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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been setting up slot car tracks at my son's middle school (grades 6-8) for a few years now. Even after he moved to high school, the kids at the middle school would call me up and ask if I would come again every quarter for their school parties. It's a very popular attraction at these parties, which usually include other activities such as a musical chairs type game, crafts of various kinds, food, and even a dance in the gymnasium down the hall. The kids love the slot car track, but every time I come part of the challenge is not only finding enough tables to support the track, but also the right size and, most difficult, of matching height. I usually end up with at least one table that's above or below the rest. Whatever I have, I cover the tables in a very large tablecloth, and build a pre-designed track on that large surface. Because kids crash a lot, and even Scalextric borders and fences wouldn't keep them all on the table, I built some cheap and simple catch fences that I would literally tape down to the tablecloth at the ends of the table.



All of this worked fairly well, but building it all up and taking it all down in the time I was usually given was always a rush, plus there were other problems with this way of setting things up. I wanted to come up with something that would not rely on the tables available at the event, and was quicker and easier to put up and take down. I also wanted something that looked more professional, so that I could start looking into offering my services locally for hire, rather than free. This meant that it needed to be self contained and well constructed and great looking. But, where to begin? The best place to begin is by looking for inspiration, and there was plenty of that to be found online. There are many, but some of my favorites include:
With all of the inspirational tracks out there, it was easy for me to form my vision for this project. It would be a small number of medium sized tables that locked together, with the track attached and level to the rest of the surface to allow drifting without deslotting, as well as looking more realistic than track that's raised up, or than bright tan plastic borders. A common question is, why not go routed? Well, that's a great option, of course, but I already had a load of plastic track that probably wouldn't be worth the trouble of selling it. I also wanted the option of using magnet cars without paying the high price of magnabraid (which isn't as strong, anyway), plus I wasn't comfortable routing lane changers yet. Having decided to go with plastic track, I had to decide some other things.

What size? Well, that was both easy, and kind of funny. Some of you may have already heard of "Ecofoam" being used to cut borders for Sport track. It's a carpeting underlayment made from expanded polyurethane foam and happens to be the perfect height for Sport track. Unfortunately, it's only available in Canada. Last summer, my family vacationed very near to the Canadian border, and during an excursion, I was able to pick up a roll of the stuff. It comes in a pre-packaged 6x9' roll. To use the Ecofoam as efficiently as possible, I either had to make a 6x9 track, or figure out another way to cut it up and arrange it. It happens that the tracks I have been putting together for the school parties were usually 5x12', so I decided that if I cut the Ecofoam in half on the long side, I could put the pieces back together into a 4.5x12' surface. This was perfect, as it was long enough to get a good straight, and wide enough to allow some turn-backs with a little border room. This overall size also helped me decide how big my individual tables would be. I decided that four 3x4.5' tables would be ideal. Small enough to move and carry by one person, but large enough to minimize the number of pieces and provide room for pre-installed support/legs.

The next thing to figure out was how to make 3x4.5' tables without a lot of wasted wood, which comes primarily in 4x8 sheets at the local hardware store. If I wanted an uncut piece of wood for each table top, I would only be able to get ONE piece out of each sheet of wood, and the rest would be more or less wasted. I hate waste, so sat down with a grid in TrackPower and drew out how I could maximize the wood. I also didn't have a nice table saw or an easy way to cut this all myself, and had to rely on the hardware store to cut the sheets for me. I decided to have two 3x4' pieces cut from each of two sheets. The remainder from each sheet was then cut into 6" strips that I would graft to the ends of my 3x4' sheets to make them into 3x4.5' sheets. At home, using the 1x2s I got for framing, some clamps, weights, and a lot of glue, I extended each 3x4' into 3x4.5' sheets.




I used waxed paper to prevent the 1x2 from being glued to the table top. I then added framework to the underside of each table top piece. The 3' ends had the frame right at the edge, to give me something to easily attach the future walls to. The end tables had one 4.5' side with the frame at the edge, also for the walls, while the interior frame pieces were attached 6" in from the edge of the table-top to allow my section locks, whatever they may be, to have some room. All of these were glued, pre-drilled to avoid splitting, and screwed together. As you may be able to tell from the photos, I used 1/2" OSB rather than MDF or plywood. Not only is OSB very cheap, but it's also much lighter than MDF or plywood of the same thickness. It might be ugly stuff, but since it was not only going to be painted, but also completely covered up with track and Ecofoam, the appearance made no difference.



