Author Topic: laying, soldering flex track...  (Read 4143 times)

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Flatrat

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laying, soldering flex track...
« on: June 13, 2012, 11:11:15 PM »
I hope to reduce my frustration translating back into N scale flex track laying and track laying seems to be one of the biggest differences from working in other scales and I want to do it right. It's a different world than what I've been doing with large scale stuff for the last few years. Can anyone give me links to any tutorials I can look at, and can someone recommend tools that may be worth buying to help facilitate track laying and soldering so I can practice before starting on the layout? I have a dremel, saws, files and other tools but are there better rail nippers etc. that would be worth purchasing that will make the process easier?
What's a good gauge wire to use for running feeder wires etc. to track?

bill pearce

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2012, 12:13:53 AM »
I think the best tool for this is a resistance soldering rig. The nice part is that you can use one to build your own turnouts, which will run smoother and be more trouble free than any factory turnout ever.  Use Xuron rail nippers, and very fine swiss files are good for dressing the ends of rail. If you use weathered flex, the Dremel with a wire wheel does a nice job of removing the weathering to enable soldering. With resistance soldering and the tweezer tool, you can solder the feeders to the underside of the rail. I use very small wire for the drops to the underside of the benchwork, usually #24 telephone wire, where it can be soldered to big feeders. There have been several magazine articles on building turnouts (yes, I wrote one) that you will find helpful, but I have been involved in soldering  in broadcasting, and I wouldn't even think about trying to solder rail with a pencil iron. Some, however, have good luck.

Bill Pearce

David K. Smith

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2012, 09:58:42 AM »
My first and biggest recommendation is for a decent thermostat-controlled soldering iron. You can get then pretty cheap these days, in the $150-175 range, with real-time tip temperature readout, plus a variety of tips (mine is an XY-Tronic, but that doesn't matter much). A small wedge tip is about the best for soldering wire leads to rail, since it transfers the heat quickly enough to avoid damage to plastic ties; a good connection can be made in a couple of seconds (tin the rail, tin the wire, then make the connection). As has been discussed elsewhere, a number of us prefer to solder leads to the bottoms of the rails, instead of the sides--it's actually easier to do than it sounds, and the looks can't be beat. A number of us also do not bother with rail joiners, which means attaching wire leads to each length of track. Check out the thread on the Tehachapi in the layout report section for lots of good tracklaying tips--in fact, that whole thread makes for a great mini-tutorial on its own.

Other must-have tools: a really good pair of flush cutters (and use them with the jaws parallel to the ties, instead of perpendicular to the ties--makes for cleaner cuts). Decent needle files, small wire brushes, a pin vice and a set of bits, and then maybe a small mill vice (kind of like a Pana-Vice, but much sturdier) for filing down rail points. I actually rarely use a Dremel in tracklaying. That's about it for my tracklaying bag 'o tricks.

Since I'm a DC guy, you'll need to rely on the recommendations of others for proper gauge feeders for DCC.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2012, 10:15:03 AM by David K. Smith »


randgust

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2012, 03:58:50 PM »
I'll pretext this with everything I say doesn't necessarily apply to anything but C80 and Peco C55....

1)  Cleanlineless of everything is critical, even if it looks clean, scrape and burnish. 
2)  Never use old or corroded rail joiners.  Not worth the hassle.  Use new material.
3)  I cut rail with old Lambert Rail Nippers, out of production for years, but that's the 'flush cutter' type of diagonal cutters.  still takes a little file cleanup as it tends to put a burr on the top and bottom of the rail heads.
4) Unless I'm stuck beyond belief, I always try to solder up flextrack sections and THEN curve it into place to keep curves as smooth as possible.
5)  When tying out to an existing section, switch, whatever:  I cut flex ties off first, rough-cut one section too long letting the rail hang out, lay the rail heads beside each other, set the alignment, and THEN lightly criimp both rails at the same time; remove flex, cut and cleanup, then reassemble tje connection.
6)  Slide rail joiners all the way onto one rail, butt-align the rails, then slide the joiner across the connection. Don't try to bend or flex the connection into place, it will expand the joiner.
7)  You want the hottest biggest iron that is easiest to handle.  I use a simple Radio Shack 30W pencil iron, not the best.  If it doesn't have enough horsepower, you'll melt ties before it gets hot enough to melt solder.  If it's too big, it's physically hard to handle with any precision.
8)  When its right, the solder will flow out, not accumulate in blobs at all.  Usually the biggest reason that solder won't flow is that the rail is dirtier than you think.
9)  You don't need as much solder as you think
10) Always solder to the outside, not the inside, of the rails, and you don't need both.
11)  If you do get unsightly blobs, use desoldering braid, or grind off with a dremel abrasive disk on medium speed as a last resort.
12)  I never continuously solder rail beyond 48 inches due to expansion/contraction.  I'll put in a rail joiner and solder in more feeders, jumpers, whatever, but 4' is about the limit.
13)  There's no shame in using sectional track instead of flex, particularly if you're doing C80.  It holds gauge better and can be soldered up.  You can adjust radius on sectional track by cutting tie sections out from underneath (rail nippers again) and bending it slightly.  It works great if you have to do a flextrack joint on a curve:   flex>>solder>>short section of sectional with joiner>><<<short section of sectional with joiner<<<<solder<<<flex.  that's the only sure method to prevent kinks on curves where you must have a rail joint in it.
14) When putting in feeders, tin a short section of rail, tin the wire... then hit the two together. 
15)  When possible, put feeders in underneath the rail before you lay the track.  Under is always better than beside.
16)  The really difficult thing is putting in fine, single-strand jumpers on any switches that have separate points.  I don't trust rivets, joiners, whatever to keep a connection to the points.  I'll do all the switch jumper work before the switch is ever installed.  That's borderline nuts perhaps, but I've got switches that are really inacessible so I do everything I can think of to make them bulletproof.

