N gauge layout – inside a drawer!

“Hi Al.

Hope everyone is doing well. How is the dog doing? I been messing with junk again. The old steam engine for farm’s or railroad is being put together with pieces of a tank model.

Have a bunch of things to put on it still. Not sure what I will do with it onece finished maybe sink it in a swamp or in a broken down shed.

The other is a log cabin deep in the wood’s. I used real stones for the chimney or fireplace. Will add black chalk around the fireplace to look like silt. It’s my first go at weathering sort of. what ya think?


ho scale 004

“Hi Alastair,

Here’s a tip I figured out for wiring on my N gauge layout. I am building it inside a drawer under the glass top of a 30 inch X 30 inch cocktail table in my living room.

A problem I encountered was that since I had to pull the drawer out to work on the layout it involved disconnecting a whole lot of wires, especially if I wanted to flip the drawer over to work on the underside. I went to the local computer store and purchased a couple of those flat ribbon wires they use to connect components inside computers and the receptacles to go with them.

Now I can connect and disconnect 30 wires at a time by simply unplugging one end of the flat ribbon cable.

All the wires are color coded too so it is easy to keep track of their purpose, and the ribbon is flexible enough to allow you to pull the drawer part way out and push it back in without disconnecting any of the wiring.

I’m including a photo of my layout in mid construction before I started the plaster work. I’m using a digital camera to take photographs for the perimeter of the drawer and will use my computer to print them on mat finish photo paper to glue around the drawer. Then I’ll paint the landscape to match the photo backdrops.

Bob from Florida”


“Well, seeing as how I am the least handy person on this planet, and cheap to boot, here are a couple:

Since my layout is in a permanent winter mode, I wrapped the plywood bases in white bedsheets —
It makes a a great “canvas” for laying down landscaping and a SUPERB conduit to run the wiring between the sheets and the wood – no drilling required.

The “snow” is actually a ceramic product: Duncan’s no-fire snow, available, among others, online at Amazon. You can paint or sculpt it on, and it dries to a plaster-like state.

More recently I wanted to add some ice-covered ponds, and as I dislike mixing chemicals, etc. for water effects, I went to the nearest drugstore and purchased a couple of ladies’ hand mirrors, you know, the kind they carry in their purses. I laid down some snow and partially buried them, feathering the edges with more snow.

But then I wanted a larger ice-covered swamp or pond, and here comes the cheapest solution of all: I headed to the kitchen, ripped off a good-sized sheet of food clingwrap (like Saran Wrap), painted the bedsheet in the colors I wanted to show through, and laid the wrap on top with a little landscape cement. You can make it smooth or rippled, and it looks great!

I hope these help.


“I am new to this hobby and learn a lot by my mistakes.

The buildings you build usually are put together with super glue.

If you get super glue on your fingers and thumb, it will take days to get it off.

Solution: spend $3.00 for Nitrile disposable gloves, ten to a pack. (not latex, one size fits all.)

It will be the best 30 cents you ever spent per pair! Just throw them away when done.


Fallbrook, California”

I just love what Bob is building there – can’t wait to see it finished. There’s been quite a number of layouts like this on the site now.

Don’t forget, to grab the Beginner’s Guide and stop dreaming and start doing. It’s a great first step.

And thank you for all the suggestions on the ebay cheat sheet too. Latest one is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

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

18 Responses to N gauge layout – inside a drawer!

  1. Bob, I think you did a great job. Just goes to show you people are always thinking. Good health to you.

  2. Mike Synnott says:

    A nice little arrangement, the best miniature I`ve seen since the toilet seat railway I saw a few years ago. Would love to see more pix as and when they are ready.

  3. Ken Hecker says:

    What a fun layout. I’d consider doing that in Z, but to do it in N is very impressive. Can’t wait to see the final result. Does it have full switching and how is it controlled? DCC? Where are the controls?

