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To see Part 1 on laying track, click HERE

 When hand laying your own track work, building turnouts is definitely the area that instills horror into the stoutest of hearts. Most of us who attempt to build turnouts for our layouts, attack the task with hope and optimism, only to come away beaten and dejected. We might get one or two out ten to operate almost perfectly, another three or four to work some of the time, and the rest are total disasters.

How can we build that elusive perfect turnout, not just once, but every time? Well almost every time! What tools do we need to build turnouts. The first item we need are accurate templates of the turnout. The example  above is a No.5 narrow gauge turnout, which I drew on a CAD program. Being able to this has several advantages. One is that you can tailor a turnout to suit your exact location.


But, never fear, being able to do this is not critical. If you model standard gauge, the NMRA has many excellent templates available. Another simple way of obtaining a template is to photocopy  a commercial turnout. If you model say On3, you photocopy enlarge a Ho standard gauge turnout by 115% to get a fairly good template. To get this percentage, just divide the Ho gauge (16.5 mm) by the gauge of your track (19 mm in the example above). You will have to ignore the ties, but it will give you an accurate gauge and position of the rails, frog, guard rails and the turnout blades.

We will also need an accurate track gauge. I use and recommend the NMRA track gauge, which can check every aspect of the turnout as it is constructed. This gauge comes with complete instructions on all the areas that need to be checked when building your own track work.

We also need a good soldering iron, solder and flux, a nail punch, track hammer, file, pointy nosed pliers and a small steel ruler. A `Dremel' cutting power tool with a cutting disc is also very handy when doing all track work.

The last tool is a piece of hack saw blade about 2" long. I have glued the piece into a 2" length of 3/4" dowel to form a handle. This is used to file the solder out of the frog and guard rails.  

There are several other materials we need apart from the ties, rails and spikes. We will need lengths of copper clad strip, and some small screws. The screws I use are about the size of the long ones that come with 'Kadee' couplers, and are used to pivot the turnout blades.

An alternative to method I am going to describe is to use rail joiners to attach the blades to the frog wings. I'm not keen on this method because it is difficult to isolate the blades from the frog, and if you don't do this, you can get electrical shorts if the back of a wheel touches the blade as it passes through.  


Glue the cork in place using the centre lines of the turnout drawn on the craftwood roadbed. Lay some heavy weights on the cork until it is dry. Remove the weights and sand the cork until it is smooth and level.


Now that we have copies of the turnouts we are going to build, and have the cork roadbed all prepared, we are ready to start laying a turnout. First, cut out the turnout template close to the edge of the ties, apply a thin layer of wood glue to the back of the sheet, and carefully lay in position .

Step 3 - THE TIES

Using the template as a guide, cut the required ties to length. Using a PVA wood glue, cover the entire template with an even layer and position the ties using the template as a guide. If you are going to add a switch stand later, the two ties either side of the throw bar need to be long enough to accommodate this.


Step 4 - THE  FROG  

I always start building a turnout with the frog, which needs to be located exactly, as the rest of the turnout builds off this. I form the frog by overlapping the stock rails into an 'X' shape at the required angle (most of the turnouts on my layouts are at a 10  which is about a No.5). I did this by cutting a slot at an angle of 10 with my Dremel tool in the top of one rail and the bottom of the other rail and overlapping them. I then cut and shaped the two wing rails and positioned them in the correct position in the frog. To hold all this together, I fluxed and soldered the spaces between the rails up to the top of the rails. Using a short length of hack saw blade mounted into a " dowel handle, as in the top photo opposite, I cut a slot along each route to allow the wheel flanges to pass through.  By using this method, the rails stayed perfectly aligned, as well as electrically joined. The photo opposite shows the finished frog and it s a vast improvement on the older methods I have used. 

In order to duplicate this frog a simple jig can be made. I used aluminium strip 20mm by 2mm. First I cut two 10 wedges by cutting across the strip at that angle. By using pieces of rail as guides these wedges were screwed down as can be seen in the photo. Four wing pieces were then cut and placed beside each side of the wedges, allowing a slot the width of the rail. Two short pieces are used to hold the rails in place while the frog is soldered together and the flangeways cut out with the hacksaw tool seen above.

Step 5 - THROW BAR

In the past I have always used strips of copper clad circuit board and soldered the rails to it. However a continual program was the copper coating, along with the rail, coming off the base, and it always happened during the busiest time at an exhibition. I now use two pieces of 2.5 mm square brass channel, fitted over one of the long turnout ties, as can be seen in the diagram opposite and below. This is a very tight fit but I still drill and insert and solder in place a short piece of brass wire to firmly attach the brass channel to the wood tie. Each piece has one of the rails soldered to it, and the gap between the two maintains electrical isolation.  


It is easier to file the two blades from a piece of long rail before they are cut to the required length. Once you are happy with the angle of the blades, place the throw bar into its position between the long ties and then measure and cut the two blade rails. Bend the curved blade using the template as a guide. 



Before spiking the frog into position, I slide a rail joiner onto the end of each rail so the blades can be attached. I prefer the blades to be slightly loose in these joiners so using a piece of spare rail, I insert it into each joiner and work back and forwards a few times. 

Using the template as a guide, I position the frog onto the ties and spike down. In this area of the turnout I spike every tie to ensure the frog is firmly held in position. 

After cleaning the top of the brass channel and the inside and underneath of each blade, flux these areas and tin with solder. I slide the straight blade into the correct joiner and over the throw bar, and with the soldering iron allow the solder placed earlier on the bar and blade to combine. A nice shinny solder surface means you have a good join.

To position the curved blade correctly on the throw bar, slide the blade into the joiner at the frog end, then position the curved blade over the throw bar. With the "FLANGEWAYS" edge of the N.M.R.A. gauge, position the blade end as can be seen in the diagram above right.  Heat the solder to hold the blade in place. Add more solder if you think it requires it. Take your time with this soldering, as a good job here will give you years of service.

Finally, file away any solder that is on the top of the throw bar on the outside of the blade. If left there, it will interfere when the blade is moved against the stock rail when the turnout is activated.

At this stage the turnout should look something like this photo


With a large, fine flat file, file out a long flat wedge into the side of the stock rails that will except the blades. At the deepest point (where the point of the blade sits), this filed area should not more than half way through the rail. I always lay the straight rail first. Lay into position and using the N.M.R.A. track gauge, spike this rail down. Make sure the throw bar moves freely, and that the blade sits nicely into the filed wedge in the rail. Repeat with the curved rail.

Now is a good time to grab that piece of rolling stock that is the most finicky when passing through turnouts. Run it through each route several times and adjust the gauge if required. I do this check before I add the check rails, as I find that a well laid and accurate turnout will operate correctly without them. The check rails just become an added insurance to ensure the turnout operates smoothly.


Now, the only thing left to do is a final check of the turnout with the gauge, run that finicky piece of rolling stock or locomotive through, do any last minute minor adjustments, and hopefully enjoy a well operating hand laid turnout.

Building the perfect turnout will be of no use if your locomotives and rolling stock are not tuned to your track. To see more on this subject, click on the link below: