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A Question of Scale

A Question of Scale

A Question of Scale

 What do we mean by scale? It is simply how many times smaller something is compared to the real thing.

 Let us imagine this family below. 

                Mum     5 foot 8 = 68 inches = approx 173cm

                Dad        5 foot 7 = 67 inches = approx 170cm

                Daisy     3 foot 8 = 44 inches = approx 112cm

                Boris      1 foot 6 = 18 inches = approx 46cm

I show inches (Imperial) and centimetres (Metric) as some of us have lived in different times being taught the different systems.  I was taught both systems as the country was changing over from Imperial to Metric systems whilst I was at school. It can be confusing to the generations when the ‘wrong’ measurements are used, or even in the worst case confused. In modelling get used to both being used.

 If I want to make scale figures of the family above, I have to start making decisions.


  1. Do I make them all the same size, so not to scale? I could choose to make them all 10cm high, but that would mean my finished figurines would be out of scale, all would be the same height When displayed Boris is going to be exactly the same height as Mum, which is not true to life. If it doesn’t matter, then I can start carving my figures now. 
  1. If I want to make them to scale, I must decide what that scale will be, but I must be careful. Suppose I chose 4 times smaller we would describe it like this, 1:4 this is a ratio. Do not confuse this with the fraction 1/4, if I made a cake and cut it into 4 and each of the family had a piece, then each would have a quarter (1/4). Scales and fractions are different. 
  1. So that decision on making the figures at 1:4 scale, was it correct? Let us add a new bit of thinking.

The reason I wanted to make the figures was to put them into a family scene. I am a very busy person, so I have not got time to make a model of the house. My plan is to buy a completed model of a house which is already finished. So having made my figures I start researching to find my dream model house.  Scrolling through page after page on different websites looking for the perfect house at the same scale - 1:4. To my horror everything I  find is at a scale of 1:6, it is so frustrating, if only I’d made my figures at 1:6 I would have had hundreds of houses to choose from. It may look odd mixing the 1:4 scale figures and the 1:6 scale house. So I do the calculations.

                 Dad would be 42.5cm high (170cm/4), or 16.7 inches or 1 foot 5 inch (approx.)

                The house would be 95cm (570cm/6), or 37 inches, or 3 foot 1 inch (approx.) 

  1. Doing this research has suddenly identified a problem, as I was planning to display my little scene on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. I have spent days carving those figures but realise the house is going to be far too big for the mantelpiece. I am going to have to start this again and think a bit more about the finished design. 
  1. To make sure I do not make a mistake I am going to measure that mantelpiece first, buy my model house and then carve my figures. So, I get out the tape measure - the depth of the mantlepiece is 17cm. Outside I measure the house and find that it is 20 foot square.

Hang on a minute I hear you say, you are mixing Imperial and Metric measurements isn’t that confusing? Yes, it is, but as you explore the world of hobbies you will often find this, people refer to measurements such as 7mm to the foot. 

  1. Let’s keep it simple for now. The mantelpiece is 17cm deep and the house is 610cm square. To fit the mantelpiece I need a model house which is 610/17 which is approximately 1:36 scale – perfect. I am online within seconds and find houses which are either 1:32 scale too big, surprisingly to me, there are plenty that are 1:38 scale or 1:39 scale. That will be fine as 1:36 scale would have been tight on the mantelpiece. 
  1. After hours of searching annoyingly I find that all of the lovely houses that look like my house are 1:32 scale. All the houses at 1:38 scale are Spanish villas and the 1:39 scale houses are all skyscrapers. I wish I had never started this I am going to give it rest. 
  1. A few weeks pass and in this time I explain my dilemma to some friends, one of whom makes model train layouts and this conversation is enlightening, I discover why I had the problem. It appears that the company making the 1:32 houses used to make lots of Farming models, they originally made figures, the company was started in 1893!! Back then they decided to make all their soldiers to a standard height of 54mm (2.125 inches), a scale of 10mm to 1ft, or 1:32 scale. So later when they started making models of farms and buildings they kept them at the same scale – 1:32.

