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Flex track sections meet on a curve -- ends tend to straighten (= kink at joint). What to do?

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Flex track sections meet on a curve -- ends tend to straighten (= kink at joint). What to do?
Posted by crossthedog on Thursday, May 13, 2021 1:05 AM

Hi friends,

Cork roadbed is laid for my mainline loop and I'm loosely pinning my turnouts and flex track.

Haven't started nailing the track yet because I need to find a drill bit tiny enough to drill through the ties (Atlas code 83 flex; holes are not drilled all the way through). But I already see an issue. Some of the track segments necessarily meet on the curves, and the last inch of rail does not want to conform to the arc, so I can tell that the joint here will want to have a slight kink.

This effect is amplified by the fact that I had to remove the end tie to be able to fit the rail joiner on, so the rails protrude a little bit, which means there is even less incentive for them to be curved right at the end.

Here's a visual aid.

Obviously I'll be cutting the inside (right) rail a bit to match the other, but you can see how it's taking all these thumbtacks just to force the rails to even PRETEND to curve at the end, and there would still be a kink here if the next section was laid.

I did find this advice online...

To prevent a kink at the joint, join the next section while the joints are straight. Apply a small amount of solder flux to the rails and solder both together at the joint. Using flux and working quickly, you can solder the rail without melting ties.

...but I don't know what flux is, and I cannot envision how this would help.

What are your tricks to maintaining the proper curve through these joints?

Thanks in advance.

-Matt 

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, May 13, 2021 2:20 AM

Hi Matt,

First, flux is a chemical cleaner that removes metal oxides when heat is applied. It is usually in a paste form but there are liquid forms as well.

The trick to eliminating the kinks is to join the ends of your flex track pieces together before laying them in the curve. Start laying the flex track in the curve, but leave the last 10" to 12" straight. Then solder on the next piece of flex track. Once the rails are soldered you can then lay them in the curve just like it was one continuous piece of flex track.

To solder the rail ends together, join the rails in a straight line with rail joiners. Then apply a small amount of flux to the rail joiner, and then heat the joint and apply solder quickly. If you are quick enough you won't melt the ties. You don't need a lot of solder. There shouldn't be any blobs on the rail joiners or the rails.

One important point is that you must have the right flux! There are two kinds: rosin and acid. Never use acid flux on anything related to model railroading!! The acid continues to eat away at the joint long after the soldering is done, and eventually it will do a lot of damage.

A few other points:

- Most solder for hobby work comes with the rosin already built into the core. However, it is usually beneficial to have some flux separate as well, especially if you are just starting out.

- Smaller diameter solder is easier to control and melts faster. Stay away from solders intended for plumbing.

- Learning to work quickly is the key to avoiding melting the ties. If you prepare the work properly, i.e. everything is clean, the solder should flow into the joint in just a few seconds. As soon as the solder flows into place, remove your iron.

- For soldering rails you need a decent sized iron. It doesn't have to be huge but a 15 watt iron intended for fine electronics won't work.

- You must keep the tip of the iron clean. I use a copper sponge like the ones intended for scrubbing pots and pans (no soap!).

https://www.radioshack.com/collections/solder-and-flux/products/rosin-soldering-paste-flux

Tip cleaning brass sponge:

Dave

I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

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Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, May 13, 2021 2:22 AM

 

Hello,

The advice you found is sound. I soldered all my curved joints while the flex track was straight (tangent) at the area of the joiner, then carefully aligned the remainder of the curve. As you note it is a multi-step process since you have to trim and dress both mating ends of the inside rail.

You'll get the hang of it very quickly.

Flux is a chemical that cleans and aids in the flow of the solder. DO NOT get plumber's acid flux but rosin flux for electronics and wiring. For track work I use Superior #135 paste and apply it with a toothpick. The initial heat from the iron will cause the flux to melt and flow all around the rail joiner, then as the solder melts it will flow and follow the flux.

https://www.amazon.com/SRA-Rosin-Paste-Flux-135/dp/B008ZIV85A/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=solder+flux&qid=1620890646&sr=8-2

There are liquid fluxes and some that are water cleanup and such. It helps to clean off the excess flux after the joint is cool with a cotton swab and soma alcohol.

