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Thread: Hand Laid Track - Too hard? No patience? Don't know where to start? Just ask us!

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    Default Hand Laid Track - Too hard? No patience? Don't know where to start? Just ask us!

    Up till earlier this year I had never, ever even considered laying my own track. It intimidated me and I was sure I didn't have either the skills or the patience to make it myself. I was sure I'd be wasting my money and time trying to build the stuff. It would turn out as a complete mess and wind up gathering dust in a box somewhere. But then I started doing a bunch of other things on my new layout that I had never attempted before and funnily enough they were working out okay. Kind of like the very first time I used flex track instead of sectional track for a layout. Or the first time I laid plaster soaked paper towel on fly screen to make a mountain. There was a first time for all of that too and while I'm not saying it all came out right the first time I kept at it and made improvements every time I did it. The main thing was trying it the first time and not being afraid to make a mistake.

    YUCK!!
    Mistakes can usually be corrected and the next time you tackle the same project/problem you know what to expect and can avoid those same screw-ups. All of us have been there and all of us have experienced learning curves in every aspect of this hobby regardless of the task at hand.

    This thread is all about hand laid track and lately I've seen more and more members here showing off their shiny new hand made turnouts which they are quite rightly very proud of. They took the leap into the unknown and gave it a try and now they have handsome trackwork to use on their layouts much of which you simply cannot buy from your LHS. The other thing I'm seeing almost as much as the posts about new hand made trackage are those from members saying they are not skilled enough or don't have the patience to do something like that.

    Baloney!

    If you've got the patience to build structures, or scenery, or lay tracks in general or wire your layout then you not only have the patience required you also have many of the skills required to build hand made track! No one is saying you'll be perfect right out of the gate but don't let fear of the unknown be the deciding factor in giving it a try. If you let uncertainty stop from doing anything creative on your layout what would it look like? Probably like some toy store layout with cheap plastic hills covered in old carpet off cuts.

    So in the name of this thread you see the sentence "Just ask us!" What's that about? Well I contacted a bunch of the members who have posted about their own hand laid trackwork and asked them to form a kind of mentoring group for those of you who have toyed with the idea of building your own turnouts and such but were too scared to take the first step. We've all been there and know the feeling well. We've all got our share of bad hand made track sitting around gathering dust somewhere and we learned from those mistakes and are here to help YOU avoid them! The instructions from the major manufacturers of N-Scale kits for hand laid track are to all intents and purposes just their HO scale instructions with a change of scale in the text - sometimes not even that. We've been through all of that and know what does and doesn't work and how much you should follow the instructions and when to take another path blazed by those of us who have gone before you.

    (Thanks to Gen for the use of this phot)
    So feel free to PM any of the members identifying themselves as Hand Laid Track Mentors in this thread. No matter how dumb you think the question might be the only dumb question is the one you don't ask. Be it tips and tricks in building a certain style of turnout/curve/straight/whatever to how you go about wiring a hand built turnout or crossing. These are the people to ask about N-Scale hand laid track.

    Jump in, the water's fine!
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)


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    You forgot one. Too lazy....

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    Quote Originally Posted by russtrnmn View Post
    You forgot one. Too lazy....
    Okay some things are NOT within our power to correct!
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    Hand Layers Unanonymous!

    Hi, my name is Gen...and I like building my own turnouts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gen View Post
    Hand Layers Unanonymous!
    Hi, my name is Gen...and I like building my own turnouts.
    And he does a very nice job of it too!
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    I'm hesitant to volunteer my name as a mentor, but yes, I build my own turnouts. On the other hand, that double slip in aussie's post intimidates me as much as probably anybody else.

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    You did a great job on your turnouts and I'm sure there are things you found in the builds that you can pass along to others looking to build that type of turnout. That's what mentoring is all about being able to pass along knowledge gained by our own experiences to help others.
    Oh and that's the photo of attempt number 1 which was a miserable failure hence the comment under it. Number 2 is much nicer but if I had been bothered to build a 3rd I know I could have made it beautiful. But I'm lazy too.

    The 22/16 curved turnout was my third piece of hand laid track and it came out nice first try. I have another ready to wire and we'll see how I do on the first of the 3-way pieces which are arriving this week.
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    What would I need it I just wanted to do a test piece of strait track to see if I could handle this? I have a 40w soldering iron, but nly regular electronics solder and such... What parts and tools if I wanted to make a short section of curved track?

    Thanks for this great place to post and I am willing to at least try this.... maybe other will as well.
    Sean McC

    "No man is a failure ...

    who has friends." -- Clarence

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    A small packet of PC board ties to solder the rail to, some rail (of course) and a template to work from. I would try to get some flux so you could apply it to the bottom of the rails and top of the PC board ties. Bending the rail to the proper curve is something you can do by hand. ME rail is easier to form than Atlas - not sure about other brands - but with a bit back and forth to the template you should get it to the radius you need.

    So parts and tools list:

    Rail - whatever code you want and work in lengths that you feel comfortable with.
    PC board ties - Fast Tracks and Proto:87 both offer them.
    Flux - your choice of acid free, liquid or paste. I prefer to use an acid paste but you have to clean it off really well afterwards to make sure it doesn't corrode anything.
    Rail cutters - used for the PCB ties as well as the rail.
    Large and small files - helpful in cleaning up your solder and the rail ends as well as cutting the electrical gaps in the tops of the PCB ties.
    Template(s) - Both Fast Tracks and Proto:87 have free track templates for download from their web sites.
    Wood ties - Again both FT and P:87 have wood ties available.
    Contact cement - for attaching the wood ties to the rails. FT recommend pilobond but I hate the stuff! I use regular high strength contact adhesive from one of the home centres that I brush on the ties and the bottom of the rails, allow to dry and then press together.
    Track gage - nice to have but if you don't have one the cheaters method is to use....... flex track ties!

    Simply slide them on and keep moving them along as you solder on a PCB tie. That way you can space the ties to suit mainline, branchline or siding spacings! Huh! Neat trick huh?

    ps: Oh I should add that the stock rails on that slipswitch and the first of my curved turnouts were bent by hand and not with a rail roller from FT. I did bend the second of my curved turnouts using the rail roller and found it only a little quicker to use. Whether I was dropping the rail into a FT fixture or laying it over a template would have made no difference to how the rail wound up being curved. You curve it to match what you have - fixture/template - so it falls into place without any force required.
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    Default Basic tools for hand laid track.

    This is by far not a complete list of tools for hand laying track.

    This is a start....the basics.

    Soldering iron: 15 watts, pencil iron with a fine conical point tip.

    Solder: Thin rosin core electronics solder.

    Solder flux: non-acid type paste flux for electronics.

    Desoldering Braid: Used to desolder a joint or to remove excess solder from a joint.

    Heat sinks: several small alligator clips will work.

    Rail cutter: Xuron makes a good one, but any type of wire cutter can be used.

    Files: Very fine 6 inch flat file, very fine 6 inch triangle file, a set of needle files.

    Pliers: small needle nose, smooth jaw duck bill, round tip needle nose,

    Rail: Code 40, Code 55, Code 80....your choice.

    Ties: Pre-cut PCB ties. (printed circuit board, plated both sides, no electrical connection betwee the sides); pre-cut wooden ties. The pre-cut ties are available from a number of sources and are inexpensive. They are also cut neatly and are uniform. You can cut your own ties to scale but it is very labor intensive.

    Glue: ...for bonding rails to the wooden ties. The CAA super glues are best. Five-minute two part epoxy works well, also. There are a wide variety of adhesives available that will also work well to bond dissimilar materials.

    Small bench vice: A clamp-on 2 inch vice will work. A machinest's vice work well too.

    Track guages: The NMRA track guage, and 4 or 5 three point track guages.

    Templates: Templates for all sizes of turnouts are available for free on the web. Templates for straight track and curved track can be easily hand made by placing a typical piece of track on a copier/scanner plate, or tracing it with a pencil. Templates are generally used for placing the ties evenly on straight or curved track. Templates for the turnouts also show placement for the rails, points, and frogs.

    Jigs: Jigs are optional. They can be purchased commercially made, or scratchbuilt in styrene.

    Spray contact cement: ...to bond templates to a true flat surface, and to bond the ties to the template.



    If there is something I should add to this list, PM me and I will edit it into this post.
    (The voices I hear in my head may not be real, but sometimes they come up with a good idea.)

    Have fun.

    Moose

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    Very nice Mike, that is way to far advanced for me.



    Sparky(Jeff)

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    Some additional comments on tools:

    Solder: I learned that the easiest way to avoid large globs of solder is to use a smaller diameter of solder - I use .015"

    Jigs: I was afraid to attempt building a turnout until I discovered the Fasttracks jigs. After having built a few I've realized that they're really not necessary - with a good template and a couple track gauges, you can build anything.

    PCB Ties: My experience is that if you want to power your turnouts using a machine like Tortoise, an N-scale PCB tie as a throwbar is severly weaked by the required hole. It's been suggested to me to use an HO or HOn3 PCB tie for the throwbar. I'm going to have to buy a package before I start my next batch of turnouts. Maybe I should try to convince the folks at Fasttracks to include a small quantity of larger PCB ties with every package of N-scale ties, just for this reason (the suggestion came from their website forum).

    Glue: I use a tube of Pliobond. I apply it to the bottom of the rail and let it dry. Then I apply another coat and let it dry. Lay the rail on the ties and press it down with a hot soldering iron, and the glue will soften and adhere to the ties.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MooseID View Post
    This is by far not a complete list of tools for hand laying track.
    This is a start....the basics.
    Soldering iron: 15 watts, pencil iron with a fine conical point tip.
    Solder: Thin rosin core electronics solder.
    Solder flux: non-acid type paste flux for electronics.
    Desoldering Braid: Used to desolder a joint or to remove excess solder from a joint.
    Heat sinks: several small alligator clips will work.
    Rail cutter: Xuron makes a good one, but any type of wire cutter can be used.
    Files: Very fine 6 inch flat file, very fine 6 inch triangle file, a set of needle files.
    Pliers: small needle nose, smooth jaw duck bill, round tip needle nose,
    Rail: Code 40, Code 55, Code 80....your choice.
    Ties: Pre-cut PCB ties. (printed circuit board, plated both sides, no electrical connection betwee the sides); pre-cut wooden ties. The pre-cut ties are available from a number of sources and are inexpensive. They are also cut neatly and are uniform. You can cut your own ties to scale but it is very labor intensive.
    Glue: ...for bonding rails to the wooden ties. The CAA super glues are best. Five-minute two part epoxy works well, also. There are a wide variety of adhesives available that will also work well to bond dissimilar materials.
    Small bench vice: A clamp-on 2 inch vice will work. A machinest's vice work well too.
    Track guages: The NMRA track guage, and 4 or 5 three point track guages.
    Templates: Templates for all sizes of turnouts are available for free on the web. Templates for straight track and curved track can be easily hand made by placing a typical piece of track on a copier/scanner plate, or tracing it with a pencil. Templates are generally used for placing the ties evenly on straight or curved track. Templates for the turnouts also show placement for the rails, points, and frogs.
    Jigs: Jigs are optional. They can be purchased commercially made, or scratchbuilt in styrene.
    Spray contact cement: ...to bond templates to a true flat surface, and to bond the ties to the template.
    If there is something I should add to this list, PM me and I will edit it into this post.
    I knew I forgot something and that was the triangle file. However we have all forgotten a jewellers saw to cut the frog away from the frog rails and the wing rails away from the point rails. Very important step.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bigsparky65 View Post
    Very nice Mike, that is way to far advanced for me.
    Sparky(Jeff)
    No it's NOT Jeff and that's the point of this thread! I am no genius modeler like a certain Swissman we know of and yet somehow I have managed to build the nastiest possible piece of handlaid track on my second attempt at doing anything of this sort. Honestly even my first attempt would have worked had I kept going but it wouldn't have worked as well as it should and would have looked pretty awful. I know where the pitfalls are in building a code 40 #6 slipswitch from FT now and anyone else contemplating building one only has to ask me or read my build thread to see where those problems are laying in wait for them. If you gave it a shot on something like a regular turnout I would bet good money you'd come away smiling at the end results and probably be hooked like I am.

