Tap Creek

The Chicago & North Western Tap Creek Branch


Once you have decided and finalized the dimensions of your house, and the number of windows and doors, mark the wall edges on your selected wall material. For cardboard walls do the marking on the back, using the printed guidelines. For styrene walls do the marking on the front using the mortar lines as guidelines.

Before you cut the walls, do also mark all the window and door openings, and cut them with a sharp hobby knife. It is easier to keep the sheets in place while cutting the openings if you wait and cut the walls themselves later. Do not attempt to get a tight fit for the windows. Instead make the openings a little too large. This makes it possible to move them around a little when you glue them in place and assures that you get them properly aligned.

If a house, when finally on your layout, will only show either of the front or rear walls, then you need of course not put any windows or doors on the invisible wall. You don't even need to use brick for such a wall. Plain styrene will do. This saves you otherwise wasted time and effort. I made my houses with windows and doors on both sides since I was going to put them on a diorama that would be visible from all sides

If you use styrene or a thicker type cardboard for your walls, use a fine file to make a 45 degree bevel on the vertical wall edges. Remember to not bevel the rear edges of the side walls right up to the top. Stop at the height of the rear wall.

If you use styrene as your wall material now is the time to paint the walls and make the mortar lines stand out. It is easiest to do that before assembly, when you still can lay all of the pieces flat at the same time. First paint the walls with a brick color. I used a Freight Car Red color. Once the paint is dry, give the walls a of wash of a diluted light gray paint. The diluted paint will float into the mortar lines, but more or less keep of the bricks. Be sure to keep the wall pieces level until the paint has dried. Otherwise the wash will float onto one of the sides and leave the opposite side without mortar lines. You might need to repeat this step a couple of times. Be sure to let the paint dry between each wash.

Styrene with very small bricks and shallow mortar lines, as the Plastruct sheets, cannot be washed with a water based color. You must use a diluted enamel or likewise. Otherwise the wash will not flow sufficiently

The figure below shows walls cut for a house with a recessed stair-case.


Construction Steps

If you use the thinner type cardboard, or model in a larger scale, glue a piece of 0.040" sheet styrene to the inside of the window-less side walls. This prevents the walls from warping. For the same reason you might also want to glue strips of styrene, horizontally and vertically, on the inside of the walls with windows.

Cut a base plate from sheet styrene the same width as the front and rear walls, and the length of the side walls.

Glue the walls together and to the base plate. Be careful and push things around until everything is square.

Put the house away to let the glue dry.

Step 1

Step 2

Glue the windows in place. You might choose to paint the windows before you mount them, but for some reason I sometimes fit them first and paint them later.

The Tichy doors I used have no framing you can use to glue them to the wall, which the windows have. Instead glue the door to a piece of sheet styrene, slightly larger than the door opening, and glue the styrene piece and the door to the opening from the inside. If your doors are models of doors with glazing, use a piece of slide-show transparency film instead of styrene, to simulate the glazing.

Add some door framing and any desired window trim. Use any kind of styrene strip, angle or channel that you see fit. Study some photos and use your imagination.

Do also paint the door frames and the window "trim". Use a gray color for this, to give the look of stone or concrete.

Touch up any visible cardboard edges at the corners with small dabs of a color matching your bricks. Do not use too much paint on your brush at this point. Try to do something close to dry-brushing. 

Step 3

Drawing #1 - Generic house (not to scale). The generic house features three floors. Both the front wall and the rear wall have three windows on each floor. On the ground floor either the leftmost or the rightmost window is substituted for a door.

(58 mm)


1.6" (40 mm)

2.2" (55 mm)

(53 mm)

Front wall

Right side wall (the left wall is a mirror image)

Rear wall

(51 mm)

Drawing #2 - Staircase shaped side wall and roof placement (not to scale)

Height of rear wall

Height of recessed  staircase section rear wall

sloping roof with rear wall overhang

The sloop of the roof in the drawing  is exaggerated in order to illustrate the general idea. Follow the steps below when deciding the dimensions of a side wall:

1) Mark the width of the side wall.

2) Mark the height of the front and rear walls.

3) Draw a sloping roof  line from a point 0.2" (5mm) below the top of the front wall and down to the top of the rear wall.

4) Raise the rear wall marker 0.1" (2mm).

5) Draw the top of the side wall in a staircase fashion, making sure that you keep it above the roof line.

You obtain the height of the recessed rear wall by measuring from the ground level up to the roof line.

The description continues on the next page...

N Scale Brick Houses

While planning a N scale diorama with a city theme, I decided I wanted to include a row of brick houses. A quick search among kit dealers on the Internet showed that N scale kits were scarce. I found a lot of kits with ground floor stores, shops and cafés, but I wanted plain residential houses. Since I like scratch building the result was not that unpleasant - I had to build the houses myself and needed not consider the time saving kit route. This article describes how I did my row houses and my learning points. Although I made my houses in N scale, the techniques I describe ought to be applicable in other scales as well.

My goal with these houses was to give the viewer the impression he was looking at something that could have been real, rather than to create scale models of any real brick houses. The houses should positively match the viewer's mental picture of a row of brick houses.

Since I had not done anything in brick before I decided to try a few different brick wall materials. Sheets of brick wall come in two flavors - cardboard and styrene. My local hobby shop had two types of cardboard sheets, one from Faller and one from Wollmer, and two brands of styrene sheet, from Plastruct and Wollmer. You should be able to find similar sheets from other manufacturers as well.

I decided to use all four types of wall material in order to get some variation between the different houses. If you model a real prototype location, where a certain type of brick might be predominant, you might want to pick the one material that matches your prototype best, and do all your houses using the same bricks. There are still plenty of ways to make your houses look different from one another (See the "Variations" page).

The brick patterns on the two brands of cardboard differ slightly. The Wollmer sheet seems to have a computer generated brick pattern, since it looks a little bit too even, and have slightly oversized mortar lines. In contrast, the Faller sheet seems to be a reprinted image of a true brick wall. The bricks are perhaps a little oversized to be perfect for a row house, but on the other hand they look sufficiently aged for my taste.

Apart from producing brick walls of different appearance, the various wall sheets have other differences. Generally I found the cardboard easier to work with than the styrene. The grids on the back made it very easy to mark and cut window and door openings. It also made it a snap to get all the openings vertically and horizontally aligned. When using the styrene you can use the engraved mortar lines as your guidelines instead, which works nearly as well. But the big advantage with the cardboard is that it is much easier to cut with a knife. Especially the thicker Wollmer styrene needs a lot of more pressure and many more strokes with the knife. This can be a big issue if you will be cutting some one hundred openings!

I used the same basic building technique for all my houses, regardless of wall material. First of all I decided the dimensions of a generic house, using photos and the Relative Ratio method (see “Relative Ratio method” page). Using those generic dimensions (see drawings #1 and #2) I decided on the actual size, number of windows and so on for the house I was about to build. I then layed out the windows and doors on a piece of paper the size of the intended front wall and moved them about until I had a placement I was satisfied with. I now hade all the data I needed (wall sizes and window placement) and could proceed as in the construction description below.

A scratch building project, using different kinds of brick material

Some background