Guide to HO Scale Model Railroad Trains 4 x 8 Foot Benchwork

Building bench-work for the first time for your model railroad is an exciting moment! To create a good first layout for HO scale model trains, a great way to start is with a basic plan for 4 x 8 foot bench-work. You are essentially building a table from a piece of plywood and will construct your exciting new layout on that. Below are some instructions for building a good, solid bench-work for your layout, starting with a materials list and moving into instructions.

The materials you will use include the following:

1 4 x 8 sheet of plywood (a good size for HO scale model trains; use 5/8 inch B-C grade plywood)

3 1×4 x8′ (for edge supports)

4 1×4 x8′ ripped into 1×2 stock (for 5 joists, plus bracing)

1 1×4 x10′ ripped into 1×2 stock (for bracing between legs)

1 2×4 x8′ ripped into 2×2 stock (this is for the table legs and is enough for a max height of 48 in)

1 box (100) 1-3/4″ dry wall screws (will use 72 of these)

8 1/4×3″ carriage bolts (for bolting on the table legs)

8 ¼” washers (for table legs)

8 ¼-20 nuts (for table legs)

1 pint yellow carpenter’s glue (not white, use yellow since it is waterproof)

The tools you will use include the following:

2 saw horses (optional)

1 saw (Almost anything will work – a saber saw or “Skil” saw or table saw or hand cross-cut saw. If buying a first saw, a saber saw will probably be most useful in future model railroad endeavors.)

1 3/8″ reversible electric drill

1 bit to fit drywall screws

1 5/16″ drill bit (for carriage bolts)

1 1/8″ drill bit for pilot holes

1 adjustable crescent wrench or open or closed end wrench to fit nuts

1 carpenter’s square

You’ll start with the tabletop, a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. This is a good size for HO scale model trains, because it allows space for a track layout a bit more interesting than a mere oval or circle. You only need one good side on the plywood, and while that does need to be fairly smooth, it doesn’t have to be grade-A perfect, since you’ll be covering it up with track, accessories, scenery and other details. So go with the B grade for the good side, it’s less expensive than A.

This large sheet of plywood is rather floppy on its own, so it needs support to stiffen it before you set up a model railroad on it. The first step is a frame around the outer edge. Build the frame first, and then screw the plywood to it. Take two 8 foot lengths of 1×4 and two 3′ 10-1/2″ lengths. You will want to screw and glue them together, because nails tend to work themselves loose with the vibrations of the model railroad and the occasional jostling of the table.

Prepare the end of an 8′ side piece by drilling two pilot holes where screws will go into the shorter end pieces. Don’t make the holes too big. They should be just large enough to pass each screw. Prepare the end of one of the 3′ 10-1/2″ end pieces by rubbing yellow carpenter’s glue into the end grain until it’s fairly well-saturated. Then run an additional bead of glue along it. Press onto end of 8′ piece and screw together using pilot holes. Repeat at each of the four corners. Allow to dry.

Now, take the sheet of plywood and screw it onto the frame, good side up (B side up, C side should be touching the frame). Do not glue the plywood to the frame, as you may need to remove it from the frame later to build a lake or adjust the levels of your track.

You can drill this together in two ways; you can use a “pilot drill” and No 8 x 1-3/4 in flathead wood screws. Or you can use drywall screws with regular drill and drywall screw bit. With drywall screws, they are self-tapping, meaning you will not need to predrill any holes except if you are at the end of a piece of lumber and trying to avoid splitting.

Now the plywood has been stiffened on the edges and you are ready to add joists to firm up the middle. Turn the apparatus over so it is frame-side up. Take five 1 x2’s the same length as the short end pieces (3′ 10-1/2″) and screw them at intervals to the side pieces of the frame in such a way that they bear up against the plywood. Do not screw them to the plywood tabletop.

Now you are ready for the legs and bracing. You need to decide on the height you want your layout to be, whatever seems appropriate for HO scale model trains. For ease of viewing those lifelike details on the model railroad, it’s common to make the display height fairly tall, just below eye level. I’ve seen recommendations ranging from 42 to 56 inches. (For comparison, most writing desks or dining tables are around 28 to 31 inches.) If your viewing audience includes children, consider a lower height, such as 30 inches. Also consider ease of working on the center part of the scenery and track.

Cut four 2 x 2’s to your chosen height. Contrary to what you might think, the legs should not be mounted at the corners of the plywood. You will have a much sturdier table with less flex in the middle if you mount the legs 20% inward on each end. For an 8 foot long table, this means mounting the legs 19″ from each end, measured along the long side.

Turn the table upside down (frame side up). Drill one 5/16″ hole all the way through the side piece of the frame and into a leg. Leg should be flush with the plywood, and hole should be about ¾ to 1″ up from the plywood. Stick a carriage bolt through from the frame side. Using fingers, tighten down a washer and nut onto the inside of the leg where the carriage bolt is sticking out. Now check that the leg is at right angles, using a carpenter’s square and carefully drill a second hole to keep it there.

The second hole should be ¾ to 1″ from the other edge of the frame (the edge temporarily facing up) and you will add another bolt-washer-nut. Now use a wrench to tighten both nuts down solidly. Repeat the process for the other three legs. You really want to be sure to use the square to measure in both plains that all four legs are perpendicular.

Now you could stop here, but even so the table would be a bit wobbly, and you don’t want that when you are setting up your model railroad. For maximum stability, you will need to install additional bracing. At each of the shorter ends, use “X” bracing. Take two 1 x 2’s and fasten them as close to the floor as possible on one end and as close to the table as possible at the other (this makes four braces in all).

Then you will want to install double bracing on the long sides. Attach a 1 x 2 as close to the floor as possible and run it to the other end of the table. Attach another 1 x 2 as close to the floor as possible and attach it to a point towards the middle of the table (this makes eight braces in all). This bracing may seem unsightly, but it is worth it. You can hang cloth curtains from the edge of the finished table to hide it, if you like.

Finally, if your floor is not level and even, you can make the legs adjustable. Drill a 5/16″ pilot hole into the bottom (the end) of each leg in the center. Hammer in a ¼” T-nut. Now thread on a ¾” bolt. This makes each leg independently adjustable to compensate for the unevenness in the floor.

Congratulations! The fine new bench-work for your model railroad is now complete! Turn the table over and you have a solid and sturdy platform on which to enjoy constructing your new layout for HO scale model trains.