Benchwork question

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by Soonerfan, Nov 17, 2001.

  1. Soonerfan

    Soonerfan New Member

    Anybody have good website suggestions for benchwork plans/specs/ideas? HO scale, 4X8 or a bit larger. Also, any ideas for a cheap, portable, kidproof roadbed for G Scale train to use indoors under the track on carpet--like foam strips, or maybe one of those interlocking rubber mats for kids?
  2. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Woodwork for open grid baseboards

    Hello Soonerfan, and welcome to the gauge.

    All wood used in the making of a baseboard has got to last for years, so get the best wood
    possible. Seasoned wood is the best, as it will not warp. The size of the wood is also
    important, I, like most other enthusiasts, use 3" or 4" by 1" for all main frames. 2" by 2"
    I use for the legs . The meaning of open grid baseboards means just that. If your baseboard size is an 8' by 4' your open framing will be every foot. This allows you to build below aswell as above the baseboards for scenic details. More on this aspect a little later. See drawing of the open grid baseboards.

    Drawing Represents one 8' by 4' layout.

    The size of your layout might not be an 8' by 4', it might be smaller or larger. What ever size you make it, just make sure that the open grid baseboards are spaced at one foot intervals.

    The RED squares in the corners and around the edges represent the 2" by 2" square legs.

    Once the baseboards have been made, you must now make a decision on what material you are going to use for the track bed. I personally use 1/2" chipboard with 1/2" insulation board on the top. One reason is for strength (The chipboard) and the other (Insulation) for easy pinning of track pins when laying the track.Once the chipboard and insulation is in place, now is a good time to paint the insulation board an earth colour.

    Apart from anything else, the insulation board will be sealed and easier to cut and it looks nice also.
    For trackplans, checkout my website, there are a number (14 I think) that can/could be adapted.

    For track laying if you have never done any.

    Track Laying
    These are the tools needed to lay track.
    Needle nose pliers
    Small file
    Rail cutters
    Fine saw
    1200 grade wet/dry paper
    Track gauge (Peco - RED)
    2' Metal ruler
    Band-Aid (maybe)
    Knife (Craft type)
    Soldering gun and solder
    Now all that remains is the type of track to use. Probably the best track and points (turnouts) to use in model railroading has got to be PECO , unless you require to make your own track. With PECO track and points (turnouts), you have the added option of using either code 100 or Finescale code 75. It really doesn't matter which of the two you use, because by the time the track is ballasted, all the track will look just fine anyway. Also by using PECO track and points (turnouts), you will have the added advantage of being able to use the PECO PL10 point motor to fit underneath should you so wish to do so. Apart from anything else, the yards of track are flexible, so you can alter the shape in any way you desire.
    . If you want to raise the track slightly to give the impression of a well maintained main line, then I would use 1/16th cork sheeting. Whether you use the cork sheet or not, both ways of laying the track will look fine when it is ballasted. Okay, let me describe how I would lay one yard of track. First of all, with a sharp knife, cut off two of the end sleepers to allow the metal rail joiners to slip on easy. Do this at both ends. Now, after marking where you want your first piece of track to be laid, place a track pin at either side of the track on a sleeper (Tie) , two sleepers in (Not in the middle as this will reduce the gauge slightly) Now with the needle nose pliers, press the track pins into the insulation board. At this stage please check that the pins have not bent down the edges of the sleepers. If they have, gently raise them up a little with the knife. At this stage, I assume that the track is a straight piece and not curved anywhere. If it is a straight piece, then lay the 2' steel rule up to the sleepers so as to keep the track straight and the same distance from the edge of the baseboard. Move
    along to the end of the track and repeat the stage of track pinning. When both ends are done, make sure all is still straight with the steel rule and pin the rest of the track, every five inches or so, again checking that the pins haven't gone too far down.
    That's the first piece down, now on to the next yard of track or maybe a point in you case. I don't know, but which ever it is, the same method applies for laying trouble free running.
    Lets for the purpose of instruction, lay another yard of track onto the first, and solder the two together. As with the first yard, snip off two sleepers from either end once again. Place metal rail joiners on to the new piece of track and place it at the end of the first piece of track. Now very carefully, making sure that the track is flat on the insulation board, bring it into the first piece of track. Don't lift it as you bring it into the other rails as you will bend the metal joiners and cause derailments at a later date. Just be careful, and take your time. At this stage, sight down the two pieces of track and make sure that the two are in fact straight, if they are, then pin the second yard down as you did the first one. After which you can solder the joints for good electrical contact.
    If you have never soldered rail joints before, then here is how it's done. My soldering gun is of the instant type, press the trigger and it's on. Some others need time to heat up. Which ever type you use, make sure it's hot and ready for use. Here goes. - With the gun hot, place the tip of the gun or iron onto the rail joiners and apply the solder to the rails, not the gun or iron, if the gun is hot enough, the solder will flow underneath the metal joiners for a good connection.
    Remember the 1200 grade wet/dry you bought, use a small piece and gently go over the top of the rails to clean them off. Now run your fingers along the tops of the rails. If there are any height differences, now is the time to file it down a little then go over it once again with the 1200 wet/dry. When you file the track, just file one way, not backwards and forwards. Don't forget to run your fingers inside the track as well. This is what is called Bullet Proofing the track. As a further check that the two pieces of track a 100% right, grab one of your freight cars and roll it over the track joints to see if all is well. It should glide over the track like silk.
    The same method applies for laying points (turnouts), except not all points (turnouts) are in fact soldered because some will need plastic rail joiners so as not to get feed back from the controllers.
    When buying PECO points (turnouts), they all come with ample documentation as to how to wire them up, so there is no need for me to explain how this is done.
    Lets now take the job of laying track a little further for track which has to go around curves. This time, it is easier to solder two pieces of track together first before pinning it down. Just lay two yards of track down on a flat surface and join the tracks together then solder them as you did before, with the exception of the track pins, it is the same procedure. When the two are ready for use, just pick up the two yards, one yard in each hand and very carefully bend the two halves together to form a horseshoe. Now lay the track down at the place you wish to join these tracks to, and you will notice
    that the ends of the tracks have staggered. Don't panic. Lay one end of the track onto the end of the ones previously laid, so that the horseshoe tracks overlay the old track. Now with a knife, make a cut mark over the longest rail and snip it off and file it up. This end is now ready to join to the other two. When all is pinned down, you will notice the once again at the other end, there is a staggered rail end. Once again, mark with a knife the long end so it is the same length as the other one, then cut it off and file it. Once again, when all is pinned down use your fingers to check for any irregularities, if there are any, file them away and try you freight car once again.
  3. Soonerfan

    Soonerfan New Member

    Thanks Shamus for the reply. By the way, I am assuming that chipboard is what we necks call plywood, and what you call insulation am not sure what that is. I have seen some blue flat insulation that is similar to styrofoam but stronger used in roofs and walls. Or is it the white roll stuff?

    I don't want to show my ignorance, although I seem to do it a lot, but I have never heard of Peco track or turnouts. Seems I will have to bone up some more on track. For now, I will let the kids experiment with what they get for Xmas.

    One more thing...thank God for the Brits!
  4. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Here's the website for Peco

    Plywood is not Chipboard, chipboard is a high density compacted pulpwood similar to MDF but more resilient.

    Insulation board is compacted card/paper ½” thick, and very easy to cut and shape. It comes in two kinds, 1-white faced and the other dark earth colour. But it is not styrofoam

    Hope this helps
  5. Soonerfan

    Soonerfan New Member

    Have you thought of moving to the colony and starting a consulting business? Heading to the local Home Depot in a bit to see what I can find. Thanks for the tips...check back with you later!
  6. Soonerfan

    Soonerfan New Member

    The 4x8 open grid baseboard looks like a lot of measuring and cutting! Which direction do you have continous framing--the 8 foot length or the 4 foot length. If I have 8 foot long 1x4's, I will need 28 of the 1 foot lengths, if I have 4 foot long 1x4's, I will need 21 of the 1 foot lengths (called joists? or what?). Am I thinking correctly?
  7. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    Thanks, Shamus!

    More great information!!

    How do you think Atlas track and turnouts compare with Peco?

    The reason I ask is that it's much easier to find Atlas track here in the States (even Hobby Lobby - which carries only Life Like locos and rolling stock "shutter!" - has it!). 'Course, maybe that tells me something ...... !


    - George
  8. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    continous frame -- on the 8 foot length then measure each section for the in-between bits, much easier.
    Atlas track is also very good, but I prefer Peco as you can add the Peco PL10 point motor to it and also the Peco PL13 switch for electric lighting of signals etc. Plus Peco do code 100 and finescale code 75 for H0 and the equivalent in N-scale.

    By the way, you can buy all Peco products in the USA, try Walthers at


  9. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member

    I have a silly question that is only marginally related to the topic of this thread:

    Is Peco pronounced pee-ko or peck-o? Or is something else?

