A coffee table makes an ideal enclosed layout for an N-scale train. Placed against the wall, with an overstuffed armchair on each side, and a sofa facing the table, the layout becomes an instant conversation starter. A built-in shelf unit above the table becomes a bridge to a second layout traveling up a ledge and around the room. Recessed controls keep the transformer out of sight. The table itself can be constructed of any desired hardwood.
Lay the 2-inch by 4-inch side and end boards on the 2-inch edge in a box shape, with a 2-inch by 2-inch space between ends and sides at the corners for the leg boards. Place one leg board upright in each corner, flush with the end and side pieces.
Use a carpenter's pencil to draw a line across each leg where it meets each end and side piece. Cut 1-inch mortises in adjoining sides of each leg board. Cut tenons on the end of each side and end piece to fit the mortises (see Tips).
Lay the side, end and leg boards in place again. Beginning at one corner at a time, brush the tenons of each board with carpenter's glue. Allow glue to dry until tacky. Stick the tenon into a mortise and press firmly.
Repeat until all the tenons have been glued into each mortise, between the side pieces and the end pieces. You should now have a coffee table frame, held together with carpenter's glue. Leave table frame face down, legs in the air.
Apply carpenter's glue to two of the triangular sides of each support block. Allow glue to dry until tacky. Butt the blocks into each corner and press firmly to get a solid glue seal.
Mark screw hole positions as shown in the drawing which accompanies this step. Drill the holes at an angle into each side of the corner support block. Countersink all the holes and attach the blocks using 1 1/2-inch wood screws.
Make a 1/2-inch deep rabbet cut all the way around the inside perimeter of the table frame while table is upside-down (see Tips). This rabbet cut will provide support for the table bottom. Apply carpenter's glue along the rabbet cut for the table bottom. Press table bottom sheet into place.
Attach the table bottom to the table frame using 1-inch wood screws placed every 4 inches around the perimeter of the table frame. Turn table upright to stand on its legs.
Use a router to cut a 1/2 inch deep rabbet cut along the inside perimeter of the open table frame, including the corners of each leg. This rabbet cut, along with the four triangular corner supports, will support the glass tabletop sheet.
Sand the entire table using coarse, medium, fine and extra fine sandpaper. Finish the table with several coats of clear acrylic deck treatment, allowing to dry for 24 hours between coats.
Build the train layout as desired. Cover the inside of the table surface with a mixture of grass seed, sand, pebbles, fine gravel, small rocks, sisal fiber trees and shrubs, and whatever other landscape features you desire. Include a water feature, such as a stream or pond. Make a bridge over the stream if desired. Create tunnels using an arch of plastic canvas, covered with papier mache. Place your N-scale train on the tracks. Attach the transformer underneath the tabletop, with the controls facing the aspiring engineer.