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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Part 3, Model Railroad Benchwork

So far in this series, we have gone over planning for a model railroad.  Planning is fun and all, but breaking out the tools and getting to work on the bench work is a great feeling.  In a sense, when the first part of the bench work go up, it is a milestone for the layout; where the layout goes from dream to reality.  Bench work is also a very broad topic, and just about every layout has its own style of bench work.  However, because of this, explaining bench work fully is a hard job for anyone.  This is part of the reason I am going over several methods, to explain the variety of bench work types more clearly.

Also, each method of layout construction that I am going over has its own bench work type, or a modification of a type of bench work.  With that said, let me start explaining:

As stated above, each chosen method of layout construction that I will be covering has its own unique bench work type, but what kinds of bench work are there?

Essentially, all bench work has several things in common: a surface to attach the track, scenery, and wiring, legs, or a place for legs, and a surface for attaching fascia/ backdrops.

Also, from looking at many magazines, books, and websites, I have noticed that there are three primary types of bench work: the table top, the open grid, and the modular.  all three are shown below:

The upper left is the open grid design.  The open grid design works on the idea that the track, and scenery can be sculpted by wood and plaster to make a realistic scenery base.  I have found that this method works best for mountainous terrain, where there is a big difference in vertical height.  The reason why this style of bench work works best for vertical scenery, is because the open grid can have things attach to it that will support scenery.  This also helps make the layout light weight.  The layout construction styles that work best for this type of bench work is:  the cookie cutter, the foam and plaster, and the paper shell methods.

The upper right diagram shows and example of table top bench work.  Table top bench work takes a piece of material, usually a piece of plywood, but also foam board, serve as a layout base.  This style of bench work works best for the following:  table top (duh), and the foam board method.  I have also built layouts that have a table top to them, and use a modified cookie cutter style of construction, where the plywood surface serves as the support for the track bed, rather than the braces.

And finally, the bottom part shows an example of modular, or sectional bench work.  The difference between sectional and modular is that modular allows for sections to be put anywhere on the layout, in any combination.  Sectional bench work is more like a puzzle, where each piece has its own place.  Regardless of Whether the layout is sectional or modular, the main focus is on weight and portability.  Though I have built a sectional layout with the table top bench work style, most layouts of this type use a modification of the cookie cutter, and the foam and plaster construction methods.

So now that we have the confusion of what type of bench work goes with what type of scenery base, I can now explain in detail each type of bench work.

Open Grid

I have no real life examples of the open grid, so instead I'll include a series of diagrams.

Essentially, there are two parts to this bench work: the grid lattice, and the leg assemblies.  The grid lattice is basically a bunch or 1X4's  or 1X3's built to the following pattern:

The diagram on the left is the top view, looking down.  There are runners, as I call them, that go the length of the layout.  Then there are the trusses, which go from one runner to the other.  these trusses support the whole  scenery base as shown in the lower right view.  This view, is demonstrating the process of the foam and plaster construction method.

The upper right view shows how the legs and trusses are attached to the runners.  There are scres, or bolts going from: the truss into the leg, the runner into the truss, and the runner into the leg.  This forms a very sturdy joint, which when used throughout the layout, will give the surface very rugged, sturdy support.  I wouldn't go dancing on it, but it will be quite stable.

Shelf layouts can also be built using this method of construction.  The shelf brackets can attach to a truss that has been reinforced, or is made with thicker wood.  That way, the layout's weight won't strip the joints with the weight of the scenery base.  This method of bench work construction also will give any layout a lighter weight than if made any other way.

Table Top

This style of bench work uses a top on the grid, reinforcing the sub structure and giving a modeler a nice canvas to create his or her model railroad empire.  I have some real life examples below:

 Here is a layout I had seen at a train show a while back.  the whole layout was about 2X5 feet, and was nothing more than a piece of 2" thick foam on an open grid bench work.  It operated quite well.
 One of my cousins had gotten his first train set, and wanted to set it up.  So I helped him and together we created a literal table top layout.  some drywall was used to go between the two coffee tables.
 This is a layout which never got anywhere. is was going to be a GN15 layout, built on nothing more than plywood.
 The South Dakota State Railroad Museum layout is a table top design in the classic sense.  It has reinforced plywood with foam on top.  The draw back to this design is that the layout is very heavy.  But fortunately, we don't need to move it very often.
My own home layout was built on a 2" piece of foam.  as you can see, the foam allows the scenery to be more than North Dakota flat, and allows for rivers, mountains, and valleys to be sculpted.  The only draw back here is that the foam is very messy.

As you can see, there are many ways to build a table top layout.  It figures because this style of layout is the first ever used, and has gone through many changes through the years.  Aside from the table top surface, these layouts are built similarly to the open grid layouts.  For a shelf layout design, this can be made practical, but the weight can become too much.

Modular or Sectional

Modular layouts are used by clubs, and individuals across the country who travel to train shows.  They are made to be, light weight, portable, and rugged.  My old club in Minnesota used a table top variation that gave each section the look of a cart.  The "carts" would hold the scenery base, and allowed for storage underneath.  Unfortunately, this idea does require a trailer, unless you only have two or three sections.

NMRA has standards for modular layouts, and you can look them up, here: http://www.nmra.org/standards/modules/ms_intro.html

Sectional layouts is the other branch of this style of bench work.  Both O scale layouts I have are sectional, and for good reason.  Sectional layouts allow for a large layout to be built, ad operated; then it also allows the layout to be moved to a different place.  Sectional layouts do require certain sections to be present, such as curve sections, or a yard ladder.  This means that X number of sections are required for the layout to work.

My latest O scale layout combated this problem by the use of standards of the track.
 Her is one of the sections, from the underside.  The frame serves the purpose of supporting the ply wood, and transferring the weight down to the legs, which would stick out at us from this angle.
 In order to makes sure that the track would line up, I put both sections together and then screwed the track down.
 The two sections were connected by two bolts.  Later I found that the middle sags a bit, so I added a fifth leg to the primary module, which hosts the power supply and track wiring.
 The legs were bolted to the inside frame, and believe it or not, the layout was quite sturdy on its own.

If I were to extend the layout and add more sections, I would build the new sections from the ground up, between the two end sections which would allow for the track to be measured and made secure, while still being in line. with the other track on the already built sections.

As you can see, there are several ways to build bench work.  I'm sure that many of you are creative, and will modify the bench work types discussed here.  as long as it is sturdy, it will work.  Just remember that, if nothing else.

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