SDSoNS Turnout Data


General Info,  Construction,   Track Standards Pertaining to Turnouts, and Patterns.

Turnouts are certainly possible to construct from scratch. It takes some time and care, but the steps are easy and simple in themselves. By doing each step in a relaxed manner, you will have your own turnouts before you know it. The patterns here can be used for any size rail, even though they were developed for code 40. The construction is the process we use at the San Diego Society of N Scale, and there are already over 200 turnouts on the layout, constructed by many different club members. Once you try one, you will be amazed at the result and it is also most rewarding, both operationally and aesthetically. If you need tricky types of turnouts, such as double curved turnouts, or some that are just not available, such as a #5 narrow gauge wye, you can make what you need rather than trying to fit your layout to what is available commercially.

General Information:

The SDSoNS club has been using hand laid code 40 track and hand made turnouts for over ten years. The club Track Standards set out all the major details. Paramount is the use of the NMRA Gage, which the club uses to set the correct distances for track gauge, flange and point clearances. Rail is code 40 nickel silver from Micro Engineering. We use 1/32" x 1/16" basswood for the ties, and pc board ties of the same dimension from Clover House. We use a wider pc tie for the point throwbar.

The club has run a variety of equipment on the layout over the years.  And the only equipment that has trouble,  are a few very old Rapido steamers from 8-9 years back with very deep flanges. The use of soldered rail allows all newer flanges to clear without the problems associated with code 40 flex track. The flex track has cast in 'spikes' to hold the rail in place, and this is what the flanges are hitting. We have no problems with the current equipment from Kato, Atlas, Life-Like, Bachmann or brass imports; and including the Mikado from Kato and wheelsets from Precision Masters, Intermountain, and others.

What we have found is that many wheelsets from manufacturers like Intermountain are gauged too narrow (and their flange thickness is overly wide). The best working wheelsets are from Micro-Trains, both low profile and regular, and the low profiles are our preferred wheelsets. The major caveat to smooth running and trouble free operation is that all equipment must be in gauge to match the NMRA Gage and wheels centered on the axles.

Until you gauge everything, you can't localize the other problems you may be having, and may spend hours of frustration trying to figure out why that new U50 keeps derailing, when a quick adjustment in wheel gauge would have solved it.

Code 40 rail scales out as 120 pound prototype rail, and is acceptable for up to 150 lb rail. Code 83 (Atlas) scales to over 13" high! Code 55 (8.8" high) is too large for the prototype, but can be used for mainlines so you can use the code 40 for branch lines. The difference in size gives the 'look' of lighter rail off the mains.


John Stephens is one of the OLD hands at making turnouts, and his description of constructing a turnout is as follows:

At SDSoNS we build about 95% of our turnouts in place after all ties and ballast are in place.

  1. Prior to gluing down the ties, centerlines for both legs and a line for the outside tie edge of the straight leg are drawn on the roadbed. A parallel line about a quarter inch out from this one is marked for the edge of the ballast.

  2. The locations of the frog point and the switch points are clearly marked from the paper template patterns. No templates are used to put down the rail.

  3. The tie (wood and pc) locations, (i.e. 3 pc ties at the frog point and one either side of the throw bar, etc.) are built in jigs for the turnout "tie block".

  4. Once these "tie blocks" are assembled, they are lifted with narrow masking tape and glued with yellow carpenter's glue (not white glue) to the roadbed, following the previously drawn lines. The glue is continued past the tie lengths by about a quarter of an inch, and kept to a straight edge with 1 inch masking tape on the roadbed. This becomes the edge of the ballasted area. Once set in place, the masking tape on the ties is removed, and the ties are straightened. Ballast is poured over this entire assembly, and allowed to dry a minimum of overnight.

  5. The next step after the ballast is dry is to sweep off the excess ballast (it can be reused) and sand the tops of the ties lightly to get them even.

