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Discussion Starter #1
My plan is to build a 12x12 foot layout suspended from a winch in my garage. Because of this, I would like to try and reduce weight where possible. In addition, I plan to make the layout come apart in the center so it can be transported. This feature requires additional strength across the center for support when the layout is suspended.

My original idea was to use 1x3 pine to build the frame, but even though we have relatively low humidity here I still think it's going to bow over time. The idea of using extruded aluminum rails occurred to me this weekend, but I haven't had a lot of time to look into it. To build the full frame, I'm looking at almost 190 feet of rails which include four 12' pieces, and I'm guessing that is going to be quite expensive.

So does anyone have experience working with this stuff? Would the extra cost be worthwhile? Would I be able to save weight but still provide enough strength to support the layout when suspended from the corners? And how do I even begin to estimate how much weight I need to support? For transportation I would love to be able to keep the weight down to 100 pounds for each 6x12' half, but that really sounds impossible.

My original plan for using pine boards was to use spanning wires and turnbuckles like you see under the old flatcars. If the aluminum ends up at nearly the same weight as the wood, or if the aluminum frame would still need the spanning wires for support, then I suppose there's no benefit to the aluminum structure.

So many questions, but hopefully someone can help provide answers. Thanks!
 

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For my 30” X 118” staging area, I made C channels from dimensional pine. I glued and screwed them together using 1X4s for the webs. I used 1x2s for the flanges on the supported side by the back wall and 1X3s for the flanges on the unsupported side. It is plenty stiff and I don’t see a hint of sagging.

You could probably do something similar by making pine C channels and / or I beams. I used radiata pine since it is clear and straight. It is more expensive than standard lumber, but not terribly expensive at Home Depot…certainly less expensive than aluminum. I don’t see it in lengths over 10’, but the center is where you need support the most and you could put your lift points a foot from the ends.

IMG_0870.JPG
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Does the C-channel structure actually add any support for the length of the beam, or is that just keeping the length from bowing in the horizontal plane? I was really hoping to use 1x3 on 18" centers to cut down on the overall weight, guess I'll just have to see.

We have a Home Depot and a Lowes here, but I find better quality and selection from a local lumber yard. That wood is also usually still wet when I get it, so I have to either screw it together immediately or get it set up somewhere that it can dry without twisting, and then it's fine.
 

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An I beam, C channel or L girder has much greater moment of inertia (resistance to bending) than just a flat piece of lumber. That’s why I beams are used for buildings, bridges, etc. Also why many people use L girder construction for train layouts. What are you using for the platform? Rigid foam? You can probably go with 2’ centers if you use C channels, I beams or L girders.

If your Home depot stocks radiata pine or if you can order on line and have it shipped there, I would go that way. My local lumber yard also has clear pine, but it’s costs $$$ and its not as good as radiata. The radiata comes from New Zealand and is very nice. I’ve built cabinets from it.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I understand those beams are stronger in multiple directions, but I'm only concerned about a single direction of deflection. The idea is to make the general frame, then do a cookie-cutter style platform of masonite for the track. After that... I'm not quite sure yet. I might use foam or I might use window screen for the landscape area. I don't expect any of that to be structural though.
 

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I think for a 12 foot span you need 12 inch beam, wood, steel, or Al. I have a wholesale material outlet near me. Even so, my brother opted for 2x12 lumber for his elevating O scale locomotive layout. Built very robust, but i suspect it will still flex a bunch when we first try to hoist it up.
 

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No way. A 2 X 12 would be severe overkill.
You are entitled to your opinion.
But these movable layouts flex pretty easy.
Better to build big rather than try to add stiffeners later IMHO.
This O gauge tinplate railroad is 8'x16'. Cables raise it up.
 

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I remember seeing that thread. Pretty cool setup. If I was building a house, I might use 2X10s or 2X12s for a 12’ span. Remember though, the OP is looking for lightness. The C channels in my photo (post 2) don’t flex over a 10’ span and they aren’t that heavy. I might run some calcs if I get time later to compare L girder, C channel and I beam flex vrs weight. I realize the 2X12 won’t flex under a train platform, but It’s way heavier than the OP wants.
 
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