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Making Ties

    If your going to hand lay track and build turnouts, you might as well make your own ties. I've made over 13,000 ties for this railway to date ( I figure that's about half ) with a standard 10" table saw and a fixture I built for doing so. On this page I'll explain how I built my fixture, how it works,  how to make the ties and install them on the railway and prepare them for rail.

The Table Saw

    The table saw you use must have the motor and saw blade arbor separated with a belt drive between them. This is important as a direct drive saw ( blade mounted on the shaft of the motor ) quite often has bushings instead of bearings. The difference being that a bushing has a lot of side to side play and the blade floats around during operation ( fine for house building but not ties ). This will produce variation in the size of your ties. When I first attempted to make my own ties, I had a table top saw which is basically a skill saw motor and blade mounted in a table saw housing. The bushing allowed the blade to float side to side about .010" during operation which produced a variation in the size of my ties that was most annoying. Some saws have a bearing even when the blade is direct driven but it's hard to tell. If it has belt drive, it always has a bearing on the blade arbor and that's what you want.

    Figures 9 and 10 show the completed cross cuts on the two lengths of ties I cut ( standard ties 5/8" and long ties for turnouts 1 5/16" ). For the ties in the turnouts of the middle sizes I just nip then to the required length as I go with my rail nippers. Figure 11 shows ties drying after staining. The stain I use is 1 part black shoe or leather dye in 200 parts isopropyl. I soak the ties in the dye for a half an hour then let them dry for about the same time. Watch the surface you dry your ties on as this dye soaks through anything and can stain a good surface. In my experience, wives are not impressed when you do this to the dinning room table.

The Fixture

    The fixture is made up of four pieces, all made of acrylic. The zero out plate, the fence and two push blocks. You can get small pieces of acrylic from any sheet acrylic fabrication shop ( buying a whole sheet is overkill unless you have other uses for it ). My entire fixture is made from 2.5mm (.098") thick extruded acrylic ( the cheapest ) and that is the width of a 10" carbide tooth saw blade.  This fixture can also make your strip wood of other sizes for bridges and structures if you change the push blocks size to suit.

The Process

    I make my ties from 3/4" pine shelving boards that I purchase from my neighborhood building store. I get the kind with the least amount of knots possible without buying clear boards due to the increased cost. The shelves laminated together from narrower boards are fine to use. Most of the board is going to end up as sawdust under the table saw during the process but I can make 5000 ties from 6 dollars worth of shelf board and that's about 60 feet of track. Figures 1 and 2 show the fixture mounted on the saw with double sided masking tape and the fence set for .075", the width of my ties.

    Figures 3, 4, 5 and 6 show the passing through of single sided PC board stock while using the push stick. This operation is the same as cutting the pine with the exception of using a 200 tooth plywood blade that once used for phenolic resin, isn't good for anything else so I marked that blade and only use it for the PC tie strips. The wood ties are cut with a standard 70 tooth carbide blade. When cutting the PC board I cut it copper side down and it will require a clean up with a file to remove the burrs from along the edges of the copper before being used as ties. I don't cut the PC board strips to final tie length until I'm ready to use them and I cut them with my rail nippers to the required length as needed.

    Figures 7 and 8 show the strips of ties stock ready to be cut to the length of ties. They are taped into groups of 15 lengths and wrapped with the masking tape in barber pole fashion with the gap between each wrap of tape not bigger than 3/16". This keeps most of the stock protected in tape for the cross cut operation to minimize tear out on the ends. I use my radial arm saw for this process bit you can use your table saw for this as well but always use a zero out strip. A zero out strip is basically a sacrifice piece of material that is cut through along with the first cross cut. This creates no clearance around the blade and is ideal for reducing the tear out when the cut is made.

    Figure 12 shows the jig I built from strip styrene for the tie spacing and a length of ties picked up with masking tape and ready to be placed on the railway. When laying straight ties I just leave the tie strip attached to the masking tape until after the glue dries but on a curve I place the strip of ties and then use a steel ruler to hold the ties in place while I peel off the masking tape and then with tweezers I push the ties around in the glue to the desired curve and then allow the glue to dry. 

The Process (con’t)

Making Ties
Fig 1