    ps: I also meant to add the following. If you should buy one of the Fast Track kits - they make the kits able to produce 5 of the particular turnout you're wanting but I'm not sure how much of the straight or curved track they will make - be prepared to buy some extra tools and supplies that don't come in the kits. Because I only wanted one slipswitch on the layout I made a spreadsheet and compared buying all the parts and tools I needed - plus some extra track because I knew I'd probably make a mistake - to make one slip plus however many of the other pieces of track I would be building later as opposed to buying say a kit for the 3-Ways or curved turnouts and then adding the extra tools and parts for the one slip. It worked out less expensive for me to buy everything as individual items seeing as I was building the slip first and now all I do is buy a fixture, rail and QuickSticks for the new pieces I'm building. A StockAid tool for example will work on code 40 and 55 rail so I can use it for all of my turnouts. The Rail Roller will work on code 40 to 148 rail so you could even rent it out to one of those unfortunates playing with HO or O.

    Here was my shopping list for the original slipswitch I built:
    N-Scale Code40 #6 Slipswitch Fixture
    QuickSticks wood ties for N-Scale #6 Slipswitch
    5 x 18" pieces of ME non-weathered code 40 rail
    Package of Crossover PCB ties - these are long enough to use on many types of turnouts and are easily cut down to produce 2 ties for some areas of some turnouts or regular track
    PointForm tool for #6 Slipswitch code 40-55
    StockAid tool code 40-55
    10" Mill File - Lowes & HD have the SAME file for less
    Kester Acid Flux Paste
    Small Diameter Solder
    Jewellers Saw

    Then to build the first 2 of the curved turnouts here's what I ordered:
    N-Scale Code55 #8 22/16 Curved Turnout Fixture
    2 x QuickSticks N-Scale #8 22/16 Curved Turnout
    PointForm tool for #8 code 40-55
    4 x 18" ME code55 rail
    Rail Roller

    Doing it this way has saved me around $100 so far over buying the kits with items I didn't need.
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    Quote Originally Posted by code40 View Post
    Some additional comments on tools:

    Solder: I learned that the easiest way to avoid large globs of solder is to use a smaller diameter of solder - I use .015"
    Yes, this is the only size to use for N scale pc boards, excellent point.

    Jigs: I was afraid to attempt building a turnout until I discovered the Fasttracks jigs. After having built a few I've realized that they're really not necessary - with a good template and a couple track gauges, you can build anything.
    Another excellent point. I own a Fast Track #4 fixture, but I've also built a curved #8 and #6, and I did so after using the fixture only 8 times, and I knew I could build those before I started them.

    This is what most fail to realize. The learning curve goes very quickly after you learn the basics of what you're doing, and after that, it's more of a refining process.

    PCB Ties: My experience is that if you want to power your turnouts using a machine like Tortoise, an N-scale PCB tie as a throwbar is severly weaked by the required hole. It's been suggested to me to use an HO or HOn3 PCB tie for the throwbar. I'm going to have to buy a package before I start my next batch of turnouts. Maybe I should try to convince the folks at Fasttracks to include a small quantity of larger PCB ties with every package of N-scale ties, just for this reason (the suggestion came from their website forum).
    Perhaps using a bell crank method with the tortoise mounted horizontally under the layout would allow the smaller throw bar. I know aussie is a big crank junkie.

