A model railway dining table – Part 5.

July 3rd, 2014

Today I got the table standing up! First I ditched the idea of using dowels in the legs when a test proved I couldn’t drill a hole straight enough in the end of the cross pieces and I’d never be able to get them to line up. I plugged the holes in the legs with short lengths of dowel glued in place. Just getting them in was tricky enough!

Next I made a board to use make sure the sides were square when I glued them in. The board was measured and made square then a corner cut out to clear the leg. I measured from the floor to the rails and used cardboard under the leg ends to ensure everything was level. Then I glued the first corner. I was able to line the sides up with the sides of the board and clamp them in place. The board also ensured the sides were both on the same plane.

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I epoxied one corner first and let that dry. While it did I sanded the horrible varnish off one of the side boards. The varnish was very plasticy. When I refinish the table I want something less modern as a final treatment.

With the first corner dry I then did the diagonally opposite corner. I figured that with those two corners done I could then glue the others and they’d have to be square. I was gluing the third corner then suddenly realised that I had to do BOTH the remaining corners at the same time. If I glued just one of them then the last corner would be stuck in place since it would be impossible to remove the leg with the sides rigid. So I had to quickly mix up some more glue and do the other corner too.


While that was drying I sanded the other long side board. Then after an hour I was able to flip it up the right way.


Hooray! Only something went wrong. You can just see in the picture but the left front most leg isn’t quite straight. I only noticed when I went to trim the side board and found the top of the leg was further out than the bottom so a square cut board wouldn’t slide down into the slots! The other sides all went in without too much trouble although I did find one board was a little fat so I planed the back of it slightly till it would slide down into place.

Luckily I was able to use a large rubber mallet and break the joint on the long side and reglue it. As I suspected you can’t remove it completely with three sides glued but I was able to prise it apart just enough to get more epoxy around and behind the joint. I then braced it while the glue dried. I have the side pieces just pushed into position now but not glued. That also helped make sure everything was straight.


After that dried I measured it all and found side to side it’s the same but across the long side one side is about 5mm longer than the other. It doesn’t really matter though as everything is made to fit and the top overhangs the table so can be made square. That’s actually more accurate than my Austin 7 and that’s going to be driven around race tracks at high speeds. Presumably the table won’t be so I think that’s good enough.

I cut a scrap piece of ply to show how the base will fit in.

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That will be screwed to the side rails. The rimu sides will be glued in place and I can also add triangular bracing  the top of the side rail and the rimu sides if I want to. The inner corners are still square but I might plane those down diagonally. For extra strength I could then fit steel straps across the corners drilled into the side rails and the leg but I don’t think that’s really needed (but I might do it anyway). Railway engineering this!

I still need to make the frame around the top of the table. That’s attached to this part and will increase the height and also provide the rectangular hole the same size as the railway. The sides of the railway will extend up to meet this frame. So all the internal side detail you see here will be hidden. That will provide the space the speed controller electronics can fit into. I think I will cut a hole in one of the short sides so I can fit a control panel. It would be nice to somehow make this hidden.

Finally there will be another frame that will be the top of the table. This will hold the glass and be hinged to the inner frame so it can be lifted up. I’ll need some kind of stay too to hold the lid open as it will be fairly heavy with all the glass.

I stacked some offcuts on top of the table to simulate the inner frame and the lid and then got one of the chairs to test the height.

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The cushion on the chair is to make up for the sagging seat! The table is taller than usual but you can comfortably rest your elbows on it. I still need to sand the whole thing and get a base board and find some more rimu for the top frame and real top. There is a demolition yard in New Lynn that has some old rimu floors board that might work.





A model railway dining table – Part 4.

July 2nd, 2014

Today I messed up. But then managed to fix it. I went out this morning to get the frame timber. It was bucketing down so the top was up on the car and I was worried about getting the timber to fit. I bought two 2.4m lengths then, after carefully consulting my drawings I had made, had them cut in half. That would have been fine if I hadn’t written down one of the measurements on the drawing incorrectly. Instead of 1230 mm I wrote 1023 mm. And of course 2.4m cut in half ends up being a little less than 1230 mm! So instead of getting more wood I decided to see if I could fix things. I cut the shorter ends and with one of the left over pieces I cut it in half on an angle. I then made matching angle cuts on one end of the long sides then glued the two bit together. This is called a scarf joint. IMG_2138_1 IMG_2140_1

Everything was well clamped down between side rails and a flat base to make sure everything stayed straight. The angles were pretty accurate so that wasn’t really a problem. Then, once the glue was dry, to be absolutely sure of the joint I drilled it and bunged a dowel through.


