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Peter's Model Railroading | Articles | Layouts | Layout #9

The diagram shows a side profile/cross-section of my overall layout. The brown part represents the cabinets upon which the layout is placed. The green part is the layout (the modules). The blue parts make up the overhead lighting system, the topic of this page. The dimensions are in inches. The horizontal frame piece that is marked as 54" actually wound up being 55-1/4" due to the section where the LED strip can be cut. That piece, measured from its top, sits down 10" from the top of the vertical member. The angled support brace is 33" long. As designed, the framework for the lighting just fits under the 8-foot ceiling of the room. I made it stick out over the front of the layout somewhat (by ~7 inches), so that it could light up the front edge of the layout, as well as the drawers in the cabinets below the layout. These lights are also used as the general lighting of the entire room. The ceiling fan with its built-in light is not used in this room, but I didn't feel like taking it down (and having to put it back up again in the future). I did wind up removing its bulb and lamp shade, because they got in the way.

I want a light-weight, easy-to-remove lighting system over my layout. After doing some research, I settled on the 7-foot aluminum frames you can buy at the local hardware store, used for repairing or making your own custom window screens for your home (the link shows these frames to be 8 feet long, but they are really only 7 feet long). These are very light, yet plenty sturdy, and cost around $4 each (in 2018). Given my measurements, I need two 7-foot frames per lighting frame. If they really were 8 feet long, I'd be able to build the frame out of a single piece. In these photos I show the building of three of the lighting frames described above. I first cut the 7-foot lengths to one 55-1/4" section (requires one piece), and one 44" and one 33" section (requires the other piece). The aluminum frame is easily cut with a metal-cutting blade in a handsaw, a powered saw, or a Dremel tool with a cut-off disc. I used a metal-cutting handsaw. To these I glued, using 5-minute epoxy, strips of LEDs, with the wiring neatly routed through the hollow aluminum framing, connected to 8-slot barrier strips for easy removal. The three "arms" shown in this photo were an early experiment to see if the concept works and whether or not I liked it. Initially, I did.
(external link: Aluminum Frame)

Once the dark ballast was installed, the three LED strips weren't enough anymore, so I increased them to seven.

When I took the modules apart to install the electronics for controlling the switch machines, I realized how much of a pain the overhead arms were to remove. Also, these LED strips function as my room's overall lighting solution, so when I had to disconnect them, the room was dark. After pondering this dilemma, I came up with an idea that offered the same benefits, i.e. minimize the amount of "damage" done to the ceiling and still have overall lighting. This was to build a floating frame made out of the same aluminum window frames, and suspend it from the ceiling with cup hooks and a set of metal chains. The wire that powers these LEDs is attached to the corner on the far right (not shown in this photo). I now had a solution that allowed me to take the modules apart, have no vertical obstructions in the back, and yet still light up the entire layout evenly. My plan was to install some sort of diffuser panel eventually, as the infinite number of LEDs created an infinite number of shadow points everywhere on the layout. That is one downside of using LED strips.