Articles - Layout Cabinets
01/11/2016
In late 2003 I built a series of ten cabinets which were to be the basis upon which I was going to build my next N-scale layout (actually, the plan called for 32 cabinets to be built, but I only got to ten). I did not take any photos of the construction of the cabinets themselves. However, they are quite straightforward. I used 3/4" Birch plywood. Each cabinet consists of solid-panel sides, a back, and a top and bottom. The fronts came in several varieties, depending on what I thought I might store in the cabinet. The first such cabinet is shown in the photo below. It was set up to be a corner cabinet, so I only bothered to stain and lacquer the visible portion of the cabinet (to save time). Another cabinet was going to be butted up against the unfinished side. The cabinets are 46.5" tall and 18" deep. Their width varied based on how they were going to be fitted into the room.
Layout Cabinets
Here is an over-exposed photo of the first cabinet. It has a full-height open space with two fixed shelves in the back half. Since this is a corner cabinet, I mounted a door in the "exposed" space of the cabinet's front. The door is held closed using a small door magnet. A "finger" hole was created in the door to make it easy to open it, while having nothing protrude from the cabinet's front.
Layout Cabinets
The next cabinet I built has drawers in it. These are the parts that make up one such drawer. For some of the cabinets for which I made drawers, the drawers all had the same height, and for some I varied the height (which allowed me store tall items, such as larger tools).
Layout Cabinets
The four side panels of the drawer have a groove in the bottom in which a piece of 1/4" Birch plywood sits acting as the drawer bottom. This photo shows my setup for gluing the four drawer sides together. I used a simple butt joint to attach the pieces together using Elmers carpenter's wood glue. For the larger drawers, like this one, I came back later on and reinforced the joint with some wood screws. However, for the thinner drawers, glue is more than enough. I am still using these cabinets today and none have failed me yet.
Layout Cabinets
Nothing fancy for the drawer sliding mechanism. I made a cut-out in the back of the drawer panel, and glued two strips of Oak hardwood as drawer slide guides on the bottom.
Layout Cabinets
For the drawer fronts, I took one sheet of 3/4" Birch plywood and cut it to the size of the front of the entire cabinet. I then went back and cut each drawer front individually. Three are shown here. By doing that, each associated drawer's grain matches that of the one above and/or below it. The material removed by the table saw provides for the gap between the drawer fronts once installed.
Layout Cabinets
This photo shows one of the drawer front's finger pulls. The front of the drawer hole was made using a one-inch Forstner bit, and the back was made using the Ogee router bit. It is just large enough to get a good grip on the drawer. Curvature is due to photographic perspective. The photo is of the back of the drawer front.
Layout Cabinets
The interior of the cabinet that is to receive these drawers has these resting dividers installed made out of strips of plywood. These were glued and reinforced with screws from the outside. A single solid Oak strip sits in the middle. That is the guide that goes in between the two solid Oak strips I attached to the bottom of each drawer. I made sure to thoroughly sand them smooth.
Layout Cabinets
To accurately attach the drawer front to the drawer box, I placed the drawer box into its appropriate slot in the cabinet. At the back of the drawer support in the cabinet I placed a temporary piece of wood (see the blue masking tape in the previous photo). The drawer will be pushed against that, insuring that the front of the drawer box will stick out just a bit from the front of the cabinet. Two temporary pieces of wood are clamped under the divider, so that the drawer front will rest on them as the glue sets. You will notice the paint cans in the bottom of the cabinet. Those are weights used to hold down the center drawer guide for the next drawer. By thinking ahead like that, building these drawers becomes more of a mass-production process and goes quite smoothly.
Layout Cabinets
I then put glue on the back of the drawer front, making sure to clear the finger pull area, and then place it on the temporary boards. The clamps are then used to hold the front to the drawer box. The small strip of wood taped to the back of the cabinet prevents the front from being glued to the rest of the cabinet.
Layout Cabinets
The cabinet with the drawers is now finished and put in its place. Our cat, Boots, was checking out the new improvements.
Layout Cabinets
Rinse and repeat! I built another corner cabinet and three more cabinets with drawers. Two of which had the same-height drawers and the other had variably height drawers. The cabinets are bolted together with 1/4" bolts. They sit on toe-kick cabinets that I also built out of 3/4" plywood. The cabinets have one or two wood screws going into the toe-kick cabinet to make the whole thing a cohesive whole.