It’s not quite an invisible join but none of this is seen and it will have a base attached to it and a side so it will be strong enough. Next I started doing the square hole in the legs that these side rails fit into. Since all the legs are slightly different sizes I made a temporary jig so I could lie each leg down and measure from the bottom of the castor up to the top of the leg so I can make sure all the rails are at the same height above the floor.


I marked everything out carefully in pencil then drilled a 20mm hole and four 16mm holes in the corners of the square I needed to cut out. The middle hole goes right to the middle of the leg so I can dowel the side rails in place.

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Then I chiseled out the hole so that the side rails would fit into them. They slide in about 20mm. It’s interesting how the wood in each leg feels different to cut with the chisel. Some cut well and easily, others seem to splinter a bit. There is even a difference in each leg. Differences in the wood I guess. You don’t get that with steel!

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Next I carefully sawed and chiseled out the slot that the rimu side pieces will slide into. I cut away most of the slot by hand this way then tidied up the slots with the router. The router bit is very efficient at turning wood into dust so removing as much as possible first minimises this.

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These slots are 10mm deep. So when side rails are in place the rimu side panels can be slid down into this slot and glued against the side rail. The rebates on the ends will stop the side rails from warping and moving and it looks much neater. You can see below with my test piece the same thickness as the sides how it fits in beside the main rails. These rails sit down 6mm below the main rails so that when the bottom is attached, which will be 5mm ply, it will sit nicely just above the side rails.

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I laid everything out on the floor and measured it all and it’s reasonably square even just loosely assembled. And the railway will fit. For a horrible moment I thought it wouldn’t but it will.

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So next I need to drill and dowel the ends of the side rails. That’ll be tricky to get everything to line up but I can make the dowels slightly smaller then everything is going to be glued with epoxy so that will fill any gaps. I think though with the side rails set into place and the rimu sides also cut in and there being a bottom under the whole table as well as a frame on top then it should be strong enough and very rigid. I just have to work out some way to ensure it’s all square when I glue it. I might make some kind of frame or jig I can clamp it to and just glue one corner at a time. I need to make sure the rails are all level so I may need small amounts of packing between the  tops of the legs and the ground to level it all up. Because I measured from the bottom of the legs I can’t reply on the tops all being the same height! Upside down Austin 7 chassis also make a fine timber rack!

A model railway dining table – Part 3.

July 1st, 2014

Today I got ripped and shaved my legs.

I went to see Joss and we cut the table top into strips on his saw. That’s the ripping part. The top was split but we were able to cut past most of that. He also showed my how to use a spokeshave and let me borrow that so I could shave my legs. We also came up with a good plan on how to do the table frame.

The legs needed shaving because the bottom of them was quite fat and it looked a little funny having a small diameter cup castor and a large diameter wooden leg sitting on top of them.

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The spokeshave is a little cutting tool, with a blade like a plane, that you use to shave down pieces of wood.

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You use it two handed (I needed one hand for the camera above) and push it away from you taking thin slices off the timber. You can sort of curve it around the leg as you shave to get nice, smooth cuts. I was able to hold the leg in the vice and shave the diameter of the leg down until it matched the castor. The spokeshave leaves a nice finish but I made it totally smooth with a bit of 120 grit paper.


Again that was done two handed just rubbing the paper around the leg by alternately pulling the ends up and down in a vigorous manner.


Side by side you can see how much better the shaved down legs will look.

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The top was ripped into boards the right height for the new table sides. I’ll need to trim them down length wise. One thing we found is they are quite warped.


So instead of using them as the actual side frames we have another plan. I am going to make the frame part from square, straight pine. These will be notched into the legs and glued in place with a dowel. The side pieces will then just attach to those.

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I will route a slot in the legs for the facing pieces to slide down into so that at the ends everything looks neat and tidy. It will also help stop the side boards from warping. These will sit slightly lower down than the framing piece too so that I can screw a flat, thin base to the bottom of the table. The base will sit against the main rails and be flush with the bottom of the sides. A sliding panel in the base will give access to the underside of the railway.