I'm sure there's better tools and techniques, it's not absolute, but that's some of the basics I've accumulated over the years.   The only thing I'll climb up on my stump and defend it to the last man is the cleaning thing.   Just because it looks clean doesn't mean it is.

I've got an awful lot of railroad that was built in '83-86 that is still running just fine; no power fails, no kinks, no retro-feeders to fix problems.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2012, 04:10:16 PM by randgust »

Zox

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2012, 08:25:03 PM »
Just to be the iconoclast, I'm perfectly happy with using a 20-to-30-watt pencil iron to solder 22-gauge solid feeders to the side of the rail.

And a rotary tool is the best tool for cutting track, although my Minicraft micro-drill is much handier for the task than the five-pound motorized potatoes that Dremel sells...
Rob M., a.k.a. Zox
z o x @ v e r i z o n . n e t
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It is said a Shaolin chef can wok through walls...

TiVoPrince

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2012, 08:42:28 PM »
Give 
a man a fish and he will eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and  he will eat for a lifeime.

Fix his stuff and he will be eternally grateful, and maybe even pay the invoice.
Teach a man to solder, and he will curse you everytime he burns himself...
Support fine modeling

Kev1340

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2012, 03:33:14 PM »
Seems to be a day for fish quotes :?

But for soldering, a low 30W pencil iron is ample if the rail and feeder wire are clean. Forget flux core solder, use liquid flux. Use it to clean the area of rail you are going to solder and put some on the bare feeder wire.

Tin the wire with a little solder, then clean the tip of the iron.

Holding the wire in place, use tweezers or pliers if it helps (I don't as I've acquired asbestos fingers) then apply the soldering iron for a few seconds till you see the solder flow.

If everything is clean you won't apply heat for long enough to melt any ties.

This has worked perfectly for me in N and HO with rail from code 55 to 80.

Ultimately as with any skill practice makes perfect.

Cheers,

Kev

Bob Bufkin

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2012, 03:36:14 PM »
Atually it's give a man a fish and he'll eat for the day.  Teach a man how to fish and he'll sit around on a boat a drink beer all day.

peteski

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2012, 03:53:04 PM »
No stinky fish quotes here.  :D
But solder someone's rail feeders and they'll always bug you to do it for them. Teach them how to do it themselves, and they'll happily do it themselves while you'll have time to eat plenty of beer-battered fish!   ;)  Um, I did mention fish after all. :facepalm:

I'm not sure if I agree with the larges and hottest iron suggestion.  Too big and too hot will do some serious damage to ties and insulation.  However too small of an iron will not have the thermal capacity to quickly heat the joint area to melt the solder.  Best is to have the right tool for the job.

The wattage is not as important as the thermal capacity of the tip.  That is why I would never recommend using a soldering gun.  A 30-50W pencil iron is ideal.   Better yet if is is temperature controlled.   That way when the tip starts to cool down, the heater kicks in keeping the temperature constant, giving predictable and repeatable results.  Irons without temperature control give too much of a temperature swing from when the sit idle (too hot) and during soldering (temperature drops).  That is not to say that one shoud not use non-temperature controlled iron - it will still do the job.

To reiterate to what was already mentioned, cleanliness is vital. The soldered items need to be clean and the iron's tip needs to be clean and wetted with solder.  Flux (non-acid, rosin type) is also vital for good results. Lastly, it takes some practice to master this but I believe that anymore can learn how to solder rails and wire feeders.
--- Peteski

mmagliaro

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2012, 05:16:45 PM »
+1 on randgust's list .  What he wrote is what I do, except that I use Xuron rail cutters.
I also, like Randy, solder flexible wire jumpers to the point rails so I never have to
worry about those dicey point hinges to carry current.  I've been doing a bunch of those lately, and I keep meaning to take 5-6 photos of how I do it just to have a record, but I never do.  Maybe the next one, I'll take photos and post them.  It's nothing genius or that anyone else doesn't do.
It would just be good to have pictures for people to see a way to do it.

