Building a Quad (4x Standard length) T-Trak module

Benefits and Liabilities

When you build a Quad (4 times standard length) T-Trak module, you may gain many benefits:

  • Fewer modules to carry and set up
  • Cohesive scenery over a larger area
  • The ability to span tables
  • More room for more complex track configurations.

You also incur some penalties:

  • Storage is less convenient
  • Transportation requires more space
  • You have more limitations on layout configurations

The challenge

One thing that can go unnoticed in the planning stages, however, is the inconvenience and added expense of wasted construction materials. Why? Well, let's look at the length of a quad:

Single (track) Single (module) Quad (track) Quad (module)
310mm 308mm 1240mm 1238mm
12.20in 12.12in 48.81in 48.74in

There's nothing really earthshaking here… until you consider the fact that, in the US a least, a standard lumber or plywood dimension is 48 inches… or three quarters of an inch less than the length required to make a quad length module.

This means not only will your framing materials need to be able to span that distance, but so will the top. If you don't have access to a table saw, your project gets a lot more complicated. Even with a table saw, you'll find yourself needing two pieces of lumber to make the front and back instead of just being able to cut one in half, and the top can't be cut neatly across the width of a 4 x 8 foot panel.

Approaches to solutions

There are at least three ways to address this issue:

  1. Ignore it completely - just build two four foot quads using flextrack and forget about standard lengths. This works, but it means that if you want to use one, you need to use them both, one on each side. Not an elegant solution.
  2. Bite the bullet - accept the extra expense and work, and build it with the longer lengths of materials required. This is more expensive, and may require tools you don't have access to.
  3. Think outside the box - Figure out how to do it with pieces no longer than 48 inches. Cheaper, doable with hand tools, and more efficient.

The minimalist approach

When I started my Einewinkle Chemicals quad module project, my entire T-Trak collection was two 180 degree corners, and two singles. I knew I was going to have to build at least two more singles to use everything, and didn't want to have to build another "almost quad" as well. So the first method was out. We had just moved into an apartment, so I didn't have access to a table saw any more, nor space to work with large pieces of material. There goes the second option. I was pretty much forced into trying to figure out how to do it with 48 inch maximum pieces.

"Traditional" Framing


When you look at the "traditional" module framing for singles, they typically use a full length piece across the front, with the mating ends slightly inset for clearance. If you expand this idea to a quad, though, you end up short. Using 48 inch long lumber, the front and back don't give you enough length to match the specifications. You need pieces 48.74 inches (or 1238 mm) long to give the module its proper length. This would require buying 6 or 8 foot long sticks, or a full 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood, to get the necessary length, and you'd end up with a lot of it left over.

Inset front and back panels


If you inset the front and back into the ends, that gains you 1/2 inch in length… closer, but still not enough to make the full proper length of a quad module. It leaves you about 1/4 inch short, and a top made from a piece of 48 inch long plywood or foam still leaves an unacceptable gap between modules.

Inset front and back panels with doubled ends


BUT… if you double up the mating ends by laminating two pieces of 1/4 inch plywood together - giving you essentially ends made from 1/2 inch plywood - you can now inset the front and back pieces, AND the top, which come out to 47 1/4 inches, giving you a total module length of 48 3/4 inches! You simply trim 1/4 inch from the 48 inch long pieces (making them 47 3/4 inches long, or 1212 mm), add the ends of 1/2 inch (12.7mm) each, and you're set. Building my module this way, I was able to use only half of a 2 x 4 foot panel of 1/4 inch plywood for the framing - Quite a savings over buying a whole 4 x 8 sheet, and a lot easier to handle!

Don't forget! If you use this method, your end pieces now need to be the FULL WIDTH of your module.

Topping the module


I've been an advocate of one inch thick extruded foam for module tops for some time, but they require that you protect the edges in some manner to keep them from getting torn up. With this construction method, you simply drop the foam inside the module flush with the top of the sides. I drill holes in the plywood sides, squirt in a little Gorilla Glue, and hammer several three inch long pieces of bamboo skewers into the foam to pin it in place, then sand them flush with the sides when the glue dries. I fill any gaps between the foam and plywood with lightweight spackling (foam putty).

For further information about using 1 inch foam as a module top, see this tutorial: Foam Topped Modules

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