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Baseboard top material

24995 Views 67 Replies 26 Participants Last post by  Alan D
I am going to try to build a 7' by 4' layout in 10 mm plywood with cross bracing approx. every ft.
It is going to be pulled up vertically on the wall when not in use. I would like to know wether this is suitable or wether it would need closer bracing
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You could add bracing every 2 feet creating a lattice under the board. Once the wiring and electrics are installed this could be covered with a thin board, or cloth to hide it if it is going up against a wall.

Devise a hinge system at the back attaching the layout to a batten screwed onto the wall and use either fold down legs or a couple of trestles to support the layout in the front.
Some use cork, I have used insulation board, which is ok, models well and cuts noise down, but a little weak for track pins. Sundeala or hobby board is strong and takes pins well, little bit more noise.
Hi Doug
Thanks for your idea as I had absolutely no idea
how I was going to hide the back of the board but the support is OK as I have a low table near the wall at the right hight that can be moved forwards when the layout is in use.
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Hi Swingcats
I have heard of using sundeala hobbyboard but not cork. I have also heard that using insulation board over the ply
Regards Ben
Sundeala is a slightly firmer form of fibreboard than insulation board and retains pins better - I think it was originally developed as an improved board for making notice boards. It is more expensive, and also needs supports every foot/300mm or less to prevent it sagging. But it is both lighter and quieter than ply with the track directly fixed to it. And it takes track pins which are not easy to use on plywood. Sundeala and insulation board both dislike damp conditions.

Some people use cork as a base for the track when using a plywood surface - this takes pins and acts as an insulation. Either they use cork strip just under their track or some cover the whole baseboard with self-adhesive cork tiles, which allows more flexibility in laying out the track.

John Webb
Hi John
I have looked at Sundeala but unfortunately they do not ship or have a stockist near me(south-east France) so I cannot use Sundeala. As a slightly more experienced modeller what do you think of insulation board over ply?
Regards Ben
Nobody's mentioned MDF so far.
Hi Poliss
I suppose MDF hasn't been mentioned because of the health hazard.
Regards Ben
And which health hazard would that be? Cutting MDF is no more dangerouse than cutting plywood. Cutting, say, 30 sheets over many years for making baseboards isn't going to kill you.
See here for what they say about it's use in schools.
i used loft boards on mine, come in short sections that interlock together. just put bracing under them.
can get pics if you want
What exactly are loft boards?
Regards Ben
QUOTE Sundeala and insulation board both dislike damp conditions.
My experience is that Sundeala expands and contracts as humidity/temperature change in my loft. I'm going to replace it.

QUOTE (ben100 @ 6 Mar 2008, 19:44) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>Hi Poliss
I suppose MDF hasn't been mentioned because of the health hazard.
Regards Ben

It has or is about to be banned in the USA!
Only ever cut MDF outside and wear a facemask.
It is a lovely smooth material, perhaps a little heavy, but absorbs moisture like a sponge, unless its coated in a sealant.

WBP Ply has to be the easy option in either 9 or 12mm thickness supported on a timber base ideally made from 21 x 44 PSE timber supporting framework narrow side up to the underside of the top material. Keep the timber grid to a max of 15 inches (400mm) and it shouldn't warp

I think the largest downside of a fold up layout is that virtually everything has to be removed before it can be folded away.
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QUOTE (ben100 @ 6 Mar 2008, 20:14) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>Hi
What exactly are loft boards?
Regards Ben
Chipboard sheets, nominally 18mm thick. Sold by DIY stores in packs of 6 or so sheets per pack. It is very heavy due to it's thickness and is as by its name is designed for flooring lofts to enable walking over and flat storage etc on the area sheeted.
QUOTE (poliss @ 6 Mar 2008, 20:01) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>And which health hazard would that be?

The very fine dust that gets on the floor & is extremely slippery & makes wearing a dust mask essential.

The fumes (toxic ?) given off if the cutting media is not razor sharp.

To name two - for others have a word with a shopfitter.

It's also not very suitable for baseboards - it's very heavy & will warp if not braced more than ply. It also does not like damp/humidity, only dry conditions.
Where do go get your information about MDF being banned in the USA Brian? Do you have an official website where this is stated, or just rumours on blogs etc?
Sorry, ben, didn't look to see where you were writing from; I'm sure there is an equivilent of Sundeala in Europe but I have no idea what it might be called.

