Modular Shelf Layout Construction

NorsemanJack Aug 1, 2004

  1. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    My home N scale layout is a bit unconventional. It combines the shelf layout approach with the modular approach; resulting in a portable, easy-to-build layout that consumes very little space. I've been using this approach for several years and have found it to be both enjoyable and very reliable. Although based upon proven layout design concepts, this particular approach is of my own design and bears little resemblance to more conventional approaches (such as the Ntrak standard). As I am now beginning construction of a pair of new modules, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share this approach through a sequential, photo-enhanced overview.

    Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is the primary base material in my module construction. This material comes up from time to time in these forums, and is usually given a thumbs-down for usage in general layout construction. Relative to other materials, it is heavy and soft. While these are certainly concerns in building larger items, they are of little concern in small (e.g. 11" x 48" or 11" x 72") shelf modules. The advantages of MDF are its workability (easy to cut, lack of splinters), uniformity (absolutely flat and straight) and availability (my Home Depot has sheets and dimensional pieces in many sizes).

    The two modules I'll be addressing are both 11" x 72". Home Depot will cut MDF sheets to any size, so I had them cut a 4 x 8 sheet into four 71.5" x 10.5" sections. By having them do it, the pieces are much more uniform than I could generate with my saber saw. The other materials at this point are 1x3 and 1x4 MDF strips and a tube of Liquid Nails Panel Adhesive. My modules are basically upside down boxes, and the “box” construction is what I will be addressing with this post.

    My only real investment in tooling to support module building was the purchase of a good quality miter box. Mine is a manual one that cost less than $40, but it makes great cuts in the MDF with little effort.

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    I used to use both adhesive and deck screws, but have found that it is easier to just glue most of this. Only the ends of the modules experience any real stress, so that is the only place I reinforce with screws.

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    I’ll add the screws to the end after that adhesive fully cures and proceed from there.

    The next photo depicts cutting a piece of 1" extruded foam to exactly match the top of the 3" box. By setting the box on top of the foam, and cutting around it with a long, flexible blade the top of the foam will match the perimeter of the box very closely. This will be useful when I add profile boards later on. The second photo shows the foam in place, bringing the sub roadbed up to the nominal 4" height used on all of my modules.

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    A few notes worth sharing at this point. First, that pink Owens-Corning 1" foam is the best I could find here in Tucson. It is sold at my Home Depot only in 1"x2'x8' sheets with tongue and groove features on the sides. Unfortunately, the forming process of the tongue and grooves causes the thickness to be irregular (typically thicker than 1") for about 4 to 6" from each edge. That's why I have the box positioned in the middle of the sheet. The other, taller box shown in my previous post will not have foam on it. This will be the only one to date with the MDF directly forming the sub-roadbed. The reason for this is that this module will have a number of turnouts mounted on it to form crossovers and sidings. By skipping the foam, I'll have only a 1/2" sub roadbed to route the switch linkage through, plus I have fully 3.5" of depth on the underside to accommodate mounting of tortoise switch machines. The tortoise's require slightly less than 3" in height, so this should work well. Now I just need to wait for Atlas to come out with the longer switches for the crossovers.

    Earlier I mentioned that the ends of the boxes would be reinforced with deck screws (actually, coarse drywall screws) and those are shown here. The pilot holes must be countersunk prior to screw installation to ensure that the screw heads are below flush with the surface.

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    The final task at this point is to run a sander around the perimeter.

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    1/4" masonite profile boards will be glued to all four sides, and this requires that the MDF top not protrude beyond flush with the dimensional pieces. A belt sander would be ideal, but a cheapo disk sanding attachment for an electric drill provides fast material removal and works well for this.

    [ February 11, 2006, 03:32 PM: Message edited by: NorsemanJack ]
     
  2. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    The next step is attachment of the end profile boards. First, it's back to the miter box. I use 1/4" masonite for profile boards and the local Home Depot does a great job cutting sheets into strips. A while back, I had them cut some 4" strips to make this step really easy. The miter box finishes the job with nice, square corners. The strips are cut to the exact width of the module, which should be 10.5" at this point.