From Wikipedia:

In soldering of metals, flux serves a threefold purpose: it removes any oxidized metal from the surfaces to be soldered, seals out air thus preventing further oxidation, and by facilitating amalgamation improves wetting characteristics of the liquid solder. Some fluxes are corrosive, so the parts have to be cleaned with a damp sponge or other absorbent material after soldering to prevent damage. Several types of flux are used in electronics.

Good Luck, Ed

 

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Posted by mobilman44 on Thursday, May 13, 2021 4:56 AM

In building my last two layouts, I would solder two track sections together (making sure the joints were staggered) and lay out the curve first, and then cut the ends to fit the adjacent tangent trackage.  It worked like a charm.

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Thursday, May 13, 2021 6:15 AM

mobilman44

In building my last two layouts, I would solder two track sections together (making sure the joints were staggered) and lay out the curve first, and then cut the ends to fit the adjacent tangent trackage.  It worked like a charm. 

I've done the same on my last 3 layouts, except I cut the rails so the joints were even/parallel (not staggered).  It also worked like charm.  I've found no compelling reason to stagger joints.

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Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, May 13, 2021 6:21 AM

I have joined as many as 4 pieces of 36" flextrack together and soldered the rail joints on the work bench. If you don't solder the rail joints while the flex track is straight, there is no way to avoid kinks which will cause derailments for sure.

Rich

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Posted by Track fiddler on Thursday, May 13, 2021 7:22 AM

Good morning Matt

Looks like you have some sound advice here about ironing out the kinks on your radiuses by soldering them prior to laying them down.  Has been the solution as long as I can remember here.

Just an FYI for you as I've done several experiments on gluing down track after it's laid with T pins.  Exactly what I'm going to do when I ever get to that point as these experiments were quite successful.

The first experiment I diluted wood glue with water and applied the solution in-between the ties with an eyedropper and let it dry overnight.  It worked very well as the solution seeps under the track ties as the water evaporates as it dries.  The track was adequately secure but could be removed without damaging it with a putty knife.  This works out well if you ever want to change your track routing plan sometime down the road.

As I thought about the interior wood glue solution that is water soluble even after it's dry, it would later get soaked by ballasting.  It occurred to me the track could possibly come loose on the radiuses where there is retention.  I thought of using waterproof exterior wood glue but felt it would become too permanent on the track ties if ever removed.  Once dry, that stuff doesn't like to come off of anything.  I never tried that experiment though because I didn't have any.  It may favor the cork and be the 'Cat's Meow' for all I know.

I did a final experiment with Alex Plus diluted with water and it worked just as well.  Alex is water soluble when wet but becomes waterproof after it is dry.  After it set overnight the track could be removed and the caulk was left stuck to the cork as the track came up clean.  Alex sticks to both surfaces being fastened together but favors the more porous surface to adhere to when pried apart.

 

 

 

TF

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Posted by peahrens on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:02 AM

A couple of additional points I may have missed above:

1.  It is not essential to have the joints directly across from each other, as both will be part of a rail unit once soldered and each rail will curve nicely.

2.  If ties are close to where you will be soldering and there is concern about tie melting, use heat sinks on the rails next to the joint soldering point.  I used two alligator clips, one on each rail.  That minimizes the heat seen by the next ties.  

Paul

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Posted by York1 on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:15 AM

Matt,

Someone may have already mentioned this:

It sounds like you have not soldered much yet.  If that's true, before you solder some of your track, try practicing on some scrap ends of track you may have.  Ruin the scrap while you learn so you don't have to use bad words ruining some good pieces of flex track.

