Last week I bought a package of Scotch Foam Mounting tape. This double-sided foam tape is 1/16″ thick, 1/2″ wide, and white in colour. I bought mine at a local office supply store but it’s that kind of product you can probably buy just about anywhere in town. My own experiments with using the same clear doube-sided tape that I use to hold my turnouts to paper templates wasn’t working out but I’d read several convincing notes in model railway forums, written by David K. Smith, about using this other foam tape and I figured I’d have a go.
Where with traditional cork you would have two halves of roadbed. To install it, you’d draw a centreline for your track and simply lay each cork strip against that centreline. Since the tape I’m using is full-width I needed to instead mark the outer edges of the track. This was simple enough. As for aligning the tape, I adopted an approach not unlike the rule of the road: “As long as you’re between the lines, you’re good!”
My test is pretty simple. The foam is just plain old 1″ thick (R5) foam. No surface prep beyond cleaning to make sure there wasn’t any coffee or other garbage that might negatively affect the bond. The tape I’m using isn’t as wide as traditional cork roadbed but I actually think this is a plus in the tape’s favour. I like the shallower profile and the way the ties overhand the edge. I think this will afford me a little more control over the ballast profile at the edge. When I tried the clear tape my first problem was securing a good bond between the tape and the foam. I wanted to press the tape into the foam but doing so meant pressing my fingers into the glue I would later need to bond the track to the tape. This foam tape has a removeable protective layer and it did make a difference. Not only was it easier to place the tape in the first place, once I had the tape down I could just peel back the protective layer and then press my track in place.
The bond is instant. There is no time to move track around. Since my plain track options are either handbuilt or Micro Engineering flex this shouldn’t be a concern – the curves would be pre-formed anyway. I was curious if the bond would fade over time but the short length of track I pressed in as a test piece is as firmly bonded now as it was when I pressed it into place a couple of days ago. While I’m keen for this to last, I really only need it to last until I get the ballast in place and then I’ll have that additional glue to help keep things in place.
In all, I’m very pleased with this discovery and the way it responds to my scope for an alternative to cork and glue:
- I don’t have a local hobby shop here and cork is a mail order only option like every other roadbed choice. The cost to ship is a factor in the price of this option.
- I don’t care for the overall width of cork. I could resolve this by trimming the strips or just cutting my own from sheet goods.
- While I’m on this rant, I don’t care for the height regular cork roadbed. I don’t need that full height but I do still want some distinction between the track and the surrounding scenery.
- Comparing cost per foot between cork and this foam tape, they’re pretty close (the tape is still just. a bit more expensive.)
- N scale ties are shallow. I find I don’t always get a thin enough layer of glue and worry that it will fill that gap between the ties. The foam tape leaves the complete depth of that recess between the ties open so even when ballasting I don’t need the ballast flush with the tops of the ties.
- Controlling the glue around turnout parts, like throwbars, will be a great deal easier with any of the tape options since I can just cut the tape out completely or stick down some black paper over. I’ve accidentally glued enough turnouts into a single piece to appreciate this point.
I’m glad I tried this. I think this is a material I’ll continue to use. Thanks David. This is your idea and I appreciate that you shared it and spoke so strongly in its favour. I really appreciate it.