Light Boxes: The Penultimate Chapter

As is so often the case with “small” layout jobs, the installation of the layout lighting in my new train room has taken far more time and effort than I’d anticipated. I had planned to work on some new benchwork this weekend, I even made an early Saturday morning visit to Bunnings to buy timber and some fittings to allow this to happen but the final installation and painting of the lighting boxes has taken up all my available free time. My plan was to make up two ladder frames for the storage sidings that lead out of the turntable, mount these on legs and top them with some ply but aside from buying the timber I’ve not managed to cut a stick.

Before I could install the face plates for the lighting boxes they needed a hole cut for the installation of the lighting fixtures. In this case it needed to be 90mm dia. holes. Luckily the electrician loaned me one of his hole cutting saws to cut the required openings.

The electrician not only dropped off a light fitting for me to test last week. He also loaned me a 90mm round hole cutting saw that I could use to cut the required opening in the MDF face plates I had ready to be installed in the boxes. I told him I wasn’t having him cutting holes in MDF upstairs in the train room in the process getting dust everywhere and all over the layout. I was going to do this job myself downstairs in the workshop where the dust wouldn’t matter. I mounted the hole saw in my drill press but a 90mm dia hole was a real challenge for the drill’s arbor. The drill kept stalling and the chuck kept dropping out onto the work piece as I tried to cut the ten holes. With a bit of perseverance I managed to get the job done and installed the plates into the boxes. With the pre-cut holes in the plaster board completed all that was required was to fill the screw heads, sand these back and then paint two coats of blue onto the boxes.

I started the painting of the boxes by running some blue masking tape on the white ceiling where the two colours meet to preserve the neat cut line. I then filled the holes left by the counter sinking for the screws and when the filler hardened I sanded this smooth. I’d previously filled and sanded the holes that I was able to prior to the installation of the boxes so this simplified the job but it was still hot work in the humid conditions of the train room with my head close to the ceiling. Today I came back and painted two coats of blue onto all ten boxes and now they are ready for the installation of the light fittings.

I could have come back and filled all the joints between the planes of the various sections of MDF I made these boxes from but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered: this is a room for model trains not a reception room in a royal palace. So while the boxes do show a few gaps and joints here and there from my less than perfect joinery I’m happy enough with the result.

As I sat and looked at the result of this small marathon of a job I did put some though into whether I wouldn’t have been better off with a continuous pelmet running almost the entire length of the room. It would still be relatively easy to install a single, long plank of 6mm MDF to the front of the boxes to provide a neater, continuous sheet across the lighting boxes but I don’t think I’ll go to this extent. The idea of the lighting is to throw light onto the layout and draw the viewer’s eye to the trains. I’m not sure that a long, continuous pelmet would achieve this any more successfully than the row of isolated boxes. With the amount of work and time this “small” job has taken up I’m not sure its something I want to devote any more time to.


Some Plans Come Together

Maybe it’s just my advancing age but things seem to take a lot longer these days than I anticipate. Then again maybe my discovery of coffee about 20 years ago means that these days I spend far too much time sitting around drinking it rather than working. I had anticipated the installation of the layout room light boxes would take me approximately one week if I was free to work on them full-time. They took almost two weeks. That I had to work around an electrician was one reason but it was also because I managed to cram in a 1600km round trip to Sydney in the middle of my recent break. However I did manage to get them to a satisfactory state of completion and then work halted while I waited for my sparky to come take a look at them and test fit a light before he ordered all ten light fittings. Imagine my surprise today to discover he’d paid me a visit and dropped off a light to test in one of my boxes.

Of course you have to use your imagination with this set up because when the lights are permanently installed they won’t have a cable hanging out the side. This will be fed into the ceiling through the holes I cut last week. I cut a hole in the MDF face of the box and fitted the light to see whether it would fit and also whether I liked the colour of the light. The answer is yes on both counts.

