Making ties the hard way: Basswood

These are the tools and material I use to make 3/4 depth N scale ties.  Clockwise: cutting board, 1/32" basswood sheet, adjustable strip cutter and chopping tool.

These are the tools and material I use to make 3/4 depth N scale ties. Clockwise from top: cutting board, 1/32″ basswood sheet, adjustable strip cutter and chopping tool.

Any handlaid track system that uses PC board ties in critical areas also requires suitable filler ties.  Lacking an affordable and reliable source of 3/64″ PC Board ties turned me towards homemade 1/32″ PC Board ties. These are essentially 3/4 the depth of the real thing which is neither here nor there in my application as you rarely get to see the tie bottoms. And while you can build PC board track remotely, leaving the copper clad ties dangling from the rails and shimming the bottoms, I think it makes some sense to use filler ties of a similar depth that can then be secured with a reasonable amount of glue without having to resort to any shimming..

Enter sheet basswood. For the cost of a balsa stripper, a chopping tool and a sheet of material you can actually make your own filler ties with very minimal wastage. A couple of years ago I figured I could make 1000 ties for a Canadian dollar plus my time and wear and tear on my tools. The cost (to me) of a .04″X4″X24″ sheet of Midwest Co. basswood has risen slightly since that time but I still get over 900 ties for a buck. Compare this with over $20 per 1000 at my very well stocked local hobby shop. Such savings can not be discounted among those modellers on the lower end of the income scale.

In case anyone is wondering, the reason I went with the 1/32″ stock when 1/16″ is even more readily available is that doing so  a produces a rectangular tie with a very pronounced top/bottom and sides. Not only is 1/16″ sheet more inconsistent and harder to cut, the resulting ties are virtually square (.061″X.056″) with one side very easily confused for the other during the track laying hour. As these things go, it is of course only after a neat layer of ballast and contrasting tie stain that one realises the difference. By then the effect of a decently kept western mainline has already slipped and we’re back to where we started off with ties a touch too wide.

Anyways, enough shilling for Midwest – here’s my wood tie regiment:

 

The strip cutter is used to cut half way through both sides of the basswood board.

The strip cutter is used to cut half way through both sides of the basswood board. I set up the cutter to cut a little undersize. Inevitably over the course of a tie making session, cutting from both sides creates a parallelogram when the ties are viewed on end.  By starting small the ties don’t “grow” in width once they are seated, sanded and stained.

Once the strip is cut both sides it is parted with the stroke of a hobby knife.

Once the strip is cut both sides it is parted with the stroke of a hobby knife. If the edge of the sheet gets ratty for any reason I sand it very lightly with my 30″ aluminum tie sander.

 

The ties are then cut to .638" (8'6") three at a time in a chopping tool. The piece of brass is a hard stop. The various pieces of masking tape had been used as a soft stop to prevent angled tie ends but over time the tape moved leading to ties of the wrong length and the setup was changed back to a hard stop.

The ties are then cut to .638″ (8’6″) three at a time in a chopping tool. The piece of brass is a hard stop. The various pieces of masking tape had been used as a soft stop to prevent angled tie ends but over time the tape moved leading to ties of the wrong length and the setup was changed back to a hard stop.

Several hours later you’ll have a couple of thousand ties. Time flies when you’re having fun… or something like that. Just think of the forty bucks you saved!

AH

2 thoughts on “Making ties the hard way: Basswood

  1. I immediately recognized that Midwest balsa stripper. I use the same tool for cutting ties. I’ll confess that I’ve usually used balsa for ties since I still have a pile of it here from my days of working in the hobby shop. It’s interesting to read about how well it works on basswood. I have used it to score styrene sheet where I needed a narrow strip (albeit with varying success and not enough to encourage others to try).

    Great post. Thanks!

    • Hi Chris,
      This method really does work better with Balsa but I use comparatively few PC board ties and figure the little extra compressive resistance Basswood has over Balsa is worth my troubles. Some dimensional variance occurs and so to see off potential problems when I’m trying to get the ties in and out of my tie jig I check the strips as they are cut and work only with those strips that are .054″ – .058″ in width. This results in some unusable strips but I’m gradually getting better at the job. Several tie making sessions ago I screwed up the offset on the balsa stripper and ended up with a bunch of .060″-.062″ strips that wouldn’t work on the mainline (failed to check dim. in between cuts) but a couple of days ago I used them up making wooden road crossings for a cement plant module I’m doing up. Today’s garbage is tomorrow’s model sort of thing… suits me well.

      Andrew

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