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.

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