The 1:38 scale model houses come from a Spanish company and the 1:39 scale models are from Hong Kong based company who mainly sell locally.

Better still, he said that there is a company making 1:36 houses and the reason I couldn’t find them was because I wasn’t searching for H scale.  In the 1950’s model houses  were really popular, so much so, that a company called Homes Models Ltd was making thousands of them. Over the years people started calling them Homes Scale House, which became known as Homes scales and today they call them ‘H’ scale. There are hundreds to choose from. 

  1. I thought I had solved this. I had found my dream model house, it wasn’t cheap it was £100. It arrived yesterday I couldn’t wait to put it on the mantelpiece – it is a perfect fit. But then I decided to carve the new figures at scale starting with Boris, but suddenly realised that he is only 1.3 cm high. Far too small. 
  1. I am getting the hang of this now 1:36 scale which is 1.3cm high approximately, which is 13mm, which is half an inch, which is 31.2mm to the foot. I suppose I could give it a name as well ‘B’ scale.

So what seems like a simple task can become a bit of challenge when buying items at scale in the hobby market. 

  • I am buying a gift for a friend it may not matter what the scale is.
  • But what if my friend has a model railway layout that is 1:76 scale and I gifted him a 1:48 scale model of a London Routemaster Bus that is 5.6cm long. He loves buses I think it will be great for his layout.

My friend will probably not use it, as it will be in the wrong proportion to other items on his layout – the correct size would be 11cm in length at 1:76 scale.

  • So the next year I think, I got it wrong last year I won’t make the same mistake again. So I research on line for 1:76 scale buses and find him a beautiful London Routemaster Bus. He thanks me and some months later I visit him, I am slightly disappointed that my bus is not on the layout, when questioned he explained it does not fit – totally wrong. That’s because I have chosen the wrong subject matter.
  • My friend explains that his railway layout is based on a scene in Beverley, Yorkshire. The bus I gave him had London on the side and was red. In Beverley in the 1950’s, which he is portraying on his layout, buses were a dark blue.
  • I won’t bother buying him dark blue bus as he won’t like that either. Beverley has the only surviving brick built town gate in the country. Beverley North Bar was part of a series of defences that surrounded this once prosperous settlement I find. Standard buses could not get through the gate as the roof of the bus would hit the sides of the arched (curved) brick gate. So East Yorkshire Motor Services who ran the bus services at the time had vehicles built with specially-shaped roofs.

So it is difficult to choose the correct item, if you don’t know the subject matter that fits. 

Subject Matter

This really is for another day, I add it here to explain that in the hobby business you cannot please everybody and the industry is full of knowledgeable people! So as manufacturer whatever you announce a new item it creates a response, but often from the people who don’t like the subject matter – they shout their disgust from the rooftops. Those who like it normally place an order and wait for the item to be designed and manufactured. The following would be typical:


  • I am releasing a new Ford Escort – we hate Fords come the responses.
  • Brilliant says another is it a MK3, no it will be MK2 - we hate Mk2’s come the responses.
  • Brilliant says another is it a two door, no a four door – two doors would be more popular come the responses.
  • Brilliant says another is it an estate, no a saloon – why have you chosen that, I had an estate when I was younger.
  • A MK2 Saloon sounds great to me but I have heard you are making it at 1:76 scale, yes it is I say – nobody buys 1:76 scale models comes the responses.
  • 1:76 scale is perfect for my layout, hope it is yellow they say, red I respond
  • I hope its going to be Ruby Red and not Rose Red – I only collect Rose Red coloured vehicles
  • Yes it Rose Red so at least your happy
  • I am very happy, a Rose Red MK2 Escort – I hope it’s Left Hand Drive
  • No it will be Right Hand Drive, no good for my layout comes a response as I am modelling France and they are Left Hand Drive.
  • What type of wheel hubs, will the doors open, will it have a roofrack etc etc etc. No it won’t have any of these I respond not even any bells and whistles. Arghhhhhh 

So scale is just one decision Oxford Diecast makes delighting the world of scale modelling.