Layout Cabinets
This corner cabinet has a collection of shelves in it, each at a different spacing, maximizing their usefulness. The door opens easily. I used "European Cabinet Hinges" (found at any good hardware store), because they can keep a door in the same plane when opened, so that you can butt cabinets up against each other like I have done here. I can open and close this door without it touching the drawers of the cabinet on the right.
Layout Cabinets
This set of three cabinets have two full-height doors each, and a large collection of slots. I wanted several cabinets where I could be very flexible with what I stored inside. I have since made some very simple (and ugly) drawers out of a sheet of Masonite hardboard with some 3/4" plywood sides glued to its top. The Masonite board slides on the slots, and the plywood sides keep the board flat (and keeps whatever is in the drawer there). These are quick, simple, and cheap to make.
Layout Cabinets
And when the doors are closed, you can't tell the difference. We house some kitchen appliances in them. I have also stored cat and dog food in them. When the Masonite became dirty, I simply threw it away and built a new drawer. The slots allow me to raise or lower the drawer based on what it holds.
Layout Cabinets
I had built up quite a collection of N-scale cars and engines. Storing those in their manufacturers boxes makes very inefficient use of space. I decided to take them out of their boxes and store them in these drawers. I wanted them to lay on their sides so that I can easily see which one is which, and to pull out the ones I wanted to run on the layout. I decided that putting some soft foam in the drawers would help protect the rolling stock. I first made a plywood divider for the drawers, to help in organizing. The drawer interior is roughly 24.75 inches (61 cm) wide and 15.5 inches (40 cm) deep. The inside height is 1.75" (4.5cm).
Layout Cabinets
I bought some 1/2" foam at a local fabric store. The roll is roughly 24 inches wide. I started off by cutting 1.5" (3.8 cm) strips of the foam. The size of the strip was determined by the inside height of the drawer. The trick to cutting straight strips, and it does take some practice, is to keep the razor blade perpendicular to the workbench. With one hand I pressed down on the blade, keeping the blade at less than a 45 degree angle to the workbench. With the other hand (not shown here for clarity), I provided horizontal pressure against the blade to keep it firmly against the metal straight-edge. The weight of the metal straight-edge and the friction of the tool on the foam kept it in place.
Layout Cabinets
The tools needed for gluing the foam in the drawer are glue (WeldBond or Elmers white glue), a disposable foam brush, and a wet towel. The wet towel or rag is needed to clean up any stray glue and to keep the fingers clean. I always started at the front of the drawer (front is facing away from me) because that is the area that is most often seen and so it needs to look the best. You can always fudge a bit near the back of the drawer. I proceeded by putting some glue on the foam brush, and applied that to the drawer. The glue grips the foam very well, so there is no need to overdo it. As a matter of fact, several years later I wanted to remove the foam from some of these drawers and I needed a chisel to be able to do it!
Layout Cabinets
Again, rinse and repeat! Alternating between a vertical and a horizontal strip of foam.
Layout Cabinets
And here is one drawer finished.
Layout Cabinets
I did all of the drawers in this cabinet that way. It was then easy to see what was in the drawer, and to grab the engine or car I want (when I was modeling in N-scale). Also, because I used white foam, it is easy to see parts that have fallen off. If something fell off of a car and I didn't want to fix it right there and then, I just placed it next to the car in the drawer.
Layout Cabinets
When I moved, I had a 10'x10' bedroom available for my model railroad and office. I was able to set up these cabinets again in this new room, and they just fit. This is the U-shaped space on top of which my first S-scale layout was built.
Layout Cabinets
One special "drawer" I made in one of the cabinets was this pull-out shelf. Originally, the idea was that this would be great for putting paper work down as you are doing switching work on the layout. However, I have since come to use this as my only work bench space. When I'm done with it, I just push it into the cabinet and it is out of the way. It is shown here in use with my first S-scale layout.
Layout Cabinets
Some of my drawers have 1/4" plywood dividers glued in them so that I can separate and better organize various parts (these are some of my S-scale detailing parts).
Layout Cabinets
The cabinets are now being using in their third major configuration. This is really proving that they were a good investment. They are not showing any age either. This is the foundation for my second S-scale layout. The layout consists of four modules that are placed on top of these cabinets.
Layout Cabinets