I've been blogging about real-World locations that might make good modules or cameos on my own website for a while now and I've recently become very interested in building T-Trak modules.
In a nutshell, T-Trak is a set of standards for building very small modules. The standard ‘single’ module is only 308mm wide and 355mm deep. If you model in N scale like I do this means that a ‘single’ module represents about 50m x 57m of the real World. You can find out more about T-Trak here: http://www.t-trak.org/
As it's winter and I lack workshop space I need to be able to build the modules inside the house with simple tools using a strong, light material.
Using foamcore board seemed like a solution. Tho only thing is I've built experimental formboard modules/layouts in the past using the kind of foamcore that can be found in the average hobby or art store but I've never been completely satisfied with the results. They tended to warp when damp/wet and the material never seemed as strong as advocates of the method made out.
Then I got my hands on some Gatorboard...
Gator Board is a heavy-duty foam board. The surface of Gator Board is made from wood pulp mixed with a fibreglass plastic and is advertised as being much tougher than regular foam board. The foam used between the surfaces also seemed to be denser than regular foam board.
Now I've put a module together using it I can confirm that Gator Board is definitely much tougher than regular foam board!
In the past I've cut foam board cleanly with a couple of passes of a scalpel but a scalpel barely scratched the surface of Gator Board. Using a mount board cutter was a complete failure and I ended up using a Stanley knife.
Here's the basic dimensions of a T-Trak single module:
The module should be 70mm high. The Gator Board I'm using is 10mm thick so sides are 60mm high and the deck adds 10mm to this to arrive at 70mm high.
The modules are 308mm wide and 355mm deep. Front and back faces are fixed inside the side faces so are actually cut 288mm wide.
So to create the module I needed:
Two side faces 355mm x 60mm.
Two front/back faces 288mm x 60mm.
One deck (or top surface) 355mm x 308mm.
I measured and marked my cuts from the factory cut side of the Gator Board using another small piece to keep my ruler right on the edge of the board. It's hard to visualise so here is a picture:
I tried to always keep a factory edge where the small piece of board meets the cutting mat and where the piece being marked meets the small guide piece.
I cut the pieces using multiple passes of a Stanley knife (with a fresh blade) using the long ruler that came with my Jakar mountboard cutting kit to guide the blade. As the board is tough even with the rulers rubber backing I needed to apply quite a bit of pressure to keep the ruler in place and the blade cutting straight.
Now I may have been trying to force the knife to cut too quickly (probably) but I struggled to end up with a square cuts. Thankfully, this is where the toughness of the Gator Board helped. I was actually able to gently sand any not-quite-square cut edges with sandpaper!
To keep my sanding efforts square I wrapped the sandpaper around another piece of Gator Board and tried to keep this flat as possible. It actually worked very well.
It was only when putting this posts together that I remembered the facing contains glass fibres so sanding without a mask really isn't a good idea. Don't do what I did, wear a mask if you sand the board.
I glued the pieces together with PVA glue (the bottle no longer has a label but I think it's some kind of Tacky glue as it's quite thick). I started by attaching one of the long side-pieces to the top deck, then an end, then the second side-piece and finally the second end-piece.
Once the glue started to setup, I flipped the module over and put it under some weight to finish drying.
It's not easy getting everything into position correctly and keeping it there. Trying to do it all in one go did lead to some swearing.
There has to be an easier way of doing this and I'll have a think about this before I do this again.
While gluing everything together it also became clear that one of my cuts wasn't quite as good as it should have been and there was a small gap where one of the end pieces touched a side piece. I had to inject a little bit of superglue gel into the gap as it was too late to re-cut or shape the edge of the board.
Those of you with eagle eyes will also have noticed a dink in the bottom corner of the module already. That's actually from cutting where the knife drops off the edge of the board but it shows that even though Gator Board is much tougher than foam board you still have to be careful. However the final construction feels very robust, much more so than regular foamboard and it's should be able to take quite a bit of weight despite being very light.
That's about it. A quick, easy and relatively cheap way to create a T-Trak module. Now all I've got to do is decide what to build on it.