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Making realistic fences

Page history last edited by Ian Stock 11 years, 10 months ago

Ian Stock

It is often not the big or expensive gestures that add realism to a model; quite often, the effect of what I think of as ‘fireside’ projects is out of all proportion to their size or cost. One such issue is fencing. It is possible to buy injection-moulded plastic fencing for garden railways – but it will never weather properly, and will always look toy-like – and what pleasure would be missed from the proper construction of an accurate model?


A consideration, of course, is durability out of doors, and I am currently experimenting with a range of different types. Quite often, simply exaggerating the prototpye methods adds strength, and as always, nothing looks better than a miniature version of the real thing.


Picket fencing.


I am not a fan of  real picket fencing – it looks too twee and suburban to my eyes, but there is no escaping the fact that it was widely used on real railways. There are ways of softening its impact, for example by colouring it dark rather than bright white, and by using the more businesslike versions that were much taller than the average suburban variety – in some cases as much as six feet tall.


This is a job that can almost be done from an armchair – mass-producing panels does not take long, and the only tool that might be needed other than a craft knife is occasional use of a pillar-mounted mini-drill which makes accurate drilling of the main posts much more accurate - but it could be dispensed with. Materials used can of course vary – I prefer obechi hardwood from the Orbit range.


Materials needed:


1.5mm thick sheet for cutting into 5mm strips for the pickets.

5x3mm strip for the horizontal battens

5mm square strip for the posts

Household pins

8mm square section plastic tube (Evergreen) for post protection.




Stage 1: a small jig needs to be made for constructing the panels. The photo is self-explanatory; each panel measures 125mm x 80mm. The critical dimension is for the jig to accommodate the desired number of pickets plus the required number of spaces. In my case this was 16 x 5 + 15 x 3 = 125mm. The jig was made from a piece of thick obechi with 5mm square strip wood superglued in place. The right-hand section will be used in due course for making gates.


Simple stripwood jig.


Stage 2: The horizontal battens are cut from the 5x3mm strip, leaving sufficient on each end to form the tenons later. These are positioned in the jig.


Stage 3. Cut the pickets from 5mm wide strips of 1.5mm wood. I use 16 per panel, and I mark a line to assist the regular cutting of the points before separating from the sheet.


Stage 4. Glue the pickets in place using waterproof p.v.a. glue. I use a piece of 5x3mm strip side-on to achieve regular spacings – i.e. each strip has 3mm spacing either side.



All components in place; note pins through overlaps.


Stage 5. Pin through each overlap using a household pin (these will in time go delightfully rusty!) but only just push through the two pieces – don’t fasten the panel too hard to the jig! I use Xuron rail cutters to trim away the surplus.


Stage 6. When the glue is dry, carefully remove the panel from the jig; trim the pin points on the back and gently file smooth. Repeat stages 2-6 ad infinitum.


Completed panel


Stage 7. Posts are cut from 5mm square section. I made each post 15cm long so that it will go securely into the ground. Mark where the mortises need to go, and drill these using the mini drill with a 3mm bit. Cut them slightly small and open them out to a rectangle with a square-section needle file. You will need double-sided i.e. 'right through mortises' for intermediate posts and one-sided mortises for end posts. Right-angle mortises can be cut for corners, the tenons being properly bevelled to allow full insertion. A depth-stop on the pillar drill can be useful here.


Assembly of several panels into mortised posts. The right-hand post has its protective tube in place.


Stage 8. The bottom of the posts are protected from soil moisture by the plastic tube, which is cut to length and glued to the protruding parts of the posts; it is possible to seal the end of the tube as well – for this as well as assembling the whole fence, I use 5-minute epoxy.


Right-angle section almost ready for planting.


Stage 9. The whole fence can be assembled using the epoxy and simply pushed into place, or secured in cement or whatever your ground surface is. If making a long run, I suggest assembling it in stages and doing final-fix gluing during final installation.


Stage 10 (can be done earlier) apply treatment of your choice: paint is obvious but I used dark wood preservative.


...and if some pickets get broken, all the more realistic!



  • Look again here for the development of other types of fencing - especially iron spear-fencing, when I work out how to make it!


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