Locating Pilings Simplified With Dot Matrix

This little idea just came to me as I was getting ready to build riverbank wharfs for my N Scale layout. Whenever I have attempted to build pier or docks that require wooden pilings, they always come out looking like I lined them up with a wet spaghetti noodle.What I needed was a jig.

I was thinking drill press, steel squares and workbench. Then I thought about using a piece of graph paper and blocking out the jig piling holes by filling squares.

There is a website I turn to when I want graph paper as it lets me design the sheets, download them as PDF files and then print them out on my printer. I control the distance between the lines and their color. It is real handy. For instance, I can produce graph paper with 1/16th inch squares. That’s pretty close to an N Scale foot.

Funny, if you don’t have a use for it, you never notice the options. How about that. The site lets me produce a dot array instead of graph lines with the Square Dots Graph Paper Generator which produces an 8 X 10 layout of dots. .

It generates dots of any size separated by distance the operator controls. .

Since I am working in N Scale and it is a river scene where I need some dock sections, my piling arrays will fit inside a 3-inch square. For larger scales or larger docks you simply use a larger piece of sheet stock for your piling template. If possible pick a dowel size for the pier which will allow you to pick a drill bit which provides a snug fit. .

(Left) Luckily, working in N Scale, my piling size allows me to use some of my wife’s window screening material (the sticks between bamboo stripes) for piling posts. From one screen I have enough for centuries of rot.

Back to preparing the jig. Once you have determined the piling diameter, go into the Dot Graph Generator and select a dot weight close to the size of your dowel. This is an eyeball type of judgment and may require a few test prints and test drilling to get a snug fit for your pilings. I know it did for me. .

The next step will depend on what scale you are working with. If it is Z, N or HO, you can probably get along with the drilling capability of a Dremel tool. Larger sizes will have to go to the toolbox or drill press if you have it..

I glued the dot print out to a 3-inch square piece of basswood with spray adhesive. I drilled the corner holes by hand and used these to pin the square to a piece of 2-inch foam to provide a backing for my “drill press”. Next, I clamped the foam to a table roughly the height of the arms of my chair. Yup, you’ve got it.

I hold the Dremel tool in my left hand, place my elbow on the chair arm as the fulcrum . It is actually pretty steady, even if it is a jury rig and I can pretty accurately place the bit over the dot to successively “punch” the 81 holes spaced three-to-the-inch.

No, they aren’t dead center, put most piling arrays are not perfectly straight or evenly spaced.


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