Handlaying Track

NWR #200

Irish Expatriate
I am laying a test strip of handlaid track and I am finding I am having problems spiking the rail. I have cut all my ties from HO Scale 8x10" lumber from Mt. Alberton? scale lumber. In some ties the spike goes easily into the tie and cork roadbed. In others, it won't go in all the way unless I press real hard, causing the needle nose pliers to splinter the ties or break the spike. Any suggestions?
Hi Seth,

I have laid quite a bit of Handlaid track. I bought a pair of Needle nose pliers with the inside of the jaws ribbed. That way the spikes don't slip as much. I usually push the spike in with it caught between the jaws until I am better then half way in. Then, I push the spike in the rest of the way with the pliers pushing down from the top of the spike. I also use the Medium size spike. It definitely takes practice.

Which part of the track are you having the most problem with? Is it all cork roadbed?
The first problem I see is cork roadbed. Cork does not hold spikes. You really need to use something like Homasote or Homabed.

The next thing is to use the smallest spikes that will work. I use ME small spikes for most of my track (code 83/code 70) and their micro spikes for code 55 rail.

For spiking I use a hemostat or needle holder. These surgical instruments have a locking mechanism that firmly holds a spike preventing slipping. I insert the spike about 2/3 of the way into the tie, remove the hemostat, and then gently push the spike the rest of the way in. Don't push too hard. Pushing too hard results in smashed ties and spikes that are bent. It the spike won't go in, pull it out and try it in another location or on another tie. If you can do that, use a straight pin in a pinvise to create a starter hole for the spike.

Well I tested my spiking with a tie and short section of rail and what I found was that the bottome, where the spike exits into the roadbed, splinters. The cork being resistant to this will attempt to push the spike back up. My local Hobby shop sells Homabed, would this be less likely to "push" the spike up?

As with Brian, I too plan on handlaying my track (Except using BK industries frogs, points, guardrails...)
I linked this in another thread:
http://www.cvmw.com (HO so far, but I'm sure if enough N scalers say they want it...)

Also, check out Micro Enginering's track if you're going ho or n...

I was going to hand lay everything, but CVMW looks 85% as good, the only think missing really is that the spikes don't overlap, and the ties are all one lenth (and they DO vary, even on high speed lines), Oh and they don't have conrete ties that I'll need also...
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Homabed is nothing like cork. It has no spring to it. It really holds spikes well. It is made from ground up newspaper which is then pressed into sheets. The company that makes Homabed just cuts those sheets up into roadbed.

Interesting that you are modeling the Cowlitz, Chehalis, and Western. I live only 10 miles from Chehalis but model the SP and Nevada County Narrow Gauge. I guess we need to swap locations. I also belong to the Lewis County Model Railroad Club which is building a new layout inside the former Chehalis train depot. Our goal is to represent most of the railroads of Lewis County on the new layout. Come visit us when you need to do some local research.

Have to agree with Dave,

HomaBed is the best material for handlaying track. If you are going to use the BK products, check the gauge carefully, I return a lot of switches because the points were too wide, and for what they want for them, that was not acceptable.

See picture with all BK Switches.
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I was a part of the Lewis County Model Railroad Club when I lived in Adna, back when Doug was still alive and it was in the MILW box car. I moved to California in 2002 which ended my membership. Hope you guys do well at the new location. Next time I head to Reno I will stop by the hobby shop and pick up some more ties and Homabed to try this out. I did complete my 1 foot test section on the cork, and it looks alright, after using a few choice words...

Grumpy Bob,

Do you recommend any other semi-built turnouts available other than those from BK? I'm new to handlaying and am not to keen on making switches at the moment. Thanks.
I've had no problems handlaying on cork. As long as the roadbed allows the spikes in, it should be fine. The problem you're most likely having is that your spikes are smooshing the the wood ties. I had the same problem when I started handlaying. The solution is to predrill the ties with a small drill bit and pinvise (use a drill bit just smaller than your spikes). The spikes should go in easy with a pair of pliers and hold the rail tight.

I've used the CVMW tie strips and have been very pleased with them. They're easier and faster to install than handlaying or flextrack, and look great. The non-overlapping spikes can be a problem, but I've found that unless you're looking real close from above, it's not noticable. All in all, it's much easier and better looking than pure handlaid (which I still do in my yards for complete control over the ties). The Micro-Engineering looks better, but costs more. And it isn't as fun as handlaying!
I found this web site the other day. Definitely looks better than the BK product. The initial costs seems high, but the full kit seems to give you enough to build several switches. May be well worth it. I have gone to far to spend any additional monies.

Are you using 8X10 dimensial lumber? Why not use the 'low profile' ties from the scale lumber companies. Also, cork makes a lousy surface to spike into. Homasote(or Homabed roadbed) would be the way to go for hand spiking, short of some nice clear soft sugar pine....

I've been handlaying track for many, many years. All seven of the layouts I've had were all handlaid. I haven't seen anyone mention the most important thing in regards to hand laid track yet, and that is you are not limited to what you can buy switch, crossing, or track arrangement wise. Need a #14 curved switch? build it. :D Need a #10 singleslip? build it,:D need a movable point 5 degree crossing? build it.:D If you use preassembled turnouts from BK, ME, CVMW or whomever, in my mind you're missing the biggest advantage with handlaying, you might as well use Pecos, Shinoharas or Atlas.:(

But as to the problem of split ties from the spikes, that comes from improperly gluing the ties down. Instead of running a small bead or two, spread out the glue slightly wider than the ties and imbed them in the glue. This can be done with a small piece of card, plastic, or even a piece of roadbed. If your ties are pre-stained, after they are placed, you can also spread the ballast at this time, slightly tamping the ballast down with a cut down foam brush. The tapered end is cut off to make a square end. After the glue dries, excess ballast can merely be brushed up and reused on the shoulders after the track and rest of the scenery is in place.

But the biggest thing is practice, practice, practice!! I have given clinics on handlaying track, and thats one thing I emphasize more than anything. The first switch you make will probably look like garbage :eek: and will probably take you 3-4 hours to make. But it will work! :p The next one will take a little less time and look a little better. The more you make the better you get. I'm to the point now where if I'm building a plain #6 switch and the ties are glued down and dry, I can be running a train over that switch around an hour after I start laying the rail.