Why and should I solder my track — Reader Q&A - Model Railway Engineer

Why and should I solder my track — Reader Q&A

2 comments 2 Intermediate 2 Comments

On the back of this reader question on track offcuts Steve Boughton reached out to ask if he should shoulder his track together.

Here’s the wisdom from across the Internet plus a some pointers on how to best solder track from the MRE archives.

Why solder track in the first place?

Soldering track together solves several perennial problems in layout constructions.

First, it prevents track sections slipping apart.

Anyone whose had track held together with joiners for sometime will know the problem. Over time joiners work lose allowing rails to move apart.

On my OO gauge railway — which I just use for entertainment and experimenting and so isn’t permanently fixed down or soldered — this problem emerges frequently.  The contrast in rolling stock reliability between this and my N scale layout — where the rails are fixed and soldered — never ceases to surprise me. The OO track sections drift apart, resulting in gaps between the rails which causes chaos for the trains; derailments are a fact of life. The soldered N scale layout holds together and I rarely experience derailments.

Secondly, and more frustratingly, as the joiners work the conductivity degrades and power in the case of DC or power and instructions for DCC get interrupted. Track on which trains ran perfectly one day is now a no-go zone for your rolling stock, with the locos shuddering and stopping for no apparent reason. After checking I usually find it’s because joiners have worked lose and electricity is no longer flowing across the join.

By providing a permanent join between rails, soldering solves both these problems.

Note: You can also get around this last issue by having wires bridging the rail joints or attaching power feed wires regularly around the layout but if you’re going to do this I’d argue you may as well solder the track together as well and I do both.

Thirdly, soldering track also results in better looking joints, let’s face it rail joiners don’t look very authentic (there’s an interesting discussion here about this here).

So what can go wrong?

If soldering track solves these problems why doesn’t everyone do it?

Well for starters, it ain’t easy.

Let cut to the chase, soldering isn’t for everyone.

It takes time and practice to become competent and while it’s a skill I’d recommend all railway modellers learn should learn soldering track together and even attaching dropper wires isn’t something to take on until you have nailed the technique. Stories of melted rails aren’t uncommon. There are some handy tips on track soldering over on the Atlas forum and I’ve previously covered the subject in some depth here.

It’s permanent.

Once you’ve soldered track sections together that’s pretty much it. They’re not going to separate cleanly again, so if you regularly change your layout around – as I do on my OO gauge layout – it’s not going to work for you.

The Weather

Ah good old British weather.

The unwary may not realise but the weather outside can have a big impact on a model railway inside their house. And I’m not talking about leaves on the line.

Temperature changes can cause the rails on a layout to expand and contract just like normal railways. While this lengthening and shortening of rails on N, OO or HO and O gauge railways is tiny it still happens and if the rails are soldered together they’ve got way to move and you can end up with buckled and bent track.

The solution here is to occasionally leave sections unsoldered — with wire bridges as above — to carry electricity across the joint. Leaving gaps for the rails to move is especially the worth doing at either end of runs of Flexitrack.

So should I solder my track?

If, and it’s a big if, your layout is going to be a permanent arrangement then I would say the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

If however you’re thinking of changing the layout as I do on my OO gauge, you move it around a lot or you’re not practiced with soldering than it’s probably not right for you.

In Steve’s case I recommended he did — along with attaching wires regularly across the layout.

Is your layout permanent? Have you soldered the rails? Share your experiences below with the MRE community.

Where next?

If you’re thinking about soldering of any kind around your layout, see my guide: Soldering to be proud of, for hints, ideas and what you’ll need.

 



  1. Ken Jarman - November 25, 2016

    Hi — this is a ‘bitch’ about the use of good old ENGLISH.
    Why, Why, Why do video’s – particularly – of American origin – refer to solder as soder.
    There is an ” L ” in the word. Its SOLDER.
    If you sell something: its SOLD — its not SOD.
    Sorry – but I just find this so irritating.
    Anyway so much for my rant – I love receiving your regular emails and have gained a lot of additional insight into the art of model railroading.
    With Kind Regards,
    Ken Jarman

    • Hi Ken, you’re not the only one who finds this annoying! 😉

      Glad you find the articles helpful. Is there any area of modelling you’d like more articles about?

      Andy

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