How high should I make my bench work? As a model railroad designer, the question comes up frequently. It’s an important one as it will determine how comfortably we can interact with our layout. The short answer is, armpit level. This means that for must of us we are looking at something in the range of 50 to 54 inches off of the floor. If we have the choice, and sometimes we don’t, the ideal height accomplishes a few things. First, it minimizes the amount of bending over we have to do to watch our trains. Layouts that are too low involve a lot of stooping over and also give a helicopter view of the layout that many owners don’t care for. Second, we need the layout to be low enough that we can work on it. Some people like high layouts that give an eye level or railfan perspective. This is fine for viewing but such heights are not that easy to deal with during construction. In addition, a layout mounted fairly high off the floor had better have a neatly executed underside because it will be highly visible.
What if your options are limited? In this situation you just get it as high as you can. A layout that is too low or too high is still preferable to a layout that never gets built. What if your layout is upstairs and has a hip roof? A hip roof is a situation where the room walls are only three or foot feet tall before they meet the point where the roof starts to angle inward. With hip roofs I suggest setting a standard of a vertical backdrop that is at least 9 to 12 inches tall. Raise the layout as high as possible while still maintaining that backdrop standard.
Ultimately layout height comes down to what is most comfortable for the individual. It is such an important decision that it is worth doing a test run to make one hundred per cent sure you have it right. Put a piece of wood or foam against the wall at the planned layout height. Place a piece of track and a car or two and let it set there for a week or so. If you aren’t comfortable with it, adjust accordingly.