flex vs hand laid track

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by DaveM, Dec 15, 2006.

  1. DaveM

    DaveM New Member

    Sorry if this is something that has been beat to death but a search really didnt give me a good discussion/argument over what is best...

    I've always thought hand laying track would be the best way to start my new layout, especially since you can put switches and such exactly like you want. I have a local hobby shop that carries nothing as far as any fine scale materials so yesterday while visiting a town near me I dropped into the hobby shop there in search of a few rails and some ties to try hand laying my own track. The guy there almost laughed at me stating that 'no one lays their own track since the ME, Walthers, Peco, etc flex track is so nice and realistic'. I left discouraged and pondering just what I should do. So, out goes the question, what is considered the best way to go. Oh yeah, HO and possibly some HOn3.
  2. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    The Proto 87 guyz go nutz for handlaid, they even have etched brass tieplates. I personally prefer commercial track as the detail is more complete and, once weathered properly, looks as good as any handlaid I've seen. The time factor is a biggy too, I simply want to run trains ASAP.
  3. YmeBP

    YmeBP Member

    Well, i'm by no means a veteran in scale trians, but i have been racing rc cars for the past 22 years of my life (once i even was a sponsored semi-pro) and it seems through reading these forums that "best" question comes up the same way it does in r/c cars, and the answer is almost always universal: there is no "best".

    The "best" is what makes you happy as far as the result. I can use my own layout as an example i have flex, sectional, and power lock made out of brass steel and nickel silver. Ebay'ed almost all of it. Some good so not so good.

    The flex track is great becuase it does look real, the way it curves is cool, but .... i'm not so good at measuring the ends for cutting yet so i don't use it so much unless it's a straight section.

    The sectional was frustrating for me at first. I mean i couldn't get ANYTHING right the stuff was squirreling all over the place i couldn't get it to stay put until i put some roadbed and some atlas spikes into to to keep it still. Now it's solid and it looks great too.

    My power lock is great for the kids, i can set them up w/ increasingly complex loops (sometimes i change it twice in an evening for them) and it's great too, not nearly as realistic as flex or secitonal but easy to work w/ and fun for my sons.

    SO ... long winded way to say there is no best in a hobby. If you have the time and patience to lay your section go for it, if you have the skills to measure, cut and bend flex go for it. Grab a couple 3 foot sections and give it a whirl. :).

    BTW i just started a month ago w/ a couple power lock tracks and look where ia m now, crack has nothing on model trains!!!: http://www.skyersfamily.com/gallery/v/Trains/Layout1/


    My wife thinks i'm nuts.
  4. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I'm planning to hand lay my turnouts for the switching layout that I'm going to build in my spare room, mainly because the cost of turnouts is so high for the good ones, and as you mentioned, hand layed switches can be made to fit as needed. Don't bother looking for rail to use in handlaying. The prices on flex track is actually cheaper than the price for rails, so the least expnsive way to handlay track is tro buy a bag of Campbells wood ties and some sections of flextrack to peel the tie strips off of. The other advantage is that you can try your hand at a 3 foot section of track, and if you don't like doing it, you can just use the flex track as it comes from the manufacturer.
  5. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I prefer to handlay track because

    1) I can suit it to the era I'm modeling. Even the best looking flex track (ME) looks like fairly modern, main line practice. If you are modeling an era that didn't use sawn and cresoted ties, large tie plates, full ballast, 7"x9"x9' ties, etc, you are forced into hand laying by default (or accept a less accurate appearance). That said, it's quite time consuming to model all those details, including 4 spikes per tie. So if you are modeling main line practice of 1930s or later, the ME flex track rivals anything you can do handlaid. But remember, that doing a nice job of laying and weathering commercial track is also time consuming.

    2) the order of events better simulates prototype track laying. I can put my Homasote roadbed in place, then fill in all the scenery I want (as long as I don't interfere with access) before laying any track. I can then add ties, sand them, and paint or stain them to the exact colors I want without any rail or ballast in the way. Sanding the tie tops guarantees the level surface for my rail. Sanding cork roadbed before laying flex track to get rid of vertical irregularities is recommended, but few actually do it. When I'm ready I add ballast - I put that in before I lay any rail (just like the prototype), and it's much easier to do at this stage. I also paint the rail before I spike it in place - again much easier to do, and I don't get it on the ballast or ties unless I want to. Feeders are soldered onto the rails, and the rail pre-curved before spiking it down (I use a rail bender for this now). So when I have spiked my rail in place, the track is complete, weathered, and ready to use - sort of like driving a "golden spike" for each section.

    3) the track "flows". You can't find the joints between my turnouts and the rest of the track because there usually aren't any. The rail is continuous right through the stock rails of a turnout. In all but the best laid flex track and commercial turnouts, the joints are easily spotted by the missing ties or changes in ties spacing and the out of scale rail joiners.

    4) increased reliability/fewer derailments from the track. Very few commercial turnouts are completely to NMRA spec from the factory. On the other hand, you take the time to get handlaid track right from the very start. Most commercial flex track tends to be on the wide side of gauge tolerance which accentuates the "wallowing" problems of some steam locos. I can lay my track to be on the narrow spec to reduce the wallowing. This also allows me to more easily run the narrower and better-looking code 88 wheels in HO.

    5) pride factor. Watching a train flawlessly and smoothly run over track and turnouts you built is an ego boost. The untold secret is that virtually anybody can build reliable handlaid track - it doesn't take as much skill as it appears.