The last layout I made with my father some 40+ years ago used insulation board but I realise now that wasn't particularly good. It doesn't seem to hold track pins well and screws can work loose with time, unless they're long enough to go into the plywood underneath. It is also susceptible to changes in humidity. It's also heavy and if added to the plywood will make for a heavy layout particularly if it's got to be let down and folded up each time.

Previous replies to questions about baseboards have indicated some preference for plywood and a cork covering as mentioned in my post #6 above, although I've no experience of this combination myself.

To address this issue about MDF

Good heavens, what a lot of #)(*&^%

MOST domestic furniture and most flooring or cupboard construction is one form or another of MDF type material - we'd all have two heads and be on respirators or dead if the web panic about MDF was even half way true.

Truth 1: There are more biological and chemical nasties in the average kitchen cupboard, garage, shed or Loft than in any amount of MDF dust.

Truth 2: This is a massive beat-up which as far as baseboards are concerned is based on half information and inflated by web rumour. The two components that are said to cause health hazards are wood dust and Urea Formaldehide which is part of the adhesive which bonds it together. Interestingly there is more written about the hazards of wood dust than the UF.

I note too that there is a recommendation for chipboard vs a no-no for MDF. Interesting as the components of BOTH are exactly the same - softwoods and urea formaldehide. In the flooring and water resistant grades of chipboard that WERE recommended there are actually MORE toxins than in MDF.

My summary for baseboards.

Chipboard. Least recommendable. Heavy but relatively weak as its not overly hard compression wise. Less warp resistant tan MDF or Ply. Most susceptible to swelling when wet. Once surface is broken it MUST be sealed or it will swell.

MDF: Used in thiknesses of 12mm or more for baseboards it cuts well and is reasonably stable. I use it however I always roll on a coat of undercoat and when the cutting is done I seal edges with undercoat. This is because like ALL woods it changes size when humidity is high. (expansion / shrinking of up to 1/2 centimetre on an 8x4 sheet - this does more to damage track than expansion of rail under summer conditions)

PLY: My preference but only when used in thicknesses of 12mm or more. I also paint all surfaces just as I do with MDF as ply ALSO expands by several MM when humidity is high vs low.

If you use thinner then it is essential to brace at the very least each 300mm - even better, brace less but stiffen it by cutting a long strip 25mm wide and screw/glue under the trackbed on edge (underneath the board) to make a very stable "T" shaped beam.

If you need thinner for transitions in any of them, then use two layers of say 6mm, laminating with high quality wood glue OR fibreglass resin + screws. Also clamp until the lamination glue is set properly. This will be MUCH stronber than a single layer of MDF or PLY.


Wood dust is wood dust. ALL of the above use urea formadehyde as an adhesive so the "parts" are equally hazardous. It is the fine dust caused by high speed power saws and power sanders that is harmful - and this effect is equal for MDF, Ply or Chipboard. Wear a disposable mask when using power tools for an extended period and vacuum up / clean up soon after - this is just common sense.... it stops you breathing in muck and stops the house getting dust throughout which will be MUCH more harmful to your health when "she who must be obeyed" hits you with the frying pan for messing up the house.

The REAL advice for good baseboards.

Keep any timber to be cut in the room it will be used in for at least a week so it will stabilise in its intended environment moisture-wise.

Use your noodle: use a mask when making lots of ANY fine dust. Otherwise you'll have sore eyes and nasties up your nose.

Paint ALL timber of any type - it ALL moves with moisture... This takes no time at all with a disposable roller and will stop problems due to baseboard movement over the years. Perhaps an hour of added work for a lifetime of better running! We all have 1/2 tins of paint in the shed - anything will do!!

Consider using PLY for the framework too. When I build a layout I have several sheets cut into 100mm wide strips (usually of 12mm). These become the framework which will NOT warp like the usual pine does.

glue, Screw and use short corner blocks of pine to reinforce corners for a rigid structure.

Personal issue:

I hate straight lines on baseboards and curve most baseboard edges... Its easy: Why not make the baseboard edge free-form - Build a standard frame then add the free-formed gently curving edge. Bend around any corners with 3mm ply and then add 1~3 more layers - this'll give a very strong baseboard edge that looks heaps better than the usual right-angle and ALSO lets you take the curve around more narturally with less lost space on the BB itself....

Kindest regards

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Thanks Richard, I will think on MDF as a baseboard surface.
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