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Crew Chief

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Posted - 09/07/2019 :  11:39:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
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.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 873

Crew Chief

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Posted - 09/07/2019 :  11:43:41 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Well folks it’s been a while. Feels like it has been years since my last post. Oh, wait, it has.

My last post was four years ago. Yikes, time flies when you are not paying attention.

Some life changes (leaving a job after 25 years, going back to school, and rebooting my career) have kept me away from modeling. I have been at my new job for a year and a half now and life is returning to normal.

So that means it is time to get back to the bench and I am going all in.


This all started innocently. A couple summers ago a good friend asked me help him put a railroad in his garage. He lives in the Seattle area during the summer and winters in Arizona.

We would spend a few weekends each summer working in his garage and managed to get benchwork built and most of the track laid for an N scale layout that could easily host 4 operators.

This past year he and his wife have decided that within the next two years, they are going to sell the Seattle house and move to AZ full time. Along with this decision, we have decided to relocate the railroad to my house and I will take over ownership.

This is how, after 20+ years in my own house and spending most of my modeling time working on other people’s projects, I am finally going to build my own layout. This thread will track the progress and share ideas.

Dave K in NB

Country: USA | Posts: 873 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

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Posted - 09/08/2019 :  12:30:50 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Introduction to the Mud Bay & Western

The MB&W is a fictional branch line set in the Puget Sound region in the late 60’s. The original design goal was to maximize operation potential in the space available.

The space was one stall in a two car garage. It was roughly 14’ long by 9’ wide. We decided to go with a double deck design to have more space and given that it was in a garage, we used a modular approach so it could be taken down and stored on shelves so that the second car could still fit in the garage if needed.

We got to the point where we had most of the track laid and could run a train from one end of the layout to the other last summer.

This Spring when my friend returned to Seattle we had the discussion about his decision to sell the house within the next two years and decided that the goal for this summer would be to relocate the railroad to my house.

A couple factors led us to believe that this would not be as hard as one would expect. First, our design was already modular to facilitate taking it down in the garage. Second, the train room in my house is located above my garage and is the size of one car. This is essentially the same size of space we were using in his garage (actually my room is slightly bigger).

Given the space and storage constraints in his garage, the original layout ran down one wall of the garage, then crossed a roughly 4’ bridge module to a peninsula that ran parallel to the wall. The track ran up one side of the peninsula and then back down the other. Now make two levels of this and you have the general idea.

The benchwork along the wall was 13” deep and mounted on shelf brackets. The peninsula consisted of modules that were 10” deep and 4’ long with an 18” x 38” module across the end.

Here’s a shot of the section down the wall and one of the peninsula (before track) to give you an idea.

A couple other design choices are visible in the pictures.

First, we had lighting built in. For the section along the wall we had small fluorescent lights mounted behind the facia. This provides a lot of even light.

Second, we wanted to avoid the headache of needing to work underneath the layout any time we had to work on wiring so the facia was hollow and the main wiring bus and all connections to it are located along the front of the layout. Once the work is done the front facia panel is attached and all the wiring is hidden. Remove a couple screws and you have full access to the wiring without the need to crawl under anything.

In the photo of the peninsula you get an idea of what the modules look like. They are 10” deep and 48” long. They are framed from ½” cabinet grade plywood and have a two inch foam insert for the deck.

The skyboard is part of the frame and is made of door skin plywood (1/8”) and is 11” tall. The modules are strong and light. Very easy to handle.

This is what we had at the end of last summer and served as the starting point for the relocation effort this summer.

Dave K in NB

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Posted - 09/08/2019 :  06:12:07 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Dave, great to have you back.
I will follow along with your progress for sure.

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Michael Hohn

Posted - 09/08/2019 :  08:19:43 AM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote

Everything looks well thought out. Building a layout in sections or modules makes a lot of sense and should probably be done more often. The wiring up front is also a smart idea.


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Crew Chief

Posted - 09/09/2019 :  9:00:44 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Welcome back Dave. Good to have another N gauger here. Looks like you've got a good start.