Next week: supporting the table tops.
 

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ParrotGod
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7,896 Posts
Finally Greg! I was looking forward to this thread. Are you still in the process of building it? if not, why the weekly updates?
 

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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Gio, I am still in the process of building it, but I don't want to put the entire process up to this point in one post. It tends to be too much information and a lot of stuff gets lost, or people don't ask all the questions they would normally have asked if it were posted in smaller parts. Not only does this give me more time to compose each update, but it also spaces it out so that I might actually be closer to done when I get to where I already am. I'm hoping that it will also encourage me to do the final bits that I have yet to attack.

Thanks, Heath. I hope you find it helpful for your own ideas. If you haven't checked out the tracks I linked, definitely give those some of your time.
 

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Jay Botteri-Lane
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2,138 Posts
QUOTE (Flag Slot Racer @ 20 Dec 2014, 06:00) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>Been toying with the idea of a portable track, so I'm interested to see your process...
Same here! I've no space for a permanent layout, so something like this could well be the answer for me.

More often than not, it seems we're watching you helping and advising other people as they design and build their own circuits, Greg - so, while I appreciate this circuit isn't exclusively for you, it's nice to follow the progress while you build yourself something for a change!
 

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ParrotGod
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7,896 Posts
Hi Greg
I am in the process of building a modular one myself, so I was curious on which track plan you have settled for this one.
 

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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Gio, Hopefully I don't disappoint anyone who was kind enough to offer assistance in my request for ideas. They were all very appreciated. I ended up going with something to what I posted in post #11. I really did like a lot of the ideas people came up with, but I went back to that one for a few reasons. I wanted to maximize my lane changers, provide good border room, use my racing line... but in the end the REAL reason is to avoid the dreaded analysis paralysis. I had the tables mostly done for a while, just taking up space in my living room. SWHBO started getting annoyed by it, but I needed to get the track down before I could cut the Ecofoam... I decided that I had a layout ready to go, and if I needed to re-do it someday then I could, so I just dropped it on there and went with it.

I think if I had a better set of tools and more work space in my garage, I would have been much better off starting with the layout and making tables specifically for the most efficient pieces of the track.

Right now, I have the track on the tables and the Ecofoam cut and glued. I have a lot more work before the track is in race ready condition, not the least cutting and fitting plugs to another S/F track piece specifically for this track. That's why I'm pacing my updates.


RacingSnake, thanks! Interlonza was also a very helpful thread during my planning for this project.
 

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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Supporting the table tops, or "She's got legs..."

My initial plan for each section was a set of those cheap folding table legs that you can buy to attach to any piece of wood to make a table. At only $20 per set, it was a pretty reasonable price as well. The only down side was that they were not adjustable. My wife was with me, so I asked her for her input on alternatives and we looked all around the store. Eventually, we found the section with saw/work horses, including this nifty folding one.




Not only was it strong and foldable, but also it has adjustable legs for varying table height, holes that would allow me to bolt them to the table tops, and they even had handles to make carrying the pieces a little easier! It was the perfect solution! So, we took the other table legs and put them back, and I picked up four of these to use. While there, I also picked up some hardware. The T-nuts and bolts with washers are to mount the sawhorses to the table tops, and the different clasps were to test which would be best to hold the table tops together.



Once home, I went to installing the new legs under the table tops. Wanting each sawhorse to support one top, I put them all on center by drawing some lines, drilling some holes, and installing the T-nuts. This is what it looks like on the table surface.



Unfortunately, that created too much of a bump that I could not be sure would be avoided by track pieces, so I needed to make them flush somehow. That's when I got out my paddle bit and drilled a recess for the top of the T-nut. This worked well, but I needed more washers to keep the end of the bolt from sticking up as well.



Nice and flush now.



