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Building Tinplate-Inspired Christmas-Themed StorefrontsReturn to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
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O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Howard Lamey and Paul Race
for Big Indoor TrainsTM

Note from Editor: This project is another in our Tribute to Tinplate(tm)" series, a tribute to the tinplate villages that were served by tinplate trains in the early 1900s. It follows several similar projects, so if you've already built the original Tinplate Storefront, Halloween Storefront, or Sandy Shores Storefront project, this project works just the same. Download the .pdf graphics and get started.

Like the original Building Tinplate Storefronts project, this project was inspired by a series of candy containers that were made in the early-to-mid 1900s by West Brothers. Each container included a glass full of candy that you could see through the house's "windows." A photo of the one of the original tins is at the left. To create the lithographic-style graphics, I worked from photographs of the originals as much as possible to reproduce the architectural details and the fake 3-D entrances. However, I increased the size of the buildings, to look right with Christmas villages and O and On30 trains. I also added a few extra details to keep the buildings from looking too plain at the larger sizes.

If you sign up for our Trains-N-Towns(tm) newsletter, we'll let you know when we create and upload more storefronts or other projects you might find helpful.

- Paul

Build Christmas-Themed, Tinplate-Inspired Storefronts

After Paul and I started creating our first Tribute to Tinplate(tm) buildings, we both started combing the Internet for photographs of worthwhile projects. Once we got started with storefronts based on the West Brothers' candy boxes, it wasn't hard for Paul to keep imagining new versions. I suspect that he may eventually have a set for every major holiday, which would be even more justification for leaving your holiday village or train set up all year long.

What You Will Need

  • Clean solid cardboard, such as from cereal boxes or posterboard. I especially like to use a thick cardboard, like the back of a writing tablet.
  • Thick, clean cardboard or foam core for the base and roof
  • Corrogated cardboard or foam core board for the foundation
  • A sharp mat knife or Xacto knife
  • Elmer's white Glue-All or similar white craft glue that dries clear. A glue stick would also come in handy.
  • Several sheets of acid-free white bond paper
  • Light card stock for printing the graphics (optional)
  • Gray paint for the base
  • Acrylic paint or markers for the exposed edges of the cardboard
  • Access to the Internet and a color printer.
  • Clear glossy acrylic finish to help give a metallic appearance and protect the graphics when you are finished.
For a more comprehensive list of tools and supplies that come in handy on any cardboard house project, please refer to our article What You Need to Build Glitterhouses.

A Note about Scale

Although my Marx trains run on O gauge tracks, they are closer to S scale (1:64), the scale of S gauge American Flyer trains, and many collectible village houses. So I chose that scale to build these projects. If you need a scale other than S, get in touch with Paul and he'll try to help you out.

New for 2014 - Paul has added graphics that are technically 1:38 but actually make buildings large enough to work with Larage Scale (garden) trains. The measurements in our plans below won't be right for these - sorry, but Paul figures if you print them out once B&W, you can take the measurements off of those without having to worry about wasting expensive color sheets. That said, when you're measuring and assembling, pay attention to the fold lines. Any brick, stone, or siding pattern that protrudes beyond those is just for your convenience wrapping the finished graphic, in case your structure is a tiny bit too big or not quite square.

When you print the large scale version, be especially careful to print full size, 100%. No "Shrink to fit." Many printer drivers will try to shrink the pattern to keep things from trying to print near the edges. But we made these graphics to "overlap" the edges - the bits that go off the edge aren't the parts you need anyway.

Print the Patterns

This project has a structure pattern that you will need to cut out and transfer to cardboard, as well as graphic sheets that you will use to finish the building's appearance.

You may print the structure pattern on any sort of paper, since you're simply using this to transfer the plan to your cardboard medium. However the "lithograph" graphic should be printed on acid-free heavy paper or card stock. Note that Plans 1a and 1b are meant to be spliced together before you transfer the pattern to the cardboard. When you click on the little pattern picture Adobe Acrobat Reader should open up. When you start to print, make certain that the graphic is set to print at 100% ("scale to fit" or "fit to page" should not be checked).

Structure Patterns

This plan should be spliced to the plan to the right before you transfer the pattern to the cardboard.
This plan should be spliced to the plan to the left before you transfer the pattern to the cardboard.

Store Front Graphics

To help you decide which building to start with, I've supplied medium-resolution jpeg versions of the building faces. If you click on the little thumbnail, you'll see a version big enough to see clearly. However for the actual project, please download the zip files from the text boxes below the thumbnails. Each file includes all four sides of the building in pdf format.

It's easiest if you download the files to your hard drive, and open them there. Print these patterns on acid-free paper or card stock, using your color printer. Again, be certain that they print at 100% - so "shrink to fit" or "expand to fit" are not checked.

