How to Make Mountains for Model Train Layouts

railway club 16

How to make mountains for model train layouts

You’ve come to the right place if you’re seeking for inspiration for hills and mountain sceneries. This article shows how to make a mountain and offers landscape options.

You’ll also discover the necessary mountain-building supplies. Once you have the ingredients, you can build your mountain.

This complete guide to building model train layout mountains will teach you how to create realistic mountainous terrains.

We’ll discuss planning, design, and supplies like cardboard, plaster cloth, and acrylic paints. You’ll also learn how to sculpt, detail, add flora and water features, safety, and exhibit your project.

This guide will help you turn your model train layout into a stunning miniature world, regardless of your experience.

How to Make Mountains for Model Train Layouts: A Comprehensive Guide


Model train layouts are art. Model railway scenery requires more than tracks and structures. Realistic railroad layouts need mountains. These tall peaks and deep valleys lend aesthetic appeal and reality to the picture. Here’s how to construct model train layout mountains. We’ll walk you through planning, design, and finishing in this complete guide.

Materials Needed

To craft realistic mountains for your model train layout, you’ll need a few specific materials. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • Cardboard/Foam Boards: These will serve as the foundation for your mountains. Cardboard is easily accessible and versatile, while foam boards are durable and can be easily shaped to achieve realistic contours.
  • Plaster Cloth/Paper Mache: These materials are essential for shaping the mountains and adding texture. Plaster cloth is moldable and sturdy, making it an excellent choice for creating realistic rock formations. Paper mache can also be used for a more lightweight option, especially for smaller mountains.
  • Acrylic Paints: Choose paints that mimic natural shades found in mountains, such as browns, grays, and greens. Acrylic paints work well for model train layouts as they dry quickly and adhere to various surfaces.
  • Brushes and Tools: Invest in a variety of brushes for different painting techniques and detailing work. Tools like hobby knives, sculpting tools, and sandpaper will also be essential for carving and refining the mountain shapes.

Brands like Woodland Scenics and Noch offer quality materials specifically designed for model train layouts, ensuring the best results for your mountain crafting endeavors.

How to Make Mountains for Model Train Layouts: A Comprehensive Guide

Planning and Design

Before diving into the construction process, it’s crucial to have a clear plan and design in mind. Here are a few steps to help you in this stage:


Start by sketching out a blueprint of your desired mountain range. Consider factors such as the overall layout of your train track, the available space, and the desired visual impact. Sketching will give you a better understanding of the size and placement of your mountains within the layout.

Size and Placement

Ensure that the size and placement of your mountains are proportional to the rest of your train layout. Mountains should neither dominate the scene nor appear too subtle. Strike a balance that complements the overall theme and design of your model train layout.

Building the Base

Building a solid and sturdy base for your mountains is essential to ensure their longevity and stability. Here are two common methods for creating the base:


Cardboard is an easily accessible and versatile material for constructing the base of your mountains. It can be cut, bent, and layered to achieve the desired shape. Start by cutting out large pieces of cardboard and layering them to form the basic shape of the mountain. Use adhesive such as hot glue to secure the layers together. Once the basic structure is complete, carve and shape the cardboard using a hobby knife or sculpting tools to achieve the desired contours.


Foam boards can also be used to create a sturdy base for your mountains. Foam boards are lightweight, easy to shape, and offer more flexibility in achieving intricate details. Begin by cutting the foam boards into the desired shape of the mountain. Layer the boards on top of each other, securing them with adhesive. Carve and shape the foam using sculpting tools to create realistic contours and texture.

How to Make Mountains for Model Train Layouts: A Comprehensive Guide

Sculpting and Detailing

This is where the magic happens, and your mountains start to take shape. Here are a few techniques to help you sculpt and detail your mountains:


Using hobby knives or sculpting tools, carve out details such as crevices, ridges, and rocky formations in your mountains. Be mindful of the natural flow of mountain ranges and create realistic textures by carefully carving into the surface. Take reference from real mountains or photographs to achieve a convincing look.


If your train layout includes tunnels, ensure that the tunnels align with your mountain. Carve out appropriate spaces in the mountains to accommodate the tunnels. Pay attention to the scale and proportions to maintain realism.

Plaster Cloth Application

Plaster cloth is an excellent material for adding texture and strength to your mountains. Cut the plaster cloth into small strips or pieces and dip them in water. Apply the wet plaster cloth to the mountain surface, layering it to achieve the desired thickness and texture. Use your fingers or sculpting tools to mold the cloth into the desired shapes. Allow the plaster cloth to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.


