UPDATE: Lobby Repainting - Office Lobby Shelf Layout

I'm finally taking the plunge and putting a loop of track around the lobby of my office.  After 4.5 years of owning the place I've decided to go w/a bit of a railroad theme, as the railroad ties marking off the front beds outside still had tie plates & spikes in them.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  However, it also provides other benefits, such as: 1.) Giving me a place to run my trains before I can get around to building a home layout, 2.) Giving my wife less train stuff at home to see/deal with/hear about, etc., and 3.) My hobby becomes, in part, a business expense.  

The area is exactly 8' x 16' and I've ordered a loop of ScaleTrax with O80 curves and 4 lock-ons.  I've always wanted to try ScaleTrax and figured this would be a good way to test it out.  I wanted a solid rail for noise issues, and plan on using Flexxbed underneath for additional sound suppression.  I plan on using either 0.75" Plywood or 0.75" MDF for the shelf itself.  I'll be using the MTH Arch Bridge w/holiday lights (40-1115) and two extensions (40-1116) to span the gap over the Dutch door.  Expecting it from Pat's Trains on or about Tuesday.  I also wanted to try MTH's new DCS WiFi, as I would like to eventually add this system to the LEGACY that I have at home.  The hassle of keeping track of a remote control at the office is also something I can do without.  I ordered the MTH DCS WiFi bundle Mr. Muffin's Trains is advertising, and should arrive about the same time. A Lionel power brick should provide the juice - I don't have any conventional engines, nor do I plan to get any.  

Lobby Loop

I will likely be using metal "L" brackets into the studs with the wall mounts above the shelf & track, with the shelf sitting on top of the horizontal leg.  I may need to mount a few above the board to clear the window trim (can notch the boards for a tighter fit, but can't alter the bracket).  I've seen in at least one thread (I can never seem to remember/find the same old thread(s) again after I read them) where I believe someone used 3" brackets top-mounted on MDF, but the security of that hold would worry me, I think, especially if not gluing in addition to screwing the shelf on.  

The bigger construction concern that I have are the two 46" gaps between the side walls and the back wall (see crude diagram of the room below).  Is either board rigid enough to span the gap without significant flexing?  I was planning on leaving the corners on the board for additional support (I was going to just cut a "U" out of an 8x4 sheet and mount the entire thing in each corner, with 6-8" wide planks connecting the two).  rather than make a curved cut on the outside to follow the track.  


I would love to hear any feedback tips, & tricks those of you that have built shelf layouts have, especially w/respect to ScaleTrax, mounting brackets, shelf material, and the aforementioned gap concern.   I'll also keep searching through old shelf layout threads.  Thanks!

- Neal



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Original Post

Progress has begun on re-doing the lobby in preparation for the layout.  I have reviewed multiple topics on these forums concerning shelf layouts, and was wondering if anyone had any new preferences or thoughts for MDF vs. Plywood.  From what I've read there can be more distortion over time w/plywood, but better screw security over MDF.  This would be in an air conditioned & heated lobby; moisture & humidity haven't been major issues in the past.  Comments would, as always, be appreciated. 

I'm trading services with a client and we were able to get the wallpaper down a couple weeks ago.  A minor roof vent leak we discovered has been fixed.  Today we've started mudding & will repair a patch of drywall that we partially removed with the 40 year-old wallpaper. 



It'll be at least 2 coats of mud, plus touch-up, before we can paint. Going to use a light grey ("Gravity")_ for the walls and a dark grey ("Crucible") to go over the dark brown trim (crown molding, door, windows).  The grey should make for a nice autumn/winter sky backdrop.  While trains will be running year-round there will definitely be a special focus on Halloween (have MTH train on order) & Christmas (should have full scale PE train as well as CP Christmas train for this year).  


I should have about a foot between the ceiling and top of the board for scenery and plan on using foam board and several MTH buildings with Christmas lights to scenic a small passenger station area, as well as residential, and commercial areas in the corners of the layout. 

That's all for now.  Hopefully these pictures load ok - they look fine on both my computer & cell phone.  Will post again when there's progress. 


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The room is looking really good!  I used MDF for my Ceiling Central RR, and it has worked out okay.  I agree on the statement that it has less chance of warping, but doesn't take screws as well as plywood.  Since mine is in a basement family room, I used precut and finished shelving.  A foot clearance should work nicely.  I only have 7 inches because of the low ceiling and it makes it harder to see what I'm doing, and leaves less room for scenery, which I only have made a minimal effort to date.

Thanks to all for the replies! 