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Posted by josephbw on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:35 AM

Something that hasn't been mentioned yet, is to let your soldering iron get very hot before you touch it to the rail. That way you can be on and off the joint very quickly.

One trick I do is to wet 2 pieces of paper towel and put them on either side of the joint. When you hear them sizzle you have probably gotten the joint sufficiently hot enough to solder.

As mentioned practice before you do it for real. Also, use the solder sparingly, then there is no to very little cleanup of solder blobs.

Joe

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Posted by mobilman44 on Thursday, May 13, 2021 9:04 AM

As an aside, and not intended as a "rabbit trail".....

The current issue of MR has an article about Resistance soldering irons.  It was an eye opener for me, and if I was starting a new layout, I would definitely have to have one.

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Thursday, May 13, 2021 9:20 AM

Atlas makes handy flex track tie end sections that slip over the cut end after removing the last four ties. That helps retain the gauge.

https://shop.atlasrr.com/p-107-ho-code-83-flex-track-end-ties.aspx

You'll need to clean up the cut ends of each rail with a needle file both to slide the cut piece of four ties off the flex track ends and slide on these finishing ends. 

Also, drilling the same size tiny track nail holes into the tie end just outside of the rail will allow you to insert a model spike rather than a track nail which will hold the  curve better than a track nail in the center of the tie. 

3/64" bit gives a clearance hole for track nails or spikes. I use a model maker's hand drill or a pin vice with spring loaded helical drive to drill these holes. The plastic is hard but thin so starting the hole accurately is the main challenge. The drill bites through quite quickly. You don't want the clearance hole to enter the roadbed!

You'll find you need more tie holes than Atlas provides. 

Atlas flex track is very springy and wants to return to straight. Try adding a piece of sectional track with joiners  to the cut end in order to apply the necessary force to complete the curve at the end. Then remove the sectional track to continue laying. 

I find that Atlas "universal" Code 100/83 joiners just aren't. I need to squeeze every single joiner in order to get a firm sliding fit onto the Code 83 rail end. Every darned joiner. And it's really easy to squeeze too far. Best tool I've discovered so far is a pair of flat face snub nosed model pliers by Zona (apparently no longer made). Squeeze from one side and then  the other so as to allow for the fact that plier jaws aren't parallel. Squeeze only the center portion of the joiner in order to keep the ends open for ease of fitment. 

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Posted by crossthedog on Thursday, May 13, 2021 10:55 AM

Wow. Just... wow. So much vital info here. I'm feeling like I need to take out a student loan and go back to college as a Model Railroading major with minors in Physics, Electrical Engineering and Not Getting Discouraged.

Thanks fellas. I'll have to read this thread over several more times. I don't have an "iron" yet, so thanks for the tips about that too.

Here's the embarrassing part: I don't remember soldering rail joints as a kid and we had a lot of joints because our first layout was all sectional track. I do remember soldering little wires to the rails, and I learned not to solder over my head by having solder drip onto my hand (luckily not into my eyes) while working underneath the train table.

But in general I thought that the rail joiners were conductive, so the newest question bubbling up into my head is... are we soldering the joint because ALL joints need to be soldered, or are we soldering the joint in this case only because it will help retain the curve?

Again, I am grateful for all this help. I've had good results from listening to you guys so far, right through to laying cork for turnouts.

-Matt

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Thursday, May 13, 2021 11:44 AM

crossthedog
...But in general I thought that the rail joiners were conductive, so the newest question bubbling up into my head is... are we soldering the joint because ALL joints need to be soldered, or are we soldering the joint in this case only because it will help retain the curve?...

Unless they're insulated (plastic), yes, the rail joiners are conductive.  However, over time, their surface can oxidize enough that they're either less conductive or not conductive at all.  I solder all of my rail joints (except those where there are bridges, as I build the bridges so that they're removeable - handy when the "water" under the bridges needs to be cleaned vacuumed or dusted).

