Benchwork: Correcting Warped Lumber

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by ScottyB, Dec 26, 2004.

  1. ScottyB

    ScottyB Member

    Hey all,

    I just got home with a few 1x4s, 1x2s, and 2x2s to get started on my benchwork. From Linn Wescott's book "How To Build Model Railroad Benchwork" I was debating between L-girder and Butt-joint style. The problem is that my 1x4s are very slightly twisted. If I try to make an L-girder from a 1x4 and a 1x2, it isn't very straight, and if I try to make a basic frame butt-jointed, same problem -- 1 corner sticks up.

    Anyone know a good way to straighten these 1x4s? Or do I just use them for shorter pieces and go back to the lumber yard and find straight(er) ones?

  2. Wyomingite

    Wyomingite Member

    Hi Scott,

    Buying straight lumber these days is one big problem. Could you return the wood your bought and ask for straighter pieces. Where I purchase my materials they let me choose what I want. Using what you can for shorter pieces would be expensive to say the least. Also don't take all your lumber in where its warm. Keep it dry and take in just what you need and cut and put it together. That warm room will turn loose straight wood to twisting in a few short days. Once you have your benchwork together I would give it a good coat of paint.

    Ron :thumb:
  3. ScottyB

    ScottyB Member

    Thanks Ron.

    I guess there is a learning curve to this. I bought the original lumber from an outdoor lumberyard and it sat in my basement about a week before I got to it. (Maybe I'll just put it back out in the garage!) Today I went to a place where the lumber is stored indoors and made sure to pick out the straightest pieces. Then came home and assembled the L-girders immediately. Worked like a charm.

    I'll put the original stuff back outside to see what happens. I do need a few shorter pieces for my layout, so even if I need to cut them, it would not be a problem.

  4. SAL Comet

    SAL Comet Member

    Ha Scotty, If you can clamp your 1x4s down straight(like on a good workbench) and assemble your L-griders with glue and screws, while their held down straight and leave them clamped down until the glue dries. You should be able to use them.
  5. ScottyB

    ScottyB Member

    Damn, time to build a good workbench... back to the lumberyard!

    I put them back in the garage where it is currently 25º with the hopes it will warp itself back. If not, I'll find something to clamp it to I guess...

    With the lumber I just bought today I was able to assemble 4 beautifully straight 8 foot L-girders. I did the Linn Wescott drill - screw - unscrew - glue - screw method. I'm planning a 11x18 rectangular layout (open in the middle) so I think I need 4 more 8 footers, and one or two shorter ones for the short side of the rectangle. And I gotta figure out the 2 foot section in the middle of each of the long ends (18 - 8 - 8 = 2).

    Now the width of each side is only 3 feet, so do I really need 2 L-girders about a foot apart? Or is there some way to get away with just one?

    So far so good for someone with -0- carpentry skills...

  6. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I've got my L girders about 16" apart. You need 2 to balance the joists on.
    I made a 16 foot joist by staggering the joints about 4 feet. (Mistake: it will not leave the basement intact.)
    Cut three 6 foot sides and use the 2 foot leftovers for the middle top.
    Don't forget to remove the screws. I leave mine in and I ruined an expensive drill bit when I drilled a hole in the side piece, right where a screw was.
  7. kchronister

    kchronister Member

    Scott - Don't give up on the warped lumber. It constantly amazes me just how much wood "moves" with humidity changes. Especially in WI this time of year, just put it somewhere cold and dry (garage if unheated?) and give it a few weeks. Short term, you may be right in just buying more, but let it sit for a bit and you may well get some perfectly usable "bonus" boards...
  8. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Member

    I went through the same thing. It can be very frustrating. It's getting harder and harder to get good wood, expecially at the big box stores. I finally gave up and cut my own 1x4s from 3/4" plywood.
  9. theBear

    theBear Member

    Straight warp free lumber is very very expensive, the best way to get what you need is to rip 1/2 inch birch plywood.

    Get it from a place that will cut it for you if you can't handle the long straight cuts.

    I have a pile of old well dried 12" + pine that was used for shelves in a store. I ripped it and now have some nice strips for framework.

    Now it is time to get the 2x4s so I can hang sheet rock.
  10. Bikerdad

    Bikerdad Member

    Wood moves with changes in humidity. Temperature changes have very little effect on wood movement, unless the wood is very green, and it is very, very cold, in which case the ice crystals that form in the wood can render concerns about simple movement moot.. :(

    You want to acclimate your wood to the environment where it will reside when you're done working it. Therefore, if your benchwork is going into a spare bedroom, the best place to store the wood until you're ready to cut and shape it is,

    wait for it...

    wait for it...

    wait for it...

    wait for it...

    the spare bedroom! :thumb: Ditto for the basement, attic, wherever. Remember, humidity is the main concern, not temperature. Cut, shape, assemble, etc as quickly as possible if you have to do so in another location, then return the wood to its destination.

    Engineered wood products (not all of which are wood, but that's doesn't matter for our purposes) are more stable than natural wood. The primary engineered wood products for us to be concerned with are plywoods, particle board, medium density fiberboard (aka MDF) and hardboard, aka "Masonite". All are far more dimensionally stable than natural wood, but suffer from their own drawbacks.