In spite of the seemingly endless number of options these days when it comes to LED down-lights getting one that fitted my needs was not simple. It seems that the more compact the light the more expensive it is. The search for a reasonably compact design that was still inexpensive and had a suitable tilt feature so I could aim it at the layout rather than the floor was a bit more complicated that either I or my electrician anticipated. I like these fixtures and the light they throw so I’m going to get him to order nine more. I’ll be doing a final sand of all the boxes this weekend and then I’ll paint them the same blue as the walls.

In addition to working on lighting I’ve been playing with my turntable. While I got the turntable installed in its own dedicated piece of bench-work (which is really just a pine and plywood table) I didn’t get a chance to install the top permanently and the legs and frame of the table needed braces and some stiffening up so that it didn’t wobble quite so alarmingly.

Through the course of the week I’ve made some additions to the table the turntable sits in. I added corner braces to the inside (you can’t see these) corners of the frame the top sits on to help stiffen the structure. This also helped to support the weight of the turntable. I added some diagonal braces to the rear legs and tied the legs into pairs with lengths of the 9mm ply. Finally I inserted the control key pad into the ply table top. Everything is rock solid now and the ply top is permanently screwed to the table frame.

In addition to the new light fitting arriving this week a suitable power adapter arrived in the mail so I could actually plug the turntable in and give it a test. The one I purchased came from Jaycar and while I could have got one a lot cheaper from the Internet the one I purchased arrived with seven different plug ends so I could be reasonably certain that the once it turned up it would fit. I plugged it in and everything is working beautifully. The turntable is really quite amazing and while I’ve been struggling ever so slightly with the programing of the indexing system, I think I have most of the intricacies worked out and I’ll be laying a bit of track down over the weekend and testing setting up short cuts to allow the table to spin round and arrive at a designated spot with the press of a couple of buttons. I’ve also shortened the ribbon cable (you can see this light grey cable in the photo hanging down below the table) that runs from the key pad to the turntables indexing electronics so that it is a suitable length. I only make up ribbon cables once in a blue moon so it took me some time to hunt out the plastic plugs and the special pair of pliers needed but everything went fine once I’d found these and I’ve tested the turntable with its new short and neat ribbon cable.


Something Sexy

I’ve had the last two weeks off work and had big plans to get started on building my new layout. I was salivating at the opportunity to make some bench-work; I had a plan; I had tools; and I had materials. The only problem has been that I’ve spent the bulk of the time available to me installing #%&+@#% lighting boxes. I had one last day free of work, lawn mowing and domestic chores to put some work into the layout and I was determined to do something really sexy. But the better half had other plans. She decided that Sunday morning would be a great time to visit Bunnings and of course a side trip on the way there to the tip would make the trip even more productive. There’s nothing very sexy about dumping plasterboard off-cuts at the tip is there? 🙂 I got home, had a bite of lunch and made a resolution that I wasn’t going to come out of the shed before something sexy had emerged in the layout room.

I’ve spent a good bit of time this past week thinking about the next piece of bench-work I wanted to build after the section I wrote about in my last post. I knew what I wanted to build and how I was going to do this but I was going over in my mind the best way to have the end of the pre-existing Morpeth interact with the new section of layout. It’s easy to draw a line on a plan but when you have to actually build the thing the details are a bit more complicated. What I wanted to do was build the section of layout that runs parallel to the section that was detailed in the photo the other day and then build a third section that would connect these two. The problem was that building the interconnecting pieces had knock on effects on pieces of layout further down the line: I would have to make decisions about these now when I wasn’t contemplating building them yet. This wouldn’t have been such a problem if I was starting with a clean slate and simply building from one point and keep going till I got to where I wanted to be. But things are a little more complicated when you’re actually trying to connect two already existing layouts with a range of different materials and ways of joining these physically and electrically. I didn’t want to make a decision that would cause me more headaches and work down the track because I hadn’t foreseen something.

