Impermanent not modular

March 21, 2015

I’ve always glued the pieces of the layout together. I feel pretty comfortable in my ability to make a “forever” layout that will fight back against time and the environment. It just that, it’s a pity that some projects never get finished. Since I enjoy the hobby as much as a way to use basic modelling as an extension of design as I do building and owning a finished model railroad it doesn’t bother me that most of these layouts are no more. Well, that’s a lie. It does bother me quite a lot when I consider the environmental waste. So, most of the things never make it off the back of pieces of scrap paper as a way to minimize the waste. In the last few years I’ve moved toward wondering how much of material invested into the layout could be used in a way that minimizes their dedication to singular consumption.

I am choosing to use Ikea Ivar components as the frame of the layout. As I’m between workshops and will continue to be without one for the next while I appreciate that these components subtract the woodworking stage from layout construction. Since my consciousness of waste outweighs my desire to build a model railroad I also like that if the layout fails the Ivar components can still be used as shelving either here at home or at a friend’s house and they’ll be no less useful. But if I start glueing foam to this thing I instantly convert reusable components into single-use waste.

So, I thought: why am I glueing this all together? What are my options? The centre sketch in the above series of three shows what I consider to be the current approach. Moving across those three sketches from left to right:

  1. At the core of this is relying on a pine shelf at the top of the Ivar unit. The layout rests on this shelf. This design isn’t glued to that shelf but is, in ways, attached.
  2. The fascia can be attached using angle brackets from the hardware store. These inexpensive bits of metal, bent in a right angle, are screwed into the back of the fascia and the top of the shelf. Attached from the back results in a fascia free of hardware too.
  3. Where possible the whole design is screwed together in a sequence. The purpose here allows components to be disassembled more cleanly than if glued which should reduce the amount of material wasted.
  4. Wood lath strips are used as blocking to raise a sheet of extruded foam above that pine shelf. A screw driven up from the underside of the shelf attaches the lath to the shelf. Ivar units are multiples of sixteen and thirty-two inch units so this lath “blocking”, running continuously the full eight feet of the shelf, literally ties the surface together. Air space created by this blocking can be a home for stray wires and also raises above the brackets used to attach the fascia.
  5. We use fender washers to attach foam sheathing to a house’s walls and I’d just use the same method screwing through a fender washer down into that lath but not into the shelf below to attach the foam. In this way the layout could be removed if needed by unscrewing the lath..

The layout’s area is eight feet in length and a foot deep. I’d lay the foam in a single piece since the project here should be designed to be taken apart in an almost literal sense but does not need to be modular. If I “need” two layers of foam, I’m tempted to simply use longer screws but still rely on that fender washer/vinyl siding installer method.

I still need to glue things together but past experience has proven it’s so easy to strip track or scenery from the foam core because of the weaker bond of scenery-to-foam compared to the construction grade adhesives we usually use to bond the foam to the benchwork.

I thought that, because the “benchwork” itself was modular the layout sections also needed to be modular and I was getting trapped into methods of joining them together and running tracks and wires across section breaks. “Screw that”. Literally. If I just use continuous materials on the layout itself but don’t glue the mess together I can still take it apart when it’s time to move. If what I’ve done needs to start over the materials are joined in ways that make it easier to plan their reuse.



Categories: How I think

3 replies

  1. Right there in the last sentence.. and I am noting the Rice influences. Another great read on the cold dark Sunday evening!

  2. Golly, so much good stuff this week!

    I loved the cassettes sliding in a turntable this morning, though perhaps as much for the elegant CAD drawings as for the elegant design and engineering!

    Permanence is a subject much on my mind these last two weeks. I have had to disassemble the western quarter of the Mid-sized and Unmanageble (HO, 12’6” by 16’) this week to replace a failing heating oil tank after a mere 28 years! Now the installer has a nice 48” corridor to get the older one out and the new German one in.

    This layout was built to be impermanent. All wood to wood connections were made with screws or, later, with Simpson Strong Ties. Plastic to wood joints were made with caulk rather than construction adhesive, and roadbed to baseboard and track to roadbed connections were made with caulk or white glue (after I read Lance Mindheim). I don’t think you need fender washers, a d construction adhesive is overkill.

    It came apart really easily except in a few places where I deviated from my own rules. A brief spray of water let both the white glue and the caulking joints pop apart with a quick twist of a scraper. The screws mostly came apart easily except where I stripped the heads going in. We need Robertson screws. Almost all the material is ready to be reused.

    I bought three sheets of 1/4” luan and had it ripped at the lumber yard. Much of this layout was built from used lumber that I salvaged and from construction site waste, including a bunch of 8 foot pieces of 2” styrofoam in odd widths. My favorite piece of salvage was a 10’ piece of 2×4 that I found on the beach after a storm. Someone’s deck washed away, and my layout was the beneficiary.

    During its 25 years of life, the layout was under constant change using the same pieces. And it is about to get another go round on a different footprint.

    My only real failure is that it didn’t run nearly well enough. My wiring was inadequate. This time around, the trackplan will be much simpler and I will breadboard all the electrical parts before I install them on the revised layout.

    This one won’t get finished, but it will be easy for my heirs to take apart, and what goes into the dumpster will mostly be on its third iteration!

    Your methods are sound, and Ivar would be my choice if I
    Didn’t have a workshop!

    Keep working on those cassettes!

    • I always enjoy reading the story of how we live with model railroads – it’s yet another of the many rich stories we could be telling that would be a refreshing change from I built, I threw it out, I built a different thing from scratch. Instead, as our lives, as your life, changed and changes how does the layout evolve?

      My wiring has always been best left undiscussed. For decades I was drawing down from a supply of telephone cable purchased from a demolition project.

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