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How I Build My Model Railroad Modules
An interesting concept in the construction of layouts for model railroaders has been the advent of the "module".  The module started out with the simple home layout consisting of 2 or 3 modules, each one being 2'-3' wide and 4'-6' long.  In recent times, the concept has been stretched to "modular railroad clubs"  where members construct modules to a set of club standards.  When the members get together, they end up with layouts that are over 250' long.  The purpose of these next few pages is to outline the techniques I use in constructing my modules. 
It took about 18 months of trial and error to develop the methods I use in constructing my modules and I continue to refine these techniques.  My objectives when I developed these construction methods were: 
  • To use readily available materials that required a minimum amount of sawing, filing, and sanding. 
  • To use materials and techniques that would result in a relatively light but very rugged module that wouldn't warp 
  • To use cutting methods that were very simple straight cuts (no 45° angles) and didn't require a set of fancy power tools.  (My last two module frames required no sawing on my part!) 
  • To use assembly techniques that didn't require 5 pairs of hands, a dozen or so wood clamps, and a large carpenter's square - all at the same time.  (The only time I used the carpenter's square was after the module frame had been assembled.) 
  • To use techniques that would keep the frustration level to a minimum and wouldn't take all winter to build.
  • And a few other criteria which I've forgotten
  • Depending on the tools you have or the buddies you know, the most difficult part will be to cut out a hole in the front and back pieces of the module frame.

(And now for the standard disclaimers)  Please note the use of the word "I" and "we".  These are my techniques (even when I use "we") - the ones that I use.  Some of you may have better techniques or even your favourite techniques.  You are welcome to follow these instructions.  If you follow these instructions, you assume all liability.  (End of disclaimers)

If you've got a better way of doing things or have any suggestions, I'd be glad to hear from you.  So, relax with some woodglue, screwdrivers, screws, some wood, and a few other bits and pieces, and have fun!

The Module Concept
Modules are typically 2' wide and 2', 4', or 6' long.  The width will depend on the standard for your MR Club.  The length will usually depend on the width of the back seat of your car or the size of your van or truck, and whether you transport your modules to club meets.  Obviously, a 6' module won't fit in the backseat of your sub-compact.  The module frame is usually constructed of 1"x 4", 1"x 5" or 1"x 6" lumber or plywood.  The surface of the module is typically 1½" - 2" styrofoam (extruded polystyrene board which is blue or pink in colour). 
Here's what a front view looks like with a cutaway at the right end.  This piece of lumber is typically 2', 4', or 6' long.  The hole in the middle is for an RJ12 telco jack, a UP5 jack, or whatever plug system you use for your DCC system throttles.

If we rotate the front view around, we end up looking at the end view.  The end view is typically 2' wide comprised of the dimensions of 3 pieces of lumber - the width of the lumber for the front piece, length of the end member, and the width of the lumber for the back piece.  In our case, this works out to be ¾"+ 22½"+ ¾" = 24"

Which introduces a carpentry concept for us newbies to woodworking.  Dimensional lumber is typically referred to as 1"x 6"x 5' (or 4' or 6').  The actual dimensions, however, are ¾"x 5½"x 5'. 

Now that we've seen what the front and end views look like, let's climb on top and see how this all fits together.  We've introduced a couple of other pieces of lumber like the End Members and the Middle Cross Member but we'll explain their use later on. 

(All of the above CAD drawings of modules on this and the following webpages are from the desk of Les Halmos.) 

Here's a photo of one of my module frames ready for the next stage - building a layout!.  This one is a 6-footer made from 1"x 6" knotty pine.  The pink surface is 1½" styrofoam. 

I've flipped the module frame over so you can see what the bottom looks like.  I paint my modules flat-black so it's a bit difficult to see the detail.  At each end, the Cross Members keep things square and provide stability to the frame.  They're also used to to attach the legs.  The Middle Cross member provides stability to the sides of the modules.  The real stability comes from glueing the styrofoam to the wood so that the pieces all become one light but rigid unit. 

I hope this gives you an idea of what a module looks like.  Let's get started with some construction. We're going to build a 4-foot module and we'll be doing the following steps:
  • Cutting the lumber
  • Laying out and drilling the holes for the woodscrews
  • Laying out and drilling the holes for the T-nuts
  • Installing the T-nuts
  • Cutting out and recessing some holes for some RJ12 6-wire telephone jacks
  • Screwing and glueing the boards together into a square frame
  • Painting the module frame
  • Cutting, installing and glueing the styrofoam to the module frame.