New Easitrac "Pegged" Turnout Kit
Mick Simpson (Photographs - the author)
For those interested in track building there can be few who have failed to notice the changes that have occurred in 2FS track since 2008. It was in June of that year that Easitrac was launched; at first just the plain track bases were available but a little over a year after that we had turnouts with milled bases for five set angles and jigs to aid the accurate construction of the crossing vee together with a common crossing assembly jig which made fabrication of the crossing easier.
Originally the system was designed to be as flexible as possible so the design team opted for chairs with plain base plates. The thinking here was that a better bond would be made by the flat base of the chair on the milled turnout base but also we believed at the time the system, as designed, would be far more flexible in that builders could, instead of having to use the available milled base templates, design their own track geometry to suit their needs using the plain plastic sleeper strip. Complex formations could be drawn out with programs like Templot and the whole thing would have a much better appearance than soldered track, especially if the track feeds and switch areas were supplemented with brass sleepers which would also help with the strength of the finished turnouts. There was also the belief that many people were discouraged from building fine scale track and turnouts because of one or more of the following; fear, dislike, inability or aversion to soldering. Some of the reasons for the decisions we made are still very valid today.
'N' gauge also benefited from the introduction of Easitrac when fiNetrax was introduced by Wayne Kinney. This was of course a direct result of collaboration between him and the 2mm Scale Association, mostly with Alan Smith and Noel Leaver, following a request from Wayne. For obvious reasons Wayne's fiNtrax system closely followed our own Easitrac except for gauge and flangeway clearances etc. but there was one other way in which the two systems differed. The fiNtrax turnouts provided milled bases with holes precisely drilled to accept chairs with 'pegged' base plates, as opposed to flat base plates. In other words the 'pegged' chairs sit in a dedicated hole drilled exactly where it should be in the milled base.
Now, in 2015 after some research, planning and trials, similar bases with pegged chairs are available to members of this Association to suit 2FS track in an effort to make plastic turnout construction more attractive to the beginner, and indeed the experienced modeller, who for whatever reason want to avoid too much in the way of soldering. It has to be said there is always going to be some soldering needed but following this route soldering is kept to an absolute minimum.
Jigs have been either developed or designs modified to assist builders achieve success.
What follows is not a duplication of the instructions but an account of how I assembled one of these turnout kits, a left hand B7.
Having only previously assembled a test kit, this build took me two and a half hours so it may help to briefly outline the process. A milled base with accurately drilled holes where chairs with locating pegs will sit is supplied along with rail, chairs, a milled nickel silver common crossing and fixing screws, a solder tag (for supplying current to the crossing), and a soundly designed tie bar mechanism. The builder only really needs basic tools and solvent adhesive to complete. A jig to file switch blades and one to hold the switch blade whilst an etched chair is soldered on are desirable. These can either be made by the individual or bought in from Shop 1. See Fig 1.
It may help to briefly outline the process which is very very simple (yes it is....!) and starts with the advice to identify the top of the bullhead rail and mark with a black felt tip marker pen. This saves having to re-examine every piece of rail more than once. Yes, there is a difference between the head and foot of our code 40 rail. After this, construction broadly follows methods common to the larger scales and may perhaps only differ in the order in which some things are done; fix the common crossing in place on the milled turnout base, secure the milled turnout base to the sub base. Remove pegged chairs from the sprue and place in relevant holes in the base, fixing with solvent as required. (see note and pictures re the making and use of a simple tool to achieve this easily) Clean up rail ends and insert into the chairs in the base. File switch blades and solder etched plates to them. Insert switch blades and tie bar into turnout. Okay - that's a very simplified synopsis but that really is all there is to it.
