There are a number of reasons to hand lay switches as opposed to buying them ready made. With the later, you are stuck with the geometric layout of a #4 or a #6 switch when what is needed is a #5 or a #5 1/2. It very difficult to get smooth flowing track work like the prototype under these conditions. For years I built and ran O scale trolley cars, and the track in that case isn't what you would call flowing, but rather switches built on a 9” or 12” radius, both of which are common in the prototype, along with overlapping switches and crossing/ switch combinations. Incidentally, while the term “turnout” prevents confusion with the thing that turns the light on, I have never heard anyone who made their living on a railroad or trolley system use the term, at least in this part of the country.
There are jigs, which make switchbuilding easier, and are highly regarded by those that use them, but the above constraints apply- plus, I believe that a different jig is required for each “number” switch.
And what if you need a switch like the one below, salvaged from on of my old layouts.
So the following is the way that I have made switches for years- the method came from an article in Model Craftsman, written by Bill Schopp, I believe in the very early '50's. It isn't the only way, and might not even be the best way for someone else, but it has worked for me. Recently I was asked by a good friend to build a dual gauge HO scale switch, for a spot on his layout where a commercial switch just didn't fit..I decided to take photos of the process, and I hope that they will prove useful, along with a description.
One thing to be VERY careful of, with dual gauge, is which side the common rail (the rail that both gauges use) is on- it seems to make a difference I have been told!!
I started out with a tracing of the curve that the switch will be installed in. Although it might not be evident from the photo, this had a changing radii, right where the switch wanted to be- called a compound curve. I am a firm believer in prebending the curved rail in switch work and crossings. This switch, being code 70 rail, I just formed the curve with my fingers, even though I have a homemade rail bender.
Now one important point about this system is to lay all the curved rail first. I spiked it down to a piece of Homasote, and laid the two other rails to gauge
Another thing that I like to do is to put a piece of .010”shim brass under the frog and guardrails. This is thin enough to spike through, but adds a lot of strength to the frog and to the guardrails after soldering. Normally, at this point I would cut a piece the shape of the frog and slip it under the curved rail at the point that the frog will be located, but in this case, because of the complexity I put a large piece under the whole midsection. Also at this time, the straight stock rail was spiked down
Now, straight pieces of rail are cut on an angle, to fit against the curved pieces. Because the base of the rail is wider than the head, more of the base has to be filed off than the head.I took two shots of this,and neither one shows what I'm talking about clearly, but if you take two pieces of scrap rail and try to fit them together you will soon see what is needed
Now the reason for putting the curved rail down first becomes evident. It is far easier to line up two straight pieces on either side of a curved section than the other way around. The picture below shows what is not recommended for a dual gauge switch- what is wrong with this picture? More importantly, what is wrong with the imbecile that did this?
That F****p fixed, and the frog wing rails are installed- note that at this point there are no flangeways in the frogs.
Now, take a fine toothed hacksaw blade and using the straight rails on either side of the frog as a guide, saw the flangeways. With this small rail, I had to take the width of the blade down in thickness with an oil stone, so as to not cut the flangeways too wide. Check the width with a track gauge. With wider flangeways in larger gage I sometimes do some touch up with a thin file
Another important point is to do the frog area first, and then move the outside rails to correct gauge. At this point I slip another narrow strip of shim under the area where the guard rails will be located
Adjust the outside rails to gauge, file and fit the points. Double check all the gauge points, flangeways, and wing to guardrails distances. Because this switch is not being built in position on the layout, brass strips (.015”-.020”) are soldered across the tops of the rails in key locations to hold all the gauge dimensions until the final spiking to the layout
The switch was unspiked from the Homasote, and the bottom shimstock was removed from visible areas between the rails. After final spiking down in position, I like to take a large fine flat file and go over the top surface of the rails, to remove any small local high spots
Oh and by the way- the object in the right side of the second picture will be used if anyone else wants me to make one- You have been warned!
Last edited on Wed Mar 10th, 2010 02:02 am by Herb Kephart
Fix it again, Mr Gates--it still works!"