    And while I'm at it, is Noch pronounced with a long "o" and a "ch" on the end, or is the "ch" pronounced like the letter k?

    -Confused in Texaz
  10. Soonerfan

    Soonerfan New Member

    Is chipboard=particle board? And could not find foam board...any yanks got translation? Also was thinking that if I shortened two of the 4' cross pieces, I could make "two" boxes and attach them together. This would enable me to break it down easier. Also, if I used 1x4 for the outside frame, and 1x3 for the inside, would it be possible to place the chipboard (or whatever it is) and the foamboard (ditto) inside the "box" and it would be flush with the top. Bad idea or workable?
  11. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member


    I've seen a sort of board that looks like its made out of large chunks of wood. It looks like a combination between particle board and plywood...

    Ceiling tiles can also made good sub-roadbed. They're light and take track nails pretty well. They're also cheap. Just make sure that they don't have any asbestos (I don't think you can buy new asbestos ceiling tiles in the U.S., anyway).

    I used foam insulation. It comes in 4' x 8' sheets that are 1/2, 3/4 and 1 inch think (any maybe thicker). This is not the same thing as "bead board" styrofoam, like that used in packaging. This stuff is really easy to work with, too. You can cut it with a regular knife, and it doesn't leave a mess of little particles all over the place!

  12. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    chipboard is not particle board, it is a compressed--- almost like thin pieces of wood pressed together and is 1/2" thick, also lay it on the top of the frame then the insulation board on top of that. Don't use any kind of styrofoam as it will not last unless you want it to be an exhibition type layout for lightness. Even then, I personally wouldn't use it.
    Peco pronounced Pea- co, and Noch is pronounced Knock

  13. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Soonerfan, In place of the chipboard Shamus uses, I use plywood. I used 3/4", but that was because I had access to it for free. 1/2" is fine. Main difference would be the distance you can go between risers. I use homasote instead of the insulation board. Homasote comes in 4x8 sheets, 1/2" thick. It makes quite a mess when sawed. You can also use a product called homabed, which is Homasote precut into 1/4" thickness, 2" wide roadbed with shoulders, like cork. Availability right now is questionable, as the company recently chnged hands. I have some on order, I was told beginning of December. I prefer it over cork because it holds spikes better, and I handlay. Cork on plywood will work as well. Instead of the frame type benchwork previously mentioned, you can use L girder benchwork. Make L girders from lengths of 1x4 or 1x3 (depending on distance between legs)and 1x2. Stand the 1x4 on edge on the floor, apply glue to the top surface, then attach the 1x2 to the top of the 1x4 so you have an L. Screw in place till glue dries, then you can remove screws. After you have the L girders, you build leg assemblies to support them parallel and level. You can then install joists wherever you need support for your trackwork by placing a 2x3 or 2x4 across the girders and fastening with a screw thru the web of the girder. Kalmbach had a book on benchwork, I suggest checking it out. Hope this helps.

  14. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Forgot to mention that homasote is what Insulationboard is called in the US. 1/2" ply plus 1/2"homasote will do very well.
  15. Soonerfan

    Soonerfan New Member

    Thanks for all the help. I've decided that I need more books to help me with the benchwork--I have bricks for hands and no woodworking skills. Will probably wait till after Xmas to involve the kids with "their" new train sets.
  16. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Here’s another alternative to chipboard/Plywood & Insulation, it’s Sundeala board,
    and comes in 8' by 4' sheets. Comes in thickness of 1/4" and 1/2"

    It is quite expensive, but well worth it in the end.
    Makes making grades a lot easier.


    Attached Files:

  17. billk

    billk Active Member


    Shamus - What is this Sundeala stuff? I've never heard of it.
    Thnx, BillK
  18. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Bill,
    Sundeala is another version of insulation board only has more density and flexibility, It is a compressed material, but I don’t know if it is available in the US under that name.
  19. Virginian

    Virginian Member

    Hi Soonerfan
    I've been away from the gauge for a few weeks...just read this series of replys to your question...I followed Shamus' advice...I finally found 'insulation board' , not Homasote...very expensive! Home Depot...they call it 'sound board', and it works great...comes in 4'x8' sheets, about $10 a sheet (compare to about $40/sheet for Homasote) it is pressed wood fiber, possibly some peat...made in Canada. It worked quite well in all respects.
    Hope this belated reply helps.
  20. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member

    Good to see you back, Virginian!

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