|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - 09/07/2019 : 11:39:50 PM
This thread tracks the progress of the Mud Bay & Western layout build.
The MB&W is a two-level, operation centric, N scale railroad that uses some less common techniques in its construction.
I hope folks find the thread interesting and helpful.
|15 L A T E S T R E P L I E S (Newest First)
||Posted - 01/22/2020 : 12:06:32 PM
Wow, this is some impressive work! Looking forward to progress photos
||Posted - 01/01/2020 : 09:20:20 AM
Yes, we’ll see about the scenery. I am comfortable with the wood and metal working. While my model building is a bit rusty (no pun intended), I am pretty sure that will be ok. It has been a while though since I did any scenery work. Scenery wise, the goal is the Pacific Northwest in Fall/early Winter. Given how much rain we have here, especially at that time of year (it’s raining as I type this), I would really like to achieve something similar to what Mike Confalone has done with his Allagash layout. I can dream #128522;.
Regarding gaps in the LEDs, we considered a diffuser of some type but after seeing the results in the garage decided we didn’t need them. As for reflecting off the railhead, we didn’t notice that happening in the garage so it wasn’t even on the radar here. I suspect that may be due to the shadow-box nature of our presentation. Most of the time you view the railroad from the side rather than looking down on it. It’s a great point though, I wouldn’t have thought of that as an issue.
Fastening Down the Peninsula Door Slabs
Without really making a deliberate decision to do so, we have started using the left wall as our “proof of concept” to test drive our structural design elements and work the wrinkles out before moving to the rest of the room. With the successful upper facia work done, we moved on to the center facia. We worked out way down the left wall and given that the design seemed to be working, we went ahead and continued back up the right wall. This brings us around the near end and starts us around the peninsula. The door slabs need to be in place in order to install the facia so fastening them down is the next step.
In an earlier post I discussed the aluminum framing we used for the center peninsula.
To mount the door slabs around the walls, we used wood shoes bolted to the shelf brackets and glued the slabs to them. We did this for two main reasons. First, the shelf brackets aren’t manufactured to be level. Second, the brackets were very narrow and not built to have the shelving fastened to them. While technically possible, it would have been a kluge.
With the aluminum framing on the peninsula, the rules change completely. The square tubing we use for the support arms is nice and flat. It is also plenty wide to easily drive screws through. Given the flat smooth door slabs and the flat smooth tubes it is a simple matter of lining everything up and driving the screws.
The key here is “aligning”. There isn’t a lot of room for error on the peninsula. While that would seem to go without saying, there are two considerations in play here:
First, the peninsula is framed in aluminum. I like working with this material. It’s strong, light, and very easy to work with. It drills as easily as wood and I have a carbide blade in my chop saw so I can cut it as easily as wood too. The thing to keep I mind though is that metal is unforgiving. What I mean by that is that with wood, if you end up drilling a hole 1/16” inch off or you have two pieces a little out of whack, you can make small adjustments on the fly without too much trouble. Metal is not like that. If your holes are off, even a little bit, you probably won’t be able to get the bolt through or, once it is all assembled, things will be really out of square. With metal, you need to up your game a bit on accuracy.
Second, using screws to fasten the door slabs means that the target area for all screws is the interior frame of the door which is within a 1” margin around the outside edge of the slab.
The design of the peninsula frame is such that there are support arms that line up with each end of each door slab with an additional arm supporting the middle of the longer slabs. The lengths all align exactly with the outer edges of the doors. We had to be careful here because if the arms stuck out at all (even 1/16”) it would interfere with the facia mounting. Yet if an arm was even a 1/2" short it would mean we would miss the door frame when trying to drive a screw.
This photo gives a good view of the arms and shows us placing some slabs to test fit:
We pre-drilled all the holes. Their positions needed to be perfect and I had no desire to be crawling around underneath everything trying to drill all these holes after the frame was assembled. Given the uniform nature of the door slabs we knew ahead of time where every screw would go so all holes were drilled before the peninsula frame was assembled. In the photo you can see some large holes in the square tubes. These are access holes that allow us to get a wrench or screwdriver on the fastener being used. The peninsula frame itself is assembled using 1/4-20 nut/bolt/washers. The doors were fastened down with 1” sheet metal screws.
Given the soft nature of the material used inside the frames of the door slabs (it’s almost like particleboard made out of cardboard) I dipped each sheet metal screw in Tightbond II wood glue before driving it into the door. This was to lend some stability to the hole in the door frame after the screw was driven.
We cut the door slabs to fit the end of the peninsula and wrap around the last support post.
Once everything was firmly butted up to section that was already attached to the wall, properly aligned with all the arms and each other, we began driving screws. For the most part that went as expected. The screws along the back edge of the door slabs proved to be a bit of a challenge simply because clearance were so tight to get the drill in position. One thing that made it vastly easier was the fact that we had not fastened down the lower level doors yet so we could remove them while installing the upper level.
After the first one we got the hang of it and it only took about a half hour to get the rest upper deck doors screwed down. With the slabs attached, would could continue running the facia around the peninsula. Over all we are happy with the installation. It is very clean and rock solid.
The last thing we did over the holiday was spend the day in the shop sawing wood. I have all the parts cut to get the upper facia support in place along the right wall and I have the large light panels cut for the upper facia along the left wall. My Amazon box arrived on Saturday with the lights I need for those panels so the next steps are going to be getting the left wall lighting finished and get the right wall upper facia hung.