John - I would definitely do that at home (if I ever get around to that layout...)  but I'm not sure if I'll do too much scenicing re: background, as it is still an office lobby.  I'm hoping the grey paint serves as a somewhat effective October-December Midwestern sky.  Not sure if I'll paint the shelf itself white or dk. grey yet.  I may eventually ballast the inside edge of the track, though at over 6.5' high most low things won't be visible.  I plan to do some small hills & elevations of foam as sands for buildings & scenery given the time.  Probably several, spanning multiple seasons - one in snow, one green & lush, & for autumn.  Would be good use of the corners of the 4'x8' boards at the end, which I'll be preserving for structural integrity. 

Would love to be able to get the paint up by the end of the week. I'll keep y'all posted!

- Neal

Doug - Very nice!  Thank you!  Have you noticed any issues w/the wood warping, etc.?  I'm probably leaning that route vs. MDF right now. 

Also, the drywall is patched & 1st coat of mud complete.  Just have to find a time to do 2nd coat & sand, then painting can begin.  Won't get done this weekend, though, with my stepson's graduation and holiday.


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No problem at all with any warping, the Baltic Birch plywood is extremely stable, after cutting and some fine sanding the polyurethane gives it a furniture grade finish. If the price has risen like that common plywood be prepared for sticker shock, this was done some years back before most building materials went nuts.

I will make one very strong recommendation, based on a lesson learned with this project. Before cutting and doing your sub-assembly for final installation not only do you need your dimensions to be accurate but also check your dimensions from opposite corners. This is a step I didn't think about but learned when I started installation. The "cookie-cutter construction"  of homes tends to leave rooms that don't have square corners. Was a real pain going up-n-down that step ladder to make minor adjustments so everything fit properly.

+1 on Birch plywood.  I have pieces (circular and straight) for elevated track on seasonal layouts that get stored in the garage.  No warping over several years of crappy summer storage in mid-Atlantic heat and humidity.  Cannot say the same for softwood ply.  I would not touch MDF as it needs support on all edges to retain its shape over time.

I concur with leaving the outside corners on for stiffening.

To support a long bridge, use angle or square tubing under the bridges.  I find that aluminum angle with 1/8" walls is stiff for supporting bridges.  You might consider aluminum U-channel of a width that matches the underside of the bridges - it will be very stiff even over long spans.  Check out onlinemetals.com for available shapes.


Another vote for Birch plywood...

BTW, fastening the wall brackets firmly is paramount.  Fastening the sub roadbed (birch ply) to the wall brackets is next most important. 

However, fastening the track to the roadbed is, IMHO, a matter of keeping the track from shifting side-to-side.....because gravity does a pretty good job of keeping things 'down'.  IOW, don't fret too much about a lot of thread power in keeping the track in place.

Now then, I would strongly suggest the addition of a safety wire/railing on the outside of the shelf to retain locos and cars that would like to be Tootle....off the rails, picking daisies.  If there's a chance a client or co-worker could find themselves under attack from falling trains, your insurance company would probably appreciate this addition.  It need not be celebrated.  That is to say a run of wire about a half inch above rail height should be adequate and not obstructing the view of the trains that much.  On the commercial installations I've done, I found that the eye lag screws...

eye lag screw

...used mainly in the hanging of suspended ceiling rails/panels are a very handy, inexpensive, quick way of providing support for a safety wire....for which I use a very thin steel cable, such as included in picture hanging kits but certainly available in bulk, cut-to-length at larger hardware, home improvement stores.

Other than that....have fun. 

Oh yes, another lesson from the School of Hard Knocks....keep your train controls out of reach of curious customers.  There's 'hidden', and there's 'locked'.  One client found that 'hidden' doesn't mean much to determined Easter egg hunters and masters of playscapes....or bigger kids who never were smacked for inappropriate curiosity!

FWIW, of course...



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Thank you all for the advice!  I will definitely look for birch plywood & try to avoid soft.  KD, I do like the safety wire idea - more subtle than a couple inches of Lexan screwed to the edge.  Surprised only 1/2" is enough, but will do!

I think I'm leaning towards painting the wood that dark grey to match the rest of the trim. Any suggestions for wall-mounted supports?  I was thinking I might craft those out of plywood, too, especially if I can't find prefab wood ones and for areas where a longer support is needed. 

The main walls of the lobby have been mudded, sanded, primed, and painted!


Hoping to get trim pieces, sills, and door done soon.  After that I can work on the shelving! 

Thanks for your interest and input; I'll keep you posted!


- Neal



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Neal, I used dimensional birch for the support brackets. The vertical pieces are 1x2 with the horizontal pieces being 1x3 or 1x4 depending on how long they need to be for proper support. They are assembled using screws and dowels as well as a really good quality carpenters glue.They are all attached to wall studs except for the ones in front of the ceiling height closet doors which are attached to the ceiling joists.

I do not trust dry wall hangars for anything that will possibly have to support the weight of an articulted steam engine or possibly some die cast hoppers, etc.

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