1. Trains

    Trains TrainBoard Member

    Was going to get a sheet of 1/2 plywood for a portable layout. But by the reviews, they don't
    make it like they use to! Just about every maker of plywood gets bad reviews.

  2. Rossford Yard

    Rossford Yard TrainBoard Member

    Go with highest grade you can (that seems a shame) and hand pick it from the lumber yard. I think it will do. Not all pieces can be warped out of possibility of using for N scale trains. Then screw it down often, not just four corners and a few extra in the middle, working one end to the other. When done, paint it to reduce further water induced warps.

    On my last layout, I had a nice straight (horizontal) run along the front edge, but subtle plywood warps reduced the pleasure of watching trains run down that line.
  3. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

    Forget the 1/2 inch plywood. Go with the thinnest plywood you can. I use stuff sold as 'underlayment' and is used for resurfacing floors for remodeling. It is about 1/8" thick. The advantage is that it is a lot lighter in weight than 1/2". That 1/2" will sag between supports. Just ask any Ntrak person who ever built a module. What I do is buy some 1/8" Masonite or hardboard and have it cut in 1" strips. I use two of these as a spline to support the plywood above. The result is a one inch beam bridge the entire length of the module or layout with the plywood supported every inch of the way. The hardboard is also flexible so curves are no problem. Less weight which is nice for a portable layout.
  4. jpwisc

    jpwisc TrainBoard Member

    I use 3/4 birch plywood for my frames, then I make the top out of 1/4" birch plywood with 1" foam on that. My modules are 6 feet to 6'3" long and 18" wide. They are surprisingly light and very strong.

    There are many ways to build. Find the one that works for your brain.
  5. retsignalmtr

    retsignalmtr TrainBoard Member

    Get a hollow core door and a sheet or two of pink or blue extruded foam insulation. Paint the door to seal it to avoid it soaking up the humidity then glue the foam to the door for the subroadbed. Set it on sawhorses for support.
  6. Trains

    Trains TrainBoard Member

    Need something bigger then a hollow core door. Looking to build a 15' x 15' x 16" L shaped layout.
    I can take to shows.
  7. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Check out the different module construction techniques, particularly FreeMoN, since you will also be concerned with connecting the modules/sections reliably. The 3/4" birch ply is a must for the endplates, to prevent warping. Most of us use foam for our surface, rather than a layer of ply. Primarily to keep weight down for moving/storing.
  8. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

    How are you going to transport this layout and is the 16" dimension correct?
  9. Rocket Jones

    Rocket Jones TrainBoard Member

    How's the noise from just a layer of foam for the top? I just built my portable framework and put down 1/4" ply before gluing down my foam top. I've heard that straight foam acts like a drum head and can amplify sounds.
  10. Trains

    Trains TrainBoard Member

    Modules would be about 30" long and 16" wide.
  11. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    It can happen. The thinner the plywood and/or foam, the more like a drum head. If there is some cross member support underneath, that also helps dampen any potential noise, but also adds weight.
  12. robert3985

    robert3985 TrainBoard Member

    I could write a book about "portable layouts" that get taken to shows since I've been doing it for the past 20 or 30 years (I keep losing count!)

    Here's what me, and at least a couple of dozen other N-scale model railroader here in Utah have done and are doing.

    (1) First, there is an assumption that when I build an LDE and divide it up into portable sections, that they are going to be around for a long time. I give absolutely zero credence to the idea of making my track, or any other component of the section salvageable. This allows me to build it as sturdy as is practical within the limitations of weight and size that suits me.

    (2) With portable layouts, or modular setups, the main problem with them stem from a lack of basic good carpentry...meaning, they are not square, they are made from inferior, weak products, and the attachment protocol and the areas that take the strain of buckling (or bolting) up are poorly designed or weak. Also, EVERY JOINT IN ANY LAYOUT (ESPECIALLY A PORTABLE ONE) MUST BE BOTH GLUED & SCREWED. Portable layouts' benchwork needs to be stronger than benchwork you use at a permanent location.

    (3) With portable layouts, or modular setups, there is a tendency to engineer almost everything about them to the lowest common denominator, for something that has virtually nothing to do with model railroading...which is to make it easy to recruit new members...and so, many modular standards have been published that encourage people to build their benchwork simply, but not structurally soundly, or even the best way to take advantage of N-scale's attributes.

    (4) If you make your portable layout sections using good carpentry techniques, then the next problem is twofold... (a) Track...how do you get the ends to match up consistently all the time and be durable, and (b) how do you ensure electrical integrity both to the rails and across section joints? There are answers to both problems published by the modular groups, but remember, you are not making "modules"...you're making "sections", so you can do away with connecting tracks which are both a pain to put together at a show (or at home later), look ugly and are also a major point of unreliability in modular setups. I use Ntrak's DCC connector standards, (Anderson Powerpoles, 12AWG high-quality, low-ox, many-stranded main buses) and genuine 3M Scotchlok connectors (no soldered joints except at my Tortoises).

    Since you want your portable layout to be both visually and structurally excellent, a good maximum length both for economy and ease of transport is 6'. Except for the odd transition section, the shortest length I use is 4'...but 85% of all my sections are 6' long.

    I prefer the 6' length for several reasons. It's easy to handle while transporting by two people, and manageable by one person. It also allows me to have fold-up integral legs, easily reaching my 52" railhead to floor height. A 4' section makes me have to use removable legs, which is a hassle when setting up at a show.