Till then, hope y’all have a good New Year!
||Posted - 12/30/2019 : 09:23:45 AM
I've used LED strips with a rectangular 'waterproofing' tube made of flexible clear plastic. I've found that this diffuses the light enough that I don't need to be concerned about small gaps in the strips, and I avoid the 'row of LEDs reflecting off the railhead' effect I've seen on some layouts.
||Posted - 12/30/2019 : 08:23:39 AM
If your scenery skills are as good as your woodworking and metalworking skills this will be an outstanding layout! [:-thumbu]
||Posted - 12/29/2019 : 6:16:12 PM
As work has progressed, I wanted to get more of the lower level lighting done. To date, I had only built one test panel as a proof of concept. Now that the upper facia was moving along, I wanted to make sure the support plan for the lower level was going to work. In order to verify that, I had to start putting the center facia in place.
Center Facia Wiring Channel
A couple posts ago, we started to see the first pieces of the center facia backing appear. Today I want to go into detail on the center facia because this is where we are trying something a little different.
Years ago I was a member of a modular N scale group. I was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. One of the things I learned was that I REALLY hate crawling around under a layout to work on wiring. With that in mind, one of the design goals for this layout is to make as much of the wiring accessible at the front of the layout as possible. In order to facilitate this, our center and lower level facias are going to be hollow and provide, among other things, a wiring channel.
Here is a cross section of the upper level benchwork, which is where the center facia is attached:
The center facia will be a hollow channel whose inside dimensions are 2 3/4" tall and 3/4" deep. There will be a 3 1/2" tall Masonite cover that fits over the front and is held in place with the same black flange bolts that we used on the upper facia panels. This will give us a consistent look.
Inside the channel there is room for two power buses, the main track power and an aux bus for powering accessories (if we decide to do an aux bus. There is no plan at this point but we have the space in the wiring channel if need be). When we drop power leads from the tracks, they will run under the door slabs and then enter through holes drilled in the facia back plate just below the edge of the door. There they will be attached to European style terminal blocks which will be attached to the main power bus. I will go into more detail on the wiring later when we are discussing power but for now, I just want to give you a general idea of what is going on inside the facia.
There are a couple lighting related features as well. Hidden inside the facia will be removable bolts that support the lower level light panels (the black eye bolt in the picture). And, running behind the facia back is the low voltage line that powers the lower level light panels.
The facia starts with a 3 1/2" tall Masonite strip that is screwed/glued along the edge of the door slab. It is precisely 1” above the door so the top edge will be even with the foam board deck once installed. To form the channel, we glue a 1/2" x 3/4" strip of pine along the top edge and then glue a 1/4" x 3/4" strip along the bottom. These are glued on edge so the channel is 3/4" deep. For the strips I continued my recycling effort and they are all ripped from a bunch of scrap 2x2’s I have laying around.
Here we are cutting and fitting the top strips. They are temporarily clamped in place waiting to be glued.
Lower Level Light Panels Version 2.0
In an earlier post I built a test light panel as a proof of concept. Over all it worked pretty well but as I got ready to start installing it, I realized a couple improvements were needed. If you recall the original panel looked like this:
This photo shows the problem I discovered when it came time to mount the panel for real. Note the wires at each end. Specifically the red and black jumpers that connect each strip. In order to try to get LEDs as close to the ends as possible (to avoid gaps that would produce dark spots between panels), I connected the jumpers right at the edge of the board which meant that the actual wires stuck out beyond the edge of the panel. This became a problem when I tried mounting panels right next to each other. To avoid gaps I wanted the panels as close as possible and with the wires hanging past the edge, that wasn’t working out too well.
So that resulted in a slight redesign. Meet light panel Version 2.0.
There are four main differences. On the front you see two of them. First, notice that holes have been drilled at the ends and the wires are run through the holes. This eliminates the problem of wires hanging past the end interfering with hanging the light panels in place. Second, you see a large hole drilled near the top center and the slot in the back. The large hole is a finger hole which makes it easier to hold on to while attaching/removing it from the layout. Also, it makes it easier to make sure the panel is pulled all the forward to the front when installed in the layout. The slot slips around the shelf bracket so that the panel can extend far enough back to rest on the lower level skybox.
The other two changes can be seen on the back:
Like the other wires, the jack used to connect this panel to the main power bus is run through a hole as well. This brings the connection to the back side so it is hidden when the panel is in place.
The last difference is the pine stiffener strip that runs across the top. This provides some rigidity to the front edge of the panel and provides a place drive the screw eyes that are used to secure the panel in place when installed.
To install a panel you rest the back edge along the top of the lower level skybox and align the slots with the shelf brackets above …
…attach the power lead, then lift the front edge up behind the facia.
Here you see the hole in the facia back plate and the hole in the stiffener. Once in place, they align and a hand-driven screw eye is used to lock the panel in place. There are holes in each end of the stiffener for two bolts per panel.
Also note that I added some hash marks to identify which panel this is (3rd on this side) and labeled the wattage to make it easier for anyone looking at his later. These are 4’ panels with 4 strips of lights. That’s a total of 16’ of lights so 24 watts.