As others have mentioned, if you do the soldering before the curve is completed, the soldered-together track will bend just as well as the portion that's already curved.

Wayne

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, May 13, 2021 12:06 PM

We've had numerous threads on this subject over the years, full of useful information.  It only seems like a firehose because you're getting all the options at once.  Take notes and quietly plan what of the advice given you want to use -- then do that.

I second the resistance-soldering idea for this use: this gets around most of the concerns with tie-melting or time to avoid cold joints and such.  Use a good no-clean flux and, ideally, one of the eutectic solders (which "harden" quickly to form the joint) -- and yes, this is a perfect excuse to solder a small feeder wire into the joint while making it.

As an introduction to the wide world of soldering, read some of the material here as you have time:

https://aimsolder.com/aimsolderproducts?gclid=CjwKCAjwnPOEBhA0EiwA609Redw5ilNCSY-Vi6Ks_5UD2pYspZwBT5tucHrt5yc2YqJYS6eicnE46hoCyk0QAvD_BwE

There are other specialty soldering sites, including those catering to the jewelry industry, that are useful resources in 'learning at low cost'.

 

If you want, you can pre-bend the ends of the joint slightly using a curve gauge, while the track pieces are still straight and otherwise 'uncurved', before applying the joiner so there isn't a short 'hard spot' in your curve.  This may be overkill to most modelers, though.

A general rule, if you're planning to keep expansion joints in trackwork, is to solder your curve and transition joints religiously and leave the open joints in straights and at turnouts.  We've had threads on that too.

 

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Posted by crossthedog on Thursday, May 13, 2021 7:13 PM

Welp, it looks like I'm dead in the water (or maybe dead in the canyon) until I have acquired ye Ancient Art (and Tools) of Soldering Magick. I've been researching today and there's no way I can justify the cost of a resistance solderer, nice as that would be. So I'm considering two other options; 1) buying the "good enough for a beginner" X-Tronic #3020-XTS-ST (link) online and weeding my garden while I wait for it to arrive or 2) running out and getting a 60-watt wand for couple of sawbucks (and some flux and solder for few fins more) so I can get started practicing my soldering wizardry tomorrow.

Thoughts on which route to take? Really, I can't afford half a house payment for soldering equipment, so the resistance station is a nonstarter. Have any of you used X-Tronic's products? Are they worth $60-$70? Or would it make more sense to just get a cheap handheld.

UPDATE: I've just discovered that a Home Depot nearby has the Weller WLC100 Soldering Station for around $40. That's another one I'm considering, but if these "affordable" stations are not a good value in your experience, I'd pass.

 

Thanks,

-Matt

 

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Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, May 13, 2021 7:19 PM

Xytronics is the one our late electronics guru Randy Rinker recommended and the one I bought.

X-tronics is something else.

Brasstrains.com has videos that show resistance soldering on...brass trains.  You don't need that for flex track.

Henry

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Posted by crossthedog on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:06 PM

BigDaddy
our late electronics guru Randy Rinker

Wait a sec. What do you mean by "late"? Did something happen to Randy? He was among the first people to respond to my first posts and welcome me aboard.

 

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:07 PM

You don't have to start the whole piece of track where the last one stops, if that's going to leave you with a bad kink.  Use shorter pieces that start and finish on straights and avoid joints on curves.

But yeah, you will have to learn to solder sooner or later.  Sooner is better.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:29 PM

crossthedog
Wait a sec.

The news sucks.  He was a victim of Covid.

http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/88/t/287739.aspx?page=1

Henry

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Posted by wp8thsub on Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:57 PM

crossthedog
Thoughts on which route to take? Really, I can't afford half a house payment for soldering equipment, so the resistance station is a nonstarter.

I do all my track soldering with a cheap-o Weller iron I picked up at the home center.  Considering this option has worked for me for around 40 years, I see no reason to invest in resistance soldering equipment for working on track.

