Coffee and copperclad

When I got out of bed today I thought I would make some coffee and then head west to join up with some model railroaders from Moncton who were visiting on the Island today to operate on some local layouts. While savouring the first mouthfuls of hot espresso I figured I’d switch on the computer and double-check today’s schedule. Then I realised I’ve made a terrible mistake: the Moncton guys weren’t going to be here today. They’ll be here tomorrow. It’s been a long time since the last time I was that grateful for re-reading an email. Feeling a little embarrassed, I poured another coffee for myself and looked around for something quiet to pick at so as to not disturb the tranquility of an early Saturday morning. It didn’t take long to warm up the soldering iron and with that in hand, I added the missing rails to my turnout. As the three photos that started this post show, I’ve got the thing finished now.

I wanted to share some things I tried, learned, or thought of during the construction of this one:

I’m working over a template I created using Templot software. Though I’ve used Templot before this was really the first time I’ve really made use of it in a practical location. I really enjoy using the software. More than that, it felt neat working over my own drawing.

I’ve always been in the habit of lining up my ties on the straight side of the turnout and then trimming them along the curved road. I tried to be careful but found that I tended to produce sloppy and rough ends. This time I lined up the ties against that branch road and left the overhand on the main road. Now, instead of stepping my cuts I’ll just snap a line along these ties and cut straight across. Funny how this is exactly what I’d do with deck boards in a real construction project and that I never thought to adopt a similar approach in my model work. Lesson learned.

I used to make the point blades continuous to the frog and form the wing rails from these same lengths. With everything soldered into place, I’d cut in isolation gaps to separate each length. I found it frustrating that when the rails lined up perfectly at the frog end, invariably the point blades would be too short. I’d waste a lot of rail and effort trying to make both perfect. Last winter, I showed my friend Taylor how to handlay a turnout. Later on I watched him working and noticed how he first formed the wing rails and soldered them in place. With these done, he then formed and installed the point blades. “Well, that makes sense!” We all talk about how much we gain from teaching others but this time, I really got more out of the act.

Instead of taping my paper template to a cutting mat I just stuck it do a scrap of heavy cardboard. Just a minor shift in approach but now I can just leave it in place until I’m ready for it on the layout. Definitely going to keep doing this. These N scale turnouts are fragile and if I can leave them in place on something more substantial, like the cardboard base, I think I’ll have less chance of accidentally damaging them.

Speaking of doing things to protect my work from my clumsiness, I added short lengths of scrap PC board to the each end of this turnout. Another first. I reasoned that if I did so, I could solder the rails to these scraps and help protect them and the actual end ties from being damaged until the turnout is installed. I thought of this while reading an article on rail joints between FREMO modules.

I’ve been chanting “slow down” a lot lately but in terms of operating the layout. This time, I slowed down in my pace at the work bench. When I first started talking about making turnouts with other modellers a few would comment on how long it takes to make one. Without even realising, I started subconsciously working faster to prove that I could finish one in a couple of hours. Each of these worked but working hastily meant that I made mistakes and made some sloppy things. Not that I was paying that close attention, but this time I’ve spent about seven or eight hours on this one so far. Fewer mistakes and cleaner work. I enjoyed every minute. Probably going to keep working at this slow pace.

Thanks to the authors and publishers for providing us with a steady feed of good how-to articles. Thanks to the bloggers and web authors for investing their time to provide another medium to grow in this hobby and to extend traditional media. Thanks to my friends for showing an interest in what I’m doing. Thanks to you I get to hear myself describing what I enjoy and how I do things, in my own words, and in doing so I learn from myself: what worked, what didn’t, and what I’ll keep trying to be better at.

Categories: Trackwork and Handlaid Track

Tags: , , ,

6 replies

  1. Thanks for the post Chris.

    This year is the year when I’ll be tackling my first hand-built switch. It is a little daunting, but like you I’ve downloaded Templot and look forward to designing my O Scale layout with it (it’s going to be a small one).

    Great article.

    • Good afternoon.

      I think you’ll enjoy building that first turnout.

      I’ve used Templot here but in the past have drawn my own templates and used the truly excellent ones available on the Fast Tracks website.

      Let me know how you get along and don’t hesitate to ask for help.


  2. Reblogged this on Andrew's Trains – Formerly and commented:
    Chris Mears is building a new layout at the moment in N Scale and has chosen to hand-build the switches and track work.
    In this post from the Prince Street blog he share some valuable lessons learned while building a major switch on the layout (which looks smashing by the way). Lessons like taking your time, protecting your creation until it is ready to be installed on the layout, and the value of learning from your own experience while teaching others.
    I hope that you enjoy his post.

  3. Most impressive Chris. One day i will pluck up the courage/have the time to build my own.Steve

  4. Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: