Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cheap and Easy HO Scale Cork Roadbed

All the tools you need to make your own
cork roadbed.

A poster on the Atlas HO forum recently asked for advice about roadbed—what did others prefer?

Everyone responded that they used some form of commercial model railroad roadbed. Except me.

Like many in this hobby, when I started out I didn’t have lots of money. Commercial roadbed seemed too expensive. But what to do?

I found my answer in a local home improvement store—rolled sheet cork.

A small roll of sheet cork.

Rolled sheet cork is sold in home improvement stores as an underlay for flooring. But it works great for model railroads, too.

It has a few advantages, in my opinion. First, it is less costly. A quick search on the Web shows that Home Depot sells a roll of sheet cork 50 feet long by 4 feet wide for $118.00. That will provide abut 300 four-foot long pieces, or 1,200 feet of roadbed, at a cost of about 40 cents a section, or 10 cents a foot.

Contrast that with one popular commercial model railroad brand, which is sold in packages of 25 pieces three feet long (75 feet) for about $26 (online sale). That’s $1.04 per section, or 34 cents per foot.

Second, at ¼ inch thick, rolled sheet cork seems to be the right height for prototype roadbed—to me, at least. (Commercial HO scale roadbed seems too high to me.)

Unballasted sheet cork roadbed.

Finally, it’s easy to use. No need to cut it in half—it bends easily to fit curves. It also takes nails well.

I buy the cork in large sections, then cut it to size with an x-acto knife. I bevel the edges a bit, to make them rounded, then lay it down. (I use cigar box nails to hold the track and cork in place—no glue. Later, when the track is ballasted, I remove the nails.)

Like most things in this hobby, what works for me may not work for others. But when it comes to roadbed, sheet cork works for me.

The end result.


  1. I can't agree more John. I too am a proponent of the sheet cork from the big box reno stores. Can't beat the price!!

    Ian Lisakowski

  2. Has anyone tried the foam roadbed found on Ebay?