A few more thoughts:

  • Soldering is an essential skill for model railroading.  Read up and practice.
  • I solder ALL rail joiners on curves to maintain alignment.  Relying solely on the joiner will guarantee a kink in the rail eventually, assuming it doesn't happen from the start.  I solder nearly every other joiner to keep the track lined up too (I only have a few joints on straight track that are not soldered).
  • There is absolutely no need to solder the joiner prior to installing the track on a curve.  It's easy to hold the rail in place with something like a file or other flat metal object while soldering, and keep it aligned until the solder cools.  

JC Turnouts 1

by wp8thsub, on Flickr

As shown above, soldered rail joints on curves can conform precisely to the flow of the trackwork.  Rather than attempting to carve plastic ties for use under the solder joints, I use wood ties (often cut from something like 6X8 scale lumber), which disappear once the track is painted, and have the added bonus that they don't melt if you solder close to them.

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Posted by crossthedog on Thursday, May 13, 2021 10:05 PM

BigDaddy
He was a victim of Covid.

I'm saddened to hear that. I saw that post early on, when people were mentioning he'd been quiet for a while, but I figured he was on a cruise or something. I missed the news. Seems like a lot of folks here really appreciated him.

Thanks for all the continued feedback on the curves, guys. Am I right in understand you to be saying that solder is strong enough to actually hold two rails together as though they were welded? I remember soldering wires to the outside of rails a few times as a kid (as mentioned before) and it doesn't seem like the solder as I remember it would be strong enough to hold against the force of the rail trying to flex back to straight.

I'll find out soon enough. I think I've got a good idea now of what I'll do to get going learning soldering.

-Matt

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Posted by wp8thsub on Thursday, May 13, 2021 10:22 PM

crossthedog
Am I right in understand you to be saying that solder is strong enough to actually hold two rails together as though they were welded? ...it doesn't seem like the solder as I remember it would be strong enough to hold against the force of the rail trying to flex back to straight.

Solder by itself will not hold the joint if that's what you're asking.  Solder is used to help the rail joiner to maintain alignment.  If the joiner is soldered properly, it will stay put effectively forever.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, May 13, 2021 11:25 PM

wp8thsub
 
crossthedog
Am I right in understand you to be saying that solder is strong enough to actually hold two rails together as though they were welded? ...it doesn't seem like the solder as I remember it would be strong enough to hold against the force of the rail trying to flex back to straight. 

Solder by itself will not hold the joint if that's what you're asking.  Solder is used to help the rail joiner to maintain alignment.  If the joiner is soldered properly, it will stay put effectively forever. 

Good point, Rob. The solder is effectively "welding" the rail joiner to the two joined rails.

Rich

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Posted by markie97 on Friday, May 14, 2021 7:31 AM

I have used the solder method too. What I did on my helix was to use the Fastracks radius templates. They are laser cut wood that fits between the rails of the track. I then used washers and srews close to the joints to fasten them to the roadbed. in visible areas I later applied glue and when dried I removed the screws.

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Posted by speedybee on Friday, May 14, 2021 8:19 AM

crossthedog

UPDATE: I've just discovered that a Home Depot nearby has the Weller WLC100 Soldering Station for around $40. That's another one I'm considering, but if these "affordable" stations are not a good value in your experience, I'd pass.

Affordable is fine! When it comes to soldering rails, all you need is high wattage, not fancy dials and digital displays. I soldered rail with an ultra-cheap stick iron (either 15W or 25W, I forget which) and although it managed most of the time, it was unable to stay hot enough to do a reliably good job, especially when I switched to lead-free solder.

I now use a 100W stick iron- again, no dials or controls or whatever- and it works great.

The Weller WLC100 you spoke of is 40W. I'm guessing that'd be enough, but someone else might have experience with a 40W iron and they could say for sure.

The key to soldering rail is lots of heat really fast. A brief touch with iron and solder to get your joint and then you remove the heat. That way your neighbouring plastic ties don't heat up enough to melt.

