Creative Ideas for Making Model Railroad Scenery

There are plenty of places to buy ready-to-use models for your model railroad – building, scenery, etc. – but making your own is often a better way to go.

The "do-it-yourself" method gives you much more freedom to design exactly what you want. If you’re prototyping your favorite railway, in your favorite little town, it’s going to be next to impossible to find a ready-made model that matches the buildings and other scenery exactly.

Making your own gives you complete freedom to duplicate the scene the way you want – or to make whatever changes you feel are necessary.

Model Train StationA lot of model railroaders shy away from making their own scenery, thinking they’re not crafty enough or artistic enough.

The fact is, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. There are plenty of common household items that can be used to create scenery for your railroad.

Some of these items include:


Small stones and rocks used judiciously and embedded into mountains as boulders to add realism – just be certain the stone matches the miniature environment you are trying to create. Crystals or granite in a meadow for instance will ruin the effect immediately.

Rubber Gloves

Items like raincoats and umbrellas can be made by cutting and fixing rubber from gloves and are available in a variety of colors.

Talcum and Baby Powders

Baby powder, especially when mixed with colorants can be a wonderful substitute for substances from snow to dirt or even sand. Use of real dirt or sand in miniatures is often discouraged due to the ‘graininess’ being too large giving a false look to the substance, but the fine nature of baby powder is an excellent substitute.


Various tissues such as toilet and hand-tissues can be very useful for textures such as stucco on buildings or projection screens for drive-ins.


Available in almost any yard, small twigs make excellent trees when herbs are glued to make the leaves appear. Using small ‘hanging wire’ to create the smaller leafing braches can create a very realistic approach, as can a light dusting with ’snow’ for winter scenes.

Wax Paper

Wax paper can be used for a variety of purposes anytime a slick-appearing surface is needed. For instance, properly painted it can make an excellent pond or coated with crushed nuts and painted a road surface.

These are just some of the things you can use. If you think creatively, you’ll be able to come up with lots of other ideas. You might also want to take a look at my previous article about making your own model railroad scenery.

Who knows? You might just find a use for all those coffee cans full of stuff in the garage that you’ve never quite been able to get yourself to throw out!

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

josh July 25, 2007 at 3:02 am

there needs to be a web site for people to add comments on about making your own stuff… i know some great ways to make trees and such.

Justin Dancing Hawk October 4, 2008 at 3:11 am

This is great! And as an offering to things one can make themselves – I make CULVERTS out of aluminum foil , wrapped around a bolt/ run your finger nail in the thread grooves to create the corrugation! These make great loads for Gondolas/flat cars!
Gunsmiths have a great answer to balLast ! For about $1.00 per pound – you can buy crushed walnut shells! Or even cheaper – ground corn cobs! Gunsmiths use these materials for polishing brass,….and throw it out when they ware it out for their purposes!… befriending your local gunsmith could get you all the FREE ballast you could ever DREAM of using! Not everything in our hobby has to be expensive – as is the reputation! Creativity shall overcome! Think outside the BOXcar! :-) The result will keep you ALWAYS “ON TRACK”!!

Brian January 5, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I would be glad to hear them, as I am still new to the hobby.

Brian Guzy February 24, 2009 at 9:50 pm

What is the most productive and cheapest way to build a small mountain? I am going to use plaster of paris. What should I build the base out of?

bob March 8, 2009 at 6:06 pm

I am just starting to build my railroad set i havent got much up yet but this site provides me with alot of infromation
ps. the paper mache method works good for mountains!

Warren September 21, 2009 at 9:12 am

Hi – thank you for the information. I’m only starting out with this. Except for the locomotive a few cars and tracks, I have not yet started building it…but the space in the basement has been cordoned off!!

Thanks, again


luigi April 21, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Great way to make scale model ‘planking’ for walls, doors, walkways, ramps, docks, ship decks, flatcars, etc., etc. Using a very fine cabinet blade on (preferably) an adjustable miter or table saw, slice off very thin sections of 3/4″ plywood. Ply should be composed of minimum 6 layers of veneer. This gives HO scale 1′ plank decking. You can go smaller by laminating your own stock, but you need a few woodworkning tools, clamps, etc. Very realistic results for construction of model wood buildings.

Doug July 17, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I know a great way to make a waterfall, with real water.

First make a river bed to go off a cliff leading to a lake,but starting in a cave(make sure it’s water pruff with plastic or anything you think will work

then put a small pump under the layout sucking water out of the lake from under the lake and putting it back at the start in the cave and add water into the river bed until there is enough

marina November 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm

does anyone know how to make miniature oil barrels for scenery in the landscape?

siddesha December 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm

these ideas are good,,

but any body inform me
how can i get model train and track in bangalore(india)

please eamil me or call me +919964693979

tammy February 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I am just getting started dont know alot about the trains but getting into it…So far i have a ping pong table and a half for a lay out. Just cant seem to get going on the decorations stuff….I need all the ehlp and pictures i can get

jim September 7, 2011 at 8:28 am

tks doug i have been trying to get water thru the backdrop but stalled out a cave never entered the brain . works perfect. tks again…j

kim September 24, 2011 at 5:07 am

Hi to make things for your senery.Look around carefuly in real life.Thats mostly what i do is recycle food containers all sorts of junk and throwen away stuff to make what i need. Imagination. Tin plates from food containers make super corugated roofs. I have sent a bunch of photo’s of things i made. Including a Ho tooth pick cabin with a rock fireplace. To moss tree’s with tiny tree house. Things from around the yard. Ive made tons of things.

