Friday, February 22, 2008

Hey, I can do this!

....Build turnouts, that is (even in N-Scale).

I used a Fast Tracks jig, along with their Quick Sticks laser cut ties, and following the procedure in their User Guides. Not bad at all for my first attempt, if I say so myself. A 24' hopper rolls through as smooth as silk!

Things I screwed up or can do better next time:
  1. Foil cuts: I neglected to cut the copper inside the frog angle on the last long tie. Since this turnout is to be used in a static diorama, it doesn't matter -- just something to remember in the future.
  2. Filing the base flange off the stock rail in the point-contact area: It's damned hard to hold the rail still with your fingers while filing it! As a result, the end product isn't very neat and smooth. After I was finished, I experimented with building a jig to help, and came up with this. It's made by running a scrap of hardwood through the table saw, to cut a shallow groove that holds the rail rigid, lying on its side. It works not too badly, though I have already thought of an improved version.
  3. Forming the curved stock rail: Through not reading the UG carefully as I was working, I neglected to kink the rail at the start of the point area. I think that because of this, the curve of this rail isn't quite right -- it doesn't hug the outer edge of the groove in the fixture (again, not critical for a static display).
  4. Curving rails in general: Both the curved stock rail and closure rail seem to have acquired a small twist or vertical curve to them in the course of bending. As a result the rail didn't sit flat in the fixture groove, so I had a little trouble soldering it, and the final turnout doesn't sit quite flat on the bench. Gluing it down well will straighten it out, but it would be better to prevent the problem in the first place. (How? Must ponder upon it....)
  5. Soldering the switchpoints: I managed to solder the throwbar to the stock rails by placing the paper isolator in the wrong place. It goes between the throw bar and the stock rail, not the point and the stock rail!
  6. Gluing to ties: Be very careful not to drip glue on the switchpoints, or the adjacent area of stock rail. It says that in the UG, but it deserves repeating. Oh yeah: did I mention about not getting glue on the switchpoints? Or the adjacent stock rail?
  7. Rail length: Through not using the Quicksticks as a reference when cutting, I wound up with the rails a little short at one end, and hanging out at the other. Nothing that can't be fixed later, of course.
But the end result is very pretty. I estimate that, balancing the cost of the jig and material against buying off-the-shelf, the break-even point is about 17 turnouts (not that cost is the only reason to hand-lay).

Now all I have to do is get started on the big layout and I'll have a reason to build 30 or 40 more....

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