Scales and Gauges

Scale and gauge are often confused: scale means the ratio between a unit of measurement on a model compared with a unit of measurement in a corresponding full size prototype. Gauge is the distance between the two running rails of the track. To confuse things more, there can be multiple scales used within a particular gauge. Click this link to the Wikipedia Rail Transport Modelling Scales page for a full run-down of scales and gauges.

Click here to download our handy Scales & Gauges Reference sheet.

Model Railroading Scales

At CatzPaw we design and produce scenic details, so we focus on the scale of our items. We pride ourselves on making sure that the ratio between the full size prototype and our items is accurate and true to scale.

Z Scale - 1:220. When looking at the front of a typical Z Scale train engine or boxcar, the average dimensions are 0.75" high by 0.5" wide. Developed by Marklin in the early 1970's, it is the smallest of the working models; a layout can fit inside a briefcase.

N Scale - 1:160. When looking at the front of a typical N Scale train engine or boxcar, the average dimensions are 1" high by 0.625" wide. This is an ideal scale for apartments or anyone with limited space. N-Scale trains are easy to store when not in use and are ruggedly built. The small size is fine for teenagers and adults; younger children will need an adult to help set up or take down.

HO Scale - 1:87. When looking at the front of a typical HO Scale train engine or boxcar, the average dimensions are 2" high by 1.5" wide. "HO" means "half - O;" models are half the size of O Scale. HO is currently the most popular scale with the greatest selection of sets and accessories. HO allows for lots of railroad action in a medium to small area. Children may need adult help to set up or take down a set.

S Scale - 1:64. When looking at the front of a typical S Scale train engine or boxcar, the average dimensions are 2.75" high by 2" wide. American Flyer S Scale trains appeared in the 1950s with the advantage of size. It is larger than HO for more detail and improved reliability, but smaller than O Scale so less space is needed for the layout. S Scale is still popular with modelers with selections of kits and accessories on the rise.

O Scale - 1:48. When looking at the front of a typical O Scale train engine or boxcar, the average dimensions are 4" high by 2.5" wide. Lionel, MTH, Williams, K-Line, and Weaver are just a few O Scale manufacturers. O Scale can come in several gauges. For example: "On30" sets are O Scale models that run on a narrower track - just 30 scale inches wide. O Scale is widely used in Christmas Villages. Lionel has been popular for many years and is known for being ruggedly built, thus a good choice for youngsters.

G Scale - 1:22.5. When looking at the front of a typical G Scale train engine or boxcar, the average dimensions are 8" high by 5" wide. LGB, Aristo, Bachmann G are all "big models" - sometimes called "large scale" trains. Sizes range from 1/20 to 1/29 and can also include #1 gauge (1/32 scale) equipment. These are the largest electrically powered models and need a lot of space. Some can even be used outdoors in garden layouts. The large size of G Scale trains allows for rugged handling by younger children.


Slot Car Racing Scales

There is a cross-over in scales from Model Railroading and Slot Car Racing; the names maybe the same, but the size is different..

HO Scale - 1:87 to 1:64. This a generalized size in the slot car world. Originally in the 1960s HO Scale was 1:76 to 1:87 scale, now it is closer to 1:64 scale; and they all run on HO track of the same width. A typical HO slot car's length is from 2.5" to 3.5". As with HO scale trains, you can create a large race course, in scale, in a smaller space than other slot car scales. HO Slot Cars are not typically advised for young children as the cars are small and delicate with operating parts that can easily be broken; most manufacturers recommend ages 12 and older. There are HO commercial tracks out there for racing, however most HO scale racing is done on home tracks.

1:43 Scale. This is a relatively new scale introduced around 2005. An average 1:43 scale car's length would be 4.3 inches. This scale is gaining in popularity as manufacturers have come out with digital versions of two lane sets. Digital racing allows for the individual control of multiple cars in the same lane (slot); they can merge, switch lanes, and pass with up to six (6) slot cars running on a two lane track with six (6) individual hand controllers.

1:32 Scale. This scale of slot car is approximately twice the size of HO slot cars. They are very popular as they are durable, have a lot of detail, and are truer to scale and design of the full size prototype. Because of the detail, many car enthusiasts collect the cars and never race them. Even though 1:32 scale requires more space than HO scale, a typical track layout will easily fit a 4' bu 8' area. These are cars are raced on both home tracks and commercial tracks. Scaletric, SCS, Carrera, and Cinco have all released "Digital" versions of their two lane sets allowing for the running of six (6) cars on a two lane track. They too can merge, switch lanes, and pass, as well as, offer the option of pit lane stops.

1:24 Scale. This scale of slot car is the largest slot cars commonly raced. A typical 1:24 scale slot car might be 7" to 8" in length. 1:24 scale cars require a relatively large track and therefore need a lot of space to be run. Most 1:24 scale racing is done at commercial or club tracks.