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Build a universal maintenance cradle

For less than $10 you’ll have the perfect fixture for repairing your trains
With a modest investment in time you can make a permanent cradle useful for all aspects of train upkeep.
Stan Trzoniec
Too many of us rely on an old blanket or something like it when we need to place a treasured locomotive or railcar on our workbench for repair or maintenance. But you have no stability or protection for your train. At the very least, parts can easily fall off and get lost on the floor.

Let me share with you an easy and inexpensive solution to this common problem. I constructed a universal maintenance cradle using a couple of pieces of “craft” wood (finished wood from an artist supply store), an office caddy, some screws, glue, a new towel, and some wood from the “lumber yard” in my garage to make a sturdy cradle that can hold something as large and heavy as an O gauge model of a Union Pacific Big Boy. I built my cradle for O equipment; S gauge modelers should reduce the dimensions of mine only slightly.
Photo 1
Stan Trzoniec
Start with the base

Since some O gauge die-cast metal locomotives check in at 15 pounds and 24 inches in length, I started with a piece of ¾-inch plywood cut to 16 inches square for my base. After sanding the edges, I took the two pieces of the ¼ x 4 x 24-inch pine boards and partially assembled them one inside the other, with the longer to be used as a back brace to support my work in the cradle. I secured both pieces with a few ¾-inch brads to aid as a pattern for my uprights.

Do not glue these pieces together, as you’ll need the flexibility to fill out the V notches in the uprights later for a tight fit (Photo 1).
Photo 2
Stan Trzoniec
Supports come next
Gathering up some pine and cutting it down to 8 inches in width, I laid out the V supports, marking the pattern and then cutting it out. I made sure the top opening on the V supports measured out to at least 6 inches across with the bottom of the V about 2 inches from the bottom of the support (Photo 2). After cutting and sanding both pieces, I placed them aside for the final assembly.

To help brace those supports, I cut another piece of 1 x 6-inch pine 9 inches in length to be placed between the uprights. Laying it down on the plywood base, I carefully measured all around so it was square on the base.
Photo 3
Stan Trzoniec
If you like, you can off-center this piece with the supports to obtain more working area in the front for tools and supplies (Photo 3). If you’re happy with all this, position by hand the supports on each side of this center brace before securing it permanently, checking for appearance as well as your work style or space.
Photo 4
Stan Trzoniec
When I was satisfied with the supports, I marked that piece with a pencil with a light touch on the base. Then I centered, glued, and secured the center support before attaching the V blocks on each side. While that was drying, I cut two pieces of 1 x 1-inch pine stock about 14 inches in length. I attached them underneath with carpenter’s glue about an inch from each end (Photo 4).
Photo 5
Stan Trzoniec
The V blocks not only help support the cradle but also kept the fixture from sliding around on a smooth surface. Later, you can add rubber bumpers to keep the cradle in one spot on your bench. When placing all the screws, you may want to countersink the heads for a neat appearance on the center brace and V supports (Photo 5).
Photo 6
Stan Trzoniec
Securing side supports
Placing the V supports was easy because all I had to do was match both so I installed them the same way on the center brace. I applied a small amount of glue and tightened everything down.

I did one side first and then secured the other side. I held the other side of the support in my hand and laid in the platform, making sure it fit perfectly into the upright brace.

You may have to move it forward or backward for a good center fit. Then I marked it on the base, glued, and secured it to the center brace.

Do not tighten the screws with a power drill too much, because you can split the wood. I drilled pilot holes first, drove the screw in to where it was almost home, and finished with a screwdriver to hand tighten both sides to a snug fit. Afterward, I let everything dry overnight before finishing (Photo 6).
Photo 7
Stan Trzoniec
Final steps
I finished by installing the V cradle into the V blocks. Because I had only lightly nailed the cradle together, I had a little wiggle room in the assembly to compensate for any off-center space within the blocks. I glued this together, pressing downward as I attached four screws (Photo 7).
Photo 8
Stan Trzoniec
Before finishing with my preference of an exterior coating, I put a towel inside to see how everything fit (Photo 8). Clips held it in place while I worked. You could also use a piece of corrugated rubber stair riser below and in front of the cradle. I was surprised by how easy it was to work on trains.

The V design enabled me to lay an engine on its side or its back or with the wheels down as when adding details or decals. For heavy engines, a double layer of a new towel kept their fragile parts from bending or breaking.


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