Mark's Train Tracks

An unusual layout creates high drama overhead.

SHOP OWNER: Mark Serfas
LOCATION: Aliso Viejo, CA

    This project started out as a Christmas gift for my son. After Santa left him a LGB G-Scale Santa Fe train last Christmas, I decided that it would be destroyed if left out all year long. I had seen photos of elevated train track in restaurants, and thought this would look nice in my sonís bedroom and provide him with enjoyment year round. He is four years old and enjoys anything with wheels.
Mark's Train Tracks

    My sonís room is roughly 11x15 feet with a walk-in closet. Since I thought it would look nice going through the wall, I decided to route the track into the walk-in closet. After careful measurements, taking into consideration crown moldings and desired distances from the wall, I started working on the 600mm (23.6 inches) radius turns. This is standard R1 radius, G-scale track. To do this, I glued up four 8-ft. long strips of maple that were 3/16 x 1 inch each. I thickness planed 5/4 boards down to 1 inch and ripped these to 3/16 inch on my Jet cabinet saw (3HP). I used a brand new Forrest WWII blade and my saw ripped these boards almost effortlessly. I used the thin kerf blade with the blade stiffener. I am very pleased with this blade.
    After ripping these long, thin strips, I glued them and clamped them into a form I made out of 3/4 MDF. Before tightening the clamps down, I tamped all the pieces even with each other using a block of wood and a rubber mallet. Notice that the 600mm radius is to the center of the two rails. I made each rail 2.625 inches either side of the centerline.
Mark's Train Tracks

    Letting this dry for 24 hours, I removed the two pieces and checked for spring back. There was more than I had hoped for, however it was manageable. For future reference, I read another article on bending wood using this technique and that article recommended using 3/32 thick pieces for a radius of two feet. While I believe that this would reduce spring back, it would add complications and time to the glue up process. Thinner strips would also create additional waste using the table saw, since it would require twice as many rips. In addition, I also noticed twisting (besides spring back) in one piece that I had to scrap because the twisting was so bad. I believe that this was due to not having all the pieces even with each other when I clamped it.
Mark's Train Tracks

    With three sets of 180 degrees turns completed, I still needed to make the railroad ties for the track to rest on. For this, I used Ĺ-inch thick S3S maple and ripped it into lengths, Ĺ-inch wide. Using my CMS, I cut these to 7 3/4 inch lengths. The picture shows one of two boxes that I needed to complete this project.
Mark's Train Tracks

    Placing the 180-degree turns back into the jig and clamping it all back together; I brad-nailed the railroad ties onto the rails. Upon removing the track from the jig, I realized that brad nailing the ties to the rails had done nothing to eliminate the spring back. Since I didn't want to scrap the entire piece that I had just made, I glued cross braces on the underside of the track. To do this, I placed everything back in the jig, and glued the cross braces in place. After 24 hours of drying, the spring back was completely gone.
    Subsequent to making the first turn, instead of just nailing, I tried gluing and brad-nailing the ties to the rails. I found that the incremental sheer stress taken out by each dab of glue on each side of each railroad tie was just enough to remove all spring back. For all subsequent turns, I took this approach.
    The straight sections of track were much easier to construct. I ripped the 3/4 x 1 inch rails and glued/brad-nailed the railroad ties to them using spaces between the rails to keep them parallel. In case you're wondering, the railroad ties are spaced to match the track that the train rides on.
Mark's Train Tracks

    After constructing all the necessary pieces and cutting them to the proper lengths, I laid out the track and checked it for fit. By the way, I made the 90-degree turns by cutting a 180-degree turn in half. This photo shows the layout and Tyler, who was pretending to be a train riding around the track!

    With final dimensions from the layout double checked, I cut a couple of holes through the drywall into the closet. To suspend the track from the ceiling, I used some ceiling hangers I made from the same maple stock. I plan to finish the track using a Golden Mahogany stain from Varathane and a satin lacquer finish. I'll post a picture of the finished product in a couple weeks. Here are some photos of the project installed, but unstained.

. . . Mark Serfas

Mark's Train Tracks Mark's Train Tracks

Mark's Train Tracks Mark's Train Tracks



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