Today, I’m going to answer one of the most common questions that pops up in my mailbox and in the Model Railway Engineer community group. What’s the best glue to fix your track down? It may seem obvious but it’s not.
It’s a question that all railway modellers ask at some point. A £1000 question if you like, if I had £1 for every time I’m asked, etc.
For most of us, whether we’re working in N, OO, HO or any of the other common track gauges, we default to good old PVA — white wood glue. I certainly use this a lot and have suggested it here many times before and for good reason. PVA, Polyvinyl acetate to its friends, is:
- Cheap: it can be bought in bulk quantity for very little.
- Easy to remove: track fixed down with it can be lifted relatively easy later.
- It’s easy to clean off track, even when ballasted, to reuse later.
But it’s not perfect.
For starters, it dries hard. You may think this is a good thing but during periods of hot and cold periods the rails of the track will expand and contract. Allowing them to flex can help prevent resultant problems — bent and buckled rails for example.
And as it dries hard, it can also carry vibration as the trains roll over the rails and create more noise. I’ve covered on this blog before, in this post on reducing noise levels. For many, this is the biggest problem with PVA and why many are dissatisfied with it.
Now admittedly, neither of these are massive challenges for many and for most of us they probably won’t be an issue but if you’re a perfectionist, are concerned about noise, and want the best adhesive for track laying there’s an alternative.
So what’s the best?
Liquid latex — rubber cement and available as Copydex — is now my preferred glue.
- As easy to work with as PVA.
- Easy to clean off track.
- Dries transparent: no white marks as can happen with some brands of PVA.
- Simple to lift track: no soaking, just warm up slightly and it should lift easily.
- Sets with an elastic finish so allowing the track to flex when temperatures change.
- Doesn’t carry sound as much — as shown in the article on reducing sound levels above.
The application is no more difficult than PVA. Just water it down — with a similar ratio to using PVA — and apply as you normally would.
Having considered the benefits of Copydex for track work, there are times where I won’t use it around track.
When fixing points and feeding droppers up through the baseboard for example. When drilling holes through the baseboard for the wires and point motor rods, its rubbery nature can cause it to wrap around the drill and peel off. Here I just use a dab of PVA.
And don’t use it for ballast cement. As Ian Morgan (of the Basingstoke Area Group of the 2mm Scale Association) found, Copydex dries with a stringy finish which means removing stray bits of ballast can end up pulling away far more than wanted.
I’ll also continue using PVA for a lot of my fun and experimental layouts and suggest it for beginners as most people usually have it lying around or can get it really cheap. (Copydex is cheap but not as cheap. You can get a 1ltr of PVA for under £10 while Copydex will cost around £15 for 500ml).
Extra Tip: For this article I recommend Copydex but there are other forms of liquid latex available and some of these can be obtained for much less than the branded solution. Although I haven’t done it myself, carpet fitters will apparently — if asked nicely — sell you liquid latex used for carpet laying in bulk quantities. If this works for you, please add a comment below to confirm this.
And I’ll still use the good old white gloop elsewhere on my layouts — it’s great for scenery work.
In conclusion, there’s nothing really wrong with PVA for track laying but for a number of reasons it’s not the best. Copydex is a better adhesive, give it a go and let me know what you think.