Historical Timelines Scale (not for the faint-hearted!)

Complaints to toy car manufacturers about the scale of their products often elicit an incredulous response on the lines of 'what's the big deal about 1:43?' And what a silly scale anyway! It is not really important that they know why the 'standard' scale for diecast vehicles is 1:43, but most important to collectors that models be of a consistent scale for comparison and display purposes. 

Before the era of model cars was the era of model railways. Early 'scale' model railways as opposed to 'floor toys' were in quite large scales, necessitated by the means of propulsion - live steam, crude electric motors, etc. The most difficult operation in scale engineering terms was to make a consistent rail gauge, so simple measurements were chosen, for the convenience of gardeners and footmen who had the task of laying the track! Thus the early scales were not proportional (1:10, 1:20 etc.) but referred to track gauge - 18 inches, 15 inches etc. Then an effort was made to simplify matters, 9.5 inch gauge being one-sixth full size and 7 inch gauge being one-eight full size.  The Full Size railway gauge is of course 4 feet 8.5 inches, and I don't intend to open the can of worms which involves how that came about!

Descending in scale were a series of 5 inch, 2.5 inch, 2 inch and 1 inch gauges. The latter three were renamed 3, 2, and 1 gauge, and of these gauge 3 (2.5 inch) was the most popular with model engineers. So when the next 'small' gauge appeared it was set at half the width of gauge 3, or 1.25 inches, and as the numbers had run out, it was called 'O' gauge, on the same basis as knitting needle sizes or paint brush sizes in descending sizes. If you work it out, this represents a scale of 1:45.2 (1.25 inches to 56.5 inches) but railway enthusiasts are odd chaps, and wanted a simple measure of a foot, in this new scale. There was no convenient part of an inch to use, so those nice little continental jobs, millimetres, were used. 1.25 inches is about 32mm, which, divided by 4.7 feet comes to approximately 7millimetres. So now we have an Alice in Wonderland scale of 7mm:1 foot, established over a century ago, it's too late to change it now. The guru of early model railways. Henry Greenly, interpreted this as 1:44 scale, though today it is mostly regarded as 1:43. As you'd expect, it is actually 1:43.5 scale.

In my years of qualification and practice as an architect, the very thought of mixing Metric and Imperial dimensions to make a scale ratio was anathema. So it is not too surprising that when design engineers were asked to make toys or models in this bastard scale, that they baulked at it.  The closest standard scale on an Armstrong (Imperial) scale rule is is 0.25 inch to one foot, or 1:48, and its closest standard Metric equivalent is 1:50. Many of the supposed 1:43 scale models made the 1950s and 1960s were to these scales. When true 'scale' 1:43 models came out in later years the original models from Dinky and others appear a bit undernourished. One maverick was Spot-On, which standardised on 1:42 scale, but the models looked too big, and were too expensive, so when Tri-ang took over Dinky, the market leader won, and the constant-scale Spot-On closed down.

One assumes that the toy company managements didn't care too much about the exact scale, so long as the models came out at three or four inches long, an eminently suitable size for little Johnny to clutch in his mitt after he'd parted with his pocket money. This 'ideal' size for children, together with the mechanical requirements of diecasting machinery, which tended to use a standardised slug of metal to mould from, led to a certain ''regularising'  of sizes. Thus a big American car would end up much the same size as a small European one, as would a heavy truck or bus. It is now possible to get models in the same 1:43 scale of say, a family car and a double decker bus, and compare the difference in size just the same way as in the 1:1 scale vehicles. Yet there were many people (and still are?) who blinded themselves to reality and really believed that a Dinky car and Dinky double decker bus were the same scale! The bus was in fact 1:76 scale, to suit 00 scale railway layouts, and this leads us to the next chapter in the scale saga.

