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Hand laid turnouts with Fast Tracks jigs

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Hand laid turnouts with Fast Tracks jigs
Posted by betamax on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 7:45 AM
I'm thinking about building my own turnouts. I'm at the break-even point where it would be advantageous to "roll my own" instead of buying finished turnouts.

But I've never attempted this before.

So the question is: How difficult is it to build your own turnouts, with no experience?

Will the assembly kits from Fast Tracks reduce a lot of the fustration involved?

I'm at the point where the unit cost is less using the Fast Tracks system, and I won't be held up waiting for delivery of turnouts either.

So would this be a good route, making it possible for someone who has never done this before to make good turnouts without a lot of learning?
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Posted by Pruitt on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 11:12 AM

I bought a jig at the National Train Show and sat down Sunday night to build my first turnout with it. It was pretty straight-forward. Took about 2 1/2 hours. The next one will take less time, I'm sure. Even on my first turnout, the trucks roll through the frog much smoother than with a commercial turout.

I have yet to attach the tie strip and paint the turnout, but I anticipate no problem.

Seems to have been a good investment.

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 12:15 PM
 Do you have prior experience handlaying track? I've never attempted handlaying anything, but at the NTS I stood there and watched them build turnouts at the Fastracks booth and kept thinking, "I can definitely do this." So I am also thinking about ordering a set for any future construction.

                                                   --Randy

Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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

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Posted by selector on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 1:07 PM

I manufactured six #8 turnouts of theirs, and built a curved #9(ish) in place using the #8 frog jigs and tweaking it a bit to work.  I have also partially built a #6 double-slip using their jigs.

As Marks says, they are very slick.  You must pay attention to the video, and take your time to do all he says you should do.  For example, grinding away the inside foot of the stock rails where the points lie is critical, and you must do it completely and thoroughly if you want the point rails to work well.

The break-even point, for most of us, will be at the 6-8 turnout point, but more-so when you consider that you will never have to purchase another commercial turnout, and that you will build among the best turnouts you can get whenever the mood/need strikes you.

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Posted by hminky on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 2:09 PM

It is actually quicker than tuning commercial turnouts. I bought the jig and built my second turnout in under 45 minutes. The turnouts are better than commercial prefab offerings.

Just a thought

Harold

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Posted by Pruitt on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 4:40 PM

Randy,

I do have prior experience laying my own track and building turnouts - way back in college (30 years ago). I built the turnouts following an article from an even older Model Railroader.

The key thing with the Fasttracks jig is good soldering. The jig holds all the tracks in the correct orientation. You need to make sure it will stay that way when you remove the turnout. I even went so far as to buy one of the same Weller soldering irons they use (from a different vendor - it was a little cheaper).

This is one of my best modeling investments in years.

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 8:53 PM
 Soldering, I can do. Anything from delicate electronics to big #12 bus wires. I just need to spring for a GOOD iron like the Weller. And with some background in machining, I know how to use jigs and fixtures. I don't know if you were there at the same time I was - I was the one that asked how long the point and frog jig would hold up.
 Only thing I'm not so sure about it their use of acid flux. Even if you clean it off, there's still residue and I'd be afraid it would eventually eat the copper cladding on the pc ties. I don't knwo what they were using at the trains how, but in the video that's on the CD they handed out, he specifically mentions that it is indeed acid flux. Maybe I'm just paranoid, after all the "never EVER use acid flux on electronics!" mantras over the years. Hmm, works ok on copper pipe, guess it wouldn't eat copper cladding or nickel silver either.

                                                    --Randy

Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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

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Posted by hminky on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 10:12 PM

Acid flux works because the turnout can be washed completely free of the acid flux unlike an electrical device which cannot be immersed in water. If you are really paranoid use a baking soda bath. Mine have been setting for a month and are still bright and shiny.

Harold

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Posted by selector on Tuesday, August 1, 2006 10:58 PM

 rrinker wrote:
 Soldering, I can do. Anything from delicate electronics to big #12 bus wires. I just need to spring for a GOOD iron like the Weller. And with some background in machining, I know how to use jigs and fixtures. I don't know if you were there at the same time I was - I was the one that asked how long the point and frog jig would hold up.
 Only thing I'm not so sure about it their use of acid flux. Even if you clean it off, there's still residue and I'd be afraid it would eventually eat the copper cladding on the pc ties. I don't knwo what they were using at the trains how, but in the video that's on the CD they handed out, he specifically mentions that it is indeed acid flux. Maybe I'm just paranoid, after all the "never EVER use acid flux on electronics!" mantras over the years. Hmm, works ok on copper pipe, guess it wouldn't eat copper cladding or nickel silver either.

