Diamond Club

Click to play our newest game, solitaire!

Spade Heart

How to Make a Model Town

A miniature town is sometimes used for train dioramas.
Photo by "click" from morguefile.

Making a model town is a satisfying hobby and in some situations, can be big business. Models are made for trains, dioramas, war-gaming, dollhouses, architecture, film making and museums. This project includes stepwise guidelines for designing and making a miniature town from scratch.

Plan your town. Get a picture of a small town in the type of scenery that you have for your railroad. Make sure that you plan for all the eventual needs of the town, including phone poles, roads, buildings, people and vehicles. Adjust the sizes of every component for the scale that you are working on as you follow these steps. HO scale, for example, is where every eighty seven feet on the model equals one foot in real life (1:87 ratio). Another popular ratio is 1:12 where 12 "model feet" are equal to one real foot.

Cut phone poles from dowel rods to the proper height and glue it to the model. Use a hobby knife to trim a popsicle stick for the other parts of the phone pole and glue these parts in place. Add thin strands of wire from pole to pole to look like the poles that you see in your picture. Paint the wire black and use paint to darken the phone pole. Wait for the paint to dry before gluing everything in place.

Make dirt roads, put glue down where you want the road and use a scrap of cardboard to spread the glue evenly. Add fine dirt by sprinkling it on the glue. Build this up in layers to cover the ground well.

Make roads that are paved. You will need to mix the right color of fine grit sand (or cheat by mixing in paint) to stir together with glue. Pour the mixture and spread it out. Smooth it out under a sheet of plastic and allow it to dry before peeling the plastic away.

Make the frames for the buildings out of cardboard and glue. Place the buildings where you desire them. Trim off the base of the buildings so that they stand upright on uneven ground. You may want to use a small level to check the buildings so that there are no "surprises."

Add windows and doors. Cut out the windows and fill them in with plastic or glass. Microscope slides work well in smaller buildings or window panes. Cut a door out of wood veneer with your hobby knife and glue it. Small ball bearings can serve as door knobs. Remember to add casements around doors and windows by gluing layers of cardboard around them like a frame.

Glue on the walls and casements of the building. If you settle on brick, use 5-inch by 9-inch brick sheets available at model railroading stores. Cut the sheet and reposition the bricks as desired. Bricks can be cut with a hack saw and sanded to remove tool marks. If you desire to use siding, coffee stir sticks or strips of veneer work for that.

Glue on a roof. If you want shingles, again, a piece of veneer works well. Leave the veneer outside for a weathered look and then you cut the shingles. Glue the shingles in rows, starting at the eves and adding rows that overlap the previous rows.

Make corrugated metal by tearing off the outer layer of cardboard on one side to expose the corrugations underneath. Sand out remaining stray bits but leave a little to look like damaged metal. Paint the cardboard brick red. Wait for the paint to dry. Add silver that is lightly and unevenly brushed onto parts of the roof. Wait for the paint to dry. Add rusty brown to the roof in random places.

Add cars and people to your town. Suitable cars and people are available for purchase from a hobby store. Add vehicles that are the appropriate size for your town's scale. If desired, make your own people out of modeling clay. Paint the clay after it dries.

Things You'll Need:

  • Reference picture of a town
  • Dowel rod (size depends on scale)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Hobby knife
  • Glue (craft glue)
  • Fine dirt (gray and brown)
  • Acrylic paint (red, silver, brown, black)
  • Cardboard boxes (corrugated and non-corrugated, as needed)
  • Plastic sheet (that lines cereal boxes)
  • 5-inch by 9-inch brick sheets (as needed)
  • One sheet of veneer
  • Modeling clay


Apply the finishing touches. Use an LED hooked up to a watch battery anywhere you need light (like streetlights you craft from cardboard). Christmas lights can be suspended in the air above the model to simulate stars. If you add a grow light, miniature plants can be embedded into dirt in the model. Moss (for grass), bonsai trees, and miniature flowers (like the "Phacelia dubia" variety) will add a new level of realism. Peat moss and other touches can be used to fill in for other vegetation.


  • Beware when using sharp objects. Wear goggles while building this model. Wear a dust mask to keep from breathing particles while sanding or cutting.
Our Passtimes