Does anyone hand-lay track?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by mhdishere, Aug 13, 2003.

  1. mhdishere

    mhdishere Member

    OK, in the next few weeks I expect to start layout construction, so it's getting to decision time on track. I picked up a book over the weekend (I forget the exact title, but it was on trackside detail, by Kalmbach), and there was a chapter about hand-laying track. It SEEMS like something I could handle with a little practice (especially the turnouts), but has anyone actually tried it? I want to use foam subroadbed, if I put cork over that and glue down ties, will that be enough to hold the spikes? Or will I need to use homasote?

    I'm considering this for a few reasons, first it SEEMS cheaper than buying good-quality turnouts (like Shinohara or Micro Engineering), and there's one place on my track plan where I could really use a curved turnout and those suckers are expensive. It seems easier to get exactly the track flow you want, and if anything goes wrong you know how to fix it because you built it!


    I'm posting this on Railroad-Line too, so if you already answered there no need to answer here!

  2. jkristia

    jkristia Member

    I have started to replace my Atlas C55 track with hand laid C40 track (N scale). I got hooked after visiting SdSONS in San Diego, and I have decided that eventually I will replace all the commercial track, but for now I will only do a small section at a time. First I build a small 2x4 switching puzzle just to see if it was something for me, and that did it, I was hooked. I would recommend you to make a small simple test diorama with a couple of turnouts and some straight and curved track and learn from it. E.g. I learned to always have staggered joints on curves because if you don't' the track will move and get off alignment when you ballast it (the glue will get dissolved while wet). I have a few pictures on my webshot account, and I would be more than happy to answer your questions if I can. I only have experience with N scale on PC ties, but I'm sure someone else can help you if you are building HO with spikes.
  3. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Hi, I lay my own track and while I have never used foam with cork to handlay, I expect it will work reasonably well. The only hesitation I have is cork doesn't hold spikes all that well. The foam beneath will not be a factor as spikes won't reach it (unless you are using 1/8 cork, in which case your spikes are not likely to hold) I used to use homasote but now use homabed, homasote precut into roadbed in the same manner as cork. It holds spikes much better. see In regard to costs, the cost for handlaying versus using (I'm talking HO here) Atlas flex track is comparable, but the real savings are turnouts. Haven't priced turnouts for some time now, but expect them to be 12 to 13 dollars. Hand laid? A buck or two. And they (after a little practice) can be laid to flow nicely and operate better than commercial turnouts. There was a thread a while back on tecniques. Good luck!
  4. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    Hand laying IS a whole lot cheaper.

    The first two layouts I built --- many years ago --- I hand laid track primarily because I didn't have much money. (HO --- spiked wood ties and pine roadbed.)

    My third layout, I used flex and commercial turnouts, because I felt more afluent, and figured it would be faster and easier.

    I'm planning to start number four (one of these days) and will hand lay again. Saving the money isn't bad, but my prime motivation will be appearance, dependability, and planning flexibility. And although it is time consuming, it is not unpleasant to do (once you get into the swing of it) and the results are very satisfying.

    It takes a little while to get good at it, and I'll have to retrain myself. Jkristia's suggestion to build a small switching puzzle is excellent.

    I'll not say it won't work, but I think I'd prefer something more substantial under my cork than foam --- or would use wood roadbed instead of cork. (It can be rough-cut to shape, and does not need the sloped sides --- it gets covered with ballast anyway.)

    Good luck and keep us posted.

    Bill S
  5. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    My philosophy is to use commercial flextrack and turnouts in underground locations like staging yards or longer tunnel passages. But for the visible track I'll hand lay track and turnouts as much as possible.

    Oh well, there will be a few commercial things even on the surface. Frankly, I'd chicken out handlaying a double slip switch, and once I had problems no end trying to hand lay a H0n3 almost-90°-crossing of two curved tracks! :eek: (On my new layout I'll have the same situation again, but this time I'll simply plunk down a Shinohara crossing, adding handlaid track on all four sides :D )

    As you say, mhdishere, when you want to have a track layout after your visions (and not on the given dimensions of comercial turnouts), nothing beats handlaying track. Look at the added picture: On a former layout I had a very tight situation on a yard throat, so I simply had to hand lay the turnouts (this is H0n3, before ballasting). You simply can't have such a tight track flow with commercial trackwork.

    It takes some practising, so I'd second Jespers advice to do a small test layout. You might even plan and build a small module which you can insert into your layout later.

    I had no problem with spikes in cork roadbed - (8mm = 1/3" thick). On the picture the ties are glued directly to Pavatex, a Swiss version of Homasote - no problems either. So I think you are on the safe side with both of these roadbeds. Take what suits you best. (However I can't comment on foam subroadbeds - never tried it.)

    I started handlaying with some hesitation. But after the first few curves and the first turnout which really worked (ok, I had two flops first :rolleyes: :D), I started to love that job. Handlaying can become addictive, so beware! :D:D :D

    If you have more questions, I'll gladly help (if I can), and surely there are lots of hand-lay-gurus here in Gaugeland which could also give advice.

