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Help for Starting Tiny Screws on Atlas Switch Controllers

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  • Member since
    April 2020
  • From: Independence, MO
  • 2 posts
Help for Starting Tiny Screws on Atlas Switch Controllers
Posted by knobman@sbcglobal.net on Sunday, May 31, 2020 4:21 PM

I am struggling with the tiny machine screws on the Atlas Switch Control Boxes.  Each screw must be installed between two plastic "walls" which prevent inadvertent shorting between two adjacent contacts.  The screws are so short that it is not possible to hold a screw between two fingers while inserting it into its hole between the two "walls; then, too, getting a wire wrapped around the screw while inserting it is also quite difficult.  I am using the spade terminals sold by Atlas for fitting a screw once it is started.  These connectors help quite a bit except for the difficulty of getting the tiny stranded wires on Atlas switch motors into a space terminal.  I would think that some kind of tool is available for starting those tiny screws, but I have not found such a tool yet.  The insertion of switch motor wires may become easier for me if I become more skillful in slightly tinning them.  By the way, I am totally blind from birth; but I have enjoyed this hobby for years through O-27, HO, and now N-scale.  I used a row of doorbell buttons for the track switches on my HO layout years ago, but I decided to give a diligent effort to apply the Atlas control boxes.  If after much effort I do not make progress in using the Atlas control boxes, I'll buy a bunch of doorbell buttons for my current layout.  These buttons would work if a common wire connects across one screw of each button and to one low-voltage AC terminal; the "center" wire of each Atlas switch motor is connected to a common lead and to the other terminal of that AC power supply, with the remaining screw of each button going to the "straight" or "curve" end of a switch motor.  The main advantage of the doorbell buttons is larger screws already installed to receive the wires.  However, the proper use of the Atlas Switch control boxes is a much "cleaner" setup because Atlas provides the means to carry power across several of them mounted side by side.  Frankly, I wish Atlas sold a tool to facilitate installation of those tiny screws.  I do not believe that my lack of sight is the main problem here because I know where the screws have to go; but the issue is that of holding a screw reliably while starting it in its hole.  If one wraps a wire around a screw before starting it, then the problem is more accute because the screw and the wire both have to be held while the screw is started.  I will appreciate any insight, advice, or information on where to obtain a tool for installing these screws.

  • Member since
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Posted by Overmod on Monday, June 1, 2020 9:50 AM

You might try a piece of thin wall brass tubing, turned or filed on the ID to just hold the edge of the screw and the OD reduced enough to clear the fins, with the screwdriver inserted down the bore.  You could if you wanted provide a light spring engagement so pressing down reliably engages the slot but not until you've aligned the screw and perhaps even started it into its threads with 'friction' (or a little wax if it's a loose fit)

Another thing to consider would be using Phillips screws as replacement, with a combination of a magnetized bit and a little wax in the 'cross' recess.  That will tolerate a great deal of misalignment and 'shock' lining things up, and be ready if you subsequently change the wiring around.

Something I tried was to pre-form a U-bend in the wire around a shaft just the OD of the threads, the stripped portion just fitting in the 'recess'.  You can feel when this is in and relatively flat and it will not torque up once you twist it to lie flat; start the screw down until it touches and then use needle nose or heavy tweezers to bend the outer legs of the U in as you tighten the screw with the other hand.  That should give you all the benefit of a 'wrap around the screw' without serious haptic difficulty.

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 28,193 posts
Posted by rrinker on Monday, June 1, 2020 10:35 AM

 That last is how I did it, when using small solid wire for the connection. I wrapped the wire around the screw, and used the wire to hold the screw in place while using a small screwdriver in my other hand to run it in. Same thing can be done with wires that have spade connectors attached, balance the screw in the spade connector with one hand and use the screwdriver in the other.

                                  --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

DrW
  • Member since
    January 2008
  • From: Lubbock, TX
  • 161 posts
Posted by DrW on Monday, June 1, 2020 11:25 AM

I dip the tip of the screwdriver in Woodland Scenics "Accent Glue" (or some other "reversible" glue) and let it dry a bit. The screws will stick nicely to the screwdriver until you reach your destination. Phillips screws work better, but you can use the method for single-slot screws if you are careful.

  • Member since
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  • From: 10,430’ (3,179 m)
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Posted by jjdamnit on Monday, June 1, 2020 11:45 AM

Hello All,

I understand your frustrations.

What I do to hold those tiny screws while setting is I tin the ends of the stranded wire and then bend the tinned wire around the screw.

This helps hold and align those tiny little buggers when setting and helps during removal so they don't jump around.

Tinning also ensures that all the strands of the wire neatly snuggle down between those raised partitions.

You might not be able to replace the slotted screws to Phillips. As I recall the Atlas screws are and odd size.

Recently I picked up a magnetizer/demagnetizer from MicroMark. Magnetizing the screwdriver helps hold the screws in place while setting.

Another option, that we use in bike shops when working on tiny screws, is putting a dab of light grease on the end of the screwdriver. We use a white lithium grease but you could also try petroleum jelly (Vasoline®). 

