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How to Scratch Build a Building

When you a building that is not available, you need to building it using wood, styrene, or some other material.  This involves precise measurements, a creative mind, and patience.

Below are some photos of the train station I build using sheets of styrene which is a flexible plastic.  It comes in sheets or in sticks of varying shapes and sized.  I needed to build a station because all of the stations available are in a European style and were much too big for this briefcase layout.


The Prototype

I used the train station pictured below as my inspiration.  The station is located in Allendale, NJ and serves for the New Jersey Transit commuter trains.  It has that small town look that I was aiming for.


My motto:  Measure twice, score and break, only cut when necessary!

The best method to breaking up styrene is to score the material and snap it off.  It's easier and it produces a better edge than if you cut through it.  There are however instances where you can't avoid it and you'll need to make one or two cuts before you can core and break the piece off.

This piece is what I used as the front wall.  You can see the door taking shape on the left and the notch I cut out in the bottom where I would attach the floor to ceiling bay window.  If I had tried to just cut the door out with an X-Acto then the pressure would have broken the outside wall.  I got around this by using a small drill bit to drill three small holes using my fingers and then did the cutting from there.

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This floor to ceiling bay window adds a lot of character to the station.  I first measured and cut out the three sides.  Then I used a small drill bit to get the window started and used an X-Acto knife to finish them off.  The windows are brass inserts that were made by MicronArts.  They have many different brass kits and parts you can use for scratch building.  I used CA (crazy) glue to attach them.  Lastly I angled the edges to fit together nicely at the angle I wanted and glued them with modeling cement to a base cut to the appropriate angle


You can see the front wall with the door cut out and an opening I cut the opening to allow light to pass through to the bay window.


To the right you can see the test fitting of the window.  I had to do some minor filing to the edges of the windows to get them to sit flush with the wall.


Before moving onto the next step I glued a piece of clear plastic on the backs of all windows to represent glass.

Here is the front wall with the bay window glued in place with modeling cement.  I attached the brass door with CA glue and cut and glued a piece of strip styrene to the back.  This will add stability to the structure.  There's a very good chance you'll crush the structure if you just glue the walls together without it.  I cut a curved section out from it to allow for light installation.


Here are the other three walls cut out and their sides tapered to a 45 degree angle so they all meet up correctly.  I added a support to the back wall which will add stability and make it easier to install the side walls.  I labeled the pieces accordingly so that I could easily identify them and which way they face.

Here are three pictures of the building once I glued all of the sides on.  I painted the inside black to keep light from glowing through the outside of the walls.  This is something I do with every building.  There's nothing worse than to have your building glowing like a night light.  I also added some extra supports on the short walls on the top of the building.  Lastly, I added a couple of pieces of short strips of styrene along the roof line.  This is to increase the surface area that the roof will be glued onto.  Click on the photos for larger pictures.

Now it was time for some extra detail to give it that small town look.  The prototype station has green molding on it which really makes it look nice.  I didn't want to try to freehand paint them on because 1) I don't trust myself to paint straight enough, and 2) gluing thin strips of styrene would give the molding a raised appearance and more accurate to the prototype.


I got a sheet of the thinnest styrene I had and used a metal ruler and an X-Acto knife to cut a very thin stril of styrene.  It's better to cut one continuous strip that's the same width rather than trying to cut multiple strips and hoping that you get the correct width each time.  I measured the building to see how big each strip should be then used modeling cement to glue them in place.


<----- Here you can see the thin strip of styrene next to a penny.

Here are the strips of styrene glued into place.  Each one was carefully measured to ensure a tight fit.   ----->


This fuzzy image is attempting to show the molding that I cut separate to go over the door.  Below are some pictures with the molding completed.  Click on them to see full size photos.

Time to Paint

Note: Any brass pieces you have need to be washed well and handled as little as possible

I used soapy water and a Q-tip to clean the building making sure to get all of the spots.  After that I used a Q-tip with plain water to rub any leftover soap off and let it dry.  I was now using a pencil with tack-it to hold the station.  I didn't want to touch it and risk having the paint not stick because of oils from my hands

I used a paint called "Aged White" which has a beige/yellow tint to it. and painted the surfaces of the main building. I used a small paintbrush that could get into the tight areas and was careful not to get the molding.


Next I painted all of the molding green.  I also painted the top of the bay window green like the prototype.

Time for the roof.  I measured and cut two equally sized pieces for the roof.  I test fit the roof to make sure the it looked right over the bay window.  I had to make some minor adjustments with a file, but nothing major.  I then filed the tops of the roof pieces so they would come to a point when I glue them together.  Now I just applied modeling cement to the roof-line of the station and pressed the roof pieces together.  I made sure that they made a point at the top and there were no gaps and I also made sure that they were the same distance out on each side of the station.


The only thing left to add at this point was the lattice work at the ends of the roof.  I decided to use a sheet of styrene and cut the lattice out all as one piece.  This would be stronger than if it were separate pieces and made it easier to install.  Once the modeling cement dried I painted it with the Aged White paint.  I painted the bulk of it with a regular size paintbrush and finished off the edges near the roof with  a small paintbrush.


I did a google images search for "printable roof" and came upon a picture of a shed taken from right above it.  I saved the image to my computer and used Microsoft Paint to size it so it'd be slightly larger than the roof.  Then I printed it out on a sheet of label paper and I cut it out with scissors.  I removed the label backing and lined the center of it up with the center of my roof.  I carefully placed it in the roof making sure not to leave any air bubbles.  Since I made it larger than the roof I had to trim it.  I did this by placing the station upside down and using an X-Acto knife to trim the excess.


Lastly I painted the sides of the roof green and it was ready for the layout

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