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Modular LEGO Train Tables

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Original Design by: Ben Fleskes
http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/1857/benspage.htm

Web Graphics by: David K. Z. Harris
http://BayLUG.org/zonker/ZLegos.html
Revised:
99.7.9 dkzh

The original idea for these tables came from plans by Ben Fleskes, one of the founding members of the Pacific Northwest LEGO Train Club (PNLTC). I'm developing these instructions with his permission.


The new BayLTC table design ideas


Design Notes:

The modules are sized to work with LEGO bricks and building plates. A small module is 48 times the size of a 2x2 brick, and will hold nine 32x32-stud base plates (in a 3x3 matrix), and is as wide as six lengths of 9-volt train track. A full circle of 9-volt train track will fit on one small module.

The modules are designed to be light, with detachable legs, and the size allows for easy transport by a single person. The plywood can be sanded, or painted as desired. (The Pacific Northwest LEGO Train Club has a web page that details the recipes for paint colors that closely resemble the colors of green, grey, and beige baseplates.)

The Pacific Northwest LEGO Train Club also has a couple of files that talk about designing these tables (written by the designer) in Windows meta-file format (zipped, 16.8 kb), or as a Portable Document File (PDF, 21 kb).

There are holes along the sides of the modules, and they are slightly larger than the bolts that join the sections, which allows for small errors in the production process, or possible misalignments.

The tables end up just about 36" tall. Part of the design was to leave enough room underneath for folks to crawl around underneath the tables, but also to have the tables low enough for children to see what's happening on the tables without needing to stand on a chair.

You can see a picture of the Ben's train table. This is two long modules, and two short modules, forming a table surface 60.5" x 90.75".

I also have a picture of the my pieces before assembly (parts for one large module, one small module, and nine legs with bracing, as well as my Train Display Shelf.) I've also got pictures of my assembled large module.

Configurations:

There are two basic sizes, 'large' and 'small'. A large module is 30-1/4" x 60-1/2" (76.8 cm x 153.6 cm). A small module is 30-1/4" x 30-1/4 " (76.8 cm x 76.8 cm). The modules are designed so that the can be easily connected to each other. This allows for many possible configurations, based on the number of modules that you build A few examples are shown below.

Recommended Tools

Building one of these tables is more than a simple project. Unless you are a professional or hobbyist woodworker, you may want to enlist the help of a friend who is. The tools listed below will help make the tasks easier. You may also want to enlist a friend to help you pass big pieces of wood over a table saw.

  • A large carpenters square (more than 12" per side, 24" x 16" is preferred)
  • A table saw (the table should have at least 18" reach on the cutting guide)
    • If you don't have a table saw, you can use a radial saw, carefully!
  • A miter saw (A power miter saw will make short work of frame and leg cutting!)
  • An electric or pneumatic "brad gun" (something to help drive the hundreds of nails needed!)
  • A drill, with 5/16" drill bit
  • Long carpenters clamps (to help build the frames)
  • Smaller carpenter clamps, for joining frames and tabletops together
  • There are even spacial clamps for making 90-degree corners!
  • A router, with flush and round-over bits (to help clean up edges)
    • If you don't have a router, a carpenters plane could be used
  • A small finish sander, with lots of 100 and 220 grit paper (to help clean up surfaces)

Putting the pieces together

The tables have holes drilled along the side framing, at specific intervals. This allows a table modules to be joined to the legs, and/or to another table module using bolts and nuts.

Assembly is completed by simply bolting modules and legs together with 1/4" bolts.

(I prefer wing nuts and washers, for quick assembly. -Ben- )

The images at the right of this page illustrate the methods for joining table tops (top image) and attaching legs (bottom image).

The legs are mounted into the corners of a module. Legs can be placed as required to support the module(s). A general guide for the number of legs to build is:

"2 times the number of modules + 2"
(for three modules, you need (2 x 3) + 2 = 8 legs).

Bolting Table to Legs

Bolting Tables to Tables

 

Some Suggestions for Leg Placement

Material Requirements

3/8" plywood (Table surface, leg braces).

  • one 4' x 8' sheet will yield the tops for one large module and one small module, (or three small modules) and the bracing material for nine legs.

1" x 2" (Table frames, leg bracing).

  • five 8'-lengths of 1" x 2" framing material for one large module.
  • three 8'-lengths of 1" x 2" framing material for one large module.
  • (You would need eight pieces if you are building one small and one large module.)

2" x 2" (Leg material).

  • five 6'- or 8'- piece of stock, to make the nine legs

Wood Glue. You may also want to buy some "acid brushes", or something else to spread the glue, instead of your fingers.

Finishing Nails ("brads"). Lots of them!

  • 2.5" long, for joining the bottom frame pieces
  • 1-3/4" long for everything else. (We used a few hundred to build one large module and one small module, and nine legs.)

