Thursday, January 11, 2024

3D Printed Curved Track Templates

Track templates to lay curved tracks are notoriously expensive. Metal ones are great for sturdiness and plastic ones such as Peco Tracksetta are quite versatile with their various slots for nailing tracks. Unfortunately, they have two main shortcomings: uneconomical and available only in a very few radii that aren’t always suitable for our needs.


I have no issue with costly specialized tools when they are extremely useful and that the efficiency gained covered the expense in a meaningful way. You accept to pay a little bit more to save time and get better results. It makes sense. But selling plastic injection templates that have been out there for decades, are the results of very little engineering skills and don’t offer flexibility makes just no sense to me. If you need to lay several curves of a fixed radius, they may make sense, but if you track plan requires several different radii, these tools make no sense.


Hence, I decided to make my own template. The radii I need are 27’’, 28’’, 30’’, 37’’, 38’’ and 40’’. Let’s just say these aren’t standard! I made mine by drawing them in SketchUp and 3D printing them. They are similar to the metal ones, but I could easily see myself adding a few holes here and there to give more nailing track options.

Printing and cleaning them took 2 hours for 6 templates and cost a little bit under 25 cents (Canadian dollars, mind you!). At this price, there is no excuse not to print them even for smaller jobs.

With these useful tools, I was able to improve the track flow in the staging yard by bumping the minimum radius at 27”, which provides for much better running performance with full length passenger cars. I will still have to improve (read surgery) for some cars to track better over the 24’’/28’’ radii curved turnouts. That said, there will probably be a restriction for long passenger trains having to run only over the larger radius on these curved turnouts.


Making templates is another way that 3D printing can be used. It could be very useful for special trackwork or as a kitbashing template. I expect to explore more of these options as I built the layout.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Monk Subdivision - Mike Confalone Was Right

 I've always been a planner at heart and this is no surprise my line of work is architecture. However, when dealing with a hobby, time rare and spending it by the dozen over things that don't move forward is both uninteresting and self defeating. I recall reading a few years ago that Mike Confalone confessed to be a poor planner, having little patience nor talent for it. That said, he compensated by working directly on the workbench, making countless mistakes he could have resolved before and finding solutions as he went ahead. What a haphazard way to build a railway empire isn't it?

For sure, we could say that Mike is somewhat dumb to not have learn his lesson after all these years... but upon further investigation, Mike isn't dumb. He has just found that making a mistake and correcting it takes less time than over planning a bulletproof ideal theory. It's not a call to not plan, but to recognize that moment when you have worked your main ideas well enough to commit to build. With a clear picture in your mind and a good step by step approach, you can move forward at an incredible pace.

Countless mistakes were made... but all were resolved in a morning

The reason why I'm writing about that subject is because I spent very little time behind the computer lately but a lot at the benchwork. In many case, I wanted to make sure the solutions to implement were perfect, yet, without the computer, I had no other choice than commit myself and cut some lumber. Bear in mind, I made a lot of mistakes even if I've been planning that layout for four years now... (yeah, you read that correctly, four years of doing very little). In many case, making the mistake generally took less than 10 minutes and correcting it was done before the hour mark. Let's recall a few examples:

When I cut the holes in the walls, I had a good idea where the tracks would punch through it, yet, I made them too big and too high. Cutting holes took about 5 minutes and making them right took less than an hour, including paint. At one moment, I went to the computer to check a few things on XtrkCAD and a good 45 minutes was lost and I learned very little that I didn't know from cutting wood in the basement.

Later, I found out the benchwork was installed 1/4" too low compared to the original benchwork on the other room. I was devastated after spending a day building it perfectly level... Yet, unscrewing the entire thing and raising it up took about 45 minutes, which is less time than checking your emails and Facebook.

Few days later, I installed the roadbed in the wrong angle in the yard. A mistake of 2 degrees that made the minimum radius in the area to be too sharp. I took 15 minutes to understand  how I made the mistake and how I could correct it. 30 minutes later, it was all done.

Finally, today I found out a lot of things weren't right with the swing bridge I built 2 years ago. A quick level check made it clear the vertical post holding the hinges wasn't vertical at all. It could have been a big task to correct it, but in fact, it was done in less than 20 minutes. Later on, I cut a hole for the track in the curved backdrop. As expected, even if I did measure it twice, I made a mistake.. no biggies, I corrected it and made a filler piece were I cut too much material. Once again, it was a matter of minutes.

I'm certainly not apologizing for poor craftsmanship. But at the end of the day, this is layout building and not layout agonizing. I know myself and in most of these cases, I would have hesitated for days before cutting anything, then after realizing I made a mistake, I would have gone back to over planning. These things would have consumed several days, if not an entire week. Now, let's do the math and you will see that making and correcting about 5 mistakes in the last week took about 5 hours at best and the project moved forward at an incredible pace. 

It's always down to an effort/effect ratio. Committing to your actions will always be more proactive than curling up in a corner and overthinking what are at worse very basic carpentry issues that are better resolved with tools and some positive thinking.