Lighting for the Layout

Because there is nothing like doing things backwards, over the past two weekends I have undertaken a major layout project, installing layout lighting (I started to talk about this project here) which of course has meant working over the layout and partially finished scenery, because why would I do anything in an easy way?

Full disclosure, I actually hadn’t undertaken efforts to install layout lighting in the main room yet, as frankly, until recently, I hadn’t figured out how I was going to do so as I noted in the July post linked above. I had done a little bit of work in the closet for CPR Staging as it was easy to do. In the main room, the lighting challenges are much greater. I looked at full replacements of the room lighting with a big track light system where I could point lights around the room, but the more I looked at it, the more a “layout only” lighting system was going to be the right one. With this, for operating sessions as you will see when we get to the finished product, the layout will be the star of the room, as it should be!

Bare LED strips hung approximately at height just to see if they would be bright enough.

Once I was certain that the LED strips generally did what I wanted from the test hanging of the loose strips, it was on to finalize the design and build the lightweight frame to support them. Frankly I’ve probably overbuilt this thing, but I don’t want it falling off the wall when I’m working on it, and its plenty strong if I decide I need to add more lighting in the future. The valance extends 14″ off the wall, except for the peninsula, so the lights are basically aimed down along the front of the benchwork which is also 14″ wide.

Preparing the support arms for the lighting valance an installing them.

For my valance, I am using metal shelf brackets, technically upside down screwed into the studs in the wall above the backdrop, with wood extension arms to reach the width of the layout below. Along the end, I installed a 1×3 white pine board which ties the arms together, and provides the location for mounting the LED strip lights along with stabilizing everything.

This works well for the main part of the layout, but the peninsula needs something different. It extends a total of 54″ from the wall, the last 12″ or so are under the skylight well in the ceiling. I really really did not want to drill into the skylight well or the ceiling if I could at all avoid it, plastering holes in the walls and repainting them whenever the layout inevitably comes down is one thing, but I really don’t want to have to patch and paint the ceiling if it can be avoided! With that in mind, I decided on having the peninsula lighting extend not quite as far out as the benchwork, at 48″ and use a metal rope stay to add support and spread the load out. I don’t know for sure if this is needed as the frame isn’t particularly heavy, but it gives me a lot of piece of mind, and frankly, the rigging and turnbuckles look cools, even if they are almost invisible when the room light is off and the layout lighting on!

Because I like doodling what I am doing, my working my way though the wire stay options for the peninsula hanger (I went with the left), plus pictures of installing the hanger and the piece installed.

Once all the woodwork was up and connected, I installed LED Light Strips. I used 6000K daylight strips, 300LED/16.4′ Strip. There are lots of sources out there. I bought from Amazon as the pricing and deliver timing was right for me. I can always replace them or add more if needed. I bought a power supply that puts out enough wattage to light the whole layout with up to 3 full length LED strips. I used a bit over two strips to light the main layout, and connected the lights in the closet to the same supply. I also discovered about half way through that there is a colour tone difference between the leftover strips from our kitchen I used in the closet and my new lights, so I had to try and gently remove the ones stuck to the ceiling as there was a decided purple appearance of the closet compared to the main layout. I haven’t bothered yet to change the strip over the staging, but over the corner of the layout was really bothering me. The tone difference is less obvious in the constricted staging than it was at the closet door transition.

Comparison of room light on vs room light off and LEDs on once the LED Strips are in, but before the valance is added to control the light and direct it to the layout.

For the valance, I am using the remaining 0.060″ black styrene that I had from the fascia on the benchwork. Buying styrene by 4’x8′ sheets is a cost effective way to do this. I’m going to be buying another 4’x8′ sheet of 0.040″ white styrene for building structure cores in the near future, it does take up a lot of space until I get the sheets cut down, but it is so much more cost effective if you are building a layout to buy it by the sheet. I’ll have used full sheets for the backdrop, fascia, valance and most of the building cores by the time I’m done!

The “finished” project, or at least roughly finished without some corner trim (which I need to find) and a coat of paint.

I am super pleased, as I now have decent lighting across the entire layout. It makes a huge difference for looking at Scenery and weathering and colours, as now I know what things will look like. Over the next bit I’ll make some fit and finish adjustments, add some corner trimming to hold everything together, and probably paint the exterior to improve the cleanliness of the styrene, but I am super happy with how this has turned out and the impact it makes on the layout!

4 thoughts on “Lighting for the Layout

  1. That looks fantastic! Your post is very timely as I am rebuilding my layout and currently thinking about how to light it properly.

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