I have been scratchbuilding turnouts and custom trackwork for the club's N Scale layout for about 4 or 5 years now. While my first creations followed the typical "Same as everyone else" design, in the years I have been making them, I have perfected my design and methods of creation that I can virtually make a turnout, crossover or specialized trackwork to suit any situation, and with the rolling stock going over it without being about to differentiate it from a piece of straight track.

In the following pages, and over the coming weeks (or months), I will describe and explain my methods for building custom trackwork which can be adapted to any scale.

Why did I decide to scratchbuild trackwork? 

Spagetti Junction. Consists of 4 No.5 turnouts and 14 curved crossings.It was actually on of the other members of the club that got me into building my own turnouts. At that stage we were still buying commercial turnouts for the club layouts, and as you all know, dollars just don't go far enough. As a cost cutting method, I tried and made a few turnouts myself, with guidance from our then guru of the scratchbuilt turnout Ted Freeman. (I have since taken that title from him, and he won't dispute it.) While my first attempts have been very dismal, I did some more research on the subject, examined have others were doing it, and tried again. All the while thinking myself how I can improve on the construction techniques.

But you are thinking, this sounds like a lot of work! Why bother?

This is part of a yard ladder with No.5 turnouts.Why indeed? We have tried many commercial turnouts in the 10+ years I have been involved with the DDMRC Inc., like Peco, Shinohara, Atlas, and others, but they all seem to have some failing. Whether it be derailing, reliability, electrical contact, or parts breaking. On our exhibition DualTraiN layout, most of the Peco turnouts that have yet to be replaced by my scratchbuilt ones, you will find have had the point blades soldered shut in the direction of normal travel, due to repeated electrical troubles.  We find with our scratchbuilt turnouts, we have no electrical continuity problems, very rarely do we have derailments on them, (and it usually ends up being wheelsets out of gauge) and they are made in place to suit any situation. 

Designing Turnouts

Before building a turnout, you need to know how to design one. While there are computer programs that will allow you to design a turnout, which may be good if you haven't laid track, in most situations, you are building the turnout because you already have the track laid, and have decided a crossover or turnout in such and such a location will open up your model railway operations a whole lot more.

  1. On a layout, pick a section of trackage where turnout is required.
  2. Lay and tape a sheet of paper over the track. Using your fingers, run them over the paper where the rails are to leave marks showing the rails.
  3. Carefully draw along the marked lines in pencil.
  4. Lift the paper, and using a spare section of rail, place it on the track indicative of where you want your new crossing. Put it in place so that the track flows between the two tracks.
  5. Put the paper back down, and mark it again with your finger and the pencil.
  6. All going well, you should have the rails marked of the new turnout.
  7. Next, draw on the template where you want to place the sleepers, throw bars, frogs and the like.
  8. And there you have a template to build the trackage before placing it into the layout.

Using Templates

Another method is to use pre-printed templates to make your turnout. That is what we will be doing for this clinic. What I have is a template for a number 6 turnout, both HO and N scales, which I have redrawn from one I downloaded of a website. For those that are interested, the website is www.handlaidtrack.com and they have a large range of templates, in most scales. Here are a few different samples.{mospagebreak} 

Construction Methods

After designing your turnout, you will have to decide where you are going to build it. The two main choices are On The Bench, or In Place.

On The Bench

This is the method we will be using. Here you construct the turnout away from where it is going to finish up. The reasons to do it this way is

  1. Accessibility, i.e. It may be right at the back of the layout making it difficult to get to.
  2. You may need to keep the section of track operational while the turnout is being constructed.
  3. Convenience, You may wish to make it of a night while watching TV.
  4. For some reason, you are unable to build it in place.

Building In Place

This is where you build the turnout on the layout where it is required. Some reason to do it this way are:-

  1. You require the track to meet perfectly with existing track.
  2. You want to have the ballasting done before laying the rail to give a better finish.
  3. You are working on a large section of turnouts or track and it wouldn't be practical to build it off the layout.
  4. You may have some other reason to build it in place.

Tools and Equipment Required

Sharp knife
Track Gauge
Small Needle Nose Pliers
Rail Cutters
Small Vice
Soldering Iron
Medium Flat Mill File
Hacksaw Blade
Needle Files
PCB Ties
Wooden Ties