Articles - Code 55 N-scale Turnout
12/13/2002
This page documents my technique for scratch-building an N-scale code 55 turnout. This one happens to be a right-handed #8 and it is going to be one of a pair of turnouts forming a mainline track crossover. I have tried various methods from books, magazine articles, web sites, and by copying an existing turnout, all with mixed results. This method is simply a combination of the best parts of all the methods I have tried to date. This is the list of tools and materials needed:



For filing I use a left-over board with a straight groove in it. I got this from the "Trackwork and Lineside Details" book. The book suggests using masonite board, but it wore out too quick for me. Using a razor saw, I cut a shallow groove in the wood. The depth needs to match the width of half of the rail base. The rail is laid down in it on its side. Then when you press with your fingers on the rail, you get a good grip on the rail while filing. It is not a perfect solution and from time to time you will bend a piece of rail. But it is cheap and easy to make.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
This photo shows the position of the rail and the direction of the filing to be done.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
External Reference:
I started by printing a turnout template. These are available at the SDSoNS club web site. Here's how I got the template to come out the right size. Go to the #8 template link, for example. Right-click and copy the image to the Windows Clipboard (assuming Internet Explorer and a Windows platform here), and then paste the image in a true graphics program. I use LViewPro. Then use that application to print to your printer. If you print using Internet Explorer, the image will not be to scale! Another alternative is to use the freely available Fast Tracks templates. The photo below shows the right-hand #8 template. I cut it out of the paper and then taped it to the workbench table top (smooth and flat). The tape just covers the edge of the ties in the print out. The objective here is to get the paper as flat and tight as possible. When white glue is applied, the paper tends to curl and that makes things more difficult. Note that the turnout drawing is just a rough guideline. It does not show where and how the wing guard rails need to be installed, for example.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
External Reference:
The template shows which ties are going to be PC board ties (shaded ones). PC board ties are thinly sliced strips of board used for creating electronic circuit boards. Radio Shack sells these boards, but you would have to cut them a scale 9" wide. This requires special tools. It is easier to just order them, pre-cut, from Clover House. You will also need the wider throwbar PC boards. I have tried creating turnouts with fewer PC ties, but they start to twist and bend after they have been installed with a Tortoise. The next step is to cut the PC ties to the length indicated by the template. I make my throwbars about 1.5 inches (real world length). They can always be trimmed later, but they can never be lengthened! Next, glue the PC ties to the paper template with full strength white glue (a few drops spread under the PC ties with a toothpick will do). The paper will still want to buckle, so use something heavy to hold the ties flat to the paper. I let mine dry overnight. Do not glue the throwbar to the paper!
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
I use an eraser or a Bright Boy to polish the top of the ties. This removes the grime and oxidation from the copper, which is key to getting the solder to adhere to the ties later on. From now on try not to touch the copper surface with your fingers. The oil of the skin may cause the solder to not adhere. See the last two PC ties on the right-hand side of the turnout in the photo below? Once the rails are soldered to these ties, and you start cutting the rails (in between the two PC ties) to insulate the frog, there will only be one tie (one solder connection point) holding the rail down on the far right-hand side. My experience has shown that the far right rail piece will come off during this operation. I have, since taking this photo, modified the templates to include another PC tie (scale 9 feet long) to the right of the double-ties. It is separated by about three wooden ties. This then provides two soldering points for the small piece of rail, which is sufficient. I have done this for both the straight and diverging track. Note that this is not so much of an issue if you build the turnout in-place.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Now it is time to start making tracks (pun intended). The hard part with a larger turnout like a #8 is the amount of material to remove from the inside of the track so that there is enough clearance for the track attached to the points. I cut a piece of straight rail (I use Micro Engineering code 55 unweathered rail) to the length of the straight rail indicated on the template. Next I make three marks on the top of the rail with a marker pen. One mark is just to the left of the throwbar, the second is just to the right of the third regular-sized PC tie from the left, and the third mark is just to the right of the sixth regular-sized PC tie from the left. The side of the rail needs to be filed down. The area between the first mark and the second mark is filed down to about half the thickness of the railhead. This is so that the point rail (also filed down - later on) will blend in with the rail and present a single rail thickness to the wheels. The distance between the second mark and the third mark is a gradual shaping up to the normal rail dimensions (unfiled area to the right of the third mark). After the filing has been the done, the rail will tend to curve a bit as is seen in the photo below. Next I solder just enough places to keep the straight track straight. This is going to be the baseline track against which all other track will be located, so it needs to be straight. However, if you solder all of the ties down now, making any adjustments in gauge later on will be next to impossible.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
I cut a piece of track and file one end of it such that it makes the sharpest possible point for the frog of the turnout. I also round the top of the point down a bit so that wheels don't get snagged by the point should it stick up a bit (vertically). The side profile of the point needs to be such that another rail will fit flush up against it (the diverging track). Once you are happy with it, solder it down to two ties at the correct distance from the straight track (must use the NMRA gauge here, of course - you can buy these at Clover House too).
