About the MFR

The Metaline Falls Railroad (MFR) is a proto-freelanced model railroad based on the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad located in northern Idaho and north eastern Washington State. For the very latest on the layout, please visit my YouTube channel and follow along with my Instagram account.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How did you spend your vacation? (layout construction)

I took a nice little vacation for myself last week and spent it building the vast majority of the benchwork for my little model railroad.  It took longer than expected, but I am exceedingly pleased with the results.

I based the benchwork off of The Beer Line which was a project railroad seen in Model Railroader Magazine.  The article itself can give you a good idea of how it was assembled, I am not a great carpenter myself.  In fact, the only time I ever pull out the 'ol circular saw is when I am building a new model railroad table.  However, I have compiled a list of Do's and Don'ts that I've been able to gather from building four different layouts over the years.

  • Do take your time when selecting lumber.  Check each board for warping and avoid excessive knotting when possible.
  • Purchase a nice cordless drill and bar clamps.  Both will greatly speed up and ease the construction process.
  • Seriously, get some bar clamps.  I built three previous layouts without them and the results were not pretty.
  • Do run a bead of wood glue along the edges of your boards where they join. (along with using screws)  The bond created helps keep the wood together where screws may fail.
  • Speaking of screws, Avoid EVERYTHING except drywall screws. I've tried pretty much everything else including those awful wood screws that will strip every single time you try to remove them for any reason.  Drywall screws go in cleanly and can be removed just as easily without stripping the heads.
  • Do drill a small pilot hole in your wood before securing the screw in place.  Without this step, you are highly likely to split your wood. which ruins the strength of the joint.
  • Safety, safety, safety! Make sure to always wear safety glasses when operating power tools.  A cheap pair will only run you a couple of bucks at the hardware store and that is certainly much cheaper than an emergency trip to the hospital.
  • Dont rush. This is the foundation that your entire miniature world will be built on. Get it wrong here and you could have problems down the line.
  • Don't under brace your legs.  Be sure that you've added sufficient cross-bracing to ensure that your table legs won't start to wobble or lean with time.
  • Don't forget that old saying: "Measure Twice, Cut once!"  
  • Don't forget to have fun!
One interesting feature of my particular benchwork is that it was built in two separate 2X5 foot sections that were joined together using large bolts and washers.  I did this knowing that I would probably be moving one day and I would have hated to take a saw to my beautiful layout just to try and fit it up the stairs. 

With that in mind, I worked extra diligently to ensure that the tables would line up perfectly and connect together well. Assembling the sections carefully went a long way to that end and fitting the legs with adjustable feet allowed me to make minor adjustments to ensure a good connection as well as maintain a level surface across the length of the table.

Below you can see how I used 3/4 inch bolts with large washers to attach the two tables together.

My Daughter insisted on helping me out.  Her job was to hand me screws and clamps.

It's starting to look like something!

Plenty of room below for all my junk. The benchwork stands 48" tall which, helps bring the layout up to a good viewing height. It's interesting to note that I used very thin (perhaps 1/8 inch thick) plywood for the table top.  This is a new method for me, but I am trying to keep the benchwork as light as possible.  The track and scenery will eventually rest on a 2" thick piece of foam core, so this thin layer of plywood is mostly meant for stability and as a mounting surface for under-the-table switch machines.

Just laying out some track to see how it's shaping up!


  1. Looking good Matt although what I have discovered in the many years I have done track planning is always start with the buildings and what you intend to service. Im a grain buff I grew up with 2 miles of industry ADM Purina Mills so that is always the starting point for me. then the rest I shove into it

  2. Very well done! I agree with the drywall screws, they really are the way to go.

  3. Thanks for your comments gang! Jeff, I take a similar approach as you do, except with me I start with a car. In this case, a 2-bay covered hopper. I love the looks of those cars best.

    From there it's just a matter of choosing industries and locations that intrest me most. I've got a blog post planned about that process in the near future, so look for that.