    Glue: I use a tube of Pliobond. I apply it to the bottom of the rail and let it dry. Then I apply another coat and let it dry. Lay the rail on the ties and press it down with a hot soldering iron, and the glue will soften and adhere to the ties.
    Interesting, I'm glad you posted this. For you newbies, it's recommended by FT to apply contact cement (or "Pliobond", same thing) on both the ties and the bottom of the rail to joint the 2. I had a hard time with slopping too much contact cement with even the smallest applicator brush, as the Pliobond tube came with no fine applicator. I gummed up the closure gaps a bit, which prevented the diverging rails from sitting tight. I painstakingly cleaned the ties with a dental pick, which worked well. Luckily, I only did 3 turnouts before I then started using a squeeze bottle with a 0.050" stainless steel capillary applicator. Here's a similar product with an even smaller 0.020" tip:


    http://www.alliedelec.com/search/pro...px?SKU=8731010


    .....but with a steady hand, the one I have did very well for me in applications to both surfaces with out excess. I also coated the wood twice, as much of it gets absorbed the first go around.

    I might try that soldering tip, though. That's pretty slick.

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    Aussie, I am not sure about the use of a jeweler's saw. However, a jeweler's saw is a good tool to have on hand for any kind of model making.

    Would a razor saw do as well?

    The need to 'to cut the frog away from the frog rails and the wing rails away from the point rails' may not be necessary.

    It depends on how you go about makeing and installing them.

    Another subject:

    On YouTube there is an excellent series of video tutorials for making hand laid turnouts, by 'The Big61':


    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=N+scaLE+TURNOUTS&page=1

    This is how I learned to do it.
    (The voices I hear in my head may not be real, but sometimes they come up with a good idea.)

    Have fun.

    Moose

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    I don't suppose any of you have done a cost analysis on where handlaying the turnouts starts breaking even vs. purchasing ready-made? Including up-front costs (soldering iron, tools, etc.) amortized across N turnouts, and your time building each turnout?

    I'd be very interested in where the breakeven point is w/r/t ready-made.

    I suspect that for small layouts it wouldn't be terribly cost effective (though the results would sure look much better!), but as the layout gets larger, if you have the time to devote to laying them, it would pan out pretty good, financially speaking...

    Of course, if you're building something that doesn't exist in the Atlas/Peco/ME/Kato/Bachmann/etc. catalogs, this would be a moot exercise.

    Anybody want to venture a time-per-standard-turnout work time for someone who has done a handful but isn't particularly "expert" yet? I can probably work out the rest from available sources...

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    The cost effectiveness can be positive on the first turnout that you make.

    If you decide to purchase the jigs and special tools from FastTracks. They break even at about 10 to 12 units of the same size turnout. An additional turnout jig will break out even at 7 to 9 units because some of the special tools from the first run will work for the second run.

    As far as labor cost, that is up to the individual modeler. How you account for labor cost is for your own judgement.

    Time spent on making the turnouts varies with the individual's starting skill sets, and the choice to purchase jigs.

    The first unit will take from 3 to 5 hours, allowing for errors and the learning curve without the jigs, and about 2 to 3 hours with the jigs.

    The first unit will probably be a throw-away (Mine was), but you can salvage much of the materials.

    The second unit will probably take 2 to 3 hours being careful not to make the same mistakes without jigs, and about 1 to 2 hours with jigs.

    The cost in time gets shorter with every unit, with practice, a normal turnouit can be made in less than an hour once you are set up with everything at hand before you start.

    My experience:

    I started out with well established excellent soldering skills.

