November 2001
Before we began actual construction we spent a little time surfing the net for ideas on constructing a table for our layout.  We found several examples of table construction at trains.com.  Although we didn't follow any of the designs exactly, we did get some good ideas on construction methods and materials.   The main criteria for our table was that it be easy to transport (we had to get it from my basement to Josh's basement), that it be sturdy (8 year olds can get rowdy at times), and that it be fairly inexpensive.  The design we came up with satisfies all those requirements.

For portability we designed the legs so they are easily removed and we used materials that are relatively light weight.  The table itself didn't need to be more than a single section because it was small to begin with - only 3' x 6' - and would easily fit in the bed of my pickup. 

The frame for the tabletop and the legs are all #2 white pine.  The pine is structurally strong, inexpensive, lightweight, and readily available at most building supplies.  For the top, we choose to use 1/4" hardboard.  It's cheaper than plywood, won't delaminate like plywood, and is a little more rigid than plywood.  And, it was available in pre-cut 2' x 4' sheets at our local building supply (Home Depot).   The 2' x 4' sheets were much easier to get back to the shop and cut to size than would have been a full 4' x 8' sheet.  Here is the materials list:

7 each -- 1" x 4" x 6' #2 yellow pine
3 each -- 2" x 2" x 6' #2 yellow pine
3 each -- 1/4" x 2' x 4' hardboard

Once we got the materials back to the workshop, it only took about 2 hours to build the table.  It wasn't completely assembled in that amount of time because we had to wait for some glue joints to dry, but it was essentially finished.  

Here's how we constructed the table:

Frame -- To make the ends of the frame, we  cut one of the 1" x 4" boards into two pieces, each 35 1/4" long.  For the sides of the frame, we cut two 1" x 4" boards to exactly 6' in length.  Even though, they  were sold as 6', they were actually a little longer.  We then used dry wall screws to attach the end pieces to the inside of the side pieces.  This made a frame that was exactly 3' x 6' to the outside edges of the frame.  We also applied yellow carpenter's glue before screwing the pieces together.

After the glue dried we added stringers to support the  hardboard top.  To make the stringers, we cut the three 2" x 2" boards into 5 pieces, each 34 1/2" long.  Because we choose to not use just one piece of hardboard for the top, we had to make sure we located the stringers to support the edges of the three hardboard pieces that would form the top.  To be sure we placed the stringers in the proper location we placed one of the 2' x 4' hardboard pieces on the top of the frame, lined it up with one end of the frame, then located a stringer at the opposite end of the hardboard piece so it was supported by half the width of the stringer.  We repeated this to locate the stringer at the other end of the frame.  With these two stringers located, we located the remaining 3 stringers in the middle of these three openings to provide support in the middle of the hardwood pieces.  We secured the stringers with drywall screws and yellow carpenter's glue.  We used pipe clamps to hold the sides together while we attached the stringers.

After the glue was dry on the stringers, we put the hardboard pieces on the top.  The  hardboard pieces were already the correct width, but we had to cut each piece to 36" in length.  Fortunately, I have a table saw and a panel-cutting jig, so this was a simple process.  

After all the hardboard pieces were cut to length, we attached them to the top with 16 gauge, 1" brads and yellow carpen- ter's glue.  The pneumatic brad nailer was a real time saver and Josh really likes to use the nailer.   As long as an adult provides close supervision, I think a brad nailer is perfectly safe for an 8 year old to use.  The only problem we've ever had is agreeing when we have put in enough brads (he tends to get carried away, on occasion).  With the top finished, we started on the legs.

Legs -- We cut the remaining four 1" x 4" boards into eight pieces, each 35" long.  This length for the legs would make the table top about 36" when assembled.  This is a little shorter than the recom- mended height for most layouts, but ours was sized for the needs of a 8 year old.   I might have to squat down to put a derailed car back on the track, but it was just about the right height for Josh.  

The L-shaped legs were constructed by butting the edges of two of the 35" pieces together, using dry wall screws and yellow carp- enter's glue.  We used a couple of scrape pieces to hold the two leg pieces in place while they were screwed together.

 This L-shaped design would allow us to attach each leg to both the side and end pieces of the frame.  We hoped this design would eliminate the need for cross- braces.  

 

 

  After the glue dried, we rounded the corners of the legs with a 1/2" round-  over bit mounted in the router table.  This dressed up the butt joint and got rid on the sharp edges.  Now, it was time to attach the legs to the frame and see if our design would give us the stability we wanted.

Assembly -- To attach the legs to the frame, we placed the frame upside down on the workbench.  The only decision we had to make in locating the legs was whether to locate the wide side of the leg on the sides or the ends.  Because the two boards used to make the leg where the same width (4") and because we used a butt joint rather than a miter joint to construct the L- shaped legs, one side of the leg was narrower than the other.  We decided to place the wide side against the sides of the frame, thinking the extra width would provide more stability across the length of the table.  In reality, I don't know if it really matters but for appearance they should all be oriented the same way.  

After we decided how to orient the legs, we clamped each leg in place while we drilled holes for the bolts.  Before clamping we placed a 1/2" spacer between the top of the leg and the bottom of the hardboard top.  This would help keep the leg from pushing up on the hardboard top should the bolts become loose over time.   We spaced the holes for the bolts as far apart as possible to provide the maximum area of support.  We didn't drill all the holes in a leg at the same time.  To make certain all the holes would line up, we would drill one hole, insert a bolt and tighten it down with a nut before drilling the next hole.  After all the bolts were in and tightened, we turned the table over and tested it for stability.  I'm happy to say our design seemed to provide more than enough stability for this layout.  

A note on attaching the bolts -- because pine is a soft wood, it is necessary to use a wide washer under the bolt head and the nut to prevent them from digging into the wood and to help prevent them from becoming loose as the wood expands and contracts.   

Finish -- We kind of liked the natural look of the pine, so we decided not to stain the wood.  Besides, we are thinking we will put a skirt around the base at some point, so you would never really see the table anyway.  We did put on a couple of coats of a water-based polyurethane just to seal and protect the wood. 

With the table finished, all we have to do now is wait for Santa Clause.

 
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