Aligning Baseboards

  Old Northern Junior Train Controller

I have been talking of building a layout for over two years now, and it looks like I will be making a start on it in the next few weeks.  One thing that I can't quite make my mind up on is the best way to join and align the boards (the layout will consist of three boards joined to give a layout area of either 2440mm x 1220mm or 2440mm x 1440mm).

The planned layout will be transportable rather than portable, and will probably spend most of the time erected rather than split into its component parts.

I was thinking of using coachbolts to join the three boards together and alignment dowels to keep everything in line.  The thing is that I have only once constructed a layout that consisted of more than one board, and that was a long time ago and it wasn't really well done.

Can anyone advise me if this is the best way to approach the construction of the baseboard, or if there is some better way?  From what I have seen on the internet, it looks like there is more than one type of alignment dowel - is there one style in particular that is more suitable for model railways?  Also, as I have never even seen an alignment dowel, I wouldn't know where to buy them in Sydney (I know you can order them over the internet, but I would rather go into a shop and get them over the counter).

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  Lazarus Train Controller

Location: Missouri, USA
That sounds like a good plan, just don't over-constrain anything. Have the pin/s do the locating, and just let your fastener of choice be the clamp (loose hole clearance).

If you are looking to use metal pins (which is probably preferable), you can get many different styles. I'd recommend sourcing some locating pins like they use on jigs, so you have the male side, and the female receiver. That way they are not affected as much by the swelling of the wood (which I assume you're using for the frame), and will be easy to separate when it comes time to.

I'm currently working on my first layout, using aluminium t-slot extrusion, which has holes in the end that I'm going to use to pin align the sections.

I'm not sure where you would source these in Sydney as I haven't live there in years. It looks like a lot of the fastener supply places have pretty mediocre websites, so you may have to call around. For reference, I use McMaster Carr (I'm in the US) almost weekly for my job (Design Engineer), and these are the pins I'm referring to -
If you have no luck locally, I'd be happy to help by mailing items to you, or I will be in Sydney at the end of the year if you're not quite to that point yet.
  Old Northern Junior Train Controller

The baseboards will be plywood on top of a framework of 2x1 softwood - pretty old-fashioned and traditional, but then the layout will be too, as most of the stock is 3 rail Hornby Dublo.....

One of the things I was hoping for by starting this thread was to find out if my proposed arrangement was a good way to approach construction of the baseboards and, thanks to Lazarus's comments, it seems that it is.  I will bear in mind what he has said about not having the fasteners too tight a fit once I get down to drilling holes in wood.

The other thing I was hoping for was to find out which type of pins would be best.  I would guess maybe the tapered ones, but I'm not sure.  As for buying them, I suppose any place that sells supplies for furniture making would sell them, although I could be wrong.  There is a place at Parramatta that sells all sorts of fasteners, so they might have something, but I'll look into that after I've found out a bit more about the pins.  In any case, if I can't find them locally, I can always find them on the internet but, if I do that, I need to know exactly what I need first.

I've got a few weeks before I make a start, as my youngest daughter has borrowed my electric drill (she and her husband are renovating a home they bought a few months ago and she needed it for some work they were doing in the back garden).  They live in Canberra, so it's not like I can just go down the road to get my drill back.  We will be in the ACT for a few days at the end of this month though.....
  Radioman Chief Train Controller

Hello All,

the use of metal alignment dwells ( 25mm brass pattern maker dwells ) and the use of coach bolts WITH WASHERS is a safe bet.

I also use a strip of 2" x 1" framing timber as a shelf at one end about 2/3rds the length of the baseboard width ie L shaped. By doing this the assembled board can be aligned and clamped up prior to drilling the hole for the pattern makers dowell. The male / pointy dowell end will also be protected by this shelf.

To ensure consistency you could make up an end jig ( mark BOTH faces ) so the drilled holes will be consistent for each end.

An alternative to the coach bolts is to use door hinges , one on top and one on the bottom of the ends to ensure alignment, then use the hinge pins to hold it all together .

Another suggestion , though I am well aware that it is considered overkill, is to use cork tiles from Bunnings attached to the top of the ply baseboard. DO NOT glue, but use double sided carpet tape to attach the cork tiles to the baseboard top. This allows you to remove and replace at a future date if you wish. The double sided tape will hold, after all it is intended for carpet tiles that you walk on .

