More modelling pics and tips

“Hello Al,

I’m a new “subscriber” from Pennsylvania in the U.S. I have been modeling in N-gauge since 1970, but still consider myself an amateur.

I think I have a twist on one of your contributor’s submissions. When ballasting in N-gauge, I use a very fine screen to eliminate dust in the ballast. The real “trick” is to add a few drops of “wetting agent” (dishwasher product like JET DRY) to the diluted white glue/water mixture.

This eliminates surface tension in the water which causes bubbles when applied to the roadbed. The applied ballast will absorb the glue/water mixture like a sponge.

Has anyone ever suggested using the metal tops from pencil erasers? Here in the U.S. some of them look identical to oil drums. (probably best for use in HO modeling due to scale)

One silly question. What is the most popular height (from the floor) for setting up N-gauge layout tables?



Here is a useful tool. I had a bunch of baby food jars. Filled with play sand from the home center store, they make excellent weights for holding down foam, cork or track if you are using glue to attach any of these. Just enough weight but not too much to damage track or push track out of guage. I have enclosed three pictures of the jars in use. A plus, the glue you use (I use yellow carpenter’s glue) doesn’t stick to the glass jars if you use a little too much.


“Hi Al,

Here are some photos showing my Layout, including my turntable made from a cd disc.



Here some pictures of the grey house. I hope you can use them. As you can see I am still in a starting stage. I’m a bridge freak so I’m trying to get them in place right before I move on.



You can download the house ken has made here.

A real mixed bag this time – hope you liked them. Let us know below!

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide, if you want to get going on your layout.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

34 Responses to More modelling pics and tips

  1. Tom says:

    Geat looking railroad Ken. I really like the CD turntable … does tht cd play I’ve been working on the railroad? LOL! Like the sand in the baby jars. The bridge looks great. Like that idea about gluing. The gray house looks great!

    The height I use for my N guage 36″ height:counter top height: It works the best for me. easy to work at this height. Note: I do not exceed 36″ width. My reach works just fine within that range. Hope this is helpful.

    Ken thanks for the updates…keep them coming. Thanks for sharing!
    Al, will be waiting for the next addtion. Thanks.

    Keep on training!

    Tom N

  2. Ron says:

    Thanks for posting the photo’s guys, some good work put into the layouts, I for one would never thought of using a CD disc for a turntable.

  3. Pete Stewart says:

    Do you have a package bundle price for all of the download buildings you offer besides just the 4 houses?

  4. Al says:

    Yes – it will be on the page shortly!


  6. TOM says:


  7. Kaustav says:

    Nice bridges! I love the trestle as well as the truss bridge. 🙂

  8. Bruce says:


    Try checking the stnadards for club modules. I thought it had a hight specification as well as track placement specks.


  9. It never ceases to amaze me, when you see the inavation of modelers when building their layouts and they are confronted with a problem of some kind. Just as you’ve shown here in your layout, by incorperatting a turntable made from an old “CD Disk!!” Because the space was limited and you needed to turn your Loco’s around and a manurfactured turntable, would of been to big for the amount of space you had available. So you improvised and solved what could of been a deal breaker comgratulations and enjoy running your Railway Empire.

  10. Max D says:

    Smart move with the C.D Disk turntable. I suppose an old 45 record would do for locos with tenders ! Inexpensive way to experiment.

  11. Duncan says:

    I like the pencil eraser top idea for drums. Thanks for that. I have tried it out. Looks good. Now to scrounge more pencils! D/

  12. Toni says:

    In the the older books that I have, the suggested height for layouts was around the height of you chin for viewing the layout at just below eye level, four to four and a half feet high. Now-a-days I’ve seen layouts that range from a low of twenty-four inches for children, to an average height of about three to three and a half feet tall, allowing an adult to view more of the layout from a bird’s eye view.

    What I would suggest is to adjust the height to your chest level and take into account reaching over you layout’s structures if you have to re-rail any cars that may have jumped track. That way you need not worry about having to stand on anything and falling into your layout, if you have to fix anything on it.