In this instance I was having a hard time making a decision about the most economical way to cut up very expensive materials (especially sheets of 12mm ply) for the storage sidings (which are yet to be built) and connect these to the curve of track which will form a triangle at one end. What I needed to know was exactly how long the storage sidings would be. As I hadn’t made a final decision on this I was having real trouble making decisions about the other end of these sidings. The reason I hadn’t made a final decision was that the end of the storage lines are in close proximity to the entry door and I really wanted to check clearances prior to finalizing the length of the sidings. I needed to make sure there was enough clearance to get through the door and to do this satisfactorily I needed to build the bench-work in this part of the room. So instead of building the section of bench-work I’d been planning on I moved a good five meters away and built the section of bench-work nearest the door. This happens to be the section where the turntable will reside so I got to get my Millhouse River turntable out of the box it’s been sitting in since it arrived from the US in late 2014 and play around with installing it in its own small section of bench-work. Very sexy indeed! 🙂

I’m not normally prone to modern affectations in language such as acronyms like OMG! but if anything deserves an OMG! then the Millhouse River turntable does. The bloody thing is built like a tank! This photo shows the underside of this monster. I’d turned it over to draw a circle on the ply ready for cutting out with a jig saw. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to take a really good look at the undercarriage of the table. Look at that sweet little star-spangled banner! 🙂

I started by doing some measuring and then built a frame from 3×1″ pine to hold the turntable. I cut a hole in the 12mm ply and after a bit of trimming and adjusting dropped the table into position with everything upside down. The turntable is mounted from below using those large wings you can see welded to the sides. To get the height of the rails on the table the same as the approach roads you have to shim the table down by adding small blocks of wood between the underside of the ply top and these wings. I had to add over 22mm of shim underneath which were made up of some 12mm and 9mm ply and some white styrene and it’s still about 1mm too high. I’ll come back later and add another styrene shim to bring the table’s bridge down to match the height of a length of Peco track which is what I’ll use in the storage roads.

This is as far as I got with the turntable bench-work today. In spite of its rather spindly look it’s all quite solid and I’ll add bracing to the legs next weekend. The entry door to the room is just out of camera range to the right and there’s more than enough room to enter comfortably.

With the clearances on entry to the room so tight, building this section of bench-work has allowed me to assure myself that there was enough space to comfortably open the door and enter the room. The way an operator will get to the operating well between Morpeth and Queens Wharf is by passing around the end of these sections of bench-work adjacent to the far wall. There isn’t an inch to spare space and there’s a train line that will run along that wall which is yet to be built. In addition I now have an exact measurement of how long the storage sidings can be as they will run toward the camera and pass to the left along the back of Morpeth. Of course I’m a long way from actually being able to turn a locomotive on the turntable as it needs to be wired up and hooked to some approach tracks. As it wasn’t supplied with an Australian compatible power supply I’ve had to source one from an Australian supplier but even after it arrives it will probably be a fair while before I wire it up.

Sexy? That depends on your interpretation I suppose but I reckon this is about as close as you get to sexy in this hobby so I’m happy 🙂

The First Step

I decided I really was over lighting at the housings for them so I took a very small step along the road to building a new layout today. A couple of friends came over and gave me a hand making a short length of new bench-work for the Morpeth line.

While the bench-work for Morpeth is already way lower than I’d prefer, getting a drop section installed to allow for scenery to be below track level makes for even lower bench-work. The underside of the 3×1’s in this shot are about 600mm above the floor. That’s 2′ in old money.

We started work by chopping up and bolting a slab of 6″ wide pine to one end of Queens Wharf to act as a plate between the old part of the layout and this new section. This part of the layout is really the only viable place for a bridge scene and to get a reasonable drop below grade I needed to drop the bench-work lower than the level of the pre-existing layouts.

