Use of Drywall for layout surface?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by CowDung, May 15, 2007.

  1. CowDung

    CowDung New Member

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    Does anyone know of a reason to not use drywall for the surface of a layout? I have heard a lot about foam, homosote and plywood, but haven't heard of anyone using sheets of drywall. I have a temporary layout built of some scrap laying around the shop, and it seems to work rather well--but I thought I better ask around before I commit to using it on my 'permanent' layout...

    It comes in 4'x12' sheets and it seems to be fairly cheap. It is pretty easy to cut to size/shape. It's paintable and you don't have to worry about using a glue that will dissolve it. With a bit of plaster, the seams can also be covered quite easily. I figure that it can be laid over a wooden grid framework to give it stiffness. The thinner sheets (less than 1/2 inch) aren't all that heavy either.

    Can anyone provide any insight as to why I should avoid using it? The only concern that I can think of is how it might react should it get wet or absorb moisture...
  2. Bones

    Bones Member

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    Weight is the biggest factor.

    If you're only using a single sheet as the base layer on your layout, it works fine. But if you're going to use the material to layer, and build up your scenery... You'll run into substantial weight problems pretty quickly.

    Remember, you're not just dealing with the weight of locos, rolling stock, track, and the baseboard. You also have all kinds of scenery materials, structures, and details to contribute to the total weight. It adds up a lot faster than most people think.
  3. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    The moisture problem is what I initially thought of - but if you seal it with latex paint first, it should be okay. There are better things to use, but if you have drywall laying around, it should work okay for a layout with relatively flat scenery. It isn't very strong, so it would not work very well for mountainous scenery where one would use a "cookie cutter" type benchwork.

    Kevin
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

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    Strength (lack of), followed closely by weight (excess of) are the primary reasons not to use it as benchwork material.

    Other reasons listed above are good too - not compatible with waterbased scenery methods (regardless of how much painting/priming is done); far too much weight if layered to create scenery.

    You might consider it for backdrops (lots of walls have backdrops painted on them...! ;)), or even for dividers. It is not a material that is really intended to be a horizontal, weight-bearing structure.

    There are other related discussions in the "Similar Threads" box, at the bottom of the page...

    Oh, and Welcome to The Gauge!

    Andrew
  5. CowDung

    CowDung New Member

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    thanks for the input.

    I wasn't planning to use the drywall for forming mountain structures at all--a single, flat 3/8" sheet over a wooden grid was what I was thinking. I'm looking at a basic 5'x12' semi-rectangle (tapers to 4' on the other end).

    I'm probably not going to be building any big mountains--just some green rolling hills. Probably a paper mache type of thing.
  6. jetrock

    jetrock Member

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    You'll have to pierce the drywall to run power lines or switch machines, which can be entry points for moisture. It's also pretty brittle. Remember, part of scenery isn't the stuff that goes over the level of the track, but the part that goes under it: creeks, rivers, culverts.
  7. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    I'm voting "bad idea" for this one for the reasons mentioned. At first, I thought "hmmm, this may have merit" but now with more thought, I switched sides.

    On a related note, has anyone used or considered using metal studs as framing members instead of wood? They would be dimensionally stable, wouldn't have to worry about warping and moisture absorption and such.
  8. Johnr0836

    Johnr0836 New Member

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    I think that the dry wall would sag over time, even with supports on 16 inch centers.
  9. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

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    A friend of mine has constructed his layout with steel studs and 2" extruded foam. Pictures -> Andy's Train Room

    Andrew
  10. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

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    Weight, lack of strength, Not good at being moved around. Definitely won't support a person climbing around on it.(ask my wife how I know). She fell through the ceiling once when she stepped on the drywall in the attic. All the above are my personal opinion. You've heard the old joke "everybody has one", opinion that is.

    It seems that one of the MR magazines did an article last year about using metal supports for a layout.
  11. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    That is sweet! I wish I would have built my shelves like that.
  12. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

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    For a tabletop layout, 3/8" plywood, on 1"x4" pine framing, 16" oc will be plenty strong, and not much more expensive than drywall. It will be strong enough to stand on, lighter than drywall, much more dimensionally stable, and will hold track spikes, screws for mounting switch machines, both above and below the table, or manually-operated ground throws. And don't waste money on fancy grades of plywood: spruce roof sheathing is probably the cheapest, and is soft enough to drive track spikes into using needlenose pliers. Make sure that you get veneer core, though, as that's where the strength is.

    Wayne
  13. Renovo PPR

    Renovo PPR Just a Farmer

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    If I understand it correctly you plan to use it on top of plywood or a similar base. Well I can tell you that in fact it is a nice choice in fact I have seen one that did use this for the top in lieu of foam board.

    In my case I used Armstrong ceiling tiles. The only thing you have to do is to seal either item with paint. I gave my ceiling tile two coats. I find that either material gives you more support than foam and is in fact easy to work with. I built my mountains and even a lake and neither broke through the paint barrier. I built my mountains out of paper and plaster cloth so there was more than enough water to go around. Trust me I had water everywhere and not one problem with soaked ceiling tile.

    The only thing you will get from either is more dust when you do drill through them. However that is what a shop vac is for. Again if there is a concern of a liquid entering you can seal these areas too.

    What I have found is that both materials hand sound problems far better than the foam. In addition I find both material are stronger than the foam and stand up to abuse pretty well. And just in case they offer a better fireproof security to the layout. Though from most reports I have read the foam doesn’t do all that bad just so you use the correct stuff. The thing I really like is that both of these will support more weight than foam.

    So don’t worry about thinking out of the box on this one. I rate it extremely good for soundproofing if not the best, strength and when sealed water, grease or any other such thing.
  14. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

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    Gary: on Thursady night I'm going to operate on a layout that has been at least partially built with metal studs for framework.
    He also uses them as "cassettes" for his fiddle yard: at one point 3 loops run along a wall and there are 3 8-foot studs with track in them. If he's very careful (!) he can run a train in, lift the stud off and store it and replace it with one with another train in it.
    Photos at 11. :mrgreen:
  15. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

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    Looking forward to the pics. And have fun operating! We'll also be wanting a report on that!
  16. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

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    I agree with everyone here that drywall is not a good material for use as a base for your layout. The first time you drill or nail through the drywall for a switch machine or wiring you are going to take out a chunk of plaster from the back of the panel. Drywall is brittle and unforgiving. There are other lighter materials that will make your building experience more enjoyable. Pink or blue foam insulation board over a 1/4' plywood base would be so much easier to work with. I use homasote over plywood for quiet running. The homasote is a heavier material and needs to be sealed to prevent swelling from humidity here in Virginia but it is good for either the base or sub-road bed. Finding it might be the hardest part of your search. If I were starting over I would go the pink foam route.

    Just my 2 cents worth

    Have fun :-D