To Solder Track Joints Or Not To Solder?

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by planeshavings42, Oct 29, 2006.

  2. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    I think soldering feeder wires every 6 feet or so of track will work better than soldering the track joints. With the feeder wires, you are delivering power to the various track segments via a lower-resistance conductor, rather than through the tracks themselves (which are a higher-resistance conductor), resulting in less power loss and better reliability.

    Also, soldering the track joints makes modifying your layout a nightmare! :p
  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    I have to disagree with Tom on this one. I have soldered all of the rail joints on my layout, and have installed feeder wires only on track sections that are controlled by a separate electrical switch. If you need to change your trackplan completely, it can cause extra work. However, slight revisions (I recently removed a pair of #8 curved switches from between two mainlines) can be easily done with a cut-off disc in your Dremel tool, or with a razor saw. If you're going to use feeders, they should be run to every length of track: otherwise, you will still be relying on the rail joiners for electrical continuity, the very reason that prompted you to install feeders!
    I use flextrack, and solder it together as it's installed, but before it's spiked down. I have had no problems with expansion or contraction, although the longest run without an electrical gap is probably a bit less than 50'.
    Sorry, Tom.:D

  4. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    I don't necessarily disagree with you Wayne, but I think the easiest approach would be to try the feeders first. If it works good enough, then you can stop there and leave well enough alone. But if the continuity problems continue, then solder all the rail joints as a last resort.

    I think it's kind of overkill to jump right to soldering all the joints right off the bat, especially if one knows there will be significant experimentation or changes on a layout.
  5. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Actually, Tom, the main reasons that I soldered the rail joints was for smooth curves and electrical continuity. I got both simply by soldering the rail joints, a procedure that I found to be much easier than feeders. For me, feeders would involve drilling out all of the benchwork cross members, then running a long and convoluted buss wire around the room, twice in double-decked areas. If I was experiencing any serious voltage drop, though, I would do it.

    It just occurred to me that my bridges, all of which are removeable, rely only on the rail joiners for electrical continuity. There are, however, drops at both ends of the fixed track, and at both ends of the bridges. If electrical contact becomes an issue, it would be an easy job to solder them together.

  6. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Well, I came from the modular side of the hobby, and unsoldered joints is something modular modelers have to live with as a necessity. I think I can speak for all modular modelers that feeder wires are usually good enough. Otherwise there won't be many modular modelers around! :D
  7. Stuart

    Stuart New Member

    Hmm, very intresting. I myself only solder the joints on curves. As for feeders I add them to every section of track, this way you don't relie on the track joiners.

    Same this DCC..
  8. Rusty Spike

    Rusty Spike Member

    What about rail expansion and contraction? We've hit some warm temps here in MN recently (compared to when I laid the track) and when I went in the train room today I had a long section of what was supposed to be straight track that had pushed up and curved, I asume, because it expanded. I do not solder and had attempted to leave a little space between each rail joint but I had failed to leave enough on this long section (15 feet).

    Those that solder - how do you manage expansion and contraction as the temp changes in your train room?
  9. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!


    I solder most joints between flex track but usually don't when they connect with a turnout. I use homasote as a road bed. I've painted the homasote with latex paint to seal it and the track is ballasted so the glue mixture keeps it solidly on the road bed. The only place I had track shift was in a hidden section that I hadn't ballasted. My basement in St. Paul experiences similar conditions to yours I imagine. :) Maybe the unsoldered connections with turnouts are enough to handle expansion and contraction or maybe my sealed roadbed and track just don't expand (?).

  10. green_elite_cab

    green_elite_cab Keep It Moving!

    I can't even get my rail to solder, lol. I had some loose rail i was trying to solder together for scratch built catenary, and it won't hold no matter what i do. I used the flux, cleaned everything, and yet it won't stick. maybe I need more heat. what do you suggest?
  11. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    As I noted earlier, no problems with expansion or contraction, although the longest uninterrupted length of soldered track is only about 45'. My layout is in an unheated, but well-insulated, room in the basement. There's not a big range of temperatures in the room: I would guess that the coldest it gets in the winter is about 60F and only up to about 75F in the summer. If I'm running trains or working on the layout, and I find it a bit cool, I plug in a portable electric heater.

  12. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Hey Green,

    Rosin flux and rosin-core solder sticks best to clean nickel silver/brass/copper surfaces... If you are using salvaged steel rail from an old train set to fabricate your catenary, it won't work... On steel surfaces, rosin core solder will just bead up and refuse to stick.

    If it's not steel, then I don't know what to tell ya. :D

    Anyway, as far as soldering all rail joints go, Wayne and I will have to agree to disagree.. Modular modelers like me build layouts designed to come apart yet are still electrically continuous and sound, after REPEATED connects and disconnects. We are proof that you do not necessarily need to solder all the rail joints to get a good electrical connection. I stand by my statements.
  13. johntealn30

    johntealn30 New Member

    Just to add a different perspective, I model on30 outdoors and I do get expansion and connection issues or would.

