Benchwork for model railroads but not online?

I wrote a post the other day about some pieces of model railway benchwork that I had put together as an effort to explore a concept I’d read about. I did that mostly to satisfy a curiousity about the technique and use up some scrap from the workshop. I enjoyed every minute of it and sharing that experience here on Prince Street. That post attracted a couple of comments and a few emails from friends about the subject. I wanted to thank everyone who chimed in on the subject. It’s so terrific to be a part of these social circles and I appreciate every word you’ve shared with me on the subject and those suggestions you’ve made.

As I draw one baby step closer to actually building my own layout (finally, we all collectively sigh!) I’m starting to enjoy researching the subject and methods used to construct model railroad benchwork. I’m quite suprised by the lack of online resources sharing what people have tried on their own layouts or what they’re suggesting the rest of us try. I was sort of hoping to discover a stack of websites or blog post akin to the terrific selection of resources for weathering, making trees or handlaying track written by people passionate about the fine woodworking end of our hobby but haven’t found them yet.

What do you think?

What have I missed?

Have the methods we use to support our model empires become so germaine to the hobby that we don’t feel that there is much need to expend the effort to share them? I’ve had the good fortune to try many different methods using some common and some not so common methods and should probably hear my own question and post about those here online too. My particular interest, right now, are those methods that I’d use for the long thin frame that will support the new layout. For the most part the layout will not exceed a depth of 18″ at any one point and I’d actually like it to be narrower. It will be long compared to the micro layouts I’ve been building (five, maybe six feet in length). I’ve been sharing images of some very curvilinear spaces and will need to share how I approach framing these. The one detail that will be different in my case compared to similar shelf layouts is that mine must remain free-standing as anchoring to our living room options simply isn’t an option even worth considering. Given it’s shallow depth, I’ll need to brace the legs or design them in a way that makes the layout more stable. Traditional layout legs that project straight down from the layout will be too close together and it will be too easy to topple the layout.

I will post some notes on what I’ve been working on so far for my own project.

Reaching further back though and thinking of the broader question of model railway benchwork design and construction: what did you use and what did you think about it? Materials, methods, satisfactions and regrets.



  1. Hi, Chris:

    Since you’re already thinking about plywood framing, you could do some very funky stuff, namely using a version of L-girder benchwork with curved L-girders!

    Cut the profile of the curve for the top surface, and glue/ screw a straight piece, fitted around the edge to provide the rigidity in a vertical direction. For example, in the “Progress and Refining the Plan” layout, you could put a curved L-girder along the front and back, custom fit to the shape you want.

    In this case I’d suggest putting the vertical member facing out, to give a strong support for the fascia.

    Legs? Well, nobody ever said the legs have to be directly across from each other. On the aforementioned plan, you could consider putting the outer legs near the ends, but on the more sharply curved rear the legs could be closer to the middle to give optimal support. Five legs could be used but that would be overkill.

    A special bookshelf or cabinet could be used too, to maximize the use of space.

    The joists, running from front to rear, would be neatly trimmed to meet the curve.

    Just a thought!

    Steve Hunter

    1. I like the idea of curved L girders. That’s a neat suggestion. Plywood provides so many opportunities and is so much more stable compared to dimensional lumber.

      Whatever shape the layout takes on I know it will be built almost as a cart. Picture one of those kitchen “baker’s carts”. I will add fixed castors to one end do the layout can easily be moved to another room or even a show if there was interest. I picture the base being about 2×4 feet overall with the layout centered over that. I’ll add in a shelf about midway up for a little more storage.

  2. Chris, my benchwork imagination has perhaps been stunted. Legs 2×2 braced with 1×2, 3/8 plywood table. If I was to build a layout today, I would look into the various home shelving products that have been used. One doesn’t need to be able to sleep on the layout, but like a Christmas tree, collapsing should never happen. The Kalmbach layout planning annual issues have included some ideas on this. You mean there’s tons of info on furnace filter trees but nothing about what the darn forest is built on??

    1. To use the tree example I was surprised by how many websites, blogs and videos were available to suggest tree making methods. All are great and I’ve enjoyed seeing each one.

      Ready access to web authoring and collaboration tools has really encouraged all if us model railroaders an opportunity to not only talk about the hobby in general but tell others about the parts we enjoy the most. I had never really looked for benchwork ideas but assumed they were out there. They probably still are and I need to figure out how to find them. Perhaps it’s that they’re just buried in build threads.

  3. • Draw each train layout design element (town, rail yard , engine terminal, junction, farm scene, coal yard, steel mill or other industry) that you want to model, based on the prototype trackplan, on each card. Add one or more of the building blocks from the “Track Planning” page to modify the LDE, if you wish, to form spurs , team tracks, runaround tracks, wyes, reversing loops or ladders to embellish or improve the LDE so that it may better conform to the purpose and operation of your particular railroad.

    1. I agree. The challenge with smaller layouts like the ones I’ve been proposing is that they really won’t be able to support multiple LDE’s. I like the LDE concept and would apply it naturally to larger layouts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s