Hand-Laying Track: A Step-by-Step Guide
Among all the decisions required to make when designing a model railroad, the style of track is very influential to the final outcome. There’s a few factors to consider when it comes time to choose between hand laid track versus flex track. Time and cost are two of the major influences on making that decision, but ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.
Many model railroad enthusiasts stay true to the original modeling technique of hand laying track. This technique offers greater freedom when it comes to planning the track layout compared to track sold in straight and curved sections. Hand laid track also tends to appear more prototypical than flex track. Whether you are new to hand laying track or familiar with it, theres always new methods and techniques to learn.
Step by Step: Hand Laying Track
In this tutorial, modeler George Sebastian-Coleman demonstrates how to hand lay track. He provides helpful tips on products and tools to use. George begins the tutorial by suggesting his prefered product to use for the roadbed. He uses a Homasote product, which you can buy in big sheets. Cork roadbed is an option as well, but Homasote grips nails well and is easy to spike into.
If you decide to work with Homasote, George offers a couple suggestions to make your experience with the product better. One valuable tip to consider when working with Homasote is to cut the product with a toothless knife-type blade on a saber saw. He also suggests sealing Homasote with a clear shellac to help control expansion and contraction.
Take your time and check your work. George suggests taking a pair of trucks or a complete car and rolling it down the length of a finished track to make sure its rolling smoothly. Once you get the rhythm of laying track, it moves along swiftly. Before you know it, you’ll have smooth flowing trackwork at any radius and any size that you want.
How To Make Your Own
Hand Laid Track
For Your Model Railroad
I had tried to install hand laid track on my HO model railroad in the past with mixed results.The mainline and sidings worked out well in rail codes from 55 to It was the turnouts that caused the problems. Then I discovered Fast Tracks.
This was when I and the Nottawasaga Model Railroad Club decided to build some free-mo modules with hand-aid track in Code This is not a paid advertisement for Fast Tracks. I just think the system is superb. After building a couple of #5 switches, I ordered the jigs for a Code 83, #5 slipswitch. We' built eight of them. Take a look.
This is the first slip switch I built for the Underhill North yard extension. In the photo the hand-laid track has been sprayed painted with Floquil from a can. Ballast has not been applied.
Here's a view of the yard throat. It has three Fast Tracks slip switches and a couple of standard #5 turnouts. Below is the Fast Tracks jig. The slip switch is almost complete. One point still needs to be filed and the points have to be soldered to the throw bars.
The rails are soldered to copper-clad circuit board ties. The pre-cut ties are hand-spiked to the roadbed. There are some track tools to make the job easier.
These jigs are not cheap so it helps if you can find other modellers in your area who will share the cost. It helps to belong to a train club! At the price of special turnouts today it doesn't take many hand-laid turnouts to start saving money. The track work looks great, too.
I have used Fast Tracks tools with the free templates you can download from the Fast Tracks website and built some turnouts without the jigs. The jigs help to keep things aligned and in gauge. There are jigs for most rail sizes and configurations. You can use the paper templates if you want to save money. Just be careful and take your time.
Below are two photos of completed trackwork at Ft. Eerie on my previous Utopia Northern layout. This section was added to improve operations by providing an open staging area. In the photo the track has been wired but has not been ballasted. Some rail needed to be painted because I ran out of weathered rail.
Note the use of pins to act as stoppers at the end of tracks.
The curved turnouts were constructed on Fast Track paper templates without jigs.
Conductive cork roadbed!
This fits under the "weird but true" heading. We had been hand-laying code 83 track on new modules at the Nottawasaga Model Railroad Club.
We were baffled by a short circuit on an 8-foot section of newly-spiked track. We had glued down some old cork roadbed that was lying around because we had run out of new Mid West cork.
Wooden ties had been glued to the cork. The ties had been spray-painted with Floquil Tie Brown paint. The code 83 track had been handspiked about every 6th tie with Micro Engineering small spikes: ie, the spikes penetrated the cork as well as the wooden ties. Of note here is that the same procedure had been used on some other sections using this same old cork. None of us knew where the cork had been bought or when it was acquired, so we had no idea of what it contained.
