Chic on a Shoestring Decorating: How to Build a Train Shelf around a Room

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How to Build a Train Shelf around a Room

how to build a model train shelf around a room, Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

Little Chic #1 LOVES trains. It’s an obsession.

When we moved into our house, I wanted to do something special to build excitement about his new room in his new house, so Grandpa Chic and I built an HO-scale train around his room.

HO stands for “Half O” scale – O scale trains are twice as big, and HO scale trains are half the size.

Picture Source: Oakridge Hobbies

A lot of train “experts” say HO’s too small for an around the room ceiling train, but it’s up to you.

HO trains are less expensive, so if our train fell off the track, we wouldn’t be out big bucks for a broken car, and since it’s a very common size, we can find replacement cars very easily (garage sales, train shows, etc.)

This isn’t a serious modeler’s project. Some folks get into proper operation of trains, accurate details on cars and tracks, yada yada. This is for a 10-year old kid who loves to watch trains go around his room. 

Measure & Decide
We started by measuring around the room at the ceiling. We measured how high up the wall we wanted it. Ours is about 14” from the ceiling.

1x6” pine boards for the track shelves along the straight walls.
4x4’ sheet of ¾” plywood to make the corner shelves.
1x4 for “cleats”
1x4and 2x4 shelf support brackets
¾” shelf edge veneer
Quarter round trim to create a finished look.
Soldering gun
Low voltage wire
Wire cutters/strippers

We needed foam track bed, tracks, wiring and a transformer to actually run the trains.

Here’s a view of the train shelf as if you were looking down on it from above:

how to build a model train shelf around a room, Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

We built the corner pieces out of a 4’x4’ piece of ¾” plywood. Measuring corner to corner, find the center of the plywood and draw lines from one side to another, making a big + sign. 

Then, draw a 36” circle from the center of the plywood and cut with a jigsaw. Then, cut at each line, giving you 4 separate pieces:

Giving you corners like this:

Next, you’ll want to cut the straight track shelves – their length is based on the space you need between each corner piece.
Our room has a bump out where the door swings open and the closet juts out into the room – meaning there’s no real corner for us to build into. We built a bridge.

We also cut 1x4 the length of each wall to serve as a “cleat” for the track shelf to sit on.

Finally, we cut dozens of 3/4” and 1½” thick triangles to support the track shelf.

Attaching to Wall
Attach the triangle supports at regular intervals to the cleat (from the back). The ¾” triangles support the straight track and the 1½” triangles support the corners.  

how to build a model train shelf around a room, Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

Attach your track shelf to the cleat…be sure to drill pilot holes first since you’re going to be attaching so close to the edge of the track shelf.

Then, starting in a corner of the room and using a level, make a light pencil mark all the way around the room to serve as a guide for hanging the track shelf.

Begin by screwing in one of the corner shelves…making sure to hit a stud or using a drywall anchor.

Being level here is key…keep checking level as you continue hanging your track shelf.

Over the window and closet, we ran the track shelf along the top of the moldings and supported each end with a triangle. Then we got creative with how we hung curtains, but that’s another blog post.

If you have a weird entry way like we do, you can build a bridge. We hung all the track shelf EXCEPT the bridge, then cut a 1x6 to fit to create a bridge.

Then we attached quarter round to hide the seams, caulked and painted. Then we added the ¾” veneer to the edges of the plywood.  You can see all pretty well in the previous pic above.

Next is the fun part: laying track. Track bed helps the track stay in place on your shelf and helps the train run quieter.

We glued track bed to the track shelf about ½” in from the edge of the shelf

Then, we tacked FLEX TRACK  onto the foam track bed. Flex track bends around corners. You’ll need wire cutters for this step to trim off any extra lengths of track as you go around corners.

You may want to pick up a “re-railer” or two that you can mix in with your flex track. A re-railer is a simple device that gently bumps any wheels back onto the track if they’ve derailed.

The train runs off a transformer that turns your house’s electricity into low voltage currents to run the trains.

We bought extra long low voltage wire, ran them behind Little Chic’s desk, under the baseboards and into the closet so you couldn’t see the wires climbing the wall to the track.

We drilled a small hole just above the track shelf, pulled the wires through, and soldered onto the track. There are lots of good instructions on how to do this if you Google it. It just involves attaching 2 wires to 2 tracks.

Then, it was time to test!

We got a locomotive and ran it around the track to make sure it all worked.

All in all, it took us 2 weekends and just over $150 for the set-up, including the transformer but not including trains to get it done. The longest part was building the shelves, making sure they were all the right sizes and hanging them perfectly level.

We’ve added to it over time, like a bridge kit we found on Amazon, but it’s still pretty simple.

There are lots of good online sources for model trains.  If you are very new to model railroading Model Trains for Beginners is a great resource.  If you are already building your model then the Online Model Train Club may be more useful.   Both of these clubs are great and have resources for beginners and experienced railroad model builders.

If you are interested in seeing how we decorated this room with a cool (not juvenile) train theme that will grow with our boy you can see it here.

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