It is advisable to have a fairly rigid sub base on which the turnout can be mounted during assembly and my choice was a piece of 2mm clear polycarbonate (courtesy of mother nature when she decided to blow part of our greenhouse away...) with two holes drilled that correspond to the fixing points of the milled common crossing. This allows the turnout base to sit flat on the firm sub base once the common crossing has been fixed with the screws. So, before the milled turnout base is fixed to the sub base the common crossing has to be fitted. The easiest way I found to do this was to screw the two screws into the plastic base to a point where they protrude through to the upper part sufficiently for the plastic spacer to be fitted over them without falling off. This is fairly easy to achieve because the fixing holes have been drilled such a diameter so the screws 'self tap' as they are being screwed in. Because of this they stay in place while the white plastic spacer is placed over the top. See Figs 2 & 3. Once this is done the job of screwing the milled nickel silver common crossing is very easy. I did this and thought the common crossing was sitting just a little too high, but once both screws are fixed it is easy to loosen one at a time and re-screw (if there's such a word) to ensure no 'pushing up' of the crossing occurs and it sits flat on top of the spacer and base. I did this and the result was a smooth transition between the crossing and the rails that join it. Fitting the common crossing is one of those jobs which if not done employing the right technique might take a little longer than desired. In my case it took six minutes.
Note; the initial kits used a spacer beneath the common crossing but future production will not require this because a different source of nickel silver sheet has been found negating any requirement for a spacer.
With the common crossing fitted it's time to fix the turnout base to the sub base. I used double sided carpet tape which on reflection might be just a tad too sticky. Fig 4 shows the common crossing in place and Fig 5 the base turned over to allow a view of where the tape was used and the drilled clearance holes for the common crossing securing screws. I may try Pritt Stick next time or only putting tape on the outside edge of the timbering to make removal easier.
Once the base is lying flat and secured to the sub base it's time to start installing the chairs. I found it very useful to make myself a simple little tool for removing the chairs from the sprue and delivering them to the holes into which they sit. The business end of this little tool needs to be 'dressed' with the top, bottom, sides and the instep of the bullhead of the rail chamfered slightly to ensure no damage occurs to the chairs as they are threaded. Fig 6 is a comparison of two pieces of bullhead rail. This 'dressing' of the rail is common practice with all plastic platelaying whenever threading chairs on to rail takes place, whether that be the little tool I made or any other piece of stock, switch or check rail. I will remind readers of this occasionally because if done correctly chairs slide on easily but if not the risk of damaging the chairs looms large, which can be very frustrating. Figs 7, 8, and 9 show a chair sprue and the little tool in use as chairs are removed from it, in my case using an Exacto scalpel with a single sawing motion. Small scissors can be used if desired. Fig 10 shows the tool loaded with a number of chairs. It takes literally minutes to make this little tool which is simply a piece of bullhead rail with a bit of 10 thou brass folded over and soldered to one end to form a handle.
I installed nine slide chairs for one side on my handy little chair dispenser, fixed these in place then did the other side. I chose to fit and fix the slide chairs first using Butanone so they would have a good chance to thoroughly dry because a little later in the construction the inside part of the slide chairs need to be pared off to allow the switch blade to sit snug against its relevant stock rail and the more rigid the chair is the easier it is to complete this. Another advantage of using a little tool like my dispenser is it's possible to get all the chairs properly aligned so they could be fixed in place with the solvent.
To dispense the solvent adhesive it is possible to use almost any small paintbrush, however, my chosen medium for this particular task is the Deluxe Materials Pin Flow. I have banged on about this little bit of kit before but I believe it is perfect for delivering the exact amount of Butanone to the area around the chair. They can be bought from almost any good model shop - I think the price is currently £8.95. One can be seen in use in a previous turnout article on page 9 Feb/March 2010 issue of the 2mm Magazine.
The remainder of the chairs were added to the base, both ends of each stock rail were 'dressed' as indicated earlier and then fed easily through them. Fig 11 shows the start of this process as the slide chairs are being installed in the straight stock rail side. Fig 12 shows both stock rails in position. In this view it will be apparent the tops of the rails have been marked with a felt tip pen for ease of establishing which is top and which is bottom.
I decided this was the stage at which the switch blades could be fabricated because the time this would take would allow the solvent to properly go off.
In the past when making track I have filed my switch blades by what I would call the freehand method using nothing more than files and a self healing cutting mat to hold the donor rail. However, the Geoff Jones designed switch blade filing jig featured on page 94 of the Association publication 'Track. How it Works and How to Model it' has been used as the basis for a commercially produced item. It works really well with uniform switch blades taking less than five minutes to make. Fig 13 & 14 show the components of the jig. In use the pieces of rail are laid in and held down by the brass clamping block which is placed in one of the four positions A, B, C or D. If a B switch is needed then the brass block covers the C as in the illustration. The angle between the top of the brass clamping block and the end of the jig is correct then and the filing board just needs to be laid over at that angle and moved back and forth till the material has been removed from the rail end. It is a neat piece of kit which, talking to aspiring track builders, overcomes one of the things that seems to cause more problems than enough. Use this jig and you'll have no trouble with switch blades...!
I use this to remove material from the part of the switch blade that sits
snug against its related stock rail. Once this material has been removed
I remove the blade from the jig, turn it over and carefully remove most
of the top of the bullhead of the rail on the inside edge to ensure a smooth
transition of wheel through the switch. This can be done using the jig but
I prefer the needle file method which allows as much as possible of the
rail foot to be left for the solder to make a good joint. Other choices
here include filing a 'set' or forming a 'joggle' which is something very
common to modellers of the GWR.
Once the blades are fashioned the etched plates need to be fixed to the switch end and mated with the tie bar arrangement, a somewhat joint effort between fiNetrax and 2FS. The etched plates, seen in close up in Fig 15, need to be fixed to the switch toe. The recommended tie bar arrangement involves a plastic tie bar (seen beneath the etched plates in Fig 15) with two small holes (0.4mm dia.) drilled 6mm apart and a larger hole (1.0mm dia.) drilled centrally between them. The two small holes accept 0.4mm nickel silver pin that is soldered into the chair plates at the same time as they are soldered to the switch toe. The nickel pin extends just the right amount beneath the etched plate so that when installed it engages in the hole in the plastic tie bar. The other end of the etched plate extends out beneath the stock rails and prevents the switch rail riding above the level of the stock rail which in turn keeps the nickel pin in the hole in the tie bar - it works a treat. The 1mm hole in the centre of the tie bar is for the operating rod that emerges from beneath baseboard level. The builder's own thoughts are best here when deciding what means to employ to operate the turnout and include all manner of esoteric cosmetic tie bars (there must be a million and one designs) but for our purposes this is a kit designed to enable the beginner to achieve success. I thus used the parts provided and found it to be a sound design.
The soldering of the etched chair plates to the switch blade toe and the nickel silver pin are completed in one operation using a jig designed by Noel Leaver. The photographs should make clear what is going on here. Fig 16 shows the jig with two pegged chairs in place, there are holes drilled for four but these were omitted for clarity of the picture. How it works; a switch blade etched plate is placed into the little recess (easily identifiable because it will only accommodate the etched plate) the switch rail is then inserted into the chairs and slid forward until it butts up against a 'stop' which is a slightly raised part of the jig. The planed part of the switch rail will be just above and trapping the etched plate beneath. The switch blade etched plate should be oriented so the nickel pin is on the inside of the switch blade toe, i.e. in the four foot way, and can pass through the hole in the plate and into one of two holes drilled in the base. The hole in the base is just deep enough to allow the pin to protrude the exact amount beneath the etched plate so that when assembled it sits in one of the smaller holes in the tie bar. The other end of the etched plate extends out, away from the centre of the switch area and is tucked under the relative stock rail preventing the switch blade from riding up.
Fig 17 is a staged shot to show the etched plate in position being 'trapped' by the switch blade which has been inserted into the chairs. This view also shows nicely how the rail is kept perpendicular to the etched plate whilst held by the chairs on the jig. It is also easy to apply light pressure to the switch rail during the soldering operation to safeguard against solder flowing beneath the plate and into the area that will sit snug against the stock rail. If solder does flow here it needs to be removed. A piece of card between finger and the top of the switch may be handy to afford protection for one's digits although in truth the soldering operation is over in a very short time.
