Turnout Const. – Pt II

Click Image for Full SizeSo let’s get started building a turnout. The first thing we need to do is to be sure we are talking the same language. So here is a very rough drawing calling out turnout nomenclature.

Besides just knowing the names of things, we have to be very careful about dimensions. Dimensions are critical if we are to end up with a smoothly operating turnout.

The first dimension of importance is the “size”, or angle, of the turnout. This dimension is referred to as the “number” of the switch. You have seen these numbers. Track planning refers to #4 switches, or #6 switches. This number is derived from the centerline divergence angle and is the length required to diverge one unit. The unit doesn’t matter. It can be inches, feet, meters or barley corns. If you are dealing in inches, it requires four inches of travel for the diverging centerline to diverge 1” from the straight centerline for a #4 turnout. Pretty simple. I think #4 turnouts look toylike. Conversely, #6 turnouts take up a lot of space. So I have standardized on #5 turnouts for my current layout. That is still a very short turnout by prototype standards, where a #8 is pretty typical in yard areas. A #8 turnout in HO is a thing of beauty. And I once got a look at a #12 crossover, in HO, that was truly majestic. You can work with whatever you want and may want to use a mix of sizes.

The next fairly standard dimension is flangeway width and depth. Getting these dimensions right is critical. Use the NMRA gauge (see “Tools”).

The overall length of the turnout and other distances are important, but I have a way of getting those right described in the “Template” section.

Overall, there are two major steps in handlaying turnouts: Fabrication and Installation. Both are fun.


Click the image for a larger version

The photo to the left shows the tools that I use in the fabrication process. If you don’t have a Dremel and/or the Foredom flexible shaft, don’t panic. The tasks performed using these tools can be done just as well (albeit a bit slower) with files. I have built a good many turnouts with no power tools except the soldering iron. Which is the first tool to discuss.

My methods depend extensively on soldering. In fact, I turn the frog into one lump of solder and carve the flangeways in the solder. You cannot do this kind of soldering with a wimpy 25-watt electronics iron or a soldering gun. You need a good hefty soldering iron. Mine is an 80-watt Weller. It has been in service for at least 35 years. So getting a good one is a worthwhile investment.

Next in line is the Dremel. This is actually a recent acquisition for me. For almost 40 years I have depended on the Foredom flexible shaft tool, which was given to me. The Dremel is extremely useful in cutting things to length and cleaning up flangeways. It can also be used, instead of the Foredom, to grind things to shape. More on that in a bit. If your budget can stand the purchase of a Dremel, I strongly recommend you get one. Mine is the absolutely base model. You may want to get a model with variable speed.

The next tool (moving from left to right) is a small pair of blunt nose pliers. These are useful for a couple of different tasks. They are used most frequently to hold small parts that are being cut or ground. Small parts subjected to high friction get HOT. Don’t try and hold them with your fingers. I also use the pliers to make bends in rail and to drive the small brads I use to hold everything in place while soldering.

Next is a piece of strip wood. Preferably a hardwood. I use this bit of wood to hold things in place, and reposition if necessary, while soldering.

The black rectangle is a piece broken off of a (new) hacksaw blade. I use this tool to carve out the flangeways. Actually, I have several of these just lying around the parts of the railroad under construction (all of it at the moment). They are really handy when you need a small, course cutting tool that can get into tight places. You need to break up a new blade because the fine work we use it for requires a good sharp blade. A dull blade will be extremely frustrating.

Next is the handpiece for the Foredom flexible shaft. This is a very high quality tool with a whole bunch of uses. I do not suggest you run out and buy one. They are very expensive and the Dremel is almost as useful for a lot less money. In fact, the Dremel works better for cutoff tasks because of its high rpm. I received my Foredom a long time ago as a gift. In turnout fabrication, I use the Foredom with a sanding drum to do the necessary grinding. You can use the Dremel. You just have to be swapping tools more frequently.

Before I had the Dremel, I used the Foredom for cutoff tasks and used a grinding wheel chucked in a standard electric hand drill for grinding. Before that, I clamped parts needing grinding in the vise and did the shaping with small files. A 12” triangular file works very well. The one I have used for many years shows up in later photos.

Returning to the photo, the next tool in line is the NMRA gauge. Even if you have no intention of handlaying track, you need this gauge. It is not only a track gauge, giving the proper dimensions for gauge, flangeway width and depth, and back-to-back gauging for guard rails, it also helps in checking coupler height, wheel gauge, flange depth and standard clearances. You can get one from the NMRA store for around ten bucks. It is an essential tool when troubleshooting operational problems.

Next are the tin snips. I use these to fabricate the tie bar. My tie bars are cut from .015 sheet brass. If you have a good set of kitchen shears, they will work just as well.

The vise is a handy tool for holding small parts, or holding the tool while you work on small parts. I frequently clamp the handpiece for the Foredom in the vise. If you have no power tools and are filing things to shape, the vice is a necessity. In fact, if you look close, you can see file marks on my vise from the days I used files instead of powered grinding tools. A lot of turnouts where built with this little vise. I don’t remember when I acquired it, but it was a long time ago. It pays to take the time and spend the money to get a good one. I am sure this one is over 30 years old.

The first item along the top is a roll of rosin core solder. Use either non-cored or rosin core solder. NEVER use acid core solder in trackwork, or electronics.

Next to the solder is a can of rosin flux. I repeat, NEVER use acid fluxes in trackwork. Acid flux will, eventually, corrode your trackwork (how do I learn these things?). The solder and flux should be available at your local Radio Shack. But go in knowing what you want. My experience is that the clerks at Radio Shack have never built anything and will not have a clue as to what you are looking for.

The Exacto razor saw is useful for cutting things to length, especially if you don’t have the Dremel. The function of mine is to cut the throw bar to length.

The pin vise is a very useful tool for drilling small holes. If you don’t have one, I suggest, even if you are not going to handlay track, that you get one. They are not very expensive and are indispensible for drilling holes for grab irons and other small details. In turnout fabrication I use mine to drill and tap for the tie-bar screw. You will need the clearance bit, tap bit and tap for 00-90.

I am trying to remember what we did before we had Sharpies. In turnout fabrication I use the Sharpie to modify the template (more later) and to mark metal parts. You can either mark the part directly with the Sharpie or blacken the part with the Sharpie (like using blue dyes in the old days) and scratch through the blackening to mark the part.

Everything is lying on a template for the turnout. That piece of skullduggery needs it’s own lengthy discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Heads up! You are attempting to upload an invalid image. If saved, this image will not display with your comment.