What's the best substrate for a new layout?


Mark Nutter

New Member
I'm starting a new layout after being away from the hobby for years. There is soooo much new information and new/better materials that I'm a bit overwhelmed. I always built my display directly on the plywood, but I love the idea of using foam as a substrate. I don't like tacking track to plywood as I always did in the past. It's difficult to nail into. Can someone suggest a foam substrate for a base? Home Depot carries a pink foam insulating panel up to 2" thick. Is this ok to use or does it have to be a white foam board? I have a 4'x8' plywood platform, but will expand to include another one in an 'L' shape. I would like to know what type and thickness of foam to use. Also, will the track attach directly to the foam with tacks or does it need a track bed for attachment? Are there different tacks for this application. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
 
First, welcome back to the hobby and a warm welcome to our forum.
Home Depot carries a pink foam insulating panel up to 2" thick. Is this ok to use or does it have to be a white foam board?
First a disclaimer. I do not use foam because I am modeling simple flatlands scenery. However I do know that white foam is frowned on because of it's characteristics. Pink or blue insulating foam works best. Most folks that I know and those on this forum prefer to attach the foam to the plywood base using latex caulk. Track nails will not stay put in foam. Generally they also use the latex caulk to both attach roadbed to foam and track to cork roadbed. I don't know whether track nails will hold in vinyl roadbed. There are other caulks that will work, but I have no experience with any of them.
2" foam is ideal especially if you want culverts and hills. You can attach the track directly to the foam with caulk if desired.
If you're going to use two 4' x 8' pieces of plywood for your "L" shaped layout, make sure that you can access it from all sides. Butting it against a wall is asking for a lot of trouble reaching in.
 
Hi Mark, welcome back to the adventure! Lots too absorb! o_O
There are several options for layout construction. You've already had some dealings with plywood. What do you intend on modeling? Willie has the flatland scenery, and if you do a little bit of looking around you'll find RR pikes with large mountain scenery.
Indeed, stay away from the white foam as a sub-road bed material.
I used the 2" pink foam, (blue is the same,) on open grid bench work.
IMG_2076.JPG

IMG_2103.JPG

I went with 2" inch foam to give me better depth in carving scenery details, and the 2" foam is too rigid to sag on the bench work, hence no plywood. But, no plywood made it very challenging to mount hardware off any kind underneath. I've since come up with a different track plan, so this layout is gone. I don't need the 2" thickness that I thought I needed, and I want a way to mount hardware, so when I rebuild I'm going with 1/8th plywood on the bench work with 1 inch foam on top of the plywood.. That will work better for me.......
 
First, welcome back to the hobby and a warm welcome to our forum.

First a disclaimer. I do not use foam because I am modeling simple flatlands scenery. However I do know that white foam is frowned on because of it's characteristics. Pink or blue insulating foam works best. Most folks that I know and those on this forum prefer to attach the foam to the plywood base using latex caulk. Track nails will not stay put in foam. Generally they also use the latex caulk to both attach roadbed to foam and track to cork roadbed. I don't know whether track nails will hold in vinyl roadbed. There are other caulks that will work, but I have no experience with any of them.
2" foam is ideal especially if you want culverts and hills. You can attach the track directly to the foam with caulk if desired.
If you're going to use two 4' x 8' pieces of plywood for your "L" shaped layout, make sure that you can access it from all sides. Butting it against a wall is asking for a lot of trouble reaching in.
Thanks Willie! This is a lot of help. I hope to catch a show or two this year where I can get some in-person conversation. I have a lot of questions.
 
Hi Mark, welcome back to the adventure! Lots too absorb! o_O
There are several options for layout construction. You've already had some dealings with plywood. What do you intend on modeling? Willie has the flatland scenery, and if you do a little bit of looking around you'll find RR pikes with large mountain scenery.
Indeed, stay away from the white foam as a sub-road bed material.
I used the 2" pink foam, (blue is the same,) on open grid bench work.
View attachment 126372
View attachment 126376
I went with 2" inch foam to give me better depth in carving scenery details, and the 2" foam is too rigid to sag on the bench work, hence no plywood. But, no plywood made it very challenging to mount hardware off any kind underneath. I've since come up with a different track plan, so this layout is gone. I don't need the 2" thickness that I thought I needed, and I want a way to mount hardware, so when I rebuild I'm going with 1/8th plywood on the bench work with 1 inch foam on top of the plywood.. That will work better for me.......
Thanks Jerry. How do you secure your track? This is my biggest issue currently as I have to decide on what track to use and a possible roadbed if necessary. I have some old track and some EZ Track as well as some Power Lock track (which I don't care for). I am transitioning from a holiday season modeler to a more permanent modeler, so I want to be fully prepared before committing to my first big layout.
 
I also use open frame work with the 2” foam glued. My layout has sections from 2015 and no separation or sound issues.
Have fun and start, don’t over think this part. What ever YOU feel comfortable with, go with that.

TomO
 
Hi Mark -

Welcome aboard!

I have a small N-scale layout, but I have seen HO layouts that use a similar construction.

The layout is constructed on top of a simple open frame.

table_frame1.jpg


For the sub-roadbed, I start with a layer of thin plywood on the bottom followed by a layer of 3/4-inch blue foam on top of the plywood. Cork roadbed and track are glued to the foam. Everything is held together by cheap latex caulk:

subroadbed_cross_section2.png


Although the plywood is probably not necessary for structural purposes, it provides a solid place to mount switch machines, circuit boards, wiring blocks, and the like.

I use blocks of pink foam as risers to provide grades. You can see them in the photo of the naked (unscenicked) layout below.

track_laid_2_700.png


I also used foam for landforms. I stacked slabs of foam and glued them together with caulk. Then I carved and shaped the foam with simple tools. Finally, I painted the carved foam and added details.

rocks_blocks_800.jpg


rocks_carved_800.jpg



Rock_Wall_Scenicked_1_800.png


In summary, foam has worked well for me!

- Jeff
 

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Mark, in my case, I have Shinohara track thru-out. It comes with spike holes next to the rail. In a one meter section (approx. 40",) there are twelve sets of spike holes, each set 11 ties apart. I spiked my track down using every other set of holes, and I think if I would have done every third set would have be plenty. I did not use any kind of adhesive to attach track to cork road bed. I never got to ballasting the track before I scrapped this plan, but I figured the ballasting process would also help hold the track in place.
 
What The Best Way might be, could be the subject of endless arguments! My suggestion would be that whatever you decide to use, consider making the layout itself sectional so it is easily removed from wherever you place it, when it is time to get rid of it; or, move to another location. Jdetray's entire layout (above) would be easily removeable and what he used for his "Simple Open Frame" could also be a section; or, module for a larger layout.
 
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what he used for his "Simple Open Frame" could also be a section; or, module for larger layout.
That was exactly what I had in mind, though I may never get around to it! Here's one possible expansion that I've considered, with the existing layout in the lower right corner.

Apologies for getting a bit off-topic, but I think good layout planning should keep expansion in mind.

- Jeff
Future_Track_Plan_1.png
 
Thanks JD. I guess I can do the caulk. I just need to commit to a long-term layout plan. My ideas are all over the place. I'm even thinking of installing an ellipse on one end of the layout and enclosing it inside a hill with an exit and re-entry in the middle levels. Maybe that's too much to start with.
 



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