Articles - Track: Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking
08/01/2012

Store-bought Spikes

In the past I have gotten quite a few e-mails asking me how I spike my rail. When I bought the Tomalco Track tie plates, Larry recommended that I purchase the Micro Engineering "micro" spikes, because that was what the tie plates were designed to use. So, I started off spiking with those Micro Engineering spikes, as I suspect most people who hand-lay track have done. However, I soon discovered that they are hard to drive into the ties (their footprint is actually rectangular; apparently ME has changed their spike formation according to the "elders" in the industry), their quality control varies from package to package, and the spikes are magnetic, which means that if you mean to pick one up with your spiking pliers, you're bound to grab three!
Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking

Hand-making Spikes

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I have bought and used two packages of the Micro Engineering spikes, and that will probably be all that I'll ever buy. Thanks to Stephen Hatch of Railway Engineering, I learned that it is just as simple to make your own spikes. They are under your control, you don't run out, they go into the ties like butter, and they hardly ever bend when driving them in. They are non-magnetic and they stay put in the wooden ties just like the Micro Engineering ones. I use 0.015" or 0.016" brass wire. I have used all of the following (see product photos below) with equal success. The first one is K&S Engineering 0.016" brass wire part #5087 ($3 for 3 feet of wire).
Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking
These are Detail Associates 0.015" brass wire part #2505 ($3 for 8 feet of wire).
Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking
My personal favorites are the Tichy Train Group 0.015" phosphor bronze wire part #1102 ($2.50 for 8 feet of wire). My experience was that 0.019" brass wire is too big for the Tomalco Track tie plates and a bit harder to bend. Music, steel, or piano wire, even at 0.015" diameter is too hard. It won't bend at all.
Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking
To make the spikes, I use two tools, namely a thin flat file and a small pair of rail nippers. I have also used a small metal ruler. The face of the file or ruler is perfect for the length of spikes I want, so I line up the brass wire to one edge of the file's face, and make a 90-degree bend around the thin edge. I put the file down and cut the spike just away from the bend using the nippers. The distance from the bend determines the length of the spike head, so you can make them as long or as short as you would like. It takes a bit of practice, but I found that, through muscle memory, I could very quickly cut these without thinking about it and it became kind of like assembly-line work.
Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking
When you cut the spike off the brass wire, be careful, because they tend to fly away. Here's a very close-up photo of a couple of spikes. I push the spikes in just like I did the Micro Engineering ones, and then touch the spike heads with some Floquil "Rail Brown" paint to blend them in with the rail when I get around to painting the rail.
Handlaying Series: 3a. Spiking