    6) I can easily suit the level of track detail to my tastes and time available. If I want to just spike every 5th tie instead of every tie, my track will be just as reliable. If I want to add tie plates to every tie, or just some of them, I can do that. If I want to use grape vine twigs to simulate hewn ties instead of sawn ties, I can do that. I can choose the rail size I want without worrying about turnout availability. If I want to use a simple PC bar turnout throw, I can do that. Or I can choose to use accurate model switch tie rods and an under-ballast throw bar. And I can vary the level of detail according to how visible the track is. If I like the looks of a stub turnout instead of the point variety, I can choose to do that, too.

    Remember, track can be a model, too.

    my thoughts, your choices
  6. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    I don't have the desire to hand lay track but I respect the folks that do. There's no question that hand laid track looks great. I might consider hand laid on a diorama.
    There are sources for ready cut ties and Micro Engineering and others sell rail and spikes.
  7. KCS

    KCS Member

    Proto87 track is the ultimate in handlaid track hands down. I saw a good who used it and detailed it to the fullest extent. I like ready made track but some times it just seems to easy. I figured I would just build my layout starting with the track work decking it out in deatails and then move on sense I'm falling more and more into prototype apperance so for me it's becoming a want more and more every day trying to fit in every last detail possible.
  8. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    I didn't mean to appear to poopoo handlaid track. I really like the look of it when done well. I just don't care for the returns for the work done when my time is so bound up in parenthood, work and part time ministry.
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    All model railroading is a waste of time. :D
    Now, what do you want to waste your time doing? train97

    I've done enough handlaid track to convince myself I can do it, but I am usually in too much of a hurry to lay a whole layout.
    If I was going to build a prize section, I would handlay parts of it.
    It comes in the same category as kit- or scratch-building vs ready to run. Try it; you might get to like it.
  10. fsm1000

    fsm1000 Member

    I enjoy hand laying for many reasons. Looks, it is relaxing, few attempt it so we look good LOL. Just kidding on that last one :D:D:D

    ANyhow, hand laying is not as hard as most people think it is. With a little practice anyone can do it really.

    Give it a try on some scrap and in no time you will doing your whole layout like that :D

    I recommend using a piece of 2x4 to practice on. Later you can use it to display trains :)
    I hope that helps.
    Maybe these links might help also.


  11. zedob

    zedob Member

    I used to handlay track when I modeled in HOn3, but at that time it did produce the best looking track since Shinohara's code 70 flex with the big chunky spikes didn't look quite prototypical. The fact that you can lay down the ties then the ballast is a real plus.

    However, I'm going to be using Central Valley ties this time around for my new layout (not all over, just in the up-close areas). The turnouts are curvable, but to what degree I am not sure, but I like the look and the write-ups I've read about them. Most of my turnouts need to be curved, so I figured I'd try them out. I need some cross-overs on a double tracked part of my plan and the only place to put them is in the curves, which for operational and visual purposes is perfect because there is no S-curve associated with doing it this way. The commercially available curved turnouts don't come in the radii I need, so one way or another those turnouts will be handlaid.

    I'll post and update on how well they work.
  12. 65GASSER

    65GASSER Member

    I have patience for alot of things, but I don't think I would for hand laying track. I don't even think I have patience to weather track. Lots of respect for you guys that do it though. :wave:
  13. YmeBP

    YmeBP Member

    I second that .. :) i'm dying to get these trains rolling around my layout hahaha.

    It seems that i completely missunderstood what "hand layed" meant :oops: . Now ..... thinking about it .. that is cuuuurraaaaazy .. :) each tie and rail!! :thumb: wow ... that must take an enourmous amount of patience. Man ... i have just gained another level of respect for those w/ that kind of dedication to our hobby.
  14. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    The time issue is not as bad as one would think - it really depends on how big a layout. I am not particularly fast or mechanically inclined but I usually do a section of track in two 2 hour evening sessions.

    A section is defined as 4-6 ft of track, no turnouts, or one turnout and about a foot of track at all ends.

    The first session starts with notching the roadbed and installing turnout throws and/or uncoupling magnets (I used under the track). Next I place and glue the ties - I use a piano key jig for this. Put the ballast on and glue, hand brush the rail weathering paint, wipe the paint off the inside corner of the rail, and stain some ties for future use. Clean up and let everything dry.

    On the second session, I start with sanding the top of the ties level and vacuum the sanding dust. Tie tops are re-stained. I bend the rail for any curves, and solder magnet wire feeders to each piece of rail. Using several gauges, I spike first the inside rail of a curve and then the outside, paying particular attention to getting smooth curved rail joints.

    If I'm laying a turnout, I make a paper template by coloring over a couple of pieces of flex track pinned in the desired track alignment. Frog and frog rails are made from a single piece of rail folded back on itself after filing just through the web where the frog point will be. Wing and closure rails and points are made next (in one piece each) using the paper template to bend the rails. These 3 pieces of rails (the 2 point, closure and wing rail assemblies and the frog point) are turned upside down and soldered together, with feeder wires added to the frog and point rails. The assembly is then spiked to the ties with the feeders being fed through small holes. Using my gauges, I then attach the stock rails (notch the base for the points) and guard rails. Create a gap between the point and closure rails so the points are of the same polarity as their adjoining stock rails using the feeders I attached earlier. I just use spikes near the frog end of the points as my point hinge locations. Finally, solder the PC board throwbar to the points, fasten the manual turnout throw or Tortoise, wire the feeders, and I'm done.

    Those who use the Fastracks turnout assembly fixtures can build goof-proof turnouts considerably faster, but are limited to the fixture's turnout geometry.

    Another very detailed option for modern style track, and faster than strictly handlaid, is the Central Valley tie strips, as zedob mentioned. In most opinions, these look even better than the ME flex track. The Central Valley turnout tie strip kits can be curved to suit your space, but larger number frogs are recommended to avoid making the closure rail radius too tight.

    fsm100 details his methods of hand-laying on his web site - worth a read.

    yours in handlaid track

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