Once the panel is in place the screw eyes hold it there. Once we have the facia channel finished and attach the facia front, all of this will be hidden while you have nice even light on the lower level.
As for powering the lower level lights, we ran a low voltage bus along the under side of the doors, just behind the facia back plate.
The bus is 16 AWG zip cord that runs from the power supply along the under side of the door slabs. Simple hooks driven into the ends of the door mounting shoes support the bus. In order to minimize the breaks in the bus, a Y connector is spliced in for every two light panels. At the splice location we attach a terminal block to the underside of the door and run the bus into the back side of it. The Y connector is connected to the other side of the terminal along with the next leg of the bus.
Some Notes About Powering LED Strips
One last thing for this post, in an earlier post about the lights, I talked about the wall warts that come with them and the fact that I had some transformers already installed. My big transformer was for some interior track lighting and my two smaller ones were for outdoor yard lights.
I have since learned that I cannot use these for the LED strips. This is because the older transformers (not specifically for LED lighting) put out AC current and the LEDs require DC.
I didn’t realize that this was going to be a problem because I had already swapped out the track lights for LED replacements. Well it turns out that the LED replacements have a converter chip built in so they handle the old AC power just fine. The LED strips don’t have this conversion and require a native DC power supply.
So, if you want to use LED strips and don’t want rely on the wall warts that come with them (that could require a lot of outlets), when you go pick out transformers, make sure they are specifically marked for use with LEDs. We found a number of them on Amazon and settled on this one:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01E6S0JS4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 " target="_blank"> https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01E6S0JS4/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
It had a high number of ratings and didn’t seem too bad. Also the price was pretty good. After doing the math we determined that we would need 7 of them for the entire layout. I hooked the first one up this week and it works as advertised. The last two days we had it on all day while we worked and it only got mildly warm. Hardly noticeable.
So that’s about it for this installment. One more and I will be caught up with all we did this week. The next post will be on fastening down the upper level door slabs on the peninsula. This is our first work with the aluminum framing.
Will update soon.
||Posted - 12/29/2019 : 3:14:56 PM
So now that the arms are installed, we can start on the actual facia. To help facilitate the discussion, here is a cross section view of the plan for the upper facia construction.
The idea is to mount an L-girder beam to the end of the arms (this is what the notched ends are for on the arms). The beam provides a lot of lateral stability for the entire facia assembly as well as provides a smooth continuous front surface to help keep the facia panels aligned and parallel. The facia itself will hang from the beam with a few flange bolts spaced along the front to actually fasten it to the beam and provide stability in case someone bumps it or catches an edge while reaching into the layout.
The L-girder beam is fashioned from more of my recycled 3/4" plywood. The L profile makes it very strong and keeps all the edges straight. Between the use of plywood and the L cross section, warpage over time will not be a problem.
Note the front face of the arm in the upper right of this photo. I glued a 2” block into the front gap. This adds stability to the arm plates and provides a surface to take the screws when we mount the beam. One screw into the front and one up from the bottom.
We built the beam in sections. To ensure that the joints between sections were perfectly aligned, we added a joining plate inside the L and screwed it to the lower flange of the L.
Another thing you can see in this photo is the room lighting installation. We spent a lot of time designing the light panels for the layout but we also need some general room lighting. For now I have the original track lights for while we are working but they are a bit bright and tend to bother the eyes. Also, they are very spotty (the room as a whole is very poorly lit).
The solution is to use the upper facia, whose top edge is about 8” below the ceiling, as a lighting soffit that runs around the walls of the room (and out over the peninsula). You can see the low-tech solution in the photo above. I ripped an 8’ 1x2 lengthwise to get 16’ of 1 1/2” x 3/8” wood strips. On that I ran two strips of LED lights the entire 16’ and then laid the wood strips face up on top of the support arms. At the far end two wall wart transformers plug in to a switched outlet. Room lighting solved. The lights are all out of sight but you get the reflection off the ceiling along the entire wall to get more even lighting around the room.
After mounting the support beam, the next step is to hang the facia panel. We cut 2” spacer blocks and clamped them along the top edge to make sure it was hanging evenly along its length.
Once we knew everything was straight and properly aligned, we removed each block, one by one, and glued it into place on the back of the facia panel while the other blocks kept everything in the right position.
One of our concerns about a Masonite facia was that a single thickness of Masonite might warp or at least be a little wavy and we wanted to stabilize it a bit. Adding a stiffener along the back was problematic because if it was mounted high it would interfere with the arms. If it was mounted low it would be below the light panel and cast a shadow on the layout below.
We decided to glue a second thickness of Masonite to the top half of the front of the facia panel. This would provide stability as well as a bit more strength around the mounting bolts. Visually, it provides a centerline to the panel and allows the mounting bolts to be centered in the upper half. Given this is the face of the layout, we are paying a little more attention to the visual details here for a more finished appearance.
Once all the glue dried on the extra thickness and the hanging blocks, we rehung the panel and drilled the holes for the mounting bolts. There is one bolt centered in the face of each arm. The bolts will be visible so we wanted to be sure they were perfectly straight and evenly spaced. Each bolt goes through the facia panel, through the web of the L-girder and into a tee-nut that we installed on the back side.
Once they were drilled, we took the panels and beams down. Now that we had the pilot holes, we mounted the tee-nuts on the back of the beams and then reattached them to the arms. On the panel hanging blocks we added some metal hooks that would slide down over the beam when you hung the panel.