The cork top will allow you to pin the track formation to the baseboard while you line everything up , and you can then glue the final alignment to the cork if you wish. For this I would use carpet laying PVA , as this is flexible and can be lifted with a spatula. ( Get a spatula for your own use, it is NOT a good idea to use the kitchen food spatula ) The carpet PVA should be decanted onto a smaller application bottle with a small nozzle, the $2- shops will have something suitable.

The decanted portion is then thinned by approximately 50% and a drop of liquid dishwasher detergent added to lessen the liquid's surface tension. You can then dribble the liquid over the sleepers between the rails, you only need a small amount as capillary action with take it under the sleepers , you can also use a cheap artists flat brush ($2- shop again ) to spread it if your dribbles are too much. let it dry for a minimum of 24 hours . ( Keep the watered down PVA separate from the main supply, do NOT pour it into your main PVA supply as the contamination will cause the whole bottle to go of. PVA does have a shelf life, so store in a cool dark place. )

You should also consider using graphite grey black closed cell foam sheets to form your track base.Woodland Scenics and TrackRite Australia sell this stuff in pre cut rolls, I personally think the TrackRite Australia is preferred as it is designed for Australian conditions, and industrially is used in expansion gaps in masonry and road works. You can also get this from Bunnings in BIG rolls ( who may also sell it by the metre, ask them ! ) , or in thin sheet from from Clarke Rubber, who sell it by the metre.

The thinned carpet PVA will stick the closed cell foam to the cork, and also the track base to the closed cell foam. In both cases it can be lifted and reused if desired. I suggest the closed cell foam as it is a sound deadener, and it gives a small amount of movement to assist with expansion and contraction , which will occur with a wood baseboard , and anyway the real track does also move ! You do not need to use a lot of PVA , a little will go a long way , and despite initial appearances , a small amount will do the job.

( I am NOT a fan of glueing track base to hard surfaces as inevitably the track formation will buckle due to heat expansion , and you get a continuous rumble sound which becomes really annoying. )

For your consideration,

Best wishes and regards, Radioman
  Roachie Chief Commissioner

Location: Kadina SA (formerly NSW)
Set each of the boards up the way you want them, but upside down.

Use 4" steel hinges with the pins removed....and replaced with a suitable steel rod (I found that a cheap tent peg works). This rod should be bent so that you can grab hold of it and pull it out.

Set the doctored-up hinges on the underside of the baseboard frame (you may have to add extra timber to gain the thickness you need). Screw the hinges to the frame and viola!!

Hope this makes sense.

  Radioman Chief Train Controller

Hello All,

I should have added then when the baseboards are up ,and the track is laid, lay it over the baseboard joints and once it is secured , glued and dried, THEN cut the track over the joint line , as the pattern makers dwells will ensue that the boards are closed up and will not move .

The other approach is to use brass pins or small brass wood screws to which the tack is soldered prior to cutting the rails.

The whole point of the pattern makers dowells is to keep everything tightly aligned.

Regards, Radioman.
  dthead Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia

The planned layout will be transportable rather than portable, and will probably spend most of the time erected rather than split into its component parts.
Old Northern

While  Id agree an  alignment dowel is good ( C&L and DCC Concepts sell em from the UK )  - you may still use a  nut and bolt to clamp them together.

But if you are not intending to pull it apart a lot you could get away with say 4 nuts & bolts + washers.

The lazy lazy approach is simply screw em together after clamping the modules together and ensuring they are level. Then if needed to reassemble rescrew in different places once again.

The other aspect is wiring. Do you use plugs, or leave a longer than needed wires across the join, and label both sides as you run a wire....

David Head
  Old Northern Junior Train Controller

Thanks for the responses.

I will be going with the idea of alignment dowels and coachbolts, as it seems to be the best way for me to go.  I couldn't find anywhere to buy them locally, so I bought some on eBay, which appear to be the same as those sold by DCC Concepts, but slightly cheaper.  C & L are currently out of stock of dowels

Dublo three rail track is mounted on a tinplate base, very much like early Marklin track, so the suggestions of cutting and soldering may not work, although I might try cutting the track to the baseboard edge to see if it's worthwhile doing.  Otherwise I will have to get the track pieces meet as close as I can to where the joins between the baseboards are - it just means that I'll have to be very careful when dismantling, erecting or transporting the layout.

