A step-by-step pictorial guide to soldering strong, reliable, wiring.
There are various ways to connect wires that power a layout. One of the most popular techniques is to use snap lock connectors and good old fashioned terminal blocks are another common approach which I still occasionally use. But the best approach is still soldering, providing the strongest joints.
However, while soldering makes sold joints what really makes the difference to reliable electrical connections is how the wires being connected are presented to each other. You want to maximise the surface area of the wires coming into contact with each other to provide the most contact for the electricity to pass over. Just wrapping wires around each other while easy doesn’t do this.
The recommended approach is to open up the strands of the cable core, weave them together with the opposing cable and wrap the ends around each other and then solder. This gives a reliable, solid, electrical connection between the wires.
Here’s a quick picture walk through guide that explains the technique.
1 Strip the wires
First, strip the outer coating cleanly, leaving yourself enough room to work. The easiest and quickest way to do this is with a cable cutting, stripping and crimping tool.
2. Fan and weave the wires together
With the core exposed, separate the strands, fan them out and them weave them together so as many strands come into contact with each other as possible so maximising the contact surface area.
3. Wrap the wires creating a knot
Take the remains of the wires that poke through and wrap them around each other and then wrap this around the other wire to create a strong tie between the cables. Don’t leave any strands poking out.
4. Solder the join
Finally, solder the cables together. Clean the iron tip, tin it and apply heat to the wires for a few minutes first will allow molten solder flow over and between the strands creating a very strong bond. A variable tip soldering iron and the right solder will really make this much easier, with a small tip used so as not to melt the outer sheath. Don’t forget to clean the tip regularly.
Lastly, cover with heat shrink tubbing and warm gently so the sleeve wraps around the join to protect and isolate it.
I’m now revisiting the wiring of my previous layouts and replacing wiring joints with the above technique and I’m very pleased with the difference it makes.
On a simple OO gauge layout I use to occasionally run my older locos for example I swapped out terminal blocks for the weave and solder joins above and the trains now run much more smoothly.
Sure it’s a slightly harder to do but with a bit of practice it gets easier and my soldering improved in the process. Give it a go and let me know how you get on.
> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Affiliate notice: Some links on this page will take you to carefully selected businesses, including Hornby, B&Q, Rapid Online, Amazon, eBay, Scale Model Scenery and Element Games, through which you can buy products mentioned. These links are made under their affiliate schemes which means that although the price to you doesn't change I get a small commission on the orders you place. Please see the disclaimer for more details.