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12507 Posts

Posted - 10/17/2019 :  11:57:06 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Wow! Dave that is some really nice metal & woodworking.
Thanks for the great info on how your doing it.

I'll be following along!


"And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln
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Crew Chief

873 Posts

Posted - 10/20/2019 :  10:12:37 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks for comments guys, I am glad you are enjoying the project.

James, thanks for the pic. I like what you’ve done there – simple and straightforward.

This morning my compatriot is coming over and we are going to have an all day work session. This will be his last day on the project for this year since he and his wife will be heading south for the winter soon. We have been making a push to get as much done as fast as possible this past month. He’ll be back in December for a few weeks and we will work some then too but today is our last shot for the “regular season”. Have no worries, I will be continuing work myself. It’s just that today is the last day that we’ll have two sets of hands working instead of one.

So, this post has gotten MUCH longer than I anticipated. Given my focus is modelbuilding I guess I have a lot of opinions on today topic of lighting. Keep in mind these are just my opinions and there are many different approaches to lighting. Also, for beginners, this post may make it sound complicated but it really isn’t. The post below is just meant to propose some things to think about – not meant to create “analysis paralysis”. I have been involved in a number of projects over the years and this is what I have learned about lighting.

If you choose to dive in, I recommend refreshing your coffee (or beverage of choice) before jumping in, this one got a bit long.

Speaking of lights….

This week’s focus is lighting. The previous version of this layout (in the garage) was far enough along that we had installed most of the lighting and that process taught us a number of things.

The first section of that layout was done about 3 years ago. Back then LED lighting was available but still new and relatively expensive. Part of that layout was permanently attached to the wall and we decided to use fluorescent lights for that section. Like our new layout, it was two levels and both were covered shadow box style, so the lighting was all enclosed. Using fluorescents was easy and we ran a set of single tube fixtures along the front edge of the upper levels just behind the facias. This provided a nice even light and the bulbs were out of sight. Here’s a shot with one section of the facia removed so you get the idea:

The downside of fluorescents is that even the “slim” fixtures are bulky. Between the benchwork and the fixtures, we needed 4” wide facias to hide everything and in a double deck layout, that vertical spacing is critical. The less “required” space, the more open space you have to help it feel open and provide access to the railroad.

The fluorescent fixtures caused even more of a challenge on the peninsula. There everything was modular and we really needed to keep things as thin as possible – as well as they needed to be able to be taken down and stored safely – not ideal with a light bulb underneath.

The good news was that we started the peninsula a year and a half later. By then LEDs were starting to be more affordable so we decided to test drive them. The modules were 3” thick and the way they were framed meant that the height of any lighting mounted to the underside had to be less than 1” thick.

We found some LED strip lights on Amazon that weren’t too expensive and decided to give them a try. On the upper level modules, we ran two strips the length of each module along the underside of the module to light the lower level. We were pleased with the results:

Given the success of that experiment, we have decided to use the same lights on this project. These are the lights we are using:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07JBT5S7H/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 " target="_blank"> https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07JBT5S7H/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

There are a number of different brands, but they are all essentially the same product.

So, before I proceed with the project, let’s take a side trip and discuss some lighting theory for those who may not have gotten this far yet.

With lighting, there are a number of considerations:

1. Quantity
2. Color
3. Location
4. Heat
5. Maintenance

Let’s start with…

Quantity: How much is enough?

Philosophical question: How many times have you walked away from a layout thinking “Wow, the lighting in there was just too bright?”

The bottom line is that quantity is entirely up to you so you may want to run some tests to see what you like.

We were happy with what we had in the garage, so we decided to use that as the base for our plan here. One difference here versus the garage layout is that our levels are much deeper front to back (13” and 10” in the garage versus 19” and 15” here). With that in mind, the spacing between the strips in the garage was about 4” and we really liked the amount of light this produced so, the plan for this layout is spacing the LED strips 4” apart (The height of the lights above the surface below is about the same on both layouts so we did not need to adjust for that). That results in 4 strips to light the depth of the lower level and 5 strips for the upper.

All lights produce colors. I am not talking about colored lights like red/blue/green/yellow Christmas style lights. Regular everyday “white” lights produce surprising levels of color if you really pay attention. My focus is on model building and presentation so maybe I pay more attention than a lot of folks. I want good lighting to help present the models well.

