Legs For The Modules

How Long Are The Legs?
So far, we have a module that can only sit on the floor.  We need to fabricate some legs so that we can get the module raised up to operating level.  Your club may make your legs differently which may differ considerably from mine.  This is how I make my legs. 

The legs are made from 2"x 2" (which is really 1 1/2"x 1 1/2") spruce lumber that is available in any building supply/ lumber store.  Usually 2"x 2" spruce gets a bad rap because of the tendency of spruce to warp and twist.  However, it's all in how you finish the spruce that makes all the difference. 

I get the 2"x 2" cut to length at the saw service of my local lumber store.  I then take them home, fill in any cracks, imperfections, etc and give them a good sanding.  You'll find that a 2"x 2" is good on three sides.  It's that fourth side that will require a lot of attention.  If you have access to a belt sander, the job is easy - a couple of passes along each side will do the trick.  However, if all you have is some sandpaper, it will take a bit longer to smooth things out.  The effort you put into sanding the legs will be well worthwhile.  I find that a good sanding, filling and sanding the splits and cracks can turn a rough piece of lumber into a smoothly finished leg.

If you have access to a "chop saw" (aka a "mitre saw") it's very easy to set up a "stop block" and cut a whole bunch of legs to the proper length.  An 8' length of 2"x 2" costs about $2.00 so it's always a good idea to pick up a couple of extra pieces.  You're going to find that, as we fabricate the legs, a couple of the legs will try to twist and warp before we get them finished.  This way, if we have a couple of extra pieces, we can discard the twisted pieces. 

The question now is "How long do I cut the 2"x 2"s?".  A good question!  There are several things to take into consideration.  The thickness of the track and roadbed, Styrofoam, and gussets are quite obvious.  What's not so obvious is the "thickness" of the leg leveller when screwed completely into the leg, and the amount of "travel" required to adjust the module to account for imperfections in the floor.  If you belong to a module railroad club, you have a club standard that's usually expressed as a "plus-or-minus-so-many-inches".  In my case, the plus-or-minus is 1 1/4".  That means the leg leveller has to be capable of being unscrewed out an extra 1 1/4" or screwed in 1 1/4".  Here's a table that I use to calculate the length of the 2"x 2"s, taking into account all of the above into consideration.  I've left a couple of columns for you to do your calculations. 
Thickness of Components Mine  Decimal Yours Decimal
Track 1/8" 0.125" . .
Roadbed 1/8" 0.125" . .
Styrofoam 1½" 1.50" . .
Cross Member 3/4" 0.75" . .
Leg Leveller When Screwed Into Leg 1/2" 0.50" . .
Leg Leveller Adjustment 11/4 1.25" . .
                Sub-Total 3 3/4" 3.75"  . .
Less Height From Rail to Floor 45" 45.00" . .
Equals Length of Wood for Legs 411/4" 41.25"  . .


Bundling The Wood
Once I have the legs cut and sanded (or if for any reason, you can't work on the legs right away) I bundle them up and wrap them in duct tape - at each end and in the middle - and leave them in a cool dry place for about 2 weeks.  The 2"x 2" right from the store has usually been bundled up which prevents the individual 2"x 2" from twisting and warping.  The minute the bundle is broken, they'll start to twist in every direction.  That's because the wood hasn't been completely dried out.  By bundling them in duct tape and leaving them for a couple of weeks, most of the legs will have the chance to dry out straight. 
Better yet, if I clamp the wood together on all four sides and then bundle them up with duct tape, I usually end up with a complete set of legs that are nice and straight.

Locating The Centres
After sanding each side and filling the splits and cracks, the next step is to locate the centre on each end of the leg.  Simply draw a diagonal from one side to the other with a ruler.  Here's what a set of 16 bundled legs look like after drawing the lines.  I've already done the same at the other end. 

Painting The Legs
At this point, I could start to drill holes and then paint the legs but I've found it's a lot easier and less messy if I paint the legs first.  Since I'm working on 16 legs, I can take steps to "mass produce" them.

After locating the centres of each end of the legs, I next hammer a 2" nail about 1/2" into the wood.  This nail serves as a "peg leg" when I paint the wood.  I can use the "peg-leg" to flip the wood from side to side as I swab on the paint.

I next take a nail (in this case 16 nails) and twist a 10"-12" length of wire onto the end (this is how I use some of that surplus telephone wire).  I then hammer the nail about 1/2" into the centre of the opposite end of each leg.  The wire makes a handy-dandy hanger-upper as I finish painting each leg.  . 

Since I do my painting in my basement, I next nail sixteen 3" nails into the sides of the floor joists in the basement.  I can then twist the wire around the 3" nails in the floor joist.  This keeps each leg nicely out of the way of the others.  I paint all four sides of each leg at one go.  As I finish painting a leg, I hang it up by the wire on one of those 3" nails in the floor joists.  Here's what 24 painted legs look like hanging from the joists.  Quite a difference, eh!? 

After the first coat of paint has dried, I lightly sand the legs to get rid of the fuzzies.  I then apply another coat of paint and hang each leg up to dry. I like to give each leg three coats of paint.  Since I'm doing 24 legs at one shot, I painted the legs using a small roller and a paint tray.  In three evenings of work, letting each coat of paint dry overnight, I soon had my set of legs finished. 
If for any reason, you aren't going to be going to the next steps right away, after 10-12 days of drying, bundle up the legs and wrap some duct tape around the bundle at each end and in the middle.  This will prevent the legs from twisting and warping.   Even better, bundle up the legs, clamp all four sides together tightly, and then wrap some duct tape around the bundle at each end and in the middle.  

Drilling The Holes

After painting, I drill a 3/8" hole that is 1 1/4" deep in one end of the leg and a 9/32" hole (ie 1/32" smaller than 5/16") that is 1 1/4" deep in the other end.

We're going to epoxy a 5/16" T-nut into the 3/8" end.  Next we'll thread an adjustable leg leveller into the T-nut.  Floors in basements and halls are never level and the leg leveller will help us to get rid of the "ski jumps" between modules.

At the 9/32" hole, we're going to screw in a modified 5/16" carriage bolt which will be epoxied in place.  The leg-ends with the modified carriage bolt will be screwed into the T-nuts in each corner of our module frame. in a T-nut so that our module can stand up on its own legs. 

Drilling  holes in the ends of wood that is 1 1/2"x 1 1/2" is not easy.  This is where a drill press with a moveable table comes into play.  Or perhaps a jig for my cordless drill which I haven't yet figured out how to make.  Perhaps it's only with a steady hand and a good eye that you might be able to get those holes drilled.  If anyone has any ideas for a jig for a drill, I'd be most interested in hearing from you.

Installing The Leg Levellers
After all the holes have been drilled, I coat the barrel of the T-nut with epoxy, insert it into the hole and tap it into place with my hammer and let the epoxy set for 24 hours. 
Modifying Carriage Bolts
I next modify some 2 1/2" carriage bolts.  I cut the head off so that I have a "threaded rod" that is 2" long.  I then round the cut end using a bench grinder and/or a file so that I get rid of the sharp edges from my cut.

Carriage bolts have a thread that go from one end to the other whereas threads on regular bolts are only 1" long.  I need a threaded bolt that I can insert into the 1 1/4" hole with 3/4" sticking out.  The carriage bolt epoxied into the hole will do the trick.

You may be tempted to get a long threaded rod and chop it up into 2" pieces.  DON'T!  When you cut the threads, you will have a jagged cut at both ends which, in spite of any filing you might do, will remain jagged on the thread which will eventually tear the thread in the T-nut.

For the next steps, you need to identify which end is the "cut-end", and which end is the "finished end" of the cut carriage bolt.  The photo above will help you to identify which is the "cut-end" and which is the "finished end".

Installing Modified Carriage Bolts
To install the cut carriage bolt, I first tighten two 5/16" nuts against each other at the "finished end" using two 1/2" wrenches.  I then load the drilled hole with epoxy, insert the threaded end into the hole, and crank it home with one wrench until only 3/4" of the thread is sticking out of the hole.  Again using the two wrenches, I undo the two nuts and repeat the installation process for the other legs. 
 Still with us?

We now have a set of legs with a leg leveller in one end (the bottom) and a threaded piece of rod in the other end (the top end).  With the module on its side, insert the threaded rod into the T-nut on the underside of the module and tighten it in.  With some help from a friend, lift the module up and set it on its legs.

Voila, the module now has legs!

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