Benchwork (or at least most of it) in a Day

Yesterday my friends Trevor Marshall, Ryan Mendell and Doug Currie came to visit, and more importantly, to help me build the first chunk of the benchwork for my layout.  My initial goal was to build a traverser and get benchwork out of the closet, with Trevor, Ryan and Doug’s help, we wound up building 26′ of benchwork including both traversers, or basically, all of it other than the peninsula.  Leaving the peninsula makes sense for a lot of reasons, I need it to be portable, or at least swing away to free up my workbench, and we need to replace the shutter on the skylight, which means having the middle of the room free for workers to remove the existing and install the new one.

Trevor was kind enough to offer to bring his portable setup of Festool’s to my townhouse, so we had a work table, Mitre Saw and Track Saw going to make building benchwork easy (Thanks to Trevor for picture of his loaded truck of tools!).

For background, my layout room is a 3rd floor bedroom with no windows, but a nice big skylight.  The closet is a walk-in, that can be accessed from both ends, and by removing a door, I can let the layout extend into the closet to gain some extra feet of room.

The last pre-layout shots showing the room, and the closet, and where there was a closet door before Friday!

We got started early afternoon, around 2pm, and got to work on trimming the plywood from Home Depot to get the various sizes of pieces we needed, and started with building the two traversers.  I spent what to me felt like a lot of time thinking through the design, and while we found ways to improve the design/construction as we went, the finished products definitely look like what I drew (you can tell the plans lead to the finished product), and more importantly, they seem to slide and move as intended.  I’ll need to take car when installing the foam layer and laying track to make sure it all aligns properly, but as a first installation, so far so good!!

Trevor making cuts on the Mitre Saw, the track saw set up for trimming, and Doug, Ryan and myself assembling a traverser (Thanks to Trevor for pictures again!)

The building session started mid-week with me being antsy to actually build something to start the layout, and discussing tool options to buy with Trevor, but the more we talked, the more it became even more apparent to me, that in our townhouse, I neither have space for storing a lot of tools, or more projects to do after doing the layout construction.  Buying tools would take a lot of money out of the layout construction budget.  Then Trevor offered to load up his tools and come to me to do the building.  We invited Ryan and Doug as well to have four sets of hands, and Ryan, like Trevor has far more construction experience than I do, so it provided another good set of eyes to consider what we were doing and make it work.

Installing the traversers, in the closet on the left, and in the main room on the right (thanks to Trevor again for right photo)

I don’t know what good fortune a few years back caused me to stumble across Trevor’s blog on his Port Rowan in S Scale layout, but thanks to stumbling across it, making a comment, and starting a friendship online (see, good things do happen on the Internet!!), I have made some wonderful friends and as a result, had people ready and willing to come and help me build benchwork.  With the way the day went, we didn’t have time to go out for dinner, but when next they are out, I’ll either be grilling on the BBQ or taking them for Fish and Chips at the fantastic local chippy around the corner (there’s something I didn’t expect to find moving from High Park to Mid-Etobicoke in Toronto!!).  Once upon a time not that many years ago, I didn’t get out and meet other modellers, go to events like RPM’s, or share my work.  I was too shy to step out and meet other modellers for fear of them judging my work. Turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of, all the judgement that always scared me isn’t there, and instead, I found people willing to take a day out of their lives to help me build. I look forward to opportunities to do the same when Ryan and Doug start new layouts in the near future, and Trevor eventually does once Port Rowan is complete and he’s ready for a new challenge.

But, back to the day, turns out the old axiom of many hands make light work was true.  While it took a couple of hours to build and sort out the traversers, everything else when together really fast and smooth.  I think, I was within an inch on the length of the room from my measurements, but being able to cut boards and adjust meant that everything more or less went together as I drew it up on the plans (what a terrifying thought!!).  It’s very simple construction outside the traversers.  A 1/2″ plywood base layer is mounted to shelf brackets, which are mounted into the wooden studs of the walls.  A 1″x3″ fascia piece will be undermounted along the front edge to provide some additional torsional stability, and somewhere to mount switch pulls to.  As the Liberty Village area has no topography to speak of, there is no need for changes of grade or anything else.  A 1/2″ layer of foam will be put on top of the plywood, mostly to give me something easy to carve for a bit of topography and to be easier to cut into to install buildings, trees, and other things into than having to drill into the plywood.  I’ll install cork roadbed right on the foam for the track.  I considered options like Homosote, but its hard to get and a bit messy, and for my first layout build, I’m trying to strike a balance of doing new things and building skills, but also making decisions that will hopefully keep my life simple in the longer run as I move forward with finishing the benchwork and moving on to tracklaying and wiring.

After a good 6 hours, it looks like a layout is starting to appear!!

It was still hot enough outside that even on one of the cooler days of the summer, we were all reaching the point of being gassed.  We had uncovered where I can’t count the right number of shelf brackets, or successfully buy the right types of screws on a late afternoon Home Depot run, which is the universally accepted sign that it is time to down tools before you make an expensive and stupid mistake.  I have many months of work ahead in finishing the benchwork and starting to lay track and scenery, no point in undoing a successful day with a stupid mistake late on when we were all tired and hungry!!

Next up, some finishing cleanup construction tasks on the benchwork, installing fascia to help hold it together and level out a few places, then backdrop and foam over the plywood.  I remain energized by this whole process, and for the first time since September 2015 when I tore my old free-lanced shelf layout in my parent’s basement down, I have a layout in progress (and for the first time since 2005 it’s actually in the house I live in!!!).

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