A good model railroad starts with a solid foundation. Whether setting up a seasonal display or building a permanent layout, a model railroad looks better and performs more reliably when built on a dedicated tabletop. Built from a plywood surface attached to frame made from pine boards with removable legs for storage, a model train table is portable and provides a sturdy base to support the track work and scenery. A model train table also raises the tracks to a comfortable height for working on the railroad and for viewing the trains in action.
Lay out the track plan. Plywood is a good choice for making a solid, stable base for a small model railroad table. Draw out your full-size track plan on the plywood, using the railroad track sections as a guide and leaving space for scenery elements such as buildings, roads, trees and tunnels. A model railroad in HO scale railroad may use a full sheet of plywood that is 48 inches wide by 96 inches long and 1/2 inch thick, whereas a compact N scale railroad might fit on a smaller section of plywood. If needed, cut the plywood to fit the track plan.
Measure the finished size of the plywood tabletop to determine the length of the pine pieces that will make up the tabletop frame. Measure and cut two pine boards to fit the length of the plywood table. Measure and cut two more pine boards to fit the ends.
Lay out the four pine boards on edge, forming the rectangular frame of the table. Measured and cut correctly, the plywood tabletop will fit perfectly on top of the pine frame. Drive three screws into each corner of the pine boards to secure the frame. Attach the plywood tabletop to the frame with screws. Lightly sand the edges of the tabletop to remove any sharp corners or splinters.
Measure and cut several more pieces of pine to fit between the long side pine pieces, forming slats in the frame to support the plywood tabletop. A full size sheet of plywood needs three pine slats, spaced equally along the length of the frame. Position the slats across the pine frame and secure with screws.
Cut eight pieces of pine to make four legs. The height of a model train table is personal choice, though a taller train table makes working on the railroad more comfortable. The National Model Railroad Association recommends building the train table at least 42 inches high, and 48 inches is not too tall for a model railroad. After cutting eight pieces to the desired length, attach two pieces together with screws to form an “L” shaped girder. Repeat to create four legs.
Flip the tabletop to expose the pine frame, and position the “L” shaped legs into the corners of the frame. Hold the legs in the vertical position with clamps, and drill 5/16 inch diameter holes through the frame and leg. Drive the carriage bolt through the frame and leg assembly, and secure with a washer and a wing nut. Use two carriage bolts in each corner to attach the legs to the frame.
Connect two model train tables together to form a larger layout.
Attach handles to the side of the frame, making it easier to move and store the model train table.
If the train table flexes downward in the middle, add another leg along each side of the table.
Connecting the legs with an “X” brace made from pine boards will increase the stability of the table.