And how the back side looks, where the bolt will go in through the hole in the sawhorse top.



This worked really well, so I went about putting the sawhorses onto all four table tops, countersinking the T-nuts and everything the first time around. As always, the following ones were quick work after the first. Here's a shot of the 4 pieces, three on the floor at different heights, and the fourth ready to be set up. As you can see, I don't yet have the tables aligning or connecting, but I really liked the options I had with the different table heights.



Unfortunately, I discovered a weakness of this solution... a deal-breaking weakness.
While setting up the tables and moving them around to align them, I found that the legs would keep trying to fold up. Even small adjustments were tricky, because I could not simply grab the table and move it as needed. The legs would want to fold one way or the other, and the table would just fall back to where it was, or worse, the legs would collapse and cause the table to fall. If I moved the legs to move the table, it would be fine, but this was a time consuming hassle that would only reduce the efficiency of setting this track up.

I did a lot of experimenting with the legs. I thought I might be able to get by with them so long as the surface I set up on is not carpeted or uneven, but that was not something I could rely on. The feet of the sawhorse legs were not grippy at all, either. They were painted metal, and would slide as easily as anything else on carpet, except that they were small, and more likely to dig in than slide. I then tested some ideas to keep the legs spread out, which is what keeps them from collapsing. With the legs deployed, I could wedge a piece of wood between them so that they would stay open. When testing that, I found that the metal was still flexible enough to allow the legs to spread and the wedge to fall out. Also, the only place I could put the wedge so that it would stay in was on the little ledges used for the leg extension system, reducing the height options available to me.

In the end, I decided that, as cool as these sawhorses are, they would not be a viable solution, as they were, for what I wanted. They'd be great for setting up and putting tables onto, as I've seen other people do, and I might have done that if I couldn't come up with a better solution. But, I had a couple other ideas to try, based on things I'd seen online, and I was eager to try those out.

In the mean time, aligning the table tops...
 

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I recently bought a cheap ($25) folding table with adjustable height legs at Target to replace my aging and wobbly hobby/model table.

Just the other day as I was trying to figure out how to "trundle" half my planned layout, it occurred to me that I could use one of these folding tables as the base of the trundling half of my layout, screwing the plywood top directly into the heavy plastic surface, and then lowering the height and, using casters, roll the one half under the other to suit my needs.

Perhaps you should look at one of those tables as a potential application. Since they fold, you you can take them anywhere and they are height adjustable somewhat.

Hope that helps.

Best,
John
 

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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I did look around for cheap tables that would suit my needs. One of my original ideas was just to get a few larger folding tables and continue laying the track out each time I set it up. But, the only advantage that would give me is not worrying about what tables the location had available, while not really changing anything else. I did finally come up with a working solution, which I'll be describing soon.
 

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I'm very interested about this topic, 'cause I had the same idea (portable track) and the same legs problem.

I didn't find cheap foldable legs where I live (Italy) or web shops that send them to Italy.. so the saw/work horses are the only solution.. at the moment.


An alternative idea is:
http://www.rockler.com/posi-lock-folding-leg-bracket
but it's not that cheap....

so.. I'm curious to read your solution...
 

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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Aligning the table tops

Regardless of what holds the table pieces up off the floor, I had to come up with a way to make them align as I put them together, as well as staying together when assembled. I knew that one side would want to be lower than the other, and even higher at the other end, or in the middle, so I had to make sure they aligned all the way across the split between tables. Not having the skills or tools to do clever things like David does with his BLST tracks, I did the best I could with what I had.



Those are the "fingers" I made. They're each about 6" long, and have a chamfer with a rounded top corner so that the table tops are forced over them. The ones I the outside that are meant to align the tables horizontally as well as vertically have rounded leading edge corners as well, so that they don't butt up against the framing of the other piece.



Each finger was glued and screwed (pre-drilled) to the bottom of the table top, three on one side of the join, and 4 on the other. With each side having fingers that forced the other side up level, the join became level all the way across.



The result worked well, though I couldn't be totally sure until I got functional legs onto the tables.



