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Is 4x8 still the go-to standard for first time layout builders and why?

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Is 4x8 still the go-to standard for first time layout builders and why?
Posted by BMMECNYC on Sunday, September 10, 2017 7:09 AM

I was wondering if most people entering the hobby today (in HO) build a 4x8 as their first layout?  

The reason I am asking is 

1. 4x8 sheets of plywood are getting more difficult to transport (cars getting smaller)

2. Home Depot (and possibly most lumberyards) will cut your 4x8 sheet of plywood either for free (Home Depot up to 5 cuts) or for a small fee.  

I was putting the fascia on my old layout and I was able to get several 4x8 sheets of Masonite cut into 1' wide strips (I had to pay $1.00 for the extra two cuts).

I was reminded of this, and started thinking about that and its implications for the 4x8.  

As cuyama has pointed out numerous times, and arround the walls type layout is a better utilization of space than a 4x8 (if you can fit a 4x8, you can fit a larger around the walls type layout).

The major drawback that I see is that your benchwork cost goes up significantly once you depart from the 4x8 layout (you need something to support all that additional plywood).  You could use the walls as part of the support, but if you dont own the space, I can see this as being an issue.  Making an around the walls free-standing is quite expensive.  

Edit: I know because the last layout was built in an apartment, and I was not allowed to put holes in the walls for my layout, wife would not allow a large middle of room layout (she likes wide open spaces)(we live in New England.....Bang Head)

Disclaimer:  This is not knocking the 4x8, Im just curious if 4x8 is still the defacto standard.

My first layout that I called my own was an L shaped piece of plywood that was less than 4x8 (I want to say that it was a 4x6 sheet or something like that with a notch cut out of one side in N scale).   The first Ho layout I had (shared with cousins) still exists and was a 4x8.

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Sunday, September 10, 2017 8:44 AM

Well, it's a chicken or the egg thing.  There's lots of beginner plans for 4x8 and plywood comes in 4x8 sheets.  Together they really encourage that size.  But as you point out, an apartment isn't usually an option - although my first layout (4x8) was built in an apartment 2nd bedroom.  (That lasted until our first child).

But once you have a basement or garage, you have the space.  Roof racks will let you transport 4x8 sheets of plywood - I used removable ones on a VW bug years ago.  But a lot of folks have small pickups or minivans which will allow you to transport 4x8's.

So I think the 4x8 is here to stay.  If you built it on 4" wheels, you can roll it into a corner to cut down on the space it takes up. 

If you have the room, I think building a 5'4" x 12' layout is a better option.  It uses 2 sheets of plywood cut at 5'4", which can gives you 4 pieces that can be arranged into 5'4" by 12'.  This allows larger radii and longer sidings.  I have two 5'4"x12' layouts on wheels in my basement - one for Lionels with my grandson and one as a test layout.

Paul

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Posted by RR_Mel on Sunday, September 10, 2017 9:12 AM

My thinking is 4x8 for a beginner is perfect.  Usually younger model railroaders will be moving around and it’s easy to move a 4x8 layout.  My first layout was a slightly larger John Allen’s original Gorre & Daphetid.  I moved several times and took my layout with me, once on the roof of my 57 Ford in 1960 for 100 miles.
 
My current and last layout is an L shape 10x 14 on 3½” metal casters in our garage.  I weighs in at close to 1200 pounds but it could be moved to a new location if need be.  It’s built to “California Earthquake Standards” so it would survive even a distant move, my norm is to always over build everything and my layout is not an exception.
 
 
Mel
 
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Posted by Graham Line on Sunday, September 10, 2017 9:23 AM

There are a lot of options available to someone starting out. You'll notice that MR's project railroads have been a lot more flexible in recent years, even if they do rely on 4x8s to demonstrate basic techniques.

There is a lot of talk now about the "one-module approach" in which the builder creates one scene and gets it into operational shape before adding more segments and committing to a bigger project. Temporary staging boards with track and maybe a switch or two are used to move trains on and off the module. 

Lance Mindheim's blog and articles give a lot of ideas on how to get some railroading going without getting overcommitted and overwhelmed.

Most big box stores have panel saws and will give one or two free cuts that can transform a 4x8 plywood sheet into 24 feet of 16" shelving for an around-the-walls design. I can get those into a VW Golf with a little effort.

 

 

 

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Posted by BRAKIE on Sunday, September 10, 2017 9:58 AM

BMMECNYC
I was wondering if most people entering the hobby today (in HO) build a 4x8 as their first layout?

Probably because  that a common size layout and I also suspect there's thousands of 4x8 layouts.

However..

On another forum a newbie jump right into a very nice ISL based on a study of Lance Mindheim's books.

