Hand laying track and turnouts

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by iis612, Feb 22, 2008.

  1. iis612

    iis612 Member

    I want to handlay all my track and turnouts, but I don't want to lay out huge dollars on jigs. Does anyone know of a source, or have instructions to build jigs?
    I have been working on a jig but I can not get it right. It may be that my hands are too clumsy right now, but the guage is always off and the rail is kinked.

  2. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Matt, I can't help you in regards to a jig, but don't understand their popularity. I've built many turnouts, and I build them in place. I will write the basics, I suggest the article by Tony Koester for fleshing out the details. It originally appeared in a Model Railroader issue, was reprinted in one of Kalmbachs books, you will need to do a search for it.

    The basics: Draw your centerlines for the track. This must be done carefully as you will glue ties down on them, and you need nicely flowing lines. I often use a piece or two of Atlas flex track, tacking it down as required and drawing lines along the ties on both sides. Do this for both routes thru a turnout. I find this particularly essential for curved turnouts where I want both routes to flow smoothly. I should mention here that the curved turnouts I've built do not follow prototype practise (I believe) in that I maintain a curve thru the entire turnout, including the frog. Once you have your lines drawn, glue down ties. For the turnout ties, I built jigs consisting of stripwood (use a width suitable for your desired tie spacing) glued to a 1x3, butted up against a stop. The stripwood should be thinner than the ties you use, to make it easier to remove the tie strip. Refer to a commercial turnout, or buy a BK kit, to see how the ties increase in length as you move along the turnout. I cut the ties in increasing increments of 1 foot. When the ties are in the jig, use a strip of masking tape to hold them in place till laid on the roadbed.

    OK, so the ties are glued down. You've located where the throwbar will be, and used headblock ties there. One of the nice things about handlaying is that you can use full lengths of rail thru the turnouts, even one piece of rail for more than one turnout in some cases. Lay one of the stock rails in place, mark it where the points will nest into it. This is where Tony's article will be helpful to you, good photos and measurements are provided. I file the base of the stockrail where the points rest, about one and a half ties back from the throwbar. Spike both stock rails in place, using the ties to line them up. Next you will form the frog to fit, no need to worry about what # it is, or need to use jigs. (The # of the finsihed turnout is dependent on how you laid the ties, I forgot to mention that the tie jig I mentioned used dimensions from commercial turnouts) So if a particular turnout is really a 5 1/2 or 6 1/2 rather than a 6, I don't care. You need at least three of the three point track gauges. Lay in a rail gauged to one of the stock rails, after first filing one end for the frog point. Hard to descibe, easier to view a photo in Tony's article. (You really should find the article!) But basically you file the railhead and base off on the side that meets the other frog rail, and just the railhead off the other side. Hold that rail in gauge with a couple gauges, file another rail for the other half of the frog in the same manner, and place it in gauge to the other stock rail. Slide them till you find the point where they rest against each other and are in perfect gauge to both stock rails. Spike. The next step is the point/closure rail, all one piece. A comment here, code 100 rail is a bit heavy for this type construction, I use 83 and 70. The combination point/closure rail has to bend when the turnout is thrown, hence the smaller the rail the easier it is to bend. Again, reference the article, or just practice a bit. You need to bend the closure rail just prior to the frog, so that it runs parallel to the frog as a guard rail. At the frog end of this rail, make a slight bend and file slightly, this will help prevent snagging track cleaning pads and such. Oh, another thing to do before installing the point/closure rail is to file the bottom of the point section (after filing the points themselves) so that there are no rough edges which will prevent smooth movement of the rails across the ties. filing the points is rather obvious, the side against the stock rail need both base and railhead removed, the other side just the railhead. Also slightly round the top of the point itself, again to prevent snagging. Take the time to get this rail correct! Spike in place, do not spike too close to the throwbar of course. I drill a hole in front of the frog point, and install a wire, bent so it will stay in place, hanging down thru the hole. Using a solder gun, I fill the space between the frog and its guardrails and closure rails with solder, which also coats the wire. This will be your power feed for the frog. I use a short piece of hacksaw blade to clear the solder to an appropriate depth. A bit late, I forgot to mention that prior to laying any piece of rail, I use a dremel drill press to drill a hole on the bottom of each rail, and solder in a feeder. Easier and neater than doing so later.

    The throwbar: I use copper clad pcb, cut into ties. Drill a hole for your throw mechanism of choice. Use a file to remove copper at some point between the point rails. I use a strip of aluminum foil placed between the bottom of the stock rail and throwbar to prevent soldering the point to the stock rail while soldering the point to the throwbar. I spike the point against the stock rail, with the foil between, and solder the throwbar, repeating for the other side.