Because the legs are square it means the railway has to fit in between the opposite diagonals of the legs. That means there is a gap between the railway and the sides. Part is taken up by the frame rails of course but there should be enough room there to put the electronics.

There will be a top frame that goes over the legs and sides. This will mask the inside of the table up to the edges of the railway and also provide a nice flat surface for the main top. That will be a wooden frame with a glass insert of course hinged along one edge so it can lift up.

Should all be much clearer when I build it and take photos!

A model railway dining table – Part 2.

June 25th, 2014

The table is no long useable as a table mainly due to Joss coming around and smashing it up! He did have some frustrations cause by an A7 saloon to work out so that was ok. We needed to take the table apart so I can repair it then reassemble it. It came apart easily. A few hard knocks got it apart.

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It was held together with glue, a few nails and these metal potato chip shaped staple things. I tried to knock the first out and chipped off some wood so for the rest I would hold the metal bit in the vice then give the leg a stout whack sideways to remove the staple.

The table has been remade before it seems. You can see where it’s been doweled several times already. The wood was pretty battered up. A couple of large chunks broke off as well. So, following what it says in the Joyce woodworking book Joss lent me I have been drilling out and gluing in new dowels to repair the wood.

I went for a walk yesterday and invested in a new set of chisels (I have badly misused my old ones for scraping things and cutting stuff I shouldn’t). I also bought a 20mm spade bit and some wooden dowel. When I got home I set about drilling and chopping out the bad bits and gluing in new bits. I drilled out the old dowels (which had been drilled and re-dowelled before) and went to insert the new ones then I realised the dowel I had was 22mm. I checked every broom and mop and rake I have in case a handle was the right diameter to use but they too are all 22mm. So today I went and got a piece of dowel the correct size.

Short lengths of this were sanded on the disc sander to be a nice, tight fit as they were a little large and I didn’t want to force them home in case the split the timer of the legs. I tapped them home with a wooden mallet with lots of PVA glue. Last night I’d chiseled out some of the rough bits and cut and glued in new wood cut from the old table ends. The glue was dry today so I started planing some of that smooth. Tomorrow when the dowel glue is dry I will trim the ends down flush and plane and sand everything flat.

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At some point we’ll take the split top down the road so we can chop it up into the new sides and ends on the bench saw. I better get reading the book to get to the actual furniture making parts!

I also need to go to Jaycar to get the parts I need to finish the controller. I made the circuit ages ago. So long ago I can’t remember where I got it from! It’s just a simple PWM controller. Nothing fancy but it definitely works well and the train runs reliably at very low speeds. I will make the main unit in a box that will be attached to the base of the table. There will be a hand controller on a wire to control the train speed and direction. All made to look old of course.



A model railway dining table – Part 1.

June 17th, 2014

Now this is a project a lot of my friends know about, mainly since it’s been sitting in my living room since 2010, but it’s not one I have written about yet. Or, if I have, I’ve forgotten!

The idea was to make a model railway that lives inside a dining table under a glass top. I started on the railway half way through 2010 but am only now starting on the table part. It’s been so long I can’t remember all the details so this is a quick explanation of what’s happened up till now. It started when I bought a LNER locomotive.


The railway is N gauge and based on a British prototype of course. I started by building a base board from some MDF and straight supports.


I drew out a track plan that is basically a folded figure 8 loop. Since the railway will be inside the table its not one that gets operated as such. Basically the train will just go round and round in circles. Normally when you build a model railway you try to hide the fact the train isn’t really going anywhere. That’s a little tricky in this case so I didn’t worry about it.

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Since the train loops back over itself (like that ever happens in real life!) I had to raise the track with some more MDF supported on blocks. The lower part will eventually be a tunnel. I then laid down the track on top of a cork base and glued it in place. I used glue to avoid nail heads in the sleepers. The track was weighted down while the glue dried.

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I am really skipping over loads of details here. I  made an electronic controller for the train (only I can’t remember where online I got the circuit from now). It only needs to be simple as the train is just set up to run around the track at a constant speed.  Once the track was laid down I painted the baseboard around the track and the track and sleepers themselves. The sleepers are black plastic so painting them makes them look more realistic and the paint also makes the rails look more real. Real rails are rusty except for the top where the train wheels run.

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Next I added ballast. That took bloody ages. Months and months in fact with me doing a little now and then. In the mean time I was buying buildings (Hornby Lyddle End which don’t seem to be made anymore) and little cars and people and things.

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The idea is the layout will have lots of subtle details. The TARDIS for example and the little people I will turn into Steed and Mrs Peel. I also tried making people using little bits of wire as an armature fattened out with payers of painted on white glue then painted. I want little people doing subtle but dodgy things that only the observant will notice.

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That one is little pole dancer Rachel. Every model railway needs a tiny pole dancer. I actually had two TARDISes (TARDIi?) but I ended up turning one into cufflinks. Those eventually got given to a real Doctor Who, Peter Davison!

Anyway, the ballast has to be laid by hand and carefully glued down between the sleepers. To do this I would sprinkle the rail with the ballast from a teaspoon. Then I would use a fine paint brush to arrange the grains of ballast between the rails and sleepers. Next I would give it all a spray with some meths in a spray bottle. This is to ‘wet’ the ballast and reduce the surface tension for the next step with is adding watered down white glue literally drop by drop. The glue drops seeps into the ballast. I used a contact lens solution bottle to hold the glue. You then use a fine brush again to position any grains of ballast that might have shifted. Later I used a straight piece of printed circuit board as a straight edge to tidy up the edges of the ballast.

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As I say this took months. Next I started adding the land. I am using strips of cardboard hot glued in place to build up the contours. Later this is covered in rough tissue paper that’s wetted with glue. This forms a nice, firm but light shell for the scenery to sit on.

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I added MDF side boards to define the contours at the edges of the layout. You can see in the picture above that I was using a flat piece of MDF for the area above the lower track. The middle section of this would lift out to provide access to the inside of the tunnel. I was never really happy with that idea but the solution (obvious solution!) never occurred to me until I recently decided to make the effort to finish the table off. Instead of lifting some scenery from above all I had to do was cut access holes from beneath. Since the thing is sitting in a  table you can get under it! I have no idea why it took me four years to realise this!

Oh, in all this time the layout has been sitting on top of my old table. Basically rendering that table unusable. Each year, at a fairly annual BBQ I do I’d always have to shift the railway into the bedroom to sit out of the way on the bed so I could use the table as an actual table! Since I have been home more lately (my temporary retirement) I decided it would be nice to learn how to cook more. And if I cook more it would be nice to have an actual dining table to eat on. That’s what inspired me to finally start looking at finishing the thing.

So first I had to find a table. I have a very particular look in mind. Basically the kind of table and chairs you’d expect to find in a 30s British railway waiting room. Perhaps one of those old railway station hotels there used to be. So a wooden table, turned legs and on castors so it can be moved about.

The table I found on TradeMe for a whole $10.50! Mike helped me go collect it with his trailer. I then found four suitable chairs on TradeMe for $80. Next I bought some antique brass castors which were $65.


The table is Rimu I think and the top is split. That is good though as I am not using the top. Because the table isn’t quite big enough to drop the railway into (it needs to be longer and deeper) the top will be cut up to make new longer and deeper side rails. The castors are needed because I am making the table deeper. I need the depth for the layout of course. The castors raise the table about 2 inches meaning I can drop the side rails by the same amount. That gives me the depth I need. The chairs will need repadding as the seats are worn out so I can make them a little fatter to give a little more height in the chairs. Today I unscrewed the table top and fitted the castors.

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The railway will need to fit in between the corners of the ends of the square leg posts. So the whole table will actually get about 250mm longer and 50mm or so wider. To fit the cup castors I made up some wooden dowels. These fit into holes in the bottom of the legs. There were already short holes there, I just needed to drill them a little deeper.  To cut the taper on the dowel to fit the cups I clamped a guide to my disc sanding table and simply sanded the dowels to the right shape.

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The table is now sitting on the castors. Nothing is actually attached or glued yet but the weight is enough to hold it all firmly in place for now. I want to get the table resized and get the base on it so I can get the railway inside it. I can finish the actual railway modelling part later. Eventually I will make a hinged frame top that will hold the glass that forms the top of the table.

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The tape shows where the new base of the table will be.  So here is where the project is as of right now. The layout is off to one side so I can use the end of the table as a table!









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