Friday, December 6, 2013

069 The Navajo Mining Railway - Making an On30 Tie Spacing Jig

There are so many decisions to make when you are building a layout.  If you decide to hand lay, then you need to figure out the rail, tie size, space between them and a million other things.  Oh well...

To hand lay track I like to make a tie spacing jig.  You can probably buy one some where but you are at the mercy of someone else's idea of what proper spacing should look like.  Just as easy to build one yourself and I did this in about 30 minutes or so.

 From the Home Depot I bought a 3' piece of red oak.  This is a cabinet grade piece of lumber, strong, hard and very, very straight.  It won't warp, bend, splinter or break.

I've still got huge bag of 5,000 On30 crossties (actually they are S scale standard ties, and work just right for me.)  We'll be using this bag up I'm sure.

The tie is 6 feet long.

Is 7" wide.

And 5' high.

This board is 3 feet long, but I never lay ties in that long of a strip, so I'll cut it in half.

Once I cut the board I put a piece of Micro Engineering code 83 On30 track on the board and look at the spacing.  Too close together for me.

Te magic measuring stick says about a foot and 4" apart.  We need to space them out.

I played with the spacing and finally decided that the ties should be about two feet apart for my quickly put together mine track.

I'll not work on turnout jigs tonight, but I did find an ample supply of turnout ties.

In the box were two types of On30 turnouts; Micro Engineering and Peco.  Neither is quite right to my eye.

Wow!  Another bag full of On30 ties!  I should have more than enough.

Our first step is to sand all the sides smooth.  I use the best materials I can find when I build a jig because I usually will use them again.  If not, I sell them and mostly for more than I had in it to begin with, so its always a good investment.

The 18" board is smooth and ready!

The ties are two feet apart so I need some spacers.  I found a sheet of basswood that is 1/8" thick, the same as my crossties.  I'll use my Micro Mark saw to rip it into 2' scale wide boards.

Hobby shops always have to stick something on to your nice board.  This one was more difficult than others to come off nicely.

One I took it off I realized that it has left residue and little bits of paper behind.

Using a fine grit sanding block, I sanded it just enough to remove the residue.  You have to be careful doing this to basswood as you can grind a foot or two (scale wise) off the board in two strokes.

The saw ripped four nice and clean 2' wide boards.

The do come out a little fuzzy, so I quickly sand them smooth, but with not too many strokes, just enough to get the fuzz off.

After sanding, I wipe them all down with a dry paper towel or rag.

Using a stop block at the right length (5 scale feet) I use the chop saw to cut about 30 spacers.  I only used 26 of them.

Each spacer is a little shorter than the crosstie.  This is to make it easier to pick it out of the jig if you put it in wrong or it is a bad tie (which happens a lot!)

My Delta sander needs a new press-and-apply sand paper disc, so I yank the old one off...

And replace it with the new one.  The table needs to be set up again so I check it with my right angle to make sure the sanded part is at 90 degrees.

I grab a tuna fish can, one of many I keep around for parts, and will use it to put the parts in.

First we will put down a runner that goes the length of the board.  The ties and spacers will butt up to this and it will keep them straight.

I glue it in place with Elmer's carpenter glue.  Use enough that it won't come up during sanding, but not enough that it is squeezing out the sides.  Keep a wet cloth hand for spills and overgluing.

I'll put the first spacer on with carpenter's glue and check it with the right angle to make sure it is straight.

I'll then put a crosstie in and LOOSELY glue the next spacer in.  The tie should easily slip out of the gap.  Note that sugar pine will swell and flatten as you mess with it, so throw these ties in the scrap box when you are done with them.

Once I get a couple more spacers down, I'll pull the first tie up.  This keeps it from being accidentally glued in place.

This is an On30 mine line, so I don't want perfection.  I leave the gaps loose and only once in a while check it with a right angle.

The work goes quickly.  Be sure NOT to lay a tie down on the wrong side, or your jig won't work.

Another check...looking good!

Once they are all down, I'll take all the crossties out of the jig and set them aside.

The ties must be HIGHER than the surface of the jig, but not by much.  This is so that we can stick to the ties a length of masking tape to remove them with.  So we sand the jig after we have removed all the ties.

Sand until the gaps fill in with dust, clean it out, and test it.  The ties should be about a scale foot or two about the jig top.  Mine was sanded about four times before I got it where I wanted it.  This is a very messy step so be sure to clean up the dust or it will find its way onto your models!  I'm not a neat freak, but dust bothers my nose and I'm prone to allergies, so I keep my area clean.

Every jig should be properly labeled so that when you find it in the closet you know what it is and what size stock to use.  I used my fancy label machine.  Now it tells me what scale/gauge and tie dimension.

Let's test the jig.  Clean it with a brush and/or vacuum to make sure all the dust is gone.  Then grab some ties and fill in the slots.

There are two that are tight, but that may be just the lack of dimensional stability in the ties.  These little guys are not perfect in dimension.  If one is too tight you can sand the slot or use a hobby knife to remove some of the spacer.

Once I have it right, I put ties in every slot and run a strip of masking tape along the tops.  I use my finger to push the tape down on every tie.

You can then put the strip up and you have a length of crossties in perfect spacing!

Before I start trackwork I'll make about a dozen of these (or have Taylor do it) and stick them to the front of the layout.

There!  A beautiful jig that will get a lot of use.  Don't hog yours all to yourself!  Loan it to a friend when you are done!


1.  Jigs make quick work of repetitive jobs and are worth the investment in time and materials.  I use the three rule:  if I'm going to make more than three of an item, I figure out how to make a jig.
2.  Work to make your jig as accurate and long lasting as you can.  The skills you build making jigs transfer to your model building, and jigs can be loaned or sold to friends.
3.  Keep your work area clean and free of dust.  During a project stop every few minutes and tidy up.

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