I've finished the benchwork on my layout and wanted to share my thoughts on what I've learned. These are only my opinions and not the 10 Commandments from On High.
- I use poplar for 1X stock (1x2, 1x3, 1x4) and yellow pine for 2X stock. I don’t use white pine. Reasoning: poplar, in particular, and yellow pine to a lesser extent, appear to be denser than the soft white pine. This results in less splitting and better holding of screws.
- I don’t use 1X1’s for anything. I find it’s just too easy to split, even with poplar. Also, the wider board gives you more leeway when screwing the board to another board. I use at least a 1X2.
- I use Torx head screws only. I use mostly #6 and #8 size screws with #10 only on really heavy duty jobs. The way the Torx head driver fits so snugly into the screws is a huge win for me. I used to used drywall screws but the Phillips head is not as reliable and the thread thickness on the Torx head screws seem to hold better. This is the single biggest recommendation I can make.
- I purchased a Right Angle Drill Attachment. It snaps into your quick-release chuck and lets you snap a quick release bit into the business end so that the bit is at a right angle to the drill’s barrel. I try very hard to allow enough room to drill my holes and screws into the benchwork but sometimes I really need to drill in a tight space. Depending on the style you get, you can drill in some pretty tight places.
- I ALWAYS drill a pilot hole before drilling a screw into the benchwork; no exceptions. And almost without exception, I clamp the pieces together before drilling to insure nothing moves and I get a secure, tight screw-down. A quick way to do this is to get a 3-pack of pilot hole bits with quick disconnect ends. You insert the right size pilot hole drill bit, drill your hole and then swap out the bit for the Torx head screwholder. If you have 2 drills, that’s even faster.
- As a personal preference, I avoid having vertical legs on the “aisle” side of my layout. I was able to design my layout so that it always runs along a wall and comes out no more than 24”. I lagbolt 2X4’s to the wall and then use 45 degree 1X4 bracing to support the horizontal members that protrude out from the wall. These serve as joists and onto them I fasten other 1X4s at a 90 degree angle to serve as girders. Onto these I screw the risers and cleats.
- When positioning riser/cleats, pay special attention to where you’ll be placing your turnouts, especially if you’ll be adding switch machines later. You’ll want to make sure you have enough room to work underneath to mount the switch machine.
- When preparing to attach a riser/cleat to the underside of the roadbed, if the roadbed is on a grade, I first screw the cleat to the riser at a 90 degree angle. I clamp the riser to the girder such that the riser/cleat is touching the underside of the roadbed on one side. You will see that there is an angled slice of light shining through. Use a digital caliper to measure the thickest part of the slice. The value of the measurement is meaningless. Just lock your caliper to freeze the measurement. Unclamp the riser/cleat. Use your frozen measurement and mark on the correct end of the cleat that measurement. Now, draw a line from that mark to the other end of the cleat. You now have a close approximation of the “light slice” replicated on your end of your cleat. Use a disk sander or a belt sander to sand down the cleat to get just to the line you drew. Now, you should be able to position the riser/cleat on the girder and its slope will be close enough to the slope of the roadbed that you’ll be able to screw it in and things will match pretty darn close.
- I used 3rd PlanIt software to plan my layout. While the learning curve was a bit steep, I’m convinced I got a much smoother running layout than if I’d tried to devise it any other way. This was my third layout in 35 years and this one went much smoother than anything before. One thing that 3rd PlanIt can do is create cutting plans to have your roadbed cut out on a CNC router. The 3rd PlanIt developer actually can use those plans to cut out as many pieces as necessary which, when glued together with epoxy, forms your complete layout. I took that route and am very glad I did. The cutting plans takes into account elevation changes and it engraves the track plan on the roadbed pieces. Yes, it is more expensive than transferring the plans to plywood and cutting it out yourself but I’m convinced that the final result was MUCH closer to matching my original track plan than if I’d done it myself. The pieces are fabricated from 1/4" thick Baltic Birch. While this thickness is normally a bit thin, Baltic Birch has no voids and is unusually dense; it works great. However, in order to screw the roadbed to the 1X2 cleats, I found it necessary to use CA glue to attach a small piece of 1/4" plywood to the underside and use 1” screws to attach the cleat. You may find this technique handy if your roadbed is a bit thin and you need to screw something to its underside.