A Railroad with Relevance

Workbench Overhaul – Part I

Written By: Alan - Mar• 16•14

My good friend Tim was over last night and we were discussing the workbench in the train room. What a disaster it is at the moment. I moved the workbench into position back when the train room was first constructed just to have a place for it. There was no intention of leaving it as is but at the time there was no modeling going on since I had an empty room waiting for a layout to be built.


The workbench slowly evolved into what all non-function specific spaces do – a catch all junk spot. Well, the layout framework is done and I have reached the track laying point. That means a few things. First, there will soon be fragile objects on the layout i.e. track, switches, trackside detail, etc. Second, no more heavy filth creating construction work can be done in the train room. Third, I need the modeling space functional to build the aforementioned trackside details, electronic controls, and other miscellaneous objects needed during track laying. I also know myself well. Once I start laying track and testing train operation on it I won’t be able to stop. The excitement will take over and I will end up laying every bit of track just to see trains run. I won’t be able to force myself to get anything else done during that time least of all boring activities like organizing my workbench. Knowing this, I have made the decision to address the workbench situation before beginning track laying.

For my regular followers please bear with me as I take this little detour. I know you don’t follow a model train blog to watch some guy overhaul his workbench but it is the right thing for me to do. Otherwise, it will stay the cluttered, useless, spot in the corner forever. Can’t have that. As a bit of a proof statement that I will be ready to lay track with a vengeance once the bench is finished, check out these pics. Flextrack, Switches, Tortoises, oh my! Yes, I have the goods on hand to put down track. But it will have to wait for just a bit.

100_6105      100_6106      100_6109

Here is the plan…

  1. Every bit of the stuff comes out of the corner.
  2. Strip sand the dark mahogany finish off of the workbench and re-stain it honey oak to match the train room trim (and the rest of the house trim).
  3. Build a hutch-like assembly top for the bench so I have shelving for the speakers, audio equipment, bench power supply and all other non-modeling stuff. Below the big top shelf the hutch will have small dedicated, storage specific shelves for modeling supplies i.e. paints, styrene, hand tools, etc. A 4′ florescent lamp fixture will be mounted behind a valance on the underside of the top big shelf to provide better lighting for the work area.
  4. The old sewing table will be strip sanded and re-stained honey oak. Floors will be put in the original drawer openings to form bins for flat sheet goods storage.
  5. A frame will be built to extend the sewing table upwards almost to the ceiling. Into this will be new, size coordinated small parts organizers. I will build the “wall-o-little-drawers”. I don’t want to use the existing small parts organizers because over the years some of the drawers have broken, chipped, or otherwise been damaged from use. Some of those cabinets are over 50 years old. Besides, they wouldn’t fit into the frame well due to their odd mismatched sizes. Easy enough to find new uses for the old ones over in the main shop.
  6. Lastly, put everything back in an organized 5S manner. Label drawers, make tool holders, and all the little custom storage methods needed as I place inventory. There is a ton of modeling stuff in big plastic totes never yet unpacked from when we moved into this house 10 years ago. Placing everything will be no small task.

A lot of work lay ahead but it will be all worth it in the end. And I have all the initiative needed to get this process done quickly. I want to run trains dagnabbit!

Let the modeling workbench overhaul begin.



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  1. Adrian says:

    Dear Alan

    with greatest respect I follow your blog. It is the perfect decision from a head based point of view. So often it is the stomach who decides to immediately start laying track right trough the clutter of remnants from the last building phase.

    Congratulations from Switzerland, Adrian

  2. Brad says:

    Could you not move it to the other side of the wall it was on? If at all possible no work station should be in the train room if you can. You could even run a spur down the wall to the left of the bench, out to the next room and to you work area. With the effort you placed on the train room itself, and the railroad to date, the bench is a distraction.
    Just my opinion.

    Keep up the fine work.

  3. Alan says:


    What you suggest would work except the area on the other side of the wall is not closed off from the wood shop. Sawdust permeates everything in the center room of the basement anytime a woodworking project is underway. My modeling bench and projects on it would be impossible to keep clean. Inside the train room everything is reasonably protected from filth. Actually, removing the workbench and using the freed space for additional railroad was a consideration way back early in the design phase. I decided against it because of the saw dust.

    Yeah, not thrilled myself about shifting focus but don’t see much choice. I need the work space during track laying for Tortoise circuit construction and building switch stands among other things. Sooner or later I have to do it. Might as well be now. Adrian is right.

  4. Rob says:

    After the 5S post on the MRH website I can see that your work bench in disarray is better than most of them when organized.
    I have been following this blog for quite a while and completely agree with your idea of getting the work space ready before working. It will make everything else much better not to mention being more photogenic.

    On a side note a thread about organizing the bench and the 5s approach might make for an interesting read as well. I for one will be following your progress.

    Rob in Texas

  5. Rob says:

    Just wondering Alan are you a member of a club in your area? and if so have you given thought to a mobile tool box with items in it to take with you?

    Rob in Texas

  6. Alan says:

    Rob, no I am not a member of a local club.

    My model railroad work so far is a bit different than most folks. What I am really trying to accomplish is the preparatory work so I can be a model railroader in my retirement years. With the heavy lifting already done by the time that day comes I will be able to focus on the fun stuff – scenery, craftsman kit building, railroad ops, detailing, and the like. As you can see by the work completed to date, progress is slow. Between family, my day job, groundskeeping, home projects, tending to the animals, and all the other responsibilities that absorb time there isn’t much left for railroading. That will change once I retire. At that time joining a local modeler club will be much more practical.

  7. Jason Miller says:


    What you have done is completely logical, and this will make you smile too! But you have actually started something before me, and will more than likely finish it before me too! A first for the LK&O being in front of the JL&T! 🙂
    You will be surprised how interested most of us will be to see this thread and how your going to redesign your work area, I know I am. I’m about to start mine soon, but its just a matter of adding some more bench top space, and then redoing the storage bins and the like.
    Look forward to seeing it progress, always good to see how the minds of other model railroaders think and build!


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