Confessions Of A Foamer

The New, New Project Part 6

In this post I discuss how I installed foam and got closer laying track. Before I get into that, though, let’s deal with the word ‘foamer’. Foamer is a label the rest of the world applies to railfans or train spotters. The joke being that when one of us sees a train, we foam at the mouth. Very funny, sorry for having a hobby and interest but, hey, I brought it up didn’t I?

In this context I’m referring to my use of insulating foam, also known as extruded foam for sub-roadbed. In other words the ground upon which I will be building my layout. Over the years model railroaders have used verious methods for this part. Many use an open-grid style and run the tracks on risers, using using plywood or other materials for sub-roadbed. This means scenery has to be built up using a shell method. Another way is to have a solid table top using plywood and/or an obscure material called homasote which is made from pressed paper.

I have elected for the tabletop approach since my layout is mostly flat. I have used homasote in the past but I don’t really like it. It’s hard to find, hard to cut, extremely difficult to sculpt or shape and it distorts with moisture and humidity. Enough reasons not to use it? I think so. Extruded foam is a form of styrofoam but it’s much finer. It’s easy to cut, sculpt and sand and readily available at your favourite hardware store. It doesn’t hold track nails very well but since I’m using Kato Unitrack, that’s pretty much  non-issue.


By the way, do you like my snazzy IKEA train room fixture? It provides lots of warm light and is on a dimmer. The individual LED lights can be positioned to provide light where ever I need it. Neat eh? Nothing to do with foam but I thought you might be getting bored.

The only issue with my approach is that, in one location I have a grade which drops 3″ down and goes under a part of the layout. That means that the wooden table top is elevation 0″ which in turn means most of the layout has to be built up to 3″ high. This creates an opportunity to do something interesting which I will expand on later.

I searched for 3″ thick foam and found that it does exist but is really hard to find. I did locate 1.5″ foam so I purchased some of that with the intent of building it up in two layers. I bought more in other thicknesses to accomodate some other things I need to do as well. I bought blue and pink foam. I noticed that the blue is much more expensive than the pink.

The one thing I had to watch when layering is that the glue adds to the thickness so I spread it on sparingly and used lots of heavy stuff to weigh the foam down. I bought the foam in 24″ widths so it fit most of the tables with no need to cut for width. For the one wider table I had to use multiple pieces.


For the top layer I oriented the seams the opposite way, seemed like a good idea.

The two layers being weighed down with heavy stuff.

With the first area, the Bathurst bridge and roundhouse area being finished to 3″ high, it was time to move on to the second.

What I found as I went round the tables was that each area got more complicated and took longer. This also meant that they got more interesting. The second area was the Union station area. Since I was creating these layers of foam, I came up with an idea. I could build, right into the layout, the two road tunnels which bracket Union Station. This would be York Street and Bay Street.

I created the layers so that there would be two holes under the top layer which I would later build insertable streetscape scenes. At least that’s the eventual plan, we’ll see how it works out. So I figured out about how much vertical and horizontal space I would need. After doing some research I figured 1″ high and about 4″ wide would approximate the sizes. I put in base layer of 1.5″, a layer of 1″ which I would leave the two 4″ wide gaps. I finished it off with a .5″ top layer giving a 3″ height.

The two bottom layers with the tunnel gaps (neatly labelled too).

The other thing I had to keep in mind was the ability to dismantle and move the tables so the foam had to have a seam where the table edges met.


Showing the seam at the table’s edges.

Then I capped the whole area with a .5″ piece of foam, again leaving the seam.


The top layer being weighed down, giving the 3″ height.

As mentioned previously, the next two areas got more complicated and took longer. More on those next time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: