Over-Engineering Layout Legs

I’ve tried several designs over the years for legs to hold up layouts.  I’ve used 2×4’s, 2×2’s, “L” shaped assembly’s of plywood…. none of it seems to have been as successful as I wanted it to be.  The 2×4’s were under a decent portion of my Yosemite Valley that I started building in California.  The 1×2’s I tried under an N scale layout.  The issue was always kicking the legs which would jolt the layout above, and being in a hurry, I never had added additional bracing, so the legs wound up out of alignment.

Two years ago on the Idea Demonstration Layout I built “L” shapes out of plywood that were the best effort so far.  I added cross-braces to those, and they were much better in terms of being straight and resistance to being knocked into.  Those “L” replaced a huge failure when I tried to use folding legs under the layout.

For the ACP Branch, I set some criteria out as I started leg design:

  1.  Sturdy.  The legs need to be built to survive moving with the layout from storage to use and back.
  2. Use available materials here.  I had brought in materials to build a different style of legs than I have before and wanted to see if I could incorporate that material if possible.
  3. Easy to replicate.  I determined that I wanted 5 locations under the first layout section to have legs, and the larger section will need 8-12 depending on design.  Being able to replicate the legs is important.

A year ago while prepping for a now abandoned Free-Mo layout project, I bought the materials to build legs to spec from a local modular group, Modutrak.  Their N and HO layouts that show up at train shows in the region are amazing, and the leg design is highly portable.  The drawing is here, and you can click on the link in the caption for the photo to get a link to their whole build specs available via the Modutrak website.

I don’t need the portability factor for this layout, but I still had enough material that I figured I could us it to build legs for the ACP.  I also am a huge convert to the wood glue and screws construction methods.  Having thrown all-in with the Kreg tools, and having had the layout sections I built last year not move an iota after the glue set, I wanted to create something strong using those materials as well.

Coming late the the equation was the realization that the leveling feet that I wanted to use for the legs would not be practical.  The layout is not going to be able to be brought in the house, the overall dimension to make it what I want it to be will mean it needs to live in the garage.  Additionally, with two layout sections that will need to be joined together for operating, moving pieces around on leveling feet is difficult.  I decided to go with some heavy-duty casters and include some locking wheels so the layout can be positioned and locked in place.

I decided to eliminate the moving pieces in the Modutrak design, and mad “Y” shaped legs out of the materials, gluing and screwing everything together.  To make sure the height of the upper arms of the “Y” started at the same spot, I made a template out of a piece of plywood, and held it in place with a clamp while I pre-drilled and assembled each side.  I used Kreg pan-head wood screws to attach everything.


Two “Y” legs.

The next step was to make the cross pieces in what I decided would be a double-“H”.  I glued up some scrap 3/4″ plywood and ripped it into 2″ strips.  Then I cut those sections, and some additional 1″ pieces, into 14″ long blanks.  The glued together pieces were designed to fit at the top of the “Y”, while the 1″ pieces were designed to cross at the bottom of the outside leg supports.

With all the pieces made, I took an afternoon to drill the bottom of the legs for inserting the large T-nuts and eventually the casters.


Assembly starts with the first lower cross piece.  It’s glued and screwed, again with pan-head screws, in place.  At each connection, I checked for square.

Once the first piece was on at the bottom, I inserted the top cross support between the “Y” arms, and glued/screwed it in place.  Flipping the legs over, I proceeded to repeat the process, working to secure the top cross first, and then adding one additional cross support at the bottom.


The arrows indicate where the 2nd cross piece will go at the lower end of the “Y” arm.

With those pieces in place, I inserted and screwed the T-nuts in place on the legs, and twisted in the casters, making sure there is one locking and one free caster per set of legs.


It only took about an hour to assemble all the legs once the individual pieces were ready. There is one more piece to attach to each leg.  I’ll be inserting a small piece of 2×4 into the top of the “Y” arms.  Those will rest against pieces of 2×4 under the layout and provide a way to make sure everything is properly supported.

I’m sure these are over-engineered.  I am hoping that the robustness of these legs will mean that they’ll support the layout through moving around without issues.  We’ll see how it goes when they go under the layout in the next few days.

Time to get back to the workbench!



No Need To Adjust Your Color


I’m trying some new things out on freight cars this year, learning, and trying to evolve my skills and processes.

I’ve normally gone from “ready for paint” model straight to paint.  In reading how our friends in the plastic modeling community work, the majority go from finished model to a primer coat.  I’ve used the first coat of paint as a primer coat in the past, but I decided this year to try using several different modeling primers to see if they help improve adhesion of paint, especially to metal details that I have some trouble keeping from chipping.


Tamiya Surface Primer (from Amazon)

I decided to try some Tamiya Surface Primer.  I’ve seen nice results from military modelers using the product before, and the ease of using it, as opposed to setting up the airbrush right now while temperatures are still all over the place, the garage is occupied by other modeling items (like benchwork construction), and the chance to get a few models moving made it appealing.

So, one afternoon I set a piece of lumber up on the sawhorses, grabbed a few cars, and set out to get them into primer.  I picked a pair of USRA DS boxcars, a car that will be a B&O M26, and a pair of modified Accurail 36′ DS boxcars.

The technique for using the primer is straight forward.  Shake well, use in a well ventilated space, etc… Applying spray paint evenly requires some patience.  I used a base application of primer, let it dry, then covered it with a second even coat, making sure to start the spray just beyond the model and end the spray on the opposite side of the car while not aiming at the model.  Even slow movements while staying.  Once the top and sides were finished, I primed the underside of the cars as well.

I’m pleased with the results.  I’ll keep using a primer of this quality from now on.  I have some airbrush primers to try out too, but at the spur of the moment or when I only have a handful of models ready that I have enough time to prime, the Tamiya is certainly an excellent choice.

The next chance I get, I’ll start getting these cars into their paint colors before adding decals, weathering, trucks, couplers….  there’s still a lot to do.

Stay tuned… more new (to me) stuff to try coming shortly.

Time to get back to building some cars and benchwork!



GO! Benchwork Is Under Way


The ACP Branch base benchwork.  On the right is what I’ve termed “Section 1”, the town of Auburn.  The large section on the left will be split down the middle by a backdrop and have one town on each side.  The tails along the middle aisle will support a sweeping fascia design.

After a solid week of working in the garage for at least an hour every evening, I’m please to be able to show you the “base” benchwork for the whole of the ACP Branch of the N&W.

Using some really easy to learn tools that I’ve been using now for 3 summers, namely pocket screw jigs from Kreg tools, a Kreg “rip-cut” jig for my circular saw, my Bladerunner table saw, wood glue, and a set of 4 right-angle clamps,I managed to get everything to the this point in about 7 days.

I honestly find working with 3/4” high-grade birch plywood as dimensional lumber to be the way to build benchwork.  I ripped everything to 3” high with a length that matched where it was needed.  Some of the benchwork was re-used from the sections I built last year.

A nice set of right angle clamps make everything easy to hold in position when putting the pocket screws in place.  I normally try and aim for 2 screws per joint.

In one corner of the large section, I dropped from 3” down to 2” high under where there will eventually be a turntable.


The largest town, and main yard, for the ACP Branch will occupy this side of the layout.  On the far right, at the bottom of the picture, the lower benchwork brace will support a turntable location, and the fascia will curve around the end pas it.

After laying the sections together, and taking the photos, I had a chance to stand “in” the layout aisle.  I had already added 12” to the connection between the two sections, and after standing there, I decided adding yet another 12” would make a passable layout something that I would be comfortable standing in, so I built an additional section and added it.  

In the next couple of days I’ll be making sure I have wiring chases drilled through where the main bus wires need to run, sorting out building legs, and putting some decking and foam in place on at least section 1.  More to come soon!

Time to get back to the workbench!


New Layout, New Color Choices

With the advent of a new layout, the ACP Branch, it’s time again for revisiting color choices.  I’ve never really been happy with some of the choices I’ve made in the past, so I’m working through fascia colors again as construction nears and ramps up toward having something to show you in the next few days.

I applaud those of you who have found a green or tan that works for your layout.  Having been through those colors on several occasions, I’ve never really been happy with what I picked.  I’ve tried to get close to a CTC green, or a Pullman green several times, but it either misses or the lighting makes the green a funny shade.

I’m going to go with gray this time around.  It will fit the coal/coke hauling theme, and should make for a nice window box effect for the layout, drawing the eye to the scenes on the layout.

I’ve narrowed the colors to two choices:

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Dark Ash

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Cracked Pepper

The Dark Ash color is a couple of shades lighter than the Cracked Pepper.  Both will be applied in a satin finish so I can keep the fascia as clean as possible.

If you have an opinion between these two, feel free to comment here.   I’ll let you know when I buy the paint which one wins.

Time to get back to the workbench!


… Get Set…


I spent a rather enjoyable time this afternoon getting set to start benchwork building for this “season”.  The weather has finally improved enough to be able to have the garage open in the afternoons, and as it’s somewhat late in the year already, I decided to take full advantage of the opportunity.

I’m recycling lumber that I’ve used now for 3 years of benchwork building, so measuring, remarking, and recutting is the name of the game.  As you can see from the photo that accompanies this, I’ve marked, cut, drilled, glued, etc… all of this before.  With that experience under my belt now, this should go faster.

My first task this week will be to make a 1′ x 3′ “box” to add to the 1’x12′ that I already have from when we had a couple days of warm in February.  Once I get that done, I’ll re-cut a bunch of smaller pieces that I have and turn them into supports that will reach from the rear board the front of section 1, creating the curved fascia support.

While I was sorting out, marking, and labeling lumber today, I also took a few minutes to determine if I have the materials to build the larger section 2 of this layout.   While the overall goal is to have section 1 to the roughed-in scenery stage in this calendar year, if I can get the benchwork cut and assembled for the next sections while I’m set up for cutting, that makes a lot of sense to go ahead and do.  I’m incredibly happy to be able to say that I have the lumber to be able to build the benchwork for that section.  That means the only necessary lumber purchases this year are likely to be the sub roadbed and some more material for the fascias.

I still have some design choices to make for the overall layout.  It will have to, for the moment, find a home in our garage when not in use.  That means that when we want to bring it inside and operate, it has to fit through here:


The door from the garage into the house that the layout will use.

Sorting out the overall dimensions vertically with backdrop and lighting installed is going to take me some figuring and hands-on time with the materials.

It’s almost time to get back to the table-saw!


Suggestion of a Car: Part 2

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I’ve made some progress on the car introduced in part 1 of this project.

In doing some research on similar cars, I ran across this photo of a similar car at Mid-Continent Railway Museum.


Minneapolis & St Louis 36′ Boxcar with Fox Trucks

I’m not sure what the original prototype for the MDC car I started with is, but it appears close to many double sheathed cars in the early part of the 1900’s.

I was also provided some additional photos and drawings by several modeling friends.



These are all quite helpful in getting that sort of fuzzy idea of a car into better focus.  It is absolutely a “wrong-way door” car, with the door sliding to the left instead of how most cars slide to the right.  The major difference between the car from the video that I am building a suggestion of and the car in the much better photo and drawings are the supports on the exterior of the door.


Continuing with the model, I used a razor blade to remove the cast-on details on both sides of the car.  Most of these scraped off easily, but the cast door slide at the top was a little harder to add.  I did leave the cast-on door as it will provide support for the next door to be glued to.  I also removed the cast-in drop steps.

The roof was then sanded flat with a rasp.  There were quite a few “waves” in casting.  Once that was completed, I decided to leave the ends of the car alone for now.  They already have similar wood siding, and some additional bolt details that I like.  As I’m building a car similar to what is seen in the video, and it may have received some additional end supports between 1920 and 1927 if it even survived, I am OK with that choice.  I did remove the cast-in grab irons and retouch the siding with a dental pick and chisel.  I’ll be adding wire grabs to the car.

Because the car sides were bowed inward, something I’ve seen before with MDC cars, and a problem when cutting and adding the new siding, I assembled the fish-belly 36′ floor and frame from Accurail I had purchased for this project, adding additional weight and glued it into the car next.  This brought the sides back to straight.  I didn’t have to make any modifications to the car or the frame to make the match.  It just snapped into place and I used s small amount of glue to make sure it doesn’t come apart later.


With that assembly done, I set about using Evergreen styrene siding to cut and fit on the car sides, the roof, and then to create new doors, with flat styrene used to create the door tracks.  As you can see from the photo, it’s coming out pretty well.  (I see from the photo I have a little more sanding and fitting to do).

Now that the major changes are done, I’m waiting for a parts order to finish the doors and add grabs and steps.  Then the car will be ready for paint and finishing.

Time to get back to the workbench!


On your mark…

The first “nice” day of Spring was upon us yesterday.  This is the latest I can remember ever getting some decent weather for being outside, but others may disagree.  In my life, it’s the first time I have lived somewhere that there was snow into April.


With an afternoon of decent weather, I headed for the garage to get started on layout projects that have been bottlenecking for a while.  Knowing that there is a lot of benchwork to get built this year, and feeling a real purpose there as the N&W ACP branch is inspiring me to push ahead, I decided that the first project was to get the table saw ready to go.

I have a portable “Blade Runner” table saw that I’ve shown before.  The last couple of years, that saw has been set on a piece of old lumber that was in turn set on my sawhorses and screwed down and then the board was clamped in place.  PHEW.  That was always a good few minutes of work to get the saw set up, and then the sawhorses were occupied, so I couldn’t use them for anything else.

Over a year ago, I was given a small metal table with a pressboard top that I’ve been keeping the saw on when not in use.  I decided to make some modifications to that table and mount the saw to it.  This simple task would allow for the saw to be moved out and set up with some stability, while also giving me access to the sawhorses for the layout building and assembly while I still have access to the saw.

The major modification to the table was the need to make it possible to get sawdust and cut material out from under the saw.  In my experience the saw makes a decent amount of dust underneath it, and having a means to get some of that out to keep the works clear is important.


I moved all the materials off the shelves underneath, some went to the trash, while the right-angle clamps found a new home in a tool-chest drawer.  Then with a 1″ paddle bit in the drill, I made 15 holes in the table top under where the saw sits.  This will let the material fall out, and the least onto the shelf below where I will place a bag for collection.  If that, in practice, proves to be difficult to use, I’ll simply remove that shelf and then can stretch a bag in the opening left.

Using a pair of star-head screws, I then mounted the Blade Runner to the top.  It’s stable enough that I can push a piece of lumber through the saw without worrying about it going anywhere.  I also now have my sawhorses for other use, as well as my bar clamps that were always in use holding the support for the saw in place.


Not a huge project, but a step toward being ready when the weather stabilizes and we get a string of decent temperatures for cutting, re-cutting, and assembling at the very least all of the ACP Branch Phase 1, and possibly Phase 2 and 3.


Time to get back to the workbench!