    I use flexitrack and get round the problem by leaving gaps for expansion, each joint then has a length of single wire with the insulation removed, soldered across it on the outside of the rail.
    The wire is mounted with a slack in it to allow the track ends to move in and out of the fishplate unrestricted by solder. It works for me and is not that visible once the track is weathered. If anything the solder is more obvious than the wire.

    My layout is about 120' long if you do a full circuit and I dont seem to have any voltage drops.


    RJR Branch Line
  14. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    I would venture that at least 90% of model track buckling comes from expanison and contraction of the wood benchwork. The changes in size of wood/plywood with changes in humidity are far greater than changes in rail length due to temperature change. Ways to stop or siginificantly slow the expansion and contraction of wood products include maintaining stable humidity levels with humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioning as needed; painting or sealing the wood; and setting up structures so that movement is localized, offset, or eliminated. Examples of the latter include L girders and I beams, laminating foam to plywood, and using metal instead of wood.

    Note that the track buckling due to expansion and contraction occurs on some layouts regardless of whether the rail joints are soldered or not. Where track buckling is an issue, leaving post card thickness gaps about every 6-10ft and near the end of curves on straight sections only appears to be adequate protection in most cases.

    Soldering the rail joints achieves has 2 benefits. 1) It provides a more rigid mechanical joint than rail joiners. This is most important on joints on curves built with "springy" rail or flex track (think Atlas). When the rail is "springy", joints on curves eventually turn into kinks unless soldered. 2) Provides better electrical connection over time than rail joiners.

    The drawbacks of soldering rail joints are 1) the difficulty in removing and reinstalling track intact. The easiest way to remove track at soldered joints is to cut the joint, as was pointed out. 2) the skill required to solder joints without melting ties or otherwise messing up the track.

    Note that adding feeders achieves the same end electrically as soldering rail joints. Soldering feeders to rail requires the same skill level as soldering joints.

    Personally, I don't use rail joiners at all with handlaid track. I have used magnet wire feeders to every rail section instead. There is no problem with tie melting with wood ties. I had to really work to get smooth joints on curves. Next time, I will use a rail bender, and try butt soldering the rail joints on curves. If I use flex track, I do prefer soldered joints on curves regardless of the feeder situation.

    But these are my thoughts and choices; you should make your own.
  15. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

    When you guys are talking about soldering the joints, do you use rail joiners as well, or do you try to use solder only? It seems to me that it would be difficult to maintain rail alignment without the joiners...

    As for dimensional changes with temperature, that should not be a problem for me, as I have an all-foam benchwork, with only a wood frame around it.

    Progress report: Wood frame complete, about to install the 6-ft x 10-ft laminated foam base and get to work laying out track!
  16. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    Use the joiners for allingment Jack. :thumb:
  17. Overwelmed With Responses, Thank You All

    Hello, and I want to thank everyone who has vollenteered their helpful ideas of which there are many. I have drawn a conclusion from what I read that will work best for me, in my basement layout, which is nearly a constant 70 Degrees, and humidity is not a problem, since it is heated and airconditioned. I really have not noticed and problem with expansion or contraction, so I don't perceive that as being a serious problem for me to consider. I will not be moving my layout, or changing it drastically, with the exception of adding on to it. I think I will solder for the most part, except in areas in which I may be expanding later on. and I plan to use plenty of feeders as well. Again thank you to all of you for submitting your knowledge, and you have been so helpful in making my decision....A Great Bunch Of Modelers :wave: :wave:
  18. jbaakko

    jbaakko Active Member

    I prefer to "half" my rail joiners to maintin a smaller profile. You can also aling them with this aluminum block device, that has notches for the rails, and two round cutout area's for soldering, helps to defuse the heat to avoid melting the rail too, but limits the working space. I've only seen the metal version on eBay, Micro Mark has a cheeper plastic version.
  19. ChadYelland

    ChadYelland Member

    hey guys,,, quite the disscusion,,, I tend to agree with Pgandw, since a 100ft tape measure changes less then 1/8th inch for 20deg temp change! I have a Luftkin ruler with the temperature correction on it. If you have and indoor layout with more then a 20 deg temp change,,, you need a new house LOL
  20. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I notice that you are posting from Canada. What you say is true for the north (either US or Canada), but in much of the southern part of the US basements are unheard of. Many need to put their layout in a garage with the typical drafty garage door. Here in So Cal in many cities it is not legal to eliminate the garage door, unless you can build another garage on your property. Most garages here will see at least a 40 degree temperature swing, and some that are farther inland will see temps from a cold of high 30's to low 40's at night in winter to low 100's in summer in a typical year.

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