Monday, 18 July 2016

Replacing legs with panels

For the past two weeks I've been working on what was supposed to be a rather simple project. After calculating the height I wanted to drop my layout down to ahead of building the staging shelf extension, I thought I'd build two matching end panels to add some more stability and a touch of class to my layout's appearance, instead of simply cutting the four existing timber legs down to size.

I glued the plywood panels between the timber lengths for extra strength.

I started by cutting 4 x 1100 mm lengths of 39 mm x 19 mm dressed pine, followed by another 4 x 1060 mm lengths of the same which I purchased off the rack from my local Bunnings Hardware store. To form the end panels for each end of the layout, I bought a panel of  7 mm plywood that measured 1200 mm x 600 mm, and cut 2 sections each measuring 1100 mm x 280 mm wide. I then sandwiched the ply panels between the timber lengths, ensuring that the shorter lengths would be at the front of each panel, then measured, pre-drilled and countersunk the 3 holes that would secure the panels from the back of each section. Next I glued the sections together using a zigzag pattern with a tube of Maxi Nails, and turned them over to secure them in place with some 34 mm wood screws.

Pre-drilling the holes before gluing made everything much easier to align.

Once the timber lengths were positioned correctly, the wood screws simply followed the holes I had pre-drilled and aligned themselves with the panel edges perfectly.

I spent a lot of time sanding these to get a furniture-like finish....

So far this project had cost me less than $30 and only a morning of my time, including the trip in the car to the hardware store. So far, so good. I then spent the best part of the afternoon sanding each panel by hand, questioning again why I was sticking to my goal of constructing this layout by hand without the use of any power tools, except of course for the electric power drill I needed to drill the holes. So after wiping the sanded panels clean with a damp cloth, I applied the first coat of all-in-one stain and varnish with a paint brush. I followed this up the following morning with another coat, and another 8 hours later a third. By the time the 3rd coat had dried the following morning, it was obvious that the panels were lacking the red Jarrah shading of my layout upstairs.

....before finding out I had used the wrong coloured stain!

It turned out that the opened can of Cabot's Stain & Varnish I had used wasn't from this project after all. A quick check through the photos I had taken on my own blog revealed a shot of the can I had used when varnishing the layout 12 months earlier. It was Australian Jarrah, and from what I could see before me, it was a helluva lot different from normal Jarrah. As the stain penetrates the timber on the first coat to highlight the natural hues of the grain, sanding or stripping the panels back and staining it again wasn't really going to work. With the weekend now over I had to wait until the following Friday to return to my local Bunnings once more and purchase all the timber necessary to start again from scratch. Complicating the matter was the fact that Cabot's no longer produced a shelf-ready Australian Jarrah Stain & Varnish, and I had to get the paint department to tint a base can for me. It looked fine when I checked it in store, so home I went to spend another weekend repeating the same process that I outlined above.

I built these panels a second time, although matching the colour of the stain proved quite a challenge.

Having worked a lot quicker the second time around, I brought one of the finished new panels upstairs on a Sunday morning after the 3rd coat had dried overnight to compare the finish with that of my layout. The tinted can of Australian Jarrah I had bought was red alright, only a little too red. As you can see in the photo above, the store-tinted Australian Jarrah on the bottom left doesn't quite match the original shelf-ready Australian Jarrah that I had used on my layout 12 months earlier in the top of picture. The shelf-ready Jarrah on the bottom right was no help either. It was simply the wrong colour altogether. With the materials now having cost me double on account of having to start over, and add onto that another $50 to purchase a litre of the stain & varnish which I had tinted in store, I had my doubts that starting over yet again would accomplish anything. Instead, I went with my gut that applying another 2 coats of the store-tinted Australian Jarrah would yield a darker result. Fortunately it did. Although not a perfect match, by Monday morning, armed with a day off from our business, I got to work bringing the panels upstairs into our apartment in readiness for replacing my layout's legs.

Then it was off with the old legs....

This is the final view of my small bookshelf layout with its original painted timber legs. Being built to travel to exhibitions, the 2 steel coach bolts that are visible unbolted easily. Having taken everything that was loose off my layout, I unbolted the legs and rested one end on the back of a chair while I positioned the completed panels, drilled the 2 holes and bolted the shorter end panels into place one at a time. The exchange was quite simple and took only 15 minutes.

....before the girls came out to play....

Wanting to keep my theme of a museum-quality finish going strong, I had purchased 2 British Railways metal signs some time ago in preparation for this day. Advertising British Railways Holidays from the 1950's, I bought them simply because of the grandeur they inspire of railway travel from days long gone. Ah, who am I kidding? I bought them simply because in the words of past movie stars from the silver screen, "they're a couple a' nice broads!"

....and on with the new panels.

The Weston-Super-Mare blondie now resides at the dead-end of my layout beneath my newly added signal box plaques, and as I like to point out to my wife looks exactly like her.

The end result looks so much better than the previous legs, and not just because of the pretty girls!

The mouse-hole door end of my layout now has the Butlins girl standing guard. More importantly, the newly varnished panels in the end were a very close match after all. Not only do they look a great deal better than the basic legs they replaced, they have given the free-standing bookshelf layout a great deal more stability, courtesy of sandwiching the plywood panel between the 39 mm x 19 mm dressed pine lengths. It also adds a great deal more strength should I choose to add a second level on top at a later date. The layout now sits approximately 120 mm lower over my desk, which is still enough room to have some desktop items and the printer nestled beneath to save space. More importantly, it will keep the upper level at a more suitable viewing height for future Model Train Exhibitions.

Taking the time to stop and correct this now may very well have robbed me of any chance of exhibiting Philden in 2016, but come 2017, this layout will be ready to travel in my car to shows in Brisbane, Sydney and possibly even Melbourne. I can now get to work on building the removable staging that will enable the trains to exit through the mouse-hole door to the new height of the layout. But as usual, that's a story for another day.

See also; Avoid space sapping staging

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil