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Scissors Lift Table

Written by Jim O'Connor     

Important Design Note click here

I saw an article about one of Don Orr's locomotives in Live Steam Magazine and it was sitting on a transfer table that had a simple "scissors" action (see Live Steam Magazine cover May/June 2001).  The wheels started turning in my head about how handy it would be to have a scissors table to build my new steamer on.  I could work on my steamer with the table up high and then later, drop it down to load the steam locomotive onto my trailer (the trailer will have to be my next project).

This is not a "how to" and I'm not publishing any drawings on this project.  I just want to give you guys some ideas of what can be done.  If you have never attempted any structural design or fabrication, be sure to get help from folks that have experience.

Before I started, I needed to calculate how much load it needed to carry and size the thickness of the metal to exceed that number by a safe margin.  The bottom and top frame are "C" channel and the scissors are tube.

I used my old power miter box with a metal cutting blade to "chop" my steel to length.  I drilled holes in the tube with a hole saw to accommodate the pipe in the scissor arms.


Upper section after painting, just before assembly.  "C" channel is welded 7-1/2" apart. The pipe wielded to the frame will pivot the "fixed" end of the scissors. I keep this point as close as possible to the end of the upper section.  This should help keep the scissors from lifting up if I inadvertently load from this end. See important design note click here

Bottom section with large casters.  Note the fixed casters in the fore ground.

Bottom section with one set of scissor arms mounted with pin.

Second set of scissor arms installed, note the bearings that ride on the bottom section as the scissor moves left and right (click to enlarge).  You should build a track for the bearings to ride.  This prevents the roller from lifting off the frame when loading / unloading (this is not shown in the photos).

Unit completely assembled and ready for load testing.
The bottle jack is not the original  idea I had for lifting the table. 
I had first planned to use a "jack screw" and crank to pull the scissors together.

It came out great.  Works well.  I may move the location of the bottle jack to allow more range of motion.  And, if I could do it all over again, I would use swiveling casters for all four wheels.  It's a bit long this way to move around like a shopping cart. I'm going to lower it before pushing it around because it's a bit top heavy when fully loaded.  Putting the wheels farther apart would help too.  Adding support on the unsupported side of all rollers is a must!  See note below.  If you decide to build something like I did, make sure it can support the weight of the load before you load it with that prized locomotive or rolling stock.

Written by Jim O'Connor
Publisher of

Bobby Timson writes:

..."The roller assembly you have riding the bottom rails on the end opposite the jack is where the problem lies. If loaded from that end there is no danger, but try and load from the jack end and the whole scissor assembly will lift up at the opposite end. ....We solved this problem by welding angle iron up and over the rollers along the side for the entire travel area of the roller. This prevents the roller from lifting off the frame when loading / unloading. (see photos below)

click photos to enlarge

Good suggestion Bobby. 
Safety is our most important concern in this hobby. Railroad equipment is very heavy and extra care must be taken when building structures that support heavy weights.  Also, extreme care must be used when moving equipment above grade level.  For example, if your shop floor is not clean and free of divots, a wheel can jam unexpectedly.  A jammed wheel on your table while you are moving it can cause a nasty spill, resulting in sever injury or death.  This is nothing to play with.

Jim O'Connor.



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