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New Member
We finally moved to a house with a basement, so now I can build that BIG layout (well, it will be bigger than any other layout I've built). We moved here to Northern Indiana from the West Coast. I've never had a basement before, and I am a little concerned with benchwork. I am using one of the Kalmbach layout books as a guide for my new layout and the author states over and over again about only using clear wood for benchwork.
I have used the cheaper knotty wood in the past; knowing that the layout that I was building was not going to be my final one, now in my later years of life I want to build a nice solid layout without the worry of twisted track in the years to come, caused by dampness in the basement. We did buy a de-humidifier though. But, since EVERYONE is on a budget, the cheaper wood would help pave the way for track and switches. But, I don't want to be sorry later. Which is it? Clear or Knot?
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Registered Member
Staff member
Well JJ I can tell you what I did, but I can't advise you on what wood to buy. For the legs on my layout I used the best parts of cull 2X4's ( economy grade ) and for the rest is 1X4 strapping, it doesn't get much cheaper. However I had the wood stored for over a year so it was quite dry when I used it (this is important) For the sub roadbed I used 3/4" plywood the remanants of concrete forms for highway bridge construction. ( Used a few saw blades there plus a lot of work with a grinder). I used screws with glue to secure the whole thing together so it's quite strong, I can stand on any part of the framework (200lbs) without a creak from it. The humidity in my basement during the summer months is quite high so from late spring till the fall I have a dehumidifier running. During the winter months its about normal humidity in the train room. When not in use I keep it at 55 to 60 deg temp.
Now if I were in your shoes what I would do is, buy my wood, let it dry, while purchasing all the other things I'd need to finish it. In drying wood I'd store it off the floor ( higher the better ) on the narrow dimension with air space between each of the boards.

Click the Thumbnail Cheers Willis


5th Generation Texian
mine is 100% 1x2 framing. the cheapest I could find. Where I needed it, I doubled them to 1x4 and they were still cheaper than buying 1x4, certainly cheaper than 2x4. As I remember, a fir 1x2x8' was like 89 cents.

On edge and braced properly a 1x4 is just as strong as a 2x4; in engineering terms the depth of a beam determines the strength (deflection), width of a beam contributes nothing except weight and $$. (width helps in torsion but that shouldn't be a problem on a model rr platform!)

Glue, clamp and screw all joints, reinforce corners with metal brackets if you wish. Save the 2x4 for the legs where they will be most useful.

I used multiple 1x2 for the legs but did quite a bit of engineering on it to make them very strong. 2x4 would probably be easier, but I HAD tons of 1x2, so i used them.

Glue and screw the decking especially. OSB is stronger and won't warp, but it's quite a bit heavier.
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Long Winded Old Fart
I'm a welder by trade, so, I made all my tables out of steel
2x2x1/8 angle(which is a lot cheaper than wood)& welded them together w/a mig(wire feed). I then covered all the tables w/1/2"-4ply cheap plywood, smooth one side. That same plywood here in town has doubled in price since last year.



I used the "L Girder" method for mine, 2 ea 1" x 4" glued and screwed together into an L shape. This makes for a very strong beam and also makes attaching the 1" x 4"'s I used to support the roadbed easy. It also allows you to vary the roadbed height, if desired.

No matter how you build it, I do have one suggestion. Test it by kneeling on it and/or crawling over it. Sooner or later you'll have a reason to try and get to something in the back corner, wiring, a derailed train, whatever. Proper benchwork should be able to support your full weight without sagging, bending or swaying. If you're building a permanent layout, go for one that is strong enough to hold up over time. Yes, it may cost a little more, but what's a bit more money in exchange for years of solid and reliable support to your track and structures? Ask anyone who's used un-supported homasote or thin plywood and had it warp, that can take all the fun out of it.


Lots of good stuff here--- but note:
--Yes, 1x2's butted on edge are cheaper than 1x4's... thy're also 1/2" smaller!
--3/4 ply remnants are usually good for such stuff... just avoid the real-low quality exterior grades... not smooth enough for me.
(I used 5/8 ply scraps from a roofer)
--Dry it out first... Better: let the mill or lumber yard dry it (kiln dried is Not a grade commonly stocked at the Depot or Lowes) and damp wood warps as it dries if not properly stacked and vented.
--Knots are not an impediment to quality construction unless the knot extends beyond 1/3 of the width of the board (it can go clear through, and can even drop out without severe consequence.) Wood with severe knots can be used in select locations with knots cut out... or it can be reinforced (2 boards side-by-side) to overcome any weakness.
--KenW's comments are generally accurate as far as strength in section - just picture an 'I' beam and use the long dimension vertically for strength... keep legs or columns more or less square. As he did, much of my benchwork is 1x2's -but I used them in combination with 1x3's to make L shapes - L for tabletop had 1x2's extend completeley across horizontal axis--- L for legs had 1x3's extend across the 1x2-- more or less forming a 2-1/2"x2-1/2" L section. Quite stable, when braced at top of legs.
-- "Ask anyone who's used un-supported homasote or thin plywood and had it warp, that can take all the fun out of it." That story holds for Sam Posey, too (author "Playing with Trains" reviewed in 12/2004 MR).
I 'tested' my benchwork by supporting my weight from below.... 'swinging on the monkey bars' style -- If you have access thru the scenery you don't need to crawl on it... but strength is Still Very useful!

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