Soldering circuits and electronic components need the opposite from your iron: precise control of heat, but you don't need much power.

Thus I have two soldering irons; the 100W stick for rails, and for electronics I use a Quicko t12-942 soldering station. It's also very cheap but gives precise temperature control and fine tipped points for small ICs.

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Posted by Doughless on Friday, May 14, 2021 8:48 AM

I have used a simple soldering gun purchased at hardware stores. Flux paste and rosin core solder.

You can melt the ties if you're not careful, but you'll remove them anyway to install the rail joiners first. 

Also place the sliding rail on the inside since it keeps the ties spaced more prototypically and so the slider doesn't slide out of its ties like it would if it was on the outside. 

I try to form the curve best I can beforehand, like you did, which gives the general amount of rail that needs to be cut off.  

If you leave that rail on, as you can see, you would have to remove more ties on the connecting piece in order for the joiner on the sliding rail to have clearence.

- Douglas

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, May 14, 2021 10:16 AM

Doughless
Also place the sliding rail on the inside since it keeps the ties spaced more prototypically and so the slider doesn't slide out of its ties like it would if it was on the outside.

Ditto.

I try to form the curve best I can beforehand, like you did, which gives the general amount of rail that needs to be cut off.

I curve the track to where it will be and then score the top of the rail with an Xacto where it is even with the other rail.  Then I can cut it at the point I marked so when it has been soldered and curved, the joints will be paralle.

 

  If you leave that rail on, as you can see, you would have to remove more ties on the connecting piece in order for the joiner on the sliding rail to have clearence.

That's one of the primary reason I don't stagger joints.  Need to remove more ties unnecessarily and there is no advantage to staggered joints.

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Friday, May 14, 2021 10:42 AM

Another method I've found useful for finding the exact end of the rail to be cut is to nick the rail to be cut using the rail cutters backwards. 

The rail cutters have a flat face and the wedge face forming the cutting edge. 

Cut rails have one square and flat end which is usable and a wedge shaped cut on the scrap piece to be discarded (or reverse cut once more to create a fresh flat square end making the scrap piece usable.) 

I cut off the four ties (allowing use of Atlas tie end pieces) and align the track to be cut to match existing track ends. I cut the outside rail first because you can't make it longer. The inside rail will always become shorter so make any adjusting cuts to the inside rail only after the outside rail is correct length.

I match up the rail to be cut to the end of the laid rail by placing the flex track with outside rail to be cut just outside and beside the end of the outsude rail of the laid track. I then apply the rail cutters to the rail to be cut but reversed so the flat face is backed against the square end of the laid rail. I squeeze the cutters gently to create a wedge shaped nick in the base of the rail to be cut exactly at the end of the laid rail. 

Then I pick up the rail to be cut, find the nick and again reverse the cutters in the nick so the cut will be flat and square on the usable end of the track to be laid.  The wedge shape of the nick precisely aligns the cutters at exactly the right spot  to do this. The nick can even be found by feel in the cutter handles once you've done this a few times. 

Repeat for the inside rail only this time the outside rail can be joined up to the laid rail with a rail joiner allowing a very precise nick to be made in the inside rail at exactly the correct spot.

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Posted by York1 on Friday, May 14, 2021 10:49 AM

Lastspikemike
Another method I've found useful for finding the exact end of the rail to be cut is to nick the rail to be cut using the rail cutters backwards.  The rail cutters have a flat face and the wedge face firming the cutting edge.  Cut rails have one square and flat end which is usable and a wedge shaped cut on the scrap piece to be discarded (or reverse cut once more to create a fresh flat square end making the scrap piece usable.) 

 

This is a good point.  I learned after cutting a few pieces that I needed to be very exact in how I held the cutter.  I also went out and bought a good small file to correct the cuts if I wasn't careful enough.

York1 John       

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