There are many choices to go for especially for beginners when they are looking to buy a model railway baseboard. A few examples would include soft board, molded expanded polystyrene foam (MEPS), medium density fibreboard (MDF), Sundeala hobby boards, plywood, extruded expanded polystyrene foam (EXPS) and there are still others. Although all of these are ideal for model railway baseboards it generally comes down to what is available at the time at the stores where you live, as well as your budget. Lets talk about the plywood option and molded expanded polystyrene foam (MEPS). Plywood is basically made up of thin sheets of wood boards. It is engineered by gluing each layer of wood together with the grains being 90 degrees to one another. Generally the number of layers will vary but the outer layers will have their grain facing the same direction in order to minimize warping. A mask should always be worn while working with plywood as the adhesive used usually a formaldehyde derivative. Molded expanded polystyrene foam (MEPS) is once again an engineered wood. This time though it is made from softwood that is broken down into small wood fibres. The small wood fibres are mixed together by a wax and resin and thereafter formed to wooden boards. The same applies to this wood in terms of using a mask when cutting, as the same formaldehyde glue is used. Two power tools will be needed for the job namely a drill and jigsaw. Both these wood types will server really well for model railway baseboards as both are strong and generally wont split or warp very easily. Keep in mind though that the base can be quite heavy to move about and there will definitely be the need for power tools as mentioned earlier.
Not sure if you have heard of the term Sundeala, but it seems to be only available in the UK for some reason, but it has become very popular and in high demand for model train hobbyists. In this case the boards are actually developed from recycled newspapers which one is great from nature but two has a very versatile usage. It is used to make whiteboards, pin boards, displays, even packaging and of course our model railway baseboards. Here power tools are not needed as the baseboard is very soft and can be easily cut and molded with a knife. That being said there is a negative factor too that the surface underneath do not have a good grip for fitting point motors which makes them have a tendency to fall off. Next, lets look at soft boards. These type of boards can be put in the same sort of category as Sundeala with regards to the ease of molding and cutting etc. However, as much as these make for great model railway baseboards you will probably have to go for surface mounted point motors rather than installing them underneath the track. Particle board or otherwise known as chipboard is again an engineered product that is made up from small wood chips, sawmill shavings and at times even sawdust. In this case a synthetic resin is used to combine the particles which are then pressed and passed through an extruder machine. Some good things here are that its cheap and light to carry about. Its also uniform and pretty dense. A downfall here though is that particle board can be very prone to moisture and therefore highly advisable to use a good sealant to reduce warp and decay.
Last of all lets discuss foam boards which are becoming increasingly popular with model enthusiasts as you can use foam board not only to build model railway baseboards but also other scenery such as mountains or tunnels etc. Common uses for these close-cell materials can be seen in coffee cups or packaging materials but large insulation sheets can be purchased too which are better known as bead boards. Overall though extruded expanded polystyrene foam (EXPS) is the more popular option for model railway baseboards as it has a very high resistance to moisture as well as being very strong and easy to work with and model. You can buy the panels and various thicknesses enabling you to easily build mountains and tunnels etc and even break off pieces to make the final outcome more realistic looking and lifelike. The bottom line is that there are many options to go for and it boils down to your budget, what’s available on the market in your area and your working conditions to be able to work with the wood etc. Whatever your choice, make sure to find a good design for your track that you will be really proud of and enjoy over time. Something that will keep you entertained and enjoying your hobby!