    I go with a maximum depth of 36", but most of my sections are less than that. However, it's good to have that excellent scenery-t0-track ratio if I want to use it, which is one of the really big advantages of N-scale.

    Basic construction is both plywood (3/4") and premium pine boards

    I use a twin L-girder scheme held together by the ends and a single cross-brace. The integral legs fold up between the L-girders. All joints are glued and screwed, and my front fascia is also a structural element in the design. My skyboards on the back are removable for transportation and there's a hole drilled into the tops of each of them that will accept a swing-arm lamp so each section has at least two 27watt 5,000K CFI's to light things up.

    Photo (1) Here's a CAD drawing of the basic benchwork minus subroadbed (1" splined Masonite), folding legs, or front fascia:

    Photo (2) Here's a photo of one of my corner sections showing the folding legs, standard braces, fascia, skyboard and adjustable glides:

    Photo (3) Here's a photo of the underside of one of my straight 6' sections while re-wiring for DCC:

    There are several hard & fast rules I use to make my sections durable and reliable: (1) I only use premium, dry, straight wood (2) ALL wood joints are glued and screwed, (3) Genuine 3M Scotchlok connectors on all wire joints (where possible) (4) A 22AWG solid copper feeder to each and every piece of rail (5) ALL benchwork is constructed on a flat, level surface and lastly, (6) ALL construction is confirmed and checked by drawing it first in my CAD program.

    My layout goes to at least one show a year (and as many as four), each folded-up section sitting in the back of my Suburban and in a big U-Haul trailer, properly braced so they don't fall over.

    Since my rails are even with the surface of the section ends, I have protective 1x4's that screw into the ends and keep the rails from being disturbed.

    If you've got any questions, please feel free to ask.

    Hope this assists you in planning and constructing your portable layout.

    Photo (4) A photo of being set up at the Evanston Roundhouse Festival a couple of years ago:

    Bob Gilmore
    nscalestation and rogergperkins like this.
  13. Point353

    Point353 TrainBoard Member

    Have you ever had problems with a local Fire Marshall objecting to your built-in AC wiring?
    Different jurisdictions have differing fire codes, some of which are (much) more restrictive than others.
    For example, have a look at this article: http://www.trainweb.org/nrmrc/pubs/120VACWiring.pdf
  14. rogergperkins

    rogergperkins TrainBoard Member

    I am convinced by posts such as that on this topic by Bob Gilmore that 2" extruded polystyrene foam with lumber under bracing is an excellent choice for an n-scale model railroad deck. I plan to use that method instead of plywood for my next n-scale layout. In 2005, I built a home layout and used the 2" extruded polystyrene foam over plywood. I am convinced the plywood is an over kill and not needed especially if all hills and topography are built with laminated 2" extruded polystyrene foam.
  15. casmmr

    casmmr TrainBoard Member

    After building many modules since the 1990's, I would use 3/4" ply or clear pine for the sides and ends and 1/4" birch ply for the tops and sky boards. I use this method even for my t-trak modules, seems to keep everything straight and level no matter the temperature and humidity levels. I glue and screw the sides/ends/tops to each other.
    For ease of transport, have you considered HCD's? They come in a variety of sizes from 18" width to 36" width, all are 80" in length. Something to think about. Let us know what yo decide and show us the build.
  16. JMaurer1

    JMaurer1 TrainBoard Member

    I'm also a HUGE believer in 1 or 2" extruded polystyrene foam. It WON'T sag even if the benchwork supporting it does. Problem is here in California, it WAS everywhere (even big box hardware stores) then disappeared for several years, then came back about 2-3 years ago (hey, it's back so I can get it any time I want) only to disappear AGAIN about 18 months ago (but the big box stores still have 2X2 foot squares selling as 'project' boards for about the same price as a whole sheet was priced).
  17. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

    That is fine for a home layout but the OP said it had to be portable so he can take it to shows. Transporting modules always adds another dimension to the equation. Somewhere, sometime, someone is going to put a hand on the module and lean on it. Or, depending on adhesive, the track/roadbed may detach from the foam as a result of transport/loading/unloading miscues. I've seen both occur. A thin sheet of plywood properly supported will add greatly to the rigidity and structural strength of the module while adding only a minimal amount of weight. Save the foam for scenery.
  18. steamghost

    steamghost TrainBoard Member

    Another vote here for using birch plywood. And for concept (extremely open and flexible layouts are possible) and portability (quickest setup and teardown out of all the portable layout clubs), I think the FreemoN guys got it right. Here's Trainboard member MC Fujiwara's earlier build with construction details using birch ply for module ends/endplates:
  19. JMaurer1

    JMaurer1 TrainBoard Member

    If you look at the bottom of my sig it says Sacramento Valley NTrak...I'm pretty sure that we are portable. We build the module box out of birch ply or pine and cut a piece of extruded polystyrene foam to fit inside. All scenery is also just shaped foam. Once you coat the foam with a layer of lightweight plaster or even just scenery material it becomes harder to 'dent' but even if dented it's easy to repair. We have dozens of very lightweight modules that we transport all over the place. In fact, most modules we now build are 2x6 or 2x8 because of the light weight.
    RBrodzinsky likes this.
  20. Inkaneer

    Inkaneer TrainBoard Member

    I stand behind what I posted. Wait till someone places his hand on your module and leans on it and his hand goes through the module taking everything with it. You obviously have not seen that happen. I have. Thus we disagree.

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