Click for bigger graphic
Click for bigger graphic
Click for bigger graphic
Download the S Scale Graphics
Download the S Scale Graphics
Download the Graphics
Download the Large Scale Graphics
Download the Large Scale Graphics
Download the Large Scale Graphics

Tar Paper/Flat Roof

These patterns are from another feature, so you'll have to trim them to size after you download them. Though I like the staggered pattern best, I did one of each of these, just for variety. Which one or ones you use is entirely up to you. It was common on tinplate structures to change up even the insignificant patterns when redrawing the graphics, so don't worry too much about consistency.
Tarpaper 1 pattern. Choose a scale from the list below.
Tarpaper 2 pattern. Choose a scale from the list below.
Tarpaper 3 pattern. Choose a scale from the list below.
S Scale Roof
S Scale Roof, Varigated
S Scale Roof, Varigated,
Staggered Pattern

Large Scale Roof
Large Scale Roof, Varigated
Large Scale Roof, Varigated,
Staggered Pattern

If you can't get the graphics to work the way you need them to, contact Paul and ask him for help - that's his department. :-) A note about Copyright - However you use these plans and graphics for your personal use, please keep in mind that the lithograph-style graphics are copyright 2013 by Paul Race and are not to be copied, re-used, republished, or repurposed without prior permission and appropriate credit. Commercial use without prior permission is illegal and expressly forbidden.
Big Indoor Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Paul likes making resources like this available to hobbyists, but they are expensive and time-consuming to produce and publish, and it's frustrating to see other folks profiteering off his hard work. In other words, if you like having this kind of resource available and you'd like to see more, please respect the creators' rights.

Building a "Mockup"

You will save time and sanity in the long run if you print the graphics in low-res B&W first to make certain that the are the right size for the plans you have printed out and that they are the right size to go with the rest of your equipment.

Remember, when you score and fold the frame pieces, the "fold lines" of the graphics should be a tad wider in each direction than the pieces you cut out, because you need to compensate for the thickness of the cardboard you are using. Paul's wall graphics also extend the wall pattern beyond the fold lines to compensate for any minor differences.

The best way to be sure you have plans in the same scale as your graphics is to fold the graphics along the fold lines, then cut them out and hold up to the frame pieces. Again, the frame should be slightly smaller, especially horizontally. If it isn't, adjust the size when you transfer the plans to the card stock.

Cutting and Scoring the Frame Pieces

Click to see bigger photo.Once you have transferred the plans to the cardboard you will use for a frame, use a Xacto-type knife and a straight edge to carefully score every place where a fold is indicated. Then cut the pieces out and fold them into a square.

Now it's time to temporarily fold the B&W graphics around the walls as a "sanity" check. If it helps you to actually put one together this way, go for it. Engineers have a saying "build one to throw away, you will anyhow."

Click for bigger photo.The photo to the right shows the four walls glued together.

Building the Base

It was my idea to make the "sidewalk" in front of the building into a "boardwalk." This will eventually give you a very nice place to set figures, fire hydrants, lamp posts, and the like.

I made the base by laminating two pieces of the thin corrugated cardboard from Express Mail packages. You could laminate "matte" cardboard as well.

The foundation should fit loosely inside the four sides of the building once it is assembled. Eventually, it will give you more surface for gluing the building down to the base reliably. That said, you don't want to glue the foundation to anything until the building is complete and you have checked the fit one last time.

Building the Crest and Support

:ClickTechnically, I could have made each storefront from one big piece of cardboard, including room for the "crest." As it turned out, it was easier for me to build the crest separately and fasten it onto the building front after I had the four walls glued together. I also added an extra layer of support to the crest, since it would be sticking out and more prone to "bumping." Plan 3 shows a side view of how I layered these pieces.

By making three of these at the same time, I could work on one while the other one was drying, and so on. Let the building frames dry at least overnight before you start applying the graphics - the last thing you need is a joint popping or the frame getting wobbly while you're trying to be precise with the graphic.

Applying the Graphics

Then I carefully applied the graphic wraps to one wall at a time.

Note: For the following illustrations, we are supplying photos of another building project that uses the same basic patterns. Please don't let the different colors and signage on the graphics confuse you.

I started on the sides, then did the back and front. I could have started with the back just as easily, but the front definitely has to come last.

Click for bigger photo.At my insistence, each of Paul's graphics includes a little bit of extra material at the edges to take up any "slack" in case your measurements are an eighth of an inch off or something. Before you cut off the fold lines, hold the wrap up to the wall it is going onto and see how close the fold lines are to the actual corners. If they're close, fold the first wrap (a back or side) along one fold line, then hold it against the wall you will be using it on. Then, if it is necessary, you can adjust the other fold. When you're certain your fold lines are where they need to be, crease them sharply and cut the white parts off of the graphic.