                                                    --Randy

Randy, the acid in the flux will only react until it is taken up.  Acid gets used in any oxydative reaction, so it is limited.  Personally, I used just enough on a very small artist's paint brush to see a smudge on the PCB tie.  After assembly, I washed each turnout in warm sudsy water using a vegetable brush to ensure all surfaces were scoured.  To date, each turnout looks fine.  And, if you-know-what happens, as is its wont, remove the turnout, or desolder the offending tie and slip it out, to be replaced.

Randy, if nothing else counts in turnouts, the frogs do, and these will have you giggling when you see how well yours work.  They are that nice.

 

-Crandell

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 5:02 AM
Hi betamax. I have recently started using my fastrack jig. I've done 5 so far and impressed at easy it is but the big thing they are constint which is most important. As I have 80 somehting left to do progess will be slow but steady.

cheers womblenz
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Posted by Pruitt on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 5:17 AM

I completed my first turnout, except for painting, last night. The only place my test trucks click is on the frog isolation gaps. Even my first effort is smoother than the Walthers / Shinohara turnouts I've been using!

Tonight I'll paint the turnout, and in a few weeks it'll go onto the layout.

By the time I'm done I'll have put about 4 hours into the turnout. The next one will go faster, I'm sure.

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Posted by donhalshanks on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 9:58 AM
For an alternative, I just finished completing my first try at hand making a turnout. I followed to the letter, Tony Koester's article "Building a Turnout from Scratch" in MR's "Trackwork and Lineside Detail". I tried it because I was a little hung up on the cost of the jig and stuff.

I am most proud of the results. Everything works great, it looks great, and all MNRA gauge stds are there, and the wheels and trucks go through smoothly, and its wired for DCC with isolated frog.

It did take me a while, but I'm into my 2nd turnout and the time will be halved, and I can see by the third one, it will be quite easy. Matches my 20' of first time trying hand laid track as well.

Hand laid track is not for everyone, I'm sure, but it works for a novice like me. I wouldn't want anyone to be scared away from trying it without a jig. However, with the jig it can be done at the work bench.

Hal

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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 10:11 AM
I REALLY appreciate this thread. Smile [:)]

I've been quite impressed with the Fast Tracks system for a while now and love the look of hand-laid track.  I had a friend from my club bring a double-crossover over one time, that a friend of his had made, and it was just BEAUTIFUL!  The cars just rolled through the turnout without a click.  Now you've got me (re)thinking about investing in the Fast Tracks system again.

I do have a question for either Harold, Crandell, and Mark: Can you alter the overall length of the FS turnouts fairly easily?  If so, how much?  For instance, say I want to fit a #6 turnout into a #4 or #5 turnout spot.  Is there enough "overlap" on the ends that I could trim the end to make that kind of adjustment?

Thanks for the responses...

Tom

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Posted by Vail and Southwestern RR on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 11:32 AM

You can cut some length off of the ends, but in my mind that's really not part of the turnout anyway.  But I don't see how you are ever going to fit a #6 into the space of a #4, since the distance from the points to the frog, and the diverging angle are fixed there just ins't anything you can do about it.  That's what makes a #6 a #6, after all (of course you knew that).  You can look at the tie templates for the Fast Tracks turnouts on their website, anything after the last PC board tie could be cut off, so from that you can see what is possible.

 

Jeff But it's a dry heat!

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 11:56 AM

I agree.  The geometry is different, unless you make allowances for between-track distances so that the newer angle matches.  So, yes, I have cropped the extremeties of my #8's, but you must ensure that you don't force a tighter curve than you had intented by placing diverging and through tracks too close together.

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 12:00 PM
 Brunton wrote:

I completed my first turnout, except for painting, last night. The only place my test trucks click is on the frog isolation gaps. Even my first effort is smoother than the Walthers / Shinohara turnouts I've been using!

Tonight I'll paint the turnout, and in a few weeks it'll go onto the layout.

By the time I'm done I'll have put about 4 hours into the turnout. The next one will go faster, I'm sure.

 

Mark, have you a jeweller's saw?  I paid for one (gulp!...import duties and all made it almost not worthwhile), but it does a superb job of the frog isolation cuts.  In fact, you have to squint to see them...believe it or not.  I do not like the effect that a cut-off disk, diamond or not, has on my track. In comparison, the latter leaves a canyon.

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Posted by hminky on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 1:17 PM

Ed Stimpson had an article in the May 1978 Model Railroader, " Maintenance-Free Turnouts", that developed turnouts on the workbench using PC board ties. It was the same concept as Fast Track jig but they were built using a paper diagram. I have built turnouts at the bench using his article and they work really well.