  4. way coool log cabin and steam engine….
    and the ‘drawer’ layout is priceless
    keep em runnin fellas

  5. Fred Cook says:

    Hi Bob
    I would love to see your track plan because your picture hides it a bit. Great idea about the wiring. I am looking forward to more. I am also pleased that you announced the scale and did not leave us to guess. Thanks

  6. Carl in Kansas says:

    I see the aluminum strips around the perimeter. Have you considered placing mirrors around the perimeter? Hills and mountains would take on more depth. You could see both sides of the railroad station. Think of the possibilities!

  7. paul Otway says:

    pretty nifty the railway in the drawer.


  8. Mike ingenito says:

    I live in a condo, so I have to build small, thinking Z scale

  9. Ross Johnston says:

    Great work Bob! I really like you N layout. Cheers Rossco Adelaide South Australia

  10. John Reynolds says:

    very clever!

  11. Bob Miller says:

    Hi Kim,
    Loved the steam engine,I will try my hand at making one to look like yours. The cabin is a charm and I like the idea of a real stone chimney. From the picture it looks like the cabin wood is a little too brown, I would try to tone it down with a little grey wash.

    As always,those of you that work in ‘N’ and ‘Z’ never cease to amaze!

  12. builder Kim says:

    Thank you for the tone down idea. Y a I think it’s alitle dark as well. Im not very good at weathering and this is one of my first attempt’s at it. I have another weathering attempt I did and will send the pic in to Al. So you can check out and give some comment’s. Wont learn anything if you don’t listen to what people say right. Im all ear’s. That cabin was water deluted acrylic crafter’s paint. Again im an amateur could you elabreate on the gray wash stuff. what is the material. where you get it. and so forth. and of course how to do it lol. All I did was go collect some really small pebbles and used a file to arrange them to fit tightly together. Don’t know why I did it. But once I built the fireplace I drilled a hole right down into the house through the rock. Was going to install a pot inside the fireplace and burn some smoke stuff and have the smoke come out the top of the house. I was thinking of building a new cabin from scratch. That’s easy. and use rock for the fireplace again. But try my hand at a air gun or pencil to weather with. If you interested and anough is. I can show how to start a cabin in Ho scale and what to use. Thank’s for the comment’s and that table layout is so cool .

  13. builder Kim says:

    Oh thought I would say. I did the tin roof and being new material and very smooth. I ran into problem’s to weather it with chalk to look rusty. I tried liquid’s to rust it. Didn’t work. I then looked at a piece of tin that by mistake some coffee escaped from my cup and fell onto it and dried there. Hmmmmmm I then added chalk to it and found it stuck and if I added more coffee to water got it thicker to highlight rust spot’s. Then finished it with brown chalk and you see it now. So since I didn’t see a comment on that lol would be nice to hear so I can learn from that as well. even added a patch to the roof.

  14. builder Kim says:

    After I did the cabin with the coffee I got the idea to do the locomotive.

  15. Bob says:

    CooooooL….. kien idea

  16. R. Olivarez says:

    Hello Al,
    Been a reader of your daily e-mails for a coupe of years now and found it to be very informative. About “Bob from Florida” idea of using flat ribbion wire for wiring his layout is a good idea that I had used for many of my electronic and model railroad projects for some time. Another good source for colored wire is old dot-matrix printer cables that are found in places like Salvation Army and Goodwill thrift stores. The wires may not be as flexible but they are abit heavier so they can carry more current, within reason.

    There is my simple tip for one-and-all
    . R. Olivarez

  17. Brad says:

    RE-coffee table layout. I wanted to do this.What stopped me was having a wire running across the floor for power.How is this solved? I encountered this issue after building a coffee table aquarium and see a similar issue here

  18. Terry, Fleet says:

    Hi All, Tips for wagon loads or weathering.
    Steel plate or rail fresh from the mill, cut strips to size, de-grease, dry and rub in one direction only with an HB or B pencil lightly spray with a matt or silk varnish.
    Weathered fence posts before using dip or brush with brush cleaning solvent (NOT PAINT STRIPPER) previously used for enamels or acrylics.
    Pit props treat as above but trim to give a clean sawn end and mix diameters before filling wagons with props standing on end.
    Use internal waxed or silicon coated bags from breakfast cereals to mix epoxy glue or for a base to dry models assembled with most glues or paints.

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