    My tools were:

    15 watt iron
    very thin rosin core solder
    soldering paste
    solder wick

    Needle nose pliers
    machinist's vice
    fine 6" flat file
    fine 6" triangle file
    a set of jeweler's files.

    NMRA track guage
    4 three point track guages

    Xuron rail cutters

    Spray contact adhesive

    Turnout templates from FastTracks

    PCB ties and wooden ties from FastTracks

    MicroEngineering code 40 rail from FastTracks

    And a bunch of tutorial videos fron YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/results?searc...URNOUTS&page=1


    I am not using the jigs.

    My first one was a throw-away and took 5 hours, with a lot of mistakes and rework.

    The second one was 2 hours and a keeper.

    The third one was 2 hours and turned out beautiful.

    Subsequent units take me about 1.5 hours apiece. (After setup and preparation.)

    Cost per unit is roughly $1.50 USD for rail and ties.
    (The voices I hear in my head may not be real, but sometimes they come up with a good idea.)

    Have fun.

    Moose

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    Obviously as Moose said the more you build the more you're amortising the base cost of tools needed no matter what you're building and then you have the base cost per turnout/straight/curve which is the total of the rail, ties, solder and flux you use to build each piece. My slipswitch cost over $USD350 initially but that was because I didn't have any tools to begin with and I bought everything I would need to build not only the slip but most of the other turnouts I had planned. By the time I've finished with all three shelves I expect the cost of that slip will be down to around $USD160 which if you look at what a production code40 #6 slip would cost is.......... ahhhh that's right, there are NO PRODUCTION slips of that kind available anywhere! Therein lies the major reason for building my own slip and turnouts, you just can't buy what is needed to produce the layout you really want. At least not without major compromises.

    I've kept my thoughts on thebig61 and his videos to myself prior to this but I have to say much of what he's doing doesn't even reach the level of "seat of the pants" engineering. You wonder why he's tearing out turnouts and building new ones? Take a look at how he makes the replacement turnouts! I wouldn't trust that trackage of his as far as I could throw it. Sorry but that's just my opinion of it. Even though it's all HO builds I think Fast Track's videos are much more helpful and certainly a lot better production. Even the Proto:87 information is light years ahead of the Mr 61. Plus P:87 actually build ALL of the trackage they offer no matter the gage. FT sometimes don't test build the kits they offer in the smaller sizes.
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    Quote Originally Posted by MooseID View Post
    Aussie, I am not sure about the use of a jeweler's saw. However, a jeweler's saw is a good tool to have on hand for any kind of model making.
    Would a razor saw do as well?
    The need to 'to cut the frog away from the frog rails and the wing rails away from the point rails' may not be necessary.
    It depends on how you go about makeing and installing them.
    In many cases there's simply not enough space to get the razor saw in. Plus the jewellers saw gives you a variety of blade and tooth counts to use so you can make the smallest and cleanest possible cut. I've taken to using a broken jewellers saw blade to cut the isolation gaps in the PCB ties.

    About the only time you don't need to cut the frog/wing rails away is if you have isolated them at the PCB ties and in some cases there just isn't the space available to do it. I cut those pieces free once the wood ties are in place so there's more support for the frog/wing rails.

    It's all a matter of trial and error and finding out what works best for you I think. I like using the FT jigs and holding rail in place with the FT tools and tape. Others can use just the templates. I haven't got a steady enough hand for that yet!
    "God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts!" (appeared on the sign outside our Pentecostal church)

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    Default Another Tool to Consider

    Having hand laid a lot of track and switches myself, I was surprised that no one mentioned in addition to the NMRA gauge, a product from railway engineering, the Rollee Holder. These are cylinders that have a groove in each end that grips the rails and holds the two rails in gauge. With a couple of these together it makes a lot of hand laying switches and track hands free. If you haven't used these before I suggest you give them a try they are incredibly handy. Here's a picture.

    Rollee Holders.jpg

    Here's the website. http://www.railwayeng.com/gauges.htm

    Scott

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