Friday, June 10, 2011

Building the 14 Degree Crossings for the center diamond - Part 1

4 Completed Crossings

In the previous post, we discussed how the center diamond is the starting point & key the rest of the layout. So it was logical to start with building the 14 degree crossings. I needed to build 4 of them to form the diamond. As you can see above, I have built 4 of them.

Before I could build the crossings, I needed to gain some experience using the fast tracks jigs. In a previous post: And so it begins..... I describe building the #8 turnouts which were the first production pieces I built for the layout. In all, I built 5ea #8 Turnouts. For each one I built, I gained experience with switch construction & the challenges that go with it. If I had to do this totally from scratch, I would likely have never attempted someone of this scale. I would have simply ordered pre-built switches and worked at trying to modify them.

With the experience of the #8 turnouts behind me, it was time to build the crossings. The first thing I did was read the instructions for build crossings using the fast tracks instructions :


I am very familiar with the excellent instruction set (and video!) that came with #8 Turnout.  However, I was very disappointed with the instruction manaul for the Crossings. The instructions were short (6 pages) and not very well done. The instructions did not go into any real detail on how to build the crossing other than the basics.

(Note: I did speak to Tim Warris @ Fast Tracks about the instructions (or lack of) for the crossings. He did admit it was weak on content. He is working on revising the all of the instructions to make them better to understand & more detailed.)

Note: the crossings jigs do not come in a kit form like the turnouts. You need to buy the fixture & point grinding tool separately. I find this kind of odd as it would be very difficult to make the crossings without the point tool. Also, the point tool is unique for the crossing you are building. There is no "generic" point tool for the crossings.

I built the 1st crossing using the Fast Tracks instructions. I always use the first-built piece to study where I possibly went wrong & how I can improve construction. I have to say, the first crossing I built was a mess as I tried to follow the instructions to the letter. My lack of experience & weak instructions made for a bad build. Until the instructions improve I would not want this to be my very first attempt @ building any Fast Tracks product. If you are new to Fast Tracks & have never built any of their kits, I would highly recommend you start with a turnout or at-least read the turnout instructions & watch the video. I wish Fast Tracks would have a video of every one of their kits. Watching someone build what you are trying to build for the very first time is much easier in my opinion.

After looking @ the mess I built for the 1st crossing, I  carefully re-examined what I did wrong, and figured out a much better approach to build the next 4 crossings.

The first thing I learned is that the jig did have some burrs; especially in spots where the rail grooves bisected the tie grooves. I first noticed this when I had trouble getting the rail to seat properly when I placed them into their respective slots. I took a fine file and went through the entire jig cleaning all the grooves. I think the reason why there were burrs in the first place is likely that the cutting tools Fast Tracks used were probably worn-out when they made my jig (my #8 turnout was clean as a whistle). I did notify Fast Tracks of the issue I found so they would be aware of it happening.

Note: I have 4 jigs from Fast Tracks & this was the only jig that had any burrs. The other 3 were clean & very well tooled.

The second thing I learned about the crossing assembly, you do not need to insert the ties before you start construction. You can build the entire thing without the ties in-place.Of course, sooner-or-later you need to solder the rail to the ties but it is not essential to the structural integrity unlike some of the other jigs . I found it to be much easier to get all the rails in-place & soldered to each other as sub-assemblies then Solder the ties last. It helps keep the rails in-place much easier than sitting them on-top of the ties. It also greatly reduces the chance of accidentally rolling the rail.

As I said above, after the 1st crossing disaster, I never looked @ the instructions again. I simply created my own instructions which worked just as well - at least for me.

Step 1: Create the center diamond guardrails

Center Diamond guardrails complete

This is the hardest part of building the crossing. You need to cut, file, & shape 4 pieces of rail exactly the same in order for them to fit properly. It takes a lot of work to get everything to line-up properly. I ruined a couple of pieces of rail trying to get the fit correct (never throw mistakes or small pieces of rail away: you can always use the mistakes to make other pieces in other projects). Once you get everything all lined-up, solder it together . I did this by soldering the point frogs first for one half, then I built & soldered the other half.  I would slowly nip & file the rail until the middle (obtuse) angles matches.

One thing I should note about the point forming jig for this kit: there are 2 types of frog points available - The acute point & the obtuse point. What's the difference ? The acute point is the sharp angles on the left/right sides  where as the obtuse angle is the shallow angles on the top/bottom of the crossing.

Step 2: Create the end frogs:

End Frogs Completed

This is a fairly easy step to cut and form the end frogs. Use the acute point part of your point grinding tool to form the frogs.  This step goes pretty quick if you have the point grinding tool. Make two of them - one for each side.

(NOTE: When you cut the stock rail for the fogs, be sure to use either the 14 degree crossing template from Fast Tracks or purchase the QuickSticks Laser Cut Ties kit to measure the rail. Like all of the Fast Tracks jigs, the crossing jig is smaller than the finished product.)

Step 3: Create the Wing Rails:

Wing Rails Completed.