In halving the track gauge again (from 7mm to a foot), it became 16mm, or a scale of 3.5mm to a foot. The idea of something as tiny a half millimetre was too much for prewar British minds, so though the gauge was kept at 16mm, a foot was 'upped' to 4mm. This means that US and Continental model railways are 3.5mm to a foot, or 1:87 scale (HO) but British OO scale is 4mm: to a foot, or 1:76 scale, but running on 1:87 scale 16mm track! Scale road vehicles tend to align with one system or the other. Continental manufacturers made thousands of 1:87 plastic vehicles to suit  HO scale, and Oxford made thousands of 1;76 diecast vehicles to suit OO scale. But once again the factory pattern makers revolted, and many early HO models were actually 1:90 or even 1:100, on the basis that their bosses wouldn't notice, and it was a lot easier to make them.

Until recent years although OO scale railways were accurate, 1:76 vehicle models were notoriously inaccurate, varying from 1:70 and 1:72 (the standard model aircraft plastic kit scale) to 1:80 or worse.  Some vehicles were intentionally made to 1:72 scale, particularly those for military modelling, to go with standard one inch tall model soldiers; they tend to look grossly oversize alongside HO or OO scale vehicles.

The first 'small' scale model railways in the UK were Hornby-Dublo (OO) launched by Meccano in the late 1930s. At around the same time Bassett-Lowke marketed an ingenious system made by Trix in Germany. It was called TTR, sold here as Table Top Railway, but actually the initials stood for Trix Twin Railway, because two trains could be operated at the same time on one three-rail track. It was made in metric 1:100 scale, which became know as TT scale, named after Trix Twin. Before it was possible to miniaturise mechanisms sufficiently to make N scale railways, in the 1950s Tri-ang offered a relativley short-lived 1:100 TT scale system alongside the OO scale trains made by their Rovex division. In recent times TT has been reintroduced, but with a scale of 1:120.

In those companies where it was made clear that when they asked for a 1:43 mode  from  the pattern makers they really meant it, the engineers had to make their own scale rules and this later happened in all the major collecting scales. Among other scales in regular use are N scale which has different standards around the world: 1:148 in the UK, 1:150 in Japan and 1:160 elsewhere.  The similar 1:144 scale has been popular for large aircraft as plastic kits and in promotional format - obviously it derived from half of 1:72 scale.  When model railways first appeared in this size on the UK market in the 1950s made by Lone Star, they were called OOO gauge, and marketed as Treble-O Electric. It had a rather primitive drive system and did not last long, so when miniature motors could be developed by other companies the scale was relaunched as N scale. 

1:32 scale, used by farm tractor collectors and slot car enthusiasts, such as Scalextric owners, derives from the standard size figures used in model soldiers and farms by Britains and others. These were 2.25 inches or 54mm tall, and thus were to a scale of three-eighths of an inch to one foot, or 1:32. For consistency, therefore, farm toys ever since have mostly been to this scale. Some plastic kits of tanks and other military vehicles were made in 1:35 scale, intended to be compatible with 1:32 soldiers, but not made in exactly the same scale, oddly.

1:32 was also adopted by makers of clockwork tin toys Scalex, the predecessors to Scalextric. This meant that it became the standard scale for slot cars worldwide, though there were attempts to introduce other slot scar scales - 1:24 (Strombecker), 1:52 (Wrenn) and 1:64 (Aurora), but 1:32 won in the end. 

Larger scales include 1:24 and 1:25, the former being a straightforward half an inch to a foot scale, and the latter its closest Metric equivalent. These scales were popular with plastic kit builders (deriving from US promotional models in that size) and more recently popular for inexpensive diecast toy vehicles.    

