Track Layout

Beneath It All – Building Model Train Tables

Everything has to start somewhere, and when it comes to Model Trains the base upon which our worlds are built is normally a table of some kind. But standard tables often have some serious drawbacks – you can’t access the center of your layout, there are no holes for feeding through power cables and wiring, your wife will complain when she has no place to serve dinner – there’s always something! So the answer is simple right? Just build your own table and be done with it, but how exactly do you go about that?

The easiest solution is to purchase or make two sawhorses and throw a sheet of plywood across it. This has the advantages of being cheap, easy to do, and is quick. If you need to dress it up a bit a staple gun and some cloth can make a quick apron … the only real disadvantage is that its not as stable as a ‘real’ table even if you screw the plywood down to the sawhorses, and doesn’t look as professional as a finished edge real-legged table custom built for your scenario would.

Intrigued? I thought you would be! After all anyone who builds whole worlds in miniature should be able to handle a simple project like a table, right? Tables are basic structures – four or more legs, bracing mechanisms and a top. Table legs can be purchased in pretty much any size from your local home supply store or online in either wood or steel varieties. Common heights are about 28″ but you can customize this as you see fit to meet your needs. Add a few cross braces and a top and you’re there!

Start by picking the shape of the table you want, rectangular, round or square are common choices but you are limited only by your imagination.

Next decide how large you want it to be and what style of legs you want on it. Styles include the following with the simplest being the ’square’ farm style and the most robust the trestle:

  • Cabriole
  • Farm
  • Flared
  • Taper
  • Trestle
  • Turned

Next you will need an apron – this not only helps to ‘finish’ the underside edge of the table, but provides a mounting point and cross bracing to the legs. Some tables include a drawer in the apron which is useful if you want to keep supplies and parts near at hand but that can really complicate the woodworking necessary so unless you are an expert I’d hold off on that.

After all these decisions and picking up the supplies it’s just a matter of cutting things out and nailing or preferably screwing things together. Judicial use of wood glue will make for a MUCH stronger table by the way, and is highly recommended as is the use of squares and clamps to ensure a plumb and level table.

Another even easier solution is to purchase a used table from a garage sale or consignment store and cut or drill holes as needed to meet your needs. Often for the price of materials you can obtain a quality table in this manner that just needs a coat of paint or some light sanding to make it as good as new again. And since you’re going to want people to focus on your model train and not the table its setting on anyway what’s the difference, right? Or is that what you said when I first started off?

About the author

Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy

Bill Murphy is an avid model railroader, offering advice for model enthusiasts on the YourDiorama website. For more helpful tips and information, visit

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