When we got the short circuit, we isolated the section by removing metal rail joiners. Yes, we checked to make sure there were no wires attached. This was a length of track on a curve: No turnouts or crossing or other fancy trackwork, just two rails. Completely mystified we removed one rail and the spikes. As soon as we replaced the rail and respiked, the short returned. We then removed both rails and substituted code prefab track on plastic ties and reconnected the joiners. Presto, no short circuit!
Where's the problem? It had to be the plywood, the cork, the ties, or the paint. As soon as we added spikes to the rails, the short circuit returned. Finally, we inserted the test meter's probes directly into the cork roadbed beside the ties (no track in play, only the cork). The meter indicated continuity between the probes. The only answer appeared to be that the cork is conductive and insertion of the spikes completes the circuit between the North and South rails.</p>
We now had three choices: replace the section with Code 83 prefab track on plastic ties, glue the rail without spikes, or rip up the cork and start from scratch.
We opted for the prefab track because the track was on a curve, crossed a joint between modules, and had to allow for extreme heat and humidity changes. The "portable" building where we kept the layout was only heated in the winter when we met on Monday evenings and was not cooled during the summer. On top of this, the modules have to be trailered to model railroad shows.
What was even stranger was that this was not happening on the other sections with the same cork roadbed, at least not on DC.
We didn't know what, if any, implication this might have had for DCC because we had not changed over at that time.
In all my years as a model railroader I have never encountered this problem before. It probably could only happen when handlaying rails as prefab track on plastic ties should isolate the track if one is only inserting spikes or track nails through the plastic ties.
You may never run into this problem, but if you do, check to make sure the cork or whatever roadbed you're using, is not causing the problem.
The other suspect sections were also indicating continuity but to a lesser degree. We may just have been lucky that locomotives were passing through these sections without trouble. If we had convert to DCC before fixing the trackage this problem may have reoccurred due to the increased sensitivity to short circuits.
How to spike hand-laid track
I own a Kadee spiker that uses small staples as spikes. The cutting heads are designed for specific rail sizes and I only have Code and 70 heads, not Code The spiker is out of production although Kadee still has some in the catalog, but new heads would be very pricey.
My usual method is to use a small pair of pliers and Micro Engineering Company medium spikes. Some modelers recommend filing a groove in the pliers to hold the spike head. I did this once but find that after all these years I can insert a spike without the groove. I lose a few here and there. I try to spike every 5th or 6th tie on both rails when doing hand laid track. More around switches and on curves. I have a bunch of track gauges acquired over the years that I spread out along the track I'm laying down. An NMRA gauge is used as a final check.
Tip: Run a bead of Walthers Goo or Pliobond along the underside of the first rail with a toothpick and then lay it in place. Put in a few spikes along its length. On straight track, use a metal ruler to keep the rail positioned on the ties where you want it. Once in place, slowly run a soldering iron along the top of the rail to quickly set the glue. If you have too much glue on the rail you can use acetone to thin it. I'm told nail polish remover will also work. I haven't tried that.
Tip: Keep a Kadee uncoupling magnet nearby. Sweep it along the track to pick up any loose spikes or filing shavings.
Fast Tracks slip switches are easy. Just wire to the outside rails in the middle of the turnout. I haven't even needed to wire the gapped frogs independently. All my engines cross without a problem. If you need to, use auxillary contacts or a relay to power the frogs and add signals. I eventually added Tam Valley frog juicers for added reliability of pickup for short wheelbase locomotives.
Three-ways are a little trickier to wire. An excellent reference source I found on the Internet for wiring turnouts is Allan Gartner's site. http://wiringfordcc.com/switches.htm. The diagram is from Allan.
I highly recommend the Fast Tracks system for anyone who would like to try handlaying some track. It can cut your cost tremendously if you have a few to do. It also makes your track look terrific and your trains will run much better through the solid rail frogs.
If you would like more information, the September issue of the NMRA magazine Scale Rails had an article with photos on page 42 written and photographed by Stephen Priest.
Check out the Fast Tracks website after bookmarking this page. The Fast Tracks website has lots of information and the videos and instructions are very clear and easy to follow.
Go to Ballasting Track .
Go to More About Hand laying Track .
Go to Track Tools.
Go to Painting Track.
