Soldered Railjoiners & Feeders

Although this does not directly related to DCC, proper wiring of the track is which includes how you make your connection to the track.  In other words where, how often and how do I go about soldering my track feeders.

IN THIS SECTION:

1) GENERAL TRACK/TURNOUT RULES
2) MINIMUM RULES FOR LOCATION AND DRILLING HOLES FOR TRACK FEEDERS
3) RULES AND TECHNIQUES FOR INSTALLATION OF TRACK/FROG FEEDER WIRES
4) SHINOHARA/WALTHERS TURNOUT FROG FEEDERS
5) MICRO ENGINEERING FROG FEEDERS
6) WHAT DOES MARK USE?
7) WHERE AND HOW TO CLEAN OLD TRACK FOR REUSE



1) GENERAL TRACK/TURNOUT RULES

1) ALL TURNOUTS ARE ASSUMED TO BE DCC FRIENDLY AND HAVE ISOLATED METAL FROGS.

2) ALL RAIL JOINTS ARE SOLDERED.  With flex track on curves, lay the first curve section down but leave the last 3 inches or so loose so it can be allowed to be straight.  Cut the rails so they are even with each other.  Solder the next section of unflexed straight track to the end of the installed track using a metal straight gauge.  Make sure the joints have no gaps in them inside the rail joint.  File and cut as required to make it a clean joint.  Solder.  Remove gauge and then continue installing the curve flex track.   Why?  No kinks will appear in the soldered rail joints along the curve.

3) ANY REQUIRED ELECTRICAL GAPS ARE CREATED USING A CUTTING WHEEL AND PLASTIC FILLER/SPACER.   The gap is cut within a monolythic piece of track.  This prevent vertical or horizontal rail kinks being created at the gap.  The plastic tie structure below continues to hold both pieces of the rail exactly in the same place.


2) MINIMUM RULES FOR LOCATION AND DRILLING OF HOLE FOR TRACK FEEDERS

1) EVERY SECTION OF FLEX TRACK SHALL GET ITS OWN PAIR OF TRACK FEEDERS.

2) THERE SHALL NOT BE MORE THAN TWO SOLDERED RAIL JOINTS BETWEEN SAME RAIL TRACK FEEDERS. Add more feeders if necessary.  This will be an issue in yards or anywhere that has multiple turnouts involved.  The reason for doing this is to minimize dead rail due to rail joint electro/mechanical failure.  AKA: Broken solder joint.  It will take two broken joints to create a dead section of rail.  This is known as double fault protection or design for long term reliability.  This should be the goal especially in layout rooms where there is a huge temperature and/or humidity changes.

3) INSTALL TRACK FEEDER IN PAIRS, ONE FOR EACH RAIL.  This make it easier to figure out what the wire are from the underside of the layout.  track feeders always come in side by side pairs.  This rule can be ignored if one rail has more rail joints than the other in which case stick to RULE 2 above.

4) USE A WIRE COLOR CODE.  One must be able to tell electrically which rail is which of a given track from the underside of the layout.

5) DRILL TRACK FEEDER WIRE HOLES USING A 1/8" Drill.

6) DRILL THE TRACK FEEDER WIRE HOLE AS CLOSE TO THE RAIL AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT THE DRILL CUTTING INTO THE SIDE OF THE RAIL OR THE TIES.  This is critical both cosmeticaly and when soldering the track feeder to the side of the rail.



3) RULES AND TECHNIQUES FOR INSTALLATION OF TRACK/FROG FEEDER WIRES

1) TRACK: Inspect, and if necessary prepare, the track to be installed BEFORE it is installed.  No paint, gross metal oxidation or dirt is allowed.  Clearly this is easy with new track for there is nothing to needing to be clean.  But with old, or worse, painted track, this can be a difficult job.  See the section at the bottom of where and how to clean old track/trunouts.  If the installation involves a Micro Engineering turnout, I must install the frog wire FIRST since it requires soldering to the underside of the cast metal frog.  See Micro Engineering Frog Section below for more information.  I then install the turnout.

2) TRACK: Install the track first with no track feeders.  Make it look mechanically good but do not ballast or paint it.  Do not worry about visually seeing the track feeders....read on..  

3) TRACK FEEDER:  Strip about 1/2" to 3/4" of the end of the feeder.  You want to strip enough of the insulation off so you cannot see it from the top side as the wire goes down into the 1/8" hole made for it.   ( I also cut the wire using my rail nippers to get a flat cut on the end of the wire for this is what will come into contact with the side of the rail.)

4) TRACK FEEDER: On the stripped end, bend about 1/8" of the end of the wire 90 degrees.  Use a flat pair of nose pliers for rounded nose pliers do not easily allow one to create the sharp right angle you looking for.

5) TRACK FEEDER: Pre tin the track feeder.  Suggest leaving a very small blob of solder on the bent end of the wire to aid quick soldering.

6) TRACK: Add Solder flux to the side of rail to be soldered.  I use solder flux sticks that look like Felt Tip Pens.  Just push the tip into the side of the rail and it leaves some flux where it touches.  Nothing to spill or leave drops behind and gets it right into the side of the rail.  DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE USE OF FLUX.  IT WILL GIVE YOU THE CLEANEST, STRONGEST AND FASTEST SOLDER JOINT POSSIBLE.  Minimize the chance of melting plastic.