Where the camera is located in this shot will be taken up with more bench-work very shortly and this will probably drop even lower to provide the course of the river the bridge will be crossing. The bridge will start at roughly the location of the first cross beam on the right and cross the join between this section of bench-work and a second piece I’d like to make over the weekend. A new backdrop will be installed as soon the bench-work is in place.

I’ll get the lights installed when my electrician gets back from his holidays! 🙂

Six Boxes

After installing four lighting boxes on the shorter of the train rooms two long walls I got up there this morning and placed six in the long ceiling.

Utilizing my $6.50 Bunnings purchases today I got the second batch of lighting boxes installed down the long side of the room after placing four on the other side yesterday.

I covered Queens Wharf with some cheap plastic drop sheets before starting to prevent plaster dust from getting onto the layout. It’s a bugger to get off once it settles on scenery so this was the best solution. I still have to make the face plates for all of the boxes from more MDF and I need to paint them too but the painting can waiting till after the electrician has been to install the lights within the next couple of weeks. I want to leave the screw heads exposed until after he finishes just in case the pelmets need to come off for some reason. Once I’ve filled the countersink holes, sanded and painted this will be impossible to achieve without damage.

Best Laid Plans

I had an interesting weekend attending the AMRA’s Liverpool exhibition in Sydney on Saturday. I was going to spend some time out at the exhibition on Sunday morning too but decided to head into the city to buy some books from my favourite bookshop Abbey’s. So why would I want to browse for books about William Tecumseh Sherman and the 1969 Rugby League grand final between Souths and Balmain rather than spend more time playing trains? I do have an excuse in that as an 8-year-old I lived two doors down from one of the Balmain players who played in that game but I’ll admit I’m strange. I committed to taking Morpeth to next year’s exhibition to the exhibition managers although one of them responded with “Morpeth, where the hell’s that?” The price of fame hey? 🙂 I arrived back yesterday (Monday) about lunch time and have spent a good deal of the intervening time since sleeping.

I had the pleasure of dropping the better half off at the airport this morning at an ungodly hour and on the way home thought I’d drop into Bunnings to pick up a keyhole saw and some plastic drop sheets for my ongoing struggles with layout lighting. I was sure I already had a keyhole saw but couldn’t find it so I had to get a new one. Creeping senility is surely to blame for this failure of memory or perhaps not: the other saw is bound to turn up in the next couple of days now that I’ve bought a new one. These purchases came to the grand total of $6.50 and I told the lady at the checkout this was the lowest amount I’d ever managed to spend before escaping from a Bunnings store. She just laughed at me but I wasn’t joking! 🙂

I’m sure that what I call a keyhole saw has many other names in different parts of the world but it’s essentially a sharp, thin bladed tool designed for cutting holes in plasterboard. It’s far too big to cut keyholes with but that’s what my father used to call it and my new one (my new saw not my new father) only cost $4.25 and it works a treat! Of course the less said about why I needed such an implement and the role played by another bloody tradie the better!

Yes, yes I know this is just a photo of a hole but that’s my brand new ceiling the hole is cut into and a picture always tells a story! And in this case the story is that my bloody electrician insisted that he needed holes behind the light boxes to fit his hand through so he can install the down-lights!

If you take a look at the photos in the previous post you’ll see that I had drilled a nice neat little hole in the back of the box I’d hung as a test to allow the passage of wires for the down lights. In that installment of the blog I was about to meet with my electrician Craig the next day to discuss the design and installation of the boxes. Well we did meet up and he immediately said “Mmmmm!” which is never good coming from a trades person because it either means it’s going to cost you money or it means having to do something you’re not going to like. In this case it meant that there wasn’t room inside the light boxes to fit the lights he planned to install so he needed a hole cut so that he could push the down-light’s transformers into the ceiling so they weren’t sitting on top of the backs of the lights. “How big?” I asked referring to the hole, to which he replied “big enough to fit my hand through”. It was on the tip of my tongue to say something cutting about him having hands of similar dimensions to Donald Trump but I kept my comment to myself. I bit my tongue, bit back my comment and swallowed my pride! I thought my boxes were pretty nifty and here I was faced with the prospect of major surgery.

