HOW TO: BUILD TRACK AND POINTS
I cut a 2ft length of 2mm thick plastic to a width of 15mm and made notches along its length to make it more flexible. This allows me to draw along both sides to set out the approximate position of the rails. Mark out the location of the rails and points carefully and neatly, to make the plan easier to follow during tracklaying. Where lines intersect, make lateral marks with the pen to indicate roughly where the point tie-bars will be located. A Sharpie marker pen is ideal, and the thickness of the tip against the baton creates parallel lines almost exactly 16.5mm apart - perfect for ‘OO’! A bit of masking tape holds the plastic baton in place while I mark out the curves. I’m interested in having tracks running at slightly different levels. It adds visual interest and gives the layout extra dimension. As long as the transition is smooth between the levels, there shouldn’t be any running issues. One of the joys of building your own track from separate rails and sleepers is that you’re not restricted by a manufacturer’s choice of geometry. You really can go for almost any shape you want - within reason. I cut and assembled layers of foam board, ensuring smooth transitions between the three different tiers. Where possible, I overlapped the boards to add strength, and fixed them together with PVA wood adhesive.
After gluing, I pierced each layer with an old screwdriver. This helps the glue to penetrate each layer, allows the fumes and moisture to escape, and speeds up the drying process. Once the glue has set, each copper-clad sleeper is tinned with solder in readiness for the rails. Ensure the surface is clean and brush on plenty of flux. Then melt a small blob of solder onto the iron and run it lightly over the sleeper. You can buy ready-shaped point blades, but they’re easy to file to shape with a little practice. Bullhead rail is easiest, as the top and bottom of the rail are the same width. File it to a gentle point while resting the rail on a flat surface. Use a gauge to site the check rails and frogs correctly, allowing adequate clearance for wheel flanges to pass through unhindered. This copper-clad point is almost finished. Plenty of weight is needed to keep everything flat while the glue sets. Leave it to set overnight at least - or 24 hours, if possible. Be careful not to get any glue on treasured books, or the dining table! The underside of the rails also requires ‘tinning’. With a pair of pliers, hold the rail securely and apply flux. Then run the iron with a little molten solder on the tip - along the rail. Work on about six inches of rail at a time. Flat-bottomed rail doesn’t lie flat, due to the base of the rail being wider than the top. To get around this, make a tiny groove in a strip of wood and use it to keep the rail steady while you file the other face. It’s a good idea to have a standard wagon, with the wheels set to the correct back-to-back measurement, to check for smooth running along plain track and, in particular, through the points. I always enjoy working outside on a nice day. Fix the sleepers onto the board with PVA or contact adhesive. Double-sided tape would also be a neat and quick option. PVA glue dries quickly outside on a dry, sunny day. Position the rails onto the sleeper, spacing them with a pair of gauges, then push the iron up against the rail and sleeper until the solder melts. The pre-tinned surfaces will fuse together. Keep the soldering iron tip clean for best results. When forming the point frogs and check rails from flat-bottomed rail, file a tiny nick into the bottom edge of the rail, on the inside of the bend. This considerably reduces its resistance to bending. To avoid short circuits, a small groove will need to be filed into the top of every sleeper to break the copper veneer. The edge of a needle file will do the job, although a slitting disc in a mini drill makes the process much quicker.