I will use Ed's method for special turnouts but the Fast Tracks jig makes regular turnouts so much faster. I have built curved crossovers using paper diagrams as Ed described. Building turnouts in place on the layout gets really old when the turnout isn't quite right and is located in that arm's length place.

The PC board turnout built on the bench is the only way to build turnouts for ease and reliability

Just a thought

Harold

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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 1:41 PM
Jeff & Crandell,

Yes, I'm aware of the difference in diverging angles of the difference size turnouts.  I'm sorry I wasn't a bit clearer in my question.  I was speaking specifically of the straight portion of the turnout and how much of that could be trimmed off  to make it shorter.

Taking an Atlas turnout as an example, a #6 turnout is 12" long; a #4 turnout, 9" long.  I was just curious how much the Fast Track turnouts could be trimmed down - without effecting the operational smoothness of the turnout.  Is my question more clear and make more sense now?  Thanks.

Tom

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Posted by Vail and Southwestern RR on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 2:31 PM

Tom-

I thought that was what you meant.  If you look at the templates (for example http://www.handlaidtrack.com/cd/templates/n-6-turnout-tie-template.pdf  ) you can see where the PC board ties are.  You could cut outside of those.  You might be able to even put them a bit farther back and make the cut, as long as everything is supported.

I have made a few now, and I have to say they really look good.  I'm still improving, I know that my best have yet to be built.  In N scale, at least, you need to make sure the guard rails don't get too close to the stock rails, and as someone else said you must absolutely do a good job of removing the base of the stock rails where the points will nest.  I have actually found the most annoying part adding all of the non-PC ties.  They make the nifty quick-sticks, but I am cheap.....  If I wanted to lay the ties in place and then lay the turnout on them it relly woulnd't be a problem, since it would not matter if they actually bonded, but I am trying to build on the bench and then move the whole thing into place.

 

Jeff But it's a dry heat!

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 2:37 PM

Tom, they can be cut right down to just after the points, and just after the frogs, if you wish.  I just measured my #8, and I would not feel comfortable paring it down below a full 10".

I can't say for sure, but I would guess one of their # 6 turnouts could be brought down nearer to 9".  May I suggest that you log onto their site (handlaidtrack.com), and you can download and print a true-sized template for all of their turnouts.

-Crandell

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Posted by fwright on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 3:00 PM

 tstage wrote:
I REALLY appreciate this thread. Smile [:)]
I do have a question for either Harold, Crandell, and Mark: Can you alter the overall length of the FS turnouts fairly easily?  If so, how much?  For instance, say I want to fit a #6 turnout into a #4 or #5 turnout spot.  Is there enough "overlap" on the ends that I could trim the end to make that kind of adjustment?

Thanks for the responses...

Tom

Tom

You are quite capable of laying your own turnout without a Fast Tracks jig (especially after you have built a couple with the jig) if you need a different frog or a curved turnout to fit a specific situation.  Steve Hatch at Railway Engineering demonstrated the following technique to me for creating a template for a custom turnout:

1) lay some flex track to fit one leg of the desired turnout.  Put a piece a paper on top and "color" over the rails with a pencil to create a tracing of the rail locations.

2) relay the flex track for the other desired turnout leg.  Using the same reference point at the point end of the turnout, get a tracing of the rail location for the other leg on the same piece of paper.

3) you now have a paper template with a custom frog, closure rail, and points.  Build the components to fit the template with your choice of methods, either at the bench or on site.  

I'm not trying to talk you out of Fast Tracks jigs, but just pointing out that you can build custom turnouts nearly as easily.  I learned how on my own and from an old Jack Work article in Apr 1963 MR, before Fast Tracks existed.  Now the jigs are too expensive for what I would gain.

yours in handlaid track

Fred W

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Posted by tstage on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 3:25 PM
Thanks, Crandell...Thanks, Jeff! Smile [:)]  And, thank you, too, Fred.  I'll definitely muse over what you have mentioned.

Tom

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Posted by daveh06 on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 3:38 PM
I have assembled 5  number 5 S scale Fast Track turnouts. I used store bought solder on the first one and then ordered their solder  - their .015 solder sure makes for a neat joint.  Assembly time on the last one was about 59 minutes, so it definetly goes faster as you get the hang of it.  It is worth the effort.
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Posted by Pruitt on Thursday, August 3, 2006 5:09 AM
 fwright wrote:

I'm not trying to talk you out of Fast Tracks jigs, but just pointing out that you can build custom turnouts nearly as easily.  I learned how on my own and from an old Jack Work article in Apr 1963 MR, before Fast Tracks existed.  Now the jigs are too expensive for what I would gain.

yours in handlaid track

Fred W

Fred,

Have you tried one of the Fasttracks jigs? (I'm not being snide or anything - just curious, because my experience is so different)

I handbuilt many turnouts without a Fasttracks jig in the past (from a 1950s article in MR - I don't remember the author). Maybe others' experiences are different, but for me it is much easier  now using the jig and point/frog tool. Granted, the Fasttracks tools are pricey, but the ease and accuracy with which a turnout goes together makes the cost more than worth it.