Larry

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Posted by NP01 on Sunday, September 10, 2017 10:17 AM

My first layout was a 4x8 and it lasted less than three months. It was basically a "Do I want to do this?" layout ... it was useless with 22" radius. 

I think the amount of time one would invest building a layout is pretty large. So why start with a compromised position? But a 4x8 let's you start quickly. 

The other problem is if not 4x8 then what? Options options, decisions, decisions ... Perhaps MR or some one (like Byron) would create a "standard" bench work design which is 6x10 or something for a basic layouts. 

Personally a 4x8 is really hard to move out of a room ... once built. But a layout built from 4 sections of 2x5 plus two sections of 2x2, will be easy to move. 

NP. 

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Posted by jjdamnit on Sunday, September 10, 2017 11:08 AM

Hello all,

My first layout in the early 1970's was a 4'x8' and my current layout is a 4'x8'.

The first one was a matter of convenience as my dad was in construction and sheets of plywood and saw horses were inexpensive if not free.

Fast forward more than 40-years...

Geting back into the hobby my wife said I could build a pike but it had to fit on the top of the bed in the spare bedroom- -with no bench work!

Hence the space limitation of a single sheet of 4'x8' plywood.

If sheets of plywood came in 5'x9' I'd be limited to that size.

Those of you that have the space for larger layouts; be it walk around or walk in, I truly envy you.

Hope this helps.

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Sunday, September 10, 2017 12:09 PM

    One important point is that most layouts start with a train set. Train sets are always loops. Ovals fit onto 4x8 plywood. You start with a circle and add a couple of straights in the middle and a turnout for a spur. You put that 4x8 on top of a couple of saw horses and you have a layout.
    If you decided that you enjoy building layouts and running trains then you design your own track plan to fit your available space. A 4x8 is like training wheels. You learn the basics and then you move onto the next level or you switch hobbies to RC or whatever.
    I think The One Module Approach (TOMA) making one module super detailed while the rest is undecorated idea won’t keep the interest of most beginners because it is more complicated than the oval and you don’t get to run trains continually. You can just do some switching.
    On the oval with a spur you can take a few laps around the track and then do some switching. You can imagine that every time you go around it’s a different town or a different train. With a 4x8, if you can walk around the entire layout with your train then you are getting 24 feet of layout which is more than TOMA gives you to start with.

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Posted by NittanyLion on Sunday, September 10, 2017 12:26 PM

TOMA doesn't mean literally build one module at a time. It means working on one focus module at a time. You're not stuck with one switching module and no option for roundy round. 

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Posted by csxns on Sunday, September 10, 2017 12:33 PM

jjdamnit
If sheets of plywood came in 5'x9'

My secound layout was on a 5'by9' the lumber store had them in stock.

Russell

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Posted by BATMAN on Sunday, September 10, 2017 12:38 PM

Well, I currently have a 5' x 10' sheet of plywood in my garage. My sons Thomas layout covered the whole thing way back when. I have seen plywood as long as 6' x 12' and believe you can buy it up to 8' x 16'. There are few plywood specialty shops around and it ain't cheap for larger sizes. My 5' x 10' piece is beautiful and that size is used for large signs such as billboards and real estate signs.

As Cuyama points out, an around the room layout makes more sense and if it is sectional, it is easily moved. Much more so than a sheet of ply.

There was an article in one of the magazines years ago as to why people seem to start with plywood and the conclusion was because it required few tools to get started. The article then went on to ask the question "why L girder". The conclusion was that "L girder" was the next step up for those that had a few basic tools. It offered more creativity in layout design if you had an electric drill and a circular saw it was pretty straight forward to construct.

The tools many of us have today in the garage or workshop for woodwork are a vast improvement over what our Dads had. I built my current layout bench work as required. Being able to quickly set and cut angles on a saw made custom bench work a cinch. My dear old Dad would have loved the workshop I have, and it is the same as what a lot of my friends have and we now consider those basic tools.

 

Brent

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Posted by NYBW-John on Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:17 PM

I wouldn't call it a standard but I think there's a lot to be said for the 4x8 for a small layout.  Yes you can take that same sheet of plywood, cut it in half lengthwise and create an L-shaped shelf layout but what you end  with is a switching layout. That's fine if that's what you want but I think most modelers like running trains and you aren't going to have much of a run on an L shaped layout. You can take that 4x8 plywood sheet and but it against the wall giving you a peninsula that will fit in a spare bedroom and will allow easy access to all parts of the layout. Put a view block down the middle and you have a shelf style layout with the added advantage of continuous running so you can run trains and do switching. 

