Metal Benchwork

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Active Member
This particular idea of mine was born in an evolutionary manner while figuring out how I was going to construct the shelves for my double-deck layout.

I have been considering both 1) thick foam,.... and 2) sheet plywood for the subroadbed on the bottom deck.

The one thing I was certain of is that I wanted to utilize these nice stiff, strong brackets to hold up that bottom deck. With these brackets screwed in firmly to the 2x4 wall studs on 24 inch centers would surely be strong enough. And either the 2” foam or sheet plywood could easily span the 24” center distance without distorting.
EverbiltHD  bracket.jpg
Everbilt bracket

The question then became one of how much cantilevered strength would those brackets provide, and how much cantilevered strength would the 'sheet' of subroadbed material itself provide??

What might I consider to enhance the properties of both without adding lots of bulky, weighty materials?


Active Member
Shelf/Deck Material Choice

I've seen many photos and descriptions of benchwork constructed of ¾ inch plywood, or 2” foam, backed up with 1x3 or 1x4's laid on the edge. Certainly strong enough, but what might be the alternatives for shelf type layouts?

1) Plywood Subroadbed Shelf
That 3/4” plywood is just too heavy for my liking. I think in some cases it is chosen to try and prevent warpage over time. Of course in many instances it is so well supported by the eggshell framework under it, that you question the use of such a thick plywood anyway.

Rather I prefer a good quality plywood to try and prevent warpage. I like the furniture grade ½ inch plywood. And it is plenty strong enough to span 24” center supports.

2) Foam Subroadbed Shelf
Its pretty well confirmed that 2” good quality foam insulation board is strong enough to span those 24 inch center supports as well.

One concern that arose was how best to provide the best interface between the subroadbed material and those metal brackets. If I was utilizing the plywood I don't think there is any need to provide for addition area of support. But if I am utilizing foam, I can easily see a need for a broader (bigger) support interface between that narrow steel bracket face and the underside of the foam sheet. This can be accomplished by inserting an additional piece of material between the bracket face and the foam. (see photos in subsequent discussion).

Another concern became that of the cantilevered outer edge of the deck/shelf. Particularly in my case where I had made the lower level shelves deeper to accommodate some track loops, a freight yard, etc. Not only did the shelf have to support the track and structures, but it might be called upon to occasionally support more weight as we leaned on it to work on the upper decks.

What method/material might I add to those wall brackets to gain the additional support I was seeking? Of course one of the first things that comes to mind is wood beams (2x2, 2x4, 1x3) attached to those steel brackets.,...something like this...
newbench-2, brackets.jpg

But wait a minute, how about a piece of steel angle iron. A friend had an old metal shelf he was getting rid of and the four corner uprights were HD angle iron. I could lay those onto the one arm of the wall bracket and get a good strong support all the way to the outer edge of the shelf. And as a plus, the surface area of the one face of that angle iron could be bigger than that of the bracket face depending on the shape of that angle iron cross section.,....good for supporting foam deck alternatives (note in this case the face of the angle iron is not that much bigger that the bracket face)...
Steel Angle Iron add-on1.jpg
Steel Angle Iron add-on2.jpg


Whiskey Merchant
Here's a very cheap alternative. These supports are made out of half inch rigid electrical conduit. I learned this from an old cabinet maker. The last two inches of both ends were flattened and a couple of holes drilled through the flattened ends. The upper was screwed into the back of the front 1x4 and the lower end into a wall stud. Put them 32" apart.


The angle can be less than 45 degrees. We mounted desks to the walls at Montana State University using this method with the students wanting to use them to also sit on. My layout has been up for over 30 years and no problems at all. I have put my entire weight on top of the bench work while laying track and they didn't budge a bit.


Active Member
Additional Width to Bracket

Now if I were going to utilize foam sheet as my subroadbed/deck, I might want to add additional 'support area' to those brackets. How about a 'channel section' of alum or steel. Here is a piece of alum channel I found in our local metal scrape yard (in fact I found 2 such long pieces before they crushed them up).

