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Model Trains Toolbox - Benchwork


Most tools in the modeler's toolbox are designed for smaller projects. When it comes to benchwork, its time to up the scale. You can build a sturdy layout with nothing more than a hammer and handsaw. For those who like a little more power, there are lots of handy tools that will help build a railroad without breaking the bank.


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Yes, the basic hammer. It's a fixture in every toolbox for a reason. Even with more modelers using screws and a cordless drill for construction, there should always be a hammer around.


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Levels come in many shapes and sizes. The traditional two-foot beam level will work well for most applications. A longer three or four-foot level is usefull for setting grades. Smaller pocket or "torpedo" levels are handy for cross-checking and superelevation. A simple plumb line is also important when building legs, backdrops, and the like.

Laser levels are becoming increasingly affordable and diverse as well. Wall-mounted levels make building an around-the-walls layout easy. A free-standing 360degree level can put a level line all the way around the room.

Keep several different levels on hand for any job.

Cordless Drill / Screwdriver

cordless drill
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One of the most useful tools for benchwork is a cordless drill / screwdriver. These battery-powered drills can go anywhere and perform a variety of functions. Screws hold more securely than nails. A good drill can make short work of driving in drywall or wood screws to build wood benchwork.

Drills with at least a 14 volt power supply or greater work well for most applications. Variable speed and torque options are useful. A second battery is useful for prolonged work sessions. One can charge while the other is being used.

Jig Saw

jig saw
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For cutting free-form curves for subroadbed, nothing beats the speed and convenience of a jig saw. A basic model is inexpensive and adequate for most modeling needs. Replacement blades are cheap and specialty blades are available.

Circular Saw

circular saw
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For cutting lumber to length when building legs, L-girders and other benchwork components, a circular saw offers a convenient portable solution. For those needing to <a href="http://modeltrains.about.com/od/Benchwork/qt/Ripping-Plywood-Without-A-Table-Saw.htm">rip long stips</a> of lumber or plywood, a circular saw with a guide is an affordable and compact alternative to a table saw. Battery-powered cordless versions are available, but tend to loose a charge quickly.

Biscuit Joiner

biscuit cutter
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Here's one you might not have thought about. Biscuit joiners cut a half-circlular hole in the side of wood to accept one-half of a wood biscuit. An identical cut on a neighboing board will create a smooth and level joint with no visible fastener. Biscuit joints work well when joining section of subroadbed, espescially on multi-leve layouts where clearance is important. By setting the depth of the cut, the boards will have a perfectly smooth top profile, even if total thickness varies. This is critical to good trackwork. Biscuit joiners are not too expensive. On a medium or larger sized layout, they will pay for themselves quickly. Chances are good you'll find even more uses for this tool around the house as well.

Nail Gun

nail gun
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A pneumatic nail gun can make quick work of any project. A small finish-nailer is sufficient for most modeling projects. Use wood glue along with nails for the best results. You'll need an air compressor as well. A good compressor with a regulated supply can be used for many tools and projects from painting models with an airbrush to fixing a flat tire.


©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Clamps come in a variety of forms, each useful for different projects. Each of these styles is available in multiple sizes. No matter how many clamps you have on hand, you'll always be able to use at least one more.

  • Spring Clamps are useful for thin pieces.
  • C-Clamps work for a variety of medium sized projects.
  • Bar Clamps hold large pieces together.

Safety Gear

Whether you are using a hammer or a nail gun, a coping saw or a circular saw, safety must always be your top priority. No shop should be without the following:

  • Safety glasses / goggles
  • Ear protection
  • Work gloves
  • Breathing protection (for dust or harmful paint or adhesive fumes)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire Extinguisher and smoke alarm

Read the instructions and safety guidelines that come with your tools. A binder for manuals will keep them together in a safe place. Clean, oil and maintain your tools. A clean tool is a safe tool. The same is true for the work area itself. Do not remove safety shields or other protective devices from power tools.

Tool Tips

Do you have a favorite tool you don't see here? Maybe you have a new use for an old favorite...share your thoughts!
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