The Tralee & Dingle Coach Saga, Part 1: The Bodies

Skip Ahead To Part 2

The first step was to mark up plywood.  I decided to begin with two layers of 1/32" plywood for each side.  The inner layer is used not only for structural strength but to allow you to represent drop lights simply by cutting the appropriate openings a bit smaller on the inner layer (say 3/16" or so) than on the outer layer.

I taped the ply to a small draughtsman's table and used a large triangle to lay out the major features, making sure all four corners were square and all the parallel lines were actually parallel.  I had to do this twice because I could only two sheets of 12 x 24 ply onto the table at once and could only fit two layers onto a single sheet sheet.  I also marked out guidelines for the beading at this time.  Note I also squiggled in the areas that were to be cut out later--a simple visual clue to help prevent me from cutting out the wrong parts later on.

The next step was to mark out the drop lights and cut out all the window openings.  That's eleven openings per layer, four layers per coach, two coaches makes... eighty-eight openings to cut out.  I'm happy to say this wasn't as bad as it sounds... it was worse.  I'm a tall person and my vision's best when my face is within eight inches or so of the work. so I sat hunched over the sides clenching a utility knife with my cramping hand, desperately trying to keep the knife from slipping beyond the edges of the opening as I cut.  I put a couple of gouges in the sides but managed to conceal them with filler later on.  After many an evening at the table in the family room I had this to show for my efforts.  (Note to self: find a way to mechanize this step before building any more coaches!)

As memory serves, I walked away from the project for a while to allow my back, eyes, wrist, and soul to recover, but not before labelling all the panels, assigning them arbitrarily to 7T or 11T and designating an "A" side and "B" side for each.  It helps later on, trust me.  The next step was to glue the inner and outer layers together, making sure the window openings line up (it's easier to sand the outer edges even than it is to sand inside the window openings).  I used PVA glue for this, spreading it evenly across as much of the surface area as possible while still avoiding having glue squeeze out into the window openings.  Once the panels were mated up and aligned properly, I lay them on a flat surface and weighted them down in hopes they would come out flat and even.  Somewhat to my surprise, they did.

Next step was to glue the beading onto the sides.  I used 1/32" x 1/16" strip and PVA for this.  I started with the horizontal pieces, and used calipers to make sure they were all truly parallel across the length of the side.  Keeping them evenly spaced meant that I could measure the length for the vertical members once then use my NorthWest Line Chopper to cut many pieces to the same length and be confident they'd fit, rather than having to measure and cut each piece individually.  Neatness was an important but secondary consideration.  I applied the larger vertical pieces around the windows first using a straight ede to keep them at right angles to the bottom edge of the coach, and used the the same straight edge to help line up the smaller pieces in the ventilator panel above the windows.  I was apprehensive that this would come out looking sloppy, but just a little care kept everything in line and looking good.  Note: a little glue goes a long way here--any glue that gooshes out from underneath the strip wood causes problems down the line, so be sparing and tidy.  Any excess can be wiped up quickly with a bit of damp paper towel, or carefully scraped off with a knife once it's semi-dry.  This is one of the sides for 7T with beading completed:

The nice part of this phase is that I was able to work up in the family room, not down in my basement workshop.  Note that I wasn't working directly on the family table.  The surface is a slab of wood salvaged many years ago from the top of a dishwashing machine my grandfather was going to dispose of.  (Actually, being a mechanical engineer, machine designer, and pack rat,  he cannibalized most of the machine for his own projects).  It's always a good idea to keep a protective layer between the work (and the glues and paints) and the good furniture.  The table--and by extension you--will inevitably come to grief otherwise.  An added benefit is that at the end of the work session you can pile all your stuff onto the board and stow it out of the way someplace where it'll all be waiting for you when you're ready for more.

When all four sides were done it was time to apply match boarding.  I wanted the beading to be proud of the match boarding but I couldn't find any 1/64" strip wood of the proper width, so I bought a sheet of 1/64" ply and ripped my own on my miniature table saw.  This turned out to be trickier than I'd anticipated.  The wood, being so thin, was very flexible.  I found it difficult, if not impossible, to feed the sheet steadily through the saw without flexing it and creating variable width strips.  Like most things, it's a skill and I suspect I'll get better at it with practice.  As it was, most parts of most of the strips I cut were usable though variable in width. I later visited a survivng T&D coach and learned that the match boarding varied in width by as much as 1.5" so I was inadvertently following the prototype!  This is one of those jobs where trying to save time made a lot more work.  Cutting the strips by hand would have given me strips of more uniform width, but it would have taken a lot of time to cut enough strip.  I was stunned by how much wood it took to match board four sides.  In retrospect, seeing that the beading is only 1/64" proud of the matchboarding, were I to do this again I think that using 1/32" strip of the appropriate width would be an acceptable time-saving compromise.

Again, knowing that the waist-line beading was a uniform height above the bottom edge allowed me to use the Chopper to cut pieces in bulk which saved a lot of time.  I used PVA glue again and used a scrap piece of match board to maintain more or less even spacing between the boards and checked for vertical regularly with a square.  This was actually a fairly relaxed process and over the course of five or six evenings I'd gotten all four sides completed.  Below are the sides for 11T nearing completion:

... and here are the finished sides for 7T.


Note that 7T has ventilators in the panel above the windows, while 11T had none.  I made the vetnilators by cutting long strips of 1/32" balsa wood to a width that would just fit in the space and then scribed them with a sharp edge to represent the four louvers of the vents.  I then flattened the top edge of each "louver" with a dental tool to create the impression of depth and relief.  I cut the long strips to a length to fit in the opening and glued them in place.  More on the use of balsa later...

With four sides on my hands, it seemed logical to next make floors and ends to hold them together.  I cut the ends from 1/8" ply.  The ends were cut exactly to width and roughly to height.  I traced the roof line onto the ends and used my disk sander to form the final profile, and then cut a 3/32" notch along the vertical edges to receive the coach sides.  The floor was cut from 1/4" pine planking I had on the shelf, which I measured carefully to be a snug fit inside the ends and sides.  I first glued and nailed the ends to the floors then glued on the sides--and rather to my surprise, everything came out fitting well and rather square.  I then covered the ends with a piece of 1/32" ply scribed to simulate planking; this piece also covered the vertical seams with the coach sides.  But this creates a visible vertical seam on the sides, I hear you say.  Aha!  Look at the photo above--note there's a L-shaped area around the outer edge of the door frames?  This is when I filled those in with rectangles of 1/32" ply which happily covered up the seams.  I then applied 1/32" beading around the edges of the ends.  The curved beading along the top edge was cut from a rectangle of ply cut to a length that fit snugly between the vertical bits.  I then traced the roof outline and cut and sanded to the line.  Then I used a compass and pencil to mark the bottom edge and cut to the line with a utility knife.  This was the result after all that:

Actually this photo was taken before I'd put the last bit of beading on the ends, but this lets you see how the sides and ends fit together and the seams the beading will cover up.

At this point they were beginning to look a bit like something that might one day become coaches, but the fun had barely begun.  The saga continues on page two.

Click here to go to the next page.