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Crew Chief

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Posted - 09/14/2019 :  09:28:04 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Good morning all, hope everyone had a good week. Thanks for the welcoming comments. It's good to be back.

My last post was meant to introduce the topic and provide a brief history of the project so far. Today I want to start with the real meat of the project, the work being done at the new location.

I am fortunate to have a train room in my house. When we purchased this house I managed to secure land rights to the “bonus room” which is located above the garage, right across the hall from the master bedroom. It is rectangular with only a couple minor anomalies to deal with. Just inside the door there is a roughly 2’ x 13” section of wall that sticks out into the room (it contains vent pipes that run up to the roof) that we have to work around. Also, one corner of the room has a mitered corner to facilitate the entryway downstairs.
Here’s the room’s floor plan:

In the lower right you can see the angled corner and vent wall we need to build around. Also, a bit unfortunate is that the single largest window in the house is located in the center of the far wall (across from the door). This is a southern facing window that gets full sun each day. Steps will need to be taken to reduce its impact on the room. It can get quite hot with the doors closed (a necessity when the railroad is built because I have two cats). Also, direct sun on the layout will be hard on the scenery. Lastly, my true passion is around model building and I want to control the lighting of each scene. Tough to do in full sunlight.

The window also adds a couple constraints to the plan.
First, I need to maintain access to it. The section of benchwork that will cross the window will need to be removable.
Second, this room has been mostly closed and used for storage for the past few years while I wasn’t doing any modeling. Now that I am working in there again, I have discovered a couple weather related problems with the window. We can have some fairly extreme wind and rain out where I live and it appears that the frame has leaked a little. The sill needs to be replaced. That being said, in a year or two there is a good chance we will be installing new windows throughout the whole house (just replaced the roof this year and my annual maintenance budget only goes so far) so for the time being I am leaving this alone. I just need to be certain that enough access is left that the window can be replaced without the need to remove any benchwork when the time comes.

The current plan is to build benchwork around the walls and then a two sided peninsula into the middle of the room. All of this will be double decked and there will be a helix in one corner to traverse levels.

A number of years ago I heard about someone who had come up with a rather clever (I think) idea for doing fast and easy benchwork, the Nirvana for all model railroaders. The idea was to use shelf brackets mounted to the walls to support the benchwork and then use hollow core door slabs as the benchwork itself. This idea has a lot of appeal to me and we decided to use this method here.

The type of bracket we are using can be found at The Container Store http://www.containerstore.com if you have access to one. Home Depot sells some that are very similar. There is a slotted rail you mount to the wall and shelf brackets you fit into the slots at the desired height.

One advantage of using this method is you can adjust the height a bit if needed. It allows you to test drive heights and see what is most comfortable for you. Granted, you can only adjust in 2” increments but that is still better than nothing. Also, if you install longer rails that extend below the layout (or above), you can easily add storage shelves as needed.

When using shelf brackets you need to be aware of a couple things. First, don’t assume that the brackets are square (will mount perfectly perpendicular to the wall). Based on the type and manufacturer, most brackets I found are NOT square, either by design or due to poor quality control.

These particular brackets are very well made and very consistent (you don’t need to worry about significant variance from bracket to bracket). That being said, this particular bracket does have a deliberate cant built in. I use the 14” brackets and each bracket is made such that point A is ¼” lower than point B in order to put a slight backward cant to the shelves.

It’s not a huge issue but something to be aware of. I will deal with this when I mount the door slabs.

Speaking of which, we use these doors from Home Depot:

The upper deck on this layout will be 19” deep and the lower deck will be 15” deep. The lower deck is shallower because it is too hard to reach (and see) to the back of the lower level if it is too deep. The 15” depth works well and standing a “normal” distance from the layout and casually looking at the lower level, your sightline just reaches the back edge before you need to bend down in order to see under the upper deck facia.

