This was a project in 3mm. This appears to be continued proof of my masochistic tendencies. Why would anyone want to model in a scale where you cannot buy anything that just runs. Actually it is a great scale to work in. My previous modelling was in N gauge. You can get a lot of N gauge into a small space but eventually I found it just too fiddly and, to be honest, I was getting bored with it. I could have gone back to OO but that did not present any real challenge. One day, back in March 2001, I went to Abingdon MRC exhibition and saw a 3mm layout. I was hooked. What I discovered is that there is significant cottage industry around the scale. There is the 3mm Society itself which has a lot of kits. There are several smallish companies such as Worsley Works and Finney and Smith who produce the bits that the Society does not produce and then there are individual modellers who provide other bits and pieces. In truth there is a lot of stuff out there. You just have to build it for yourself.

Once I had decided on a scale then the thorny question of what gauge to use has to be answered. Actually the decision was easy, it had to be finescale. 3mm has exactly the same discrepancies as OO. There is an older gauge which is 12mm that many people still model in. This is the old TT and as with any modelling, if you do it well you can get some fantastic results. However, the more modern gauge is 14.2mm. This has now been refined to 14.125mm but is still the same to all intents and purposes. I cannot physically see 0.075mm. The 3mm Society caters happily for both gauges.

After the basics had been settled I then needed to decide on what exactly I was going to model. Perhaps the biggest mistake people make is to take on too much. Building a large layout is great but most people falter somewhere down the line because they don't break it down into smaller manageable sections. I have started several layouts that never got finished because of limited time making it all take so long that boredom sets in.

I have a room at home that is 7' by 5'6" which is my modelling room. What could I put in there? A circular layout was out of the question as modelling in finescale forces you to have more realistic, larger diameter curves. In the case of 3mm then 5'6" is just not enough. It had to be point to point. I am quite keen on modelling the Cromford and High Peak area and there is a superb layout in 4mm that models the lower part of the rope worked incline and that will fit into the space I have available. However there are several points to make and complicated mechanisms to construct and that is not sensible for the first time in a new scale. Eventually I opted to build a layout in stages, producing a module at a time. The idea being that I build and finish one module before moving onto the next.

I decided on a very simple module with just one point on it leading to some form of lineside industry. I still wasn't sure what that industry was going to be but this would give me my first point to build and hopefully some very quick results. At this juncture I had to decide how I was going to design track and came across an excellent program called Templot. It is produced in the UK and is a tool for designing track formations in any scale following British prototypical practice. It is a superb tool. It is not easy to learn as it is extremely powerful but it produces superb templates to build your own trackwork from. I dislike straight pieces of track so all I had to do with this program was choose a standard point, curve it a little and then extend the three track ends and there was my layout.

After much deliberation I have decided to call the layout Chorminster.



With the trackplan in mind of just one point feeding some lineside industry I had to settle on a size of module. I initially thought of 4' by 15" which seemed a reasonable size. Then I realised I would not be able to put two modules together in a 7' room so I decided on about 3'4" which would fit two modules with a little space left over. Going down to the garage I discovered the timber I had was 3' wide so 3' by 15" was the appointed size for my first module. Construction had to be using plywood. I used 9mm ply for the outer frames and main braces and 3mm ply for the track base.

It is important when designing a layout that you think about the scenery the railway went through. Rarely did railways run over flat ground. I wanted to set the railway into flowing countryside complete with a stream or river in a valley. To accomplish this I sketched in my mind how the levels would look and then freehand used a jigsaw to cut out the pieces that would form the edges and braces. The four edges were then nailed and glued together at the corners.


You can just see freeform inclines as the outer frames are glued together. Once the outer frames were set then the cross bracing was put in along with the river bed and the trackbed. You do have to remember to work up from the bottom to gets the levels right.

This picture shows the completed frame. The railway crosses the river on the left hand side of the board. At this point the railway would have been on an embankment so the inclines are fairly steep. As the railway moves to the right the embankments will become less steep and there is a flatish area for the intended industry.

If you use plywood as the track base then you will have to endure a lot of noise and reverberation as stock runs over it. One way of counteracting this noise is to place cork sheet between the track bed and the track itself. This is available from all good railway shops. Once the cork sheet has been glued down the the track layout was glued down. PVA glue was used throughout this process.

The next stage is to start putting the track down.


I had never built track before. It was obviously going to be an interesting, if painful, task. There are two main ways of constructing track. The first is with Printed Circuit Board (PCB) sleepers with the rail soldered directly to it. This is very sturdy track but I felt it lacked some of the realism that I was hoping for. The other main method is to use plywood sleepers and plastic chairs. The chairs are slid onto the rail and then they are glued to the sleepers with Butanone. Plywood sleepers, plastic chairs and scale height rail are all available from the 3mm Society. If you think this is fiddly then you are correct.