    Have fun!
  3. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Perhaps this pic will help:
  4. hminky

    hminky Member

    I use templates and build them at the bench:

    Handlaying On30 trackwork with PCB ties


    You can make templates using flextrack for custom turnouts. Making them at the bench is so much easier than on the layout. I have done both.

    Thank you if you visit
  5. iis612

    iis612 Member

    Thanks for the info guys.
    I am searching for the Tony Koester article. I think I have a copy of it somewhere...

    I took a look at your web page, not an in depth look, but I like the idea of having a page to chronicle the construxction of your layout.

    I came across a site that had free turnout templates some time ago, and never thought to bookmark it. If anyone knows what site I am talking about, and have the URL, I would be very appreciative if you could share it.

    I was also wondering... Is it more costly to handlay?
    I know I am going to handlay the turnouts, regardless of cost. However, if I am going to drop lots of cash to handlay the whole layout I will have to rethink the options.

  6. iis612

    iis612 Member

    Disregard the URL request, I found it.:oops:
  7. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

  8. abutt

    abutt Member


    My first question would be, what scale? Large is easier...small is hard!
    Years ago, on my first large layout, I hand laid the track in the 6-stub tracks of the yard, but chickened out on the turnouts. In those days we could get Tru-Scale turnout kits. They were mostly pre-formed and worked well. I'm a lot older now, and I hope wiser. My present layout under construction is HO and will use flex-track and commercial turnouts, because I want to run, not build. "Different strokes for..." But big piles of good luck to you.:thumb:
  9. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    I'm handlaying my current layout. It definitely takes time. Switches become easier the more you build. My biggest challenge right now has been to lay rails around an 18" curve and keep it all in gauge. I find my self pulling up spikes and respiking several times before I get it right.

  10. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member


    I had issues with my 18" radius curves, too (spiked code 70 rail to wood ties). I found the key was pre-bending the rail. Using my hands - next time I may try the rail bender from Fast Tracks or a plywood form - I bend the rail to the curve I want before I even think of spiking. The last inch or so of the piece of rail cannot be easily bent to a smooth curve, so I just cut that off. Once the rail is pre-bent, the rest is easy. I didn't even need rail joiners with pre-bending.
  11. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    Just a couple of things to consider:
    1. If you drill through the flange of each point rail, and solder a short piece of brass wire there, you can use a non-conductive throw bar with holes drilled for the brass wire "pins", and hard wire the the turnout so that no rail contact is needed to distribute power. You will have to gap both ends of the frog.
    2. You can lay "full width" ties for the entire length of the turnout, and cut them to length after the custom turnout is installed. A simple jig could be used to insure proper tie length from the rail out.

    If you are going to use a powered switch machine, make sure that the throw is adjusted so that little if any pressure is felt by the throw rails, this will save a lot of maintenance on the installed turnout. At the club I belong to, the switch machines throw too far, and the resulting strain on the points, breaks the solder joints, and then the track gets shorted, and the point rail has to be resoldered to the throw bar. This is especially fun for turnouts that are "just out of reach". :mrgreen:
  12. TCH

    TCH Member

    handlaying is heaps cheaper than commercial turnouts.

    here in australia it costs 25-30$ for a new commercial turnout while
    my handlaid ones cost me about 4-5$

    also I am not a very good modeller so it is very satisfying to do something
    that I am happy with.
  13. jon6516

    jon6516 New Member


    Fast Tracks | 1-888-252-3895
  14. jon6516

    jon6516 New Member

    I'm teaching myself to hand-lay both rail and turnouts (stub HOn3). I'll bookmark this page. Any info will be well read. I acquired a Spiker last xmas, just pulled it out a week or three ago, I keep crushing the ties. But everything is on hold, our 30 year old club just moved and its bench-work along with learning about Standard gauge practices. Freelance NG Point to point, is my forte', none of this new fangled bridge route stuff.
  15. iis612

    iis612 Member

    I went to the LHS the other day and they have decided that they will no longer stock any hand laying supplies. Anyone have a good, reliable, inexpensive online source they want to share with the rest of the class?
  16. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Haven't used them for awhile, but try MRPO, ModelRailway Post Office, in NJ
  17. tetters

    tetters Rail Spiking Fool!


    Fast Tracks | 1-888-252-3895

    I get all of my handlaying supplies from these guys. I got tired of trying to find stuff at local LHS's and just started ordering in bulk. Don't under estimate what you are going to need. You'll always need more then what you estimate. :oops: Shipping is fast, reliable and Tim Warris is one hell of a handlayer himself.

    CNJ Bronx Terminal
  18. iis612

    iis612 Member

    Thanks Gary and Tetters
  19. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

  20. iis612

    iis612 Member

    Thanks Fred :thumb:

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