Bill September 24, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Hi Kim, Thanks for sharing your ideas, and the photos. They are truly inspiring…

Aluminum pipe and roof panels from recycled food containers

Dry moss tree

Half done poggo stick lumber cabin, poggo hot dog in a batter on a stick.

Tooth pick cabin, Wood chopped from moss tree, Axe on wood, Outhouse with 2 ply toilet paper

Water channelled tin roof and pipe

jonathan November 10, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Marina asked how to make scale oil barrels. Which of these sources you use depends on the scale; all give you just the right shape (a circular ridge at top and bottom): (1) small wooden thread spools, (2) very small plastic thread spools, found in travel sewing kits (often $1 for 8 to 12). To add realism, prime with paint and recoat with shiny enamel. Dirty them up after the enamel dries. Brand name decals will also add realism. A dot of paint on one end may simulate the pour-hole.

Ravi November 12, 2011 at 4:28 am

How can I make the railway track of handmade in a minimal cost

Lynn November 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm

To make oil drums I cut tubing to the size I want fill the ends with glue and paint
tubing comes in all sizes and work well.

Len January 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Hi some verry good ideas i would just like to say for dirt on a plowed field i use used tea bags open them up and put in a container and dry out on a radiator or similar keep adding to them until you have the quantity you need put pva glue on Bord and just sprinkle over with tea
Great sight thanks

kim January 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Wow last november was the last time someone left a good idea.What happened to all the good ideas i been sending in.Telephone poles even plans for ho homes. maybe ended in the junk mail.

Bill January 22, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Thanks Kim for your very useful ideas. Hopefullly I have not lost any. Your recent ones are here:
Practical Model Railway Building Materials

kim March 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Hi all.Got any scenery ideas.Like some feedback about useing wind turbines in their layout.Say on some hills.Or off to one side.Some think you will spend most of your time staring at it and draw your attention away from the rest.I think it wouldnt be any more than blinking lights on a water tower or tower for radio or anything that blinks.I found cheap but well made $20. believe me i searched alot of sites and found nothing worth while.kidwinds is the site.white or blue.

john swansey March 15, 2012 at 6:56 am

it is very easy to make trees by pulling up weeds that have good roots , dry them and gthe with a small electric coffe grinder ground up for or other porducts , spray the roots with hdhease and dip the roots in the ground up meterial , then spray them green it works out great

DALE March 18, 2012 at 5:43 am

I am a junk collector! Every Saturday I go to garage sales and pick up (for next to nothing )useless pieces of junk ex. I have a oil refinery that is 80% made up of scrap!
old film containers (small black ones) become storage tanks….plumbing caps become
oil storage tanks (ho scale) upside down pencil cups (square) become oil cooling units…..I could go on and on! These items if placed right fit right into the whole refinery! Just make sure that they are close to scale as possible! I love this keeps me contented and out of my wife’s “DO THIS RANGE” It also saves a lot of money!

builder kim April 22, 2012 at 5:06 am

Hi everyone.I got lucky and managed to get alot of replacement string for Ho scale cranes.I have 2 sizes in diameter.For those who need string for there cranes email me and we can deal.thanks

kim May 30, 2012 at 5:59 am

Hi im giving away replacement string for Ho cranes 2 sizes.You provide an mailing address and you pay for the shipping,tell me the size you need and i send it.Free

builder kim October 7, 2012 at 5:43 am

Hi everyone.I have a good idea to make realistic steel link fence for HO.I took a orange flag.The flag is used by road crew flagmen on construction.You cut them in strip’s.I used tough wire for the post’s and used instant clear glue to glue them to the strip’s,and then painted the flag strip’s silver with testors model paint.when dry it came out perfect and feel’s like real chain link fence with weight to it.Never found scenery fence for model train’s as good a looking as this.You wont be disapointed.Builder Kim ps i sent in a picture to show.

builder kim October 7, 2012 at 5:53 am

Hi all.For those who have any scale crain’s with black string for cableing.My secret to replace these string’s with the same string they use to wire these crain’s before selling.Go to your fishing and hunting store and look in the fly fishing string area.Look for the black fly fishing string.It come’s in 3 diffrent sizes.choose your spool and size and wam you replaced the original broken string with the same string they use in the manufacturer.Bring a piece of the string ya want to replace to compare size at store.I happened to stumble on 10 spools of diffrent sizes for free.

builder kim October 7, 2012 at 5:57 am

Hi all would be great if you have sugestion’s or have made something interesting send in photo’s so everyone can injoy them and copy.Picture’s say a thousand word’s.

builder kim October 7, 2012 at 6:12 am

Ravi wow your taking on a big one.Going to run into alot of fun with that.Why not just buy on ebay or garage sales Ho track.Can use the ho track for DCC or Ho.But if your bent on taking this home made track on.start off with alot of cooper wire.Very expensive cooper roll’s.cant have waves or kink’s in it.Then have to make each tie and stick that wire to it.Hope your young going to take along time to make up a good size layout.And then have to make switch track as well and bunch of other HO track.Im good at building and would never take on a huge job like that.If ya dont like the road bed ez track has.Then use Ho old school track and use for both DCC and HO.I run both together.I also sent in a photo on useing white craft styrofoam boards and cut into road bed.looks great and works.

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