Different types/brands of lights produce different ranges of colors. This range is sometimes referred to as “temperature” (not related to heat). When looking at lights you will see terms like “warm”, “cool” or “daylight”. These refer to the bandwidth of light the bulbs produce. If you go to Home Depot or similar stores they typically have a display similar to this that demonstrates the differences:

The left represents warmer bulbs. Warm colors have more red in them. The colors get progressively cooler as you go to the right. Cool colors have more blue in them. Notice that in the middle they are most balanced and look white. This is considered daylight and is closest to natural light. For me, this is ideal because it will help present the models in a more natural manner.

When looking at lights you will also see terms like 6000k or 6500k. This refers to the color temperature and 6000-6500 is considered daylight. The higher the number the bluer you will get. The lower the number the redder you will get. Incandescent bulbs are much warmer. Halogens had more blue but were still warm (no pun intended given how hot halogens run). For those older photography buffs, you are probably familiar with the green considerations for tungsten-based bulbs.

Anyway, with modern LED bulbs and older fluorescents, you really need to be aware of the color temperature of the bulbs you buy. The difference between the warm and cool colors can be quite dramatic.


Placement is another thing that can make lighting more complex. Based on the type you need to consider where and how to mount the fixtures (which can be relatively bulky). Those of us starting now have a real advantage given the compact nature of today’s options. The LED strip lights take no space at all. Long flat surfaces are ideal for mounting. Each strip is ¼” wide and 1/8” tall so the space requirements are negligible.

You may want to consider lighting from two perspectives, general room lighting and specifically lighting the layout. This becomes crucial in multi-level/shadow box style layouts. It is surprisingly easy to end up with unexpected shadows.

If you have an open layout and plan general lighting for the whole thing (room and layout) consider the placement of the bulbs and ask yourself some questions:

“Will someone standing at point A end up casting big shadows over the layout they are trying to look at?”

"Will an operator's own shadow get in their way while trying to switch a particular location?"

“Will this section of benchwork end up casting shadows on this other section of the railroad?”

“Will this light be shining in someone’s eyes?” – This is a big factor in determining heights of facias in shadowbox style layouts

Keep these in mind as you walk around the entire planned space. Also consider taller and shorter visitors.

With shadowbox style projects the same considerations apply. Light source versus model placement is key too because everything is enclosed. For my project the first strip of lights is ¼” behind the facia – as close to the front as possible. This is because I want to minimize shadows cast on and by any models at the front of the layout.

This will give you an idea of what I am talking about. Here is an example of how models cast shadows on themselves.

In this example I have strips of lights spaced 4” apart. Each strip is 4” deeper into the scene. The first strip is at the front edge of the layer above (the front edge of the upper level is even with the front edge of the lower level). The model starts at the front of the lower level and in each iteration is moved 3” deeper into the scene. Note how the eaves of the structures cast shadows down the front of the building when the only light source is above the model.

In the first photo the lights above are mounted on a board that is tilted slightly so the lights are angled slightly forward. In the second photo the board is level, so the lights point straight down. The difference is very slight, but we discovered that the light from the LED strips was more directional than we thought and pointing the bulbs straight down produced slightly less shadowing.

One challenge of shadowbox style railroads is the front edge is a hard stop for both lighting and model placement, so you need to be mindful of shadows.

Speaking of shadows, a couple other considerations to keep in mind: if the exterior (general room) lighting is brighter than the light inside the shadowbox it can result in viewers’ creating shadows inside the box as they walk around. Typically, the light inside the shadowbox will be stronger (unless you deliberately want a lower level for effect). Be aware that placement of lights within the constrained space of a shadow box can result in unexpected shadows as things like framing members for benchwork get in the way. These can show up as hard shadows across the backdrop or may manifest themselves as lighter and darker spots in spaces where you were expecting things to be even.

One last thing for shadowbox style layouts is making sure the lights don’t shine in the viewer’s eyes. This may take a bit of testing different facia heights, heights from the floor, ceiling/backdrop heights inside the box in order to come up with the “best” solution for your situation.


This time I really am talking about temperature related to how hot things get, not the color of the light. Those of us with easy access to LEDs have it easy. In days past many layouts were lit with incandescent bulbs which produce a lot of heat. Many times, layouts are in smaller enclosed rooms where a lot of excess heat could make things uncomfortable.

