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Yes, get a vertical drill jig,  get everything trued up and using a couple  of classic "C" clamp, run a pilot drill through and work up to the finish as mentioned earlier,  Do not use rubber faced squeeze clamps, they can move.   Each dowel size has it's own recommended final drill size which may or may not be perfect  for the wood you are working with.  My drill jig has inserts so I clamp the jig up and drill a pilot, switch bushing then a mid size, switch bushings, then the final.

Drill and install one brass square dowel at a time.   Drilling all holes at one time is begging for a misfit.

Couple of other suggestions.

1.Feed center rails of adjoining track sections through the bridge contacts, so they are dead when bridge is open. THis requires one additional contact at each end of the bridge.  (I have a lift bridge that feeds a disconnected section of the layout, so only need this on one end.

2. Installing a microswitch pressed when the bridge comes down, permits wiring adjoining switch motors to route trains away from the bridge access tracks when bridge is up.

For mating each end of the pins, use dowel centering pins . Drill holes on one side, insert pins, place top section on pins and tap. Then all you have to do is drill the hole in the dented area to maintain alignment. So for some, this can be harder than it seems. These are woodworking aids and mating pins are often used for table leafs.   

16PCS Steel Dowel&Tenon Center Points Pin Woodworking 6-13mm Tools Set Hot Sale

My layout has the shape of an L.  It uses straight edges and was portable for 30 years and straight edges made it easier to move with wheels on the edges and easier to store standing on the floor leaning on a wall.

The straight edges give opportunities to add more features.  So the corners form outside curves are not wasted and several buildings and even a mountain are on corners.  Space on the layout is very scarce as I have more buildings, scenes and items to add to layout if there was more acreage.





The inside corner with inside curves gave me the opportunity to make a Wye by only adding two switches.  The Wye allows a train to switch from one loop to the other while reversing.  A train can also go from the inside loop on one train board to the outside loop of the other trains board.


I would consider curved corners, if I was building a new permanent layout, to eliminate some corners but would not put the track as close to the sides of the curves as derailments are still common here with grand kids doing lots of operation.  I would use Masonite to curve the sides of the layout as it is easy to bend.



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Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie
@RJR posted:

I don't like to have track along the edge of a layout, as Avanti has above, since floors can damage locomotives.  Where they are close, I place a barrier.

The reverse is also true depending on the floor..."since locomotives can damage floors".  And given the speed at which I run some engines, I definitely should put more effort into a positive train control solution for curves.  A

Anthony, for reaching the interior of an island layout, or any deep two-dimensional space, and in lieu of an access river, opening hatches, or ceiling hoist, pulleys, and harness there are "reacher" creeper step ladders, though I haven't seen one advertised in a while but am sure they still make them. They essentially facilitate leaning in and over deeper layout areas.

My access river was yet more work, but as I love water features and bridges I just had to implement it. It is secured underneath on one side by heavy-duty steel hinges and on the other by dead bolts. With the 3/4" plywood river bottom and plexiglass top it turned out very heavy, so whenever I need to drop or lower I need to pump out 10 pushups to get the old muscles ready and blood flowing. If I had to do it over, I would have used 1/2" plywood, I think that would've been strong enough. FWIW: the plexiglass was a special order item from a local window/glass supply store - its rippled giving the effect of water.



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@Paul Kallus - I'm 6'3", so I can already lean into and over work areas.  The irony of it is the first image that came up in Google for the creeper stepper ladder was for someone working on an O Gauge layout.  I had to laugh.  You need to buy that B&O Lionel boat (tug) off of eBay for your river btw.  As for getting bored watching trains run in "circles", I don't think that's going to happen.  My enjoyment comes from integrating tech into the layout mainly for the sole purpose of automating the entire layout.  I get absolutely no enjoyment from having to manually stop trains to throw switches and such.  (I also enjoy having 20 foot long consists...two of those, running on a layout.  I just wanted to throw that out there.)  A

Take all of this with a grain of salt, because I have never built a layout bigger than 4x8' (I did cut the corners off of that).

In my experience, straight sides have their place.  One place where straight sides work fine is on immense layouts such as model train clubs.  When a layout gets big enough, it almost doesn't matter what you do to the edges because they become a smaller fraction of the overall effect.  Another place where straight sides work is in certain public exhibits where the layout is a small portion of the room.  I'm thinking in particular of a layout that Nabisco built several decades ago to display at their world headquarters in New Jersey each Christmas.  It is currently on display in a large gallery in the Morris Museum in Morristown and still works as designed.  Each side of the rectangle has a somewhat different effect.  Another place where straight sides work is in retro-fabulous layouts - the "official" table in the Lionel catalogue is unabashedly rectangular, for example.

In any layout where space is a concern, including typical home layouts, I prefer curved sides for a number of reasons.

First on my list is the overall formality of the space - straight is formal and curves are casual.  Curves soften up straight edges.  A formal garden is straight and symmetrical.  A casual garden isn't.  A formal house is blended to its property with curved mulch beds or similar.  Model trains are casual by their nature and need to be presented as such.

Second, large radius curves are a luxury to own.  They suggest vast quantities of space.  We all know this especially from model railroading.  I learned this when my seven-year-old started running laps around the house and wore a path in the yard.  That path through my front yard was the biggest, most graceful curve for a mile around and really impressed people, although they couldn't articulate why they liked it.

Third, when you design a layout you are also designing its access paths, like walkways through a park.  Show me a park with straight paths and I will show you a sorry, poorly designed park.  Joggers and bikers and moms with strollers move in curves.  When you pay attention to the access paths in your layout, you make them attractive and easy to move in.  You avoid sharp edges and corners that could jab someone in the side. 

Lastly is the layout itself.  Straight edges imply a layout that was slapped together out of dimensional sheet goods (which it most likely was).  Some won't care about that, but the effect is still there.  Curved edges imply a layout that transcends numbers like 96 (inches) or 90 (degrees).  They imply a layout that is driven by the needs of the scene and not the constraints of the lumber at hand.  Of course that implication is correct - when you move away from relying on geometric lines and shapes you are consciously choosing the exact nature of your layout and can build exactly what you need or want.  This gives you much more creative control over how your track and scenery elements interact with the edges of your layout.  Curving the outer edge of your benchwork to run parallel to your "mainline" or outermost loop looks great, saves space, and is a fine display of model railroad building proficiency.  However, if you have the space, allowing places where the track moves further in from the edge of the table creates a real improvement.  It suggests "I am not constrained by space" and "My mainline wanders through the scene".

One more closing thought.  When you build a model railroad or really anything at all - good design, aesthetic, coloration, symmetry, proportion, focal point, etc. are all free.  Materials cost money.

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