I was fairly confident that solution would work well, so I moved on to latching the tables together. Kids have tendency to bump against the tables in their excitement, so I knew that they would get bumped around, and wanted to make sure they didn't come apart at all when that happened. I knew some people used case/trunk latches to do this, so I got a couple of those and some other things to test out, to see which worked best for my tables.




I did try the case latches like MrModifier used for his Amman Valley track, but mine didn't want to stay latched once I got them shut. Maybe I had too much tension on them, or they were poor quality latches, but they didn't work for me. The top latch above worked well, but the hook was only secured by one screw, and would rotate when latched under tension. In the end, I found that the window latches (the white one above) worked best for my table, and I installed one on each side of the join, a total of 6 latches in all.

Next up... table support attempt #2...
 

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Wow! Very clever and well executed. It's also great to hear of young folks trying and enjoying our great hobby!
 

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Greg Gaub
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14,784 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Table Support Attempt #2

As much as I loved those adjustable sawhorses, what with the handle and all, they just weren't going to work for this purpose. My next attempt was inspired by a couple really clever tracks I'd seen on this forum and elsewhere. I thought that I might be able to align and connect all my tables into one big unit while they were still standing up, and then put the entire thing down into racing position. To do this, the legs would need to be strong, but also have a rounded corner so that the table would roll nicely into place.

After going to buy more wood, The first step was to construct the legs. As before, I had the man at the store cut the wood for me. One piece of 4x8 OSB into 4 pieces at 2x4 fit nicely into my car. I also got some more 1x2 to help stiffen things up, and some casters because the whole table would likely need to be shifted once down. As the legs would be set back a bit from the edge of the table, and have casters on, the curved corner didn't need to be tangent with the edge of the wood, so I drew an arc that included the casters and where the table would be, which showed me where I needed to cut the wood. I clamped all 4 pieces together, and cut them all in one go:



Step 2 was to add 1x2 at the bottom. This served as a stiffener, as well as more meat for the casters to be screwed into. I cut the 1x2 to the length of the bottom of the leg, then glued and screwed them on from both sides. Finally, I added a swivel caster to each end, one of which had a lock so that I can make sure the table didn't move easily once set up.



Step 3 involved installing a piano hinge to the leg, and then to one of the bits of frame under the table piece. Finally, a brace was installed that easily detaches from the table for transport, but is quickly installed for setup. I ended up using light duty gate latches, the kind with a place for a padlock, at both ends, because I would not be able to leave the brace in place at either end and still be able to fold the leg flat. Here's a photo of the leg and brace installed.



I repeated this process for two legs, because I wanted to test them before spending time on all of them. With two table pieces set up with legs and braces, I took them to my living room to give it a test. Here are those two pieces set up and ready to roll down to race position.



Alas, I did not take a photo of it when it was rolled down. There were two reasons for that. I was frustrated by the results, and those results caused me to return it almost immediately to it's vertical orientation. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what happened here. As you can see, there's no support at the table join. I installed the legs this way intentionally, to see how the table would hold up. No matter how I installed the other legs, there would always be at least one table part that had a large overhang, or unsupported connection like this. Of course, it sagged. My joining system was not strong enough to support that much weight with that much leverage. I was not surprised by it happening, but I was a little surprised by how bad it was. The center was well on it's way to the floor, and about to break my other work, before I decided to put it back up on its side. I couldn't have the legs in the center of the table pieces, because then they would stick out to the side and make each section that much larger and unwieldy. I could have one table section with TWO legs so that there was always a leg at the joins and at the ends, but they were already getting a lot heavier than I wanted. Besides, those legs just made the sections more awkward to carry.

In hindsight, it was better that I ditched this idea, because I'm already tight on space for transport, and these legs made each piece that much thicker when separated for transport. It's a great idea for a tack that is constructed in one large piece and stored up against a wall in a garage to make room for cars and such, but for a portable track that comes apart in sections like this one, it just didn't work out, at least not for me. So, now I have some more scrap wood and a bunch of casters. I've decided that, eventually, I'll put them on my son's old slot car table and offer it up to a neighbor who has a couple kids. Glue some old track to it, and all he has to do is get a couple cars for them to play with.

Coming VERY soon: The final table support.
 
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