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Building Your First Train Table

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Building Your First Train Table

A platform this size will provide ample room for a model railroad in many scales.

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

Model railroads come in all shapes and sizes. The design of your train table will depend on many variables. Among the things you’ll want to consider are the size and shape of your available space, access, portability, and your track plan. Many people get started with a standard 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood. No matter what scale you’ve chosen, you can fit a modest railroad in this convenient space.

The materials and tools for this project can be found at any home center. You can modify these plans to fit your space and needs.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: This project can be completed in one day.

Here's How:

  1. Cut all of the lumber for your platform and shelf frames to length. A miter or chop saw works best for this, but you can substitute hand tools. Keep the cuts square.

    Cut six 1x4's to form the sides and crosspieces. Each 8’ piece will provide 2 45 ½” crosspieces.

  2. Assemble the frames. Two 8 foot 1x4's make the front and back sides of each. Space 6 of the crosspieces you've just cut in between on 16 inch centers. Laying this grid on top of your plywood will help keep edges square and protect against glue spills.

    Pre-drill two holes in each joint to prevent splitting. Apply glue and screw each piece together with 1 3/4" drywall screws. Take care to keep everything square.

    If you are adding the storage shelf, repeat this process.

  3. Make the legs. Simply cut the two 2x4's in half for a 48” table height. If you want a lower table, more can be removed. For taller tables, additional 2x4’s will be needed.

    Lower tables are easier to work on and more accessible to children. Higher tables provide a more natural viewing height for the finished layout. Pick what works best for you.

    Add an adjustable foot into the base of each leg. These will help protect your floors and help level the platform if necessary.

  4. Glue one sheet of plywood to a frame for the platform and fasten with 1” screws. Skip the glue if you plan on making cuts in the plywood to raise track elevations. You can map out your track plan, mark your cuts, then remove the plywood to make the cuts and reinstall. Risers can be attached to the crosspieces to raise the height as desired.

  5. Attach the legs to the platform. Turn the platform upside down and place a leg in each corner. It does not matter which way you face the legs, but they should be consistent. Drill two 5/16” holes through both the frame and leg in each corner.

    Attach the legs with 3/8” bolts and nuts, using a washer on the outside and inside. Using bolts will allow you to easily disassemble the platform if you ever want to move or modify it.

  6. The shelf will need to be modified to fit around the legs. Using a jig, circular, or hand saw, cut a notch big enough for a leg in each corner. Fasten the plywood to the frame with glue and 1" screws.

    Return the layout to an upright position. Slide the shelf up the legs and clamp at the desired height. Make sure the shelf is level. Drill holes and bolt as with the platform.

    In addition to storage, this shelf also stabilizes the platform. If you are not adding a shelf, add cross-braces between the legs. Cut 4 more 1x4’s to approximately 6’ length. Make an “X” between the legs, attaching with screws.

  7. You can paint or finish the platform to fit your taste. Adjust the feet as necessary to level your platform and get ready to start laying track!

Tips:

  1. Always use proper safety precautions when using power tools including eye and ear protection. Follow the safety instructions that come with your tools.

  2. Your materials don't have to be furniture grade, but better materials will make construction easier.

    Choose the straightest lumber you can find, and avoid knotty materials. AC grade plywood works well, keeping the best finished side up. Avoid particle or chip board materials.

    If you have access to a table saw, ¾" Plywood could also be substituted for the dimensional lumber by ripping it to appropriate strips.

  3. If you have a miter saw, you can substitute 48" crosspieces for the ends, mitering all of the corners to 45°. This will provide a stronger and better looking joint.

    If you have a table saw, a ½" x ½" rabbit can be cut into the top inside edge of the frame to recess the plywood. This strengthens the table and hides the laminates. You will need to increase the length of the crosspieces or reduce the length and width of the plywood by 1" in compensation for the rabbit.

  4. These plans can be easily customized to suit your space and needs.

What You Need

  • Plywood: 2 4x8 ft sheets 1/2 in AC grade
  • Lumber: 2 8 ft 2x4, 10 8 ft 1x4
  • Hardware: drywall screws 1" and 1-3/4",
  • Hardware: 16 3-1/2 in 3/8” bolts w/ nuts, 32 3/8" washers
  • Hardware: 4 adjustable feet
  • Wood Glue
  • Power Tools: Jig/Circular saw, Power drill / screwdriver
  • Hand Tools: Square, Level, Tape measure, Clamps (4), 3/8" Socket/wrench, Pencil
  • Optional Tools: Miter/Chop Saw

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