  6. After this is done, it is pretty much a piece of cake to solder down the appropriate rails.

  7. Start by building the frog point first. The length of these rails is not important as long it is an easy length you can work with. The frog is formed by filing down the rail end to the angle of the turnout. The second rail (branch rail) is filed to fit against the first rail. The first rail carries the actual 'point' of the frog. This puts a solid piece of rail at the greatest wear point.

  8. Before soldering, both stock rails must be notched to receive the points. File away about 1.5" of the rail foot and make a slight notch in the rail head; just enough so that the point will fit flush.

  9. Next, solder down the straight stock rail, gauging it off the point rail at the frog and using a straight edge to keep it in line. Tack it first at the frog point, and then at each end. Come back and solder the rest of the ties after that. Always solder on the outside of the rail, never on the inside (wheel flange side).

  10. For the curved stock rail I tack it in approximate gauge at the points and at the frog and let the rest of it float as it will probably need to be adjusted for gauge as a last step.

  11. I make the point, closure rail and wing (guard) rail as a single piece. The only tricky part is where to make the bend to create the wing rail. After lots of trial and error I've determined that this bend should be approximately .25" in front of the frog point.

  12. Align the straight closure rail with a straight edge between the frog point and receiving stock rail. It should be in gauge, but may need a little adjusting.

  13. For the curved closure rail, eyeball it into a gentle curve; use a short straight edge to align it to the frog point and solder at one point near the frog.

  14. Do not solder either closure rail within about 1.5" of the point ends. They need to be flexible. If you are satisfied with the alignment of the curved closure rail, go ahead and solder it in place.

  15. Using the NMRA Gage, gauge the curved stock rail to the curved closure rail and solder it in place. The rail should be straight through the frog area where the wing and guard rails are.

  16. Add the outside guard rails (set the gap with the NMRA Gage) and a wide throw bar and you have a completed turnout!

I have done this with both code 40 and code 55 rail. I find that it takes me between 2 and 3 hours to build a turnout exclusive of ties and ballast.

-- John Stephens --

Track Standards pertaining to turnouts:

  • Turnouts:
    • The minimum turnout off of mainline track shall be #8.

    • Ties shall be cut to the lengths described in the turnout tie list for the type of turnout to be constructed (#6, #8, etc.) and assembled in the appropriate Club jig.

    • Frogs shall be cut so that there is a solid rail at the point of the frog along the straight section of the turnout, with the rail for the turnout portion dovetailed into the solid rail.

    • Wide PC tie material shall be used for the turnout throwbar.

    • Check all work with an NMRA Gage throughout construction.

    • Point spacing and guardrail spacing are to conform to the Gage standards.

    • Test the turnout with a Kadee wheelset for smooth flow through the turnout.

    • Turnout motors are PFM slow motion machines, mounted on separate wood block mounts for modular installation.

    • Wiring for the turnout is to follow Club standards.

    • Spade lugs shall be attached to all wires leading from the switch machine. Wires shall terminate at a terminal strip.

    • All leads will be used for mainline turnouts.

    • Yard, branchline, and industry sidings need only frog power wiring.

    • After the turnout is wired, test for smooth operation with a variety of types of motive power and rolling stock to assure good operation. Adjust as necessary for optimum performance.


 No. 4 (no tie list yet)     No. 5 (no tie list yet) 
 No. 6        No. 6 narrow gauge 
No. 8             No. 10 

The template patterns presented here are the same ones we use at the SDSoNS to lay out the tie patterns for all turnouts. The ties of the correct length are assembled in a 'jig' that matches these templates. Once the ties are in the jig, 1/4" wide masking tape is used to keep them in place for transfer to the layout.

 To use these patterns without a jig, paste them on a flat surface, then get some double sided clear tape and run a strip down the centerline of the rails. I have also used spray adhesives that are sold in art supply stores or drafting supply stores. Transfer the ties using 1/4" masking tape. You might have to de-stick the double sided tape so it doesn't hold so strong by pressing on it with your hand, or carefully pry off the ties from the template.


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Tuesday, 22 October 2013


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