Spread a thin layer of glue over the entire wall to be glued, and along the edges where the extra bits will wrap around the corner. Then fasten the graphic down carefully.

Consider using clothespins or the like to make certain the wrap doesn't shift during the drying process.

Once the first "wall" has dried, you add the next wall, except that one of your "fold lines" on the next wall should actually be a "cut line" if your graphic pages are fitting where they need to be.

Click for bigger photo.On the last wall (probably the front), both "fold lines" should be cut lines, but make certain both cuts align perfectly with the corners of the building.

Because I didn't cut the crest's shape out ahead of time, the building's crest looks a little funny at first. I could have cut it out, I suppose, but then I'd have an extra variable while trying to align the graphic for the store front with the left and right edge. Or worse yet, I'd discover that I had cut the crest shape wrong and have to start a building all over again.

Trimming the Crest

When the glue for the front has dried completely (meaning overnight at least), use a very sharp Xacto-style knife to trim the crest to match the shape of the graphic. Don't rush this job or try to cut all the way through both layers of cardboard on the first pass. Instead, make many light passes.

Click for bigger photo.To finish the inside edge of the walls, I mixed a color matching the walls, painted strips of cardboard, and installed them all the way around the inside.

Applying the Roof

Once you have the structure glued together and all graphics applied, cut out a piece of corrugated cardboard or foam core to fit just inside the walls. Choose and apply a roofing pattern, and when it is completely dry, fasten the roof in place. I fastened mine about an 1/8" down from the side and back walls. I actually applied the glue from inside the building, then brushed it into the seams where the roof fit the walls.

Touch Up the Cut Lines

When all the graphics are applied, take a marker or fine-tipped brush and touch up the edges of the cut graphic media with a color that is compatible with the siding color.

Assemble the Structure

Once you have tested all of the fits, it's time to glue your structure(s) together. Double-check the fit of the foundation inside each building, then glue it onto the base. I'd give it a few minutes to set before gluing the building down on top of it. Again, the hurry-up-and-wait aspect of this stage of the project is reduced if you are working on two or three buildings at once.


Wait until the graphics, paint, and glue are thoroughly dry (at least overnight, if not 48 hours), then spray the structure(s) with several light coats of a clear glossy indoor/outdoor acrylic finish. This protects the surfaces from moisture and dust and also helps reduce fading. In addition, it makes the lithography pattern "pop." Do not spray such a heavy coat in one pass that you cause any streaks, runs, or drips, though, or you'll have to start all over.

Of course the structures will really come to life when you add accessories and put them into some sort of setting, even a simple one.


If you like this project, stay in touch - more are on the way. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at the following projects.

  • Howard Lamey's Tinplate Diner project can be dressed up for Christmas.  Click for bigger photo.Tinplate Diner Project with Christmas Graphics - We've also added a special set of Christmas-themed graphics to Howard Lamey's original tinplate-inspired diner project. The new project uses a Nestles container, which help it go very smoothly. Halloween and and year-round graphics are also provided, but we're showing the Christmas graphics to get you excited about your December crafting possibilities. As always, plans and graphics are free downloads.

  • Click to go to Article Building a Lithograph-Style Switch Tower Every big railroad "yard" had one of these "control towers" that let railroad men watch and operate the switches so trains could be built up, cars could be sorted out, and everyone went where they were supposed to. This "Tribute To Tinplate" with graphics by Paul and assembly tips by Howard Lamey is easy, inexpensive, and impressive. We've added it here because the original Hornby antique this project was based on was already in Christmas colors, and so is our tribute. Includes free plans, instructions, and vintage-inspired graphics.

  • Roof and Wall patterns based on lithographed tinplate toy houses, but provided in Christmas colors.  Click for bigger photo.Christmas Building Textures - For designing your own Christmas railroad or village buildings, we've provided a special set of free downloadable roof and wall patterns based on century-old tinplate bulding graphics but reimagined in Christmas colors. Matching doors and windows are provided in the following link.

  • click to go to Building Textures pageTinplate Textures - For even more free downloadable options, this section includes door and window patterns, as well as additional brick, shingle, and siding patterns inspired by the tinplate buildings that Lionel and other companies made to go with their toy trains a century ago.

    The Tinplate Textures page provides most patterns in three different scales to help you find the best sizes for your existing railroad or holiday village.

  • West-Brothers-inspired building projects for seasonal railroads.  Click to go to articleBuilding TinPlate-Syle Store Fronts - If this project looks familiar, it's because it was our first project based on the West Brothers tinplate candy boxes from the early 1900. They saved money by using one plan with multiple sets of graphics to get maximum use out of their pattern expense. Lots of these eventually found their way to Christmas villages and early "model" railroads over the years. This project is inspired by three of the West Brother's most popular buildings.