Alum channel1.jpg
Alum Channel 2.jpg
(that channel piece of alum is a good 5 foot long)
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Active Member
Here's a very cheap alternative. These supports are made out of half inch rigid electrical conduit.
Is that a 'sheet metal' formed electrical conduit,...not the round stuff??

Two other things I'm looking to accomplish with my method:
1) Support of the outer cantilevered edge of a much deeper shelf
2) A much thinner combo of subroadbed/framing benchwork (no 1x3 or 2x4 edge framing wood strips under the 'sheet' of subroadbed, whether it be foam of plywood)
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Active Member
Here is an interesting illustration of what I have in mind, except this example utilizes wood extensions to the wall brackets.

I want stronger metal extensions to support my shelves, particularly my big blobs and peninsula.

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Whiskey Merchant
Is that a 'sheet metal' formed electrical conduit,...not the round stuff??

Two other things I'm looking to accomplish with my method:
1) Support of the outer cantilevered edge of a much deeper shelf
2) A much thinner combo of subroadbed/framing benchwork (no 1x3 or 2x4 edge framing wood strips under the 'sheet' of subroadbed, whether it be foam of plywood)[/QUOTE

]It is half inch round conduit. The depth of my shelves ranges from 18" to just over 40".

Sent from my SM-G950U using Tapatalk
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Active Member
Chet said:
It is half inch round conduit. The depth of my shelves ranges from 18" to just over 40".
I am a little suspicious of this conduit's strength. particularly after having seen how easily it can be bent into hoops to make garden greenhouse covers,... . And then you flatten and bend the ends. Obviously you made it work, and that's great.

i came up with another idea.
Alum Deck & Step Hand Railing components

Nothing fancy, this alum railing is used everywhere. Its 3/4 inch square hollow alum tubing. Its plenty stiff and generally in 3 foot lengths as it is in prefab deck and stair hand-rails. I also saw longer lengths of this same section alum in the 'metal tubing section' at Lowes.

I found mine at the metal scrap yard here in Florida. I'm sure a lot of it got damaged in the storms we had last year, and this year. Or if there is a remodel job on some commercial property, I'm sure they just pull the old stuff out and throw it away. Awhile back I suggested I was going to utilize some of this stuff as the upright post for my helix structure. Well now I have acquired another whole section of this railing, and cut it up into individual lengths. Its white in color this time.

single railing tube.jpg
double railing tubes.jpg
dbl railing tubes on wall bracket.jpg
white railing tubes.jpg

I've got multiple ideas for these small square tubes:
1) For narrow shelf decks (less deep) I can use a single piece added onto the wall bracket to support the shelf if need be
2) For deeper shelf deck areas I can double it up side by side.
3) I still have it in mind for the uprights on my
4) Diagonal pieces to rigidify my box frame surrounding the helix structure

5) *** And to support my upper deck benchwork !!
I have in mine placing a small receptacle on the 2x4 shed wall stud that will hold onto the inner end of this alum railing tube (perhaps just a small steel angle bracket). The outer end could then be held up with something like fishing-line leader wire tied to the ceiling. The 'railing tube beam' would then support the 1/2" plywood roadbed for the upper deck. It would be soooo unobtrusive, both top and bottom of that upper shelf. No wall brackets required,....just hanging from the ceiling with a very thin wire.
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Section Hand
When constructing a second level on a layout, don't overlook using the metal shelf brackets sold in home supply stores. It's easy to install and strong.

The brackets come in a variety of sizes.



Active Member
Greg, there are several things that bother me about that style 'bracket' for the upper shelf,...the bracket itself is a little unsightly, and the wall mounted receptacle is also visible both top and bottom.

I'm suggesting that my 1/2' plywood roadbed could be supported by those skinny, thin 3/4 'square beams' of alum extending out from the wall studs at every 24" spacing. At the back wall end the beams would hang on these little 90 degree angle braces mounted internal to the hollow end of the beam....
....and then the outer ends of these beams could be hung from the ceiling by a very thin, strong line, like a fishing line or leader wire. (perhaps in some areas the outer ends would not even need addition 'hanging support')

The total thickness of my upper deck would then be as little as 1/2" plywood roadbed, plus 3/4" alum beam.
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Active Member
GraniteRailroader said:
1/2" furniture grade plywood will be total overkill and unnecessary weight. 3/8th plywood will be just fine.