Granted, this is all a function of how high you decide to build everything. We were fortunate that we had the work in the garage prior to this so we were confident about the heights we liked. If you are considering building a double deck layout I recommend you mock up some test benchwork and make sure the heights and depths work for you.
Here is a cross section of what our benchwork will look like and some dimensions to give you the idea:

The door slab provides the foundation and then the plan is to add a 1” layer of foam on top of that. This will deaden the sound of running trains and provide the ability to do a little bit of scenery “below track level”. Given this is N scale 1” will provide enough for our needs.

One thing about using shelf brackets and making the layout double decked, you really need to think about heights and clearances. In our case our goal is to build a layout that is fun to operate. We are really focusing on ease of access for operation and maintenance. There are constant compromises being made to balance height from the floor, depth of the layout (front to back), sight lines, and the thickness of the layers (benchwork needs to be strong enough to support everything but light enough you don’t need a 6” facia to hide it).

This is one of the main reasons the door slabs are ideal. They are strong, light, and provide a perfectly uniform flat surface as a foundation. Some people might question the cost. In the pic above you see the online price. I walk in to my local Home Depot and buy them off the shelf. For the upper deck (19” deep) I buy the 36” bi-fold doors. For the Lower deck (15” deep) I buy the 30” bi-folds. Each package consists of two slabs. I pay slightly more than the online price. I paid $54 for the last 30” and that gets me two slabs that are 79” tall. Each package basically gives you 158” (13’) of ready to mount benchwork that is perfectly smooth, square, and true.

We ended up mounting shelf brackets on 32” centers. This guaranteed at least 2 brackets per door slab.

In the cross-section view earlier you can also see something labeled “skybox” on the lower level. This is a simple 3” inch deep box framed in plywood and faced with 1/8” Masonite. It serves two purposes. First, it provides a 3” spacer so the front edges of the 15” lower deck door slabs align with the front edges of the 18” door slabs on the upper deck. Second, it provides a nice flat uniform surface for the lower deck skyboards that will not warp.

That's it for now. In the next post I'll start talking about mounting the door slabs to the shelf brackets.

Dave K in NB

Edited by - rrkreitler on 09/14/2019 09:38:02 AM

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Premium Member

Posted - 09/14/2019 :  10:03:27 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Very interesting Dave. I'll follow along for sure and nice to have you back with us,


"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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Michael Hohn

Posted - 09/14/2019 :  1:48:12 PM  Show Profile  Visit Michael Hohn's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the detailed update. I’m looking forward to watching developments.


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Posted - 09/14/2019 :  2:31:46 PM  Show Profile  Visit Nelson458's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Wow, Dave, looks like you have thought this one through pretty well. I've clicked the subscribe button so I'll be able to keep up. I don't model N scale, nut it sounds interesting just the same.

Tony Burgess
Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty.~ Brian Greene

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Crew Chief

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Posted - 09/15/2019 :  12:43:06 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hey Jerry and Tony, welcome on board. Hope you enjoy the ride.

So, the next step is the leveling process. As I mentioned earlier, the brackets I am using have a built-in cant that results in the front edge being ¼” higher than the back. In larger scales you may not even need to worry about this but a ¼” in N scale is significant. Also, when I discuss the corners you will see why you really want everything as level as possible an both the X and Y axes

While the slotted rails allow the shelf brackets to be adjustable, all you get is a coarse adjustment +/- 2” at a time. What we need is a fine adjustment. Additionally, I need some way to fasten the door slabs to the brackets. I solved both these problems by adding what I call a “shoe” to each bracket. This provides the fine adjustment to height, allows me to level out the cant, and provide a flat surface to attach the slab to the bracket.

The brackets are made of stamped steel and are light and strong. They are also essentially hollow. I cut some small filler blocks that get inserted into the brackets, then I drill a hole through the bracket (and block) so I can bolt the shoe to the bracket. You can see this in the upper bracket in this photo. The block is needed when it comes time to tighten down the bolt while attaching the shoe. Without the block the hollow bracket just crushes closed.