Once the plaster cloth is dry, it’s time to bring your mountains to life with paint. Start by applying a base coat of earthy colors such as browns, grays, and greens. This will serve as the foundation for the final paint layers. Use a dry brushing technique to add highlights and lowlights to create depth and realism. You can also use washes to blend colors and achieve a more natural look. Experiment with different painting techniques to achieve the desired effect.

Vegetation and Water Features

Adding vegetation and water features to your mountains will enhance the overall realism and create a more captivating scene. Here’s how you can incorporate these elements:


Plant trees, bushes, and grass on the slopes and valleys of your mountains. Use a variety of sizes and shades to create depth and mimic the natural diversity of vegetation. You can purchase model railway scenery foliage from various brands to achieve a lifelike effect.

Water Features

Incorporating water features such as lakes, streams, or waterfalls can add a dynamic touch to your mountains. Use clear resin to create lakes or streams, ensuring that the resin is level and reflects light realistically. For waterfalls, carefully pour resin or use a specialized waterfall kit to create cascades that flow down the mountain slopes.

How to Make Mountains for Model Train Layouts: A Comprehensive Guide

Safety and Maintenance

As with any craft or DIY project, safety should always be a top priority. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:


  • Always wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and a dust mask when working with materials like plaster cloth and paints.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area to minimize exposure to dust and fumes.
  • Use sharp tools with caution to avoid accidents or injuries.


Regular maintenance is essential to keep your model train layout in pristine condition. Here are a few maintenance tips:

  • Dust your layout regularly using a soft brush or compressed air to remove any buildup.
  • Touch up any damages or wear using paint or by reapplying plaster cloth.
  • Inspect the layout periodically for any signs of damage or deterioration and address them promptly.

Showcasing Your Work

After hours of hard work and attention to detail, you’ll want to showcase your masterpiece in the best possible light. Here are a few tips for showcasing your mountain:


Strategically placed lighting can enhance the beauty of your mountains and create captivating shadows and highlights. Experiment with different lighting techniques to find the best way to showcase your creation.


Capture the intricate details of your mountains using macro lenses or close-up photography techniques. Pay attention to lighting, focus, and composition to capture the essence and realism of your model train layout.

How to Make Mountains for Model Train Layouts: A Comprehensive Guide


How long does it take to craft a mountain for a model train layout?

The time it takes to craft a mountain varies depending on factors such as complexity, size, and your level of experience. Smaller mountains with simple shapes can be completed in a few hours, while larger and more intricate mountains may take several weeks to build and detail.

Can I use real materials like rocks and soil to create my mountains?

Using real materials like rocks and soil can add authenticity to your mountains. However, ensure that the materials are clean and free from any contaminants that may damage your layout or pose a safety hazard.

What scale should I use for my model train layout mountains?

Consistency is key when it comes to scaling your mountains. Choose a scale that matches the size of your trains and other scenery elements. For example, if you’re using HO scale trains, ensure that your mountains are also in HO scale to maintain realism and proportionality.

Alternative Methods To Make Mountains

In a model train layout, there are a few ways to make slopes. First, you can use styrene boxes or triple-expanding foam that comes in a spray can. Next, you can cut shapes into the foam with a knife. Once the shapes have been cut, they can be covered with plaster cloth or surform. You can paint them with a flat black water-based watercolour once they are dry.

Use old plastic boxes is another way to do this. You’ll need a good box cutter knife and strong scissors for this. Start by cutting one-inch-wide strips of cardboard. How long the strips need to be will depend on how big your plan is. Also, make sure to measure the height of your subroadbed to get the right height. Then, fold the top and bottom of the strip under the subroadbed and the wall on the plan.

How do you paint model mountains?

Using paint that looks like real life textures is one way to make a mountain scene that stands out. To make it look like real earth, you should start by painting on a brown acrylic base coat. Then add scenery like grass, dirt, and broken bricks. You can paint more than one layer of each colour, depending on the look you want.

Make sure the acrylic paint is thinned with distilled water or lacquer thinner before you use it. Try putting on a few thin coats of paint for a more dramatic effect. This will make sure that the final product is smooth and even. If you use an airbrush, you can easily paint multiple layers and get much better results than if you used a brush.

Drybrushing is another way to add more details to your scenery. In this method, you dip your brush into the paint and then wipe it dry with a paper towel. This method works well because it only puts paint on the surface at its highest points. It is also suggested that you do this job with a flat brush. You can also sprinkle real dirt, rocks, and ground-up leaves on the surface to make the scene look more real.