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Round Rail vs Braid

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  • Round Rail vs Braid

    I've done 3-4 tracks using round rail and now I'm pretty far along my first braided track. I'm an amateur builder and although all my working tracks ran great for me odds are they weren't nearly good enough for "serious" racers. Still, I thought it might be worth sharing my opinions on the two rail types.

    In short I'll probably be using braid from here on out in future builds. My primary concern is the ease of the track build and it is much easier to lay braid than it is to lay down the round rail. Although I think my choice is going to be braid, round rail served me very well and is certainly a viable choice for any builder.

    Here are some detailed comparisons in the order that they are most important to me:

    Ease of track build
    The winner here is braid by far.

    It's a lot more forgiving on all fronts. The round rail I used wanted to "kink" so the longer track lengths got the harder to lay the rail got. I use MDF and I found higher magnet cars would pull the rail out of the pocket and essentially ruin the track. I did have a possible workaround to this issue as its believed the CA glue was absorbing into the MDF rather than binding the rail to the pocket. If correct, the workaround would add a step but solve the problem. The round rail also required reasonable "force" to get it rolled into the pocket. And the CA glue gets pretty much everywhere. Making both rail cleanup and cleaning up fingers and the like a pain.

    On the other hand, braid drops into the pocket with a finger and it uses simple elmers wood glue to hold it down. Setting up power taps is easier with the braid because. The braid never felt like it was going to kink up. This made unrolling it and dealing with it much easier. Because you're using elmers wood glue, you don't have time issues when laying it down. You can drop the glue into the pocket and then lay the rail at your leisure whereas with CA glue you get about 5-10 seconds before things get difficult. Because of the elmers you can also move the rail around, even lift it out of the pocket and drop it back down. Cleaning glue off the braid is really easy, even once set a small amount of water will basically get it up. With round rail and CA glue you can't do anything like that. In fact with CA glue, if you have to remove rail that's been placed down you're in for a big headache. You'll need to route out the glue which in itself has complications. Last, the braid is a lot wider than the round rail. That means it can be a touch off center and the electrical connection to the car will be fine. Try that with round rail and your car won't make it around the track.

    This one is a tie, except that I haven't used my braided track long enough to be 100% certain. I'm going off what others have told me and my brief experience with braid so far. If braid doesn't perform as expected, the winner will be round rail because round rail is excellent here.

    With round round I ran more than 1000 laps on a 30' track and the cars shoes barely looked like they were used. On top of that my track is in a fairly humid basement and the round rail didn't require any kind of cleaning even after weeks/months of not being used. The round rail is also not coated so there's nothing that can come off/wear down if you have to clean glue off it.

    As said I haven't run my braided track enough yet. But I had two lanes done and didn't touch the track for about 7 months. The two lanes ran just as well 7 months later with no treatment than they did when I first dropped the rail down. I haven't run enough laps to know how it is on the shoes, but I've been told they're soft on the shoes and I don't expect anything different.

    I expect both round rail and braid to be a lot more durable than the square rail found in Tommy plastic track. For me Tommy track would oxidize and need constant cleaning if not used virtually everyday. On top of that, it would absolutely destroy car shoes. So far I've seen none of that with either round rail or braid.

    If somehow braid falls short in durability, I could easily see myself going back to round round.

    I think the winner here is round rail, by far.

    I don't have exact numbers but I remember when I ordered the braid that it was A LOT more expensive. It's also worth pointing out that you can get lashing wire online or at places like Home Depot, whereas I only know of one place to get the braid and that's from a slot car community member.

    The winner is unclear because I have not run enough laps on the braid yet, but I expect this to be a tie, with both having excellent drivability

    I'm a basement racer. I basically only race with family a few times a year and alone. My son will be old enough to race soon so I may race with him, but it's hard to say how into it he'll be and how long it'll last. So how well the track drives really doesn't matter much to me. If the cars go around with out me pushing them ever 5 feet, its good enough for me.

    But the round rail ran smooth as silk. It was really awesome to drive on. The only problem with it for me was where the power taps were. The original way I did taps was to bend the rail 90 degrees and drop it through the table. But that left a rough spot on the track. My last round rail build I did the taps with out bending the wire through the table. Instead I cut a groove in the rail and looped a tap wire through it. I then soldered the groove and the two ends of the round rail making a pretty smooth connection. More work during the build but ultimately a nice smooth ride. I did have one track in which my high magnet cars essentially ruined the track by pulling up the round rail in several spots. But I also had a track in which that didn't happen so I view this as a build issue and not a drivability problem.

    So far the braid taps run smooth as silk and were simple to lay down. Because of the wider rail electrical connectivity seems like it would be better around turns and when the cars fish tail but that was never really a problem on the round rail.

    Both rail types have very good magnetic down force. I suppose some of that is based on how high you lay the rail and I'm no expert here, but my high magnet cars stick like glue. It feels like the downforce is similar to that of the plastic Tommy track.

    You really can't go wrong with either rail type. With both you have to know what you're doing and how you're going to do it so in the end its just a matter of execution. For somebody like me, the easier the execution side is the better and so all other things being even close to equal braid is the way to go.

  • #2
    There's also the consideration of if you plan to run magnet cars.

    Then it's steel rail.


    • #3
      The high magnet cars are what destroyed my last steel round rail track. In theory I can fix that with a better build process but I haven't since tried.

      The braid is perfectly fine with the BSRT G3 I have and the Wizard cars I'm running. The G3 sticks like glue to the braid and the braid doesn't seem capable of pulling out.


      • #4
        Glued braid is very strong against a direct pull upwards.

        Like most adhesives, the glue is weak against forces that tend to peel it up. If you get the end of a braid free you can peel it up easily. That's actually useful if you ever need to replace a braid.

        To prevent braid from peeling all free ends need to be passed through holes in the track to the underside of the table, where said free ends can be tacked or stapled, leaving no slack.

        Not only does this prevent peeling, but it makes it easy to make good electrical connections under the table. To connect two braids you can just staple one over top of the other. Or a staple can hold a wire in place on top of a braid. I usually solder that connection, but I'm pretty sure that isn't really necessary.

        When wiring a track I typically turn the whole track on its side, providing whatever support is necessary to keep it there. (Yes, I can do that!) That gives me a vertical surface to work on, most of which I can do from a chair. Much more comfortable than lying on my back trying not to get drops of hot solder on me!

        Ed Bianchi


        • #5
          Just ran a bunch of laps with a Wizard Storm. It just flies around the braided track. No problems at all and the rail seems firmly in the pocket as it should.

          Two thumbs up for the braid


          • #6
            If the planet's align just right, I'm about to start my first round wire track build...


            • #7
              Dang! Jupiter is out of alignment. Also overdue for an oil change and air freshener overhaul...

              I've never understood why round wire makes sense for a track build. Unlike braid, if you bend wire you will never get it perfectly straight again. And it does come off the reel curved, right? 'Cept more curved if it comes off the end of the roll than off the beginning.

              So how do you get it to lie down nice and snug in that shallow groove while the glue sets? It really wants to spring back into coils again, yes?

              Remember you are trying to hold a 'reveal' of plus or minus a couple of thousandths of an inch. Oh yes, you can shave it down. That will be fun. Hundreds of feet of fun.

              And about that glue. Gotta be pretty good glue to hold that smooth metal underbelly to MDF.

              Now I admit I have never tried to build a track with round wire. Can you guess why?

              Why don't you experiment with some braid before you commit to building a track with round wire. You might learn why it is the long-time favorite material for commercial slot tracks.

              Do you need some braid to play with? Get back to me. I'll send you some.

              Ed Bianchi


              • #8
                I built 4 round rail tracks. I never really felt like there was an issue with it coming off the reel "curved" to the point I felt I had to shave it to get it the right height. What I found is that the further down the lane you go the more it wants to bend/twist in a specific direction. For straights it was no problem but if the next turn was in the opposite direction it wanted to be in I had to fight it to get it down.

                To get it into the pocket I rolled it in once with out glue. That helped shape the rail and MDF. I then pulled it out, dropped the CA glue in and quickly rolled it back in. Keep in mind that if you want to run high magnet cars, I found it really easy for them to pull the rail out of the pocket. I had one track that worked great with no problem and another that came up in multiple places after one of the first races. My plan there was something a user here suggested which was to first coat the pocket with something (I forget what but can find out) so that the CA glue binds to it rather than absorbing into the MDF... Never tried it but it seemed like it would work.

                Also keep in mind that the round rail is really thin compared to the braid. You have to be absolutely perfect with the pockets or your cars won't have a good electrical connection.

                Oh, and Ed is 100% correct, once you bend the round rail that's it. This makes dropping the power taps a bit harder depending on how you do them. And worse, I had a track build where the rail wanted to go in one direction (twisting mentioned above) I kinked it while fighting to lay it down. I had to do an unplanned power tap at the location because there was no salvaging the rail at the kink point.

                I will say the one round rail track I used a lot drove great. But the build itself is 1000x harder than with braid, and although I've only run a small amount of laps on my new braided track, it runs just as well.


                • #9
                  The link below takes you to a short YouTube video I posted on installing braid on a routed track.


                  Braiding is the next-to-last step in building a routed track, the last step being wiring. I can braid a modest-sized track -- a 4 x 8 foot road course or a 4 x 12 foot banked oval -- in a bit more than an hour. For real!

                  Cleaning excess glue off the braid and the track takes a bit more time. No way you should need more than an afternoon to braid your track using my method.

                  Which, I should mention, was pioneered by Al McRory of Ottawa Canada. It was Al who discovered that Elmer's Wood Glue would hold down braid on an MDF routed track. What I added was the use of a clothes iron to achieve instant setting of the glue.

                  Using a water-soluable glue is a tremendous advantage. No toxic chemicals for either the adhesive or for cleanup. And with the iron, instant set. Not to mention that the iron also does a great job in getting the braid solidly down and flat.

