Fast Tracks

An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints -Newsletter #8
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Author:  Tim Warris [ Sun May 09, 2004 11:49 pm ]
Post subject:  An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints -Newsletter #8

An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints

By Tim Warris

Building trackwork with switchpoints soldered directly to the throwbar allows modelers to quickly and easily build turnouts that will work fine for years. But there are circumstances where this approach just isn't feasible; mainly in slip switches and three way turnouts where the points must be hinged as there is not enough rail length to allow for a solid switchpoint. Some modelers also prefer to have all of the switch points hinged in their trackwork.

This issue of the Fast Tracks newsletter will offer a simple technique that can be used for both hinged and solid switchpoints that allows the throwbar to freely pivot under the points. This is an alternative method to soldering the points solid to the throwbar. This method takes a little more time to build, but provides a durable, nice looking turnout.


This method involves soldering a small spike to the side of the switchpoint and pressing it into a hole in the throwbar. Once the spike is firmly in the hole of the throwbar, it is soldered to the points and will pivot freely in the throwbar. This method produces a very strong and durable switchpoint as long as care is taken to properly prepare the spike and throwbar. Here is how you do it.


Step 1

If you are using a Fast Tracks assembly fixture, then construct the turnout following the steps in the documentation, but do not solder the switchpoints to the throwbar. By the way, the images used in this newsletter are of an N scale code 55 #6 turnout to illustrate that this technique will work for the smaller scales.



Step 2

I use Micro Engineering Small spikes for this process. ME small spikes measure .025" in diameter and to get a good fit you need to drill the hole slightly larger than this size.

To accurately drill a small hole start with a drill bit that is one size smaller then the intended size; in this case a #72 drill, which is .025" in diameter. Use an awl or sharp point to mark the location of the hole in the exact center of the throwbar tie. Hold the drill in a pin vise and slowly turn it by hand until you have drilled completely through the throwbar, be sure that you start the hole EXACTLY in the center of the tie as the finished hole size isn't much smaller than an N scale tie. This is not that critical for larger scales.

Now using the next sized drill bit (a #71 .026") re-drill the hole. This will enlarge the hole size to the exact size of a ME small spike. You want to have a nice snug fit ? tight enough that you should need pliers to get the spike through the hole. If the fit is too loose, the throwbar tie will have a tendency to fall off while you are handling the turnout. Once the turnout is in place on your layout then it will be fine.


Step 3

Remove the turnout and the throwbar tie from the fixture (if you are using one) and using a file remove the copper cladding from the top of the throwbar tie. This will prevent accidentally soldering the points to the tie.


Step 4

ME spikes are blackened and will not take solder well unless all of the blackening is removed from the head of the spike. Use a small file and carefully remove the blackening from the head and sides of the spike. The spike should be nice and shiny when you are done.


Step 5

Press the spike through the hole and cut it off flush with the bottom of the tie. Use a file and file the bottom of the spike blush with the bottom of the tie.


Step 6

Place the throwbar tie and the turnout back into the fixture (again, if you are using one), and press the spike into the hole and onto the top of the base rail of the points. Liberally apply an acid based flux to the spike and rail. Solder the spike to the rail.


Step 7

Remove the assembly from the fixture. Space the points to your desired width; I use a tie to hold open the points and then mark, drill and place a spike into the second hole and cut off the bottom of the spike, file the spike flush to the bottom of the throwbar and solder it into place as before.

And you are done!




- Tim

Have a question or comment about this issue of the Fast Tracks newsletter? Then post a reply! I will be happy to respond to any posts. - Tim

Author:  racedirector [ Wed May 12, 2004 3:34 am ]
Post subject: 

Another brilliant newsletter and a method I will definately be using myself!


Author:  sambear [ Wed Jan 03, 2007 1:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints

Great article, your site is so informative, job well done!

One question, for added strength could one solder each spike to the base of the throwbar PC Board tie?

Granted the throwbar tie would also require a notch filed in the base to remove the chance of a short circuit. Also, the spike would still need to be clipped close to the tie once soldered.

I think that the spike soldered to the base of the tie would bring up the strength of the connection one level. If done properly only two little soldered bumps would stick out the bottom and I doubt that they would create enough drag to cause an issue.


Author:  emccamey [ Fri Jan 05, 2007 9:47 am ]
Post subject:  Soldered Spike on Bottom of Throwbar


The spike needs to act as a pivot point and do a slight twisting to keep the points as soldered to the spike from binding which would occur if the spike was soldered firm at the bottom. Point alignment will flex some in a lateral horizontal plane and put stress on the soldered point to spike contact. Best bet is to just file smooth and then solder at the top as Tim's instructions show.

Author:  sambear [ Mon Jan 08, 2007 12:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Soldered Spike on Bottom of Throwbar


Thanks, that information is very appreciated.

What if soldering the spike was done only underneath the throwbar PC board, and the spike head (sans solder) held the rail on top, (as it would anywhere else on the railway), would that concept work?

If not, I will stick with the original concept that you noted will work better.

Thanks for your advice...

Author:  emccamey [ Wed Jan 10, 2007 9:14 am ]
Post subject:  Solder Underneath


Could be OK to just solder on underneath side - but check that the spike head as it twists doesn't rotate in such a way and change the spacing. I've never done it that way and it may be worth a trial test.

Remember, you are pressing the points into the stock rail and keeping all the torsion stresses from weakening the the mechanism over time. The original design does this well. You should not have the rail point sprung vertically such that you need the underneath side fixed, if so then carefully straighten the switch point in the horizontal plane for a smooth and natural movement that keeps the railheads aligned. Then the pivot design will work correctly.

