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Display case number 1.


I wrote this article after a post on the forum on the Beneluxrail website. The question arises how to build your own display cases. There are many display case builders among the Beneluxrail members, and this is only an description of my display case. Other display case builders are encouraged to describe there way of building an display case, so readers can compare and make up there own ideas. After all everyone has is own specific wish and needs.

Years ago I started collecting HO trains. It started after I had more trains then I could possibly run at one time on a layout. It’s a shame to leave all these trains packed in there boxes, so I decided to build me a display case. Now many hours are spent watching all these goodies. First one display case was enough, but soon I needed more. Of course you can buy display cases, but they are expensive, and if you need a bunch of them, do-it-yourself is the way to go.

It is not difficult to make your own display case. All you really need is a wooden frame with lots of shelves to put the trains on. My first display case even had lights and a transformer to run some of the trains inside. Another reason I had this was to be able to test run newly acquired trains. One of the drawbacks on this first one was the weight, compared to the seize. My collection had gotten bigger and I needed to do something about it.

I made 9 “light” display cases in a simple way, which I am describing in this article. I am not at al a carpenter, furniture builder, but just a model railroader like most of us. If you can build a layout, then building a display case won’t give you any trouble. A professional will most likely build them different then I do, but all my display cases are the way I want them to be and they perform well in that matter, and they are over 10 years old and still look good. I am thinking to install the windows in a different way, in future display cases. I have made a few different sizes and configurations, to accommodate each wall. I start with a 4x8 sheet of 1/4inch Luan. This I have cut in two different sizes, 4x4 and 2x4 sheets. This will give me 3 different styles, a squire 4x4, a standing 2x4 and a laying 2x4 display case. This way I get the most out of it, without having leftovers, and still being able to fit each wall with display cases.

If two 4x4 squires don’t fit the wall, you can have one 4x4 squire and a 2x4 standing, next to each other. Or if the wall is obstructed with a window or table you can have a 2x4 laying attached on this wall. Don’t forget to ask your spouse, partner or roommate if they are okay with it.

Now lets get started. Some of my demands are light weight, easy handling (when moving) and keep it simple and cheap. Just like a pizza, I start with the bottom. This is made from Luan, a light and low cost material. I cut the sheet in half and if needed in four pieces. Needles to say remove the splinters, and sand the edges.

Now the frame. I continue with a 2x4 display case, but the instructions are all the same no matter what size. I make the frame using 2x1 lumber. I glue and screw the corners as shown in drawing 1 number 1. A better and stronger way is to join the corners as shown in drawing 1 number 2 and 3. Right now the frame is not as strong, but ones the frame is mounted to the bottom, it will become stronger. I glue the bottom and use nails to line up the corners and keep the frame in place, just like the back side of a bookcase. Start with one corner to the next, constantly checking that the frame is rectangle (or square), measure diagonal from one corner to another.

drawing 1

If the frame is true we can continue with some more nails, every 4 inch or so until the whole frame is glued and nailed on to the bottom. Now it’s time to install the “shelves” in to the frame. These “shelves” is what holds the trains. I am using door moldings instead of 1x2 lumber. These moldings have a groove, roughly the size of HO track. See drawing 2. When they are cut to size and fit nice inside the frame, we place them in such a way, they are centered and evenly spaced. See drawing 3. Now with a pencil draw a line on each side of the molding and remove the moldings. Hit a nail in the middle of the two lines all the way trough the bottom and this will be the marks on the back side where the nails will have to come to install the moldings.

drawing 2

drawing 3

Turn the case upside down and attach a string, rope or electrical wire between the two nails (see drawing 4). This will be the centerline where we draw a cross every 4 inch apart. On each cross we will be hitting a nail trough to attach the moldings later on. The moldings are placed every 4 inch apart and that will leave us with 4 inch minus the thickness of the molding, is approximately 3-1/4 inch height for the trains.
This might be the hardest part of the project, we are going to attach the moldings. I glued the molding with wood glue to the bottom and nail the two nails already in place in to the molding. One more nail in the center will be centering the molding in place. After all moldings in the frame have been attached this way, we turn the display case over to the back and continue with the remaining nails. After all the moldings are completely nailed to the bottom, we turn the display case over again and place nails on the sides of the frame in to the moldings, to secure them in place. Of course we use some wood glue here as well.

drawing 4

The frame has now become a display case. Now it’s time for a coffee break. After the coffee brake, and when the glue has dried, we can sand the display case. I have painted my display cases white, but you can also stain it or paint in any color you like. I have painted 3 layers of paint. When all this is done, I installed steel corner brackets, as shown in picture 1-2, on the top and bottom of the display case. This is where I mount the display case to the wall.

picture 1

picture 2

I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOUR DISPLAY CASE WITH CONTENTS FALLS OF THE WALL, this is your responsibility, just incase it happens, although it has never happened to me. Now the question whether we are going to install track or not. All my display cases have track installed, since a train is supposed to be on track. It is not really necessary, and will cost a lot of money although you don’t have to use expensive high quality track. Also be advised that because of vibrations around the house, the trains in the display case will often jump the tracks.
Last thing to do is to make the glass windows. The nicest thing will be to use real glass, but this is heavy. One way is to make the frame about 1 inch wider and make a guide trough where 2 windows can slide open and close. If you decide to use real glass you might want to make a better attachment to the wall. I choose to use Plexiglas instead. This is light in weight and less dangerous then real glass when something hits the window from near by playing children, see picture 3

picture 3

The Plexiglas is attached on top with small hinges (picture 4-5), and the size of the window is the same as the outside measurement of the frame.

picture 4

picture 5

I have installed small moldings, see photo 6, on the outside edges of the window, and at the bottom magnets, to keep the window shut. I have also tried klitband (1), but that was not a success. My first display cases used little knobs with treaded inserts (2,3-4), which go trough a hole in the Plexiglas in to the frame.

picture 6

I hope this article is clear enough and together with the pictures will give you the information you need to make your own display case. There are many ways to make a display case, and mine is just one of them.

At last on picture 7 my daughter next to the display case will give you an idea how it looks in size.

picture 7


This page is last updated on 15 July 2012

NLMS - Dutch ModelRailroad -