  13. Carl says:

    Toni and others,
    The best height for viewing a layout is about chin level because that is closest to looking like the real world. I am not a bird, so a bird’s eye view just feels wrong. However, chest level is too high for me, but if you have a stool to sit on when running your layout, then chin level becomes lower. For smaller kids, they could stand on a stool. That said, I like about 3 feet high and a rolling office chair. I play in comfort, and I can stand up and reach derails in the back.

  14. Jim says:

    Love all the tips, photos and videos. How about some suggestions for facia? Masonite seems to be popular. Also read about some material called Duralux. Anyone have any experience using it? Thanks, Jim

  15. Travers says:

    Great looking bridges, I am working on figuring out what bridges to us on my layout as well. If anyone has any good “how to” for scratch bridge building in HO scale that would be greatly appreciated.

  16. John Popp says:

    I print out almost all of your readers tips. I plan on trying a lot of the ideas out in the future. Lot of great ideas. Thanks ,guys and gals.

  17. Chuck C says:

    Hey “M”. I see you live in Pa. Where? I live in NJ. I started with N around 1963-64. I was 10. Very hard to get good stuff in N, most I had to make myself.

  18. Tony says:

    I find chest high to eye level makes the layout look much larger. I am 6’2″ so that is kind of crazy. At home mine sits at 4′ and I have a tall office chair I opperate from. It has wheels so if I have a problem I dont have to get up!!!! When I move my layout to train shows I have a set of 40″ legs I put under it. It is low enough for older kids to view it, high enough for adults and most importantly keeps smaller kids from ransacking it because a parent has to pick them up to see it.

  19. DaveB says:

    Love the realistic ‘clutter’ of your layout – ‘reality freak’, so many layouts are clinicly “clean” and weed-free – this Does look like living ‘cheek-by-jowl ‘on the {wrong} side of the tracks’ ….

    Second use for play-sand . Anytime I’m painting with greens or brown [acrylics] I never wash my pallette but, pour on a double/triple amount of sieved sand and mix it well – scrape it off onto a paper towel to dry off [ under a spot lamp if in any rush ] and then feed it back through the fine-grade sieve {into a coffee bottle}
    Soooo much more econimical as a fine medium. When I lay it, I mix 33% Sap-green / PVA / water, as the glue and, when almost dry, ‘wash-over’ with 50/50 paint/water { cammo’ (ish) alternating with burnt umber on the same brush } adding variation & relief to any blandness of colour.
    The finer the grade of sieve/sand, the difference in usage… coarse makes good leaves, medium – grass and, fine to dust for mown lawns and in brown, painted onto wire tree-trunks to simulate bark.

    My latest [ but too I.T. dull & lacking quality-camera free to attach photographs] was to add 100&1000 sweets ( US – tiny sugar balls ) colour (color) sorted –
    [ tedious but whatever ], to some trees – suddenly instead of ‘bushy-tree’, I have an orange-tree, a lemon grove, and apple-tree . . . even ‘She who must be obeyed’ agreed that they’re “OK”.

    & not a chuffer but, a wargamer Much appreciating Al’ and his site and You and the suggestions which are very useful for scenics @ 15mm scale – which is almost N guage – which I GOT to have a go at !


  20. Fred Richards says:

    Love this edition, all of it.
    What I lvoe most is how many people have stated that they are Modeling in “N” scale.
    I have size constraints, so a 4′ X 6′ is all I could squeez into my home office.
    I used Pipe to elevate the Plywood substrate 35″ off of the floor which gave me enough room between the Office furniture sidearm and the bottom of the board so I can get my arm under it to do my wiring and when I sit in my office chair to run the layout, it is about 3-4 inches below my chin height.
    I love N but as others have experienced getting product for it is difficult.
    I would love to create a Fantasy Long Island Railroad two track oval but getting Loco’s and Rolling stock is impossible in N where HO has full sets of both available without issue.

