Jim's Model Railroad Work Bench




Introduction: Jim's Model Railroad Work Bench

About: Retired Tool Maker ( 1980 ) Retired Mechanical Engineer ( 2009 ) Full time Tinkerer

My Best Friend Jim had used a child's desk as his work bench inside his model railroad room for years. It was showing years of wear and when we found a Kennedy Machinist's Toolbox it was time for a change. We had the following limitations and goals:


1) The work bench had to fit in the available space. This was the center of a model railroad that has tables all around the room.

2) It would need to be built in sections to fit through the narrow doorway.

3) It would need a space for the Kennedy Toolbox on top.


1) It should hold as many of Jim's tools as possible in the most convenient ways.

2) It should have storage space for the many parts and supplies Jim used often.

3) The work surface should be adjustable for height.

4) Jim wanted a Watchmaker's "Catcher" to keep small parts off the floor.

5) Space for a magnifying lamp, soldering iron, power tools and flexible vice.

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Step 1: Special Features

While we don't expect anyone to made an exact copy, We do think it has several features worth sharing:

1) Three unique styles of drawer construction.

2) Adjustable height work surface.

3) Swing panels for tools.

4) Tool slots at back of work surface.

5) Slots for storage of long items.

6) Sectional construction so we could get it in the room.

Step 2: Plexiglas Based Drawers. (1)

Jim had loads of parts in those small parts cabinets. So we made drawers from a piece of Plexiglas with a square of plywood for a front. The drawer "slides" were dado slots in both sides of the cabinet. So no vertical space was lost to drawer supports. Jim used Velcro to hold several plastic drawers to each Plexiglas base. This allows him to pull up any tray for use on the bench. We also used Rubbermaid drawer dividers. We ended up making two of the drawers double height, but this didn't require any changes to the cabinet frame.

Step 3: PVC Post Cover Drawers. (2)

The drawers on the right side of the bench are cut from PVC tubes meant to cover mail box posts. We cut channels and added wood fronts and backs. The cabinet has simple pigeon holes: 3/4" plywood sides and 1/4" plywood shelves.

Above the top drawer you can see two slots for long item storage.

Step 4: Sheet Metal Drawers. (3)

I have been using sheet metal for drawer sides and bottoms for years. If I don't have access to a metal brake I use the edge of my table saw to make straight bends. Do allow 3/4" to fold the top edges over to avoid sharp edges. Then we used wood blocks screwed through the metal for fronts and backs.

This side arm top has a slot cut in the Formica for a test track.

Step 5: Adjustable Height Work Surface

Here you can see the work surface up and down. I had a screw jack from a hospital bed to hold the surface up. To keep it level there are six swing links, two on each side and one in the back. We made these as long as possible to limit the shifting fore and aft.

Step 6: Screw Jack

The first photo is of the screw jack. At the bottom is the flexible link and a power strip. The top flex link is behind the plywood where you can see bolt heads above the motor.

On the back of the work surface we put a hole for the center off toggle control switch.

Third and fourth photos are good views of the swing links. They are 1/8" x 1/5" steel strips with pivot pins at both ends.

Step 7: Tool Storage Swing Panels

Both sides have swing panels to bring the tools close to Jim when he is working. Simple box panels are held up with door hinges. We spent some time finding the most useful arrangement for the tools. Since space was limited we didn't put any storage on the back of these panels, or behind them.

I have a wood floor in my work shop so I could screw the several sections to the floor as we worked. Then we unscrewed everything for the move to the train room.

Step 8: Left Swing Panel

The left swing panel has outlets for a DC power supply, various power tools and a DCC train programmer. The wire trough is a slice from a PVC porch railing.

Step 9: Tool Storage at the Back of the Work Surface

Using a sandwich of plywood and Plexiglas we added a bunch of holes for tool storage. The center plywood looks like a comb with out the covers.

Step 10: Watch Makers Catch Tray

I had seen Watch Makers work benches with these catch trays so we put slides in to hold one. The frame is two pieces of plywood with a screen glued in between. There are some pin holes with wood dowels to keep them lined up until the glue dried.

Step 11: All Finished!

So we brought the five sections into the room and screwed them together: Sides to the back, top shelf to the back and then the assembly of the adjustable height work surface.

Jim and I had great fun planing and building this work bench. We hope you can use some of the ideas too!

Good Luck from Jim & Carl.

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    7 Discussions

    Such a wonderful design with so much room for storage! I love it.


    3 years ago

    I'm intending to build something similar for a different hobby. You have provided some very useful information, it really helps to see other peoples 'take' on a problem and methods of building I would never have though of. Thank You for posting


    3 years ago

    I'm on building a workbench too, bit I never came up with that great design. I love the idea of the swing sides. I'll do the same, but on the top of my table, so my whole tools are in front of my face, not down in my knees. that's because I'm lazy af and I ain't got as much tools as you ;)


    3 years ago

    Wow! This is a great work space design! I think it would be great for my electronics desk. Can you share a few detailed pics of the right hand swing door and a little more about the lifting mechanism? You should enter this into a contest here on Instructables!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Hi Thinker:
    No detail photos of the right swing door. The top is a tilted shelf with holes for the screw drivers. The middle is a bar with dividers for the pliers. The bottom is just bins.

    The jug shelves are detailed here:

    Best wishes, Carl.


    3 years ago

    I agreed with thetinker as well. Great design. Quick question, what is the shelf with all the jugs? Looks interesting