solder trouble

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solder trouble
Posted by stuartmit on Wednesday, February 7, 2024 11:26 AM

When I was a teen, I learned to solder wires for the trains using an old fashioned electric iron which had no on of switchj; as I recall you plugged it in and it got hot. When working with it, if I put it down, I put it on a piece of metal flat bar which wasnt important, and was impervious to the heat. The way i soldered was to twist wires together, put on flux, insert the iron in the flux and then melt some solder onto the tip of the iron and then touch it to the twisted wire joint, and the solder would flow onto the wires. I have no idea what the wattage of the iron was. I believe that was what my dad did, and even though i don't think thats how you are supposed to do it, that was my method. It worked fine on HO brass flex track, and lionel 027.

Years ago, I bought a weller Soldering gun, with two wattage ranges. I don't really know the advisable use of the two different ranges, but I try to use my old method. 

When I try to solder to track, i use my dremel with a wheel to grind a clean spot on the rail, then put solder flux on the rail, as well as on the wire. Then i bring the wire to the cleaned area on the rail, melt solder onto the tip of  the gun and press it to the wire sitting on the side of the rail. I find my success 50/50, and I dont' know why--it always used to work. I do know an orthodox approach is to melt solded seperately onto both rail and wire, then bring them together, and with no addiitonal use of solder, pull trigger on the gun and press wire to rail and they should unite. I havevent ever had success with that method. Butwhat used to be a routine process hs become a challenge, which I never am confidence in as to easy success.   comments?


By the way, can you solder to 022 switch rails?


Also, is it my imagination--do older joints take longer to open then new ones take to create?

  • Member since
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Posted by ADCX Rob on Wednesday, February 7, 2024 1:18 PM

...can you solder to 022 switch rails?

Well, if you take the bottom plate of the switch off, you can see Lionel soldered to them, so you should be able to as well.


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Posted by Dave45681 on Wednesday, February 7, 2024 9:44 PM

There was a lot burried in there, but here are a few thoughts:

1) The old Iron you are referring to was most likely a small 25-40 watts.  Certainly could be used for HO track and almost all wiring for our larger trains, but I'd consider it far under powered for soldering wire to actual Tubular Track.  I'm not suggesting it's impossible to do it, but it would certainly take quite a while.

2) While there are lots of different soldering guns out there, a very popular one (my father had one that he probably bought in the late 60's or early 70's and a very similar unit is still offered) is a Weller that does either 100 or 140 watts, depending on how much you pull the trigger (it's a 2 "step" switch, not continuously variable, so the first "step" is the 100 watts, then it's 140 watts if you squeeze it to the second (final) "step").  This unit should be easily capable of soldering to Tubular track, especially if taking advantage of the 140 watt setting.

3) While it's not maybe totally critical to your situation, it seems like maybe you are mixing the 2 types of Lionel tubular track in your description?  You mention having success years ago with soldering with the small iron to O27, but then at the end of you post you ask about the possibility of soldering to an O22 switch rail (which is the heavier O Gauge rail).  The O Gauge rail is a bit larger and more of a heat sink, so may require more heat to be successful with soldering.

4) The (in simple terms) way soldering is supposed to work is "heat the work, not the solder".  That means you heat the rail (or wires) to the point where the solder will easily melt to it when brought to the heated material, rather than melting it wih the tip and then just hoping the melted solder stays connected to the work.  This can lead to bad joints or "cold" solder joints that are not ideal physically or electrically.

5) With all of this, of course the one problem with higher heat is you also have to now start worrying about what happens when the heat transfers to the wire: a) it's a lot easier to melt insulation when using higher heat, b) it also can become more difficult to hold the wire in the proper position (may need to use a tool rather than just your fingers to hold the wire) since the heat is going to transfer to the wire and make it harder to hold in a steady position.  (not holding it steady and the wire moving while the solder is in the process of cooling can cause those cold solder joints mentioned)

6) Are you sure the connections for the soldeing gun tip were tight?  If they are not, the gun won't work efficiently.  Use a wrench or pliers to make sure the 2 "nuts" where the tip mounts to the gun are tight.

Good luck, hope you end up being successful in your quest.


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Posted by 8ntruck on Wednesday, February 7, 2024 10:23 PM

I've had good luck soldiering to rail by tinning a spot on the rail and the end of the wire, then placing the wire on the tinned spot on the rail, then apply the iron to melt them together.

Tinning is melting a dab of solder onto the work piece - after cleaning and applying flux.

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Posted by trainlivebob on Friday, February 9, 2024 11:17 AM


I've had good luck soldiering to rail by tinning a spot on the rail and the end of the wire, then placing the wire on the tinned spot on the rail, then apply the iron to melt them together.

Tinning is melting a dab of solder onto the work piece - after cleaning and applying flux.


Ive also had success with this method using a solder gun, not a pencil iron which is too low a heat for track.

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