  21. Wayne says:

    i like 3 ft as a height, but my 11×6 layout is on a pully system, so can have it any height, great wen your wiring


  22. M from Pennsylvania have you an idea for fence on n scale. Paul in n.c. Thanks

  23. Dan says:

    Model layout height
    When I retired in 2005, we moved from So. Cal. to Ariz. and now rent instead of owning a home.
    I call myself a 2×4 carpenter. I went to the hardware store and purchased 0ne 2x8x1/2 plywood: and 8′ 2×4’s. The store cut the 2×8 in half length wise and all the 2×4’s at 48″- no cost. My layout “frame” is all bolted together-no nails.
    In addition, I coated all plywood surfaces with 12’x12′ floor tiles so I had a smooth working surface that was brown. Some people use ceiling tiles (inverted) to get the first layer for the layout.
    I model in old 3rail MARKLIN HO trains that have metal “ballast” in the track frame. In no time I can set up a layout and run trains or design new track plans.
    When it is time to move, the movers are happy to handle 8″ plywood and bundled 2×4’s.

  24. john andrew says:

    M,Layout height depends on how tall you are and then about belly button high that is for yards and any where that you need to handle rolling stock with a depth of no more that 600mm for easy reach , tunnels for many reasons I make them no longer than 450mm any longer I use half tunnels (split lengthways) you can then watch your trains and build the inside of the tunnel so it too can be seen, a lot of work but it does add another way of watching the trains on your layout and any problems are easy sighted and fixed any way who in there right mind wants to hide the locos and or rolling stock best regards johnA

  25. john andrew says:

    HI ,weighted bottles what will you blokes think of next I use lead and place a bit of ply or other straight board between the weights and the track to even up the weight distribution I think I will change to bottles and sand best regards John A

  26. Herbert Sussman says:

    More great ideas, that I hope to incorporate soon. I have started on the first stage of my bench work, and am using a small upstairs room (about 9′ X 7″) with a “U” shaped layout. Working in HO so still will have to see how my older stock (donated by friends) will run on the flex track, etc at radii of 20″ or less. Keep the hints coming.
    Herb in N. Carolina

  27. Perry says:

    In my s gauge club we use 42 inches as an operating high and we thing 30 inches is the maximum depth.and I have read that smaller gauges should be set higher.

    Perry in New Orleans.

  28. Frank Goodman says:

    To “M”. Try leaning over the kitchen counter for an extended period of time without leaning with your hands on it. As if you are working scenery, track laying/ballasting, etc. Yes, every so often a hand rests/ supports while working, but not constantly. How does your back feel? I’m 73 and 6′ tall with a bad back. Just getting back to this hobby (HO) after many years away and am finding 42-48″ is going to good for me. 2-3′ depth on table is max. Turnarounds at end will be 6′, but with assess from all sides. Once again thinking of back issues. Children can sit on stools for viewing, adults can also if desired. Or sit on chairs if tall enough. Happy modeling!

  29. Brad says:

    For hard to reach areas on your layout,I use a manual “grabber” like the thing older folks use to reach jars that are high up on shelves.The prongs on mine are coated,so in the event of a hard to reach de-rail,the trains and cars can be retrieved without harm.If you have a tunnel and the opening is large enough,it can also be used there as well

  30. Larry says:

    I guess I am missing the point of all the scenery that I am seeing posted here. My train set is focused on the trains and not the surrounding scenery. Obviously, I want to see my trains winding around and about the table so my scenery is minimal.

  31. Bill Roberts says:

    My set up for N gage, in three different homes, has always been at 42 (106cm) high and 34 (86cm) wide or wider at the end that needed a round house or staging yard. Anything larger and I hear my lady. For the last 40 years my base, for the trains, has always been “Homosote” a form of gray compressed paper 1/2 inch thick in 4 X 8 foot sheets. The trains run very quiet and it is very easy to fasten tracks to it and remove them to change them when wanted. Lakes and streams can easily be carved in it and like me, it’s cheap.

  32. Jim Richards says:

    I love the bridges. Do you have any information on them. Some good ideas. Sorry no babies here so I will stick to pins.

  33. Bob C says:

    Dan where in Arizona do you live?
    I am in Scottsdale.

  34. Great ideas on this post. Thanks Al.

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