The metal hooks are just some 3” steel joining plates that we bent the last ½” out a bit so it would easily slide on and off the edge of the girder without snagging the edge. They also ensure that the panel is always snug against the beam so everything stays nice and straight.
Here you see the finished facia panels and room soffit lighting.
We now have our removable facia panels. We used black flange bolts. Black so they will match the facia once we paint it and the flanges eliminate the need for washers. Since we took a lot of care to ensure that all the holes were precisely located, all the bolts fit well and can be inserted and removed by hand, without the need for a wrench. Once the bolts are removed, one person standing on the floor can easily lift the panel off the beam to remove it. Rehanging it is just as easy.
All in all it is a pretty clean installation and we are happy with the results.
I’d like to add one last note about the lights. If you recall in an earlier post I discussed the color of lighting. This is a good example of what I was talking about. I had ordered more LED strips to continue to work on the layout light panels. On a whim, I decided to try a different brand. This manufacturer advertised these as “Daylight White”. Notice the lower level lighting on the layout below. Those lights are considered “Daylight White” by their manufacturer as well. This difference is why I try to order by specific “temperature” if I can. The lower lights are specifically listed as “6000k Daylight White”. This is what we want for the layout. The upper lights, while advertised as Daylight White, I suspect are at least 6500k, maybe even closer to 7000k, given how blue they appear. I don’t want the blue for the layout but for the general room lighting, it doesn’t bother me so much so I am using those for the soffits.
Thanks for following everyone. The next post will cover our additional work on the lower lighting.
||Posted - 12/29/2019 : 11:04:09 AM
Hope everyone had a good holiday. Almost time to get back to work so I am getting caught up on my posts.
Craig, I’m glad you found that helpful. Good luck on your project. Since my first lighting post, I have learned a couple additional important things about the LED lights. I’ll be posting an update on that soon. You will want to be sure and read that installment too.
Quality Time During the Holidays
I mentioned earlier that my partner in crime was in town for the holidays. I haven’t been posting because we have been head-down in the train room making as much progress as possible while he was here. Today I am finally taking a day to rest a bit (been many consecutive days on our feet all day) and figure this is a good time to get the forums updated.
It has been a tremendously productive week. I took a few days off from work for the holiday so we had extra time to spend in the train room. We made a lot of progress on facias and lighting. Today’s topic will be the upper facia.
Installing the Upper Facia Support Arms
The upper facia has four functions:
- House the upper level layout lighting
- Support and hide the soffit room lighting
- Hide all the lights, wiring and support members from direct view
- Present a smooth, uniform presentation of the overall layout
There was also one key design goal: Make it easy to remove for layout and lighting access after the layout is built. The removability will make it easier to work on scenery and backdrops later on and get at the lights if need be for maintenance/repair. When I say “easy” to remove, my goal is one person, no tools required, and can be done without the need for ladders or stools.
The Support Arms
A couple posts ago, I discussed installing the upper skyboard. During that process we installed brackets along the top edge of the skyboards to secure it to the wall.
While anchoring the skyboards is important, the main purpose of these brackets is to support the upper facia. The design goal here is as light and strong as possible. These brackets are rated to support 80 lbs, they are a nice square shape with predrilled holes so attaching mounting components to them will be easy. They are approximately a foot long and our facia is ~19” from the wall so the first step is to build the support arms that will attach to these brackets.
The arms extend the length to the needed 19” and provide mounting points for the rest of the support framework. They consist of two pieces of ½” cabinet grade plywood bolted to either side of each bracket with a ¾” pine spacer glued between to provide a little extra stability and support.
Given that the arms support the entire upper facia assembly, precise placement of the arms is very important. If careful attention is not paid to the vertical position, it could result in uneven spacing between the levels as you walk long the length of the railroad. If the horizontal lengths are uneven, it can result in an uneven face with visible bowing and “waves” in the facia as you look down the length of it.
Additionally, any errors in the facia seem to get magnified at the joints between facia panels. Bottom or top edges won’t align properly and/or one panel will stick out farther than the one next to it. If the ends aren’t square you get wedge shaped gaps that will likely be back lit by the lights inside so the errors really stand out. If the face isn’t parallel to the wall along the panels you end up with some panels canted slightly forward and other slightly back. While errors could be corrected later on while mounting the actual facia material that can be time consuming and quite tricky. My preference is to take extra time now to get it right and avoid fixes later.
This means that during the mounting process, you want to take steps to get them as precise and uniform as possible. Given that the bottom of the facia needs to be precisely parallel to the level below it, I use that level as the baseline. That is why I wanted the benchwork for the level below to be fastened down before this step. Being fastened down, it is in its final, permanent location and will not move.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that when using shelf brackets you want to watch out for variances in each bracket as a result of their manufacturing process. The same caution applies to these brackets. They are a square tube spot welded to a mounting plate. Overall their quality is pretty good but spot welding isn’t always a precise process. Additionally, mounting them to the wall as well as mounting the plywood to the brackets introduces a small amount of error from bracket to bracket.
Using the benchwork below as my “source of truth” I went around the room and measured the distance from the surface of the door slab below to the top of the shelf bracket tube. One measurement next to the wall and one measurement out at the end of the tube. After checking all brackets in the room my margin of error was +/- ¼”. Not too bad and easy to fix while attaching the arms.