I've experienced 3/8" plywood on the Atlas 'central midland' layout I once had....

Brian said:
...and the 3/8" subroadbed plywood was all warped. I figured on having the layout for maybe 6 months as a learning exercise.

First off I managed to get a lot of the warpage out of the subroadbed by gluing Heckengers wood paint stirring strips on their edge to stabilize and straighten out the plywood.
I have said 'furniture grade plywood' as I am hoping to get plywood with less voids, multiply layers, and good glue, & at least one good flat side finish. I'd be willing to pay a little extra for these qualities. And with these qualities I would hope that 1/2" stuff would less prone to warpage when backed up by square tubes of alum bracing every 24" span, and out to their tips.

GraniteRailroader said:
A simple 1x3 frame, with the plywood dado'd into the frame boards would suffice and be sufficiently strong.

I'm looking to avoid that relatively 'thick framing' by considering the metal framing that I have acquired.


Active Member
Let me restate this. I like this nice clean looking frame work on this example,

and particularly the lack of bulky frame work of this more conventional construction.
wood framing.jpg

I simply want to substitute my stiff, relatively thin metal tubes for the wood beams they utilized,.....and that is the case whether I utilize plywood OR foam for the roadbed .

In fact I am leaning towards plywood shelf/decks on the lower level, and foam on the upper level.
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1/2" plywood should present no problems at all. Those angled metal brackets will work just fine. As I posted on your other thread a while back, I would still put 1" x 4" or maybe even just 1" x 2" along both the front and rear of the plywood. The rear ones don't have to be continuous and can break at the brackets. I would attach them to the walls and they don't have to go into studs if the walls are plywood which I think that you have posted somewhere. Weight is not any concern here at all; you could probably use 3/8" as GraniteRailroader posted if you use the stiffeners. I personally would use the 1/2" even though it may be overkill as far as the weight that needs to be supported. I am making additional comments on your other thread as they don't apply to this subject of metal benchwork.

I have used those brackets for some other projects around the house and garage and have had two different kind of failures with them, but innocent human error was the cause. Once you get some weight on them, make sure you don't bump or push anything against the angled support leg. I bumped one out in the garage once and the flat diagonal support folded and the shelf and contents hit the floor. The other failure was from standing up under a different shelf and hitting it with my shoulder. When that happened, the fabulous spot weld on the diagonal popped loose and allowed the little inset square to come out of the wall portion. Needless to say, that hit the floor too. As model railroaders, we are under our layouts often and also store things under our layouts so both scenarios are very possible. Just a heads up.


Active Member
VERY interesting Rick.
Rick said:
I bumped one out in the garage once and the flat diagonal support folded and the shelf and contents hit the floor.
By the word 'folded' what did you mean exactly? Did the welds come loose, .....or the diagonal bent thus allowing the bracket to fail??
How big of a 'bump' was it,....with a vehicle or your body??

Was that bracket only one of 2, at the end of the shelf, or in the middle of a shelf with multiple others?

I wonder if one should add a little extra 'adhesive' of sorts to those spot-weld spots.
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Use steel brackets instead of aluminum and the "folding" problem goes away. My only experience is with older ones, so something made recently may not be as well made.



Active Member
The brackets I have are steel ones. I'm not sure if Rick indicated what material hiswere, but I will bet they were likele steel, as I have not seen many (any?) alum ones.

I thought Rick's posting was an interesting one, as I intend to add additional 'extension arms' onto those brackets,....thus more leverage arm with which to distort or break those wall brackets. On the other hand it emphases the need to firmly attach those bracket/arms to the overhead roadbed, thus resistance to sideway movements of the individual support arm/bracket.


Active Member
Staff member
I have to admit being cagy about the light pressed metal brackets. Not only do they not usually have holes large enough for decent size screws to pass through, their construction if with no diagonal brace, is very weak at the bend. Even with the brace, the ones usually in hardware stores are suspect in the thickness of material used and in the welding. Heavier angle iron ones are of course more expensive. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to