Rob’s excellent scratch build ‘how to’

“Hello Mr.Lee:

My name is Robert …a 75 year old Ho scale modeler.

The intent of this email is to share an alternative method of building model railroad structures.

I started modeling HO scale almost 50 years ago. Back then Campbell Scale Models was one of the key manufacturers of Ho scale kits.

These kits…as well as…other manufacturers required a lot of time to build.

Start to finish could be as much as a month depending on the complexity of the kit…ie: Fine Scale Miniatures.

Fortunately…a number of major improvements have made the Ho scale scene.

Pre-cut parts…plastic detail parts…and currently laser kits.

Even the latest technology requires a lot of time to fabricate a kit.

Specifically…reinforcing the cutouts with bracing…set aside to dry…and then assembling the various braced components into a basic structure…making certain that all is square and true.

At my age I am on the short end of the stick and time is valuable.

I cannot afford to spend more than a day or two building a structure.

Hence…I am sharing my process for speeding up the building process.

I now build solid balsa cores that I veneer with the type of finishing materials required to complete the model.

Attached are some photos of my process and I no longer have to anguish over bracing…drying time…combining components hoping that all is square and true.

The structures that are almost complete took me less than a day to build from start to finish.

Best regards,

Robert, USA”

Alastair Photos 001

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My Word! A big thanks to Rob and his pics. Just goes to show there shouldn’t be anything stopping you rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in – whether you haven’t laid a single bit of track of you’re on the finishing touches.

Don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide if you’re tired of being on the side lines.

That’s all this time folks. Please do keep ’em coming.



PS Some cracking deals about at the mo: latest ebay cheat sheet here.

34 Responses to Rob’s excellent scratch build ‘how to’

  1. Ian Pither says:

    Excellent models out of balsa wood. Congratulations.
    How do you cut them so clean and square?
    From a 80 yr.old.

  2. Thomas Meleck says:

    Very clever. Very beautiful work. Old guys RULE.

  3. Robert Bouskill says:

    Excellent idea and execution. Kudos for straight thinking

  4. Keith says:

    A very good idea.
    Please say what saw you use to accurately cut the Balsa blocks, especially the roof sctions

  5. dennis chimera balls says:

    That is a great way to build a model i been in molding for over 30 years an built a lot of different buildings .i will give this a chance on my next building keep up the good work

  6. Stan Johnson says:

    Using balsa blocks is a great idea, but a tad expensive. You could also use 2 pound per cubic foot construction Styrofoam blocks. It can be cut with a hand or power saw ( I’d bet Rob used a table saw) or it can be cut with a hot wire bow. It can be used just like balsa, but it is considerably cheaper. I’ve used it to make track beds and scenery on several layouts. A small investment in a hot wire cutting set up will allow you to make blocks for buildings or your own curve-able track beds.

    Stan J.

  7. Rob Honnor says:

    Some of those would look good with just a coat of varnish to enhance the grain then used as decorative ornaments.

    I too would like to know how you get those exact cuts.

  8. Rod Mackay says:

    Lovely work and very practical. Simple and sturdy gets my vote every time. Just been straining my eyes, back and knees trying to wire streetlights under the baseboards, ouch! Just because you CAN run an LED off wires the thickness of a human hair, is not a good reason for making the leads that small.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    I am 73 and have been building models and scratch building as well since I began when I was about 65. Sure wish you wrote in sooner. I did a couple of Fine Scale & they liked to make me crazy. Oh well, better late than never….thanks for the info although I think I will use Styrofoam cores.
    Bob Miller

  10. Ernie Mainland says:

    I accomplish the same thing first building with 1/8″ + or – foam board and a hot glue gun. I cut with a very sharp, fine tooth table saw or a jig saw if I need a curved cut. Inexpensive and forgiving. I make the “footprint” first to comfirm it’s correctness on the layout. The foam board building may be on the layout for months before the finished skin is applied. Works for any scale in any country.

  11. John Reynolds says:

    Very clever…
    Vern Niner (unfortunately now deceased) used Florist Foam blocks in much the same way… They are also good for making adobe style buildings depending on how you choose to texture it after it is shaped…
    John (Cali)

  12. kevin says:

    Wow!!!!!…….. Talk about creativity……..Now that’s talent:-):-):-)

  13. Don says:

    Beautiful work Robert. I also like balsa but haven’t used solid blocks like you.
    The only downside I can see is that adding lights might be a bit more complicated. Have you got a preferred method for that?

  14. Ray Suckling says:

    Very impressive. I too am pushing 70 and think that it certainly is a time saver however I would be interested to hear where you source the cladding and fixtures as these things are hard to find in Australia..

  15. Roland says:

    Robert, keep up the great work. Your building is great.

  16. JusTrains says:

    Now WHY didn’t I think of that smart idea???

  17. mark st john says:

    Interesting idea, but a tad expensive for my budget
    however the sturdiness of those builds should keep them in the game thru the NEXT century or longer
    keep ’em runnin fellas
    stjohn in long beach calif

  18. Ian Mc Donald says:

    what a great how to. some thing very simple to do on a rainy day.

  19. Absolutely brilllant! Can’t wait until I am able to have another layout!

    Thanks so much for this tip!

  20. Such a great idea! Light weight and they float, too. Squaring up stuff is the worst thing in building models. Love Your technique!

  21. mike says:

    what kind of saw did you use to make those exact cuts???

  22. Bob Rolfe says:

    I would also like to know what type of saw is used in the cutting. Having spent 46+ years in housing construction i have never seen cuts that good no mater what wood was cut.

  23. Robert E Sandrus says:

    Very nicely done!!

  24. Hemi says:

    THAT is amazing work! NICELY dome! I’m in awe over how well thats started and ended! :O


  25. John Seale says:

    yes…i like it…i’m 74 and i’m thinking even house cars. seems to me that half the time building a conventional kit is the bracing & jigs. thanks for posting…

  26. Robert Brady says:

    Rob ; you have to show us how you cut the windows ,doorways etc. so another post. the roof i can understand . the blocks, which i may add are expensive .Jo-ann Fabrics has them I know, how do you cut them with straight precision.
    A Need To Know. A great job I might add.
    The critic

  27. Robert Brady says:

    On average a one piece block of Balsa wood 3x3x12 inch 10.99 American not to mention windows, doors, chimneys, shingles.. A fully supplied dwelling model ( styrene ) is anywhere from 17.99 to 29.99.. Behind your window openings Rob is the block with no inside view / see through effect. How would one remedy that ?
    Robert B

  28. Boyd Hanby says:

    This is my first time writing to you.. I would take a photo of a room from the windows perspective and add it to the back side of the windows before you glue it into position 😉 so you could see the room from outside the window 🪟😉😀

  29. Dwight in Toronto says:

    Looking at the first pic or two, my expectations for the final outcome were harbouring on “amateur time”. Well, what a wonderful surprise to see that Rob’s work turns out to be of architectural modeling quality. Great job.

  30. Mark T. Pianka says:

    Robert great job! A true artist in our hobby God Bless you and many more years to come.

    God Speed!

  31. John B says:

    very talented!

  32. Erick says:

    Looks pretty kool.!!!! I hope mine turns out that good.

  33. Robert says:

    Oh the memories. Kits that took forever, help if you got the building sequence out of order. A little renovation and the built kits look great

  34. Dave Karper says:

    Looks like a good way to put Mr. Lee’s printouts to good use.

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