To ensure that my vertical and horizontal positions were exactly the same for each arm, I cut three pieces of aluminum tubing at precise lengths, to help hold the arms in position while I was mounting them. The mounting process for each arm took five steps:
1. Clamp one arm plate into position on the mounting bracket
Here you can see the aluminum tubes I used for precise positioning relative to the door below and out from the wall. Using these spacers while mounting ensures that each arm will be the same relative to the door slabs and wall regardless of any variances in the shelf bracket positions around the room.
2. Using the holes in the brackets, drill the mounting holes in the clamped arm plate
Using these holes as a guide, I drill through the bracket into the arm. This ensures that the mounting holes are placed exactly as needed for this bracket. You can just barely see the holes in this picture. Sorry about the poor exposure, the lighting in the room is pretty bad for photos right now (In the first picture above, you can see the holes in the brackets better).
3. Using the first plate as a template, drill the holes in the second plate
4. Mount the arms to the brackets
Using nut/bolt/washers attach each set of arm plates with the shelf bracket sandwiched in between. Note that I keep the aluminum positioning tubes in place while tightening down the mounting bolts. This ensures the arms don’t shift out of position as you are tightening things down.
5. Add the spacer/stabilizer blocks
I’ll admit, this step may not be necessary. However, the shelf brackets are only ¾” square tubes and my arm plates are almost 3” tall. I wanted a little more stability between the arm plates so I slipped a ¾” square piece of pine in between the plates and glued it in place.
After doing the first one, the process was pretty straightforward. I had cut all my materials ahead of time so one evening after work, I got all the arms in place along the left wall.
Before mounting the rest of the arms, I want to mount the facia along this wall to make sure the design works as expected. I’ll talk about that soon.
Till next time…
||Posted - 12/16/2019 : 07:56:10 AM
Amazingly precise workmanship!
||Posted - 12/15/2019 : 7:03:36 PM
Dave, I saved your info on Led lighting I'm not doing a shelf layout like you are, but want to build a shadow box layout In On30 and your info will help
||Posted - 12/15/2019 : 1:06:38 PM
With my partner in crime back in town for the holidays, we have scheduled weekly work sessions through the month of December. Yesterday we spent the day in the train room. Originally, thought we would be working on the upper facia but as I was looking things over, I discovered a couple small problems that needed to be fixed before we could proceed.
A Bit of Rework
While getting ready to work on the upper facia and deciding that it was getting time to permanently attach the upper deck, I discovered a couple issues that would be much easier to address BEFORE the upper deck was mounted to the brackets, so we started the day doing a little rework.
The first problem was that one of the mounting arms in the peninsula support frame was temporary. A piece we threw into place for some temporary support while we test fitted door pieces. I had forgotten that we needed to replace it with a more properly designed piece before attaching the doors.
The item in question is the piece of aluminum bolted to the left side of the arm in this picture. This joint is where the support transitions from the shelf brackets along the walls to the aluminum framework for the peninsula. The reworked piece is in this photo. The original temp piece was 4” shorter and only had two mounting holes drilled in the bottom.
This turned out to be a fortunate mistake. While mounting one of the door slabs on the peninsula (I will discuss this in detail in a later post) I discovered that having one of the mounting holes all the way in the back was a really bad idea. Cutting a new mounting piece here, making it 4” longer and allowing me to drill the mounting holes in a different location made it much easier to work with when it came time to attach the door slab.
The other two problems were related to the lower level skyboard mounts. If you recall from an earlier post, the lower level skyboards are mounted on plywood boxes
(http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=52048&whichpage=2 " target="_blank"> http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=52048&whichpage=2 ).
Well I forgot that there was a short section of skyboard box on the lower level that, due to being next to a 45 degree corner, was only supported by one shelf bracket. This meant that it needed some more support added to one end so it had two points of support rather than being left balancing on one shelf bracket.
The skybox section next to it was well supported so we ended up adding a short plywood shelf to the bottom edge of that to support the floating end of the short section in question. This was an easy repair that solved the problem.
The last issue was the other end of the this shorter skybox.
The exposed framing at this end of the skybox is there to support the next section of Masonite that will be pressed into the corner. This particular corner is a 45 degree angled section of wall in one corner of the room. The Masonite will be coved to smooth out the corner. As the Masonite is pressed into the corner the edge will butt up against the sheet you see here, the pressure between the edges will hold the cove in place.
The rework here was that when I originally assembled this box, I mounted the vertical plywood “stud” flush with the edge of the Masonite skyboard, forgetting about the fact that when I pressed the coved section in, it would also need vertical support. So the repair was to glue in another vertical plywood “stud” to support the coved Masonite once it was pressed into place. The photo above shows the added plywood in place.
With the repairs in place, we could get on with this week’s focus…
Now We Are Committed – Fastening All The Doors To Their Mounts
This week we began the process of fastening down the door slabs. Up to this point they were just sitting on the shelf brackets so we could easily move them around or get them completely out of the way if we needed access to something.
We want to get the upper facia and lighting installed. For this, one of the critical measurements where we want to be sure we have consistency is the distance between the facias. For access to the upper deck, we plan on a 12” gap between the upper facia and the middle facia. This means that the height of the upper facia needs to be measured from the surface of the upper deck to ensure they are always parallel. For this to happen, we need the upper deck in place and fastened down, so we know its exact permanent location.
