Save money: Build your own Signals

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RexHea

RAIL BENDER
While making signals for my layout, it occurred to me that some of you may be interested in how to do this and how to save big money on your next signal. Now, you can pay $22.00 for an assembled 3 light “D” signal or $10.50 for a kit, but how about doing it for $6.20. That’s right! By ordering the separate parts and doing a little work, you can save a bundle of money.

I will show you how to make an HO scale, three-light, vertical signal in the next few steps. Under no circumstances do I claim to originate the methods I use; I just want to show you with some photos how you can do it without being an expert. The only real skill you will need is soldering; you must be able to solder small wires and parts. Not a problem if you can at least solder a little bit. Just practice using the right tools for the job.

The first step is to select and order the parts you will need. There are many types of signals and many variations of each. A quick study will help you decide, but I recommend you stay with D type of signals. The position signals that B&O and PRR used can be complex in assembly and control.

The following list has the parts I chose to use, brand name, and where I ordered them:

Axial lead LEDs….red, green, yellow………Quickar Electronics, Inc. (20 cents each)
3/32 x 0.014 RD brass tube……KS Engineering……………...LHS, Online, or direct
Triple Light Targets……………Oregon Rail #104………….. LHS, Online, or direct
All TOMAR products
Base w/junction box…….#6060…………LHS, Online
Ladders, 2 7/8”………….#6010…………LHS, Online
Platforms, short…………#6035………….LHS, Online
Wire, 28awg, Teflon coated, 20feet……....LHS, Online.

Tools:
Soldering Iron…35 watts or less…….pointed tip (needle tip best)
Solder…low temp…62/36/2…..rosin core, silver bearing solder Radio Shack #64-103E
Small bench vise for electronics or hobby
Wire strippers…. Strips 28awg wire
Set of jewelers files (small round, small flat)
Small diagonal cutters
Saw to cut brass tube…(hobby saw works good)
Magnifying glass or hood
Steady nerves

Note: I recommend the use of Teflon coated wire for this project for two reasons: One, it is very tough and will resist any nicks; two, Teflon will take a lot of temperature before pulling back from the solder joint (shiner).


#1 The first photo are all the parts you will need to complete one signal. You will save a lot of money by using a little time to building your own. Cut the tubing to length to allow 14-18 scale feet to top of target (not finial) from bottom of base, plus distance from target to top of tube (1/8”), plus thickness of layout. …your choice as all railroads differed on this.


#2 This photo is the bench vise holding the cut to length tubing. A small round file is used to make an oblong hole for the wires to feed through from the target. Cut the hole approximately half way through the diameter of the tube. Take the pointed end of the file an ream any burrs or sharp edges. You don’t want to chance cutting the insulation of the wires.


#3 Here we have inserted the target in the vise and placed the LEDs (green on top). Fold the axial leads to the back of the LEDs and insert into hole of target (you may need to ream the light hole slightly to allow the led to go fully to front of target). Important: place all like leads (cathode side…anode side) on the same side of target.


#4 This photo shows the completed soldering of the LEDs. (NOTE: By using a low temp solder, you can get on and off the connection quick.) Before connecting the color wires, it is easier to go ahead and do the common first (white wire). Take a short piece of wire (24 awg) and strip the insulation off and tin it. Put a tiny drop of solder on the common led leads just as close to the target without burning the plastic. Now, place the tinned wire along side the three leads and solder very low and near the target. Try to get on and off quickly or the heat will melt on the other connections. (Let the wire cool between each soldering.) NEXT, trim the lead down to the bus wire you just soldered. Also, go ahead and cut the other side leads to just barely above the plastic level and solder the correct color wire to the led.


#5 This is the target mounted on the tubing and ready to feed the wires through the hole. You may want to go ahead and install ladder with the target on the tube (not shown) DO NOT glue the target in place yet. I first like to turn the target and feed the common wire through. Next I turn the target gently to the other side and feed the color wires. Try to not twist the wires, but keep them side beside as you feed them. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to get them all through.