Return to Track page overview.
Return from "hand-laid-track" to my Home Page.
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Having handlaid track in HOn30, HO, On2, On30, On3, and O2R for some decades now, I disagree.
I use appropriate-code rail stripped from readily-available and cheap "standard gauge" flextrack almost exclusively,
PECO SL14 track spikes ( spikes for AUD$3 or so),
and sleepers/ties ripped to required-prototype-appropriate dimensions from sheet balsa,
(Great Planes "Master Airscrew Balsa Stripping tool" and NWSL Chopper FTW!).
and the result is almost-universally cheaper in $$ terms than RTR ME or similar trackage,
(esp for those of us outside Continental USA,
where ME and equivalent track sources are "hens-teeth" common and priced accordingly
NB we're not considering Time Cost, where RTR has the no-argument upper hand).
For narrow gauges where a matching "standard gauge" gauge and rail-code is readily available,
(EG HO Code 83, or 75 source --> On30 deployment)
one can even "speed handlay" by:
- cutting apart the SG sleeper/tie strip webbing with small side-cutters
(a 3' length of PECO HO flex is down to "individual ties" state in under 3 minutes)
- removing 1/2 - 3/4 of the now-individual sleepers/ties from the flextrack
(ends up with "spindly-looking" flextrack ;-) )
- glue down the "handlaid" wood ties to the roadbed
- lay the "spindly flextrack" on the wood ties,
respacing the remaining individual plastic ties along the rail length so they drop between the wood ties
- spike (or glue) the rail down
(I spike every 4th tie or so for this initial stage)
- test-run the track to prove that the geometry and "look" is as-desired
- then run a soldering iron along the rail web to melt the plastic-tie-spikes away
- and slide the now-redundant plastic ties out from under the rails
(we can always go back and add spikes to every tie and jointbar-details later at our leisure,
if One feels so inclined
I always go back and do "4 spikes per tie, 2 spikes per rail",
as spiking is a "team sport" and the strength of the final trackage is directly-related to the # of spikes in-play)
Result? Correctly-gauged "handlaid" track,
faster and more-accurately than "individual rail + manual gauging",
at less $$ than commercial RTR NG track
(I always reccomend having an NMRA gauge onhand anyway, just to be sure ;-) ).
The below shows a "3 stage example" in HOn30 of really-rickety logging track.
- Top is PECO N scale flex
- Middle is "individual respaced plastic tie" flex, laid over wood-tie, and "minimum spiked"
- Bottom is "plastic spikes melted away, tweezers pushing plastic ties out from under the rails"
I hope this helps
Aim to Improve,
originally published in the Caboose Kibitzer
photo by Richard Schumacher
It goes without saying that model railroading can be a very exacting hobby. It all depends on how well detailed you want your locomotives, rolling stock, structures, scenery and/or trackwork. Some modelers are very particular in one or two phases, while a few are extremely rigid in all aspects of the hobby. One of my areas happens to be trackwork and I don’t mind saying that I enjoy it. My railroad stands to verify this statement by the fact over ’ of the track is hand laid. Also, about 60 of my turnouts are scratchbuilt. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
First of all, let me get one point across hand laid track is not very difficult, but it is very time consuming. Also, don’t plan on saving a lot of money as the materials for hand laying track will run about as much per foot as flex track. Hand laid turnouts, however, can save you quite a bit of money.
Wood ties are pretty easy to come by, depending on what brand you select. I started out using Kappler, then all of a sudden they became scarce. Only by checking every hobby store I came across during my travels was I able to keep from running out. In selecting your ties, make sure you use the correct size and type for the era you are modeling. Ties have increased in size since the days of steam, so if you are into the more modern era of railroading it might help to check tie size with the railroad you are modeling.
The size of rail to use is strictly up to you. I have been using code , but if I had it to do over again I would have gone with code It is a little more realistic in size and gives the point rails in hand built turnouts a lot more flexibility. Rail can be purchased already weathered or plain if you want to do your own weathering. Micro Engineering weathered rail was my choice, and saved a lot of time by not having to paint it. It is sold in 99’ bundles of 33 three foot lengths.