Also, now that we have all the skyboard backing in place, we are pretty sure it is safe to go ahead and fasten down the upper deck. We are going to hold off on the lower deck for now so we can easily get at the underside of the upper deck while finishing up lighting.
Given that the doors are hollow, you must have a plan for everything that you want to attach to them and for how you will attach the doors to anything else. The only place a hollow core door has any framework that will hold a screw is within a 1” margin around the outside edge. Even that you cannot count on. I discovered that on the door slabs I am using, the bottom frame member is about 1” thick, the sides are about ¾” and the top is about ¼” thick – not a lot of room to work or hold any screws.
Being aware of this, the plan is to glue the door slabs down on wooden “shoes” that are attached to the shelf brackets. I discussed this earlier in the one of the first posts
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The idea being that the wood shoe would provide more surface area for mounting. This would distribute the weight better on the thin door skin as provide a larger glue surface for a stronger bond.
Here’s the first door in place:
If you look closely you can see the bead of glue run along the shoe on the next shelf bracket as we prep for mounting the next slab. By the way, we use TightBond 2 as our glue of choice. It is easy to work with and bonds wood surfaces well. Here’s a closer shot:
Making sure that all the mounting points were even (height-wise) and level ahead of time, as well as the uniformity of the door slabs made this process pretty easy and it went fast. The glue joints provide a good strong mounting point. After placing each slab, I inspected the underside to make sure it was well seated and there were no gaps. Also wanted to make sure to wipe off any excess glue before it squeezed out and dripped on the layer below. I was a little generous with the glue applied to the shoes to ensure a good bond (more on this later).
Even though the doors are pretty uniform and straight and we had made sure all the mounting points were even, after mounting each slab we put weight on it to ensure there was no gap while the glue dried. In this case I raided my magazine rack and used my collection of Narrow Gauge Gazettes and Finescale Modelers…
A box placed over each bracket did the job. I left them there over night while the glue set.
Joints Between Door Slabs
Even though the doors are uniform, I wanted to make sure that the joints between the doors were perfectly even. We have mounting brackets every 32”. This provides 2-3 brackets to support each slab. With the exception of one location. The joints between all the slabs occurred between two brackets. This meant the joint was floating in space a bit.
To ensure the joints was stable and that the door surfaces would remain precisely even with one another, I decided to attach a joining plate to the underside of the slabs to bridge the joint. This may seem like overkill but even a small difference can cause a problem if it happens to be at exactly the wrong place. Also, given that I am working in N scale, even a 1/16” error can be a real headache. The joining plate would help ensure that the top surfaces of the slabs are perfectly aligned – something we will appreciate when we are laying track later on.
Anyway, the joining plates are simply a 2” wide strip of ¼” cabinet grade plywood (cabinet grade has more layers, tends to be stronger and more stable than generic plywood). Given that I don’t have more than a one inch margin for screws in the door frames, I didn’t see the need for the joint plates to be wider than 2” ( 1” for each side of the joint).
One of the design goals of this project is to make it possible to remove the layout when I am gone, or we decide to sell the house. I realize that 95% of the time a layout doesn’t survive the process, but it crosses my mind to wonder if that is because they were not designed with removal in mind. Most folks are focused on strong and stable rather than portable.
I have seen attempts to remove a couple layouts and it can be painful to watch. With that in mind, our design leverages the natural “modular” nature of the doors and as I install everything, I keep removal in mind. In this case, I am treating each door slab as a potential module that could be removed with minimal damage if necessary.
This means that the joint plates get permanently mounted to one side of the joint (glued and screwed) and then only temporarily mounted (screws only) to the other side of the joint. I marked the “glued” side of each plate for later reference. Prior to mounting the slab on the shelf brackets I glued/screwed each joint plate to the end of its door slab prior and predrilled the “screw only” holes in the slab next to it. This was MUCH easier done while the doors could be turned upside down rather than crawling around under the doors after they were mounted to the wall.
After the slabs were mounted to the brackets, we followed up with driving the screws into the pre-drilled holes on the “screw only” side of the joint plates. This process wasn’t too bad either because the holes were all pre-drilled and we could remove the lower level doors to make room for the drill while driving the screws.
The Middle Facia
After the upper deck was secured, the next step was to add the backing for the middle facia. This is a simple 3 ½” strip of 1/8” Masonite that we glued and screwed to the front edge of the door slabs.
Each deck of the railroad is a 1 ¼” thick door slab with a single layer of 1” foam insulation board on top. The foam board gives a little opportunity to model “below track level”, provides an easy surface to landscape, and acts as a sound deadener while running trains over the layout. We want the top edge of the facia to match the top surface of the foam, so we needed to make sure that the top edge of the facia was precisely 1” above the surface of the door.
To do this we cut some carefully measured spacer blocks and c-clamped them to the top edge of each facia piece. This made it easy to hold properly in place while we predrilled the screw holes, then applied the glue, and then drove the screws during mounting.
We mounted all the full length (8’) strips that we could first. Then went on to do the lengths that needed to be cut to a specific length. This way, we could make sure that every piece fit perfectly, and we didn’t end up with unexpected gaps in any of the corners where pieces met one another.
