Budget Railroading. 4'x8' Plywood or Maybe a Ping Pong Table?

When it comes to choosing a size table for your layout, experienced modelers will often tell you not use a "table" at all, but to use a narrower shelf-style layout that runs around and into a room rather than a large rectangular table.  If a shelf-style layout is your plan -and maybe it should be?- then you can stop reading now.

If a rectanglular layout is in the cards however, what size should it be?

The old faithful 4x8 sheet of plywood.  First layout of model railroaders for 6 decades!
The natural choice for many thousands of model railroaders has been a 4x8 sheet of plywood or foam insulation board.  This has the advantage of being a standard size for plywood and foam insulation board and easily purchased affordably at your local hardware store.    This is a perfectly reasonable choice and many thousands of layouts have been made this way.

However, I would like to make the suggestion that if you have the space 9x5 is a better option.  Here's why.

1)Increased space. It may not sound like much, but a 9x5 layout gives you 13 Square feet more, for just shy of 30% more space.

2) Maximum radius curves.  On a 4x8 sheet the maximum curve you can fit is about a 22" radius.  22" is a good, standard size that will handle nearly all cars and locomotives.  However, an inner loop would likely only be the more limiting 18" curves.  A 9'x5' allows for dual loops of 26" and 23" radius curves that will comfortably run virtually any rolling stock.

3)Affordable, ready made benchwork.  This is where the ping pong table comes in.  A ping pong table is 9'x5' and used ping pong tables are quite affordable.  I'm looking at Craigslist and at the time of writing there are 9 ping pong tables listed for $100 or less.  You may have to clamp a leg or some such to get the stability and permanence you want, but it is a ready to go solution for around the same price as (possibly much less than) the raw materials to build your own.

Here is the ping pong table that I chose.  A homemade example from the 1960's.

Two leafs and a frame, found on Craigslist for $50.

There is one notable drawback in that the reach to the center of a 9'x5' is 30 inches.  This might not sound like much but for someone with shorter arms it may feel significantly longer than the 24 inches to center of a 4'x8'.  This is a minor concern though and may be mitigated by adding an access hatch and/or removable inner section.

So, if you're planning a rectangular layout give some consideration to an old ping-pong table.  It might be just the thing to get your layout started quickly and affordably.


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