Intro: Portable RC Track
Two Christmases ago the three kids in the family (my son, my
daughter and me) all got good quality off road radio control cars. By good quality, I mean RC cars that were ordered complete from a retailer that specializes in RC cars, can be repaired with readily available parts if something breaks, and are capable of better speed and performance than the RC cars your typically find at the local toy store or department store. It seems necessary to explain my definition because there are a number of RC car enthusiasts who are quite passionate about building and racing some extremely impressive vehicles. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those people, however, I am just a dad having some fun with my kids and though I would share an idea.
We had played around with raking leaves out of the way in the wood behind the house to form a track and with setting up obstacles in the yard to drive around and had fun with all of that. I decided that it would be worthwhile to come up with a track system with the following specifications:
1. It needed to be able to be set up in our yard and removed at the end of the day or at least in time for me to cut the grass.
2. I wanted it to be portable to take to a friend’s house or grandma’s house and be set up there.
3. It needed to be fun to set up, take down and play with.
4. I needed it to fit on the shelf in our store room that the RC cars were on which restricted me to 33” width, 8” height and 21” depth. About the equivalent to an average suitcase.
5. It needed to be light so it could easily be moved.
6. The track had to stay in place so it would not become a mess every time someone missed a turn.
The kids have had a blast with this system and it was pretty cheap to build. The main ingredients are pipe insulation sleeves, a roll of high visibility duct tape and a box of nails. I had most of the lumber lying around, but it was all common cheap lumber.
There are really 2 projects here. One is the track system. The other is the wood storage box that doubles as a ramp. The box could easily be replaced with a plastic storage container and the lid could probably be used as the ramp. The dimensions of the box and track pieces are built to fit on a specific shelf in my house and could vary to suit your own needs. Here is how I did it.
Step 1: PART 1
I built the box first. I wanted it to store the track, but also to double as a ramp when the track was in use. I started by cutting the sides. I used a 1x8 and cut 2 pieces to a length of 19 ¼”. I then measured and marked one end at ¾”. The other end I measured and marked halfway at 3 5/8”. Using a straight edge, I connected the 2 marks to give me my cut line. (Fig 1)
Using small finish nails, I attached both sides together so the cut would be precisely the same. A portable circular saw or even a hand saw would be adequate for this project. For convenience, I used my table saw and cut both sides at once along the line I had made. (Fig 2)
I used a piece of 1x2 stock and a ½” square dowel to create the approach lip to the ramp. The leading edge was beveled with a hand plane. I just eyed this until it looked about right. Depending on the scale of your RC car, you may want more or less bevel for the wheels to bump over to get onto the ramp. On the opposite side of the 1x2 stock, I attached the ½” square dowel to provide a mounting surface for the thin plywood that will make up the top and bottom. (Fig. 3)
Using a leftover piece of ½” plywood, I cut the 2 back sides to a dimension of 3 5/8” x 33”. The thicker plywood is used here to support the hinges. The rest of the parts are cut from ¼” plywood. The top is 19 ¼” x 33”. The bottom is 20 ½” x 33” and the front is 6 ¾” x 33. (Fig. 4)
Using staples and wood glue I assembled the bottom first. Nails or screws will work just as well, but I certainly recommend using wood glue at all the joints. (Fig 5)
Where the 2 pieces of ¼” plywood meet, there needs to be some additional support to nail or screw into. I used a ripped piece of stock lumber leftover from another project, (Fig. 6), but you could use another piece of ½” square dowel or any number of metal or plastic joint connectors (Fig. 7)
After assembling the top (Fig. 8), the 2 halves were joined by a pair of 1 ½” hinges. (Fig. 9) There is no magic to the hinge size, I just had these in the shop.
To keep the lid closed, I mortised a magnet into the bottom of the approach (Fig. 10). Depending on how you intend to use the box or how it may travel, you may consider using a more secure closure such as a hasp, but this works for my purposes. I also cut in a pair of handle holes. (Fig. 11)
The box is now complete (Fig. 12). It opens to hold the track (Fig. 13) and flips over when open to double as a ramp (Fig. 14)
Step 10: PART 2
Now onto part 2 of the project, the track. I used the ½” black foam pipe insulation found at most home improvement centers. It is cheap and has an outside diameter of about an inch and a half. I found it in 3’ and 6’ lengths with an average price around $1.15 per 6’. I purchased 108’ (18 pieces) which could yield up to 216’ of track. Since I restricted my length to 31” to fit on my shelf, I produced 186’ of track (72 pieces). There is a lot of repetitive tasks involved in making the track, but they are easy and go by quickly.
I first placed a piece of masking tape 31” from the edge of my bench so I could cut my lengths quickly. I then proceeded to cut all of the 6’ pieces down to 31” by inserting a sharp utility knife and rotating the foam insulation. (Fig. 15)
I then placed a piece of masking tape on the bench 3” and 10 ½” from either end of the 31” foam insulation lengths. There is nothing magical about those measurements other than they are nearly evenly spaced and the tape on the bench helps provide consistency. I then wrapped the foam insulation with a piece of orange reflective duct tape. I used Gorilla tape because I have had good experience with it on other projects, but any bright colored duct tape should work just fine. (Fig. 16)
Each piece of foam insulation is slit along the length about 80%. Using that existing slit, I cut the rest of the way through one side with a utility knife, also cutting the reflective tape that was just applied. (Fig. 17)
In order to split the foam insulation completely in half with a clean straight cut, I first clamped a straight edge to the side of my bench. (Fig. 18) Then with a sharp utility knife, I cut along the length of the foam insulation utilizing the straight edge as a guide. (Fig. 19)
Now that I have a whole lot of light track pieces, the problem is that they will need to be secured so they don’t blow away in the breeze or scatter every time one of the cars misses a turn. My solution was to pin them down like you stake down a tent. With 72 pieces of track, I figured would need at least 150 stakes. With that many, the cost effective solution is to use nails, but that creates 3 major problems that need to be solved. Nails are sharp. Nails can be hard to see. Typical nail heads will pull through the foam over time or if enough pressure is applied.
To resolve the nail head and visibility problem, I bought a box of button cap nails. These have an orange plastic disk at below the nail head to distribute the force of the nail over a larger area on materials where the head can easily pull through. (Fig. 20) This makes them ideal for my purposes except for the fact that since their primary application is roofing and siding, they are too short. So I purchased a second box of 3 ½” common nails and took the plastic caps off the small nails and put them on the larger ones. (Fig. 21)
The large nails are now easy to spot if dropped in the grass and won’t pull through the foam. To take care of the point, I simply cut it off with a bench grinder so they are blunt like tent stakes. (Fig. 22 & 23) A handheld angle grinder, Dremel tool, file or hack saw would also easily do this job. It is a repetitive and tedious task, but in reality it only took about an hour.
Two last touches finished the project. I left a few of the foam insulation sections without the reflective tape to use as a mogul section for the cars to bounce over. I also cut some of those marking flags down to about 10” so they could be inserted through the foam and into the ground an any location the kids thought it made sense. (Fig. 24)
I put everything in the box and the project is complete. (Fig. 25 & 26) The kids have fun setting up the track in different configurations and pounding in the spikes. The ramp is usually the favorite attraction and we are looking forward to trying out some different locations.
Rod Gunter is the Executive Director at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries. Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point. Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products. Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina. Gunter Building Solutions owns WoodAirGrille.com, a leading producer of wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.