#6 The next two photos are of the completed assembly. After aligning, the target is glued approximately 1/8” below the finial with CA. Then slip on the formed ladder and platform and glue about ¼” below target. (TOMAR ladders have a hole for the tube. You must mount on tube along with the target or cut hole out for mounting later). Glue on base. Wait to trim ladder length until you are ready to install on layout (for a near straight ladder bend to bottom of base and cut). Drill a straight hole slightly larger than 3/32", insert tube w/wires, and glue in place after alignment.



#7 Paint the signal black or a silver color. Don’t forget to paint the wires on back of target. I do not paint the back of the LEDs to allow me to see the sig indication from the rear…your choice.


Hope this will help you get into signals. If you need to have signals for the bridge you have gathering dust on the shelf, assemble in the same manner with short tube and minus the ladder and base.:)

FYI: Here are the specs that I used for my signals. Use what ever looks good to you or find the prototypical dimensions for your road. Remember to consider any rises or depressions where the signal will be placed.

Total length of Tube (mast): 3 1/2" (allows for an inch or so, bottom side of layout. will vary with ground cover)
Top of target from ground: 18 scale feet or ~2 1/2"
Top of Mast minus finial from ground: 19 scale feet or ~2 5/8"
 
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Rico

BN Modeller
Rex, awesome how to... thanx!
Great looking signals, I'll have to look into this when I get that far.
(Do I smell a magazine article?)
 

IronBeltKen

Lazy Daydreamer
...
I recommend you stay with D type of signals. The position signals that B&O and PRR used can be complex in assembly and control.
...
Rex, you sure got that right LOL! I'd love to have been able to use your technique to makeup some signals for my model of the CL&W subdivision which used to be B&O. I paid $25/ea to get 6 of these on sale - pricey I know, but my sanity is worth the extra $150 :D

If I was modeling the most recent 5 years, I'd be printing out these instructions of yours. All the original CPL masts were ripped out by CSX and replaced by Type D's.
 

RexHea

RAIL BENDER
Thank you Rico. Nawh, no magazine article. I will be happy if someone reading this thread is able to use the information...even a part of it. :)

Ken, the cost is enormous if you don't build your own and have several signals around the layout. I have 28 signal heads installed with 2 double heads and 2 singles to go; that fills up an SE8 sig driver board.

Sometime in the future I will install more, but I will have to buy another SE8 board. There are always places for signals particularly if one chooses to install using the "plant" method of the prototype. Right now, I only signal the mainlines using four-aspect and with programming that allows for control of the colors based on the status of whatever conditions I want to put in the program: block occupancy, turnout directions, and train directions...my rules :D
 
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UP2CSX

Fleeing from Al
Dang, Rex, you are a lot more talented guy than one would suspect seeing you at the watering tree. :D Those are some fine looking signals. Have you thought about some mass production for a few of your good buddies here? ;)
 

RexHea

RAIL BENDER
Thanks Josh. Yeah, any saving on parts is a penny towards a new loco. The Tomar parts are expensive and could be subsituted with other man'f. I just like the looks of the brass parts over some of the plastic. The exception was the Oregon Rails plastic target. Tomar's and NJ brass targets were just way too expensive.

Thank you Jim, I think LOL :D I would get into mass production, but my layout needs some clothes put on it. These things are part of the reason I have so much Georgia Pacific woods. :D
 

NZRMac

In Training Down Under.
Fantastic!! I'll need these when I get going on my layout, in the next 10yrs sometime maybe.

Ken.
 

TomR

Member
Thanks for the post on the parts source for the target, ladder, and platform.

I roughed out a signal bridge out of brass tubing and rod, used bi-color LED's, and nylon washers painted black and heat shrink to make the targets and sun shields. I was going to solder a ladder together and use copper window screen for a platform. . :) I think I'll buy a ladder and platform from the source you gave.
 

RexHea

RAIL BENDER
Thanks Tom and glad I could help. Once you get started building and realize all the possible "oops!", it will go easier than one would think. Scratch-made bridge...wow! That had to be a pain. Just wiring my bridges was a challenge. Like to see a photo of yours.

Mark: what can I say! That is one excellent example of true craftsmanship. Very nice job. ;)
 
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