Tech Tips Misc


First a word to the wise, you will be spending a lot of time under that table, adjust the height where you are comfortable sitting on the floor, and still work on the wires in relative comfort. Table too high, too much stretching, too low, hits your head.
As we all know the underside of our tables very quickly can look like a spaghetti bowl of wires going to who knows where. Here are a few tricks we have learned over the years.
First another investment. Pick up a 1″ Irwin speedbor drill bit. like below:

They are around $7 at Lowes. You can use your cordless drill with this guy, but be careful they drill really quick and will grab if you don’t go in straight. Do not push, let the drill do the work. Anyway in your framing (usually 1X3’s or so) that goes under your plywood, drill a hole every 18″ or so, and then when you string your wires thru and keep them from drooping all over.

Then: figure where your transformer(s) will be. What we did on our 12’X24′ layout was, we bought a roll of 14 gauge 3 wire romax. As you know this wire will be covered with white plastic insulator. We then stripped off all the outer insulator wire except left a few inches around the cable every couple of feet to keep it neat. The 3 wire Romax will actually give you 4 wires. One red, one black, one white, and one non-insulated which can be used as a ground. After doing the prep work, we then made a loop of the wire thru the drilled holes, all the way around the table.

On our layout we actually used 2 runs of the Romax so we could have 4 wires for separate train loops, one wire for accessory power the unshielded, wire is used for grounds, another for a bumper car and another for trolleys. To splice into the wires we use another Irwin tool. This is a $20 tool, but well worth it. I would stay away from the cheap imitations, we have enough aggravation in our lives, why invite more. I believe Lowes sells this tool also.

This stripper is really ideal for us guys because you can easily put it anywhere on a wire and strip off the insulation, making splicing into the wire a breeze. Remember when doing that, always do your splicing at different locations on the wire, so they cannot possibly short out. you really don’t even need to add insulators, but if you wish, the easy way is to squish a piece of wire in the Romax into a very tight loop. You can then add your splice in wire you wish and use a plastic wire nut to tie the works together.

Trouble shooting uncoupler and unloader tracks

The only difference between the O27 variety is that the wires are soldered directly to the track parts that are shown above, and the O27 version does not have double accessory rails.
The yellow wire goes to ground or screw no 1.
The blue wire goes to screw no 4
When you push the unload button, it creates a short between pins 1 and 4
When you push the uncouple button (the orange one or the big one we installed on the controller, it sends accessory voltage (the red wire in the short cable that goes to the transformer accessory power) directly to the uncoupler coil.
The black wire in the short cable is hooked to normal center rail train power and is used to provide a power tap to the center rails of both tracks.
Troubleshooting procedures:
Using a continuity tester (or an ohmmeter)
1. Attach one lead to the short cable red lead. The other lead to the outside rails of the unloader track. Operate the uncouple switches. It should show short to ground when you operate the switch, because it will read thru the uncouple coil. It should be open when not switched. </br>
2. Repeat above for both the unloader rails on the unloader track. It would be better if you unsoldered the neg lead of the coil on the dual track so you will only be checking the accessory rails, and not thru the coil.
I doubt there are any issues with the switch wiring. The rate of failure on these is so high that when we begin the process, we thoroughly check every switch and over 50% of the time have to adjust switch contacts, or use an emery cloth to clean them. We then double check the switch actions after completing our wiring to them. I suspect the error will be in the wiring to the track (happened before)
If you have trouble, set yourself up a little test bench and give me a call 262-914-0057 and we can work together to solve. Should be fun.
Rich…..AKA TinMan

How to install those spade connectors on very small wires:

Yeah I know the wires are small but they work and keep the cost down. But I have seen some folks have a problem crimping on the spade connectors. Here is a trick we use that works pretty good.
Step no 1 Spin the stripped end with two fingers to make a tight braid as shown below:

Then fold the stripped end over the outside plastic insulator thus:

Then slip the spade terminal over both the wire and insulator and crimp. Make sure it goes in far enough so you are also crimping the insulation portion. The picture above is a little long on its fold over.
It is important that if you are using a crimp tool as shown that the pointed end goes over the part of the connector that is NOT split as shown.

If all went well, when you are done, it should look like this, and unless you are mighty mouse, you will not be able to pull them apart.


What you will need: Buy a good old fashioned soldering Iron. A great one to use is the original Weller 100 watt (w100p) iron that is available anywhere they sell hobby supplies for stained glass. Prefer the model that comes with a 2 prong plug, because the tip is not grounded. Very important for working on stuff that may be powered up. If the one you buy has a 3 prong plug, do the unforgiveable sin and cut off the round prong off the plug.

These Irons are also available on line from companies like Zoro and sell for about $70. May seem like a lot, but last a lifetime, and are not hurt to leave on for days on end. The tip it comes with is about 3/8″ wide and perfect for soldering wires on the bottoms or sides of tracks. For finer work, you may wish to buy the 1/4 or even 1/8″ tip for this iron. Solder: for anything electrical, buy rosin core solder, 60/40 works best. We like the 062 size.
For soldering tracks together, use acid core solder (same stuff they sell for soldering copper water pipes). Do not use this solder for electrical soldering, Can use the same soldering iron and tips, just wipe off the old solder on a wet sponge. A good pair of needle nose pliers. We prefer the larger 8″ heavier style for train work like this one made by Stanley. they are also great for sizing track ends etc. About 10 bucks.

Heat is your best friend, or worst enemy. The work you are going to solder needs to be hot enough to melt solder, but not so hot as to damage anything. For track power wiring, practice a few times on the bottom of a junk piece of track. Procedure:

Scratch off any grease, oil, dirt etc till you see raw metal. A pocket knife works fine. Tinplating is ok. Hold your iron firmly on the place you want to solder a wire. After about 15 seconds or so, take your solder, initially melt on the tip of the iron, then flow onto the track. Pull back the iron. Strip your wire you want to use, between two fingers, spin the wires together (assuming the wire is stranded). Always cut a little shorter than you think you will need.
The heat of the iron will always melt back some of the insulation. Coat your wire with a little solder, the same as you did with the track, (called tinning). Then put the wire on the cold solder you put on the track, holding the wire with a needle nose, heat the wire, till the tinning melts, and flows into the solder you put on the track. Keep holding the wire in place with the needle nose, and remove the iron. If you did good, a strong tug will not remove the wire from the track, and no excess wire threads will be seen.

To-Lock on or To Solder

Big topic of debate. Which is better? Well the tech in me will always say a soldered connection is always the best. The realist in me says yeah but the lock-ons will also work. The negative of the lock-ons is they are ugly and the wires can get tangled up in the trains.
So if we are going to be brave and do the soldering choice then……Please do it right!
In order to get a good solder connection you must remove any dirt, grime, galvanizing, or other foreign materials from the track. Please do not solder the sides of the tracks. Solder your wires on the bottom of the track away from any ties. Use at least 20 gauge wire (just enough to get thru the board and leave 6″ or so working room left).

You will notice that the px below shows where we had to clean the bottom of the track. Not shown is that we also apply some black hot glue over the solder joints to protect the area from rusting, and act as a strain relief. Usually if you are adding wires for a power tap it is usually not necessary to add a wire on the outside rails. This is only because there are twice as many connection points on the outside rails.