Sunday, January 6, 2013

032 The Augusta Railway - Benchwork Construction

It is freezing cold outside.  Thermometer says 18 degrees, but I think it is colder.  We need some room to work so backed the cars out of the garage and fired up the kerosene heater.  My friend Jim Wanlass warned me about the kerosene heater and a recent fire in a garage here locally.  I know to listen to psychic phenomena, so after I lit the stove and went downstairs, Jim's words started ringing in my ears.  I went back to garage to find the heater with flames coming out the top and the whole garage covered in thick, oily smoke!  Thanks saved my house!

Turns out there was a problem with the wick, so I got out the other heater and it worked fine.  Kept us nice and warm.  I put out a work table and got out my safety glasses.  Once I was ready to go, Super Thayne 13 The Viking showed up to give me a hand.  Its always more fun to work with others, and some jobs like benchwork just require two hands.

Special thanks to my daughter Taylor (7 years old) for the many photos that she contributed to this blog today!  Also, for running erands, getting us sodas and water, picking up dropped screws, sweeping up and all of her help today.  Joel Priest, MMR at 10?  You ain't seen nothing yet!

Here is the first heater that almost burned my house down.  Notice the black carbon soot on the top where the flames were leaping out.  Thanks Jim!

I put on my heavy Carhardt shirt to stay warm and to keep the splinters out of my body.  I love this shirt!

We have an ample selection of 1x3 stock, 1x2 stock, and on the floor some 2x2 stock.  I bought a bit more that I needed of this cheap lumber, but some of it I'll throw away because the quality is so poor.

Home Depot feels it necessary to stick staples into every single board, so I removed most of them with pliers.

Our first job is to build some L-girders for the back wall.  I run these along the wall to support the open grid sections.  It makes them evenly supported all around, and also easy to remove later when I move.  We did go look at a new house yesterday with a HUGE basement.  I almost cried!

Here are the tools we'll be using, along with the chop saw.  We have an 18 volt cordless drill/driver, 2" and 1 5/8" drywall screws, carpenter's glue, rag and a rough sanding sponge.

We need two 8' L-girdres, and one small one about 45" long.  So I'll just make three 8' sections as I'll probably use the scrap L-girder for angle supports later.

Sorting out the lumber is always a chore.  I try to get the best wood possible for the outside perimeter of each section, that way it is straight and strong.  Is it that critical?  No, not really.  All it has to do is to support the tiny trains and a little bit of plaster.  For the most part all benchwork is way over built, including mine.  I have used cabinet grade lumber before.  It makes for very nice photos, but other than that, it adds no value.

To make the L-girders I clamp tow 1x3 boards together.  Then I put glue on just one board's short end, and then predrill/countersink screws (drywall screws, 1 5/8" long) about every foot along the board.  I flip the assembly and do the same thing.  When I unclamp them I have to L-girders.  Unfortunately the lumber I bought at Home Depot was of very poor quality, and none of the boards were the same length!  We had to trim them all making them a little shorter than 8'.

Here is a close shot where I'm putting in the screws to one half of the twin L-girders.

Here you can see Taylor using getting ready to sand the boards with a 3M type sanding sponge.

The boards are not even on one end.  We'll have to fix that.  Next time, the wood comes from Loews!

As Thayne held the end of the board steady I trimmed the L-girders and got them ready for mounting.  On of the girders had a bad end, so we chopped it down to 45" and used it for the short wall, saving the remainder for the angle bracing which you will see some other time.

I clamped a level to the short L-girder and while Thayne held it in place, I predrilled/countersunk (from now on called PDCS) the holes and intalled the girder with 2" drywall screws.  No, we did NOT use glue for this step because we want to be able to remove the girder one day soon.

Here is the L-girder next to the window  Perfect!  The open frame sections will sit just above the girder and below the backdrop with room to spare.

Next we mounted the ~8 foot girder using the same method with the level.  Once both ends are level and screwed into studs (thanks, new studfinder!) I drilled and screwed the L-girder into every wall stud.

The ~8 foot section is now mounted to the wall.

There is a 45 degree miter cut in the corner where both L-girder fit like a picture frame.

This surely is a two man job as one needs to hold it level while the other is drilling and screwing.  Thanks Thayne for the help!

As we put in the third girder, we only needed to mark every 16 inches since we new where one stud was.  This was quick, and we had the last girder up in only a few minutes.

The last girder is installed.  There is a bulge in the wall where it was not built very evenly.  You can see that it warped the girder a little, but it won't affect us much.

The mighty Thayne approves!

Our camera girl got sidetracked as we cut two 76" beams and six 30" beams to make this box open grid section #2.  It went very quickly.

