Very basic question from a non-handyperson

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by RobertInOntario, Jan 25, 2007.

  1. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    There are some sections of my layout's track where it's poorly joined or where there are a few gaps. There are also some sections where there has been an occasional loss of current -- as I'm just relying on the fishplates for the current. I know that many folks solder the places where the tracks join as soon as the track is laid.

    So I desperately need to solder a few sections, yet I've never used a soldering iron! I realize that this is a very basic question, but I freely admit that I'm not a handy person ! How hard is it to solder and how much should I spend on a basic soldering iron? I have seen some at Home Depot but there were a few kinds.

    Thanks in advance for any advice -- it never hurts to ask!

  2. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    Another skill to be learned on the path to the ultimate layout. Soldering doesn't need to be intimidating. Also the end result will be a better operating bunch of trackage. I would suggest getting a soldering iron (an old term that doesn't describe the modern electrically operated ones very well) or a soldering gun. Do some practicing on a piece of scrap track. You will need rosin core solder. A small wire brush. The surface needs to be clean and free of oil or finger marks. Look up some information on soldering here on The Gauge. You might also think about buss wires under the layout that parallel the track and have jumper wires going to the rails at intervals of several feet. These give a dual path for the current and help eliminate dead spots in the track.
  3. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member

    Others will give you advise on the soldering, but I have a few questions. Is your track permanently in place? If not, I would highly recommend redoing it, or the bad parts. Soldering can give you continuity of power, but poorly fitted joints will (can) give you derailments forever. After many years, I learned the hard way that laying out the track carefully pays BIIIG dividends in the future. I solder the curve joints on flex track, but that is all.

  4. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, Jim. This is helpful. I'll try to get a rosin core solder then and look up more info on this site. Cheers, Rob
  5. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, Lynn. The layout is about 2/3's completed, which means I've ballasted a lot of the track. Actually, many of these problems occur in ballasted areas -- I think the glue/water/dish soap mixture gets in between the joins and stops the current from passing through. There is one particular ballasted area where there are current problems. I could remove the ballast here and try to improve the join or try to solder it.

    The other areas (where there are gaps) are mainly between pieces of flexitrack and I could try to rework the worst of those & maybe solder the less extreme ones. I sure agree with you that laying the track well is really the only way to go -- I've actually done a lot of this already. This layout has been a real trial-and-error project and I'm constantly learning as I go. One of the other main lessons is to use the high quality points & switches.

    Thanks again. I'll try to tackle this project next weekend when I should have extra time.

  6. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    There is a tutorial on soldering in the "Tips & Tricks" section at the bottom of the forum contents page. If your layout will be subject to large temperature changes between summer and winter, you don't want to solder the fishplates, that will allow the rail room to expand and contract without kinking. You will probably want a small soldering iron like the one in the link
    They are available elsewhere at a much better price than this one. The one in the link is a 30 watt iron. 15-20 watt is big enough for soldering drop wires to track. You may want a bigger iron or a soldering gun for bigger soldering jobs. You want to solder a very small drop wire to the outside of the rail or to the bottom of the rail. Then drill a small hole through your roadbed, subroadbed, & benchwork between the ties adjacent to your solder joint. Drop the wire down through the hole, and solder it to a larger buss wire that leads to your power pack/throttle connection. You may melt some of the plastic ties off your track. If so, don't worry about it. You can get a bag of Campbell's wooden ties for handlaying track very cheap. I got a package and stained them with some Min Wax teak stain. They are almost a perfect match for the ties in Atlas flex track. Then you just remove the melted ties from under the track and slip in the wooden ties. Once you ballast the track, the wooden ties will disappear.

    You need to install both drop wires and buss wires because the small drop wires won't carry enough current over a longer distance to run your trains, but the wire size you need for a good buss wire is as big as the rail and will look bad if you try to solder it to the rail.

    One last thing on solder. You want 40/60 rosen core solder. I don't know if it is true for the rest of the country, but the last time I was in Home Depot here in California, I noticed that the only soft solder they sold was 95/5. 40/60 is a lead & tin alloy. 95/5 is 95% tin & 5% antimony. It is a much stronger solder than 40/60, we used it for soldering copper lines together in refrigeration where 40/60 would blow out from the pressure, but it melts at a higher temperature. A small soldering iron will probably not make enough heat to melt 95/5 and you will almost certainly melt ties if you try to use it. I think the reason that Home Depot switched is to eliminate the use of lead. You can get the 40/60 at any electronic supply store or industrial hardware store. Just a "heads up" when buying solder. The solder will be labeled with it alloy makeup on the package. A third solder that you might see is "Stay Brite" It is even stronger than 95/5, but it also melts at a high temp because it contains silver. I think it is quite a bit more expensive than the other soft solders, but you don't want it for model railroading applications.
  7. Torpedo

    Torpedo Member

    Google "how to solder" and you will find a plethora of sites with instructions. Just remember that they will divide into roughly two camps, those who use acid flux to solder and those who use non-acid flux. Acid fluxes are generally used to solder metal 'objects' together, while non-acid fluxes (usually in the form of rosin inside hollow solder) are mandatory for electrical work due to the corrosiveness of the acid flux.

    Soldering is both a science and an art. Like any science, some formal study is required, either by instruction from someone who knows what he is doing, or by reading well written instructions, and like any art, practice and more practice is needed to get the hang of it.

    Besides what you may find elsewhere, I suggest keeping in mind the following:

    -- Irons with plated tips are much easier to work with than irons with bare copper tips. They don't pit and don't need filing. In fact, never file a plated tip. It would ruin it.

    -- Always clean and tin the iron before each use.

    -- In a good joint, the solder flows smoothly and brightly and 'wets' both pieces being joined.

    -- A lumpy grey joint is a cold solder joint and will fail or not work at all.

    -- The solder is melted by the heat from the pieces being joined, NOT by the heat from the iron. The iron is only used to heat the pieces being joined. The solder is not applied to the joint until it has been heated enough to freely melt the solder (practice teaches how long to wait), although a tiny bit of it is applied to the point where the iron and the two pieces being joined meet. This is know as a solder bridge, and its sole purpose is to provide a path for the heat to flow from the iron to the pieces. Once the pieces heat up, the solder is then touched to the join and it should flow smoothly into the joint.

    Have fun, and if you buy an iron instead of a gun, don't forget to buy a stand for the iron and a soldering sponge to clean the tip. Make sure that any wire brush you buy for solder work is either brass, bronze, or stainless steel. Plain steel brushes rust and can cause all kinds of issues.
  8. Torpedo

    Torpedo Member

    I used to use Stay-Brite low temp silver solder when I was into RC planes. It would melt fine with an ordinary Weller gun, but required (and came with) acid flux. It made very strong joints. Some silver solders are very dangerous to work with because they contain cadmium. I don't remember if Stay-Brite had cadmium or not, but it is neat stuff to work with if you need a very strong joint on something and you don't mind rinsing it in water to get the flux off.
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Another vital tool is a heat sink. This is a lump of metal that sits on the rail and absorbs heat before it travels too far. Some people use a wet paper towel. I like a couple of track gauges because even if you soften the ties a bit, the rail stays in gauge while they harden.
  10. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, Russ. I'll have a look at that tutorial and I'll also probably check out some of the 15-20 watt soldering irons. We live right next to a Home Depot, so it's very convenient! I'll also print of your note for future reference. Thanks again, Rob
  11. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks for this advice as well. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I should ask a friend to try soldering my layout's track first before I try! It sounds like it takes more skill and know-how than expected, but it would still be good for me to learn. As with many model RR skills, this is a skill that I could use elsewhere as well. Cheers, Rob

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