Building Model Structures

Few model railroads would be complete without at least a few structures. Even in a rural setting you'll find outbuildings, railroad sheds, bridges, etc.

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. Read on to find more tips to make your buildings the best they can be.

  • 01 of 13

    Kit Building Basics

    cutting parts
    Use special nippers to cut parts from a sprue. Seperate all of the gates. Clean up the cut with a sharp hobby knife or file. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Like any project, building a building kit goes a lot better if you know the basics. If you're new to kit building, take just a minute to review these essential skills.

  • 02 of 13

    Building Plastic Kits

    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. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Plastic kits are by far the most common structure model kits on the market. These come in a wide a range of difficulty levels just as they do in architectural styles. Here's a step-by-step on a typical kit, an HO scale station from Walthers and its assembly from start to finish.

    From painting to gluing and even some simple modifications to enhance the basic kit, you'll see that even a kit easy enough for a beginner can be made into a one-of-a-kind project.

  • 03 of 13
    The fine details like railings and corner posts help hide joints and add a lot of character. The details are much stronger and easier to install than they look. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    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.

    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.

  • 04 of 13
    gluing kit walls
    A magnetic jig is a tremendous help when gluing walls together. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.
    Since most of us learn with a plastic kit, the wood "craftsman" kits may seem a bit intimidaing. In fact, wood is in many ways an easier material to model with than plastic. If you start with a simple kit like this storefront building from Grandt Line you'll master the basics in no time and be ready for more challenging projects.
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  • 05 of 13

    Scratchbuilding a Structure

    finished coal shed
    The finished structure is ready for painting. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Scratchbuilding can be a very scary word for beginners. It shouldn't be. As with kits, starting with something simple is a great way to get started. A basic structure like this coal unloading shed will build your skills and confidence for more elaborate projects to come.

  • 06 of 13

    Good Foundations

    finished foundation
    A styrene "wood" floor and paper "cut stone" foundation are added to the base. The paper features a lined grid on the back to make cutting easy. Simply attach with wood glue. A flat finish and some weathering will complete the look. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.
    Any building can benefit from a good foundation. Sometimes you'll start with a kit that has one already. But for buildings on a sloped plot or just a different look, a little extra work below the walls can have a big impact on the overall scene.
  • 07 of 13

    Plant Your Buildings

    planted building
    By placing a building in the scenery, not on it, makes both more realistic and interesting. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Now that you've got a foundation under that building, plant it in the ground. Seeing air under the foundation can destroy the look of any good building. Follow these simple steps to put your buildings in your scenery, not on it.

  • 08 of 13
    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, Inc.
    From basic interior room lighting to scrolling theatre marquis, there are many options for adding light and life to your structures. Take a look at many of them here and how you can improve your building lighting.
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  • 09 of 13


    completed interior
    Heavy window "glass" obscures fine detail, but the color and shapes of the many details inside provide a needed sense of life behind this storefront. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.
    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. For even more detail, check out this interior made with laser cut parts.
  • 10 of 13
    completed store
    The completed model no longer looks like a snap-together plastic kit!. ©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    There are lots of ways to weather our models. For more techniques you can see the weathering pages devoted to customizing trains. From drybrushing to fading decals, the same tricks that work on a boxcar will work on a storefront.

    For some specific tricks to working with buildings, even one you've already built, read on.

  • 11 of 13
    corrugated roof
    The completed corrugated roof looks so real you'll want a tetnis shot before you touch it. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.
    Looking for a quick and affordable way to change the look of a building? Try replacing the existing siding or roof with corrugated metal.
  • 12 of 13

    Shingle Roofs

    trimming shingles
    Trim the shingles with a pair of sprue nippers or cuticle scissors. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.
    New laser-cut shingle kits make adding the look of a shingled roof or wall easier than ever before. Find out how easy it is to enhance your buidings.
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  • 13 of 13

    Abandoned Buildings - Modeling the Past

    foundation details
    No abandoned foundation would be complete without some debris in the bottom. ©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    You don't always have to model the entire building to make an interesting scene. An abandoned building, lot or foundation can help tell a story, give your railroad a sense of time, and create a memorable scene in just a few hours.