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Tips for Improving Your Model Structures

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Few model railroads would be complete without at least a few structures. Even in a rural setting you'll find outbuildings, railroad structures, bridges, etc.

With a little care and work, your buildings can be one of the highlights of your layout. From combining different modeling materials to adding lights, interiors and other details, it is easy to make your buildings unique - even if you start with a common kit. Read on to find more tips to make your buildings the best they can be.

1. Kit Building Basics

cutting parts
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Like any project, building a building kit goes a lot better if you know the basics. If you're new to kit building, you may want to take just a minute to review these essential skills.

2. Building Plastic Kits

windows
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Plastic kits are by far the most common structure model kits on the market. These come in as wide a range of difficulty levels just as they do in architectural styles. Take a look at a typical kit, an HO scale station from Walthers and its assembly from start to finish.

From painting to gluing and even some simple modifications to enhance the basic kit, you'll see that even a kit easy enough for a beginner can be made into a one-of-a-kind project.

3. Building Laser-Cut Cardstock Kits

trim
©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Despite the overwhelming options in plastic kits, cardstock is making a comeback. These aren't the paper models of decades past. Thanks to laser cutting technology, these kits fit together with surprising ease, accuracy and strength.

If you are looking to expand beyond your plastic cities, these kits are a great way to get started. These are also good kits to get started with, especially for younger modelers, since the building materials, tools and adhesives are so familiar.

4. Building Wood Kits

gluing kit walls
©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Since most of us learn with a plastic kit, the wood "craftsman" kits may seem a bit intimidaing. In fact, wood is in many ways an easier material to model with than plastic. If you start with a simple kit like this storefront building from Grandt Line you'll master the basics in no time and be ready for more challenging projects.

5. Scratchbuilding a Structure

finished coal shed
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Scratchbuilding can be a very scary word for beginners. It shouldn't be. As with kits, starting with something simple is a great way to get started. A basic structure like the coal unloading shed shown here, or even a scratchbuilt addition to a commercial kit, will build your skills and confidence for more elaborate projects to come.

6. Good Foundations

finished foundation
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Any building can benefit from a good foundation. Sometimes you'll start with a kit that has one already. But for buildings on a sloped plot or just a different look, a little extra work below the walls can have a big impact on the overall scene.

7. Plant Your Buildings

planted building
©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Now that you've got a foundation under that building, plant it in the ground. Unless you're modeling a houseboat or a mobile home, a floating building can destroy the look of any good building. Follow these simple steps to put your buildings in your scenery, not on it.

8. Lighting

theatre marquis lights
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
From basic interior room lighting to scrolling theatre marquis, there are many options for adding light and life to your structures. Take a look at many of them here and how you can improve your building lighting.

9. Interiors

completed interior
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Adding an interior to a building can do a lot for the model, especially when the room lighting is dim and the model interior lights are on. Interior details don't have to be as exacting as those on the exterior - all you need is the impression of life within. For even more detail, check out this interior made with laser cut parts.

10. Weathering Structures

completed store
©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

There are lots of ways to weather our models. For more techniques you can see the weathering pages devoted to customizing trains. From drybrushing to fading decals, the same tricks that work on a boxcar will work on a storefront.

For some specific tricks to working with buildings, even one you've already built, read on.

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