Probably the part of construction that makes the most difference is the fabrication of points and frogs. I used to file these parts by holding the rail in my fingers. I certainly don't miss the tender skin on my thumbs that I used to get while filing down frog and point rails.

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Posted by Tom Bryant_MR on Thursday, August 3, 2006 6:49 AM

Boy am I glad I found this thread.  I need about 55+ #5 turnouts to complete my layout.  At ~ $15 each commerically purchased that would amount to over $800.  If I read correctly on the fast tracks web, the jig will run about $120. I don't see how I, or my CFO, could argue with that math.

And, for the ones I have so far laid on my staging yard, I can say I do not particularly like the clickety-clack !

Thanks

Tom

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Posted by betamax on Thursday, August 3, 2006 9:21 AM
Quote:

Boy am I glad I found this thread. I need about 55+ #5 turnouts to complete my layout. At ~ $15 each commerically purchased that would amount to over $800. If I read correctly on the fast tracks web, the jig will run about $120. I don't see how I, or my CFO, could argue with that math.

--

That's what I figured too. By making my own turnouts with their system, I could probably cut my costs by $10/turnout. Over time, it gets even better. At this point, they will cost less than 2/3 of a factory built unit.

Then there is the issue of supply. This way, I can make them as needed, without having to call around to find out who has stock...

The couple of hundred dollars I save can be spent on something else.

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Posted by fwright on Thursday, August 3, 2006 11:57 AM
 Brunton wrote:

Fred,

Have you tried one of the Fasttracks jigs? (I'm not being snide or anything - just curious, because my experience is so different)

I handbuilt many turnouts without a Fasttracks jig in the past (from a 1950s article in MR - I don't remember the author). Maybe others' experiences are different, but for me it is much easier  now using the jig and point/frog tool. Granted, the Fasttracks tools are pricey, but the ease and accuracy with which a turnout goes together makes the cost more than worth it.

Probably the part of construction that makes the most difference is the fabrication of points and frogs. I used to file these parts by holding the rail in my fingers. I certainly don't miss the tender skin on my thumbs that I used to get while filing down frog and point rails.

Brunton

I have not tried the Fasttracks jigs.  I, too, used to file points and frogs at the layout using a combination of my fingers and the roadbed as filing assists.  I know of what you speak about tender skin.

I was replying to a request as to how to obtain a different size turnout with Fasttracks because for most of us, multiple jigs are out of financial reach.  I assumed the different size would be for only a few turnouts, otherwise it would pay to get the jig.

After learning how to make an accurate template of the desired custom turnout from Steve Hatch, I now do a good portion of the turnout construction at the bench, using the template I have drawn, a hardwood base, and a vise to hold and support my work.  The template is key - I could never work at the bench before because I couldn't measure accurately and consistently enough to transfer my work between bench and layout and have it fit right.  Steve also showed me a much easier technique for making frogs than I had previously used.

  • Bend (kink) a piece of rail to match the broad angle of the frog - the rail should match a frog rail and the same-side closure rail on the template.
  • File the back side of this piece of rail at the bend (kink) until a hole just shows through on the rail web
  • Fold the rail back on itself to match the frog angle on the template.  You now have the frog point.
  • The wing rail, closure rail, and point are made from a single piece of rail to fit the template.  The only filing required is the point itself, and I do this in the vise.
  • Solder the 3 pieces of rail together at the frog using the .015" solder.  I now have everything except the stock rails and guard rails assembled and ready to spiked in place on the layout.

This is the easiest way I know to get a custom turnout.  Many thanks to Steve Hatch.

Other alternatives for curved turnouts I have seen or heard about is Proto87 Stores bendable turnout kits.  I believe the Central Valley turnout tie strips are also easily bent to get a curved turnout.

yours in handlaid track

Fred W

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Thursday, August 3, 2006 3:07 PM

Before anyone throws any bricks, I think the Fast Track jigs are quality products, and that using them will result in quality results as long as reasonable care is taken by the builder.  If you really want standard-frog-number turnouts they are one good option.

