Part 2: The challenges of a new baseboard type

In Part 1 of this series I covered the design decisions made and how I expected them to work with the planned operations methods. This time we’ll look at a new type of baseboard for me, the hollow core door along with the challenges and opportunities involved.

What is a hollow-core door?

OK – so that door to your bedroom, really most interior doors, are hollow-core doors (HCD). That is, it is not a solid wood door made of stiles, rails and panels. The face is usually MDF, or something equally as smooth for a nice finish. There’s a solid wood frame around the periphery of the door (for attaching hinges, handles and locks) and a honeycomb interior which the facers glue to providing the stiffening for the whole thing. Take a look at image 1 below.

Image 1: The interior (hollow-core) door used for the new layout

This is a narrow door (the narrowest in stock at my local builders centre – Mitre10 in regional Victoria if you’re wondering) and are often used for closet doors and other narrow access applications which just happens to be perfect for those of us wanting to build a shelf layout.

At 2040 mm (80.3 inches) long, 420 mm (16.5 inches) wide and 35 mm (1.4 inches) deep they are not too big to be carried by the average person through the house without issue.

Issues I’ve discovered

I’ve read that over time that without stiffening hollow-core doors can droop. If you are using these on some sort of shelving system I doubt this would be an issue. I intend this to be a freestanding layout so to ensure that droop doesn’t become a drag I have provided outer stiffening along the length of the board (and across the ends for another reason discussed later).

As I wanted to keep the costs down on this build I used what I had in stock from my wood pile and so 90mm x 19mm clear pine for the stiffening was used. This allowed me to provide:

  • the required stiffening,
  • coverage for the outside of the foam board, and
  • a small lip below the baseboard to assist in locating the trestle legs

All the components are shown in image 2 below.

Image 2: The baseboard components – door, 50mm foam, and 90 x 19mm clear pine

What I’d do different next time

Should I build another layout on a hollow-core door I’d:

  • replace the clear pine with 6mm AA Grade Mixed Hardwood Marine Plywood, ripped down to 100mm strips and glued and screwed to the edges of the door.

You could go thicker than this but I think the 6 mm would be good enough for adding the stiffness you need over the length of the door. The ply would be quite a bit lighter than the 19 mm clear pine, yet would be just as stiff and as easy to finish.

A Hollow-core door as a baseboard?

So now that we all understand what a HCD is, here’s why I’ve wanted to try a hollow-core door baseboard for a long time:

  • Cost – they are not expensive (even here in Oz with the Australia Tax where everything from overseas costs more) at the $32.00 price point they meet my time and labour cheapness test – that is I could not make a similar baseboard for the money in the time it takes to go to the hardware store, pick it up and get back home
  • Simplicity – they come in standard sizes and are the same each time as they are machine manufactured
  • appear simple to set up and get ready for use (Lance Mindheim and others use them regularly), and finally
  • To see what challenges there are to overcome – to get them to work for me – considering I come from the handmade, open grid benchwork style of baseboard and I intend to wire electrofrog points (turnouts) using double-pole, double throw miniature switches to throw the points using the wire in tube.

Let me say from the outset that there are serious challenges if you’re used to working with open grid baseboards as I am. For a start there’s a lot more planning that needs to go into the wiring and switch operation if you’re using powered (in my case Peco electrofrog) switches. Regardless whether you are using DC or DCC – the issues still exist to power the frogs.

Issues I’ve discovered

Among the things you’ll need to think about are:

  • how you’ll route the wiring both for track feeds and getting power to live frogs if you use them, and
  • what and how you’ll move the tie-rod

These are the deal breakers. I’ll share with you what I’ve come up with.

What I’m doing to overcome these issues

Routing the wiring

Thanks go out to Lance Mindheim for helping me understand how does his wiring on his layout using HCDs.

Like miners everywhere, I’m going to drill. Down that is. I’ll be drilling 3mm holes through the foam, and the HCD so that wires can go through the foam and the HCD. All wiring will be worked on underneath the baseboard for simplicity’s sake and allow easy replacement. I bought an extra long bit specifically for this specific purpose.

Neatness will be maintained by the use of self-adhesive 19 mm square sticky cable tie mounts. Cable ties will hold everything in place and if I need to I can cut a cable tie and replace a wire if needed.

Switching frog polarity and actuating the switch

After a lot of thinking and playing around with multiple ideas I’ve decided to use a Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT) miniature slide switch linked to the switch’s tie-bar via a wire in a tube (the wire in tube method). this allows me to set everything up to go under the scenery, but be replaceable if something breaks or a switch breaks down during use. While the tube will be buried in the scenery after the layout is complete, I can if need be replace the actuating wire over time should it snap, or fail in whatever way.

Since the wire will come through the fascia via the tube it is simple a matter to disengage one end from the tie-bar, the other end from DPDT switch, remove the broken part put in a new one and then join it all up again. Simple.

What I’d do differently next time

I’m not sure yet, but as I find things out I’ll let you know. Update will follow in the out of sequence posts on this build topic.

Wrap Up

I was aiming to get the trestles covered in this post, however, since I’ve been writing this in fits and starts since my holidays ended two weeks ago on my limited time off I figured we’d save that for part 3. Shift work and tram driving – ain’t life grand!

Further thoughts – Switch Control Options

I prefer to use manually thrown points. When using open grid framework baseboards for US layouts I prefer to use ground throws driving under surface mounted DPDT switches to control the frog polarity. In this case I find that using the wire-in-tube method is the better option.  There are two reasons for this:

Firstly – the distance between the bottom of the board (door at 35mm, plus foam at 50mm for a total of 85mm, plus about 5mm between the top of the foam, cork and track height). This means that to throw the switch from below the door level will require a very stiff metal to ensure proper operation of the switch due to there being little sweep movement over the long length of the actuating arm, and that my friends concerns me.

Secondly – fixing a problem is simpler and easier.

There is always the option of using switch machines in this case too. However as mentioned above I think there are major mechanical issues that would need to be worked around.  As I don’t have any experience here I’m interested in hearing from you if you have used switch machines in these situations (we can talk about this through the comments, or on the Facebook page). I would like to hear how you’ve solved that problem.


Designing Small Operating layouts you can build since 2003

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