Articles - Track: Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing
10/20/2014

Gluing Track?

Back when I was modeling in N-scale, using code 40 rail, I tried using both super-glue and five-minute epoxy to glue rails to ties, and discovered that it worked well. Five-minute epoxy is stronger, but messier, and had short working time. Superglue is less strong, but is easier to work with and didn't cause as much overflow. For code 40 rail, I simply glued the rail directly to the ties. I find spiking rail a frustrating experience. There are several annoyances, but the biggest of all is the fact that the rail seems to shift on me sometimes when I insert a spike. This can make for odd horizontal "bumps" in the track when my intent was to have nice straight track. In S-scale, wanting to have simulated tie plates, I decided to explore the idea of gluing code 83 rail in S-scale (the same concept worked well using code 100, but 83 is used in the photos accompanying this article). Much like in the prototype, the idea is to attach tie plates to the ties, and then attach the rails to the tie plates. The thing to remember, however, is that in the real world these parts are meant to allow sliding of the rails as temperatures shift. To a lesser, but still valid, extent, the same happens in our model world. So, if you are in an environment where temperature changes can be quite dramatic, using this gluing method is not a good idea.

Tomalco Tie Plates

I had previously used tie plates made by Tomalco Track when spiking my rails. They work well, but they require a bit of time to remove them from their casting, and not all of the casting is usable; there can be quite some height difference between one tie plate and another. Also, Tomalco Track recommends using the Micro Engineering micro spikes (the smallest they sell), but I have found them extremely frustrating to use, because they bend so easily. So, you either have to pre-drill the Tomalco Track tie plates, or go without them. I have tried the Micro Engineering "Mini" spikes, but they shatter the Tomalco Track tie plates. So, I decided that given the amount of preparation time involved in using the Tomalco Track tie plates, I might as well make my own. My method described here, I believe, is actually faster and definitely more enjoyable than using the Tomalco Track tie plates and spiking my rail.

Making My Own

To make tie plates in quantity, I use one scale 1"x12" Evergreen styrene strip, two 1"x2" strips, some weights, styrene glue, and a piece of rail that will be used on the layout. The wider strip of styrene needs to be wider than the base of the rail being used, plus the width of the two strips of the other styrene, so that may vary depending on the code of the rail you use.
Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing
Put the 1"x12" strip on a smooth flat surface, supporting the entire strip. Then place the rail on top of the styrene strip. Place it such that it is in the center of the strip all the way. You'll want to use an as straight of a piece of rail as possible, and one that is at least as long as the strip of styrene. Then use the weights to hold the rail firmly in its position on the styrene strip.
Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing
Here is a close-up photo, showing the rail in the center of the styrene strip. With the weights on it, you can make slight adjustments to the styrene strip to have it conform to the rail (the rail might have a slight curvature to it).
Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing
Then place one of the 1"x2" styrene strips up on top of the base styrene strip, and carefully push it against the base of the rail. If you look at a prototype tie plate, you will notice that it has a lip that is positioned against the rail base. That is what this strip of styrene is to simulate. The styrene strip may not entirely fall against the base of the rail, but that's OK. Using a fine-tipped paint brush dunked into the styrene glue you use, tap it at the joint area between the base styrene and the 1"x2" strip. When you do that, give the 1"x2" strip a slight push to get it to snuggle up to the base of the rail. You will need to do the entire strip that way rather quickly, because styrene glue, due to capillary action, will spread quickly and it will set in a matter of a few seconds. I do the entire strip that way, except for the area under the metal weights. After it has dried for a while, I remove the weights and apply some glue to those areas as well. As you can see in the photos, I work on a flat piece of glass. This is because the styrene will slightly adhere itself to the surface upon which you work, so you want a surface that doesn't have too much of a roughness to it, otherwise it will be a real chore to remove the styrene. The rail will also stick to the styrene, so you will need to work it loose as well. If you give the glue enough time to set, the rail will be able to be removed without damaging the two styrene strips. If anywhere along the joint the 1"x2" isn't firmly attached, try to fix it with some more glue before going to the next step.
Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing
Next up is turning this long piece of styrene into individual tie plates. I set up the NWSL Chopper to a scale 8 inches (for 9-inch wide ties), and then started chopping away. This will yield a collection of tie plates that have one 1"x2" tiny strip attached to them. This will allow the tie plate to slide under the rail and accurately stay in position. From a 14-inch strip of styrene, I get enough tie plates (110+) to cover about 26" of track, using regular mainline tie-spacing.
Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing
To be able to complete the tie plate, another such tiny strip needs to be attached (later) on the other side of the rail on the tie plate. Use the second 1"x2" strip to cut those little pieces. This is probably the most annoying part of the whole process because those tiny strips are statically charged and will stick to anything.
Handlaying Series: 3b. Gluing