Articles - Code 40 N-scale Turnout
04/15/2008
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The turnout construction method shown here uses the Fast Tracks jigs (I bought mine in 2003, so it is different from what the company makes now; the newer ones are easier to use). I construct the turnout parts on the workbench, and then glue them in place on the layout. My method uses no PC board ties, not even for the throwbar. This photo shows the main Fast Track jig that allows you to assemble the rail parts to form the turnout. Each such jig has a left and right turnout. You have to buy a jig for each frog number you want to build. I settled on #8 turnouts for my N-scale layouts.
Code 40 N-scale Turnout
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The jig shown here is used to actually do the shaping of the rail. This is the one that I use all the time. It makes it easy to shape the delicate code 40 rail. My jigs came with an instruction manual that is pretty good. However, I've watched the videos online and they are much better. Even if you don't use these jigs, the video tutorial online may give you enough ideas on how to build your own turnouts.
Code 40 N-scale Turnout
The first thing I do is construct the frog. I cut two pieces of rail to the approximate required length. Once I place them in the jig, I need to determine which rail butts up against which. I usually have the straight rail butt up against the divergent rail (opposite of what is shown in the next photo). It really doesn't matter which way, though, but the decision has to be made because it impacts how the rail pieces are filed.
Code 40 N-scale Turnout
Using the filing jig and a bit of hand filing, I shape the two pieces of rail and place them in the jig. I place a metal weight on them to hold them in place (the reason for the shadow in the photo below).
Code 40 N-scale Turnout
Next, I cut, mark, and shape the two pieces of rail that make up the wing rails (at the frog) and the points. I make mine out a full piece each. I use the jig to determine where to make the bends near the frog, and where to start filing down the rail for the points.
Code 40 N-scale Turnout
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When I am happy with the shape of the rails, it is time to solder them together. Fast Tracks recommends using a high-powered soldering iron for soldering rail. I always used a small 35-watt unit and it just never worked well. Based on their recommendation I bought the Radio Shack #64-2187. It works great and it was the "big break-through" to having better success with building my track. Using this iron, and keeping the parts in the jig, I solder the four pieces of rail together by flooding the frog with solder. Then, using a file I clean up the solder that went where it wasn't supposed to (for example, outside the rail, etc.). Finally, the wheel clearance area through the frog is cleared away with a fine-blade razor saw. The blade makes a groove just wide enough for the wheel flanges. The reason for the shadow under the rail in this photo is because I usually do my work on a piece of glass to get a super-smooth surface.
Code 40 N-scale Turnout
I don't have any pictures of the stock rails. Those are fairly straight-forward to make. I put two marks on the tops of the rails; one where the points hit the stock rails, and one where the point rails are far enough away from the stock rails to where they no longer touch. The space between these two marks are filed down, gradually tapering from the throwbar area (file down about half way through the width of the rail head). The idea is to have the point rail "hide" away in the filed-away section of the stock rail.

Next, I move to the layout. I solder a feeder wire to the bottom of one of the stock rails (typically the straight one) and glue it into place on the ties on the layout using 5-minute epoxy. I use that stock rail as the guide to determine where the frog-and-point rail assembly is to be placed (shown in the previous photo). I drill a hole under the frog for the feeder wire, and then solder the feeder wire to the frog's bottom. Do this very quickly, or else the whole frog assembly will fall apart on you. I also do the same for each of the point rails, where the feeder wires need to be somewhat near the frog. I then use the stock rail already in place to properly space and position the frog assembly, and glue it in place. Make sure not to glue the point rails all the way down to the throwbar area (been there; done that!). The points need to remain movable. When the frog assembly has had plenty of time to cure, I cut a gap in the rail for the point rails to provide the electrical isolation needed. The frog's power will be controlled by the Tortoise switch machine installed under the layout later on. The feeder wires for the two point rails are not strictly necessary, but I prefer to have each piece of rail soldered to a feeder wire. Relying on the contact that the point rail will make with the stock rail is asking for trouble.

Once the frog assembly is finished, I lay the remaining stock rail (typically the curved one), using the NMRA gauge off of the point rail. This rail is, of course, also fed by its own wire and glued in place.

I had been very frustrated with soldering the point rails to the wide PC board "throwbar". The solder easily flows under the rail and either attaches itself to the stock rail behind the point rail, or it leaves a large glob on the other side of the point rail that needs to be filed down. The other problem I have experienced is that, because the point is thin, there isn't enough soldering surface on the point rail and so it snaps loose quite easily. One day, just for the fun of it, I grabbed a piece of strip wood that is the same scale width as the other wooden ties and glued the point rails to that piece of wood with 5-minute epoxy (the same glue I use for gluing all rail to the ties). Much to my amazement, the glue held and the points worked great, even with the Tortoise. The photo below shows the first turnout with a wooden throwbar. It is much easier to build and there are none of the bad side-effects of solder going where you don't want it. Also, there is no need to cut a gap in the throwbar, and the throwbar (at least when I stain it) will look like all the other ties.

The guard rails are all that remains. I usually cut and prepare those, find the right spot for them (they need to prevent the wheels from grabbing the wrong side of the frog), and place glue under them. I then place the guard rail on the ties and use a couple of test cars to very carefully and slowly run them through the turnout, slightly pushing the car to the right or left to make sure it doesn't pick the frog. This helps position the guard rails just so that they do what they are designed to do.

Below is a photo of the finished product. The only thing left to do is to stain the throwbar. I test the turnout with several cars and engines and use the razor saw to make the flange clearance areas in the frog deeper as needed. Also, adjusting the Tortoise's actuator rod may be necessary to get the throwbar to move evenly to both sides. If you look closely, this turnout doesn't have any guard rails (the one in the lower, right corner does). I was having problems with the guard rails I had installed and I just broke them off. I didn't feel like installing new ones that day, so I blew it off. Then, a few days later, I was running some trains and I noticed that the engines and the cars ran through the turnout with no problem. Try as I may, I could not get them to pick the wrong side of the frog. Even backwards. I just left the guard rails off altogether. I guess I was lucky on that one. When I tried to duplicate that same behavior on the next set of turnouts, I wasn't so lucky. I really needed the guard rail for those!
Code 40 N-scale Turnout