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  • Handlaying N-Scale Track Part: 3

    Doug Geiger. MMR

    Here we see some of the fixed pc board ties ready to install at the correct locations on the turnout template. The wood ties have already been glued down.
    Model Railroading - June 1996 - Page 16

    This month we conclude this article on handlaying N-scale fine-scale track. Given the prototype data and information from last month and the techniques of hand laying code 40 rail from the previous month, it is now time to construct an N-scale code 40 turnout. Also refer to the templates and figures provided in the last article. Improvisation with this tiny rail is not recommended. Follow and use the templates for reliability and derailment-free operation. Building a fine-scale turnout is not difficult and does not require magnification! ( Speak for yourself, Doug - Randy)

    Building Turnouts

    If your roadbed is a porous material like soft cork or extruded Styrofoam, a stable platform is needed under the turnout. This maintains the holes needed for point pivot and movement. Styrene is recommended for this base, use at least .080 thickness or more (see Photo 15). Extend the platform around the two long switchstand ties. Next, glue the appropriate tie template to the styrene with Pliobond as seen in Photo 16. Several sizes of these were provided in Figure 2 last month. The paper templates can also be glued directly to dense cork or Upson board roadbed with white glue. Use the centerlines on the templates to match your existing track centerlines. Note that a turnout extends past where the two centerlines intersect. Leave enough room for the template. Cutting a turnout short is a fast path to derailments. The photos all refer to a left-hand turnout, while the templates are for right hand turnouts. Make a transparency of the templates, flip it over and copy again onto plain paper to get left-hand turnouts.

    Glue wood ties directly to the template with white glue. Micro Engineering (ME) makes several varieties, natural and stained. For turnout ties, use their products #36-105 (natural) or #36-106 (pre-stained). The natural ties must be stained prior to gluing them to the roadbed. Note that sections of ties are the same length. Turnout ties are staggered throughout the turnout. Also, the ties are spaced closer together directly under the frog to help distribute the weight. The templates are drawn using a normal 22" tie spacing and an 18" spacing under the frog. This matches ME commercial flex track.

    Having specific ties made from copper/fiberglass-laminated printed circuit material (commonly known as pc board) is the key to the N-scale turnout. Try to find pc board that is equal to or thinner than the wood ties you will be using. If using Micro Engineering ties, find a pc board that is .044 thick or less. Thinner pc board will be shimmed during installation as described later. Make the pc board ties as shown in Photo 17 using a cutoff disk in a motor tool and eye protection. Make extras and use the most uniform ties. Clover House also makes pc board ties, but they tend to be too thick for N scale.

    Glue the fixed pc board ties (indicated with an asterisk [*] on the template) to the template with Pliobond or gap-filling CA. Cut, but do not glue the floating pc ties to the template. See Photos 18 and 19 for these steps . Using Figure 3 (from last month), mark the locations of the electrical gaps to be cut on all the pc ties. Use a cut off disk and gently remove the copper laminate from all the pc tie tops as seen in Photo 20. Then tin the tops of each fixed pc tie with solder as illustrated in Photo 21. The floating pc ties should not be tinned. Carefully file off any excess solder. The solder should be a thin film on the top of the pc tie. Remove any solder that fills the electrical gaps. The copper laminate is fragile so be patient and careful when modifying the pc board ties.

    If you ballast the turnout before installing the rail, make sure the template shows so that the rail can be positioned correctly. After the turnout is completed, ballast will be filled in around the ties.
    Model Railroading - June 1996 - Page 17

    Unlike handlaid general track, the turnout does not need to be ballasted before installing the rail. However, ballasting can be done, just leave the template showing between the ties a s a guide for laying the rail (Photo 22). After the turnout is complete, finish ballasting. Lightly sand the tie tops with 200-grit sandpaper. Avoid removing the solder on the pc ties or splintering the wood ties. Do not re-color any ties at this lime.

    Begin by preparing the straight stock rail. Cut the rail to the appropriate length and round the rail-head ends slightly. The stock rails should always extend past the turnout by 3"-4". Remove the base of the stock rail around the points. See Figure 4 (last month) and Photo 23 for the location and method of this grinding step. Clean any burrs from the rail with a fine-toothed file. If the rail head is nicked, start over. Remove all the weathering patina from the bottom of the rail with an abrasive rail-cleaner block.

    Next attach a feeder wire to the bottom of the rail. This wire should not be soldered near the points or frog. A hole is drilled between the ties for the feeder rail. Using some black paint or a thick permanent marker, coat the bottom of the rail at each location where a moveable pc tie will be placed. This prevents solder from wicking under the rail and joining the moveable tie to the stock rail during a later step (see Photo 24). Coat the bottom of the rail past any pc ties with Pliobond as described in Part I. Immediately align this stock rail over the template. When satisfied with the location, heat the rail directly above each pc tie. The previously applied solder will bond the rail to the tie. Heat and solder the entire stock rail as illustrated in Photo 25. Use a metal straightedge for straightness. Heat-bond the rail to the ties where the Pliobond was applied past the turnout. Re-heat and move while hot any rail not perfectly in place. Since other rail is gauged from this first rail, ensure its location and straightness.

    The straight frog rail is laid next. Cut the rail to the correct length and round the rail head on one end. Grind the frog angle in the rail section with a cutoff disk in a motor tool. Grind slowly and check the angle often against the template (Figure 4). File any burrs with a fine-toothed file. Note that the template shows that one of the two frog rails has the actual frog tip or point. The other frog rail butts against the first frog rail. Clean the weathering patina from the rail bottom. Attach a feeder wire. Apply Pliobond to rail areas outside the turnout. Solder and heat-bond this rail in place as seen in Photo 26. Use the three-point gauge as described in Part I to locate this rail in relationship to the straight stock rail.