In my case, the biggest reason for rolling my own from raw rail is the freedom it gives me to shape specialwork to unusual situations while avoiding the straitjacket of standard-number frogs.  While I do not make tracings of the rails, I do set up routes with a piece of flex (and then check for trackability with my least-forgiving rolling stock.)  Most of the time I can't tell you what the curve radii or frog numbers really are.  All I can say is that the result is smooth-flowing trackwork that won't generate derailment or other problems in the future.  The fact that it is relatively inexpensive is an added bonus.

I build all my specialwork in place, spike everything solid, then solder - using a BIG Weller gun and rosin paste flux, plus 60-40 solder.  Since washing my wood ties and plywood subroadbed is not an option, I avoid acid flux.  The turnouts on my end-of-the-line module were built that way in 1980 and are still giving me trouble free service, so I guess the method works.

IMHO, the keys to hand-building trouble-free turnouts and specialwork are:

  1. Don't rush.  Spend a few extra seconds to get it right.
  2. Work with a track gauge in one hand and a three-point gauge riding the rail you're working on.
  3. As soon as possible - but definitely before soldering - test with your 'derailment checker.'  (Mine is a D50 class 2-8-2 with a touchy pilot truck and a derailment-prone tender.)
  4. If something doesn't measure up, discard it and substitute a serviceable part.

Hand-built turnouts will either have "electrofrogs" or will be five times harder to build.  I prefer to power the frogs rather than fight with insulating them, but this may be influenced by some rolling stock with really short pickup wheelbases.  If all of your rolling stock can bridge a long 'dead' frog, substitute 1.5 for five in my original comment (since the dead frog still requires four additional rail gaps.)

Chuck  (who actually enjoys building puzzle palace specialwork in HOj)

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Posted by rghammill on Friday, August 4, 2006 4:41 AM
I'm just about to try making my own turnouts as well. I like the idea of the Fast Tracks jigs, but I'm not so fond of the idea of the PC boards and soldering the rails (although I understand the reasons they do it that way).

The other issues are also personal preferences - I prefer the idea of gluing the rails instead of the spikes every 4-6 ties. I think it will be more durable, and the spikes don't look quite right in photos. The second issue is purely cosmetic, and that is that the handlaid track generally doesn't have tie plates.

I was talking to Andy Reichert at Proto:87 shops to get more information on his spectacular looking handlaid track components. His Ultimate Track tie plates and decorative rail joiners (that are glued to the track, they are not functional, but look like the real thing) are amazing.

http://www.proto87stores.com/p87stores/frtrck.htm#ULTIM

For me, being new to handlaying track, he recommended the Central Valley tie turnout kits. They are plastic turnout kits of the ties, kind of like flex track without the rails. The tie plates are molded on and already form the channel for the rail so you don't need a separate jig. They are bendable as well so you can make curved turnouts. I'll also be able to build them off layout as well.

The real reason I like this idea is the cost. Andy sells the switch sets for $3.99 each. That might be a bit more than using the ties and the jig, provided you make enough turnouts with the jig. I'll need several different curved switch radii, regular left/right of a couple of different types and so on. I'd have to purchase different jigs for each different type of turnout, and that would get very expensive very quickly.

That being said, the Fast Tracks system still looks great, and they have a lot of other tools that will be a great help (the point tool and the rail bender are two that I'll be getting).

Randy
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Posted by Pruitt on Friday, August 4, 2006 6:14 AM
 fwright wrote:
Steve also showed me a much easier technique for making frogs than I had previously used.
  • Bend (kink) a piece of rail to match the broad angle of the frog - the rail should match a frog rail and the same-side closure rail on the template.
  • File the back side of this piece of rail at the bend (kink) until a hole just shows through on the rail web
  • Fold the rail back on itself to match the frog angle on the template.  You now have the frog point.

That's exactly the same way I used to make frogs! It works pretty slick.

When I was doing it years ago, I was using code 100 rail. Code 83 was not around at the time, and code 70 was a rarity. Filing away most of a code 100 rail at that shallow angle took forever! For points I would kink the rail slightly a couple of inches back from the end, the file away the inside surface after the kink. If you did it right, the path was straight just as you filed the end to a perfect point. Again came the tender fingers. It took a couple of hours to file two points and a frog. I did some work with code 70 a little later - that smaller rail is much easier to file into shape!

And speaking of code 70, all my secondary track will BE code 70, so I'll need another Fasttracks jig for that rail size. With the number of turnouts, though, it will pay for itself over time.

The thing that makes the jig worthwhile to me is that it automatically gauges everything for you. I guess I'm too lazy to do all that finicky work myself anymore.

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