Sandy Shores - A new layout box

 If you're getting deja vu, well, yes, we've been here before!

Indeed, you may well remember that I once designed and built a storage box - but made the critical mistake of using MDF as that is all I could get at the time (it being during lockdown). Never again! That got dismantled after a while, and was later used to make a storage chest for my studio. Anyway, the main problem with protecting the layout is its unique (read: awkward!) shape. Whilst my initial plan was to save a lot of weight and space by making a removable open-sided cover, I felt it would be more sensible to make a complete box - not least because it would be easier to pick the layout up in that form, and it would offer more protection. To make it less cumbersome to transport when compared with the original box, I would make it from two separate boxes - one large enough to fit the layout in, and the second (smaller) one to fit the trolley and lighting rig in. Additionally, I certainly wouldn't make it from MDF; but use 9mm plywood instead.

A Skilsaw is used by my dad to split larger pieces of softwood lengths into 20mm x 20mm strips

: Here, my Dad is using a Skilsaw to cut a larger piece of softwood into multiple thin strips so that we can use it for bracing.

My original plan was, similar to the original box, to rebate channels to produce a stronger, lighter box. However, it's one thing designing something on a computer, and another to actually see what 9mm thick material looks like in person (especially when you're in a rush with a deadline looming!). It was readily apparent once I got the wood home that 9mm was simply not thick enough to rebate properly, so a solution had to be come up with on-the-spot. As can be seen from the photos above and below, fortunately, my dad came up with the idea of chopping up some larger leftover softwood planks into 20mm x 20mm strips; which will be used around all corners and edges of the inside of the box.

A full sheet of 9mm plywood is erected on trestles. A white shape shows the size of the layout by comparison.

Above: When you get the layout outside, you can really appreciate how small it is - whereas in my small studio it looks much bigger!

Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo, but I did place the layout on top of the ply to mark out the size of box needed - the white shape superimposed on the image above shows its size (minus the round end of the fiddle yard turnplate which would be on the left). As I'll show later on, the fiddle yard will be rebuilt from a turnplate into a traverser - so this had to be taken into account when determining the size of box required.

The same piece of plywood is shown with clamped bits of wood securing a spirit level.

: When cutting full-size sheets of plywood (or any other material), sometimes you have to get creative with how you clamp guides for power tools! In this case, the blue spirit level, acting as a guide for the Skilsaw, is held in place by two bits of wood. The darker bit stops the spirit level moving with the pressure exerted by the saw and person using it, and the bent bit on top prevents any vertical movement, whilst also resisting any movement in the opposite direction to that which the first bit of wood stops.

A close up showing the basic construction of the box using 20mm square softwood framework and 9mm ply sides.

Above: A close up of the softwood battens now in place on the two sides. I still think this is probably a better option than going for thicker plywood in terms of weight saving. Plus, it should also be more 'stable' in terms of resisting warping and bending. Hopefully!

Test fitting that the layout fits within the unfinished box.

Above: I decided that it was better to be safe than sorry, so the layout was inserted between the sides to check that all clearances were as they should be, and that I definitely allowed enough room to fit the ends on when the new fiddle yard gets built! Happily, everything is in order.

By the way, the layout sits on 3 small castor wheels, so the clamp in the right hand photo with the bit of short wood was to stop the layout rolling backwards as the trestles were on a sloping driveway!

Marking out the locations for screws so that they are the same spacing.

Above: Happy that everything sits well, the top was screwed on. Note that we're marking the centreline of the softwood onto the top of the plywood, as well as making sure the holes are relatively equidistant by comparing them with the spacing of the screws on the bottom piece of plywood. Overkill, yes, but isn't it nice to see a little bit of symmetry?

Creating a triangular block to attach castor wheels to the box.

Above: Much like the previous box, I wanted to add wheels (the same ones, actually) to the back of the larger one. The trianglular wedges of wood were cut to I think an angle of 45 degrees on the cross-cut mitre saw. A job that takes seconds! By using a spare bit of ply on the bottom of the box, we can work out where the wheels need to sit in order to finish flush. The triangular block could then be drawn around to mark its location, and the screw holes of the wheel bracket also marked onto the block itself.

Adding the sliding handle, salvaged from the previous incarnation of the layout box.

Above: Another thing that was reused from the previous box (though I did have to find a few extra scraps of wooden batten to replace bits which I had used for other purposes since then) was the retractable handle. Again, probably overkill, but still, it's useful to have something that will fold to occupy a smaller space when not needed!

Creating homemade handles from bits of dowel.

Above: The lids will both need handles. I couldn't find anything I really liked in Wickes, but fortunately my dad had a plan - use nothing but dowels! How? Well, forming a concave cylindrical shape (I forget what he used to do it, but judging by the amount of black scorch marks, perhaps some sort of motorised sander?) into one end of two short bits, and drilling a hole all the way through the centre. Screwing into the back of the ply top, through the short dowels, and into the dowl 'handle' is all that is then required! Do note that the right-hand photo shows the nearest dowel in the wrong orientation - this is because it started to spin around whilst he was drilling from the other side!

Above: Now, my original idea for the lids of both boxes was to be hinged, but two things changed my mind about this. Firstly, there wouldn't be much material to screw hinges onto, and secondly, it's added complexity - not least because it would also require some sort of latch to hold it in place. In the end, we settled on just friction-fitting the lids; helped by adding softwood battens to the bottom of the lid so that they sit within the frame of the box. 

A montage of three photos showing the completed layout storage box, including the retractable handle in operation.

Above: And here's a photo montage showing the main storage box completed. I didn't bother to take a photo of the other box as it's just a simple box (i.e. without wheels and the retractable handle) that is slightly shorter. Eventually, the boxes will both be painted white as per the original one.

Oh, I almost forgot, I now have the perfect vehicle to transport Sandy Shores in, as well as future layouts like Bramble's Boatyard - here's Barney the Berlingo:

A montage of three photos showing the Berlingo with the two layout boxes comfortably fitting on the lowered deck between two rear seats.

Above: My new car, a wheelchair accessible Berlingo will be perfect for loading, transporting, and unloading bulky model railways; especially with its ramp and strap mounting points. An exhibitors' dream! For what it's worth, I also bought a wheeled wagon that folds up into a compact size - this will undoubtedly be used to transport everything else that is needed for the layout. It was about £100 I think, but it's already been well worth it for lugging heavy photography gear around at both photoshoots and events, and saving my back from prolonged heavy lifting. Technically this should mean that, if I attach the two boxes together, I would need only two trips from the car to set-up the layout!

Funnily enough, I built the two layout storage boxes specfically for the Statfold Barn exhibition - as it was a long 3.5 hour trip each way, and I wanted the layout to be easier to stack. However, in the end, instead of taking two cars we took just one - which meant the boxes would've taken up too much space as we needed to use three of the 5 seats. Still, now that I have the Berlingo (which I didn't get in time for the show, sadly), I suspect it'll be plenty big enough to fit everything in, as well as possibly 4 people!

The only thing I am yet to work out is how to secure the layout within the box - as due to its unique curved shape, it will make it difficult to attach/wedge it in place...

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this blog entry, or perhaps found it useful in some way. If you want to see Sandy Shores, and you live in/near London, I believe I am due to be there around Christmas time for a mini-exhibition - follow me on my Twitter (@StudioJamming) and I'll update when I have full confirmation. In the meantime, you never know; you might like some of the stuff I Tweet (also, just remembered it's called 'X' now, but for all intents and purposes, I'll stick with the old name until such a time as the new one becomes more widespread!).