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Scratch Building Structures


Intermediate to Advanced


This is from a clinic given by Kurt S. Kramke, MMR. It is at a more advanced level and references the N.M.R.A. Achievement Program. It is presented here for your information.


This clinic will cover not the specifics but the general steps in how to assemble that special structure. I will also cover the N.M.R.A. structure achievement program and contests.

Of course the first question is, Why scratch build with all the kit structures that are available? One, if you can not find a kit of the structure you want, then you must scratch build it or accept a good enough substitute. Two, the achievement program and contests. Three, the best reason, it's fun and rewarding to say I built it myself. Secondly, is it hard to do? No, if you can put a craftsman kit together, Campbell, A Gloor Craft, etc., you can do it. Are there a lot of tools needed? No, you probably have most of them.

For tools you will need at least a scale ruler, single edge razor blades(buy these by the box of 100), Xacto or similar knife with various blades, I use a #2 handle and # 11 blades (which I buy by the box of 100) and a small square. I also have a miter box and saw, a steel plate with a square grid and aluminum side rails with extra magnets, small clamps, small baggies filled with shot(for adjustable weights) and the following tools, chopper, sander and Duplicutter® assorted pins, glass plates, pencils and scissors.

I am going to briefly cover kit bashing as it is somewhat similar to scratch building. In kit bashing you are taking several kits to get a completely different structure. Normally, this is done using plastic, but can be done with wood kits. The DPM (Design Preservation Models) parts are an example of kit bashing. I have also combined some Campbell kits together or have reversed the layout of the building.

So you find that structure you want to build or have drawn or copied plans, now what? All buildings can be broken down into smaller components, look at the overall building to see the logical breaks or boxes. Since I have construction experience, I look to see how would I build it in the real world. Then I put the model together the same way.

If you have a plan that is drawn in the scale you are going to model in, make several copies keeping the original to make more copies if needed. For a wood structure, I prefer to use stripwood since nothing looks like wood more than wood. I normally build using the board by board method starting with the framework using 2x4s, etc. as are indicated on the plan and cover with the proper siding. However, you can use the commercially available sidings. If you want to show the interior, you should finish that as well and make your roof removable. If you do not intend to finish the interior, it is much easier to do the roof. For removable roofs to look good, I have always built them with rafters and cross bracing to give them stability and strength.

If you do the board by board method for siding, for variations in the wood, prestain. In clapboard siding, nailholes are a must, for small buildings I use a straight pin but for larger buildings a pounce wheel is best (Vintage Reproductions has a small one that looks OK). For metal, stone or poured concrete buildings, plastic is the material of choice with a wide variety of types available. For most construction these will do. However, for corrugated siding, use one of the commercially available products (although you can make your own, it's very time consuming). For doors, windows and other exterior details, either make your own or purchase ones.

Construction is similar for all types of materials. Assemble all the subassemblies and then connect them to get the finished building. If you are going to paint the finished building, do not put in the exterior details until this is done. Add either clear plastic of glass in the windows, add the details then give it a light wash of black dye in rubbing alcohol to kill any shine.

What do you do if all you have is a series of photos to model from? If you have measurements, just draw plans. If you do not have any measurements, find objects that you know what size they are. Exterior doors are normally 3' by 6'8", board and batten siding is 1 by 2 or 3 battens with either 10 or 12 boards, clap board siding pre 1960 8 or 10 and post 1960 4 or 6. With only a few dimensions, you can draw plans that will look like the building.

If the model will be in the foreground, especially if it has a removable roof or large windows, interior detail is a must. To build a removable roof, make trusses and cover them with boards and then shingle or use a sheet of balsa or plastic. If the model has docks or porches, add some exterior detail and maybe a few figures.

In conclusion, I hope that I have given you some useful information on scratch building structures. Remember, not to expect perfect results on your first try, but do not give up.

If you are building for a contest or the achievement program, there are some general guidelines. First of all, when you are building for the achievement program you are not in a competition will anyone but yourself. To get a merit award you need to get 87.5 points out of a possible 125 points. The contest winners are those models that have the highest point total.

To get your Master Builders Structures certificate, you need to build twelve different structures, one of which must be a bridge or trestle. Of this twelve, six must be scratch built the rest must be super detailed with parts as defined under AP definitions (see the AP pages for details. Six of the models must get 87.5 points when judged at an approved N.M.R.A. contest or AP merit award judging. The bridge must be at least thirty foot long to be considered. Do not make this more difficult than it is, all my structures were small the largest was 4x6 inches. Have twelve buildings judged, do not worry about point totals beyond the six, this will make filling out the paperwork easier as a score sheet verifies the building. - Kurt S. Kramke, MMR


Kurt S. Kramke is MMR #287 and has received certificates in the following AP categories: Motive Power, Cars, Structures, Scenery, Prototype Models, Civil Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Chief Dispatcher, Association Official, and Volunteer.

To learn more about the N.M.R.A. Achievement Program, Click Here.

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Page last updated January 18, 2001