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
The point of the frog needs to line up with the template. Here is a close-up photo. Be careful where you solder, because you have to be able to install the diverging track as well.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
The next step is to make and install the diverging track. As you can see, the point of the previous track takes the brunt of the hits from train wheels. Solder the diverging track at two locations as well, and then back-fill the frog point. If solder is too high, file it down to the railhead now while you still have access to the area with a file.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Next, create the diverging stock rail. In a similar fashion to the straight stock rail above, make three marks with a marker pen and file the rail profile down. The curve of the rail due to the filing almost matches the #8 curvature. For #6 turnouts I usually carefully slightly bend the rail.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Tack the rail down at two points only, indicated by the lines in the photo. Do one on the far left PC ties (left of the throwbar) first. Place a heavy object against the inside curve of the rail so that the rail roughly matches the shape of the template curve. Then solder the right-most PC tie to the rail. Use the NMRA gauge to space the rail the correct distance away from the existing rails at the solder points.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Cut a piece of track that roughly fits from the area just to the left of the throwbar to beyond the frog. Remember that this piece of track will be bent later to form a guard rail. Hold the track over the area where it will be installed and see where this track and the diverging track have cleared each other. This is where you want to make a mark (as seen on the photo). Now, start filing. The point needs to be as thin as possible without having it actually disintegrate. The area that touches the stock rail needs to be flat from top to bottom. File the bottom of the rail an additional 45 degree (chamfer it), because there is always some solder on the PC ties from the stock rails. Next, file away a bit of the railhead profile from the end of the point. I also file that whole area down another 45 degrees (horizontally). All this is to motivate the oncoming wheels to choose the right path. If you don't do this, your trains will "pick the points" and derail.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
I made the guard rail bend about 1/4 inch to the left of the frog point. I slightly bend it by hand (I used the marker to locate the bend spot). I also slightly bend inward the end of the track piece to correctly guide wheels approaching from the diverging route. The hand-bend part of the track needs to be such that its rail bottom sits against the rail bottom of the divergent frog rail. If your rolling stocks' wheels are in gauge, this is the best way to protect them from incorrectly entering the turnout. Now I can install the straight point rail. Solder only one PC to this rail (I chose the one to the left of the frog point). I use the metal ruler to make sure that the point rail's straight track lines up with the straight track of the frog rail. I use the rail nippers to hold the ruler in place while I solder the point rail. If you don't get the rail to line up with the frog rail, start over. This is too critical to ignore.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Here is a photo of the other half of the point rail.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Create the other point rail in much the same way. Cut it, mark it, file it, bend it, and solder it in place.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Here is a closeup of the points so far.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Next come the wing rails. Custom fit them so that they protect the key entry points of the turnout. By the time the wheels approach the frog point, the wing rails need to have already aligned the wheels. I cut them to length and chamfer the tops of the railhead on each end. Next I slightly bend the ends with a needlenose pliers. All the filing and shaping is done to make sure the wheels don't jump on top of the wing rail and cause the train to derail. Solder these in place with the bottom of the rails touching the bottom of the stock rails.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
I pull out the throwbar and make three marks with a utility knife. I use the "points" marks of the NMRA gauge as my guide. Next I use a razor saw to remove the copper of the top of the throwbar. The top and bottom cuts are so as to avoid solder from flowing when you solder the point rails to the stock rails, which would permanently solder the points to the throwbar PC ties. The center one is just a convenience cut to electrically insulate the two tracks (the other PC ties will be cut with a Dremel tool equipped with a cut-off disc later). Finally, I drill a small hole just big enough to fit the actuator rod of the Tortoise (I use a #70 and #54 drill bit). That means that at this point in time you must know where the Tortoise is going to be mounted with respect to the turnout (throwbar is left or right oriented).
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
The next two photos show the points in action. Test the points manually with a test car. Run the NMRA gauge through all the track and make any final adjustments to the solder points. I have noticed that as the solder cools, it tends to move the rail in a bit, so even though the track is in gauge when you solder it, typically afterwards it is too tight. Simply hold the gauge in place over the track, heat the solder, and let the gauge take the tension out.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout Code 55 N-scale Turnout
The photo below shows the PC ties having had their copper surface cut. Be careful not to cut too deep or else the PC ties break. This is required to avoid short circuits. I also cut the rails in between the places where two PC ties are right next to each other. This is done to electrically isolate the frog area. That will be powered by the output of the Tortoise (polarity changes depending on turnout direction). I use a multi-meter to check for any shorts before putting away the Dremel cutoff disk and tool.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Next I remove the turnout from the paper template. To do this, I remove the template from the table surface using a knife and place it (paper and all) on a paper towel. Then I spread water all over the turnout with an eyedropper. Wait a few minutes and let the water soak into the template paper. This makes contact with the white glue, which looses its hold on the PC ties. The turnout can then be removed without fear of bending it. The photo shows a turnout taking its first swimming lesson!
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Since for this example I am building a crossover, I installed a piece of straight flex track between the two turnouts, soldered the joiners, and installed the wires that will feed the track. For a single turnout only the frog needs to have a wire soldered to it. The frogs will be powered by the output of a Tortoise.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
Next, I cut the wooden ties. I use Micro Engineering ties. I cut them using the NWSL Chopper. I size them to fit the paper template I used above. All the wooden ties are glued to the bottom of the rails using 5-minute epoxy. I don't glue any ties in the area where the point rails are moving. The danger of gluing those rails down with this epoxy is too high. After the turnout is installed, I usually slip some ties under the track. The ballast will hold them in position.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout
And here are two such turnouts built to form a double mainline crossover. A set of PRR PA-1 engines are pulling a passenger train across the turnout. The track was installed on top of AMI Roadbed material, and the points are controlled via Tortoises.
Code 55 N-scale Turnout