Fluorescents were much cooler but still produced some heat. Other issue with fluorescents included buzzing and flickering if you weren’t careful about the quality of fixture. Electronic ballasts solved a lot of those problems.

Another option was halogen bulbs. These were small and compact and produced a lot of bright light. But they produced a LOT of heat (to the point of burning your fingers if you touched them and being an actual fire hazard).

Modern LED lights produce very little heat and continue to get better and better. I have an LED bulb I purchased about 4 years ago to do some testing and a number of bulbs I just bought recently. I can run all of them for hours and the 4 year old bulb will be warm to the touch. I can hold it in my hand, but it is warm. The newer bulbs hardly register any warmth at all. I can barley tell they have been on. The LED strip lights can run for hours and still feel cool to the touch. If I close my eyes and touch them, I cannot tell if they are off or on.

Lights may fail eventually and need changing so access after the layout is built needs to be considered. You need to be able to get at the fixtures after the fact without the need to destroy the railroad. In the garage version of our layout our upper facia was hinged so you could lift it up and get at the light fixtures.

Keep the track and scenery in mind while thinking about maintenance. Especially on larger railroads, it is easy to build lights into the facia that seem easy to get at – until there is a bunch of scenery in place and then you realize that trying to reach the bulb is like trying to get at the oil filter in a compact car.

As for maintenance consideration for this project, I have decided to use Masonite panels that are removeable. This way if I need to work on the lights after the fact, I can just pull the panel out and easily get at everything without the need to be doing all over top the scenery.

Here is an example of a typical panel.

It is approximately 17” deep and 4’ wide. When installed the back edge is supported on the skybox and the front edge is supported behind the facia. Each panel has four strips of lights spaced 4” apart with the first row right along the front edge. Here you can see I drew lines on the panel as guides for laying out the lights. They have an adhesive strip on the back and are very easy to mount.

When using these strip lights there are a couple details you need to be aware of. First, they run on 12 volt DC power and they are LEDs so they are sensitive to polarity. When you are hooking them up you need to be mindful of the positive and negative connections.

Take a moment and look at the photo above, there are a couple important details here. These strips can be cut to length. They come in 16’ lengths and in this case, I cut them into 4’ pieces. Notice in the photo the two copper ovals towards the right side. These are provided all along the strip and indicate a safe place to cut the strip.

When cutting you split the ovals, and this results in two copper “tabs” that can be used to attach wires. Notice in the clip on the left the two copper tabs can just be seen under the two silver prongs in the socket. This is how the connections are made. I take one additional step here and put a small drop of solder on each prong/tab connection.

FULL DISCLOSURE: the manufacturer does NOT recommend soldering. This is mainly because the strips can be easily damaged. I have a temperature-controlled soldering iron and some low temp solder that I use for this.

Once the connection is made the clip on the socket snaps closed.

These connectors can be used to connect strips but be very mindful of the polarity and make sure you are consistent with red/black positive/negative connections. Note in the photo above next to the copper ovals the polarity of each side is clearly marked.

This gives you a little more idea of connecting power from one strip to the next. While you can’t see the detail here, this picture is also an example of one of the mistakes that it is easy to make regarding polarity. Thinking I was being efficient, I fastened down all for strips on my panel and was very careful to always put the positive side towards the front of the panel. While this seems like a good idea, the connectors are built to connect strips in a long line, not back and forth. If you look close at the connector you will see the problem. On the front strip the red wire is attached to the positive terminal on the strip. On the second strip the positive terminal is the one towards the front (closest to the camera) note the connector – in order to attach the red wire to the positive tab I need to turn the connector upside down. I should have mounted the second strip with the negative terminal to the front to make the connection easier. I solved this problem by snipping off the connector and soldering the wires directly to the tabs.

Got all my wires hooked up…

But wait <sigh>… Anyone see the problem here? I managed to hook the first two strips together and then I hooked the last two strips together – twice! [:-banghead] Instead of hooking the second strip to the third. Got little ahead of myself on this one. A few more minutes with the soldering iron fixed that little snafu.

Let there be light:

I want to pause for second and talk about power. The size of the panel and the number of strips is no accident. It is a result of figuring out the power requirements and balancing that with ease of installation.

These lights come in 16’ strips. Most of the time they come packaged with a power connector already attached to one end and a wall wart style power supply. This is where you need to start thinking about power requirements.