Using some 2x2 stock we made temporary legs to hold it in position.  This section will be supported by angle braces underneath the layout, attached to the wall, so that there are no legs touching the floor.  This makes it easier to vacuum and to work under the layout.  Or to store materials, which I plan to do as well.

We just rested the section on the L-girder and attached the legs with clamps.  Yeah!  Benchwork!  Let's make some more!

Section 2 supports a loop, and it has to be as big as the room between the wall and the fireplace will allow.  I measured the wall area and had Thayne check my measurements before we cut the first stick.  This section is more complicated and has the most number of boards, so it took a while to build.

Putting in the angled part of the section was very hard, because the way it was designed left little wood to fasten the angled piece to the board.  Thayne and I cut and fit, cut and fit, cut and fit to get it right.

There!  That will work!  I'll just screw it in.  Nope, that won't work.  Plan B.

Sometimes the plan doesn't go as planned.  Both of us agreed that we needed a stronger support across this part of the section, and we probably just want to use brads to affix the angled board.  Here you can see where I modified the drawing.  In fact, I just pulled up the CAD drawing and fixed it.

And the mighty Thayne said "that'll do!"

Once we put the other board in, Thayne held it tight and I put it in with 6D finishing nails.  Perfect.

Event though it is 18 degrees outside, the shop heater kept us warm and didn't burn down the house.

A few other boards and she'll be ready to go.

Every joint is glued and screwed for maximum strength.

All holes are marked and countersunk so that the heads of the screws are flush with the boards.  This is important later when you are putting in risers.

Last screws!  This section took a long time, but we are finally finished.

Thayne hauls it downstairs while I grab a few tools and a soda.

We had to remove the Section 2 temporarily while we put in Section 1.

Here is Section 1 installed.  Now we are still only propping them up just to make sure they fit, then they will be removed while I paint clouds next week.

We didn't need a temporary leg.  The section is very strong and is not wobbly, which is important.  Eventually my lounge chair will fit under here.  Wife says it won't, but my money is on my CAD drawing.

We put Section 2 back into place.  We're aren't quite level, but for now it doesn't matter.

Now its looking like a layout!

Section 3 is a critical fit as it has to be just right.  We measured and remeasured (and still goofed it up, btw...).  Here we are working on the first board which goes against the wall.  I mark where each cross beam goes, and PDCS two holes per mark.

We've been using squares and angles to keep everything nice an "right".   Here I'm using a roofer's speed square.  I like it because it is heavy and I can drop it without screwing up the level bubble.

The front of this section is at an angle so we cut and fit, cut and fit, cut and fit to get it right.  Here again it is handy to have two people working on a long piece of wood.

We are using a lot of clamps.  Here are some that we are using.  You can NEVER have enough clamps!  I just make it a habit; every time I go to Home Depot or Harbor Freight, I buy one.

Thayne keeps the frame from moving while I glue and screw the board.

The screws go in at an angle and go beneath the surface of the wood so that they won't interfere with the section next to it.

One thing that is handy when you have a friend over is checking your measurements.  I give the CAD drawing measurement, then measure it myself.  Thayne measures behind me, and we make very few mistakes.

This board has one angled cut on it.  I test fit it for the second time and it is perfect, so I'll screw it in.

Frankly, without a good compound miter saw (chop saw) you just can't make these types of cuts.  This DeWalt saw was over $300 when I got it for a present for Christmas one year...and it was worth every penny.

We put Section 3 in place and it is a bit tight.  Essentially we bang on it and it snaps into place.  Won't see that in a Kalmbach video.   I cut another temporary leg and we level and clamp it on tight.

Scott is back behind the camera as Thayne checks the level.  Looks good.

All three sections are now installed and clamped together.  It looks great and came out just about exact to the drawing.

I checked the hallway clearance and we have 26" at any two points, which is just enough for me and a soda to pass without issue.

In my mind's eye I can see the big cotton knitting mill that will sit here, six stories high with an even taller smoke stack, backed up against the azure sky.  The layout comes to life.

There!  I'll leave this up for a day and daydream.  Tomorrow I'll go get a cloud brush, remove the benchwork, and start painting.  There are still some things I need to do to the sections such as check all the screw heads, sand the boards, make sure everything is square, clean off glue drips, and drill holes for wiring.

But for now, the heavy work is done!

Thanks Thayne and Taylor for all your help!


  1. Wow, anything that starts with almost burning your house down has to be exciting :) Who new model railroading could be so dangerous. Anyways, the benchwork looks real nice.

  2. Accidents do happen. My friend Bob McIntyre's house (and layout) burned to the ground due to faulty wiring, not related to the railroad. I almost lost an eye due to a scale spike flying into my eyeball while hand laying track. We must always be ready for emergencies, and I did have a charged/checked fire extinguisher ready. Take time for safety! Notice in my photos that I use safety glasses religiously!


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