With a cotton swab and a bit of isopropyl alcohol you can clean the grease from the head.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

  • Member since
    January 2019
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Posted by John-NYBW on Monday, June 1, 2020 12:50 PM

I've struggled with this as well. A magnetic screwdriver can hold it if it is strong enough. What I've had success doing is holding the screw at the tip of a small needle nosed pliers and giving it a quick turn to set it. That will hold it in place so I can finish with the screw driver. Whatever you do, I would advise putting a plastic box of some kind under your work because inevitable you are going to have one fall to the floor and they have a way of magically disappearing when they happens. 

  • Member since
    January 2019
  • 355 posts
Posted by John-NYBW on Monday, June 1, 2020 12:54 PM

jjdamnit

 

You might not be able to replace the slotted screws to Phillips. As I recall the Atlas screws are and odd size.

 

I could be wrong but I think Atlas might have change the size of those screws. I've found unused screws which I have saved from past projects won't go into the slots on newer Atlas devices. Maybe they changed from a standard to a metric size.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 11,641 posts
Posted by Overmod on Monday, June 1, 2020 1:07 PM

jjdamnit
... I tin the ends of the stranded wire and then bend the tinned wire around the screw.

I suppose the question here is whether proper twisting and then tinning is easier for the blind than gauging and stripping solid.  It's going to involve some fluxing, perhaps use of solder paste or a product like it, with some care in subsequent heating.  It might be easy to do all the binding post connections in solid and arrange connection to stranded away from the Atlas screw connections?

You might not be able to replace the slotted screws to Phillips. As I recall the Atlas screws are and odd size.

Are they not 3-48x1/8?  I see plenty of those available in Phillips with correct head shape.

Magnetizing the screwdriver helps hold the screws in place while setting.

That is a good point - I was just assuming some way to use a pre-magnetized bit, not do it electrically (or by attaching small permanent high-strength magnets to the bit).  I do wonder if stroking the bit a few times with a high-strength magnet wouldn't do the necessary trick without costing what a demagnetizer from a specialty tool supply house will...

Another option, that we use in bike shops when working on tiny screws, is putting a dab of light grease on the end of the screwdriver. We use a white lithium grease but you could also try petroleum jelly (Vaseline®). 

This is a good solution but one that I find works much better on recessed cross point (or hex or Torx) than on small slotted screws -- the viscosity of the grease is perhaps the most important thing.  I wonder if the dielectric grease for aluminum house wiring has the right stiffness to work well for a short #3.  The problem here is that he'll have to hold the screw by the threads while applying first the grease and then the screwdriver (to get the blade registered with the center of the slot) and this might be a little messier than other 'temporary stick-ants'.

  • Member since
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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, June 1, 2020 1:32 PM

I picked up one of these at Timonium.  I use it all the time for coupler and bolster screws.

https://www.micromark.com/Gripster-Holding-Tool-Set-of-3

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Central Vermont
  • 4,269 posts
Posted by cowman on Monday, June 1, 2020 6:20 PM

I  have one of the Gripsters like Henry showed, very handy.

Don't have one in my modeling tools, but have a Craftsman (I think) on my farm work bench.  The blade is split and a collar slides down the shaft to spread the blade sections and hold a slotted screw.

If you use the spade terminals, Atlas are the correct size, but you can find others that will fit at auto parts stores, you can rest the screw in the spade, pinch slightly and it will hold while you place it over the hole and put the screwdriver to work.

Good luck,.

Richard

  • Member since
    April 2013
  • 43 posts
Posted by chenxue on Monday, June 1, 2020 7:10 PM

knobman@sbcglobal.net

 I would think that some kind of tool is available for starting those tiny screws, but I have not found such a tool yet

https://www.micromark.com/Micro-Screw-Starter-for-Slotted-Screws

Cid    (Memphis, Tennessee)

  • Member since
    April 2013
  • 43 posts
Posted by chenxue on Monday, June 1, 2020 7:13 PM

A screwdriver which fits the screw helps.  Also maybe stick a little dab of tape on the screw head and wedge in the screwdriver tip.  

Cid    (Memphis, Tennessee)

  • Member since
    June 2020
  • 48 posts
Posted by Lastspikemike on Thursday, July 9, 2020 5:05 PM

Use tweezers with fine point and angled tip instead of your fingers directly. Grip the screw with the tweezers right under the head. That leaves enough thread to get the screw started in the hole. Screwdriver is manipulated as normal. Only your screw holding fingertips are replaced by tweezers. Think of the tweezer tips as tiny fingertips.

Another tip is to turn the screw counterclockwise first, a half turn at most, so that the end of the helix on the screw tip  drops into the opening in the female thread where that helix begins before you apply clockwise force. Saves the frustration caused by the screw thread trying to climb out of the female helix until it finds the entry point. 

  • Member since
    February 2018
  • From: Great Plains
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Posted by York1 on Thursday, July 9, 2020 6:33 PM

John-NYBW
Whatever you do, I would advise putting a plastic box of some kind under your work because inevitable you are going to have one fall to the floor and they have a way of magically disappearing when they happens. 

 

My layout is in a room with hardwood floors.  The hardwood seems to be solid, and it feels solid, but every-so-often when I drop one of those screws, the hardwood opens up and swallows the screws.  They are never seen again.

York1 John       

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