I did some research and you can use 1.5 watts per foot to calculate power consumption for a strip. Thus, 16’ requires 24 watts. The typical wall wart that comes with these is 2000mA at 12 volts. If you do the math this works out to about 24 watts. All seems good, right?

Well here’s the catch. Many of these light packages come with two strings of lights but only one power supply. Sometimes it may be a 30 or 32 watt unit but the ones I have seen are 24. Based on a lot of questions I see posted on the Amazon forums, many people assume that since one power supply came with two strips, it is safe to drive all 32’ of lights with that unit – and they do it. I haven’t come across any catastrophic stories about this failing. I suspect that is because this is all low voltage. I would be interested to check back with them in a few months though and see if their power supply has burned out.

That being said, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, when figuring electrical capacity, it is a good practice to build in a 25% safety margin. That means if your project requires 24 watts of power, try to have at least a 32 watts supply. In the case we have here, 16’ of lights consumes 24 watts and that is what the unit that comes with them provides. Not optimal I my book becasue there is no safety margin but I will live with it. That being said, I would NOT use this unit to drive 32’ of lights regardless of hearing about others doing it.

In fact, I have one large and two smaller low voltage lighting transformers (of the type used to drive outdoor night lighting systems) installed in my train room. The larger is rated at almost 500 watts and the two smaller at 150 each. Currently these drive the general room lighting. I will be using the extra capacity of these to drive all the upper level layout lighting as well. Based on the limited capacity of the small wall warts that come with the strip lights (and their short cords) I am thinking about purchasing a couple more small outdoor transformers for the lower level as well (they are not overly expensive).

Once I got the panel working I inserted it into the layout. Voila, the lower level lighting is starting to take shape.

We started testing some of the lighting for the upper level as well but this post is already WAY over the line so I will follow up with that discussion later. This will do it for this week. Thanks for hanging in there…

Dave K in NB

Edited by - rrkreitler on 10/20/2019 10:23:23 AM
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George D

16073 Posts

Posted - 10/20/2019 :  12:14:21 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Good info on layout lighting, Dave. Thanks.

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Crew Chief

873 Posts

Posted - 11/02/2019 :  08:20:19 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Just a quick note for folks following this thread. I have been dealing with some computer issues this week and that has taken all my spare time. I'll post another layout update in the next day or so.

Dave K in NB
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Tyson Rayles

13192 Posts

Posted - 11/02/2019 :  08:35:43 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Nice tips on the lighting!
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6474 Posts

Posted - 11/02/2019 :  11:02:24 AM  Show Profile  Visit jbvb's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I hear what you're saying about layout illumination, but I haven't ever seen a layout that was 'too bright'. Plenty (usually with recessed ceiling fixtures or track lights) where the difference between the hot spots and the dark places was so pronounced you couldn't see (or photograph) many scenes.
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David Clark

1243 Posts

Posted - 11/02/2019 :  2:02:32 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks for that info. The idea of putting the LEDs on a board and then attaching it to the "ceiling" of the layout is genius in its simplicity. I attached mine to to supports and dealing with them now is a pain. Also, it would have helped keep dust off..
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Crew Chief

873 Posts

Posted - 11/03/2019 :  4:02:59 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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.

Dave K in NB
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Tyson Rayles

13192 Posts

Posted - 11/04/2019 :  08:03:46 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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Crew Chief

873 Posts

Posted - 11/17/2019 :  3:30:15 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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.

Dave K in NB
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Crew Chief

873 Posts

Posted - 12/08/2019 :  12:52:46 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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.

Dave K in NB
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Michael Hohn

6360 Posts

Posted - 12/08/2019 :  3:17:25 PM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Looks very neatly done. Regarding the notch problem, sometimes theory breaks down when it meets the real world.
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Crew Chief

873 Posts

Posted - 12/15/2019 :  1:06:38 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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

http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=52048&whichpage=1 " target="_blank"> http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=52048&whichpage=1 .

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.

Dave K in NB

Edited by - rrkreitler on 12/16/2019 09:42:18 AM
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Craig H

1749 Posts

Posted - 12/15/2019 :  7:03:36 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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
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Tyson Rayles

13192 Posts

Posted - 12/16/2019 :  07:56:10 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Amazingly precise workmanship!
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