Friday, 27 December 2013

The Lessons of the Point - Part 1

So much has been written about how to build points that you would think there was nothing left to find out for yourself. As a beginner though that is part of the problem. Such is the volume of what has been written that it is hard to filter out the essentials you need during the nerve wracking exercise of building that first point. Much that is written is also influenced by the unconscious competence of those writing it.

In my professional life this is something that is exercising much of my time at the moment. How do you distill the wisdom of experts into a form that allows the less experienced to follow their advice and get short term results that are satisficory whilst also providing a foundation that doesn't constrain future development.

So here are my initial notes on building that first EM gauge point using the C+L system . I will hopefully update it in the light of the next five I have to build in the coming months. Mostly it is litany of the mistakes I made, and needs to be read in conjunction with much of that good advice which is out there.

Choice of construction

I'd built a few copperclad turnouts in OO9 a long time ago and was tempted to make a start using that method in EM gauge, using the SMP kits. I might still buy one to try since they are so cheap. To be honest if I need to build a single slip, a feature of so many Iain Rice trackplans, I think I would go that way until I've built up an awful lot more confidence. The other appealing aspects of copperclad are speed of construction, which can also equate to speed of learning, and the ease with which mistakes can be rectified with the touch of a soldering iron.

So why did I go for the C+L system? Well I already had a stash of EMGS ply sleepers so I thought the TimberTracks base would be a good visual fit, I wanted to use steel track, and I know that on the finished layout I wanted to use the correct pattern of chairs and retrofitting them on to a copperclad point sounded like hard work. In retrospect I don't think it would have been since the C+L chairs are very easy to cut in half. There is also this alternative from  PH Designs that could be worth investigating.

My one concern with the C+L route was the need to get it right first time without that get out of jail free card of a dab of the soldering iron. In a post that is going to be littered with cliches I have to admit that turned out to be a red herring. Not only does the system allow some time for adjustment before the bond sets but it also proved quite easy to correct mistakes either by refloating the chair with more butanone, or by slicing it off and putting on a new chair, either by flexing it on to the rail or slicing it in two and applying the halves separately.

It appears there might be supply issues around the TimberTracks bases, and since most of the turnouts I need are going to be built on Templot templates this might have proven to be a bit of a cul de sac. Something else I hadn't realised, though I guess it was obvious, is that that the template provided with the C+L kit doesn't match the timbering of the TimberTracks base, which made life more difficult than it needed to have been when it came to using the template as a reference. Once I'd realised that I actually produced a rough template using TRAX 3, which allowed me to extend the rails beyond the length of the turnout, and then copied over the  relevant information. I made a mistake in doing this so I have one less slide chair on  one side than I should. .

The C+L kits are a good starting point (sorry) especially for those like me who struggle to find their way around the C+L product range and website. However they certainly aren't cheap.  I was also under whelmed by the instructions which seemed rather dense and in need of a lot more illustrations in place of words.

The common crossing must be a big part of the cost of these kits, since they are £16 to buy by themselves. If that wasn't incentive enough to learn how to make your own I'll also add that I manged to break the common crossing in my kit, which isn't surprising given the amount of handling it got as I played around with it, as any beginner is wont to do. Re-soldering it proved to be a trivial job and another confidence booster. So building my own in future is definitely a skill I want to develop.

My overall conclusion is I'm going to stick with C+L chairs on timber sleepers, but use Templot templates and in the longer term make my own common crossings.

Before Beginning

I think this is an area that many experts don't address from a tyro's perspective.

I cannot emphasize enough that building your first turnout to prove to yourself that you can do it is NOT the same as batch building turnouts for a layout. A workflow that works in the latter case can be full of pitfalls for someone in the first situation.

In particular in retrospect I wish I'd had a complete list of instructions to follow which also included notes on what was essential to get right at that stage and what would fall into place at a later stage.

Now I thought I did have a complete list of instructions. In fact I thought I had several complete lists. But I didn't. Not complete as in the old WW2 US Navy approach of designing everything so it could be operated by a farm boy from the Midwest.  Some things that were missing because the author obviously thought no builder could be stupid enough to not do it, others appeared out of construction order. I suspect much of what I write in the next few weeks will be on the subject of tiebars, but they are a prime example. In books and articles they are almost always referred to as an afterthought, but they aren't. In fact in many cases the author ends with a casual "Now fit the tiebar" . So I got to the end of building my point and realized that the inadequate provision I'd made for fitting a tie bar was going to be a major handicap.  OK, it was easy enough to fit something that worked, but not the sort of tiebar I'd been planning to fit.

A quick diversion here about one of the reasons why I'm building my own points. It was at Warley a few years ago and I was watching a really nice OO9 layout. I was really impressed until the CLUNK as a Peco point underwent the quantum change from being set from one road to the other. It wan't just that unrealistically sudden switching that ruined they illusion for me, it was that that it drew attention to that area of a RTR point that we all like to pretend doesn't exist.

Anyway a complete list of instructions is a must, so I'm going to create my own for next time, including a lot of copying and pasting so that things appear in the right order, and with the use of

large bold type

to remind me of things I'm likely to forget, like drilling holes fro the dropper wires or  not tinning the underside of rails before I've slid the sleepers on.

And I'm going to include tick boxes to make sure I've done what I should have done before proceeding to the next stage.

Incidentally I built an A4 turnout for my first attempt. This was influenced by the remote possibility that I might replace the track on Apa with EM. If I had done it would have  looked like this

Gauge conversion thanks to Photoshop.Once again I forgot to check the state of the fence, but trust me it has now popped back into shape thanks to the elastic "wire"
However I wouldn't recommend that choice. As is so often the case with modelling a smaller prototype is harder work and the tight radius makes this quite difficult to build accurately.  I think a B6 would probably be ideal.

Apart from compiling the list of instructions the other thing I should have done at this stage is to remove the chairs from their sprues and put the left and right handed ones in clearly distinguishable containers. This would have saved a lot of time later.

One other big takeaway from this stage, and it was the cause of some of my problems, is to decide whether you are building it in situ, or for installation elsewhere, and whether or not to ballast before laying the rails. I'll explain in my next post....

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