Benchwork for Morpeth MkII

I designed the benchwork for Queens Wharf to be lighter than standard portable benchwork made from timber. Timber has its strengths: I’m comfortable working with it (in another lifetime I trained as a carpenter), I have the tools needed to make pretty much anything I want and timber is pretty well available anywhere. This last consideration is not to be dismissed lightly: I’ve lived in places that could be loosely described as the middle of nowhere. With the nearest source for your materials a couple of hours away you don’t want to be using components that are too exotic.

Having all this in mind I had reached a stage where QW needed to move out of the back of my station wagon after I purchased an enclosed trailer to transport my layouts in. This allowed me the opportunity to expand the layout by adding a fiddleyeard and I pressed a previously made wooden frame from Morpeth MkI into service. This arrangement worked fine, however it was very apparent that the full wooden structure was significantly heavier than the modules I’d incorporated aluminium into. This made me more determined that ever that, when I came to design my next layout, that the portable version of Morpeth would be as light as possible.

What were the design considerations?

1. The aim of this version of my modules was to remove as much timber from the design as possible. Where timber was used I would replace solid timber and mdf with ply. By experimentation I found ply to be about 30% lighter than mdf and about 15% lighter than solid timber. Some mdf was needed for its lack grain.

2.  I wanted to use aluminium but I didn’t want this to be anything too exotic or expensive. I chose to stay with the same cross-section I had used on QW: 1.5mm thick X 25mm angle section. This was light, strong and relatively cheap, especially if bought in quantity from a specialist aluminium supplier. Avoid the big hardware chains as I find they charge a lot more for materials like this.

3. This layout would be a fiddleyard to terminus design with 4 sections in total: 3 scenic sections and 1 fiddle yard. These had to fit into my trailer so their shape and volume had to conform to the space available. I’ll go into more detail about this later but if you search through the archives of my blog you’ll find the photos of my trailer and this will give you an idea of the arrangement of the sections and how they fit onto the rack I’ve built to fit the transport.

I put a lot of thought into how I was going to make the modules and how the aluminium and wood were going to interact. I decided to incorporate the things I liked about the QW modules into these new versions of the design but upgrade the things I thought I could be improved upon. The main one of these was to replace the cross-section supports with U-channels made up from two lengths of aluminium angle with a thin inner wall made up of 3 ply. I decided to stick with solid pine plates on the end of each module for strength and durability but I milled this timber down to a thinner profile using a thicknesser/planer I have in my workshop. I also planed all the edges so it was dimensionally accurate. One bit of advice I feel that should be noted when using timber: do not assume it is all of the same dimension just because it is sold as being the same, it will often vary by as much as a couple of mm from piece to piece.

As far back as 2004 I was discussing the topic of baseboard design with fellow modellers John Parker and Roger Porter and I particularly remember a discussion we had at an Aus7 Modellers Forum about the QW modules and how they might be improved. John had an I beam he had made up from lengths of 3mm mdf at this meeting and I seem to remember discussing with him the possibility to using aluminium for the beams and timber for the web. This discussion formed the basis for the design of the improved cross beams in Morpeth MkII. I’ll post some photos of these after I’ve posted this text: it’s a lot easier to show this in a photo than it is to describe it.

As the sections of Morpeth MkII did not need to be nested like QW, I was able to use the entire depth of the sections for scenery and I won’t have to worry about having to design them so they don’t clash. Having said that I’m about to build another, separate layout with some friend and we’ve decided to use a QW style nesting system to get as much layout into the trailer as possible. The sections of Morpeth MkII are aligned and joined in the same manner as QW but the hardware for the alignment system came from Station Road Baseboards this time. I’ll post a link to this company if I don’t already have one on the blog.

Since the photos were taken last year I have laid all the track and wired the layout up. I can move onto basic scenery and was about to work on the backdrops when two things happened to alter my plans a bit; I decided to get involved in a group layout project and I saw the photo backdrops on Arakoola. I may have to look into a new method of installing a backdrop.

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