    The curved frog rail follows the same procedure as the other frog rail just described. Photo 27 shows this rail in place. There is no feeder wire needed on this rail. The frog can be filled with solder behind the frog point as shown in Photo 28. Carefully file flat the top of the frog with a fine toothed file. Also remove any solder that wicks up the sides of any rail. Avoid lifting the rail while soldering to the pc ties. Re heat and move any misaligned rail. Next prepare the curved stock rail following the same procedure as with the straight stock rail. Use the three-point gauge as seen in Photo 29 at the frog and past the points. Make sure this rail flows smoothly through the turnout. Follow the templates and then eyeball the curve into perfection. Other rails gauge from this rail. Use an NMRA flat gauge for a further check. The two outside guard rails are fashioned from short pieces of the code 40 rail. Very slightly bend the ends of the guardrails. Use the templates for dimensions and placement at the frog. Use the NMRA gauge's guardrail prongs to set these rails in position.

    Model Railroading - June 1996 - Page 18

    Cut the straight closure rail based on the templates. The length should be from the point heel, through the closure rail bend, to the end of the wing rail. Note that the wing rail is just an extension of the closure rail. A feeder is not needed on this rail. Solder this rail in place as seen in Photo 30. The curved closure rail is laid similarly (Photo 31). The bends in the closure rails must follow precisely the template in relationship to the point of the frog to ensure that the wheels will not fall into the small gap near the frog tip. The - NMRA gauge helps set the flangeway gap as illustrated in Photo 32. After the frog is completed, use a spare truck to check the operation of that part of the turnout. Re-solder and move any rails to certify the turnout's reliability. The pc ties allow for very small corrections. Replace any pc board ties that become damaged during the adjustments.

    Attention now focuses at the point end of the turnout. Before attaching the points, the turnout throw mechanism must be decided upon. Manual or slow-motion switch machines are recommended. A twin-coil switch machine will damage the delicate code 40 rail and is not endorsed. An easy manual-throw mechanism is shown in Figure 5. Its parts are seen in Photo 33. It consists of several sizes of brass tubing and rod and brass square stock. It functions by having the entire point assembly rigid; pivoting occurs at the point heel. The floating pc ties keep the point assembly stiff.

    The pivot tube is pressed into the hole drilled near the point heels. The pivot rod is then bent and slipped into the pivot tube. Solder a floating pc tie to the pivot rod as shown in Photo 34. Use styrene shims under the floating pc ties (Photo 35) to squeeze the tie up against the stock rails. They are removed after soldering. All floating ties should move freely under the stock rails. Use a pinch of Kadee Greas-em powdered graphite lubricant to polish the contact area. Make the straight point first. Begin by removing the base from the side that will contact the stock rail. This base should be removed to match the base removed on the adjacent stock rail. File the area flat. Then file off the side of the rail head opposite the stock rail. This should leave the tip of the point looking like a capital "L". File the ground areas smooth with the fine-toothed file. The top edge near the end of the point should be razor sharp. The two sides of the rail head should taper to almost nothing. Practice on making points before using one in the finished turnout. If the points are too blunt, wheels will "pick the points" and cause a derailment. Use only perfect points to ensure reliability. When in doubt, make another. Cut the p oint to length after the point has been filed. Round the rail head at this end of the point. Remove all the weathering patina from the underside of the rail. Be careful with the finished point as it is quite delicate, especially near the tip. Bend the rail as straight as possible with gentle finger pressure. Slip all the floating pc ties under the stock rails (use shims if necessary) and solder the straight point rail to these ties. Also solder this point rail to the floating tie attached to the pivot rod. Photo 36 shows this rail in place.

    The last rail to be made is the curved point rail. Fashion a point as before. Note that this rail is a mirror-image of the straight point rail. Pre-bend the curved point rail to match the curve of the stock rail. The code 40 rail is delicate, so be careful . Lay the rail into the turnout and check the gauge of the curved point rail with the NMRA gauge. Bend the rail again until this dimension is perfect. Then solder the curved point rail to the floating ties.

    The finished code 40 N-scale turnout is beautiful to behold and functions as well as it looks.
    Model Railroading - June 1996 - Page 19

    For my manual method of turnout control, bend the throw-mechanism rod over and solder it to the first floating tie. Other methods of control will need other attachment procedures. Photo 37 shows the mechanism from the underside of the turnout. The rubber band provides the positive lock! Since the frog is not insulated, track power is supplied via a microswitch thrown by the turnout mechanism (see Photo 38). The frog feeder wire attaches to the "pole" of the microswitch and the plus and minus track power attach to the appropriate two "throws" of the microswitch.

    Finish the turnout by painting the pc board ties with an appropriate color. I like to use a 50-50 mixture of Floquil Engine Black and Rust. Weather these ties and other wooden ties to disguise the different tie materials. Apply ballast around the turnout, keeping the grains off the tie tops. Apply some plastic compatible oil around all the floating ties, the pivot point and the turnout mechanism. Then glue the ballast in place using the traditional "bonded ballast" technique often used by most model railroaders. Another pinch of powered graphite will help loosen any sticky points after the ballast glue has dried. Finally, clean off the rail tops to remove the weathering patina and any stray paint with a rail burnishing block and you're done.

    With all the component rails in place (Photo 39), the finished handlaid turnout looks beautiful . By following templates, using pc board ties and checking with gauges, the turnout operates as well as it looks, too. Handlaying turnouts in code 40 rail for N scale can be fun and rewarding.

    Click here for part 2 of 3

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