    (Come to think of it, perhaps I'll try that double-slip switch just the same... mmmmhh?? :p)


    Attached Files:

  6. TinGoat

    TinGoat Ignorant know it all

    Hand-lay all the way!




    Three reasons to hand lay track.

    For On30, it is way cheaper than Peco or ME track and turnouts. And I'm a cheapskate.

    I will, however, use regular HO flextrack in hidden areas to save time. So don't look inside the tunnels.... :D

    For the On30 Modules, I am using 1/2" thick roadbed.

    I found an old 3' x 4' bulletin board at work. It is 1/4" cork on top of 1/4" chipboard. The price was right. (Free!)

    I cut it with a jigsaw to the shape that I needed. Painted it with latex paint to seal it. Marked the track centerline on it and glued down to the ties with yellow carpenters glue. Spiked down the rails and then glued it all down to the foam sub-roadbed with styrofoam safe construction adhesive. (LePage's PL300)

    I guess that the best advice that I can give you is that you want to make sure that you have a firm roadbed.

    You don't want the ties to be pushed into the roadbed when you are trying to spike them.

    I can be a little heavy handed, so the regular 1/4" thick cork roadbed isn't firm enough for me...

    The Homasote is good, but it can sometimes distort or swell when it gets wet. (Hydroscopic is a term that I've heard...) So it might be a good idea to seal it before laying track on it.

    Regular Cork Roadbed isn't hydroscopic, but it isn't as firm. So it depends on what you have under the cork, like plywood or spline sub-roadbed as opposed to styrofoam.

    I'm really happy with the results of using the cork bulletin board, so I will use it again...
  7. jkristia

    jkristia Member

    wow, that is some great looking track work you have there RailRon.

    >>Handlaying can become addictive, so beware

    I will second that. It has become my favorite discipline, it's even more fun than scenery. I can't wait to finish the scenery in the area I'm working on now so I can get back to hand laying some more tracks...
  8. jim currie

    jim currie Active Member

    i will agree that hand laying is addictive, first layout was all hand laid on homasotecut into 1 1/2" strips and glued to side by side to correct width screwed to 1x2 risers good solid never had warpage problem but took for ever to get up and running.second layout was on celtex(sp) cause it was free used flex track and atlas turnouts on main line then hand laid the rest got up and running faster then replaced main with hand laid in short sections used shoofly track just like the big boys had no problem with celtex holding spikes getting ready for third lay out will use homasote flat and commerical track and replace it with hand laid track slowly
  9. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I've never handlayed track. I use flex track because it is actually priced cheaper than nickel silver rail at my local hobby shop. In fact, my friend in the train dept suggested that if I wanted to handlay track it is much cheaper to buy flex track and tack the rails off of the ties than it is to buy rail. When I look at the price of turnouts, I think I will try my hand at making my own.
  10. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Well,Here is a flip side to hand laid track.No fuss or anything like that but what I seen.

    I help a club hand lay track and many weeks of gluing ties,spiking and then painting the rail and putting down ballst we as a club agreed that after all that work it didn't look any better then regular C70 flex track and switches.:( I am no longer a member of that club) but am told that the club has replace the C70 hand laid track with C83 last year...When I asked why I was told due to the track warping during the winter from the dampness and cold. The club meets twice a month and that is the only time the building was heated..I wish them luck.
  11. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    A couple of random thoughts on some of the comments on this thread: Brakie mentioned the handlaid didn't look any better than code 70 flex track and turnouts. I agree with this, handlaid loked far better than the Atlas code 100 which was pretty much the only flex track available when I started hand laying. The newer flex track looks far better. However working with any flex track other than Atlas 83 and 100 (I'm talking HO) is a royal pain in the butt. Now in regard to the track warping due to cold temps and dampness, I'm surprised this was a problem with hand laid and not the flex track. I have problems in the winter when my basement gets very dry from the furnace running. The benchwork wood shrinks as it dries, pulling closer together the track nails used on the flextrack. This causes bows in the track. My handlaid on the other hand has no such problem. I will be pulling the track nails on some of my flex track and use ballast and glue to hold it instead to see how that works next winter.

    A couple conflicting comments about cost have been made. Russ states that it is cheaper to buy flex track and strip the rails than buy rail. Bill says hand laying is much cheaper. Both are correct. Several years ago I looked at the cost of bulk rail, ties and spikes. I determined how many ties I would use per foot. With rail, spikes and ties the per foot cost was close to Atlas code 100 flex track. If you buy code 70 flex track, then you are spending some real cash. And hand laying saves quite a bit.

    I also do what Jim descibed, I laid my mains with Atlas code 100 with the idea of replacing it with hand laid. I've relaid some, but mostly I have been expanding with a combo of hand laid turnouts and flex track used for some of the longer runs between turnouts.

    I enjoy hand laying as much or more than several other facets of the hobby. Been working(in the limited hours I devote during the summer) on a couple structures lately, i've started getting a hankering to lay some more track soon.

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