building to a contest, scratch-building — or even using a 3D printer — might be the way to go.

  • 03 of 04

    'Kitbashing' a Structure

    Model Float Plane coming in to land on a model railroad scene.
    With a float plane coming in to land this model railroad sawmill scene comes alive. Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

    If there's not a kit that provides everything you want, you can 'kitbash," which refers to the practice of combining commercially sold kits to create a unique or completely new structure. This might mean modifying the walls to create corner buildings, cutting down structures to allow them to fit onto your layout, or using structures from two kits to form a new building.

  • 04 of 04

    Taking Structures to the Next Level

    theatre marquis lights
    Dozens of fiber optic strands multiply the effect of three bulbs to make miniature chase lights on this HO scale theatre marquis. Modeling by Walter Kuhl. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

    Building the kit structures add life to your model railroad layout, but there are ways to take the structures in the layout to the next level for an even more realistic setup.

    • Lighting: From basic interior room lighting to scrolling theatre marquis, there are many options for adding light and life to your structures. Use LED lights in your railroad models. They don't generate heat, and they last up to 20,000 hours.
    • Interiors: Adding an interior to a building can do a lot for the model, especially when the room lighting is dim and the model interior lights are on. Interior details don't have to be as exacting as those on the exterior — all you need is the impression of life within.
    • Roofing: Looking for a quick and affordable way to change the look of a building? Try replacing the existing siding or roof with corrugated metal. Additionally, new laser-cut shingle kits make adding the look of a shingled roof or wall easier than ever before. 
    • Weathering: There are lots of ways to weather the models. From dry-brushing to fading decals, the same tricks that work on a boxcar will work on a storefront. You could apply streaks or cracks in the roofs of siding, paint dark washes on windows, or washes of paint to modify mortar joints. Use materials such as washes, oil paint, chalk, or artist's crayons.