Author:  sambear [ Thu Feb 15, 2007 4:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Hinge Point Turnouts

I have been searching through the web site (perhaps I may be looking into the wrong areas) but I have yet to find a drawing or a user guide defining how to use the template to make the hinge point turnouts.

I want to build and test one to see how well it stands up, but I am unclear as to where the point rails need to be cut and how they need to be attached.


Author:  emccamey [ Thu Feb 15, 2007 5:38 pm ]
Post subject: 


Many of my fixtures have two different tie slots marked H and S for hinged and soldered tie locations - only one is used depending on your points style. The wooden tie blanks have the spike holes where the hinge point should go. Note: some of the older original fixtures did not have these separate tie slots - but should be standard on the latest batches of fixtures.

Check out the HO forum - the #8 double slip - where some alternative techniques are discussed using phosphor bronze wire on one side and only one spike on the other. This is for the short center points on the DS, but the same approach can be done for standard straight turnouts as well.

Also check the actual instructions sheets (PDF file) for your specific fixture - my copy has this selection criteria discussed.

Author:  sambear [ Fri Feb 16, 2007 11:57 am ]
Post subject: 

I did not find, in my #6 pdf guide, a reference to the hinge point other than the additional soldering to the 'H' pc board tie. I searched the CD but to no avail.

My question arises from the notion that the hinged rails would likely have to be somehow cut on, or just beyond, a soldered tie. Without a strong anchor nearby the switch (point) rails may move over time and not line up. Given the gap between the 'H' and 'S' tie I am not certain if the alignment would hold if I cut the switch rails in the middle of that gap.


Author:  emccamey [ Fri Feb 16, 2007 4:17 pm ]
Post subject: 


The hinge is created on the wooden tie just beyond the 'H' PC tie. The point rails are cut just between the H PC tie and the next wooden tie (towards the point end). The hinge is created with two spikes (or a spike and a phosphor wire) on the wooden tie, and this allows for very free movement of the point rail at that hinge location. If you are concerned over time for misalignment - carefully glue with ACC just the spikes and allow the rail itself to still move. Soldering a phosphor wire on one side and only one spike on the other and having the underneath for the wire to be bent for vertical control is a good extra precaution for long term reliability.

The addition of using spikes on the tie bar to prevent twisting stress makes the assembly very free moving and very prototypical. Will hold up very well.

Author:  jrsheridan [ Sat May 21, 2011 8:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints -Newslette


The pictures for this article are broken - any chance of fixing them ?

Author:  emccamey [ Sun May 22, 2011 5:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints -Newslette

Tim used to have a downloadable PDF file "An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints.pdf" on the site - and sometimes on the CD ROM's that come with products as well.

I can't seem to find it at present (though I have a copy downloaded to my machine).

There is also some discussion about the techniques in the Number 8 Double Slip instructions of the General Builder Guide.

There is (was) also a video on the subject at the Bronx Terminal blog.

Maybe Tim can update links and/or give links to the PDF and Video.


Author:  Happy Hogger [ Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints -Newslette

Hi All,

I just tried the latest mod to a couple of switches. It went fairly well. Now I'll go back and do it to a few more.

I do work on a local layout owner's railroad where I have built several Fast Tracks switches. The last operation session we had a rash of broken solder joints on both Fast Tracks and Atlas switches. The Atlas ones have had the plastic throw bar removed and a PC throw bar installed. Now I'll have to go throw the entire layout and modify the major (sidings and yard leads) switches before our big invite next June. There is another method that I may have to use if I can't get under the switch to file the spike length smooth. The only thing I can think of is to have it in place on the PC tie before inserting then solder last. I may have to take it out several times before soldering in place.

Other then that I think it's a great idea to take stress off of the solder joints.

Happy Hogger

Author:  hoborob [ Thu Aug 06, 2015 7:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An Alternative to Solid Soldered Switchpoints -Newslette

I am certain that the tip that Tim published about how to relieve stress on switch points is a very good technique. I have also found that there is another issue that causes undue stress to be placed on the switch points in particular on the straight point of the the switch. The straight point is the one next to the diverging stock rail. The issue here is that in the process of forming the diverging stock rail it is formed as a continuous curve. When this happens the curve pushes against the point which places stress on the solder joint which leads to its breakage over time. Fixing this issue on an already installed turnout is possible but does take some careful work. The fix is to use a pair of small needle-nose pliers and to physically bend or kink the diverging stock rail just at the point where the base of the rail was filed away so that the point can snug up against the diverging rail. It may also be necessary to re solder the next rail to the next PC tie behind the Point to pull the curve out of the diverging rail so that the diverging rail becomes "straight" in the area of the point. Once this is achieved the point rail will lay against the stock rail without having to push it over to close the point in the straight position.

A similar issue can occur on the diverging point where it was also formed in a continuous curve. This also can be fixed but it does take a bit of work to straighten the point out but a similar set of work is involved.

During the construction process when making the diverging point make sure that you do not begin the curve of the rail until after you are passed the end of the point taper. For the Stock rail bend or kink the rail at the start of the point pocket and start curving the rail when you are clear of the point area. If you are careful about these two points you can easily build turnouts that will be trouble free for years of use.

Testing for the difficulty is very easy as well. Simply move the point until the point rail touches the stock rail at any point. If the point rail touch the stock rail before the point is completely closed and you have to physically push or pull the points to get them to completely close it is likely that you have this curved rail issue which is what is the source of the problem of the solder joint breaking.

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