Fig 18 shows the result before the top of the nickel silver pin is cut off and is also purely for clarification to illustrate what needs to be achieved. Once the top of the nickel pin is cut the fillet of solder and upper part of the pin may need to be filed down, as wheel flanges may make contact with this. If it is found necessary to file the pin and solder down this is best achieved with the blade and chair plate still in the jig. File down and against the switch blade, removing most of the fillet of solder. Care needs to be exercised here to ensure only the right amount of solder is removed avoiding potential weakening of the joint.
It was now possible to return to the loading of chairs on to the milled base and once they are all in place and the rails threaded into them the turnout begins to take shape really rather quickly. In my view this is where the plastic kits score over those of soldered construction. I found it advantageous to withdraw the stock rails from the area around the switch in order to easily fit the switch rails and the tie bar. See Fig 19 and you will appreciate these stock rails could be completely withdrawn. In other words the kit so far assembled could be almost dismantled should the builder have overlooked something or maybe wants to do something in a different way. Whatever - the thing can be dismantled completely if the chairs haven't been fixed in place with solvent, which I think is a considerable advantage. I build locomotive chassis using this philosophy and this ability to dismantle has proved its worth over the years. All right, I have a certain amount of experience in these matters but I foresee no difficulty for a beginner adopting an approach such as this.
Back to Fig 19 and I only withdrew the stock rails sufficiently to allow me to insert the switch rails complete with their etched plates Fig 20 shows me placing the chairs for the curved switch rail.
Fig 21 shows the switch blades in place complete with tie bar. I have also inserted the check rails although astute observers will note only one end of each check rail has been bent before they were slid into the chairs. The second bend is done in situ with a pair of cheap pliers filed specially for the purpose. Fig 22 are the aforementioned cheapo pliers suitably filed to check rail flangeway thickness to enable the second bend in the check rail to be made while firmly supporting the area between finger and thumb. Fig 23 - Completed turnout, now with Easitrac plain track bases at each entry/exit.
The simplest way of feeding power to the rails is to solder wires to the bottom of the stock rails immediately before the switch toe in what might be described as outside the area of the turnout. This is achieved easily by making stock rails a little longer tan they need to be and using plain Easitrac bases before and after the location of the soldered connection. Electrical connections between stock rail and switch rail can be made in a similar fashion.
As part of the trial process other solutions were found:-
1. A brass sleeper complete with chairs can be cut in two and used to replace a length of one of the plastic ones, pinned to the baseboard, and if in the area of the switch, with the inside chair filed down and the stock rail soldered to it. Fig 24
2. Removal of part of a sleeper on the milled base and replacing with a piece of 0.25mm brass or nickel silver superglued to the base. A hole needs to be drilled through the brass to allow for an electrical feed wire to be attached. During the chair threading process individual brass chairs can replace those that would have sat on the sleepers of the milled base and these can be soldered to the 0.25mm brass/nickel silver strip. (As long as the soldering operation is completed quickly it provides a sound solution and is a very good way to stabilise the stock rails and electrically bond them to their respective switch blade). Fig 25
Although the instructions supplied with these kits are largely my work (I was indeed a willing volunteer) I was assisted greatly by Noel Leaver with drawings by Julia Adams. Most recently there were five of us who test built these turnout kits all of whom played a part in the pooling of various thoughts on the construction. The others were John Aldrick, Stuart Moore, Philip Stead and Don Willsmer. So credit to them for their contribution, particularly in relation to 'alternative methods of construction'. Without a shadow of doubt fruition of the project owes much to the efforts of Noel Leaver and especially Alan Smith, who is labours in the 'engine room' manufacturing all sorts of parts for this Association.
The north east group (NEAG) held an all day session recently during which nine members did exactly the same as has been outlined above. Six completed their turnouts during the session with two being approximately one hour away from achieving the same. This activity was of course juxtaposed with copious amounts of tea and coffee - not to mention two meals.