Each shoe is just a pieces of 3/4” pine board I have ripped into 1” strips and cut to 14” lengths. In the picture you get the idea of how it goes together. My process is this:
1. Insert the filler blocks into the bracket at the bolt locations.
2. Drill holes through the bracket and blocks.
3. Temporarily clamp the shoe to the bracket in the approximate position it will be mounted.
4. Measuring from the floor to the top surface of the shoe, ensure that the front and back of the shoe are precisely at the height you want and level. Adjust and re-clamp as needed.
5. While clamped, use the holes in the bracket as pilots and drill through the shoe.
6. Add nut/bolt/washer.
7. Rinse and repeat until every bracket is done.

A couple notes about this process:

First, the amount of adjustment that will be needed here really depends on two factors: A) The amount of slope your shelf brackets have built in (or any variance due to inconsistent quality in manufacturing) that you are trying to correct, and B) how precise your were when you mounted the rails on the wall (making sure the rails were all at the same height). My shoes are 1” tall which means I can only really deal with a max variance of +/- ½” across all the brackets. I have a design requirement to keep the shoes at 1” so I had to make sure my rails and brackets were fairly precise. Before I started mounting shoes I measured all the brackets to ensure that none were too far out of whack. Glad I did. Out of 14 rails, two required remounting to the wall to get them within tolerance.

The second thing here is the width of the shoe. I would assume that some folks looking at this would be doing some math in their heads and arrive at the opinion that only ¾” wide for support and attaching to a door skin is asking for trouble in the long term. Well, it turns out I accidently did a long term test on how strong these doors really are.

I first encountered this idea of using door slabs about 10 years ago. I got excited about it and immediately picked up two doors, mounted some shelf brackets to my wall and tested the doors – then promptly got side tracked by life and stopped railroading for a while. So, for the past 10 years I have had two doors sitting on the bare metal shelf brackets (which are only about a ½” wide) with stuff piled on them (acting as shelves rather than benchwork). After 10 years, the doors are still true (they did not warp) and the narrow metal brackets did not poke through (or even dent) the door skins they were supporting. This tells me that a ¾” wide strip of board should be even better. If I was really concerned about weigh distribution I could add a second shoe on the other side of each bracket but I don’t think it is needed. Plus I am trying to maximize space between the support brackets to facilitate lower level lighting.

So after leveling and attaching shoes to all the brackets, I now have a level surface at a precise height from the floor to mount the door slabs. I set the slabs in place to see how it looks.

This is a view of the left wall looking back towards the door. The slabs aren’t attached, just sitting in place to test the fit. You can see that they are all sitting evenly on the shoes and there is no daylight indicating any gaps. Ultimately I will glue them to the shoes but I am not yet ready to fasten them down. I want to get the skyboxes built first and there is some prep work for attaching the facia that needs to be done before the slabs will be ready to fasten down.

Next, I’ll discuss framing up the peninsula, which is another animal entirely.

Dave K in NB

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Tyson Rayles

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Posted - 09/19/2019 :  07:15:02 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

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Crew Chief

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Posted - 09/22/2019 :  2:29:28 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Framing the Peninsula

As it turns out, my very first interaction on RR-Line many years ago was due to a friend telling me about some Australians who had framed up some portable railroad displays using aluminum framing. RR-Line member Mario Rapinett had posted some notes about a project he was working on. My interest in that project encouraged me to join RR-Line. So here we are, all these years later and I am finally getting to really apply the idea to an operational project.

The peninsula attaches to the vent wall that sticks into the room and runs most of the length of the room filling the center space.

The peninsula support is going to be made from aluminum framing components and consist of a series of legs with cross arms attached to support the door slabs. Since all three layers (2 layout decks and the upper lighting facia) are all so similar in construction, the support framing for all three layers is essentially the same:

I chose aluminum for a number of reasons. First, it is strong and light. Second, no warpage whatsoever and it will stay that way forever. Also, I need to keep the layers as thin as possible to manage access and sight lines on both levels. Aluminum gives me a lot of strength in a small space.

Yes, it is more expensive than wood but for my use here, the cost is well worth it. Plus, I am only using it on the peninsula, not the whole railroad so that helps manage the cost.

The product I use is by 8020.net. There are a few companies out there that make similar materials. Over the years I have placed a number of orders with 8020 and the service is always prompt, accurate, and shipped without issue. I live in Seattle and they are back east. Typically I get my order within a week of placing it. Also, they have updated their website and you can now order direct (you used to have to go through distributors) and the process is fast an easy.

While they have an extensive line of products, I typically use three of their extrusions and just a handful of the connectors. These are the typical parts I use:

Top row, left is called Quick Frame. It is a simple 1” square tube. The center and right examples are called 10-Series T-Slot. The center is 1010 (1” square) and the right is 1020 (1” thick and 2” wide). The slots are centered ½” in from each edge.

The second row are examples of the connectors I use. The first two are examples of the type of connectors available for the Quick Frame tubing. These just press fit into the ends of the tubes. Assembly is fast and solid.

The third item in the second row is a tee-nut used for the 10-Series products. These nuts slide into the slot and accept a standard 10-20 ¼ in bolt. Without going too far into the engineering, if you use these nuts, you don’t need lock washers because the way the slot is designed in the aluminum channel, when the nut is tightened, the channel flexes ever so slightly to act as a locking force. One of the great things about the slotted channels is that you can easily loosen up parts to make adjustments whenever needed.

As for working with it… You can order it bulk and cut your own or order it cut to length. You can also order it with all the holes you need predrilled (for an extra cost). I have a carbide blade in my chop saw that cuts this material like butter. I tend to order my parts mostly cut to length knowing that I can make adjustments if need be and I drill all my own holes.

For the peninsula, I used the 1020 material for the vertical leg posts and then used the Quick Frame tubing for the arms. The first step was to mount the rails that will be used to attach the peninsula to the wall. The rails were simply two pieces of the 1020. I drilled through the inside slot and drove screws into the studs.

From the wall I ran a couple lengths of Quick Frame tube to attach to the first leg. The remainder of the peninsula will be supported by cross arms on three legs.

Each leg is made of two vertical lengths of 1020 supported by a cross piece of 1020. The cross piece has adjustable feet to make leveling easy.

For reinforcement, I found some heavy shelf brackets that were square. For the adjustable feet I driller 3/8” holes through each end of the cross piece and then dropped in 5/16” tee-nuts like these:

Each nut has four teeth that would normally be pounded into wood to keep them from turning during use. I trimmed two teeth off each and the remaining two just dropped into the slot in the aluminum to prevent them from turning. Each foot runs through 2 tee-nuts. One dropped in the top hole in the cross brace and a second inserted into the bottom hole. I thread two nuts onto the end of the 5/16” bolt that acts as the foot and them press a rubber chair leg foot onto the end.

The first leg is attached to the wall rails via a couple horizontal tubes. The last two legs are attached to one another via horizontal tubes as well. I am relying on the doors, lighting panels, and facia to attach the end set of legs to the wall set of legs (if that makes sense).

Depending on where they are needed, the arms are attached either to the horizontal tubes or directly to the vertical leg posts. I pre drilled these holes. If you look closely you can see some small holes and some larger. The larger holes are needed where I needed to have the bolt heads countersunk, so to speak. It took a lot of planning to make sure that I did not have bolt heads sticking out where I needed things to be level and smooth.

The placement of the arms and pre-drilled holes took a lot of planning as well. The door slabs will attach to the arms by driving 1" screws though small pilot holes in the arms and into the frames of the door slabs. The slab frames are slightly less than an inch thick so you need to be very careful to make sure that arms and door frames always align where needed.

The last step in assembling the frame is the end section. This was a bit more complicated because the end of the peninsula requires a bit of a cantilevered support system to allow the railroad to flow uninterrupted around the end.

The tag line for the 8020 is “The Industrial Erector Set”. This picture is a good example. This is the end support structure before the doors are in place.

The next step is adding the door slabs. At the wall end I can use full length slabs so no modification needed. At the end that sticks into the room I need to cut slabs in half and modify them to fit around the end of the peninsula. Fortunately, the lengths and widths all work out and I can do each layer by cutting up one slab without a lot of extra left over.

