Crossing the great divide - Model Railway Engineer

Crossing the great divide

2 comments 2 Intermediate 2 Comments

How to make copper clad sleepersIf you’re laying track across a baseboard join, you’ll need to secure the track at the edges. The tried and tested technique for this is Copper clad sleepers. Modeller David Cooper reveals his technique.

Take it away David:

I’m currently building a modular railway with a whopping 54 track sections over baseboard joins so I’m slowly becoming quite adept at making and fitting Copper clad sleepers!

Although I must point out that this of course is only my way of doing it and by no means the hard and fast rule, if I’ve learned anything from model railway building it’s that for every task there are a hundred ways of doing things all with very similar results anyone who tells you that their way is the only way and all other ways are wrong has lost sight of what’s fun about model railways! Being able to experiment and engineer a solution to a problem is what helped to make this such a popular rewarding pastime in the first place… and playing with trains of course!

So, Copper clad sleepers…

Anyone without a wing of their sprawling estate dedicated for their model railway will, I imagine, at some point need to add a join to their baseboard, be it for ease of movement or just to add an access hatch. One way of protecting the two ends of the exposed track either side of the join is to add some Copper clad Sleepers.

The benefit is the Copper gives you a surface to solder the rails to, ensuring your rails aren’t damaged should they be knocked whilst being moved about when connecting and disconnecting boards.

I prefer the Copper clad sleeper method because in my opinion it looks better over the join once ballasted and weathered.

I need to point out now that I model in ‘N gauge’ and if I can do in in ‘N’ you can definitely get it done in ‘OO’!

If you do have baseboard joins it is important that you have a way of ensuring the boards line up perfectly every time you put them together. There are a variety of ways of doing this which are beyond the scope of this post but in case you’re interested, I use brass cabinet makers dowels.

I start by fixing my track down over the join, when its down I can work out how many sleepers I’ll need to put in and if I’m working over a curve it allows me to keep the rails in place without any kinks.

Once I’ve worked all of this out I cut away the sleepers I’m going to be replacing and any cork to expose the baseboard surface for me to fix the sleepers to. I like to come back at least 2 sleepers from the join on each side so that’s four sleepers to remove.

For the replacement sleepers themselves I buy Copper clad PCB Board which you can find it on eBay and £3.00 will get you more than enough. (As with all aspects of model railways people are lining up to take your money and you can buy ready made copper clad sleepers, they cost an awful lot more but if you don’t want to cut them yourself that option is there).

If like me you do want to cut them yourself measure up the width of a sleeper, mark it up on the board and get going with your hacksaw, I’m sure you could use a Stanley knife too if the mood took you or even a Dremel (see previous post).

make your own copper clad sleepers

The sleepers in place, with the all important mid-sleeper gap to prevent shorting. The lower track has yet to have the rails cut.

Once you’ve made the cut you should have a long thin strip ready to be cut into the required amount of sleepers (That’s what you paid the extra for if you bought ready made).

This next step is by far the most important and I can’t stress how important!!

To ensure your shiny new sleepers won’t short out the entire track you must cut away some metal from the middle of each sleeper on both sides. This ensures all the time spent wiring your layout doesn’t go to waste. To do this, I just use my Stanley knife and cut a gap of about 1mm in the copper.

Now you can measure how much you need to add to the underside of your copper sleepers to bring them up level to the bottom of your rails, (this might take a little time but it is worth it in the long-run).

Now your sleepers are ready to be fixed down and for which I use a strong wood glue.

Once the glue has cured you are ready to solder the track to each sleeper. Solder the outside of the rail to the sleeper, using plenty of flux to help the solder flow better. Don’t worry too much if the solder doesn’t look pretty, any imperfections will disappear under ballast and weathering paint and so wont be noticed.

Copper clad sleepers end result

The end result. David’s copper clad sleepers. You’d never know the board could be separated.

Once you are happy with your soldering you are ready to make the track cut, if you are using a cutting disk try to keep it as close to 90 degrees to the track as possible to keep the width of the cut nice and thin, another method is to use a hacksaw blade and run it between the baseboards if there is room.

When you have your cut and separated the track you can paint your sleepers to match the rest and ballast, I like to butt the baseboard together with some polythene sandwiched between the join so my ballast can be put in as close as possible either side and the join is less noticeable.

In writing this up I realise it seems a very complicated practice but it is really quite simple once you have done a few.

I hope this has been of some help to some of you, and of course happy modelling!

Follow David and the progress of his layout at Instagram/garage_railway.



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  1. Job Hoogendoorn - February 21, 2017

    There’s another you can do this. Look here (minute 3.0 ’till 6.0)…..ok, it’s in German, but hey, is this visual or not???
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ext66mTSA-8&list=PLGzM1I0ZfY-ZK-XDk-o4KEUeUI8ndJ1GB&index=2

    • Thanks, interesting. I’ll try that next time although I still think the first technique is probably easier? Cheers, Andy.

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