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A think a beginner can't go wrong with a standard piece of 4 X 8 3/4 inch plywood with 4 X 8 piece of styrfoam on top. You can cut it smaller if you don't have space to begin with and you can expand it later on if desired. Also, start without grades to contend with; keep all your track mounted flat on the plywood. The first thing to learn is set-up and reliability of running your train, adding scenery, etc
 

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Yep, and you can plant trees real easy too. Just stick the trunk of the small HO tree into the styrofoam and "walla"! It's sure a lot easier than digging a hole in the wood and you don't even have to water the tree. You glue the styrofoam to the plywood with latex chalk, stack more pieces of it to make mountains with tunnels etc. Remember, the earth is not flat and neither is your back yard.
 

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Particle board???

I don't like particle board because it is too hard to cut/saw and hard to hammer a nail into----but to each is own. It dulls my table saw blade. You could always try it and see if you like it.
 
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