A fascia is a finished border around the perimeter of the train platform. Whether you’re building a small display diorama like ours, or finishing a large model railroad, a fascia is really an essential design element. A good fascia accomplishes many goals:
- Like a frame for a painting, a fascia helps draw the viewers’ attention to the work. It also disguises the messy edges of the canvas.
- It defines the railroad by establishing boundaries. At the same time, a contoured edge helps suggest that the world extends beyond the part you’ve modeled.
- It makes the railroad appear to a part of the room – not just an afterthought.
- It makes the layout appear much more finished – even if there isn’t any scenery behind it.
- It provides a practical mounting location for control panels, throttles, even cup holders!
- It provides a good location to label towns and other prominent features of your layout to help identify the location to visitors and orient operators.
Building the Fascia
You can add a fascia to the edge of your layout before, during or after scenery construction. The upper edge of the fascia should be contoured to match the profile of the terrain. If you’ve already made a scenic base for your layout, as we’ve done here, then you’ll want to trace the contour on the back of the fascia panels and cut them to match. If you haven’t added scenery yet, you can free-hand the panels and then just match up the scenery to that profile. Of course it is easy to make corrections if needed too as you’ll soon see.
For this project, I used Masonite for the fascia. Masonite is 1/8″ thick and features a very hard, smooth surface on one side. It can be purchased in 4×8′ sheets from home centers. Most will also custom cut and/or offer smaller “project panels” as well. Masonite is durable but flexible, cuts easily and cleanly with a jigsaw or bandsaw, and is easy to paint and finish. Make sure your fascia is well supported from behind. For taller panels, attach vertical wood strips as necessary to avoid sagging or bowing.
Once you draw your profile, either by matching the existing scenery or freehand, cut the edge with a jigsaw or a bandsaw. (I had no problem using my bandsaw which was already set up with a finer cutting blade on the small panels for this project, but a jig saw works equally well for longer strips.) If you are cutting straight lines, a table saw or circular saw equipped with a guide will work wonderfully. Please remember to always follow the safety instructions for your tools. And be prepared, Masonite will make a little dust! Rough spots along the cuts clean up very quickly with a few swipes of sandpaper.
Attaching the Panels
With the panels cut, its time to attach them to the diorama. First, check to make sure you don’t have any wide spots in the scenery. I trimmed back a few bulges with a few quick swipes of a rasp to get the panel to lay perfectly plumb. I used carpenters glue to help the Masonite adhere to the wood frame and the foam scenery. Then I secured the panels to the base with 1″ brads from a pneumatic nail gun.
You can bevel the corners, or simply overlap them as I’ve done here. After spackling and painting, the seams will not be noticeable either way. If necessary, bar clamps can be used to help hold the corners together and square.
Finishing the Edges
If you’ve got any gaps between the fascia and the scenery, they are easy to fill. Insert small scraps of foam in larger gaps as necessary, then just blend everything together with a stiff mixture of drywall compound. If you’ve been following this project, you’re beginning to see how often that bag comes in handy!
While you’ve got the plaster mixed, take a quick swipe across any nail holes or gaps in the corners of the fascia itself. Once dry, you can simply wipe off the excess with a wet sponge and you’ll have a blemish-free surface ready for painting.
The hardest part about any fascia project is deciding what color it should be. There are many good options, depending on your goals. If the railroad is in a finished room, matching the fascia to the wall color will really make the layout feel part of the space. Black is a common choice, especially in basement layouts. Combined with a lighting valance and good layout lighting, black can really draw your attention to the trains.
Dark green, brown, tan and other neutral colors are also common choices. All tend to blend in nicely with decor, and frame the layout without distracting from it. Avoid white, unless you enjoy cleaning up dirty fingerprints. For the diorama, I went with a light gray. It will blend nicely with the winter scenery, hide dirt and not be too ostentatious. Also, I had some around from a previous project!
Because of its smooth surface, Masonite shows brush strokes very well. A spray gun would offer the best results – if you don’t have an already finished layout behind it. A tight-nap roller will also provide a very nice finish and is much easier to control. Wipe the surface with a damp cloth first to make sure everything is clean then paint just as you would any wall in your home. Either latex or oil-based paints can be used. I prefer latex for its faster drying time and less-harmful odors.