At first sight 1:18 scale seems to be a very unusual scale ratio, though it is popular for large diecast model cars; it seems to have developed originally as four times 1:72 scale - very few models were made in the intermediate scale along the way, 1:36 scale.  

A small number of very large model cars have been made in 1:12 scale, both fully-finished diecast models and plastic kits. As it happens, this is the standard scale for dolls' houses and their fittings - one inch to one foot. Another large scale is in use for garden railways; G scale (1:22.5 - twice O scale).  

Another scale which is rarely used in the UK in the 21st century is 1:64 scale (half of 1:32). this is known as 'Standard' scale for S gauge model railways, popular in the USA. Many diecast vehicle ranges were made in this scale, or close to it, such as Hot Wheels, Corgi Juniors etc. Siku, a popular German diecast range, was also close to it, in 1:66 scale. 

Ships are large artefacts to miniaturise, and the standard scale for ready-made ships is 1:1200 (one inch to 100 feet) or its metric equivalent 1:1250. Plastic kits of ships come in a wide variety of scales; 1:700 being popular for warships. In a similar fashion, ready-made diecast and plastic aircraft models come in smaller scales than the 1:72 and 1:144 scales popular in plastic kits. Miniature jumbo jets and their relatives therefore come in 1:600 (Schuco-Schabak), 1:500 (Herpa) or 1:400 scales. 

Finally - please note that all of these scales are given as a ratio - 1:50. They should never be expressed as a fraction - 1/50. This differentiates between a scale ratio (an item scaled down from a full-size artefact to one-50th of its original size) and a fraction (a one-50th portion of an artefact). It's the difference between a 1:50 cake (a scale model of a cake) and a 1/50 piece sliced off a full-size cake.

As we have seen, certain scales ended up dominating their model sectors. Thus Corgi cars are 1:43 scale, and commercial vehicles 1:50 scale. Hornby Trains are 1:76 (OO) scale or 1:100 (TT) scale. Airfix kits are 1:72, 1:144 or larger scales. Scalextric slot cars are 1:32 scale.


Updated Notes:


  • • Don't believe what it says on the box: for example Airfix military models used to have 'OO/HO' scale (either 1:76 or 1;87, make your mind up) on the box, whereas for military modellers they were promoted as 1:72 scale.


  • • Most early models, whether plastic kits or diecast models were made to a scale of 'fit the box' - on the basis that if a model didn't touch both ends of a standard-sized box it was not good 'perceived value', So an early Matchbox diecast bus was the same length as a saloon car, and a 1950s jet fighter plastic kit was the same wingspan as a multi-engine airliner, as they were sold in identical-size boxes.


  • • The aforementioned 'perceived value' was the curse of scale model enthusiasts. A typical Corgi model in the 1970s-80s was 20% wider than its true scale width. The idea was that the 'chunkier' a toy was, the more appealing it was to the kiddies. It took time to make marketing departments accept that accurate scale applied in all directions. 


  • • Taff adds, having spent so long in Hong Kong at the toy fairs I still meet companies who sell products as 1:43 scale which are not 1:43 scale. When I point it out they normally look puzzled as they explain it is because it fits in what they describe as a 1:43 scale box….



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Robin French - September 3, 2021

Excellent, clear, historically accurate article Taff that fully explains all the (sometimes confusing) different scales that I frequently get asked about at model railway exhibitions. I will now be able to supplement my knowledge of scales by remembering this article. Many Thanks

alan Lancaster - September 3, 2021

I’ve got a OO layout well underway, based on a fictional location in the North Riding of Yorkshire in the mid-1950’s (1955-57). When you market commercial or private vehicles, in descriptions can you give a ‘time corridor’ when they were produced in real life? This would give me an idea of whether they’d match up with the layout (it wouldn’t look right, for example if I were to plonk a vehicle down on the layout that wasn’t built until, say, 1960).
Thanks, Alan L.

Alan - September 3, 2021

Will you be doing a Wolseley 6-110 black police cars 1960s in 1:76 “00” scale

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