For year I have had an idea to create a 4x8 Christmas layout with winter scenery.  A simple oval with a passing siding and maybe a spur or two. A snow covered New England village on one side of the backdrop and and s wintery countryside on the other. One of these years I might actually get around to building it.

 

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Posted by jjdamnit on Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:49 PM

Hello all,

csxns
My secound layout was on a 5'by9' the lumber store had them in stock.

Where???

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Posted by BATMAN on Sunday, September 10, 2017 2:04 PM

Brent

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Posted by jjdamnit on Sunday, September 10, 2017 2:25 PM

Hello all,

Thanks!

BATMAN
Pretty expensive way to build a layout.

Well, if my wife would allow me to build bench work over the bed this wouldn't be a problem!

Thanks again!!!

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Posted by csxns on Sunday, September 10, 2017 2:58 PM

jjdamnit
Where???

Cleveland lumber CO Shelby NC now that was in 1980.

Russell

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Posted by PRR8259 on Sunday, September 10, 2017 3:03 PM

Simple.  Any layout smaller than 4x8 probably has curves too tight a radius for much of the available equipment.

John

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Posted by Catt on Sunday, September 10, 2017 3:31 PM

If I were to start over from scratch.My N scale layout would be a 4' x 8' island layout,the Z scale layout would be a 32" x 72" island layout and to HO would be around the room at around 5' high.

But at 72 + and in poor health I don't think that will happen,but I can still dream. Wink

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Posted by dstarr on Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:17 PM

4 by 8 is far far easier to build than around the walls layout.  Plunk a 3/4 inch sheet of plywood down on saw horses, or short two drawer file cabinets, or some cinder blocks, and you are ready to lay track and run trains.  No question, an around the walls layout gives you more track and less aisle space, but a 4 by 8 is so simple that kids can do one, and so can any beginner.  No tools required at all. 

  Incidently, regulation ping pong tables are 5 by 9, and you ought to be able to find 5 by 9 plywood, just like the ping pong table makers do.  And you can get plywood home from the lumberyard in the puniest car.  Lay a towel on the roof to protect the paint, and lash it down with clothesline run thru the windows.  Keep your speed down lest it get airborne dispite the clothesline.

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Posted by BATMAN on Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:20 PM

dstarr
And you can get plywood home from the lumberyard in the puniest car.  Lay a towel on the roof to protect the paint, and lash it down with clothesline run thru the windows.  Keep your speed down lest it get airborne dispite the clothesline.

Now, why didn't I think of that! I just use to make the kids sit up there and hold it down. They only screamed when we got on the freeway.

Brent

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Posted by DavidH66 on Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:26 PM

4x8s are still common, but small switching layouts seem to be a thing that is making waves in terms of layout designs.

Also I know Cuyama (I think thats his name), had a theory about how 4x8s could be more more space effeciant if they were around the wall layouts, but it seems like you dont have much space anyways.

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Posted by GraniteRailroader on Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:50 PM

Also I know Cuyama (I think thats his name), had a theory about how 4x8s could be more more space effeciant if they were around the wall layouts, but it seems like you dont have much space anyways.

If you can walk around all sides of a 4x8, with even a 24" walkway, what's the difference in having a 8x12 railroad that has a 4x8 pit and 24" depth? If designed and built properly, two sides could be removed and stored underneath the other two. 

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Posted by cuyama on Sunday, September 10, 2017 4:57 PM

If the standard size for plywood was 5X9, that's what everyone would be defnding as the perfect beginner's layout.

BMMECNYC
The major drawback that I see is that your benchwork cost goes up significantly once you depart from the 4x8 layout (you need something to support all that additional plywood).

Maybe not that much. If one must have an island layout, a 5X9 or 5X10 is much more amenable to HO standard gauge equipment than is the Sacred Sheet 4X8. The benchwork might be 30% more? But benchwork is a tiny fraction of the cost of an HO layout compared to track, trains, structures, et al. Why scrimp?

Plopping a 4X8 Sacred Sheet down on a pair of sawhorses is a poor idea in terms of sagging, wiring beneath the layout, etc. False economy. So for 95+% of modelers, some sort of benchwork will be needed anyway.

The 4X8 layout partly owes its popularity to a fear of cutting wood. But as others point out, tools are better, cheaper, safer, and more widely available than back in the day. And if building from extruded foam or Gatorboard (or something similar), the cutting is even easier.

But I think most people don't recognize the importance of O-Gauge (36" Diameter) and O-27 layouts, which were typical starter layouts before the rise in popularity of HO. Those fit pretty well on a 4X8 and the model press simply tried to put HO into the same space. 

But since HO trains typically don’t have the same design and appearance compromises necessary to go around very tight curves as does some O Gauge, it makes the 4X8 less suitable for HO – even though it is nominally a smaller scale. This is especially true for models of prototype equipment built since the 1960s, as rolling stock and engines have become longer (or for passenger and big steam models, for that matter).

