For most of us, building benchwork is a necessary evil,
something that has to be done before we get to the real
fun of building a layout. Sometimes the benchwork is so
daunting we never get to the layout part; at the other
end, moving to a new house often means a layout is destroyed
in the process of getting the benchwork out of the old
house. As Fred Doyle noted in his article on custom layouts
Run 208, "You could never figure out how to get my
layout apart. What would happen to it if I moved?"
I've been testing a benchwork product that grew our of
one man's frustration, as many good ideas do. Tim Foley
is a professional cabinetmaker and a model railroader.
Some years ago, he was forced to throw his entire layout
in a dumpster in order to sell his house. Out of that
frustration grew a benchwork system that solves several
problems for a large layout.
- It goes together quickly and easily: In one long day,
you can assemble the benchwork for a large layout.
- It requires no carpentry skills and few tools. Tim's
Mianne Benchwork system is prefabricated and goes together
with furniture-style cam lock fasteners. The only tools
needed are Phillips screwdrivers, pliers, a level, and
perhaps a small hammer. What you miss out on is the fun
of looking for straight pieces of lumber at your local
Home Depot and the opportunity to draw blood while using
a table saw.
- It can easily be expanded: Additional benchwork can
be added to any side of an existing layout.
-It comes apart and can be reused: If you follow Tim's
suggestion and build your layout on plywood sheets on
top of the benchwork, an existing layout can be disassembled
by simply taking the plywood tops off the benchwork. Then
the benchwork itself can be taken apart with a screwdriver
and reassembled in a new location.
Materials and Parts
There are two basic elements to the MIanne system: legs
and girders. The 1-3/4" square legs are made of kiln-dried
poplar, a furniture-grade hardwood, and have an octagonal
top that allows girders to be attached at a 90 or 45-degree
angles. Legs are normally 40" tall but can be supplied
at any height the purchaser desires. Legs also have a
leveling feet to adjust for uneven floors. Girders are
constructed of hardwood sides and ends with an interior
web of MDF, a molded wood product. The sides and ends
are glued to the web, and the ends are also stapled to
it. The end result is a framework that is surprisingly
lightweight but - when a plywood top is applied - rigid
and strong enough to support the weight of an average
adult working on the layout. The fact is that the heavy
lumber used by many home layout buildings is massive overkill
for most model railroads. The choice of materials in the
Mianne (pronounced "me-ah-nee" and names after
Tim's three children) system is designed to provide lightweight
and rigidity as well as seasonal stability across the
range of temperatures found in many basements. Mianne
benchwork will experience less shrinkage and expansion
that will benchwork built from cheap-grades of softwood
because the MIanne system is engineered so all pieces
experience "seasonal movement" at the same rate.
In layman's terms, you're less likely to have a track
or scenery shift if your layout goes through temperature
Legs and girders are joined to each other with furniture-syle
quick-lock cam fasteners. Using a Phillips screwdriver,
the purchaser screws a cam dowel into a predrilled hole
in the leg. Two chrome stabilizers are inserted into the
pre-drilled holes above and below the dowel to give the