Modeling Basics - the YouTube Guide



June 24th, 2021

Learning the basics of model railroad / railway model building can be a monumental task for those unfamiliar with the hobby or a lack of practical experience. But in today's age of social media and online tutorials, all the help, advice, pitfalls and mistakes that one typically makes when starting a new project lie in wait ready for anyone to take up and use to quickly get up to speed with their own layout. We've selected a few of the easiest YouTube videos out there to help anyone considering a first-time layout get underway. We've narrowed down content to a number of key areas: Baseboard, Track, Rolling Stock, Electrics and Scenery.

If you have a layout or are a keen modeler, get in touch! We'd love to see more from the modeling side of the railfan hobby, especially photographs. If you'd like us to feature your layout, send us further information like what you've tried to recreate, the fictional history or how you got into the hobby.

  • Baseboards: Perhaps the most difficult hurdle to jump when deciding on building a model railroad or model railway is buying and crafting a baseboard. If you've not done anything as practical as this before, online tutorials are key. Oddly, this crucial first step often involves buying materials from non-railway suppliers like Home Depot, IKEA or B&Q which can pose difficulties as these stores don't always offer the most railway-oriented advice. This video below by World Of Railways goes through the steps of assembling some basic wooden elements to form a simple base board with nothing more than glue, some nails and a bit of sandpaper.
  • Track: Buying track is arguably the most important step when deciding on some of the details of your model railroad layout. Not only will the gauge or scale be determined by the width of the track you use (and in turn the rolling stock) but deciding on whether to go with prefab track (with underlying 'ballast' or trackbed) or simple track and ties / sleepers can alter the look of your layout dramatically and determine how much work will go into it. Some modelers decide to even lay ties / sleepers and rails separately, almost as they would do in the real world for the ultimate flexibility and authenticity! This video, from the duo behind TSG Multimedia goes through a detailed analysis of different track types including those from KATO, a popular track maker from Japan that caters well for the US market. In the UK, PECO is most often referred to as the brand leader in model railway track.
  • Rolling Stock: Now things become a little personal and in truth, there shouldn't necessarily be a 'guide' to choosing what rolling stock belongs on your layout. There are many individual factors that will determine this: from what era or decade your layout might want to be from; the overall theme (communter, countryside, industrial etc), the size and length of track; whether yards or sidings exist and other factors like budget. Indeed many modelers begin by sourcing used rolling stock from fairs or online and this in turn can guide you towards a certain type of setting. New locomotives can cost many hundreds of dollars / pounds.

That said, if you have a specific Class or Unit in mind for your layout it probably pays to learn as much about them as possible. Hattons do a great job on YouTube of explaining the relations between real life and model locomotives, such as these videos for the Class 47 Locomotive and Union Pacific Big Boy 4014:

  • Electrics: So, you've built the board, nailed down the track, ordered a used locomotive and some cars... you're ready to go, right? Nothing will move without even the basic set of electrics to accompany the track and though there are an array of complex devices to control points, switches and even signalling, many beginner modelers will simply want something to get things moving. That Model Railway Guy, in this very digestible video, goes through the basics of wiring your first layout and explains the difference between DC and DCC.
  • Scenery: Finally comes the scenery, which in many ways can be something of an artform and again dependent on what era, style or even nationality you're planning to model. For those without an artistic flair, backdrops and set pieces of scenery are often the way forward, such as these roll out backgrounds offered by PECO that depict a rural British countryside view from the rolling hills of their native Devon:

For the more creative, this video from Model Railroad Academy demonstrates how common household items like cheap hair spray combined with quilt filler can be perfect modeling tools for creating things like bushes and trees:

  • The magic touch... inspiration!: Of course the biggest draw on YouTube for would-be and experienced modelers are the incredible layouts that are created by dedicated individuals or sometimes teams of people for model railroad clubs and the level of detail that some can go into them. Signalling, timetabled services and stock movements can occur in miniature as they do in reality but lighting, noise, road traffic and day-night cycles can also be implemented with hours of work and complex equipment. The inspiration that they offer to any modeler can boost one's ambitions to create something even better, or at the very least of a quality that suits the ideas floating around in your head. Videos showing some of the highest quality layouts in detail, like those featured by Pilentum have an abundance of inspiration:

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