Here's a video of me doing a solder joint.  Again, this ain't genius, and certainly lots of people know how to do this.  But this shows you
one way that works:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HFoER_5UBk

I'm using an ancient 25w Radio Shack/Archer soldering iron in that video, and I still use it.  They don't make them like that anymore.
That's from back when Radio Shack actually sold good tools.

robert3985

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #11 on: June 16, 2012, 12:00:04 AM »
I've been using a 33W Archer non-temperature-controlled-plug-it-in-and-use-it iron for the past 30 years or so.  However, I have used fancy temp-controlled irons and they're nice.

I've built hundreds of hand-laid turnouts and laid hundreds of feet (maybe more) of all kinds of flextrack with my old iron, and never had a problem with using it.

As opposed to several videos I've seen about how to solder joiners, First, I flux every joint on my tracks (rail joiners, feeders, PCB ties, PCB throwbars, etc.) with my secret weapon, which is called SUPERSAFE SUPERIOR # 30 GEL FLUX available here: http://www.ccis.com/home/hn/page22.html  It is the single best thing that ever happened to my soldering and I use it for all of my solder joints made either with my iron, or with my American Beauty 250 W Resistance Solderer.   Then, I make sure my iron has a nice clean tip (wedge) and is nicely tinned (not a whole bunch), and I push it against the rail joiner and the web of the INSIDE of the rail, then push a little hard, no-lead solder (available at the same place SUPERSAFE flux is) on the OUTSIDE of the web of the rail, touching both the joiner and the web at the same time.  The flux sputters and smokes, the solder melts and runs into the joiner and the joint in about 1.5 seconds, and capillary action draws the molten solder over to the inside of the rail joiner/rail joint.

If I press solder against the tip of my iron on the outside while pressing the iron against the outside surface of the web, like the videos do,  the joint is sloppy, and I inevitably use too much, and sometimes the solder is only on the outside of the rail and does not run into the rail joiner thoroughly.

A principle of soldering is that the solder flow towards the heat, so by placing the hot tip on the INSIDE, and the solder on the OUTSIDE, the solder is drawn through the joint towards the hot tip, wetting more of the joiner and making a stronger, neater joint, but keeping the inside of the rail clean if you don't give the joint too much solder. I only get blobbies if I'm not careful and give it too much solder.

I also cut down all of my joiners so they're the length of the space between ties.  I cut the spacers between the ties and slide at least three ties back at every joint, including soldering feeders, then solder the joint and slide the ties back in place when the rail is cool enough to touch.  This makes for nearly invisible joiners, and no funky ties sitting lower than all the others at every spot you've joined track...with no "spikeheads" either.

My little joiners are simply for aligning the rails because I solder 22ga. feeders in the middle of EVERY piece of rail, which, on my layout, was a major project when I ripped out all my old DC wiring and installed new high-speed/low-drag DCC wiring.

BUT, I do have a tendency to worry about such things as no spikeheads on my hand-laid pcb turnouts, the size of plastic "spikeheads" on my flex (I use RAILCRAFT code 55 instead of ME code 55 because the spikeheads on the old stuff are so much smaller).

Ties that sit lower than all the others without spikehead details may not bother you.

Cheers!
Bob Gilmore
Cheers!!
Bob Gilmore

Flatrat

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2012, 08:02:06 AM »
Thanks everyone for sharing what works for you. I've copied many of the ideas to my N scale Word Doc/journal I've been keeping since starting this project.
I am pretty handy with my Weller pencil soldering iron that I've used for 25 years but after experimenting this week joining and soldering some old pieces of code 80 I have come to the conclusion that for rail soldering I need to replace the crudded-up pencil tip I have and buy a new one and also a tiny wedge/chisel shaped tip to practice and compare with. I think the Xuron nail clippers are also a must purchase item. The 30 year old track I have is proving to be useful for practicing soldering joints and feeder wires. I also need to get some lighter gauge wire than some of the stuff I've been experimenting with that I have on hand.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2012, 08:05:01 AM by Flatrat »

bill pearce

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #13 on: June 16, 2012, 03:36:37 PM »
When you replace your old iron with a new one, don't make a common mistake. Many folks think that if they get a "too big" iron, everything will be melted, but guess what, there's a better chance of everything melted with a too small iron. With a bigger iron, you are able to get the iron on and off the joint qickly, befor heat is dispersed down the rail. With a too small on, you have to leave the iron on the work for a long time, which allows the hear to travel down the rail, and here's a fact: Plastic ties melt at a lower temp than solder.

But I would still use my resistance solderer.

Bill Pearce

GaryHinshaw

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Re: laying, soldering flex track...
« Reply #14 on: June 16, 2012, 03:48:37 PM »
I think the Xuron nail clippers are also a must purchase item...

And don't forget the Xuron rail cutters, while you're at it.  ;)