You have 7 views remaining.

Home / How To / Build a Model Railroad / How to solder and conceal track feeder wires

How to solder and conceal track feeder wires

By | October 8, 2019

Learn the easy way to wire electrical track feeder wires for your model railroad

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories and more.

Soldering track feeders isn’t that difficult. Learn this easy method for making reliable wiring connection that are also easy to conceal on a model train layout.
Soldering feeders to the rails is a wiring method modelers have used since the hobby began. By soldering feeders directly to the rails instead of using other types of connectors you can add power connections exactly where they’re needed without compromise. It isn’t a difficult process to learn, but soldering must be done correctly to obtain the best electrical contact and give the soldered connection a good appearance.

Soldered feeders make it easy to wire a layout because they can literally be installed at any time in any location. All you need to do is drill a hole through the roadbed next to the rail to bring the wire up from below.

A soldered connection can be made on either the outside or the bottom of the rail depending upon the desired final appearance. Neatness counts no matter where the attachment point is located.
Before any soldering is done, the rail must be clean and free from any weathering or oily contamination. Depending upon the rail’s cross-section, I use a half-round or square needle file to clean the lower corner of the rail down to shiny bare metal. If the rail feels greasy, I clean the area using a pipe cleaner dipped in a little denatured alcohol, which evaporates almost instantly.
Fig. 1 Dog-leg shaped wire soldered to the outside of the rail’s base and web.
I use pieces of no. 22 solid copper wire about 12″ long for my initial track feeders, bending the stripped end into a dog-leg shape that fits snugly into the tight corner where the base and web of the rail meet. See fig. 1. By making this flat end about 1⁄8″ long, the small soldered joint tends to blend in and nearly disappears when the track is painted and ballasted. Then I apply a small amount of rosin flux and use small-diameter rosin-core solder and a 140-watt soldering gun to heat the joint.

I squeeze the trigger to heat the soldering tip before I bring it into contact with the rail and wire. As soon as the solder flows into the joint, I remove the heat to keep from damaging the ties. Avoid applying too much solder, as it looks sloppy. An aluminum soldering tool comes in handy to hold the soldered wire tight against the rail for the few seconds it takes for the joint to cool.

Fig. 2 Flattened wire soldered to the outside of the rail to simulate a spike head.

Modelers who lay their own track may flatten and shape the end of a feeder wire to look like a spike head. Figure 2 shows this technique out in the open for visibility. In practice, the wire should be concealed by passing it down through a hole in a wood tie before it’s soldered to the rail so the feeder blends in.

If the track has plastic ties, I protect them from the heat with wads of wet paper toweling that I pack around the soldering location on both sides and behind the rail. A couple of three-point metal track gauges can also help dissipate the heat.

Some modelers like to use a pencil- type iron for this, but if the iron takes too long to heat the rail, the built-up heat can distort the plastic ties. In a similar manner, the proximity of high heat from a large soldering iron or gun may also cause the tie ends to melt.

Fig. 3 Wire bent at a right angle and soldered to the bottom of the rail base.
Fig. 4 Connection soldered into a hole drilled into the underside of the rail.

Camouflaging the connections. If you’re careful and have the right combination of rail height and flange depth, you can solder feeders to the inside of the rail, but this requires great care to avoid difficulty with the flanges.

Some modelers attach feeders to the underside of the rail so they’ll be hidden from view, as shown in fig. 3. This takes additional planning, because holes must be drilled through the roadbed directly under each feeder wire’s location before the rail can be installed.

Some model railroaders like to drill a wire-sized hole into the base and web of the rail so they can solder the end of the feeder wire into the hole. See fig. 4. The one drawback to both of these methods is the limited access to the power feeder if the soldered connection ever breaks down.

After the track feeder connections have been soldered, I splice these light wires into the heavier no. 14 wire I use for long runs throughout my layout.

No matter which method you use for soldered power feeders, be careful to test each one before adding any paint or ballast. Lightly airbrushing the track and ties with a rusty, brownish-black color will hide any soldered joints and feeders.

4 thoughts on “How to solder and conceal track feeder wires

  1. I find that if you tin both the end of the feeder wire and the rail in advance you’ll be much less likely to melt plastic ties. After tinning, hold the tinned wire to the rail and just touch the hot soldering iron to the wire, the solder quickly melts and flows and you don’t have to heat up “everything”. Give a couple of tugs on the wire to make sure your joint is secure.

  2. Looking at the second pic I would remove the D at the end solder the feeder then replace the D with regular ties. To make life easier you might want to do this on the workbench before permanently attaching the track.

  3. All my visible track is hand-laid code 70, and I have used bare #24 wire as feeders. Pre-tinning, a wedge-shaped tip on the pencil iron and about a 1/8″ horizontal length against the rail give a joint almost invisible when painted. Feeder length is not more than 2″ as it immediately gets fastened to a terminal underneath the layout where it links to the #18 bus line. (Note, pre-DCC) All pieces of rail have a feeder – no rail joiners. Been working well for forty+ years.

  4. I didn’t read any objections to using joiners with power leads soldered to them, only that soldering directly to the rail allows you to add power virtually anywhere along the layout. ?

You must login to submit a comment