Chicken-and-egg: Commercial publications think that their reader want HO 4X8s, newcomers think they want HO 4X8s because that's what they see in magazines. My contention is that there is not often enough a discussion of the alternatives and trade-offs versus the Sacred Sheet HO 4X8. (And many published HO 4X8s have very steep grades lacking in vertical transitions, etc.)

Byron

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Posted by BMMECNYC on Sunday, September 10, 2017 6:42 PM

cuyama
Maybe not that much. If one must have an island layout, a 5X9 or 5X10 is much more amenable to HO standard gauge equipment than is the Sacred Sheet 4X8. The benchwork might be 30% more? But benchwork is a tiny fraction of the cost of an HO layout compared to track, trains, structures, et al. Why scrimp?

Sorry, should have specified 4x8 as compared to the around the walls option. 

That ping pong table that came up makes good ready benchwork.  Its what supported the 4x8 we had at my grandparents house.  There was I think 2x4s on laying on the flat on the 4" side that allowed space for the wiring underneath.  The trains could be removed and layout flipped up on one side so that ping pong could be played.

 

dstarr
And you can get plywood home from the lumberyard in the puniest car.  Lay a towel on the roof to protect the paint, and lash it down with clothesline run thru the windows.  Keep your speed down lest it get airborne dispite the clothesline.

You may be able to get away with that in the northwoods of NH, but in some states you will get a ticket for improperly securing a rooftop load.  If it comes off the car, you can spend time in jail (if said piece of plywood causes an accident).

 

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Posted by BMMECNYC on Sunday, September 10, 2017 6:54 PM

dstarr
  No question, an around the walls layout gives you more track and less aisle space

More aisle space.  Not less aisle space.

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, September 11, 2017 5:04 PM

When I wanted to build a "blob" for a reverse loop addition to my shelf layout, I couldn't fit a 4 x 8 in my car. However, I could fit two 2' by 8' sheets in my old Chevy Cavalier with the rear seat folded down.

You can treat each as a separate item, use L-girder construction to make them each free-standing. (It costs more, but stick lumber isn't all that pricey.) Drill a couple of holes in each and you can connect them into a 4 x 8 with some carriage bolts. Put on some Kato Unitrack or other "click track" and you're running trains.

Later if you decide you don't want the oval / continous run, you can put them together in an L-shaped switching layout 2' wide, 8' on one leg and 10' on the other.

Stix
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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, September 11, 2017 7:55 PM

This is easy... the 4 by 8 is the smallest effective space where you can have some switching plus continuous running.

.

Newbies want to see trains run.

.

-Kevin

.

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Posted by BroadwayLion on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 10:57 AM

csxns

 

 

 
jjdamnit
If sheets of plywood came in 5'x9'

 

My secound layout was on a 5'by9' the lumber store had them in stock.

 

 

 

Yes. 5x9 is the standard size of a pingpong table. Larger sized of plywood or paneling can be had for a greater price.

My shop teache was ddoing a contracting job for someone that called for 12' panels, and so he doubled the price on the panels, just in case he screwed one up he would not be out of his own pocket. He even told the customer that was why.

Customer balked and went elsewhere. He was back a few days later, the shop teacher still had the best price for the job.

 

ROAR

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 11:26 AM

I think the obvious reason to the question posted has already been answered above umpteen times, but I'll add in umpteen +1.  Sheet plywood comes in 4x8 dimensions, so the old "straight jacket" of a 4x8 layout continues to be propagated causing noobs to be stuck with very sharp curves unable to run scale length longer equipment in many cases.

Eventually noobs decide to, as Jim Morrison of the Doors put it: "break on through to the other side"!!!!  and get large curves and be "freeeeeee".

 

As for 4x8 sheets being transportable, no I couldn't move 4x8 sheets in any of my cars.  My toyota RAV4 can fit 8 long stuff but it has to be cut down.  I've fit 30" wide by 8' long in.

But the answer is build a 4x8 frame and have a 4x8 sheet cut in half long ways an then re-assemble on to the frame as 4x8 again.  You have seam but no big deal.  What is the saying? 

Where there is a will, there is a way?

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Posted by BRAKIE on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:41 PM

SeeYou190
This is easy... the 4 by 8 is the smallest effective space where you can have some switching plus continuous running. .

Kevin, A 4' x 6' works but, one needs to think small like #4 switches and 40' cars and maybe a small steam engine or 4 axle diesel. The curves will be 22" or better use 18" curves to gain room. Nothing fancy here just the basic loop with sidings..

Again "think small" is the key words.

Larry

SSRy

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