Cardboard ties and CA instead?

You know what it’s like: One second you’re thinking to yourself that this is a fantastic mug of tea and the next you’re thinking that when you solder an N scale turnout together the solder pad bonding the rails to the ties is only about a square millimetre in size. Further to that thought, you catch yourself thinking about all those times when you burned a tie trying to move a rail closer to gauge. Your mind wanders and you can’t hold back any longer. The seconds slip by as you find it ever increasingly hard to ignore that question you’ve been mulling over and why you don’t just glue the rails in place.

Before I get too far into explaining myself here I will mention that I have memories of fibre-tie flex track. I remember what it was like to work with that stuff and those memories were on my mind too when I started thinking about cardboard ties. Now back to what I did.

Photographed above is what I made. The turnout itself is a wye, it’s HO scale. The rails are code 55. The ties are cut from some 1mm thick cardstock that was originally the back of a notepad and the turnout was built in place on a piece of foamcore. As mentioned, the only method used here to bond the rails to the ties is a medium viscosity CA glue. In terms of assembly, I followed the same order of operations I’d typically use and started at the two rails that form the frog and the worked outward from there. Here are some thoughts from this experiment:

Curving rails before gluing them in place was time well spent.

If I managed to glue the rail in the wrong place the joint could be easily cut through with a razor blade and then re-glued in the correct position. You could, in theory, cut and re-glue a rail’s position any number of times. This is a clear advantage compared to other methods. Those folks who use a similar and popular method based on an adhesive like Pliobond where I used CA already know this.

Compared to soldered construction this approach was faster. The biggest savings in time was realised in not gapping all those crossties. However, I’ll need to attach a few more leads to power individual rails where on the soldered turnout I could just rely on the tie itself as the conductor.

The resulting turnout is surprisingly durable. I brought it with me to last night’s op’s session and several friends succumbed to the natural temptation to try and work a rail loose. No luck.

If I needed a bit more reinforcement to hold the rail to the ties I could go back and spike the rail into place. Given the foamcore base, if I was to do this, I’d need something under the foamcore that would grab the spikes as they were driven in.

Being paper, these ties will need to be sealed. Regardless of what the track was made of I like spraying a layer of colour on the track anyway. Lately, I’ve been using Krylon’s camouflage colours for this and being oil-based this step, that I was going to do anyway, will work to seal the ties too.

I’m sufficiently impressed with this little sample to want to try another and to get a better feel for whether or not this is something I’d like to keep doing. If nothing else, it was fun to make up this sample and I now know what it’s like to glue two or more fingers to a piece of model railway track so I feel just a bit wiser too.





  1. Fun experiment, Chris. I immediately thought about sealing, and so, I’m glad you’ve come to the same conclusion. Most methods for ballasting involve water, which will end poorly if the ties aren’t sealed.

    It would be interesting to see how many times you really can re-bond the rails before the buildup of CA starts to get lumpy. Being able to move a rail is one of the things I really like about Pliobond. In fact, this weekend I lifted an entire length of rail and shifted it half a millimetre lengthwise without any new glue – just a little heat.

    Can we read anything into the choice of gauge for this experiment?

    1. It really was fun.

      You raise a good point. Each time I break that joint there will be a slight amount of glue residue in place that corresponds to where the rail used to be. I could try carefully scraping under the rail using the same knife point used to break the joint in the first place. Alternately, some thin sanding films might be worked through the joint too.

      As for choice of scale and gauge it was driven by circumstance. In a hasty survey of the rail I had on hand I had a lot of code 55 on hand. As for HO, I wanted to bring the turnout with me to show off and for other’s feedback at last night’s op’s. Since the guys are all working in HO it just felt like something we’d all recognize. Come to think of it, the bigger the scale the more glue surface and, equally, this would be fun to try in N where the thought began.


      1. The combination of coarse-scale HO and Code 55 rail makes for big empty flange ways that look strange to my eyes. If one were going to go this route, they might want to readjust their eyes or find a way to back up the flange ways.

      2. I agree. I think the same way when I look at an N scale turnout, built to that same course standard, with code 40 rail. Sadly, the longer the turnout the more apparent this gap is.

    1. No reason. Just impatience.

      I was in a rush to get it finished so I could bring it along to show the guys at op’s.

      It would be easy enough to slip two longer ties in place and wick in a little thinner CA to bond them in place.


  2. Chris;
    What a great post. I’ve not thought of going that route for building turnouts and track in general. Going to re-blog this on the Hunter Valley Lines if you don’t mind. Great idea. I have some time coming up in my schedule and I would not mind giving this a try.
    I’ll let you know how I get on.

    1. Good morning Andrew

      Please go ahead and reblog this or any of the ideas from here if there of interest.

      I’m not the first to try this. If you flip back through older magazines we certainly see other modellers trying this route out. Of course, I was able to use CA which might not have been available when they were trying it out. From more recent times, one modeler who posts on the RMWeb forums has been doing something like this in O scale for several of his layouts and it was his experiences that buoyed my interest. I will link out to his website and blog on RMWeb for reference.

      While I built this in HO, I’d like to try a larger scale turnout too. It makes sense to me that the larger the scale, the tie face increases as does the size of the foot of the rail – both combining to increase that glue area.

      Give this one a go. Let me know how it works out for you.


  3. Reblogged this on Andrew's Trains – Formerly and commented:
    Building track in HO scale on cardboard? You’ve gotta be nuts right? Not so fast there modellers. Chris Mears give this a go recently and reports that overall he likes the end product very much.

    A little thick cardboard, some medium thick super glue (ACC) and a raft of patience and Voila! We have a working HO scale turnout. I’m more interested in giving this a go in the larger scales (US O scale for example).

    Food for thought me thinks. Thanks to Chris for sharing his adventure.

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