    [​IMG]

    The next step is to layout some dimensions prior to attaching the end profile boards. This could be done later, but is much easier when they can be laid flat on the workbench. I use a square and center-punch all hole locations for later drilling. The second image is a scanned portion of the plans I use. It depicts a 2" foam depth, but is otherwise standard.


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    The next step involves gluing the end profile boards onto the "box". You'll notice that I've set the box on top of two 1/2" MDF sheets to ensure that the profile board protrudes exactly 1" above the base when finished.

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    Things are pretty straightforward at this point. First, I drill the 3/4" and 1/2" holes in the ends of the module. The modules are mated to each other by running 1/4" bolts w/washers through the 1/2" holes. That extra clearance allows for final alignment prior to tightening. The 3/4" holes allow for routing of wires from one module to the next.

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  3. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    The next step is to sand the end profile boards to ensure that they are flush with the sides, followed by a good once-over with a tack cloth.

    [​IMG]

    This is followed by spray painting the bottom and ends with flat black paint (were this the module without foam, this would also be a good time to paint the top to protect against moisture). The sides later have pre-painted profile boards glued on.

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    Finally, the foam that I cut earlier is glued into place. If all went well, the fit at the ends should be very good.

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    That’s pretty much it for the basic construction. At this point, there's not much time and money invested and the work can move into the air-conditioned house. In part two, I'll cover wiring, attachment of track and rough scenery work (including the side profile boards).
     
  4. satokuma

    satokuma TrainBoard Supporter

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    I like what you did so far....interesting, keep the updates coming
     
  5. Colonel

    Colonel Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Jack,

    Excellent topic, keep them coming do you have a layout plan you are planning on using?
     
  6. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    Being modular, there really isn't an overall "plan" for these. I have eight existing modules forming a double track loop around a spare bedroom (~10' x 12'). The modules rest on 12" shelf brackets and bolt together. My approach somewhat parallels the Ntrak approach in that adjoining modules may or may not have continuity and/or a common theme. Thanks for your interest.
     
  7. dave n

    dave n TrainBoard Supporter

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    Jack -
    Looks cool so far. Your cabinetry skills are above average! And so is your workshop cleanliness!

    What RR/locale are you planning to model?

    Dave
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  8. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    [​IMG] [​IMG] Thanks Dave! But, in all honesty, my "skills" (as well as my tools) are very limited. I've worked around that by using novice-friendly material (MDF) and that guy at Home Depot who accurately cuts up material for a quarter a cut (a REAL bargain). :D

    I'll take that one! I'm the type of person that actually keeps two cars in my two car garage. Drives others nuts....

    This module will be a rural scene based upon the following prototype location:

    [​IMG]
     
  9. dave n

    dave n TrainBoard Supporter

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    Hmm, looks like he midwest somewhere - Kansas? Missouri?

    Dave
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  10. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    Northern Illinois, about 14 miles from my home town. That's the former Burlington Route Aurora - Savanna - Twin Cities line. Renowned for record setting passenger train speeds and glassy smooth track. I actually rode over those tracks in a Vista Dome Zephyr car many, many years ago when I was barely old enough to remember.
     
  11. dave n

    dave n TrainBoard Supporter

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    Ah, most excellent! You'll do it well, I'm sure. Looking forward to seeing progress shots - keep us posted!

    Dave
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  12. William Cowie

    William Cowie TrainBoard Member

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    Jack, they say all great engineering is elegantly simple, and that certainly applies here! I am bookmarking this thread, because I just moved into a new home this past few days, and I'm definitely going to implement your design. The bad news is I have a smallish basement :( , but the good news is thanks to your thinking I can now do a "round the basement" layout. I love the way you use those wall mounted brackets. I'll need two lean-under/liftout sections and now I know how to do them!! [​IMG] [​IMG] :D
     
  13. William Cowie

    William Cowie TrainBoard Member

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    How did you do your corner sections? A curve on a straight module? Or did you also make angular corner sections?
     
  14. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    Here's the "standard" plan for a corner:

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    The 33 5/8" dimensions on the sides are entirely determined by my specific room. It's coincidence that with 4' and 6' connecting straight modules that my corners wound up being square. The minimum radius on the curves works out to 25" on the configuration shown. Broad curves are a priority for me, so that is a plus. I should add that the corner module near the door to my room, has an irregular shape (just the back sides) to accomodate the room door opening. The construction approach is otherwise identical.
     
  15. NP/GNBill

    NP/GNBill TrainBoard Supporter

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    That looks similar to the way I ran my main layout around my spare bedroom. It's the GN/NP/MILW/SP&S/BN. I mounted it on 1 X 12's and used shelf mounting brackets screwed into the wall. I did my corners the same way as shown above. Your modules look great!

    [​IMG]
     
  16. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    Here’s a bit more info on the prototype area that this module will be based upon. As mentioned previously, this is a simple rural area where the CB&Q Aurora-Savanna line parallels US Highway 30 in Northern Illinois. This is the same trackage that crosses Daryl's C&NW mainline in Rochelle, but about 20 miles further East. Although the prototype is mostly single tracked, I'm taking some liberty and double-tracking it.

    Here's the basic scenery again:

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    The two primary features besides the track and US30 will be the crossing of both with the DeKalb-Sugar Grove C&NW spur and the University road crossing:

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    So, just how far apart are the tracks and US30?

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    To help put this into perspective, the following is a link to a map of the prototype area showing the features I've described:


    Link To Prototype Map

    (Note: Unfortunately, my progress on the module has been slowed by a back strain that has forced me to curtail my activities for the last week. [​IMG] I'll try to get going again soon.....)

    [ 07. August 2004, 21:39: Message edited by: NorsemanJack ]
     
  17. Colonel

    Colonel Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Norseman thanks for the info there is nothing worse when a backstrain prevents you from enjoying this hobby.

    Hope you have a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing more of your progress.
     
  18. wmcbride

    wmcbride TrainBoard Member

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    This is an absolutely first-rate series of postings.

    Do you use rail joiners to connect your track between sections? Do you scenic over the "crack" between sections, making this a permanent layout that can be disassembled?

    One trick I tried on my old N layout where I had a removable bridge was to solder the underside of the rails on each side of the break to small wood screws mounted in the end boards. I temporarily laid the track across the gap, marked where the rails fell, removed the track, added the brass wood screws, and glued down a piece of Atlas code 55 flex (sans ties in way of the screws. After the glue dried, I soldered the rail to each of the four screws and cut a break in each rail with a Dremel cut-off disk.

    The whole thing worked like a champ. No derailments at all, just a clickety-clack as cars rolled over the break.

    I had posted some photos on the Atlas Forum a long time ago. I'm not sure if I still have them around.

    Get your back well. I look forward to more photos!
     
  19. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

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    Bill - I'll post photos when I get to that point, but in the mean time I'll try to explain the approach I use.

    First, the tracks on the module initially extend to the very edge. I then cut each rail to 1/2" from the edge, while leaving the tie strip in place to the very edge. I ballast the ties to the edge. I then use a flat blade X-acto to cut the "spikes" off of each of the exposed ties plus one more tie under the rail (for rail joiner clearance).

    After the mating modules are aligned and bolted together, I use my calipers to determine the EXACT length needed for each connecting rail. These are nominally 1", but I cut them and file them to within thousanths of the length needed. After custom-cutting both rails to length, I assemble them together using a single pair of flex track tie-strip ties (on the Atlas code 55, every other pair of ties have connecting plastic "web" under both rails).

    This provides a 1" connecting track that consists of two rails and a very short (2 ties) tie strip. Beyond that, it's just like ntrak does it. I slide rail joiners on both ends, position the track, and slide the joiners out to engage the mating tracks on the modules. The single pair of ties falls into the slight gap that will exist where the tie strips on the modules end.

    My module ends are very "square", and leave only a small break in the scenery. I may very likely apply scenery over some in the future, as all I would require would be a small bead of tacky glue and some turf and ballast.

    I've never had a derailment at any of these joints, and I only have one currently that gives that "clickity-clack" due to a very small rail gap. I actually kind of like the effect, but will likely not try to replicate it intentionally. Thanks for your interest. I've been doing some of the basic wiring on the underside of my module today and should have some photos soon.

    Regards,

    Jack
     
  20. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member

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    WOW. You built cabinet-quality benchwork, and it looks good! I built mine from 1x4's and 1/2" OSB with 2" foam atop. But mine are designed to be lightweight. That MDF would be exceptionally heavy, hence the back strain?
     

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