One other thing to point out about the facia backing strips is the joints between the door slabs. Earlier I mentioned that we are building this with removal in mind. Well the facia backing is one place where we had a collision of design goals. While we want each door to essentially be a module, for strength and stability, we opted to run the facia backing strips across the joints between the door slabs. This provides a lot of additional support for the joint and given that it is 1/8” Masonite, if/when the time comes to remove a door, simple cut with a thin blade (like a hack saw) through the facia backing will be required at the joint. This will not be too difficult and can be done with minimal damage, so we figure the trade off for the additional strength and support is well worth it.
So, we had a very productive day and were both pretty well worn out. However, taking a step back to see the day’s progress felt pretty good.
The visible progress is really motivating. Now that the upper deck is attached and the facia back is in place, this means that we can finish the lower level lighting.
I want to point out that this post is focused on mounting the upper deck slabs to the shelf brackets. I also started mounting the slabs to the aluminum arms on the peninsula. This is a different process than the shoes on the shelf brackets. I will cover the peninsula mounting in a future post as this one is long enough already.
With the upper deck in place, we can now deal with the upper facia and lighting. That will likely be the next post.
||Posted - 12/08/2019 : 3:17:25 PM
Looks very neatly done. Regarding the notch problem, sometimes theory breaks down when it meets the real world.
||Posted - 12/08/2019 : 12:52:46 PM
Well, after a brief hiatus for life and the holiday, I have finally managed to get back to the train room. The good news is that this month we have a number of work sessions planned so we should see some significant progress.
This week’s focus…
Upper Level Skyboard And Facia Support
In the last post we were experimenting with facia heights and viewing angles. The result of all that ended up being:
- The gap between the upper and middle facias will be 12”
- Upper facia will be 12” tall
- The upper backdrop height (distance from “ground” level to the lights inside the upper facia) will be 18”
I am using Masonite sheets as the backing for the skyboards. That will provide a nice smooth and even surface.
I ripped 4’ x 8’ sheets down the middle to get two 2’ x 8’ sheets and hung them on the walls. The bottom edge sits on top of the vertical shelf bracket mounts. Along the top, on every other stud, the panels are screwed to the walls via the mounting screws used to hang the brackets that will support the upper facia.
Speaking of supporting the upper facia… I found some shelf brackets designed for “floating” shelves. This is a fad right now where shelves are hung with hidden (or very low profile) brackets so it looks like the shelves are floating on the wall.
These brackets are rated at 80 lbs and are pretty easy to install. I like the simple design and I think it will be easy to mount the upper facia frames on them. I mounted one every 32” and they support the upper edge of the skyboards as well.
As for the corners, I have elected to cove them in most places. In a couple I will use mirrors (this will be talked about more in later posts). As for the coves here, the process was pretty easy.
Some quick tests showed I wanted to get about a 10” radius. Using 1/8” Masonite, I could achieve this without needing to do anything like moisten the Masonite to make it bend easier.
I made sure the 8’ piece was firmly attached, cut the corner section to length, fastened the far end (the end away from the 8’ section already mounted), and them pressed it into the corner until the other edge popped into place up against the previously mounted 8’ section.
I will admit that working by myself, this was easier said than done but it wasn’t too difficult in the end.
I also learned that when coving that tight of a radius, you can’t really notch the sheet. The bottom edge of the skyboard sheets sit on the top of the shelf bracket mounting rails for the door slabs. The idea was to make it easy to keep the height of everything even. The one issue with this is that to cove the corner and let the bottom edge rest on the bracket mounts, I needed to cut a 1¼” deep notch along the bottom edge of the skyboard so the actual cove could sit on top of the door slab while the bottom of the sheet rested on the mounting rails (hope that makes sense).
Well as I was pressing my notched sheet into the corner it snapped neatly in two right up one edge of the notch. So, for the cove I just cut the entire sheet 1¼” narrower and mounted the entire sheet flush with the top of the previously mounted 8’ section. It was a little more work to make sure it was straight but eliminated the need to notch the sheet and it coved just fine.
That’s it for this week. We had a work session yesterday where we worked out the details of how we will build the upper facia and lighting. That will be next weeks post.
||Posted - 11/17/2019 : 3:30:15 PM
Quick note to folks who are following this thread...
I have had to take a couple weeks off the layout project to deal with some more mundane life pursuits. I expect to get back to the layout over the Thanksgiving holiday (in about a week and a half). I'll post more updates then.
||Posted - 11/04/2019 : 08:03:46 AM
||Posted - 11/03/2019 : 4:02:59 PM
Thanks for the comments guys. I am glad you are finding some of this useful. James, you bring up a great point. Some folks may think I am going overboard with testing my lighting. I too have seen many layouts where the variation between the hot spots and dark spots was pretty severe. During the testing I have been doing it has surprised me how easy it is to get shadows (or extreme light and dark spots) where you don’t expect them. One of my goals is to be able to photograph the layout once it is done and even lighting will be important for that.
This week’s focus…
Facias and Backdrops
At the garage location we were constrained by a number of things and height was a premium. Since the levels were not overly tall, visually the facias for each level were fairly close to one another so we elected to make them all the same height – 4 ½”.
At the new location we have a bit more space to work with and spent a little time testing some things out to get a feel for a good facia height. By clamping different configurations of Masonite test pieces we could test heights and spacing to see what we liked best.
