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Wiring Quick Start. Lance Mindheim. January 2022 issue.

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  • Member since
    August 2006
  • From: Franconia, NH
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Wiring Quick Start. Lance Mindheim. January 2022 issue.
Posted by dstarr on Tuesday, December 14, 2021 4:49 PM


Wiring Quick Start.  January 2022 issue just reached me.  Although my layout is wired, has been wired for some years now, I read the “Wiring Quick Start” article by Lance Mindheim, just to see what is going on.  After reading Lance’s piece, a few things occurred to me that ought to be said.  In an ideal world the rail joiners at the ends of each three foot piece of flex track would conduct electricity all the time and forever.  In the ideal world it would only be necessary to connect the two power terminals of your power pack or your DCC booster to the rails and you would be in business.


   In the real world the insides of the rail joiners corrode over time and sooner or later one rail joiner, and then other rail joiners will stop conducting electricity.  To combat this, we run a pair of heavy wires, a power buss, under the main line and we run track feeders from the power buss to each three foot piece of flex track.  That works, no matter how many rail joiners open up and stop conducting. 


   In real life, we find that a pair of feeder wires for each piece of flex track is overkill and the layout will run just fine with feeders to every other three foot piece of flextrack. 


   You can use any reasonable size of wire for your bus.  I use 14 AWG solid house wire.  Electrically speaking it is overkill, but it is mechanically rugged, you are unlikely to break it while working under the layout.  I would not go any larger.  The next size up 12 AWG is very stiff and difficult to form with long nose pliers.  12 AWG is standard house branch wire today.  14 AWG was standard house branch wire up until the early 1960’s so it is still fairly easy to find used.


   I have never used suitcase connectors on my power buss.  I solder.  Stagger your feeders a couple of inches lengthwise and you don’t even have to insulate the feeder joints, they won’t be able to touch each other and create a short.


   The 30 watt pencil soldering irons are sold to solder integrated circuits to printed circuit boards.  They are not really hot enough to solder feeders to HO gauge rail.  You can do it with a 30 watt iron but by the time the iron has heated the rail enough, it has melted some plastic ties.  I use a 100 watt soldering gun.  It gets everything hot enough to solder in a jiffy. You can minimize tie melting by clipping a bit of moist rag, or even Kleenex to the rail with alligator clips.


    Various kinds of solder are sold.  For any kind of electrical work you want 63-37% tin lead solder.  That is the eutectic mixture that gives the lowest melting point.   60-40% works nearly as well.  Avoid 50-50% solder that is for plumbing.  Avoid silver solder and the various new “lead free” solders, they don’t solder well and are products of the anti lead freaks.  Most 60-40 solder is hollow core, and the hollow is filled with rosin flux.  In principle you don’t need a jar of rosin flux; the flux in the solder is enough.  My experience differs, unless the work is shiny clean everywhere I need flux.  So solid core solder will work fine. 


   The secret to soldering is heating the work, not the solder.  Put the iron on top of your feeder; wait till the work is hot enough to melt the 60-40 solder.  When the solder begins to melt, flow enough of it onto the wire joint to moisten all the wire with molten solder.  Then take the iron away and don’t mess with the joint until is it good and cool.  If you move the joint when the solder is hot, something bad happens and you get a “cold solder joint” which has trouble conducting electricity or even staying together.  Cold solder joints have a frosty appearance, good solder joints are shiny. 


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