The wing rails are much more difficult to build than the frogs. The Fast Tracks instructions recommended that you build these out of individual parts & solder them together. This would mean you would have to cut & shape 3 pieces of rail per wing rail. After building the first wing rail, I quickly learned that I set the frog point too shallow in the jig. This left a wide gap in the center of the crossing which could become a problem when used operationally. I used my trusty NMRA track Gauge to find where the points should be properly meeting in the jig.

Guard rail points

I found that the point should go to the edge the inside of the innermost tie in the jig. This makes the center frogs nice & tight as well as within the tolerances of the NMRA gauge. Once I found the right spot, it made it much easier to cut the rail & file to the proper length.

After you make the points, you need to form the wing rail. Instead of cutting, fitting & trimming the rail, I took a cue from the turnout instructions by nipping the bottom web of the rail & bending instead of making a separate piece. As I was trying to figure out exactly where to bend the rail, I noticed that Fast Tracks forgot to include the guide mark on my jig so you know exactly where to either cut or bend the rail. I placed the center guardrail & frog back into the jig so I could once again use my trusty NMRA gauge to figure out where the cut/bend point should be.

Notch in Wing Rail

Once I found the bend/cut point on the jig, I made a mark using a Sharpie pen so I would have no trouble making the rest of the sets. I then nipped the rail & bent it to follow the groove. After bending I trimmed the rail to length & bent the end so that it fit completely in the jig as you can see in the above photo. I then placed the outer guard rail back its slot & soldered the points together. Once the solder cooled, I popped it out of the jig, flipped it over and put it back into the jig on the opposite side. I made another mark with a Sharpie pen so I would know where to bend the rail for this side of the jig.

Using the same technique for the first wing rail, I proceeded to make 3 more just like it. As the wing rails are exactly the same for all 4 sides, it was a simple task of cutting 8 pieces of stock rail for to the proper length to make the 4 wing rails.  I cut all of these plus 2 more pieces to act as master patterns for the other 3 crossings I need to make for this project.

Guard Rails bent & filed

Once the 4 wing rails are finished, be sure to gently file the top-inside ends of each end of the wing rails so that it helps guide the wheels into the onto the rail & not on top of the rail - that would be bad.

Step 4: Building the outer stock rails:

Outer Stock Rails

The last assembly (and the easiest of this project) is to make the outer stock rails. All you need to do is cut the rails to the proper length, file one end using the obtuse frog on the point grinding tool & solder the 2 ends together to form a single piece. (You could also make this by using the notch & bend method as well.) 

(NOTE: When you cut the stock rail for the fogs, be sure to use either the 14 degree crossing template from Fast Tracks or purchase the QuickSticks Laser Cut Ties kit to measure the rail. Like all of the Fast Tracks jigs, the crossing jig is smaller than the finished product.)

Step 5 Installing the ties:

Remove all of the finished rail from the jig. Cut the PC board ties to fit the slots. You might need to sand the ties on the edge to make the fit easier. Be sure to file notches on the top of each tie so the Copper Cladding on the ties does not cause a short on the finished crossing.

Once the ties are in-place, it is time to solder them to the rails. It is best to work from the middle out to the end of the jig. Be sure to note that wherever you solder, you will leave a slight raised area of solder. It is best to solder in areas where the rail is not too close together as the solder will interfere with securing the rail & keeping the entire assembly flat.

Start with the center diamond. Solder the inside of the diamond to the ties. 

Next, insert the 4 wing rails into the jig. Solder the inside of the wing rails to the ties.

Finally, insert & solder the outside stock rails. This time your solder points are on the outside instead of the inside of the assembly. 

Once everything is soldered together, pop the completed crossing out of the jig. Turn it over & solder underneath the frog points in order to re-enforce the points & prevent them from popping-up. 

Now that everything is complete, take a wire brush & clean the crossing. Gently brush the rails & solder points back & forth removing  all the grime, solder flux, & leftover filings from the completed crossing.

Step 6 Final Assembly:

The last 2 steps for finishing the crossing is to cut the electrical gaps in the rails & glue the Twistties to the crossing. For now, I have omitted these last 2 steps because I need to modify each of the crossings so that I can make this:

This is the HO scale drawing of the center diamond. The track centers are scaled out to be 1.75 inches apart. Why 1.75 inches you ask ? Because South Station didn't have the real-estate to make them any further apart. As the tracks transition into & through the yard, the spacing because tighter & tighter with the narrowest point through the #8 Double-slips & Center Diamond.

The ends of each crossing will need to be modified so that I can carry the 1.75 inch spacing through the center diamond & into the #8 Double-slip switches. Once I print-out & insert the #8 Double-slip drawings, I will know exactly where to cut for electrical isolation of the frogs & the transition to the next piece of track/switch.  For now, I will keep all 4 crossings stored-away until I build the benchwork for the layout. 

My next projects will be to begin construction of the #8 Double-slip Switches & Benchwork. I already have the #8 Double-slip switch jig from Fast Tracks. I am going to attempt to build the #8 Double-slips using a few new techniques. More on that in another posting similar to this one. The layout benchwork will begin as soon as I conjure-up some cash to by power tools so I can actually build the darn thing. 

More to come......