how we built our control panels


building the panel

Pretty much all model railways have control panels and some are very sophisticated indeed and can take a very long time to construct. Over a period of time, I have evolved a simple method that does the job and still looks good. Most of our panels are built in to the front of the baseboard sections with the exception of the manual fiddle yard controls, which are built into the top of the fiddle yard.

First of all, it is important to design the correct size for each panel. Some components such as switches take quite a bit of room and it is important that sufficient space is allowed to accommodate them. I draw out the panel using Photoshop and print out the result and double check that everything fits correctly. Below is the design for our fiddle yard. Here, single pole double throw switches are being installed at every point intersection. The outer white line shows the size of the hole to be cut into the baseboard. The panel is printed on to anti fade glossy photographic paper. I then coat both sides with spray mount which saves it from moisture damage.

The baseboard hole is cut out with great care to be accurate as the edges will show. Prime, fill and sand the exposed edge until a good finish is obtained.  I prefer to paint this edge the same colour as the printed panel.

the panel hole is cut out at the harbour

Two panels are then cut out of clear 3mm acrylic sheet. Leave the protective covering on the sheet, by the way, to prevent scratching the surface. I use a jigsaw, set at very slow speed with a fine blade. High speed will melt the plastic behind the blade. The print is placed between the two acrylic sheets and I then Selotape (Scotch) them all together,

Four 3/16ths holes are drilled at the corners of the hole in the baseboard and countersunk.

Position the panel correctly and while holding in place, mark the position of the four fixing holes by touching with a drill.

Now epoxy the four countersunk screws into their position in the baseboard. The heads are 'lost' by filling with easy sand body filler and sanding down.

It is now time to drill the panel. Acrylic is not easy to work with and it is quite important to ensure that you keep the drill speed very low. Bolt the panels together and lay it on a flat piece of timber. Push downwards with your hand near where you drill, to stop the panel rising pulling up. I tend to drill a small pilot hole, say 1/8th first.

The panel should now be easily fitted to the baseboard, using wing nuts to attach it.

We use many 3mm LEDs on our panels. While they do last a long time, they do fail in the end and will need to be replaced. This is how we now install them. The outer acrylic sheet is drilled to 3mm. The inner sheet (back) is drilled to 3/16ths. A 3/4" length of 3/16th plastic tube is glued in place. The LED and resistor can then be pushed into the tube and fixed with a length of heat shrink. This makes them very easy to replace.

It is now time to assemble the panel. Separate the two sheets and remove the protective films. Once happy that the sheets are clean and free of swarf, all switches, buttons and LEDs can be fitted. If the panel is to be horizontal, it is best to set all in a little clear silicone mastic. Inevitably, sooner or later, you will spill a cup of tea onto the panel, so it is best to prevent fluid contaminating the print and of course the electrics behind.

Once happy with the panel assembly, seal the edges with Selotape to prevent ingress of moisture.