Building storage cabinets


Storage of trains has always been a problem once you get more than a few cars or locos. Taking your trains in and out of their original boxes is a pain, puts wear on the paint, and often is impossible as many locomotives are shipped without handrails or other details attached, so once attached, they will not go back into the packing.

Quickly it becomes apparent you need a way to transport more than one car at a time.

If you keep your trains indoors, simple stackable trays with padded dividers will work. Some people have found the trays that hold bread or bakery items work fine, and some use rolling shelves to do this.

In my case, I wanted the storage outside, just feet from the track. The storage needs to be fairly weatherproof. At first, I found some Rubbermaid storage containers, transluscent bottoms and a plastic top. They stacked, but you could tell the weight of the cars would eventually warp and collapse the lids. Also, I wondered how long the plastic would last in the sun. Well, they started to fall apart after a couple of years, and now that size is unobtainable. They were pretty much perfect for 40 & 50 foot freight cars. They held 3 across, and they were about 7 inches deep. All I can find now is a lot larger and deeper, but not enough larger to hold more than 3 cars, and now they were 12" high. So the size of them was getting silly.

I have been stacking them in nice Rubbermaid carts with 5" polyurethane wheels, so I figured I'd make some storage cabinets that would ride on these. Also I wanted to make them as compact as possible, so I could get the most cars in the least space. Lastly, I wanted to make them easy to build, meaning not too much time to make them, and use off the shelf components. 

 So, my rough measurements estimated making the inside dimensions 25" deep, and about 17" wide. If I measure my freight cars, 5" of space would give about 1/4" clearance on each side, and total 15" (although that gives 1/2" between cars in the middle).

Looking at what I can get from 4x8 sheets of plywood, I changed the dimensions to exactly 17" x 23-7/8". This allows me to ensure getting these pieces from a 4x8 accounting for the saw kerf, and a second trimming pass to get the size exactly (more on that later).

I also decided to use 3/4" plywood, so I could screw the shelves and sides together without any baking strips or other pieces. Again, save time and money. In addition, using 3/4" ply means no other reinforcing or bracing is necessary.

I bought an inexpensive table saw, a Ryobi for $250. This is the portable one, with a collapsable frame and wheels. This unit is unique in that it has a rip capacity of 30", which means I could cut a 4x8  right down the middle to get 2x8 strips, which will make the shelves and the sides of the cabinets.

An inexpensive saw and such large and heavy wood means the wood can wander a bit when ripping large pieces. So cutting each piece to slightly oversize, and then a second finishing pass on the cut (smaller piece) allows precision sizes. 

So, I took 4 sheets of 4x8, and ripped them in half. Then I set the fence for 17" exactly and cut the shelves. I was able to get 28 shelves and some extra. (Each cabinet has 8 shelf pieces, 7 with "tracks" and one with nothing, the top. 

I then bought an inexpensive dado blade. The blade has a "wobble" center that lets the blade wobble to make larger dados, but leaving it set at zero gave me a dado slot 3/16", perfect.

I measured the spacing I wanted, 2.7" from center of slot to slot. Then I set the fence to 1/2 of 17" minus half of the wheel spacing and used a set of verniers to set this distance. Run the shelf through, and turn it to get the other slot on the other side of center. Bingo, the 2 slots down the middle with one setting on the saw. I did 28 shelves in about 15 minutes. Now I eyeballed where the outer slots would go. Set the fence, cut each board, turn it, and cut again, now you have half of the 2 outer "tracks". One more setting for the matching rail, and you have cut your 3 tracks on all boards, This took about 1 hour total once I had figured it out.

** I'll measure my boards and give exact measurements.

Now, 2 4x8 sheets and cut them to about 63", then rip one to 2 pieces 23-7/8" wide, making one rip cut right in the middle, then setting it for 24-7/8" exactly and making a finishing cut.

Take the other one and rip it down the middle, then make finishing cuts to 18-1/2" wide.

Here's the trick, make 3 or 4 block from the strips trimmed off in the last step, and cut them exactly 8". Exactly.

If you have cut everything carefully, screw one shelf to one long side (the shelf and the side are both 23-7/8") making the shelf exactly flush with the side, and once the bottom is on, keep screwing the shelves on progressing "up" until you have screwed the last shelf on top, the one with no grooves.

Flip it over, and screw another long side, starting from bottom to top, using the 8" spacers between shelves.

When I did it this way, and being careful to keep the blocks and shelves tight when assembling, the top piece (shelf piece #8) was within 1/64" from one side to another.

Now put one 18-1/2" back on, using the side of the box that you made each shelf flush with. The front piece can be attached with 3 hinges. I used solid brass hinges to keep rust away (I got a magnet to make sure at home depot! lots of "brass" which was actually plated)

By using 8" height inside, I get 7 shelves, 3 cars each, 21 cars in a 5 foot high enclosure. Think of it like a kitchen cabinet, deep enough for 3 cars and narrow, just wide enough to see the ends of 3 cars when you open the door.

I'm going to put a bit of self adhesive foam at the ends for the couplers to bang against, but it's really not necessary unless you are off-roading. If you will move this over rocky terrain, you can put a slice of foam between the cars as you roll them into the cabinet.

I have used a paper "batting", abailable as  a roll at Office depot, it's perforated at 1' intervals and almost exactly the height of one car.

To keep trains from flying out when opening the door, I am going to string bungee cord across each shelf with hooks and eyes.




Well, now what to do about the long cars?

I'm building a cabinet the same way, but 36" long inside, which should accommodate my longest cars, the USAT streamliners.



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