Underlays, other than thin cork, wouldn't work too well with the tinplate track base and I rather like the noise the trains make when the rails are mounted on a hard surface.  I will test it out before I screw the track down (if you use nail or pins you risk bending the track base and, in any case, the pre-drilled holes are too wide for nails or pins) and, if it turns out to be a bit noisy, I'll use some thin cork underlay.

As far as wiring is concerned, it will be fairly basic, but there will be some electrically operated points, signals and uncoupling ramps.  I was thinking of using tag strips and plastic wire connectors (or whatever they're called - the things that come in strips and you screw the wires in) for connecting the baseboards electrically, although I haven't worked out the details yet.

Given that it's been almost 60 years since Dublo three rail track was last manufactured, some of you may not know what it looks like, so here's a photo of some pieces I recently bought on eBay.  I'm just waiting now for a few more short rails and points and I'll have all I need to start.

  Radioman Chief Train Controller

Hello All,

Old Northern , as you are using HD set track , you do not need to cut the track at all. Instead use the short sections of track as illustrated above over your baseboard joins, just like the NTrak Modules. These short joining pieces would not be screwed down , but float between the screwed down track segments. Therefore if you seperate the baseboards, the short section of HD setback will seperate without damage

On a tangent to this discussion, PECO used to make ( do they still make ?? ) a wire strip for third rail stud contact so that Marklin could use Peco Code 100 track.Marklin uses a long skate for stud contact pick up , which I think is probably a better method of collection for 3 rail.

On the bright side, wiring 3 rails a lot easier than 2 rail ! The nylon block connectors you refer to Jaycar call "Terminal strips ( 12 way ) " and are sometime called chocolate box connectors . Both Jaycar and Altronics can assist you with those and other electrical components.

Good luck with your new layout,

Regards, Radioman.
  Old Northern Junior Train Controller

Hello Radioman.

Cutting the track was one possibility that was suggested by someone who had done just that in the past.  The more I think of it, the less I want to do it.  The rail is fixed to the track base at every fourth or fifth sleeper, so there would be a pretty good chance of a slightly bent rail (or, on a curve, a rail trying to straighten itself out) causing intermittent derailments.  Your suggestion to use something like NTrak Modules does sound worth considering.

Dublo straight track came in four sizes: full (about 11" long), half length, quarter length and eighth length.  The eighth length pieces are like gold dust, but the quarter size are fairly plentiful, as are the half size pieces.  As I have more half size pieces than I need, I will probably try using them.  This would also mean that the return wiring would take care of itself - the feed in Dublo three rail is the centre rail, with the outer rails and metal track base being the return.

I won't try to utilise the existing connectors for the centre rail at the baseboard joints though, as these connectors, like the centre rail mounts, are mounted on paxolin to insulate them from the track base.  All you need is a slight upward bend in one of these mounts and it will slide over instead of under the paxolin and will result in a hard to find short circuit.  I will have to use some sort of plug and socket connector or terminal block there, I think.

I remember the PECO stud contact strip for Marklin to use Peco Code 100 track.  I have no idea if it is still around, as I haven't seen any since the 1970s.  Stud contact track wouldn't work for Dublo (or, for that matter, Trix - I have three Trix locos as well) as the pickups consist of two spoon shaped collectors each at one end of a metal assembly.  The "spoons" would fall into the spaces between the studs and progress would be erratic or non-existant.  Marklin skates, on the other hand, will work on Dublo three rail (which is, apart from the height of the base, more or less identical with early Marklin track), in fact I have converted a (present day company) Hornby 3 car DMU and have plans to convert a Lord of the Isles and a Caledonian Single to three rail using Marklin skates.

And, in case anyone is wondering, my plan does include a reverse loop - no special wiring required.....
  wally-wowser1 Train Controller

Location: overlooking the Mt vic washaway on Soldiers Pinch
Marklin   "M" track is compatible with Hornby , there is a slight difference in height of the embankment sides but a bit of packing underneath usually fixes this problem   . The is a heap of small parts available on fleabay for reasonable prices with a lot in as new condition . Just watch the cost of postage if buying from European sellers as it can rocket the price sky high although there is usually some available in Oz most of the time .

 Cheers   Tom J.
  dthead Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
I got to see a great layout owned by  a Allan ( surname excapes me)  who had  heaps of 3 rail. He used ordinary Peco track and soldered normal copper wire in the middle onto screws in the center. He also converted several 2 rail locos to a third rail.   It was an interesting layout.

If it is not too late you could design the modules to the length of the track you plan so you can align the joins and module lenght....

David Head

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