Control Panel Construction

By Ty’s Model Railroad - 10/17/2010 10:05:00 PM

Completed control panel with Atlas switches, Atlas controller, Atlas selectors, LEDs and voltage meters

Since my last update, I have been working almost daily on my new control panel. I have also finished the wiring plan and schematic for all of the switches and electronics. The plan includes the wiring for the control panel, all lighting and signals, switch machines, power blocks, and under-table wiring. I have been working and modifying this electrical plan for quite some time now and though it looks quite complex, it’s actually quite simple. It just looks like a lot because it shows absolutely every circuit. Some of this is already wired, such as the under-table switches, but the majority of it will be in my control panel. 

As for the control panel, it has been quite a learning experience with a lot of trial and error, blood and frustration. In the end however, the almost-finished product turned out pretty good. 

Control panel box made of hardboard being glued together upside down

I planned the control panel to be a box-style panel, with all the lights and switches on top and all wiring and electrical components stowed inside. I decided to use 1/4” hardboard to construct the controller. Like always, I first made a detailed plan on paper of what I wanted to build. This makes things so much easier when it comes to construction. After drawing out the panel pieces on the hardboard, I used a jigsaw to carefully cut them out. I then glued them together with Weldbond white glue. 

An under construction control panel box with cut holes for future voltage meters

Once the glue had cured, I measured and cut out the holes for the voltage meters. These meters will eventually monitor the CAB 1 and CAB 2 outputs from my power pack. I decided to go with analog gauges instead of digital ones for a more of a traditional look. 

Aluminum cladding being installed on a control panel with masking tape and a clamp while it dries

I was originally planning on painting my control panel, however I realized that paint was not going to be enough to cover many of the imperfections. I decided to cover the box with recycled black and wicker aluminum cladding from a scrap yard. I was not able to bend the cladding well enough to cover the box, so I cut individual pieces for all 5 sides. 

Wooden control panel being cladded with scrap wicker and black painted aluminum

Cutting holes through the cladding for the voltage meters proved to be quite the challenge as I didn’t have the right tools to cut a perfect circle. Instead, I used a small drill bit to drill several dozen holes around the traced circle. I then re-drilled these holes with a larger bit until the holes joined and the center circle fell out. With a bit of modification and filing, it fit perfectly over the control box holes. 

Control panel with metal L trim installed on its edges

Using PL Ultimate construction adhesive, I attached 1/2” steel L-molding to the edges and corners of the panel, giving it a finished look. The finished panel turned out better than I expected, though there are some noticeable imperfections. At this time I also installed all of my Atlas switches on the face of the control panel. 

Control panel with Atlas Controller, Atlas Switch Control Boxes, Atlas Selectors and two analogue voltage meters

Next I installed the controller components onto the face of the panel using small screws. For these, I used an Atlas Controller, three Atlas Selectors, and four Atlas Switch Control Boxes. The Controller will allow me to reverse direction on both CAB 1 and CAB 2, as well as select which CAB controls the turntable. The selectors will control the twelve power blocks on my layout and the four switch control boxes will switch the track turnouts. See the Wiring Diagrams page for detailed explanations of how all these components work. 

Control panel with Atlas Controller, Atlas Switch Control Boxes, Atlas Selectors and two analogue voltage meters

The next item for construction was the display for the turnout positions as well as the 13 track power blocks. I decided on two separate diagrams; one for the overall layout and one for the turnout points. This kept the diagrams much less cluttered and easy to understand. I cut frames for each diagram out of 1/16” craft wood board and stained it dark ebony. 

Printed diagram of track electrical sections and turnout points mounted into a basswood frame

For the diagrams, I used digital vector images I created in Photoshop instead of using the traditional tape method. I printed these images on photo paper and glued them to the back of the wood frames. I then fastened the frames to the face of the control panel with PL Ultimate adhesive. The numbers on the diagrams correspond to the switch numbers and the power blocks. 

Designing a track electrical block and turnout diagram in Adobe Photoshop

Next I drilled holes through the switch position diagram and installed my LED lights which will indicate the switch positions; red for the turnout and green for the main line. Switches 1-3 are all for the main line yard and switch 4 is for the turnout to the turntable. I also drilled holes for the switch and accessory indicator lights, such as layout and power LEDs. 

Control panel with Atlas switches and turnout position LED indicator lights

The yellow LEDs at the top of each Atlas switch are for switch machine overload protection. I’ve heard that Atlas switch controls sometimes stick and will burn out switch machines so I added this little feature that will indicate a stuck switch. The LED will light only for the moment that the switch is pressed. If the switch sticks, the LED will stay lit, indicating power overload. You can see how I wired these in the wiring schematic at he bottom of this post.

Homemade number and letter labels printed on photo paper for Atlas selectors and Atlas switches

Once everything was attached, I started to label all of the Atlas controllers, switches and selectors. The numbers that were included with the switches didn’t fit correctly nor did they look good, so I constructed my own in Photoshop. I opted for a black background and white text, making them blend perfectly with the Atlas switches. Once printed, I cut out each letter and number and stuck it to each switch using double sided tape.

Control panel with Atlas selectors and homemade number labels installed

I will still need to label the rocker switches and some of the other LEDs on the control panel, but I'm pretty happy with how this turned out so far. The next step will be all of the wiring. The control panel will eventually be mounted to a piece of plywood with the cab controller right beside it. The final plan is to have the entire unit fold away under my layout when not in use. 

Control panel with Atlas switches and homemade letter labels installed along with turnout position LED indicator lights

Main wiring diagram for a DC model railroad layout and control panel

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  1. Hi,
    Just browsing on google and found your blog. Love your design for the control panel and since I'm about ready to build one myself I've bookmarked your site for future reference.
    Thank you,
    Red Lodge, Montana

  2. Thanks for the comment! Let me know how your control panel works out. I'd love to see it.

  3. hi
    i would like to know if i may use your control panel design

    1. Feel free to use anything you see on my blog for your own project. Make sure to contact me as well if you have any questions or need anything explained in more detail. Thanks.

  4. Interessting place you've got here. Nice:-))
    It's a good place to use to inspiring me :-))



  5. Hi Tyler, I'm also an admirer of your layout and blog. I'd like to know how you created the graphics for the control panel in PhotoShop? Do you have the source PSD file you can share?

    I'm not a novice to Photoshop but I am not a designer either, I've only used it for working with existing files.

    Again, your layout is amazing and I am basing my track layout on yours. I have other plans for scenery and landscaping though.

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