Build Your First Model Train Table

A simple 4'x8' platform will provide ample room for a model railroad in many scales.

Ryan C Kunkle/The Spruce

There comes a time that all model railroad enthusiasts need to build their own table for display. Luckily, the project isn't as daunting as it might seem.

Model railroads come in all shapes and sizes. The design of your train table will depend on many variables, including the size and shape of your available space, access, portability, and your track plan. Many people get started with a standard 4- by 8-foot sheet of plywood. No matter what scale you’ve chosen, you can fit a modest railroad in this convenient space. However, you can modify these plans to fit your space and needs.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: One day.

Materials:

  • 16 1- by 4- by 96-inch boards
  • Two 2- by 4- by 96-inch boards
  • Two 4- by 8-foot sheets of 1/2-inch plywood
  • Wood glue
  • 1.5-inch drywall screws
  • 16 3/8-inch bolts (3-inch length) with washers and nuts

Tools:

  • Miter saw
  • Cordless drill/screwdriver
  • Jigsaw
  • C Clamps
  • Wrench
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Square
  • Safety gear

Here's How

  1. Cut all of the lumber for your platform and shelf frames to length. A miter or chop saw works best for this, but you can substitute hand tools. Keep the cuts square.
    Cut six 1x4s to form the sides and crosspieces. Each 8-foot piece will provide two 45 1/2-inch crosspieces.
  2. Assemble the frames. Two 8-foot 1x4s make the front and back sides of each. Space six of the crosspieces you've just cut in between on 16-inch centers. Laying this grid on top of your plywood will help keep edges square and protect against glue spills.
    Pre-drill two holes in each joint to prevent splitting. Apply glue and screw each piece together with 1 3/4-inch drywall screws. Take care to keep everything square.
    If you are adding the storage shelf, repeat this process.
  3. Make the legs. Simply cut the two 2x4s in half for 48-inch table height. If you want a lower table, remove more from the legs. For taller tables, additional 2x4s will be needed.
    Lower tables are easier to work on and more accessible to children. Higher tables provide a more natural viewing height for the finished layout. Pick what works best for you.
  1. Add an adjustable foot into the base of each leg. These will help protect your floors and help level the platform if necessary.
  2. Glue one sheet of plywood to a frame for the platform and fasten with screws. Skip the glue if you plan on making cuts in the plywood to make grades. You can map out your track plan, mark your cuts, then remove the plywood to make the cuts and reinstall. Risers can be attached to the crosspieces to raise the height as desired.
  3. Attach the legs to the platform. Turn the platform upside down and place a leg in each corner. It does not matter which way you face the legs, but they should be consistent. Drill two 5/1-inch holes through both the frame and leg in each corner. Attach the legs with 3/8-inch bolts and nuts, using a washer on the outside and inside. Using bolts will allow you to easily disassemble the platform if you ever want to move or modify it.
  4. The shelf will need to be modified to fit around the legs. Using a jig, circular, or hand saw, cut a notch big enough for a leg in each corner. Fasten the plywood to the frame with glue and 1-inch screws.
  1. Return the layout to an upright position. Slide the shelf up the legs and clamp at the desired height. Make sure the shelf is level. Drill holes and bolt as with the platform.
    In addition to storage, this shelf also stabilizes the platform. If you are not adding a shelf, add cross-braces between the legs. Cut 4 more 1x4s to approximately 6-foot length. Make an X between the legs, attaching with screws.
  2. Paint or finish the platform to fit your taste. Adjust the feet as necessary to level your platform and get ready to start laying track.
  • Your materials don't have to be furniture grade, but better materials will make construction easier.
  • Choose the straightest lumber you can find, avoiding knotty materials. AC grade plywood works well, but keep the best-finished side up. Avoid particle or chipboard materials.
  • If you have access to a table saw, 3/4-inch plywood could also be substituted for the dimensional lumber by ripping it to appropriate strips. Additionally, a 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch rabbit can be cut into the top inside edge of the frame to recess the plywood. This strengthens the table and hides the laminates. You will need to increase the length of the crosspieces or reduce the length and width of the plywood by 1-inch in compensation for the rabbit.
  • If you have a miter saw, you can substitute 48-inch crosspieces for the ends, mitering all of the corners to 45-degree angles. This will provide a stronger, better-looking joint.