LEGO Town and City: Tables and Other Underpinnings

What are you going to build your town on? The answer depends partly on how permanent you expect your town to be, and partly on the resources you have available in the way of money, time and skill.

  • The Floor – this is the cheapest and simplest way to go, especially for temporary towns. If you have a smooth, level floor surface available such as hardwood, vinyl, or very short pile carpet you can lay your baseplates directly on top of it. Your usable space is limited only by the size of the room. Watch out for carpet though – if it’s too springy the baseplates will never lie flat and any weight (your feet, heavy buildings) may break them as they bend into the carpet pile.
  • Doors on supports – 80″ x 30″ doors are a convenient size for baseplates, and you can often find used doors cheap or free. Even surplus bifold doors can be pressed into service. Supports can be folding table legs as used on banquet tables (you may need to strengthen the door where you attach the legs), sawhorses, upturned garbage cans (clean, we hope!), crates, etc. Leveling and connecting doors can be difficult.
  • Folding banquet tables – very convenient if you get the 60″ x 30″ size, as they are very close to an exact number of 32-stud baseplates long and wide. They do tend to be expensive, heavy (new structural foam ones now available are lighter) and bulky to store if you’re not setting up a permanent layout. You also have the option of renting them for a short-term temporary town. Rental tables can be wobbly and of varying heights.
  • Custom tables – You used to be able to find drawings on the Greater Portland Lego Railroaders website for their modular train tables built from plywood, but they have disappeared. Very convenient, but you need either woodworking skills and tools available, or to have them made, which can be expensive. Some people use plywood tables with folding legs: see this discussion on LUGNET. David “Zonker” Harris has more details on his website about the original PNLTC tables and a different kind of modular tables used by BayLUG/BayLTC.
  • Model-railroad-style benchwork – check model railroad books and magazines for information on building your own baseboards to exactly fit your situation. Older-style wooden baseboards may be most suitable: new methods of building light baseboards from foam are probably not strong enough for Lego layouts. Here’s an article on basic benchwork.

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Once you’ve got your surface, pause a moment before you start laying baseplates or train track. Will there be anything electrical on your layout? Trains, RCX-controlled gadgets, and lighting all involve wires wandering across the layout, which can look really ugly. Some of the methods of managing the wiring problem require modifying your tables.

  • Drill holes in your tables on a regular grid, sized to take a Lego electrical connection, have holders under the tables or attached to the edges to take RCX’s or train controllers, and just pop your wires up through a convenient hole wherever you need to.
  • If you have your layout all pre-designed, you can decide where you want the holes for the wires and drill them in the exact positions. This assumes you won’t change your mind at all once building starts.
  • Build structures over your motors and RCX’s, and hide the wires with structures and vegetation, or run them on poles and pretend they are power lines. You can also have a scene of Lego construction machinery burying the wires!

You might also want to have height differences on your layout. Some ideas can help with both height changes and wiring:

  • Build up your scenery using Lego bricks, leaving spaces below the surface for anything from wires to subways. This takes a LOT of bricks and makes for heavy layouts, but it provides for major height differences and can look wonderful. Check this layout picture from the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club (GMLTC) to see how this looks.
  • Raise your baseplates up on a layer of rigid foam insulation board and leave gaps between sections or cut channels in it for the wires to run under the baseplates. 1″ foam is plenty thick enough for wires, or you can use thicker foam and cut holes large enough to take an RCX. It’s messy to cut but it does allow you to make some areas lower than others for a river or dock, for example. Make your channels as narrow as you can, so that your baseplates still get enough support.