Driving home the steel spike

I’m on the tail end of a cold. While I wouldn’t normally be very good at resting while sick, I’m trying. So, with a mug of tea and some fruit cake by my side I buried myself deep in the couch to wait for the “get better” magic to happen. I’m hooked on a TV series based on life in Victorian England and so switched the TV on to watch the rest of Full Steam Ahead and then get into Victorian Farm. Needing to find something to busy my hands with, I figured it might be time to make some spikes for my model railway track.


The photo above is of a test section of track I made up back in 2010. I made it so I could experiment with spikes I’d made following an article Stephen Hatch had written and posted to his Railway Engineering website. The scale was 1/160, the ties are balsa, and the rails are Micro Engineering code 40. You can read more about that experiment, by clicking here and reading my 2010 post on the subject. Mind you, save yourself the trouble and just go read Stephen’s terrific article on his website here.

With a new batch of spikes made up, I laid some plain rail on the layout. This short section of track consumed pretty much all the spikes I’d made. In these photos: the track is On30, the rail is code 83, and we’ve all heard about those ties before.

The spikes were made from 0.015″ diameter steel music wire. The process to make a spike is really simple: Using a pair of pliers, grab about 1/4″ of wire and bend it to an “L” shape. This length you’ve bent is the part of the spike that gets driven into the tie. To make the spike’s head simply cut your newly formed spike free just a little ahead of the bend. I used a cheap pair of side cutters to make these cuts which not only spared better pliers from being damaged during this process but the cheap pliers tended to flatten out the area around the cut so one could pretend this was an advantage in that the newly formed “head” was broadened just as it would, could, or should be. This is Stephen’s technique and it works. It’s very easy and you can quickly consume a length of wire and produce a nice little pile of spikes. So, that’s the good. Is there any bad? Given how small a railroad spike for a model railroad sounds, they’re just not fiddly to make. In this case, the obvious negative isn’t one to worry about. Problems I did have were:

The wire is hard and I had to be careful every time I cut a spike free as they have a tendancy to fly off with tremendous speed. Like any small part high on freedom they not only travel far from their origin but have the ability to break free of the bonds of traditional time and space. Who knows where they went? I don’t. The only way I can think of to test any theories involves a TARDIS and some help. Chris Mears as the next Doctor? Sure, why not. Wonder what Rose is up to these days?

The size of the spike head is determined but the position of the cut. I found I wasn’t as consistent in figuring out this location. Time, repetition, and practice is the cure here. Repeat as required.

I plan on spiking each tie. I don’t mind making up that many spikes but the wire itself is difficult to get here. I could special order it but I could just as easily buy some spikes from Micro Engineering. Last week I was placing an order with Fast Tracks for some other parts so I included spikes in that order. I want to move forward with getting rail down so will prioritize thusly.

“What about those Proto 87 spikes?”

Good question. They are beautiful. They are about as perfect as I could expect model spikes could be. The ones I ordered were for HO scale and I think they’re just too small. I don’t mind not using them. Owning examples of these is a priviledge and I very well could see placing them in a frame just to celebrate this example of micro machine work.


Categories: Prince Street Layout

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