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Building a Shelf For a 1950’s Model Train

Building a Shelf For a 1950’s Model Train

These floating shelves where a fun build. The client wanted to have one of the shelves equipped with a custom train tunnel for his 1950’s era model train.
The overall shape of the design is inspired by part submarine, part star wars ship, made from walnut.


For more information on this build, please visit my Colorado Custom Made Furniture website

Some of the specialty tools I used (affiliate links)

• Whiteside Spiral Pattern Bit

• 1/2″ Spiral Flush trim pattern bit

• West Systems Epoxy

• Minwax wipe on poly


Video Recap

Today I am building a shelf for a Train collector

Before diving into the project, I went out to The Colorado’s mining museum to see an old steam engine in action.  This thing is pretty wild, and got me excited to build some stuff, so I headed back to the shop and started by milling up the lumber and cutting the pieces to length.

The shelves are going to attach to the supports using a combination of a half-lap joint and a bridle joint.

So I set up a jig the thickness of the shelf to rout out the bridle joint portion using a pattern bit in the router

I built the jig so the sides are the same width as the space between the shelves so I could use it as a guide to place each shelf in the exact spot on both vertical supports.  This way I am assured that everything will line up perfectly.

I used the jig as a guide to square up the corners left by round bit before moving to the next position.


Now that I had the dados routed out on one side, I still needed to transfer their location to the other side, and of course, wanted them to be in the exact spot.

Since I am going to be cutting a half lap in between the bridal joints, I just used pattern bit to get it one started enough so I could use it as a registration spot.

Then I dropped in a piece of wood in to reset my jig against to cut the dados on the other side.

Same procedure as before to square up the corners, Once I defined the corner, I moved the jig out of the way so I could do the final clean up.


Now to create the half-lap portion of the joint, so I don’t rout too far, I cut some spacers and secured them in place.

Headed over to the router table and finished routing out all the space for the half-lap joints.

Even though each self has a different offset from the vertical support, I still set up a stop on my miter gauge, to add some stability and to make the cut a little safer and easier to line up.


Then I made a plywood story stick where I cut two notches in it the distance between the vertical supports.

I used that to set up the stop block for each of the three shelves, so the spacing on each shelf would be the same; otherwise, the shelves would not go together.

At this point, it seemed to be a good idea to do a test fit to be sure everything was lining up well.

While I had it together, I made a jig to rout some mortises for some floating tenons to strengthen the vertical supports across the area where I routed out for the shelves.

It just clips over the shelves and around the supports, and with a collar and a plunge bit, I routed out a mortise.

I just worked my way around each joint.


I then switched jigs to rout out a slot in the center of each support to glue in a french cleat.

I will save this jig, so when I get out onto the job site, I can hold it up to the wall to mark the exact location for the mating piece.

And of course, I squared up the hole with a chisel.


I pulled it apart and moved onto a decorative detail of cutting arches on the fronts of the support pieces.

I made a plywood template on the band saw to be sure I liked the shape.

The band saw left a little bit of a jagged edge, so I hand sanded it smooth with a flexible sanding strip.


To reduce tear-out and the workload on the router, I rough cut the supports with the band saw and then with a flush-trim bit routed them flush to the template.


The template was held in place with some double stick tape.


The final decorative detail was cutting the hole for the tunnel.  I made a plywood template the shape of the tunnel, hogged out most of the material at the drill press, and did the final clean up at the router table.

I broke my scroll saw a few years ago, but I have this baby CNC, so I programmed it to cut trim for the tunnel.

When installing the trim piece, I dropped a piece of scrap wood in the slot where the shelf goes to help line up the trim piece to the bottom edge while I glued it in place.

I intentionally cut it oversized, so I wouldn’t have to worry about lining it up precisely with the tunnel.  Once the glue was dry, I flush trim to at the router table.

Now we are ready for the final glue-up since there are so many parts I used some epoxy to glue it all together to give me plenty of working time.

Once I got the main shelves together, I cut some stock to make some floating tenons and the french cleat to hang it on the wall.

I glued and screwed the French cleat into the slot I had made earlier and set aside its mate to be screwed to the wall on the Jobsite.

I then rounded over the edges at the router table for the floating tenons.

I then glued them into place.

I finished the whole thing up with some poly, hung it on the client’s wall, and he had a cool shelf that not only displayed his train but interacted with it becoming part of the story.

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I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.