Fiddle yard started

This morning I started some more work on my fiddle yard. Since I’ve also had a few, well, one or two, questions on how I make baseboards using foam core I figured I’d break out the camera and take a few photos along the way.

I use 3/16″ foam core board made by Elmer’s. For more information on the product itself, check out the Elmer’s web site here:
http://www.elmers.com/product/detail/950109

I wish I had really great technical arguments toward this choice but I’ll confess that the main reason is that it’s really inexpensive and typically runs just under $5 per sheet here on PEI. I have seen a few sheets that were even cheaper but the card the folks at Elmer’s use as facing on the sheets is really high quality and a real joy to work with. Beyond cost, I like how easy it is to cut and shape pieces using simple hand tools. To cut the sheet I use a steel ruler as a straight edge and the only other tools I need are a knife (I use an OLFA knife) and a pencil. I do most of my work on our well-loved dining room table. These days it seems a lot of us don’t have the luxury of a workshop and many more of us don’t have those workshop tools that used to be so common. I’d hate to think of a beginning model railroader being faced with an expensive investment in woodworking tools, just to make that first layout baseboard.

The first steps in making up a baseboard using foam core are identical to how I’d go about making one using plywood: mark everything out and get everything cut. Try “dry-fitting” everything together to make sure it will all fit and everything is correctly sized. Since my fiddle yard needs to hold two forty foot HO scale cars I also grabbed a pair of these and placed them on the “top” just to double-check this too.

All the parts are cut out now. Note the hasty tags!

All the parts are cut out now. Note the hasty tags!

You can replicate a lot of common joinery corners using foam core and I’ve fooled around with a few of them. To be honest though, simply butt joints work just fine and everything I’ve done so far has used these. I use carpenter’s glue (PVA) as an adhesive and use simply masking tape “clamps to hold everything together while the glue dries.

Side glued to  top. Masking tape clamps keep it all together.

Side glued to top. Masking tape clamps keep it all together.

Ooh! Aah!

Ooh! Aah!

With that first side in place I glue in the ends and then the opposite side. Tape clamps everywhere.

One side, two ends. Time to glue in the opposite side.

One side, two ends. Time to glue in the opposite side.

Along the way I’ve created a pile of scraps. I used a couple of these as cross braces, the rest I’ll use up in the corners to brace those.

Glue everywhere. No one really spends too much time inspecting this side anyway.

Glue everywhere. No one really spends too much time inspecting this side anyway.

Everything is braced and I string one last length of tape across the bottom face to tension those glue joints.

Well that's done. Time to wait and watch the glue dry.

Well that’s done. Time to wait and watch the glue dry.

All told, I cruised through the above pretty quickly. The finished fiddle yard is only twelve inches long, three inches wide and about two-and-a-half inches high. It’s designed to hold two forty foot cars. The track will actually sit on it’s own plate that will simple rest on this base. During a typical operating session I plan on using the yard as a place to turn cars to switch that facing siding. I already have the track plate done but did so using an old length of HO scale track that had code 100 rails. These rails are almost twice as high as the running rails on the layout itself and I’m worried vertical alignment may be tricky so I may chicken out and just rebuild the plate and using more code 55 rails. That’s something I can deal with next time.

It’s worth trying yourself. Not only was this simple to do and reasonably quick, it was something I did while enjoying my morning coffee. If you’re new to the hobby, you really only need the most basic of tools. The knife is readily available at the grocery store, dollar store or hardware store. I use an OLFA brand one but really inexpensive and perfectly fine alternatives can be had for about $2. Pencils are everywhere and steel rulers are just about as common. The foam core costs under $5. I used the yellow woodworking glue but white school glue from the dollar store, for about $2, works really well too. I used masking tape but any tape works fine. So, if you had nothing at all but a table somewhere in your home you could build yourself a baseboard and get started on a layout for well under twenty dollars – even if you stop to treat yourself to a coffee along the way.

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