The Fast Track to Layout Construction

Reprinted from


Benchwork Can Be Fun
Review by: Barry Lewis

For most of us, building benchwork is a necessary evil, something that has to be done before we get to the real fun of building a layout. Sometimes the benchwork is so daunting we never get to the layout part; at the other end, moving to a new house often means a layout is destroyed in the process of getting the benchwork out of the old house. As Fred Doyle noted in his article on custom layouts Run 208, "You could never figure out how to get my layout apart. What would happen to it if I moved?"

I've been testing a benchwork product that grew our of one man's frustration, as many good ideas do. Tim Foley is a professional cabinetmaker and a model railroader. Some years ago, he was forced to throw his entire layout in a dumpster in order to sell his house. Out of that frustration grew a benchwork system that solves several problems for a large layout.
- It goes together quickly and easily: In one long day, you can assemble the benchwork for a large layout.
- It requires no carpentry skills and few tools. Tim's Mianne Benchwork system is prefabricated and goes together with furniture-style cam lock fasteners. The only tools needed are Phillips screwdrivers, pliers, a level, and perhaps a small hammer. What you miss out on is the fun of looking for straight pieces of lumber at your local Home Depot and the opportunity to draw blood while using a table saw.
- It can easily be expanded: Additional benchwork can be added to any side of an existing layout.
-It comes apart and can be reused: If you follow Tim's suggestion and build your layout on plywood sheets on top of the benchwork, an existing layout can be disassembled by simply taking the plywood tops off the benchwork. Then the benchwork itself can be taken apart with a screwdriver and reassembled in a new location.

Materials and Parts

There are two basic elements to the MIanne system: legs and girders. The 1-3/4" square legs are made of kiln-dried poplar, a furniture-grade hardwood, and have an octagonal top that allows girders to be attached at a 90 or 45-degree angles. Legs are normally 40" tall but can be supplied at any height the purchaser desires. Legs also have a leveling feet to adjust for uneven floors. Girders are constructed of hardwood sides and ends with an interior web of MDF, a molded wood product. The sides and ends are glued to the web, and the ends are also stapled to it. The end result is a framework that is surprisingly lightweight but - when a plywood top is applied - rigid and strong enough to support the weight of an average adult working on the layout. The fact is that the heavy lumber used by many home layout buildings is massive overkill for most model railroads. The choice of materials in the Mianne (pronounced "me-ah-nee" and names after Tim's three children) system is designed to provide lightweight and rigidity as well as seasonal stability across the range of temperatures found in many basements. Mianne benchwork will experience less shrinkage and expansion that will benchwork built from cheap-grades of softwood because the MIanne system is engineered so all pieces experience "seasonal movement" at the same rate. In layman's terms, you're less likely to have a track or scenery shift if your layout goes through temperature extremes.
Legs and girders are joined to each other with furniture-syle quick-lock cam fasteners. Using a Phillips screwdriver, the purchaser screws a cam dowel into a predrilled hole in the leg. Two chrome stabilizers are inserted into the pre-drilled holes above and below the dowel to give the joint stability.



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