Boards for layouts

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by thomas_fan, Oct 19, 2007.

  1. thomas_fan

    thomas_fan New Member

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    Hi all,
    Just wondering on what you guys think is the best wood to use a as base for layouts? A mate of mind has offered me some free MDF which isabout 10 or 12mm. Is this thick enough? I know MDF isn't the strongest material to use but would it be suitable with a good frame fited underneath?
    Cheers Kate
  2. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    Hmmm... 10 to 12 mm. That is a touch less than 1/2" I believe. With a good frame underneath, you should be okay, assuming your layout will be in a climate controlled location with minimal moisture. The MDF can do bad things if it gets wet or damp.

    If the layout will be in a controlled environment, this is what I would do... I would build a frame out of 1" x 2" material (possibly ripped from 3/4" plywood) with crossbracing about every 2 feet under the MDF. On top of the MDF, I would glue sheets of 2" insulation foam board on top. Roadbed and track can be glued to the foam. And then you can carve out the foam for ditches, creeks, ponds, low areas. The foam really does make a great base for scenery.
  3. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

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    Kate: is MDF the stuff that is mostly sawdust held together by glue? I would avoid most forms of wood that have glue in them (including plywood) as any sort of direct support for the track -- pushing spikes or nails into them with enough force to penetrate can cause major damage to track.

    If you need a wood like this, it's best (almost necessary) to have a softer material in between. The trick is to get one that you can put pins in and which will hold them. You want the sort of material used for bulletin boards -- e.g. cork, or Homasote (North America only, I fear) or ??? This is cut just wider than the track.
    I don't know how you plan to do the layout. The 3 main ways are flat-top table, cookie-cutter, or open grid.
    Flat-top is just putting up a sheet of plywood and laying everything on top.
    Cookie cutter involves cutting out the plywood where the track is to go and raising or lowering it as needed. Scenery areas are built on the remaining parts.
    Open grid is building a framework and putting in supports and sub-roadbed where the track will go and hanging scenery in between.
    I suspect you may want to start with flat-top. You want something around the strength of 1/2" plywood, so the 10 to 12mm MDF may work if you can get pins in it or put something over it. I like to support it every 12" (305mm) or so.
  4. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

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    I'm not a fan of MDF for anything: it'll warp or sag under its own weight, doesn't accept nails or screws well, and doesn't stand up well to moisture. It's also useless as firewood. :rolleyes: In short, it's not a very good material on which to build a layout unless, as Gary suggests, you cover it with foam, and if you're going to use foam, just skip the MDF: put your 1"x2" supports on 16" centres, and if you need to carve into it for scenic effects, simply add a second layer.
    Personally, for a flat, tabletop layout, I'd use 5/8" spruce sheathing plywood, on a 1"x2" frame 16" o/c. The spruce is soft enough to accept track nails pushed in with pliers, is much stronger and lighter than MDF, can be easily sawed, glued, screwed, nailed and stapled to. The surface is not as smooth as MDF or firply, but looks fine once painted and with some ground cover applied. Most of the flat areas on my layout are done this way. If you need areas to be lower than the tracks, you can cut away sections with a jigsaw (cookie-cutter method) and raised sections can be done using either extruded foam sheets or more plywood on risers.

    Wayne
  5. brakie

    brakie Active Member

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    Kate,You could use such as a layout sub base with bracing..You will need to use 1/2" insulating foam or Homasote for your sub roadbed.

    However,a 4x8 sheet of 1/2" plywood on a table frame with 18" centers between the cross bracing would be a better choice for a layout board with either 1/2" insulating foam or Homasote for your sub roadbed.
  6. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

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    I would stay away from wood completely, except for the bracing benchwork. Top that wood frame with sheets of insulating foam (not styrofoam). I have been VERY happy that I adopted this path forward. Foam is great to work with.
  7. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    I don't know, I kind of like the 1/4" birch plywood under my foam. If gives me a place to attach turn-out throw mechanisms, wiring, relays, electromagnets, terminal strips.

    I used 1" x 2" ripped from plywood for the frame, 1/4" birch on that, and 2" blue foam on top. It is fairly light, and works beautifully, and I wouldn't do it any other way. Here's some examples.

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  8. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

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    Wow -- that looks nice and clean. Good starting point!