Nuts and Bolts, 3/16" or 1/4" diameter.

  • (Ben suggests using wing nuts, for easy assembly. Use washers if you like.)
  • two 2.5" long bolts to attach each leg, plus a few extra for joining tables.
  • a few 4" long bolts, in case you want to join tables with a leg at that same junction.

Plywood Cutting Template

This cutting plan would give you: (1) small module, (1) large module (or 2 more small modules), and (9) pairs of braces for table legs

Note in the cutting diagram that there is enough room left between each of the pieces to allow for the width of the saw blade cut.

You may want to make some of the first (longest) cuts at the lumber store, unless you have a friend to help you support this large piece of wood while you make the cuts on your table saw. Many lumber stores have a large saw that could make a 30.25" cut (to remove the table tops), or at least a 17.25" width slice (to remove the bracing material), for a small additional fee. This would leave you with a few smaller pieces that will be easier to manage.

Small table saws will not be able to make many of these cuts! This means you may be stuck using a circular saw, a jigsaw, a band saw, or a hand saw, unless you can make use of a large saw.

 

The illustration below shows one way you could cut an 8' x 4' sheet of plywood.

Framing for the Table Top

The table top is assembled from three individual layers, shown in the diagram at right:

White = 3/8" plywood top

Blue = 1" x 2" top frame

Purple = 1" x 2" bottom frame

The following examples show a large module. Details for a small module can be found at the end of these pages.

(I usually cut the table top material first, and then build the frame by attaching frame material to the table top. -Ben-)

Construction Tip: While screws and nails make strong connections, a well-glued joint is stronger. After you test-fit you parts without glue, you should apply the glue, and then use clamps, screws, or nails to hold the joint together while the glue dries.

(I used most of a large bottle of wood glue building one large and one small module, and nine legs. We used more than 300 finishing nails! -Zonker-)

The framing can be completed in five steps;

  1. The bottom frame is built with the 1" x 2" material laying with the longest edge parallel to the table surface. Note the pattern to be used in the frames.
  2. The top frame is built next .
  3. The two frames are then joined.
  4. Finally, the table top will be mounted.
  5. Drill the holes for mounting (both the table edges, and the legs).

The next few pages discuss building a large module, and the legs. Following those pages will be the instructions for a small module.

Step 1, Building the Lower Frame

The lower frame is built with the 1" x 2" material, laying the 2" edge parallel to the table surface.

The overall outer dimensions of the frame will be 30-1/4" x 60-1/2" for the large module. Make sure it is square!

There are two separate lengths, but check your measurements before cutting the material!

The measurements shown here depend on the length of the long-dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

The shorter length will be 30-1/4" less the width of the 2" dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

The longer length will be 60-1/2" less the width of the 2" dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

Note the pattern used in the frame. The pattern will be reversed on the upper frame, to help increase the strength of the table.

 

Step 2, Building the Upper Frame

The upper frame is built with the 1" x 2" material, laying the 1" edge parallel to the table surface.

The overall outer dimensions of the frame will be 30-1/4" x 60-1/2" for the large module. Make sure it is square!

There are three separate lengths (sides, ends, and the cross-brace), and you should check your measurements before cutting the material on this frame as well!

The measurements shown here depend on the length of the long-dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

The shorter length will be 30-1/4" less the width of the 1" dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

The longer length will be 60-1/2" less the width of the 1" dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

The cross-brace length will be 30-1/4" less two times the width of the 1" dimension of your 1" x 2" material.

Note the pattern used in this frame. The pattern will be reversed of the pattern used on the lower frame, to help increase the strength of the table.

Step 3, Joining the two Frames

Using the two frames built in the two previous steps, match them together, and join them.

Test fit the two frames before you apply any glue or nails to join them. Pay close attention to the two patterns. The frame will be strengthened if the patterns of the two frame are opposite from each other. (You don't want to have the joints directly on top of each other.)

It may be easier to join the two frames upside down. That is, put the upper frame on the table, then seat the lower frame on top of the upper frame. It will be easier to nail the frames together in this position.

When you have determined the best orientation for the two frames, you can apply the glue, seat the two frames together, and then clamp or nail the frames together.

Be sure to wipe off any excess glue, both inside and outside edges of the frame! Excess glue can cause your frame to stick to your building surface, as well as cause problems seating the legs later!

Step 4, Joining the frame assembly to the table top

If you assembled the frames with the "upside down", you will need to set the frames "upside up" for this step. You should test fit the table top before applying glue. Hopefully, all of the edges match at this point. If the edges don't match, you can use a router with a flush bit to shave off some of the excess wood, after the table top has been glued and nailed.

Chose which side of the plywood should be the "top" of the table. When you have determined the best orientation for the table top, apply glue to the frame, gently lay the table top on the frame, and apply screws or nails as appropriate to hold the parts together until the glue sets. Remember to wipe off any excess glue before it dries!

Step 5, Drilling the mounting holes

You should wait until the glue has set before you drill the 5/16" mounting holes. Use the measurements shown here to drill the holes along all of the outside edges and the cross-brace.

Building the leg pieces

The legs are made from 2" x 2" material, and the leg stock is braced on two sides with 3/8" plywood bracing for support, and some 1" x 2" stock at the top of the braces to lock each leg into the frame of the table tops.

The recommended leg length is 35-5/8", so that you tables will be near "eye-level" for children, so they can enjoy the activities on the table. By making your legs to this length, it will also be easy to join your tables with the tables made by others for making larger displays.

There are four pieces that combine to make the bracing for each leg. Part numbers 1 and 2 are the two mating 3/8" plywood braces. Part #1 is slightly wider, to account for the overlap used when you assemble the pieces.

Part numbers 3 and 4 are made from 1" x 2" material, and are also cut to slightly different lengths, to account for the overlap. You will also want to put a slight bevel on these bracing parts, to help make the parts mate easier with the table frames later.

If you have a smaller table saw, you may want to make a cutting cradle, to help you make these cuts. In the diagram shown to the left, you can see how you can put a rectangle of plywood into the cradle, and use the cradle to make these cuts. You can then start by cutting the plywood for a pair of braces as a single rectangle, and then you can then use the cutting cradle with the right-angle guide of your saw to make perfect diagonal cuts for the plywood braces.

You can see a picture of my cradle here.

The plywood braces come in two widths, so that one can overlap the other, to add strength to the leg, and the supporting length of each leg will appear to be the same distance from the corner. Take a look at the images here to see what I mean.

Step 1: Piece #1 (yellow ) is slightly wider than piece #2 ( orange), so piece #1 will overlap piece #2.

Step 2: Piece #3 (green ) will match up with piece #1. Then piece #4 (blue) will overlap with piece #3.

This pattern of alternating the edges where supports are joined is similar to the layered braces of the table top frames, and they add extra strength to the supports when the edges are alternated.

The view at the left shows the top of an assembled leg brace.This "ISO-view" also shows off the different overlapping that has been discussed in the previous steps

The yellow and orange pieces are the plywood material.

The blue and green pieces are 1" x 2" brace material

Notice the distinction of the overlaps! The overlap for the plywood pieces is different from the overlap for the 1" x 2" brace material. This difference adds strength to the entire leg assembly.

In order to connect the legs easily to the table, you need to bevel a couple of the surfaces. It is easier to make this bevel if you do it before you attach the 1" x 2" material to the plywood braces.

The illustration at the right of the page shows part #1 (plywood brace) and #3 (the 12 part that needs to be beveled).

The 1" x 2" bracing that will be added to the top of each leg (parts 3 and 4) should be beveled slightly on the 'top' and 'bottom' edges, to make it easier to join the leg to the table.

The bevel would be smallest on the side that joins to the leg brace, and more material should be removed at the edges farthest from the leg braces. (Look at the illustration for more details.)

The leg assemblies mate with the table top and the table frames. The beveled edges from the previous step will make it easier to slide the legs into the corner of the frames.

The leg assemblies will also need to have holes drilled into them to match the holes along the edges of the table top frames. Set the legs into the corner of a table frame, put a pencil or center-punch tool through the existing hole in the table frame, and mark the table leg. Make sure you mark both of the pieces of brace material! Then remove the table leg, and drill through the table leg braces. (Repeat this step for all of the legs that you have built.)

Controller Trays

It should be possible to add a tray to the table, perhaps to hold a train speed controller, or for the controls for the track power or control of switch points. Because you will be adding weight to the tray, you need to add bracing to the back end of the try, to provide support for the weight. I've designed one version of this idea. When I finally build my tables, I'll try to build a tray as well.

The design calls for the following pieces;

(a) - 3/8" plywood, two pieces, are the side walls of the try, and provide the support
(
b) - 1" x 2" material, locks the tray into the table frame (will need to be beveled)
(
c) - 1" x 2" material, rounded on one of the long sides (will become the arm rest)
(
d) - 1" x 2" x 6", tow pieces, material, provides additional support, leaving room for wires.
(
e) - 3/8" plywood, 12" x 18", will become the bottom of the tray

Here's a side view of the parts, a front view of the assembly, and a side view of the assembly.


Disclaimer:
These pages are NOT sponsored or endorsed by the LEGO companies.
They are the creation of an enthusiast of LEGO bricks.
The official LEGO home page is www.lego.com.
(The LEGO companies have their own pages. This page is mine. :-)


Copyright 1996-99, David K. Z. Harris, N6UOW
Questions? Comments? Additions? Email
frenezulo at baylug.org

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