Saturday, 2 June 2012

Tips on Dismantling a Layout

The Millett Creamery (SRMW kit) as it existed on the Green Mountain Division before it was removed.
     Dismantling the Green Mountain Division
 Tips as it comes apart.
by Don Janes
  Since George mentioned I was dismantling my layout in a recent post I thought I'd like to share a few tips about taking the layout apart.  Actually some of these tips should be used when constructing a layout to avoid a lot of extra work when you decide you're going to rebuild it.  I know, you're saying once this layout is done I'll never rebuild it. Well that's what I thought too but here I am, taking it apart and rebuilding it.  In this post I'll cover how to remove buildings that are glued into the scenery, how to (and not to) attach plywood road bed to your bench work and saving thing from your layout that at first you might have overlooked.

The first step in dismantling a layout is to remove all the structures and details and save as many as these items as possible so the first thing I will cover is removing items that are cemented into the layout.  Most modellers use products such as  Sculptamold, real dirt, ground foam and white glue to add scenery to their layouts.  It is quite easy to remove items you want to save by soaking the area around them with water (with a drop of detergent), letting it soak in for a few minutes so the materials soften up and then carefully scraping the unwanted scenery material away until the item can be removed from the layout.

Before going any further, lets go back to the beginning when I built the layout.  Fortunately I took photos of most of my key structures as I built them including the building on it's base before I added it to the layout.  Even though I didn't plan on tearing the layout apart at the time I took the photos they proved invaluable as I started removing the structures from the layout. By following the photos it was quite easy to know where I had to soak the ground cover in order to remove the scenery and easily lift the structure out and save it for a future installation.  One thing I overlooked that caused me a little grief was that I didn't note that I had screwed the base to the scenery.  I was having difficulty getting the creamery up until I realised this oversight so I suggest if you're going to take photos also note anything else such as the placement of screws because otherwise after 15 years one tends to forget these details.

Removing Structures and Details From Finished Scenery

To illustrate this process from start to finish I will use the creamery shown above as an example to show the easy steps in removing a structure from its spot on the layout.
This photo was taking about 15 years ago when I built the kit.  As you can see the base is clearly defined so this photo along with several others proved invaluable when finding the base outline to remove the structure.  Note the small screw holes (white spots) at the edge of the base that I forgot to note...all photos by Don Janes

This is the creamery ready to be removed after all the details were removed and safely stored  for future use.
Carefully soak the area around the structure with water and let it soak in for several minute.  Small details such as barrels and milk cans should be removed before this step and safely stored away.

The scenery has been scraped away, screws removed and the structure ready to be lifted out.

This is the area where the creamery once stood.  After it was out I noticed that I had put a layer of wax paper under the structure base so it would not get accidentally glued to the plywood.  A pretty good idea I must say and  I had forgotten  that I had even done it.  I would definitely do it for all structures next time.

Here the creamery sits, safely removed from the layout and ready to be used on the new layout when the time comes.

The water soluble methods not only works for large structures but for anything you want to remove from the scenery.  Here a signal bridge and related signal equipment is about to be soaked and removed.

 Benchwork- How to (and not to) attach your plywood road bed to the layout frame

When I started my Green Mountain Division 20 years ago I had never built a layout before so bench work construction was new to me.  I just went along fastening my plywood roadbed to the "L" girder frame by driving screws down through the 1/2" plywood into the pine joists below.  Everything went together smoothly and before I knew it the track was down, ballasted and scenery added.  As I progressed I added a second level and as I ascended the grade I added "T" shaped risers, laying the plywood roadbed to them and running the screws up through the risers into the bottom of the roadbed as I had read about in magazines.  This too was soon covered with track and scenery.  This is how it all stayed for about 18 years until this week when I decided to tear the layout down and remodel it.   

Now the problems began.  After removing everything off the layout I wanted to take the plywood table top and roadbed off leaving only the "L" girder bench work which I plan to re-use.  Problem- where were all those screws that held the plywood to the frame?  You guessed it, buried below layers of plaster, dirt and ground foam.  The lesson here is short and sweet.  Whenever you are attaching plywood roadbed or table top to the frame do so by driving your screws up from below and NOT down from above.  You can either mount all your roadbed on risers, which I have done for my new layout, or take the extra time and make small cleats that fasten to the frame then run your screws up through them into the plywood.  I have  had to saw my bench work into many small pieces to remove it from the frame .  Even though you might think you will never change your layout odds are you will someday.

Here you can see the plywood fastened directly to the frame from above then covered with scenery.  I will either have to cut all the joists that are attached to the plywood or cut the plywood into many small pieces.  No fun either way!!

The upper level was added using these risers. As you can see it was a simple matter of unscrewing the roadbed from below and removing it.  Now the risers can be re-used and the time spent was minimal. 

Saving Everything You Can From The Layout

Once I   removed all the obvious things such as structures, rolling stock, vehicles and figures I went back over the entire layout and started picking up other small details that might have otherwise been overlooked.  These included small twigs, logs and branches, small stones and rock castings, bushes, trees and old rotting ties and new ties that were spread along the mainline and buried in the bushes.  It may seem easier to just tear these things up with the layout but they took time to make and place and if you plan to rebuild then you will have to make all these things over again so a little time now picking up the odds and ends will save many hours later.  One other thing I saved was spikes.  I hand laid most of my track and turnouts on the old layout and plan to do the same on the new one.  As I lifted each section of rail I went along and pulled all the spikes I could and picked them up with a magnet and saved them for re-use.  This may also seem time consuming but at about $10 for a bag of spikes I think it is well worth the time spent.  I have recovered thousands of spikes so far. The old layout was mostly code 83 rail with a little code 70.  I now use all code 70 rail so I saved whatever code 70 I could but discarded the code 83.  Remember, keep a sharp eye out for reusable items and it will save you lots of time and money down the road...Don Janes

Shown here are just a few of the details recovered from the layout before tearing it down.   I saved not only the obvious ones but things you might overlook also such as rocks, bushes and twigs. 


  1. So did you mount the plywood subroadbed from underneath or from the top? I'm at the stage of mounting my plywood to risers and I want to do it from the bottom. Do I use angles or screw through the cleat and then plywood? Any help would be great.

    1. Hi Steve:
      I always try to screw into the plywood sub roadbed from below so if I need to make adjustments later I don't have to disturb the scenery if it is finished in that area. I usually make my risers form 1x3 (or 1x4 if roadbed is wide) for the upright and use 1x1 or 1x2 to form an "L" at the top to screw up through into the sub roadbed. Always pre -drill the riser so the wood won't split. I try to clamp everything in place before drilling and screwing so things will stay where I want them. Hope this answers your question...Don