I’m glad I resisted the temptation to install any more of the boxes on the ceiling because the 12mm ply back plate of the boxes also had to have the same hole cut in them and this couldn’t be done once installed. I needed to get the one I’d installed off the ceiling (no small task in itself) and cut a hole approximately 12cmX9cm into the back of each box. All of those I’d fitted sides to had to have these removed (about half of them) so I could make the required cuts with a jig saw and then have the sides reinstalled. I then had to fit sides to those I hadn’t started and fit the pelmets to all of them.

All ten light boxes completed and ready to install on the ceiling upstairs. Note the new, large holes cut into the ply back plates. I can easily get my large, masculine hands through these holes so I’m sure Craig my electrician can get his dainty little digits through! 🙂


Banishing The Mud

A solution to my lighting problem has been the main train hobby task that’s been occupying me since I last posted. After the electrician visited me the day after my last post I spent some time trying to decide the most cost effective way of providing ten flat “ceiling” spots to allow the installation of ten LED down-lights. These are cheap, don’t produce much heat and are highly efficient compared to the old style halogen lights. I was aiming to throw an even spread of light along the entire length of the part of the layout that will sit in the crook of the room which is the result of the vertical wall only traveling up about 1m before it starts to head off at 45 degrees to the peak of the ceiling. There is no flat ceiling to install down-lights into as standard (read for this cheap) LED fittings only gimble by about 15 degrees. Not enough to counter the 45 degree angle of the ceiling. There are specialist fittings that have goose necks but these are about six times the price of standard down-lights at around $75 each. $750 for just the fittings before I pay for the installation was a down-light too far! 🙂 I didn’t want the lights shining into operators eyes and I also wanted them be high enough that no one was going to bash their head on the fascia I knew I would install to mask the light from operational eyes.

Once I’d determined the angle of the ceiling was 45 degrees I came up with a design for a pelmet “box” that would allow the installation of the lights into the ceiling. I was originally going to run the pelmet right down the length of both sides of the room but decided against this mainly due to the fact that it seemed like such a waste of money and materials and it would have been very heavy. I was worried that installing such a long wooden structure into unsupported plaster board might bring the whole ceiling down around my ears. So instead I’m making ten 300mm long ply and MDF boxes that will house one light each.

This is one of the light boxes I’ve made to install the lights into. This is prior to the installation of the piece of MDF into which the light fixture will be fitted and also before I’ve filled holes, sanded and painted the box the same blue as the walls. This first install is just a test so the electrician can come and check everything will fit.

I started with a long strip of 12mm ply wood down which I routed two 45 degree angles along both long edges. I then cut this up into 300mm long chunks. I also then cut up ten pieces of 6mm MDF for the front “fascia” and 20 end triangles for the ends. I pre-drilled fixing holes for the toggle bolts I used to hold the box in place on the ceiling and also drilled out a large 25mm hole in the center of the ply back plate to allow the wiring to enter the box. When the boxes are complete there will be a small sheet of MDF covering the bottom and this will have the light inserted into it through a hole I’ll pre-cut before they are screwed into position. The box is just over 300mm wide, the front fascia is 140mm deep and the lip at the bottom drops about 35mm below where the light will eventually be masking it from the eyes of someone standing in the aisle off the layout room.

This shot gives the light box a bit of context regarding size. There will be four along this side of the room and six on the other with them all being about 1m to 1.2m apart. When sanded and painted I envisage they will be virtually invisible.

The electrician is coming back in two days to check my work and then we’ll book a date for the installation of the lights. In the short term the lights will be switched on and off from the wall socket but after I install the bench-work I’ll have him come back and install a switch mounted on the fascia of the layout to save me crawling under the layout to switch the lights on.