7) TRACK FEEDER: Install the wire down into the hole and rotate the bent end so the end of the wire is touching the side of the rail.  When I say side, I mean between the rail head and the base of the rail.  If the hole is the correct 1/8" diameter and drilled right next to the rail, the wire will hold itself in place against the side of the rail.  (SEE RULES FOR LOCATION OF TRACK FEEDERS ABOVE.)

8) TRACK FEEDER: Solder the track feeder to the side of the rail.  Touch the end of the soldering iron to the side of wire right were it touches the the side of the rail pushing the solder tip against the rail...not the wire.  The solder on the wire should melt and sweat onto the side of the rail. The flux should boil.  Add solder as require with the free hand but it easy to add to much solder which will detract scenically.  The joint should form some sort of a cone around the wire that grows towards the side of the rail.  The process must be done in one single action.  It easier to do than to describe.

9) TRACK FEEDER: Tug on the wire from under the layout.  Pull hard enough so you can just see the rail move a hare.  Not so hard you wreak the joint or the rail.  You want to verify the solder joint is a solid connection and will not fall off or get yanked off by accident.

The picture above is of course a unpainted connection.   Ballast and painting of the feeder wire will allow the connection to visually disappear.



4) SHINOHARA/WALTHERS TURNOUT FROG FEEDERS

This is a picture of the frog and frog feeder of UNPAINTED track.  This is a Walthers Code 83 turnout with a brown plastic shim plate in the foot print of the turnout so the rail is at the same elevation as the taller Atlas code 83 rail.  The Atlas flex track ties are taller than Walthers ties.

The frog feeder hole and wire is installed like a track feeder but on the side of the frog.  I use the side of the frog that is AWAY FROM THE VIEWERS.

I use green wire for the frogs....Get it...so it easy to tell apart from normal track feeders.











5) MICRO ENGINEERING FROG FEEDERS


The DCC friendly Micro Engineering switch comes with a cast metal frog.  Connection to the frog is done under the frog itself on the back side of the turnout in a round opening area provided for.  However the round hole is rough and needs a lot of cleaning especially with the removal of the plastic flash that seems to have found it way in the corners of the opening if not across the hole itself.  If you do not remove the plastic, it will contaminate the solder connection and prevent establishing a good solder joint.  

It is hard to get the plastic out since the rough casting surface seem to have provided a way for the plastic to get a solid grip to the cast metal.  I think some of the gases created by the plastic during molding seem to have bonded to the exposed metal surface.  Could be oxidation too.  Whatever it is, you must clean the cast metal surface to expose clean shinny cast metal again.   Do not cut corners and keep a high standard as to what a clean solder surface needs to be.  Remember the frog wire will be installed and hidden underneath the turnout.  There will not be a second chance to fix the connection if it breaks.  You will have to remove the turnout to fix it.

To make room for the wire, you must first located where the turnout will be installed and place the turnout temporarily on the surface.  Using a fine tip pencil or felt time marker, draw the outline of the frog so when removed you have a clear idea where the frog will be and where the feeder hole needs to be.

But before you drill the feeder hole, you must cut a space below the surface of the frog that is within the line limits but at least 1/8" deep to allow the wire itself to have space to move around to allow fine positioning of the turnout when you install it.  In other words, the feeder wire should not cause any mechanical problem during the installation.





6) WHAT DOES MARK USE?

I use 18AWG solid wire because it smaller than stranded and of course solid will hold a form set such as the 90 degree bend well.   18AWG solid also allows me to use 3M #567 suitcase connectors to tie the feeder to the 12AWG stranded track bus below. 

I work with following types of Nickel Silver rail commercial turnouts:  

1) Micro Engineering Code 83 and 70 which is only offered in #6.  Typically I limit the use of these to the yard since I like larger turnouts for the main line.  I wish Micro Engineering would make #8 and #10.
2) Walthers Code 83 for any type of turnout not offered by Micro Engineering.  Hence any curved, #8 or #10 turnout.
3) Shinohara Code 70 for any type of turnout not offered by Micro Engineering.

Fasttrack jigs are used when no commercial alternative is available.  I had a #8 double crossover built for me by a good friend and I loved it.  Solid performance.   Sold but it always a plan B since I do not have enough time to build all my switches.

I install all my track on cork or homosote.  Never directly on plywood.  

With respect to my Micro Engineering Frog installation I cut the space in need for the frog feeder under the frog all the way down to the plywood and then drill the hole directly in the plywood.  A clean hole is not require and I have the chance to drill the hole in any direction/angle such that it can miss any structural members below. 


7) WHERE AND HOW TO CLEAN OLD TRACK FOR REUSE

Flex track: Find some place on each rail across from each other were it is easiest to clean both rails.  You need two clean an area on the side of the rail the is between two ties or about 3/16" wide.  Cleaning is from the base of the rail, up the side to the top at the rail head.  Keep these clean areas in mind when locating and drilling holes for the track feeders.

Turnouts:  
If the turnout is not DCC friendly, seriously think about getting a new turnout.  
What is DCC friendly?  Go here: DCC Friendly Switches/Turnouts

If that is not an option, the convert the turnout to a DCC Friendly type first.  

Like flex track, find some place on the two OUTSIDE rails but do so between the after the point rail area and the frog guard rail area to locate the track feeders.

How to Clean?  I have done it using a micro file and Exacto knife to scrape off the offending material.  I also use a small wire brush all under a magnifying light.   I do not recommend using a small round Dremel wire brush for it is hard to control.  At a minimum with a slip, you can quickly brush away from plastic rail spike and dull all the detail in the area.  I am all open to other ideas but this is what I found works for me.  But then again, I go for new turnout first.