  • Click to see tinplate-inspired store fronts with Halloween themesHalloween Store Fronts - Since we posted Howard Lamey's Spook Hill series of Halloween-inspired "putz" house project, we've met a lot of folks who set up elaborate Halloween villages, or who leave their "holiday villages" up year-round. So Paul has developed graphics for folks who want to add a late October touch to their O gauge railroad or holiday village. Click on the picture to go to this collection.

  • Click to see tinplate-inspired store fronts with patriotic themesPatriotic Storefronts - Soon after we released the other storefronts, we learned that a friend of ours sets up patriotic scenes on his railroad for Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans' Day. So we added three buildings with early-American colors and lettering and patriotic themes. Click on the picture to go to this collection.

  • New for 2010! Click to see tinplate-inspired store fronts with seaside themesSeaside Storefronts - Take a spring break without ever leaving your workshop. Paul's newest storefronts were inspired by a trip to Nag's Head last October, plus memories of earlier trips to seaside villages in Florida, Connecticut, and Maine. Sticking with the West Brothers outline, Paul has replaced the brick and stone with clapboard painted in the colors and themes that brighten coastal towns on both coasts. Colors are compatible with Howard Lamey's Sandy Shores beach-inspired collection. In 2013, we added another building, Daffy's Taffy, to this collection. Click on the picture to go to this collection.

  • Click to see tinplate-inspired store fronts with Christmas themesSpring Storefronts - Now you have an excuse to leave your village or "seasonal" railroad up year-round. Just swap out the Christmas stores and swap in the spring-themed stores. One BIG difference with this set of projects it that the graphics are made to fit right over a standard-sized 160-count Kleenex box. So they may be a good place to start your "collection." Click on the picture to go to this collection.

  • Click to go to articleNew Feature! - "Tribute to Tinplate" Articles Here's a popular series of projects that pay "Tribute to Tinplate," based on the tinplated-steel trains and towns of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions will help you inexpensively add an authentic vintage look to any indoor railroad. Most projects have multiple pre-scaled plans and graphics, plus scalable graphics for the smaller scales, so you can easily add a vintage look to ANY railroad or holiday village, no matter what size your trains and towns are. Several of the most popular projects are shown further down in this list.

  • Click to go to articleBuilding a Vintage "Lithograph" Station Our first "Tribute to Tinplate" article pays tribute to the lithographed stations of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions are available in several scales. The classic colors go well with Christmas settings as well as traditional O gauge or S gauge train sets.

  • Click to go to articleBuilding a Vintage Tin-Style Cottage This project was originally inspired by a popular pre-war tinplate house that was made to go with Lionel trains. We've added multiple graphics for different looks, including Halloween graphics. Click on the photo to see our free downloadable, commercial-quality graphics and instructions, as well as Howard Lamey's plans and assembly details. If that one looks a bit complex, you could always start with a simpler Cape Cod version, inpired, in part, by the Plasticville Cape Cod.

  • Click to go to articleBuilding a Glitterhouse - A detailed primer on building your own vintage-style cardboard Christmas house, includes bonus "church conversion" plans for making the same core structure into a small church. Includes free downloadable plans and directions.

  • Building the Union Station - This original project by designer Howard Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Christmas house.Lamey is inspired by two traditions - the cardboard Christmas houses that were popular in US homes between 1928 and 1965 and the Lionel station that was popular for most of the 20th century. New, October, 2008!

  • Click to go to articleBuilding a Tinplate-Inspired Lamp Post The ideal accessory for the Lewis Park Station, or any station or city hall on your railroad or holiday village. No, they don't actually light, but they are cheap and easy to build and add a great deal of vintage interest to any setting. Free downloadable plans are available in several scales.

  • Click to go to articleBuilding a Tinplate-Inspired Railroad Crossing Sign This is the ideal accessory for the Watchman's Shanty project. Based on a series of products that are now available only as expensive collector's items, this easy and almost-free project will add texture, interest, and period to any model railroad or holiday village.

  • Build a Vintage-Style Barn and Silo - This Click to see article.building project uses downloadable graphics to put realistic shingles and siding on an old barn and silo. Readers have built this to work both with Christmas and Halloween villages.

Other Articles about cardboard houses include:

  • Building a Glitterhouse - A detailed primer on building your own vintage Christmas cardboard houses.

  •, Howard Lamey's own site about glittered cardboard Christmas houses, featuring many he designed himself.

To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page

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Click to learn about Christmas trains in big scales for your Christmas trees, Christmas railroads and Christmas villages

Click to see new and reissued Lionel trains

Click to visit Big Indoor Trains, with free articles about O gauge and On30 railroading.

Add realism and interest to your O scale railroad or village display.

Click to see railroad and village collections just for Halloween.

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Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains.
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