Does a OO gauge layout fit on a 6ft x 4ft board?

Does a OO gauge layout fit on a 6ft x 4ft board?

Quite a few modellers started their hobby with a Hornby train set. Often, these were squeezed onto a single piece of board, often 6ft x 4ft, as that was the most convenient size to manoeuvre about the house - it would fit through doors and could be potentially placed under a bed.

But how well does a layout fit on such a board, and is the size suitable for the more detailed models we have today?

Traditional Hornby-Dublo Train Sets

Hornby-Dublo were probably the first UK manufacturer to make tabletop trainsets, using 3 rail track sections which could be configured in many different ways. Initially, the curved sections were to a 15" (38.1cm) radius, 8 sections to a full circle.  This meant that a half circle could fit onto a board at least 30" (2ft6", 76.2cm) wide.  The sharpness of the curves wasn't an issue, as the locomotives were designed to use these curves. For the locomotives with 6-coupled driving wheels, the centre wheels did not have flanges, which meant they could slide over the rail and not derail.  Some centre wheels were even slightly smaller, so they didn't actually touch the rail at all. 

Photo courtesy of Swansea MRG

Later a larger radius curve of 17¼"( ) was introduced, to allow for a double-track layout. This now meant aboard at least
35" () wide was needed.

With the addition of passing loops, platforms and other lineside details, it soon became the convention to use a 4ft wide board. 

Even to this day, the Hornby Track Mat is 1800mm x 1200mm (70" x 47") which is just under 6ft x 4ft.

How well do the curves fit on the board? 

The various UK track manufacturers all produce standard set-track pieces to the same set of dimensions. For OO gauge,  the curves are:
  Radius 1 - 371mm / 14½" - 180° : 742mm / 29"
  Radius 2 - 438mm / 17¼" - 180° : 876mm / 34½"
  Radius 3 - 505mm / 19¾" - 180° : 1010mm / 39½
  Radius 4 - 572mm / 22½" - 180° : 1144mm / 45"

However, today's OO model locomotives, and indeed rolling stock, are designed to be ultra-realistic. This often forces a compromise between looks and operating ability. For example, the Hornby Class 66 has a minimum curve ability of Radius 2. So a double track layout would need Radius 2 & 3, or Radius 3 & 4. 

We've explained the issues with curves in previous blog posts, see What is the minimum curve radius for OO track? and How far apart should OO Gauge double tracks be?

  • For comparison, the new TT120 scale & gauge uses curves of:
      Radius 2 - 310mm / 12¼" - 180° : 620mm / 25"
      Radius 3 - 353mm / 13¾" - 180° : 706mm / 27½"
      Radius 4 - 396mm / 15½" - 180° : 792mm / 31"
      Radius 6 - 640mm / 25¼" - 180° : 1280mm / 51"

    As you can see, all but the largest TT120 gauge Radius 6 would fit on a 1200mm / 4ft wide board.

What if my board is 5'5" x 4'?

This size of board is not really suitable for OO, unless you are happy with essentially just a circle of track. Whilst many exhibition layouts have used this as a basis of a simple circular layout, for a home layout there is not much scope for a varied operation. The short length of the baseboard does not allow for much in the way of points or straight track,  and any train of more than a couple of coaches long will almost be meeting its tail.

Using TT120 would give a little more scope for adding points between the two curved ends, but as has been said elsewhere, the current limitations of locomotives and rolling stock, and lineside details, might mean that this scale / gauge is more challenging for the novice modeller.

What other options are there, apart from OO and TT120? 

Other alternatives to consider are OO9, which uses 1:76 scale (4mm/1ft) details but on a narrow gauge (9mm) track, This narrow gauge system will fit far more easily on a smaller baseboard, but still allow for scenery in the more common size.

Of course, N gauge (1:148 scale, 2mm/1ft) scale will also fit on a board of this size, and allows for a far more expansive scenic dressing.

Dropping down even further is size there is Z gauge (1:220 scale, 1.385mm/1ft) and even T gauge (1:450 scale, 0.635mm/1ft). Although there is very little in UK outline in these scales, they do allow the creation of larger railway systems in very little space.

Can I use a 6ft x 4ft board for a OO layout?

Yes, and as Hornby shows, it's quite a practical size. Ideally, the board used would be strengthened by supports underneath, such 2"x1" (50mm x 25mm) strip timber, along all edges and as braces across the middle, diagonally if possible. This will help prevent the board from twisting when being moved.

What if I can't make my own baseboard?

Scale Model Scenery produce a modular baseboard system (BB030) which has 80mm deep integral sides and middle braces to prevent any twisting. These 600mm x 440mm boards can be joined together in whatever configuration is needed, to make up the ideal baseboard size for your layout. 

To make a nominally sized 6ft x 4ft baseboard, you'll need 9 of the BB030 baseboards (this will make a board 1800mm x 1320mm).

What locomotives and rolling stock can I use on a 6ft x 4ft layout?

In practice, any locomotive that is designed to use Radius 2 curves or larger will work on a layout on this size baseboard. Similarly, most OO gauge coaches and wagons will also be quite at home. Be aware, though that longer locomotives and coaches will have larger overhangs at each end, and may have difficulties coupling to the next item. A selection of shorter rolling stock will be much easier to use and will help disguise the sharpness of the curves. 

So is a 6ft x 4ft baseboard a good idea?

Absolutely it is. The same principles of convenient size and maximum play value still hold true today as they did in the 1950s. It's a great way of starting with model railways, and could lead to a lifetime of enjoyment with the hobby.

 

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Comments(8)

Hi, I have a 6 x 4 board and use all 4 curve's with no problems at all. I agree with the comments about keeping smaller running trains, engine and 3 coaches seem quite realistic

Bob

I'm at the moment displaying a 6x4 2rail layout at my HRCA local club and the visitors are amazed how much you can get on such a size board and that was my intention, you don't need a great space to have a satisfactory layout John

I started, as a child with a Triang 00 layout and it was restrictive.

I was given a Z gauge set by my wife, who was Swiss and I had a small layout. It was very fiddly being so small, also expensive and difficult to get in the UK.

I settled on N Gauge and have 6x4 layout which provides an oval track around the edges with plenty of space inside for sidings, scenery etc.

It is also easily transportable.

I built a 6ft×4ft "Wild West"

layout in 1980 having bought a Bachmann "Jupiter"4-4-0 loco, boxcar & 4 wheel caboose. The layout was based on a Kalmbach book. I built it in about 5 months so it was ready for an exhibition in October. I bought more locos and passenger & freight stock. It is still operable.

Interesting. I only use 0-4-0, due to tightness of the board a 6'x 4' layout. Thankyou