                  The critical step in braiding a track is routing the braid reliefs. They must be 0.017 inches deep (0.43mm deep). Setting up the router to that depth is a fussy procedure. Only trial and error works. You set the router depth, make a test cut on a piece of MDF scrap, measure it with a calipers, mumble under your breath, then try again. And again. Until you luck into the exact right depth.

                  Then you cut all your braid reliefs, checking the depth of your cuts again with a calipers, making sure they are all deep enough. I always make two passes all the way around the track when cutting a braid relief, just to make sure I get the full depth.

                  And I don't do ANY routing until I am sure all the adjustments on the router are tight. And I make sure they stay tight. I learned a long time ago you can screw up a routed track royally if your depth adjustment vibrates loose!

                  Also make sure you maintain slack in your power cord. 'Nother way to mess up is to have your router jerk because your power cord stops you.

                  So I've spilled my guts yet again on how to build tracks without spending a ton of time while risking bad results. I do this in the hope that a few more people will NOT decide to reinvent the wheel, and discover how NOT to do it!

                  For reference, when I build tracks for customers I budget 20 hours for painting, routing, braiding and -- for the ovals -- cutout. Believe it or not painting -- which I do FIRST -- is what eats up the time.

                  If it takes more than one weekend to rout and braid your track, and another weekend or two to wire and finish it, you are doing it wrong!

                  Ed Bianchi


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by HO RacePro View Post
                    The critical step in braiding a track is routing the braid reliefs. They must be 0.017 inches deep (0.43mm deep).
                    That's right for braid 0.023 inches thick?
                    It would seem the important thing is getting the top surface of the braid at the right height relative to the track surface. Therefore if the braid used is a different thickness, the braid reliefs need to different to get the top of the braid at the right height?


                    • #11
                      Yes, if the braid isn't 0.022 inches thick you'd probably need to adjust the depth of the braid reliefs.

                      Thing is, I've never found 1/8 inch wide braid that isn't 0.022 inches thick. The thickness of the braid is determined by the gauge of the wire used to make it. For a 1/8 inch wide braid your choice of wire gauge is limited.

                      I've done some homework, and found that my 1/8 inch wide braid is made up of 24 'picks' of three strands (of wire) each, for a total of 72 strands of wire. (Yes, I counted them!) Each wire strand mics out at 0.005 inches in diameter. That means they are number 36 American Wire Gauge.

                      So, why isn't the braid thickness some multiple of 0.005 inches? Like 0.020 or 0.025? Well, it must be how the 'picks' are laid on top of each other. But my micrometer reads 0.022 inches, and always has. I'm going with that.

                      I suspect the fact all of the 1/8 inch wide braid I've bought measures 0.022 inches thick has to do with the equipment used to make braid. There are just a limited number of ways to create braid that wide, my guess.

                      I'd be interested to hear if anyone has encountered other 1/8 inch braids with different thicknesses.

                      Ed Bianchi

                      PS - A 'pick' is an individual group of wire strands, laid side-by-side, that are woven with other such groups to form the braid. All 'picks' will consist of the same number of wire strands.
                      Last edited by HO RacePro; 08-11-2018, 12:57 PM.


                      • #12
                        So why should the braid reliefs be 0.017 inches deep? I mean, aside from the fact that it works?

                        In theory that should only give you 0.022 - 0.017 = 0.005 inches of braid 'reveal'. In practice the 'reveal' is more like 0.010 inches.

                        The difference could be due to two things. One, the 'glue line' has a small but measureable thickness. Two, MDF swells when exposed to moisture. The water in the glue may cause some local swelling under the braid. Somehow that creates the 0.005 additional 'reveal'.

                        I try very hard to make the braid reliefs 0.017 inches deep. I've found that you can accept +/- 0.002 inches variation -- from 0.015 to 0.019 inches. The good news is that you really can hold those tolerances with an off-the-shelf router and standard MDF.

                        The oh-hum everyday machine shop tolerance is typically +/- 0.005 inches. You can specify +/- 0.002 inches without much fuss. Expecting that kind of precision from a carpenter, however, is pretty unusual. But it IS possible, and actually not that hard if you are careful.

                        Ed Bianchi
                        Last edited by HO RacePro; 08-11-2018, 01:14 PM.


                        • #13
                          Some fascinating videos on how braid is made...



                          Ed Bianchi


                          • #14
                            the first machine is amazing to watch!


                            • #15
                              I've checked out some UK braid suppliers. They offer metric braid sizes, not inch sizes. I'm guessing that inch sizes are normal in the USA?

                              There doesn't seem to be any obvious reason why metric size braids wouldn't work well using the techniques Ed recommends, but of course the size of the braid reliefs would need to suit the size of the braid being used. It would be interesting to hear from anybody who has built a HO track using metric braid. (Before somebody jumps in and tells us they use metric braid for larger scale tracks, yes I know that's quite common)

                              The available metric sizes are somewhat different to the inch sizes. The individual wires are metric as well as the overall width/height. Some are 64 strand not 72. Braiding machines are made with different numbers of spindles, that dictates the number of strands they can weave.
                              Last edited by Al's slotracing; 08-12-2018, 01:48 AM.