Spikes must be thin enough so as not to split the tie when you drive them in. Micro Engineering spikes were my choice as their small size doesn’t look like you used ten penny nails to spike your track. If you are fortunate enough to own or have access to a Kadee spiker, the use it! This will also save you a considerable amount of time.
Once you have accumulated the materials, you can start your project. I found that laying each tie individually was too time consuming so I manufactured a jig. Using a ¼ by 3 by 2’ piece of basswood for the base, I glued a ¼ square piece along the length of one side. This serves as a backstop as I lay the ties in the jig. Using scale 2 x 12 lumber, I glued 1¼ pieces perpendicular to the backstop, spacing them so that a tie could be laid between each one. This jig allows me to lay a tie between each strip, using the backstop to keep them even. By applying masking tape to the tops of the ties, I can lift a two foot section of ties from the jig ready to be glued into place.
Using a straight edge, draw a guide line on your choice of roadbed. I chose Homa-bed for its ability to hold spikes in place. The ties I used were not all exactly the same length, so I made sure the ends that were against the backstop of the jig were laid on the guide line. If you are laying a curve, it will be necessary to cut a spline about halfway through the tape at every second tie. This allows the ties to lay into the curve. Full strength Elmer’s white glue was my choice for gluing the ties to the roadbed. After the glue has thoroughly dried, you must sand the tops of the ties with a sanding block to make sure the tops of all the ties are of uniform height.
There are several tie stains available, but I chose Liquitex acrylic Mars Black. One, two ounce tube will stain a lot of ties. I dipped a ¾ brush in water, then dabbed it into the paint that I had squeezed onto a coffee can lid. Then I applied it to the ties, brushing it on the ends first, then the tops, checking to make sure that the sides are covered as well.
Spiking the rail to the ties is the most time consuming part. NMRA standards call for rail to be spiked to at least every fifth tie. This gives the rail the solidness it needs to hold it in place. Start laying the rail by making sure it is centered on the ties. In other words, make sure you have an equal amount of tie sticking out on the sides of both rails. Rail gauges come in all configurations and you can pick the ones that best suit you.
Start by laying two lengths of rail on the ties separated by the rail gauges. Spiking only one rail at a time, you can use a straight edge or eye ball it as I did. This eye ball talent is one of the gifts I got from my Dad. When laying the first rail of the pair, I spiked every tenth tie, then went back and got the fifth ones in-between. This seemed to cut a little bit of the time. When spiking the second rail, make sure you don’t have the rail ends directly across from each other. I like to have about eight to ten inches separating the rail joints. Use your NMRA track gauge as you go to ensure the proper distance between the rails. I have found that a pair of needle nose chain pliers is best suited for driving the spikes. Make sure that the spike goes straight down into the ties so that it doesn’t interfere with the one coming in from the other side of the rail. Of course, when laying any rail, always make sure that there is a slight gap at the rail joiners to allow for expansion and contraction. I like to use a business card as it has just the right thickness for this gap.
Soldering electrical drops to weathered rail can be a little tricky. You must burnish the rail where the drop is to be soldered or it won’t stick. A moto-tool with a wire wheel will allow you to get down to the bright metal without damaging the rail. You can paint the solder roof brown to cover up the shininess.
With a lot of patience you can lay rail as good or better than anyone else. Modelers who see my railroad for the first time just shake their heads and tell me what a glutton for punish-ment I am. But I did it and I’m durn proud of it. And be sure to wear those safety glasses when you are using any power equipment or driving spikes. The spikes have, at times, been known to pop out of the jaws of the pliers. Till next time, there ain’t nuthin phunner than bein’ a model railroader!!
Track ho hand lay
Sitting on such a chair is very painful, butt is on fire, it hurts, and even colitis. Andrei at this time touches my chest, pulls at my nipples, strokes my stomach and pulls at the clitoris, I moan quietly sometimes, not understanding either from.
Pain, or from excitement.Hand Laying Curved Track With Fast Tracks Tools
Captivated by this feeling, she knew that she would not stop and walk this sweet path to the very end. Ariel, dear. - she whispered, - Help me a little.
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And you like it Stroking and groping my priests became more persistent. I don't really like it. And how long has she been punishing you like that. For 2 months already. She also strap-on me.