    The best product to make benchwork from is, in my opinion, shop grade plywoods, including the previously mentioned 1/2" birch. These plywoods are stable, simple to find, have few voids, and are fairly inexpensive. The biggest problem with them for the average modelrailroader making benchwork is the size, generally a 4'x8' sheet. Ripping the plywood down to size is a challenge, even for a well equipped woodworker. A very well equipped woodworker will have a panel saw or sliding tablesaw, and therefore will have no difficulty at all cutting it down. Fortunately, there are numerous ways for the rest of us to get our plywood rips, from having the lumberyard do it on THEIR panel saw, to plopping the plywood onto a pair of sawhorses, clamping an edge guide on, and going to town with the trusty Skilsaw. In short, it can be done, its just a bother.

    Bothersome as it is, using plywood is worth the upfront hassle because it will greatly reduce the problems brought on by wood movement, problems that may take years to manifest. Unfortunately, when they do manifest, they are usually major problems, because they affect the very foundation of the layout, meaning that solving them can be much more difficult than building the benchwork in the first place.
  11. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Ditto the plywood suggestion. Our modular club has moved away from dimensional clear pine to "paint-grade" plywood, usually 3/4", but there are some uses for 11mm and/or 1/2". The 1/2" should be fine for making L-girders because the strength is engineered in when you glue/screw them together.

    If it is not too late, try returning the pine, and going with the ply.

  12. theBear

    theBear Member

    Home Depot has plywood in smaller 4' x 4' and 2' x 4' sizes. You'll pay more for it than a 4' x 8' but it is easier to handle for the average model railroader.

    I'm going to try getting to the lumber yard this week. I did a little bit more prep work in the basement today. Got the old pump system disconnected. Only a couple more impediments to remove. Does anyone know what it would cost to relocate two [​IMG] boilers about 4 feet [​IMG].

    Being semi retired [​IMG] and totally bonkers [​IMG] has its good points [​IMG].
  13. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    One thing that doesn't work, regardless of what Norm Abrams says, is cutting stips off of larger dimensional lumber. It relieves stresses and warps at warp speed. :eek: :eek: Norm shows you how to take the warp out of lumber by using a jointer, a table saw, a motorized planer and a gigantic belt sander. Most stuff I buy at the Depot is nice and straight when it leaves the checkout counter, but starts to warp by the time I get to the parking lot. :( :(

    Something you might consider in addition to using strips of plywood, is MDF. I had some doors to make a while back and couldn't get any wood to not warp, even after straightening it out, so I ripped strips of 3/4" MDF to size and glued two pieces together to give me the 1 1/2" thickness that I needed. It's easy to cut and straight as an arrow. No splinters either, using MDF has cut my Band-Aid bill in half. :thumb: :thumb:
  14. cobra

    cobra Member

    I suffered from ' green ' wood early on and found that straight , dried , wood , while more expensive , was worth the extra cost because of virtually no wasteage and no headaches .I'm talking 1x4's , 1x2's and 2x2's which are all that are needed . If assembled properly , L-girder style , they are very strong . I would recommend spending the few extra hard earned $$$.

  15. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    The first section of benchwork that I built used Home Despot's lumber. Finding straight pieces was a real challenge, and working with it was a royal pain because as soon as I got it home it warped and twisted. That's because they don't "cure" their lumber first - and that's why it's cheaper.

    This time around I went to a better grade of lumber at a different store and wow! what a pleasure to work with!!!

    Moral of my little story - you get what you pay for.

  16. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way


    Since those guys drove out all the competition, we are left with few choices. But I do find that Lowe's lumber is better in this respect and the prices are identical. Even so, I've had problems even with "kiln dried" wood, 1 x or 2 x, it didn't matter. The only lumber that I haven't had warping problems with are poplar and oak, but now we're talking some money here. For economy and warp free, I still like MDF. What I don't like is MDF sawdust. :eek: :eek:
  17. ScottyB

    ScottyB Member

    Wow, great responses everyone.

    The layout is being constructed in my basement, which, although not finished, is fully heated and air conditioned. The temp down there is very close to the temp upstairs -- no noticeable difference. The home is only 2 years old, but I've only been in it 6 months, so I'm not too sure about the humidity effects down there yet.

    The Home Depot lumber I made L-girders out of are still nice and straight after a few days. The only other lumber yard (I know of) near my home is Menards, who stores theirs outdoors.

    I think I'll see how these L-girders hold up after another week or so before using them in construction. I like the idea of painting them to keep out moisture. I'm assuming I could also use a wood sealant as well.

    I'll look into MDF, but I don't have a way to strip a 4x8 into 1x4s or 1x2s.

    Thanks All,
  18. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Yes, it's really a shame. I used to be able to go into my local hardware store, tell them what I wanted to build, ask them what I needed and how to go about building it and walk out with everything I needed, including the know-how!!!

    I sure miss those days! Fortunately we have Rona/Lansing which carries better wood.

  19. theBear

    theBear Member

    Up here I can go to a couple of actual lumber mills and custom order. I also have access to some old well dried lumber but that is best used for other things.

    The stuff I ripped is fine for mounting 1/4 " plywood on but is of no real use otherwise.

    Here is a helpful guide on lumber:
  20. cobra

    cobra Member

    We have Home 'Despot' as Val calls it but no Lowes ( that I know of ) in Canada . Where I got my good wood was Rona ( used to be Building Box ) but I believe they are only situated in Canada , eh ? I use pine and discard the slightly curved pieces at the store ...there were plenty of straights . The other thing is you don't have to use them right away to prevent warpage like you do with green wood . After one or two days of room temperatures , even straight green wood will start to bend . Don't use it !


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