How to build portable bench work for model train

Bob’s been in touch with a great step by steo – How to build portable bench work for model train:

“Hi Al

I got interested in trains because my grandfather Davis was a Union Pacific railroad man from age 17 until retirement as a very senior engineer in 1960.

As kids, my brother and I had Lionel steam and diesel engines, and eventually HO gauge.

Off and on over the years I’ve gotten back into the hobby, and built a few layouts, including a well reinforced board that we put our live Christmas tree on.

We’ve moved across the country a few times, and it’s made the trip with a little repair and redo. I’ve really enjoyed your Model railroad layout plans blog, and hope my contribution is interesting to others as well.

A couple years ago I wanted to do something different for our gift exchange at Christmas for my son Brian, who likes N gauge. He didn’t have a board, and he lived out of state, so I decided to build a “freelance” modular board of my own design.

It needed to be very light weight, since we were going to haul it 800 miles on the top of our SUV, but big enough to have some fun with. I used some of the same woodworking ideas I’ve borrowed and modified, including using folding leg braces so it can be put up and taken down quickly. I really like doing pocket screws to hide the funky look of straight screws. It also needed a lightweight crate for storage and transportation.

How to build portable bench work for model train

It has three modules, with two sides bolted to each one, plus a top with minimal bracing. The whole thing weighs about fifty pounds.

How to build portable bench work for model train

A couple minutes to unbolt everything –

Portable train baseboard

From below, the legs fold up and lock in place. It’s a 1/4” plywood top with bracing, plywood legs, and 1 x 2 finished wood for table edges. Note the thin wood strips that are suspended below the underside – they allow wiring to be quickly draped around the underside for quick and easy setup and takedown. Here’s how the legs fold up underneath.

How to build portable bench work for model train

And the legs unfold and lock down like so –

How to build portable bench work for model train

A closeup of the locking leg brackets and the pocket screw construction –

model train bench

There are two end modules with legs, and a shorter center module that’s supported by the ends.

model train folding bench

model train folding bench

When it’s all together it’s about three feet wide by seven feet long.

How to build portable bench work for model train

Naturally Brian is trying out his UP passenger with diesel A/B – I think they are F7’s?

How to build portable bench work for model train


And now on to Bill. Here’s the post about his Lionel layout. This time, he talks us through it:

“Al. After you published my photos and story about my Lionel Fastrack Layout a number of people who commented mentioned that they would like to see a video. So I have created one.

It is about 5 1/2 minute long. I called it “Bill’s Yellowstone Valley Railroad”.


A huge thanks to Bill, and to Robert for sharing how to build portable bench work for model train.

I know some folk struggle with finding space so I thought Bill’s post was a good answer to that, even if it is just to run some trains. It’s all about taking small steps and getting started.

And talking of getting started, the Beginner’s Guide is here if you want to start your very own journey today.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

17 Responses to How to build portable bench work for model train

  1. Rod Mackay says:

    I can understand the attraction of big stuff like Lionel but it always seems to dwarf the scenery and make the curves look too sharp. Having said that, that’s the best Lionel layout plan I’ve seen, the ability to just run round in circuits when you have visitors in to talk to or to have a go, together with the option to run like a proper railroad in either direction, meeting at the sidings, when you want, is great.

  2. Tony, Kitty Hawk, NC says:


    Great layout- and a very interesting way to give a video tour- well done!


    Great design for the portable layout!

  3. Bob Bouskill says:

    Boy, I’d bet if you started over with another lifetime you could not create a better layout if you tried. This setup is excellent. Gets an A+ from me.

  4. paul vogel says:

    Bill….Wonderful layout and workmanship. Your layout description was spot on. Thanks so much for sharing. Paul…..Ohio USA

  5. Thats a nice layout bill has built there ….Dave

  6. Stephen Hudacko says:

    Bill I am a big Lionel guy and I really like your layout. The track plan has everything. You can see a lot of time and thought when into it. I am not a big fan of Lionel fastrack. It looks to perfect where as real track ballast isn’t as perfect. With that said nice job.
    Steve from Toms River

  7. Thomas Meleck says:

    Wow Bill. Your Lionel layout comes closest to reproducing the feeling of the drawings from the fifties catalogs Lionel used to publish back then. I’ve seen a lot of Hi-Rail layouts, but your layout comes closest to complementing the 027 feel of the smaller scale of many of those Lionel products. Well done. Thanks for posting. The video was perfect as well.–Tom

  8. John says:

    Bill, I’m really not a Lionel aficionado and Steve’s remark not withstanding, your Lionel layout is one of the best I’ve seen It’s obvious you’re an attention to detail man and it shows even to your dialog in the video. I really enjoyed watching/listening to it several times. I’m bookmarking it to show to friends.

    Naples, FL

  9. Terry Miller says:

    This was a great explanation of both projects. For members who always seem to ask “where did you get that”‘ or “how many switches are there?, Bill’s commentary is excellent and answers all the questions. GREAT JOB BILL

    Terry/Idaho USA

  10. Peter MacGregor says:

    Bill: That layout is just incredible. I am also an “O” gauge 3 rail nut (Buco – Swiss made), and I love the way you have kept the scenery interesting as the train travels around the layout.
    That “closet” tunnel is something else!!! I don’t know if I am game enough to cut holes through my garage walls……I think my wife would have something to say about that….and it would not be kind.
    Thank you for the “grand tour”, and I look forward to seeing more videos with the other loco’s and carriages you may have.
    Regards…..Peter on the fabulous Gold Coast in Sunny Queensland, Australia.

  11. Jerry Suits says:

    Nice layout and tour!

    I also use Lionel and so you did a good job of making it look realistic.

    Is Yellowstone Valley anywhere near Yellowstone National Park? We are going there this next weekend.

  12. Don Mills says:

    Very nicely done!!

  13. Gary says:

    That is cool….nice idea and nice job…..

  14. Stephen Fetzer says:

    Very nicely done. with the O gauge. Love the smooth transitions from lower to upper and back to lower grades.

  15. Michael Merlino says:

    I have lioneL traines for sale VERY NICE LAYOUT

  16. Brian Rockey says:

    Clever carpentry Robert.
    Nice video Bill! Smart electronics in the closet too.
    Best to all.
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  17. George Zaky says:

    Very clever folding portable baseboard. Next design will have to leave room for fixed scenery.
    Bill- YVRR (there’s a few Bills here)
    Outstanding video, layout theme, & planning it all. Your scratch built items are top notch and you should make a video of how you created them- Evans design stuff on foam board. Love the lights-only I bought 4.5 V wall warts because I dont like batteries. That layout is super.

    Big Al- much thanks

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