Introduction: Detailing Model Buildings With LEDs and Furniture

About: Engineer, modelmaker and occasional eccentric.

Model buildings always look better with good lighting, allowing you to look into the interior and see the scene within which helps your models seem less '2d'. In this instructable we'll add an LED to illuminate a building and a few bits of basic furniture to bring the scene alive. I've used a small hut but these techniques apply to almost any building, you just add more LEDs and furniture!. You could go out and buy model furniture and pre-made lighting kits but they are ridiculously expensive for what they are - all the parts in this instructable are bits you'd have around the house with the possible exception of the LED and resistor which cost about 5p each. You can add a lot of character at no cost with this method!

Tools and equipment:

  • Yellow 5mm LED (electronics are cheap from places like or Spiratronics)
  • 1k ohm resistor
  • Wire (multi-core for electronics, single core for the chair and table structure)
  • Soldering iron
  • Building (I used this free one in 1:76 from ScaleScenes)
  • Scissors/Craft knife (careful!)
  • Ruler
  • Glue (PVA and Superglue)
  • Pencil
  • Sandpaper

That's everything! Let's get started :)

Step 1: The Model

I'm using a basic (and free!) card kit for this instructable based on a small coal hut. I've modified the kit to include a bigger window and the clear plastic window is one I had lying around from an old kit. I'm assuming you know card modelling so I won't run though the whole build here. This instructable is for 1:76 scale or 'OO' gauge but it works just as well in smaller or larger scales, you'll just need to adjust the sizes a bit.

The basic shell of the building should be assembled first but leave the roof and floor off as we will need to access these later. The lower section of the roof is modified with a cutout for the LED to shine through and another cutout in the corner so the wires can go through the building but are not visible through the window.

Step 2: The Lighting Circuit

The LED circuit I used works well on a 12v DC power supply (as found on lots of model railway controllers) or from a 9v battery. It also works on 16v AC if you don't mind a little bit of flickering. It is simply made from a 5mm LED in series with a 1k ohm resistor with long wires on the ends to allow me to run the wires under the baseboard to connect them. The ends of the wires are left bare so they can be connected to terminal blocks as I have terminal blocks situated around the baseboard of my model railway for these to plug in to. The terminal blocks are all connected the the controller's 12v DC constant output.

Take a look at the images for the wiring diagram and a example of what the finished circuit looks like from a previous instructable of mine, which also goes into more detail on the electronics.

Step 3: Making Mini Furniture

This building was to be a small office on my model railway so it needed a desk, a chair and possibly an armchair for the times when business was slow. The chair and desk are made from bent solid-core wire to represent legs, with paper glued to it to represent the desk surface and seat. Superglue was used for this, then the joints reinforced with PVA which was held in place to dry as you can see in the pictures. The chair and desk were then painted with a suitable wood-colour and the papers and typewriter added to the desk while the paint was still wet, which was enough to stick them on. The papers are tiny squares of ordinary paper with lines drawn on to represent text and the typewriter is a small piece of black painted 2mm thick card with one edge chamfered to represent the keyboard.

The armchair is more squares of 2mm card stuck together then painted in a suitable colour. The dimensions for this and for the desk and chair were found by measuring a real object and dividing by 76, for other scales you can just use the relevant scaling value.

Next, we stick the floor into the building and stick the furniture down - make sure you do this well as once the roof is on you can't access the interior! I added some figures to further improve the scene.

Step 4: Assembly

Next, we fit the lower part of the roof with the cutouts and glue the LED and wires to this. It helps to bend the LED up a bit so it is not visible if someone looks into the building. Check it at this point with a 9v battery to make sure everything still works before it is permanently attached... guess who learned that the hard way! Then the roof is added and the whole thing is nearly done! Test it and see how good it looks :)

Step 5: Done!

Just add a hole in your baseboard for the wires, light it up and be proud of your work :) This applies to any sort of building and it's very easy to make much bigger setups as it's just repeating the same circuit.

Thanks for reading and please comment or send me a message if you want to know anything else about this project. Have fun :)