New Skills

Laser cutting and 3d printing, a few years ago this would have sounded like something from a James Bond film ( I expect you to die Mr Bond), showing my age there!

Nowadays these techniques are becoming commonplace in our hobby so let’s take a look in a bit more detail in how they can be adapted to Railway Modelling with some examples supplied by our local experts

3D Printing

One of the new technologies being used in Railway Modelling is 3D Printing but as can be seen from the attached photos it has a wide range of uses.

This stunning model motorbike which measures 300mm long by 220mm high was made by John our 3D specialist as a Christmas present for a friend. When we find out how he managed to do it there will be an update.


There are a myriad of uses for 3D printing in model railways and one such are these skeps. Skeps were widely used in the wool trade for transporting wool products between sites without damaging the material,(they are woven baskets made from cane).

The photo shows Albert’s last skep as he was the last person in the UK able to produce them

Some were needed for the mills on my layout and there was no commercial model available so the only option was to produce them ‘in house’. So, details were found and provided and John was given a commission to make a batch of these urgently required items in order to keep the wheels of industry turning.

As can be seen the end product was exactly right even down to some with opening lids and only needed cleaning up and painting in various shades to complete them.

Laser Cutting

Another new technology being used for modelling railways is Laser Cutting. As with 3D printing it’s not just for model railways and has multiple uses. There are a number of machine types available involving different methods of cutting from diode lasers to CO2 laser to fibre lasers etc. For the purposes of ‘home use’ we will stick to diode lasers as the others can be quite expensive.

Diode Lasers come in different power ratings and can be used for engraving or cutting materials, typically wood or card. They will cut other non-reflective materials but you are starting to get a bit specialised.

So what can we use them for? Well you only have to look at the adverts in any model railway magazine for all sorts of things from large industrial warehouses down to small detailing items, all usually cut from wood(typically 0.8mm up to 5mm in thickness). So why would you want one for yourself?

How about a custom made station building so it fits your layout perfectly

Here is the station building a little further along as assembly of the main components takes place.

By way of another example, consider our modeller building Tinkers End layout. he needed 4 rows of terraced houses on a 1 in 20 slope which just aren’t commercially available. So, with a bit of patience on the computer, hey presto, you can design your own then cut them with a laser.

Just out of interest the large overall station canopy behind the row of houses is also laser cut and made up from around 1,000 individual pieces.

A typical machine will cost you around £200 to £400 depending on the power rating. Lasers are sold based on input power but it is the optical power and focusing size of the beam that are important and need to be checked. The above items were made from card and MDF (up to 2mm in thickness) using a Neje 20W input (5W output) laser. MDF can take multiple passes to cut.

And just to show it’s not all model railway stuff, the same modeller produced these Christmas ornaments using the same cutter