Trackwork and Soldering

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  • Member since
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Trackwork and Soldering
Posted by steamengineer on Friday, March 15, 2019 2:17 PM

Hello Engineers and Yardmasters:

Trackwork and soldering seems to be a problem area in model railroading, especially G-scale railroading. I've tried several times to solder copper wires to brass tracks without success. The solder does not hold the wires against the rails. I've used flux (supposedly for aiding contact between solder points) and high-quality solders. Nothing seems to work. If experienced railroaders out there can offer any advice on how to successfully solder wires to rails, I would be very grateful! To be precise, I'm trying to wire the track power terminal wires from my power pack to my rails. Thanks for the help.

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Posted by PVT Kanaka on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 12:10 AM

Aloha Steamengineer!

 

For what it is worth, I gave up trying.  I have been using stock LGB connectors outside in the tropics for 4 years, and, beyond the occasional jiggle, they work fine.   I did tin the wires, which helped hold them together and thickened them a bit, so they "gripped."  I have a few railclamps here and there around the Triple O, and I have cotemplated screwing the wires into these, too, but have simply been too lazy to do this since all works fine for me for now.

 

Building on this, I tried to solder wire jumpers across the rail connectors.  No joy...I now clamp perpetual trouble spots and give an occasional cleaining and pinch to periodic trouble spots.  I have also replaced my 12" sectional tracks bit by bit with 48" lenghs as budget permits.

Since the solution may depend on the scenario, be advise I have a little over 100' of track that floats on gravel.  I live in the tropics, so high heat and humidity are givens as are torrential rains, but, clearly, frost heave is not!

 

Hope that helps!

 

Eric

 

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Posted by steamengineer on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 12:28 PM

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the response. I think you have it right. Looks like I have to use clamps to get these attached to the tracks. Soldering isn't working. Oh well... I guess this is one of those "garden" railroad headaches that smaller scale railroaders don't have to deal with.

Bob "steamengineer"

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Posted by Rex in Pinetop on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 3:23 PM

I used to do this a lot before I went to battery power.  First remove the rail from the plastic ties.  Use a wire brush on your dremel on the location you want to solder.  Get it bright and clean.  Heat the rail with a torch, dip in paste flux, dip your solid wire in flux, put them together, then let the solder run into your joint.  If it doesn't run then you didn't get it hot enough.  Note that the solder will freeze on its own and you're done and can slide the ties back on.  If the ties don't fit then use a cutting wheel on your dremel to smooth the area down until it fits.

Note too that outdoor connections between each rail will need to be done if you're planning to run more that a few months.  Those brass rail connectors don't last very long electric wise.  The only other option to solder is to go with SplitJaw or other brands of screw type rail joiners.  You still have to polish track every couple days as well.  

Rex

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Posted by Tinbender on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 7:49 PM

Soldering wires/jumper wires to brass or Stainless rail is really a simple task. A person just has to know the proceedure and follow it. If you want to do this successfully follow the steps below and don't deviateSmile.

1- As already stated the surface must be clean and shiny, any grease, dirt, paint, or oxidation will foul the joint and weaken it or not solder at all.

2- Correct solder; the best for this is a 60/40 (60%lead 40%tin) wire solder in .032 size either solid core or rosin core.

3- Correct flux; The best by far is a liquid multi metal flux, I highly recommend the following, I have been using it for years    https://www.hnflux.com/page2.html      Use the liquid rather than the gel type.

4- Correct Iron; Use a soldering iron not a soldering gun. Soldering guns are used to reach into tight spots and solder thin wires together.  To solder a large piece of metal like rail you need an iron with a larger heavy tip that can store enough heat to transfer to the work piece and bring it up to temperature.  I recommend an electric iron of 80 watts, smaller won't transfer heat quick enough and larger will transfere to much heat and cause trouble with ties/other solder joints.

5- Tin the iron, a dirty or un-tinned iron WILL NOT SOLDER, Heat the iron up and put a puddle of flux on a piece of scrap metal and rub the iron through it adding solder as you do.  The iron needs to look shiny and wet all over the tip with solder.  If you are going to wait more than a couple of minutes between solder joints UNPLUG the iron so it will not burn up the tinned tip.  There is no temperature regulation on these irons.

6- Tin your wire ends by brushing on some flux, pickup a little solder on the iron and touch the wire, it should tin almost immediately, pre-tin the spot on your rail; brush on some flux, place your iron on the surface getting as large a contact area as you can with the tip, wait a few seconds then touch your solder to the rail 1/32 second of an inch from the iron, if the heat is there the solder will flow in under your iron tip.  Now that both pieces are tinned just lay your wire on the solder spot on the rail and touch with the iron tip, it should turn molten right away, hold the wire very still until the solder hardens, if it is moved during the hardening process it will create a weak joint.

 7- Random comments to the above.

    The work piece has to be hot enough to make the solder flow to the iron.  When soldering a rail to a brass/copper plate, heat as discribed and touch the solder to the joint on the opposite side from your iron if everything is golden the solder will flow right through the joint to your iron. Hold everything immobile until hardend.

  On tinning the iron, if the above doesn't work for you then find some Sal Ammoniac and use it for tinning the iron (this is by far the best method) see here for an example.  https://www.evilmadscientist.com/2014/tinning/

I will gladly answer any questions.

Rick

 

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Posted by steamengineer on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 8:26 PM

Thanks Rex,

That's a little too much work for me. I checked out SplitJaw. Great reference! The rail connectors will work well, I'm sure. I also discovered that the people at SplitJaw are very customer friendly. 

Bob (steamengineer)

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Posted by PVT Kanaka on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 11:47 PM

Rex,

 

Thanks.  Your detailed description is something I might try.   I have read of similar techniques elsewhere, there was always seemed to be a step lacking, but it was never clear where.  Also, track is a precious commodity.   Fouling up would've been a costly mistake for me!

 

One question, I assume when you say "let the solder run" you mean the flux? Or do you mean solder from a spool?  As a follow-up, does this imply there is no soldering iron involved?

 

Thanks,

Eric 

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Posted by steamengineer on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 12:03 PM

Hi Rick,

Excellent and detailed set of instructions. Thank you for taking the time to write them out as clearly as you did. I think I've discovered the errors of my way with respect to soldering.

Bob (steamengineer)

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Posted by steamengineer on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 12:10 PM

Hi Rex,

I meant solder... not flux. I'm beginning to appreciate that flux is very important to securing the attachment of wires to rails. I do use a soldering iron, and I allow it to get hot before using it. I think I missed two important steps in the process, thanks to the guidance from you and all the other contributors. 1) I didn't "tin" the tip of my soldering iron before using it, and 2) I wasn't applying and using flux properly.

Bob (steamengineer)

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  • From: Arizona (high country 7k ft) USA
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Posted by Rex in Pinetop on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 1:08 PM

Tinbender's advice is right on.  I tend to go bigger than needed with the torch versus a large iron.  "Let the solder run" is a way of saying don't glob it on and expect it to stay there.  When it flows into the joint rather than beads up you know you've got it right.

Battery power works better than soldering.

Rex

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Posted by PVT Kanaka on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 10:16 PM
Rick / Tinbender: Thanks for breaking it down! For the moment, I have none of those tools in my kit. I am going to have to wait to try this, as I have blown the budget on a few other "needed" (in the hobby sense of the word!) items. Even with my little RR, the tools should save money over time relative to clamps and / or longer lengths of track. Eric

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