I use my Skill saw and my band saw to do the cutting. Door skins are soft enough you could use a hand saw if that is what you have access to.

There are some things to keep in mind when modifying door slabs. Door slabs are made up of a simple square frame laminated between two door skins. Inside the frame there are some cardboard baffles glued in to provide additional support for the door skins.

From an engineering perspective, a door slab is really just a box. A very light yet very strong box. When you start cutting them up you need to be mindful of maintaining the structural integrity of the box.

The reality is that these slabs are pretty much just cardboard. The only real wood is an incredibly thin veneer of actual wood on the exposed surface of the door skin, all the rest is cardboard – including the frame. The frame is like particle board made from ground up and compressed cardboard (red arrow)

When I saw up a slab I make sure that I put a wood filler strip into the open edge. My fillers are just 1x pine ripped to fill the gap. It pays to rip the fillers as precisely as possible. If they are too thick, when you insert them they will add a hump along the edge of the door. If you make them too thin they will create a low spot.

When you go to insert the strip, it is likely you will need to get some of the baffle material out of the way. Most of the time this is easily done by simply pushing it back with your finger far enough to be out of the way. It is just a cardboard strip that has been lightly edge glued between the door skins. Every once in a while you might get unlucky and made a cut through an area where a bunch of baffles all come together. It might mean you have to push back 6 layers of cardboard instead of just one. A little more work but not too tough.

Also, as you can see in the above photo, I don’t worry about a tight fit end to end. A small gap doesn’t matter and in fact it makes it easy to adjust the piece while you are gluing it in. This is important because one other thing you want to be precise about is making sure it is glued in precisely flush with the edge of the door skin. If it sticks out it makes the edge uneven which will be problematic when attaching the facia. If it is inset, it can be problematic if you need to join it to another slab.

In my case I do have a few places where I do need to join slabs together for some odd shapes. The most significant is the upper and lower modules that will go into the closet area next to the vent pipe wall. Here you can see the result after cutting up and reassembling a slab to fit into the closet.

Once again I got lucky and each module could be made from one slab with very little left over.

When I join edges I simply used wood glue to attach them and then make sure they are on a smooth level surface while the glue dries. Then I turn them over and screw/glue some plywood reinforcement to the underside of the joint - making sure that the reinforcement patches will not interfere with any of the mounting arms or shelf bracket shoes.

When it comes time to join the slabs when mounting them to the shoes on the wall, the plywood reinforcement will be screw/glued to one slab and only screwed to the other. That way if need be it can be taken apart later.

So that is about it for framing the peninsula. I laid the door slabs in place and this is the current state of things. Note that we haven't yet added the arms that will support the upper lighting facia. Those will come later after we get the lower levels fastened down.

I want to call out two things that we noticed almost immediately after placing the door slabs. First, it became obvious that having square corners on the end was going to be problematic for folks walking around. While they provided more modeling real estate, they really got in the way when walking by. The decision was made to trim the corners.

Second, while assembling the aluminum end frame it seemed like there might be an issue with the cantilevered portion if someone leaned any significant weight on the outside corners. The frame tended to flex more than we were comfortable with. Trimming the corners shortened the "lever" which helped and we are confident that once the door slabs are actually attached to the cross arms the structural integrity will be such that there will be very little flex.

I am now tackling the special removeable modules that will be used to cross in front of the window.

See ya’ll next week.

Dave K in NB

Edited by - rrkreitler on 09/22/2019 2:31:13 PM

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Tyson Rayles

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Posted - 09/23/2019 :  05:42:08 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

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Posted - 09/23/2019 :  08:58:00 AM  Show Profile  Visit Bernd's Homepage  Reply with Quote

WOW, this is a very interesting method of building a layout. I always wondered where one could find that "industrial erector set" material. I wonder how those door skins would hold up in a humid climate. Living in NY the humidity changes with the seasons.

I'll be following along to see how this all works out for you.



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Carl B

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Posted - 09/23/2019 :  09:17:39 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I agree with Bernd----a big WOW!

Thanks for the excellent pix and documentation of your project.

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