    And I can see how the plywood is handy for mounting things. It's just not a lot of use in supporting the foam, I had thought.
  9. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    You are probably correct on that. The 2" foam is probably stronger than the 1/4" plywood! One of the best things about model railroading is there are 20 ways to accomplish any project. And it is fun to hang out on The Gauge to see all the different solutions.
  10. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    I guess it is obvious that I really like the foam.

    Hey Thomas_Fan, here is why I like it so much and recommend it. It is just so easy to make all the ditches, creeks, and low areas, simply by cutting and scooping out the foam, instead of cutting out plywood.

    Santa Fe Jack, I guess another reason I put the plywood underneath is because I knew I was going to be cutting some drainages in that are almost 2" deep, as thick as the foam.

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  11. jeffrey-wimberl

    jeffrey-wimberl Active Member

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    Amen to that! I tried MDF once and it was a complete disaster. The humidity down here in central Louisiana just killed it. It was falling apart within a year. Since then I only use plywood as a base.
  12. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    Hey Jeffery, we have similar problems over here in Southeast Texas. That's why I put one coat of white primer and two coats of gray paint on all the exposed wood of my shelves.
  13. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

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    You're right about that, Gary: I'd forgotten about foam being not too good for attaching things to. :rolleyes: (Pardon my dangling participle) :eek::p My main point was that the foam alone would be preferable to MDF. Foam on 1/4" plywood is better. If I ever get around to constructing the second level of my layout, it'll be 1/4" plywood on 1"x2" framing, although without the foam. ;):-D

    Wayne
  14. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

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    Hey Gary...That's A1 workmanship...!! What do you do for a living..??
    No spaghetti bowls of wiring in that layout..!! Great job..!! :thumb:
  15. thomas_fan

    thomas_fan New Member

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    Hi guys,
    Thanks for all the tips. I think I've been swayed to the foam base. It seems the easiest method for adding layers to create hills, etc and ditches, ponds. Just though I would suss out the MDF as I had a free source.
    However I also like being able to hide away all the wiring underneath. I'm thinking then about a plywood base... also because I may be moving in the next year and that may be more stable to survive a move?
    Next step is defining size. At the moment I have space in the shed but then I will have to edit my first idea for layout as I've included mountains at the back with a tunnel for trains... In the space I'm looking at it would not be possible to access the back of the layout.
    Will keep you all posted as I decide on size and make a frame and base to fit...
    Thanks all,
    Kate
  16. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    An interesting piece of trivia here:

    "styrofoam" is a trademark name of the Dow chemical corporation. It is an insulating material that is BLUE in color. The pink stuff is made by someone else and isn't "styrofoam". The white bead stuff? Again, not "styrofoam". Go to the DOW website, they are quite insistent upon using their trademarked name correctly: What is STYROFOAM?

    That just goes to show how pervasive product names have become in our culture. Xerox and kleenex immediately come to mind. If you want to have a little fun, bet someone a beer they cant go to the store and come back with a styrofoam cup. Give them till the end of the day, and require that the package must use the word "styrofoam".

    Kevin
  17. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

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    Kate, with whatever material you choose, if you make the layout up of 2 foot x 4 foot sections connected together to form your benchwork, it will be easier to move it in the future. You can put in any sort of thin hardshell base for scenery to bridge the sections. You could even use masking tape with scenery materials glued on top of it. Make your rail joints across the sections and the whole thing becomes easy to take apart and move. Then you just put it together in your new location, and do some scenery touch up. If your new location does not allow for the same benchwork configuration, you will have some smaller sections that can be rearrainged to fit. You might haveto take up track and relay it, but all isn't lost as it would be if the layout that fits your current space doesn't fit a future space.
  18. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    Sorry for not answering sooner. I'm an electrician by trade. Thanks for the kind compliments!
  19. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

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    Kate:
    I just checked and all the replies here are from us North Americans. We may be using brand names and even product types that aren't available in Australia. (is home insulation much of an issue there?) Even in the same country, the plastic insulation foam seems to be somewhere between unavailable and not stocked in the southern US.
  20. thomas_fan

    thomas_fan New Member

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    Yeah, I'm currently donig some research into some of the materials you guys mentioned... I've never heard of Homasote for example but that might just be me! I'm looking into avaliability for materials that you guys suggested and where exactly to get it.
    It seems there aren't any hobby shops in my area that sell train stuff. So it's either buying through internet or making a trip over to the other side of the city where there is appently a very good hobby shop specialising in model trains. But til then I'm just searching for insulating foam, etc from building places and such.