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Build a basic train table

Two simple ways to build a 4x8-foot table for your toy trains
Jay Smith
Giving your trains a permanent home starts with building a train table. There are two popular construction types: butt-jointed and L-girder. On these pages we’ll show you how to use these techniques to build a simple 4 x 8-foot train table.

Modelers have been using these methods for a long time. In fact, the following information and diagrams are borrowed from a 20-year-old Kalmbach publication, Small Railroads You Can Build.

Both designs found in the PDF (see link at bottom of page) are 4 x 8 feet, which is small by S or O gauge standards. But it’s also the traditional size for a starter train table for the good reason that it’s the standard size of a sheet of plywood. You can use these techniques to build larger railroads as well.

These tabletops can be assembled with only a few tools – saw, drill, hammer, measuring tape or yardstick, and screwdriver – and allow you to complete the carpentry stage quickly.

First considerations
Before you dive into construction, you should consider the height of your table. A height of 40 to 48 inches – several inches higher than the average table or desk – is usually considered right. Trains look more impressive running closer to eye level, but train tables above 50 inches are difficult to work on without standing on some kind of platform.

Next, you need to decide on a method of construction. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

Butt-jointed framework is best if the train table needs to be portable. The frame and top can remain separate from the legs, and the layout can be stored by leaning it against a wall where it will take up very little space. The disadvantage of the butt-jointed system is that the cross members (labeled B on the illustration above) must be accurately cut to the same length.

The L-girder design brings the advantage of greater strength, but is thicker than the butt-jointed framework. L-girder framework, which is very sturdy with or without the plywood top, is the framework design most often chosen for extensive layouts.

Off to the lumberyard
With height and type of construction determined, you’re ready to visit your local home improvement center or lumberyard. Common-grade pine is adequate for framework, but you may find the cheapest grades to be badly knotted, warped, or twisted. As your lumber needs are fairly modest, premium grade pine may be a better choice. If you do not have a saw, most lumber dealers will be willing to cut pieces to length for a small fee.

Similar considerations apply to plywood. Utility-grade ½-inch-thick plywood plugged and sanded on one side is fine for a tabletop that will be covered by scenery. If you’re going for a painted surface, you may need to look at the better grades of plywood.

Downloadable File(s)


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