We tested different heights of the facias as well as different gaps (spacing between the upper and lower facias) to control the viewing angles. It is pretty much a constant battle between what the tall people can see versus what the short folks can see.
In addition to simply having the look you want, considerations for facia height include hiding benchwork and lighting behind it. We have an additional consideration: We plan on running the main wiring buses inside the front facia for easy access (rather than underneath the benchwork which can be a real pain to get at – especially after the railroad is done). A number of years ago I was a member of a modular group and I learned then how much I dislike crawling around under a layout. At the garage location we ran the wiring in the facia and it worked great. Given that we want to run our wiring in the facia, we need to be sure that our terminal blocks will fit while trying to keep it as narrow as possible.
We ultimately have settled on 3 ½” for this layout – for the center facia. One other thing that has come out of these tests is that we have decided not to make the facias all the same height. The middle facia is the most constrained because it is between the levels. The lower facia can extend farther below if need be and we want it to be a little deeper so we can mount some UP5s (Digitrax throttle jacks) around the layout. These are necessary so operators can connect a throttle if there is an issue with wireless. Also, some Digitrax features require a throttle be plugged in even if wireless is available.
We also started testing the spacing between the facias. The upper level has almost 4 feet of vertical clearance – if we want it. The challenge for us is that if we make the upper level too open, we are afraid that the lower level will feel cramped and we would rather not have too big of a difference. That being said, we have decided to make the top a little taller than the lower level (about 3” taller).
While doing this we were both surprised by how much we liked a large upper facia (12” in this photo). It added a real finished feel and just felt right. We have decided to start with a 12” upper and install it the length of the peninsula on both sides of the aisle to get a feel for it when it is on both sides of our view. Right now the room feels very open and we are wondering if we have 12” upper facias on both sides of the aisle if it will feel cramped. We are going to mount it in such a way that it can be easily cut down if we decide after the fact that 12” is too much.
We also tested different heights of lights behind the upper facia. Second photo shows a roughly 13” gap between the middle and upper facia with a 12” tall upper facia and the light panel is mounted about 7” up inside the upper facia. I had this old piece of commercial backdrop that we are using to give an idea of what it looks like with something other than bare wood. It does change the feel of it considerably even though this example is not really N scale.
Speaking of backdrops, I have also started researching these. With backdrops there seems to be two schools of thought, A) The backdrop should not upstage the railroad and should really just give the impression of an implied background. B) The background is an integral part of the whole scene and should provide as much detail as the rest of the railroad.
Typically, the first type is hand painted skyboards with little or no additionally scenery painted on them. A lot of times it is just sky blue (this is what we had on the garage version of this layout). There may be a distant horizon and/or some foreground trees but not much more. The second type may be hand painted with lots of detail (both foreground and background) or, thanks to technology making it much more affordable and accessible, it may be printed photo realistic backdrop. There are commercial products available for both types, or you can roll your own.
Like everything else in model railroading, there is no right or wrong here. It is totally up to you and what you like/want. I have been investigating different types of backdrops and trying to make up my mind on what I want to do. I have to admit I am a huge fan of Mike Confalone and his Allagash project. The concept, the design, the engineering… I like everything about it. From a modeling perspective, I especially love how he uses the back drop to make his railroad both more realistic and much larger feeling even though parts of it are on relatively narrow shelves.
He uses photorealistic backdrops rather than hand painted. Since I do have some skill with technology, and, cannot really paint a picture all that well, I am leaning towards using a photo realistic backdrop.
There are a number of commercial products available. If you don’t have the computer/photography equipment/skills available (or the time), the commercial options are getting better and better. For me, I have a working knowledge of Photoshop, and can get by with a camera. If you can do the artwork yourself, technology has made printing a backdrop more affordable and the quality has improved markedly over the past decade.
After talking to a number of outlets, I decided to do a test run. I threw together an 12” x 96” image in Photoshop, added the sky I wanted to it and then went to a local FedEx print center and got it printed on a piece of vinyl banner material for $60. I dropped the art off on Saturday and picked up my banner on Monday after work. It pays to shop around. The first place I contacted quoted a square foot price that was 4 times what I could do at FedEx.
For testing I clamped the banner to one of my lower level skyboards and rigged my LED lighting panel in a rough approximation of the lower level lighting.
My goal here is to figure out what I need to learn about making my own background scene. Right out of the gate I realize I need to figure out where the horizon needs to be to provide the effective depth I want in a given scene. Also, you want to consider all viewing angles. Looking at the layout with the naked eye versus through a camera is very different. Here are a couple shots I took with my phone. This one is from sitting on a stool a couple feet back from the front of the layout.
This next one I just leaned forward and set the phone down on the surface of the door and hit the button.
I am looking forward to more tests with this backdrop while I learn. This has also got me thinking about how tall I want to make my trees. One of the things I like most about Mike Confalone’s railroad is how he blends the foreground trees into the background trees and horizon. It is how he gets such realistic depth to his scenery. Out here we have a lot of Douglas Fir which can be upwards of 180’-200’ tall. We don’t have that much room on our lower level so I want to pick a height that will look good, but fits. That will likely then drive a lot of the horizon on the backdrops.
Well, that’s about it for this week. Thanks for following along.