This is where you realise that doing a small layout is a very wise decision. I decided to build in situ. Firstly I creosoted all the sleepers I was going to use to give them an authentic colour. It is well known that the smaller you model the lighter the colours need to be to give a more realistic impression. However I used oak creosote as I had some in the garage. I expect to lighten it up with the airbrush later on. Once the creosote was dry the sleepers were glued to the baseboard with PVA. After this you get your rail, slide some chairs on and start gluing down. To get the gauge right you need some track gauges. Unfortunately decent gauges are currently out of stock from both sources. I was fortunate they somebody modified some 12mm sprung gauges to have 14.2mm inserts but these are no good for point laying. Eventually I fabricated my own gauges and trusted to luck.

If you want to know how building tack should be done then one of the best books on the market is "An Approach to Building Finescale Track in 4mm" by Iain Rice (Wild Swan Publications Ltd). This is a great book and should surely be followed. Due to impatience I took a somewhat more pragmatic approach which is fine for one point but would probably let me down if I had to do anything complex.


Once all the trackwork was laid then the next job was to fit a point motor. With hand built track there is no way that a normal solenoid point motor can be used. the energy involved in the solenoid would break the point in a very short space of time. additionally some form of latching or overspring would be required to keeps the blades in place. the answer is to use some form of motorised point motor. I have found two sorts of slow action motor. the first is American and called a tortoise motor. These are very good but rather on the large side. The other is a Fulgarex point motor. this appeared to have several advantages. Firstly it is smaller than the Tortoise. Secondly it has a couple of built in microswitches for changing the polarity of the frog and anything else you wish to do. The only problem is that the throw of a 3mm point is about 2mm and the throw of the Fulgarex point motor is about 10mm. I needed to find a 5 to 1 reduction from somewhere. I achieved this by using some angle cranks used in radio control modelling as above.


At this point it is a toss up what to do next, go for the ballasting or go for the scenery. I settled on a mixed approach and started building up the scenery and doing the ballasting at the same time.

The first thing I wanted to do was get the basic land shape right. As keeping the weight down has always been important I used the time honoured approach of expanded polystyrene. I obtained some 2" thick pieces from the local DIY store and spent a pleasant hour hacking away. This is one job where you have to do the whole layout in one go. It is so messy that you only want to do the cleaning up once. I thought I did a great job of cleaning up but my wife seemed to complain about finding bits of polystyrene round the house for quite a while after.


Once the hacking was done I glued it all in place with timebond impact adhesive. After it was all set I did further shaping with a knife and then soaked strips of J cloth in diluted PVA and laid it on top to smooth the surface out. Sometimes polyfilla was used to fill the larger craters. In order to prevent any of the white paper showing through I used the airbrush to spray a brown colour over the whole of the track bed. A light coating was sufficient to hide all the white and pick up the chairs and rail sides. The sleepers, having been creosoted in a darker stain, retained their dark colour. By a fluke the different colours give a reasonably realistic impression.


Now I can start on the ballasting. This should have been a quick and easy job. My normal method of ballasting is to use the Woodland Scenics fine range of ballasts. Normally I would pour it on dry, brush it into place with a fine brush and then pipette a PVA/water/washing up liquid mix on a few times and I would have a solid section of ballast. However, I just could not brush it into place. The problem seems to be that the plywood sleepers are significantly shallower than the plastic bases of PECO N gauge track that I am used to. Eventually I resorted to mixing the ballast wet in an egg cup and then laboriously placing the ballast between the sleepers using a scalpel. I have been working down one side of the track laying the centre and side areas with the following results.


The results came out okay in the end. I ballasted the siding in a darker colour and chose too dark a colour but I do not intend to take it up and start again. After that I got down to some flock. I always use the Woodland Scenics range of flock which is superb. I paint the groundwork a dark brown and then brush on watered down PVA and then pour on the flock. The results below show the basic groundwork done. There is no real texture yet, that is still to be added.

Included in the picture above is the bridge. It is fairly hard to know whether to do the bridge before the flock or vice versa. I did them at the same time. the bridge is made from Slater's plastikard, medium stone. I made the mistake of being to free and easy with the ply bridge base. The end result was an edge which was not smooth. In order to stick the plastic to the wood I used impact adhesive. Unfortunately, if you use too much then the plastic starts to melt and that happened in a couple of places.


I glued strips of plastikard inside the top walls but interestingly enough the top pieces melted inwards for reasons that I do not understand. In the end I cut off the upper parts, glued two pieces back to back with mekpak and then glued them down with an intervening strip of plastikard to represent a layer of stone set out further than the rest, presumably to help with water runoff. I also cut up plastikard strip to create coping stones which were then laid across the top of the walls. I also cut up more strip to represent the stones round the edge of the arch. It really didn't take long to do but my wife thought I was not all there, placing individual stones on the bridge. How we suffer for our art! The bridge design was fairly freelance but I did refer to "Bridges for Modellers" by L V Wood which is a superb reference work.