CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Starting the L-girder benchwork

I have been struggling with how to support my layout sections. I originally wanted shelf brackets but am not going to drill holes in my basement wall at this time. Then I thought about cheap plastic banquet tables, which are sturdy and would work well. But, the downside is that they are too short in height and the cost and effort to make them taller isn't worth it. Plus, under the layout access could be difficult to do wiring or anything, and any connections between them like clamps would need to overhang the table ends to work. I looked into plastic shelving units to support them and while the added storage would be awesome I would need a lot of shelves, and they would all need to be shimmed accordingly for my uneven floor.

I guess I could just mount legs on the bottom of my layout sections but I really want the ability to flip them over or on their side to work on them, and legs will make that difficult even if I have removable legs. Plus, I would need to build a lot of legs. Perhaps I am overthinking this and legs might just work out fine. But, I want to move forward and so I came to...

L-Girder benchwork!
I originally threw it out as old-fashioned and unworkable. Designed by Linn Westcott (the diagram at right is taken from his benchwork book), one of its strengths is that it doesn't require precise lumber cuts. That means no chop saw is required. While I overlooked this benchwork system originally because it isn't easy to make strong sections required for LDEs, here I can build a simple L-girder framework to go below my LDEs. And, I won't need a million legs to support it and I can make them as tall as I want.

So, with this idea fresh in my head I ran off to the lumber store to purchase some supplies to make a fixture to help build the leg assemblies square and identical. I also went looking for some 2" x 2" lumber for the legs but instead what I found was a pile of warped, twisted, wood. So, I instead I bought 16 pieces of 1" x 2" pine boards. They were very straight, all were about the same length (4'), and as a bonus I wouldn't need to cut them to size as I wanted the layout L-girders to be about 4' off the ground. I glued and screw them back to back and now have very straight 2x2 lumber for my legs. They will cost more than a regular 2x2 stock but in total each one will cost me less than $5. I only need 12 legs, so it was a good deal. If I had a table saw and could rip down 2x4 lumber, it would be a different story.

If you look at my drawing at the right, you can spot to omissions pretty quickly. First, the L-girders look pretty empty and not really suitable to hold the layout sections. But, I will secure some 1x2" lumber laid flat along the way, bridging the two girders. They are yellow in the diagram, and I omitted them from most of the benchwork for clarity. Second, I don't know how I am going to handle the section where I plan to enter/exit the interior of the layout.

Then, I pre-drilled seven or eight holes along one of the 2x2 pieces, spread glue on the back, put it on top of another piece and carefully lined up one end. Some #6 drywall screws, 1+1/8" long, went into the soft pine perfectly and things were set. I had to check the alignment of the legs before setting each screw but these pieces will be perfect for what I need once the glue sets. I don't know if predrilling was necessary but I did the top piece. I used a #6 countersink drill bit that I bought on Ebay for a buck or so. It took a month to arrive from China but it worked great. Switching bits between that and the screw driver bit was very annoying though.

Next, I made my L-girders. The "back" side (the side opposite the one facing the stairway where I plan to enter) will have a pair of 12' long L-girders. The two sides will each have a pair of 10' L-girders attached, making a "C" shape. The front, or entrance, is unknown yet. I might build a shorter L-girder to fit between the two sides, or I might try and make a lift section combined with a smaller piece. I will cross that bridge later.

Anyway, finding 10' and 12' long 1x3 lumber was impossible at Home Depot and Lowes. Even 1x4, slightly oversize for my needs but extra strong, wasn't available. But, an 84 Lumber about 20 minutes away had 1x4s in lengths up to 14', so a quick Saturday morning trip found two 12' and four 10' long pieces sticking out the back of my Toyota Corolla. They only have "select" grade which was knot and warp free but at a slightly more expensive price than HD/L. To me, it was worth it.

Then, for the top of the L-girder I went to Lowes and picked out a bunch of 8' long 1x2 stock that was straight and knot free. I will need to splice them to get the proper length, but at least the 1x4s aren't spliced. A lot of pre-drilling and gluing later (I bought a gallon of wood glue for the whole project, and it should last me years), I had my L-girders and legs ready for the next step.

A new member to our household is "Clover," our recently adopted 5 year old golden retriever. She was serving as my apprentice as I worked on the benchwork. Some of the sawdust landed on her, making a mess of sorts. And, she has a fondness of chewing wood scraps I left lying around on the floor. I can't do that again!

Total cost so far? While I don't really want to think about costs for a layout, nor do I want to keep a running tally (nor publish it where my wife can easily see it!), so far I have spent about $45 on the two sheets of plywood; $48 for the twenty four 1x2 lumber for the legs; $70 for the six 1x4 boards for the web of the l-girders; and $35 for the nine 1x2 boards for the flanges of the l-girders. Additionally, have $22 for the box of #6 drywall screws, $7 for the tee-nuts for the bottoms of the legs, and $18 for the gallon of wood glue. Another $14 was used for the plywood for the leg fixture. So, about $260 for what I have so far. And, it is high quality lumber and not that twisted stuff. The lumber has come from Lowes, Home Depot, and 84 Lumber, which makes me an equal opportunity shopper.

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