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Successful track builds

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  • Successful track builds

    Hello all,

    I have been reading this forum about track building for some time now. There is a ton of information here, but it can be very difficult to sort through.

    I have found this PVC material at Home Depot. It comes in a few different sizes. Their ad says it routes easily and can be painted. I want to build a 16' drag strip and was wondering if anyone has tried this lumberyard available product. The face side of this has a wood grained effect, but, the back side is very smooth.

    They have this in a 16' length, which would be awesome. A 1 piece drag strip that would neatly fit on my table. So, I want to get some smaller pieces of this product and make some test runs with the router.

    I bought 17 gage galvanized wire. I have checked it to be magnetic, but I have not tried soldering with it yet. That can be a bit tricky with coated wires.

    My questions are"
    1. Best router for job
    2. What size bits, types of bits, and sources for bits would you recommend? (I need to measure the wire for diameter, I dont trust the China made metal and label sizing to be correct.)

    I hope you folks can shed more light on this for me. Thanks. Jesse

    Just a thought, but it would be really nice if there were a sticky or group of postings on a materials list and completed tracks. It would really help newbies like myself to decide which way to go.

    I want to use a pvc based product for the drag strip, the mdf just has too many issues with dampness-my track will be in an old basement in a 60 year old house.

  • #2
    Today most afrermarket HO tracks are made of Sintra, which is expanded PVC. Sintra is available in many colors, so you would not have to paint it. A good quality carbide bit from a place like McMaster-Carr would be the thing to use.


    • #3
      What is the best router for this application? Has anyone tried the pvc from Lowes or home depot? This material comes in the right sizes at very low cost when compared to sintra. It also resists denting. Im just wondering how this stuff would work out.


      • #4
        Hi yellerstang,

        I use a Porter-Cable 690LR router with an 1/8" bit. Bit size is just a preference, not carved in stone rule. 1/8" because I like to run 1/32 cars too. A drag strip may be better with a narrower slot?


        • #5
          I would be careful about using plastic for your drag strip. Routers operate at very high speed and tend to overheat the plastic. What you end up with is a slot filled with plastic chips welded to the walls.

          There is, of course, a solution to this. I've never (successfully) routed plastic for a track, but lots of other people have. I suspect they've either reduced the speed of their router electronically, or they use an up-spiral bit to lift the chips out of the slot. Maybe both.

          One thing about PVC. Those letters stand for Poly-Vinyl-Chloride. When you rout PVC you can liberate chlorine gas. You'll know you're doing that when you see your router bit tarnishing. Chlorine gas is both corrosive and poisonous. Just saying.

          There are grades of MDF that are supposed to be moisture-resistant. I've never used them, so I can't say from experience whether they're a solution to your moisture problem. Could be though...

          As for which router to use, well, for a drag strip darn near any router will work just fine, as long as its bearings are not completely clapped out. For the drag strip I just finished I used a full-size Porter-Cable router which I cobbled into a home-made router table. Worked fine.

          But for most of my tracks I use a set of 'laminate trimmers'. These are small cousins to the typical router. They range in power from about 3/4 to 1 horsepower. (That's in the 1 kilowatt to 1.3 kilowatt range.) That's plenty of power for cutting slots.

          The advantage of laminate trimmers is they have a small base -- typically about 3-1/2 inches (89mm) in diameter. That is handy when routing tight corners with a track template. (I ALWAYS use a track template! The biggest reason I never have to patch my tracks.)

          Aside from that, laminate trimmers tend to be cheaper than full-size routers, so I can have a bunch of them, all set up for different duties.

          I would warn you against buying laminate trimmers from Harbor Freight. Yes, cheap. And yeah, probably okay, for a while. But after a while a laminate trimmer will cough a bearing. Good quality bearings are worth a little extra money.

          I also favor 1/8" (3mm) wide slots. They're universal for all slotcars, even HO. If you worry about the guide being sloppy in the slot you can simply slip a small sleeve over the pin. Might be worth something on a drag strip. On a road course, probably not.

          And of course you can always fit a Slide Guide. They're designed for 1/8" slots. Nothing slips through the joints between track sections like a Slide Guide!

          Ed Bianchi


          • #6
            Ed, thanks for the info and input, it is greatly appreciated. The pvc from Lowes is moisture resistant, it wont rot according to their posted information. This is an expanded material, as is the Sintra, but I really cant say how similar they are. I will be buying some smaller pieces of this to experiment in the near future.

            Thanks for the info on the laminate trimmers, I didn't know such a tool existed. This has been informative. If anyone else can add to this, please post. Thank you all.


            • #7
              2X on Slide Guide. Yesterday I tried on on a old LifeLike car. Tracks without magnetic down-force like copper tape tracks I add weight to the car. I used a die cast 53 Buick police car. The weight adds a delightful much fun. Ed is a national treasure bringing a ton of fun to the table.

              I have no experience with PVC track but I do know MDF painted with 'front door" paint .works fine. I have not tried anything else... yet. I pondered Formica instead of paint. I will go with paint again on my next track too.


              • #8
                I have too many cars to go with the slide guide setup. All of my friends that drag race are using the standard pin type set up. We all hit multiple race tracks. I may put a slide guide setup on a car sometime to run at my friends 1/32 scale track, just to show him how fast a Tyco 440 is compared to his Scalextrix cars.

                My next step is to dig out my old Sears router... get some bits... a roller.... do the math and try it. My basement is under major repaint and cleanout right now, so the track will have to wait until the dust settles. Im building a new road course with Tomy, just removed the old Tjet track, so at this time, I have nothing to race on. Dang.


                • #9
                  Maybe 20 years ago I had the curves and straights for six tracks cut and routed by a commercial service with a CNC router. All those tracks were 3/8 inch MDF laminated with a melamine (Formica) racing surface.

                  I know I was not the first to do this. I sold four of those tracks and, last I heard, the owners were still in love with them.

                  The two remaining tracks are in my basement, packed up in sections, waiting for the day when they'll be called forth to be braided and assembled into two beautiful 4' x 12' banked ovals.

                  Ed Bianchi


                  • #10
                    cnc services

                    Ed, its amazing at the cnc services and what they can do today. There are lots of people out there who are building their own cnc operated systems for routers, lathes, and more. Now we see the 3D printing services popping up, and people are building their own 3D printers as well. The application of technology has really impacted our hobbies.


                    • #11
                      For anyone interested in CNC routing, I strongly recommend looking for a local company that will do custom woodwork. No sense investing major bucks to buy CNC equipment when there are shops all set up to do the job.

                      My friend Al McRory hooked up with a shop many years ago and got them to produce a bunch of 4 x 4 foot track modules that he had cleverly designed to fit together in any number of ways to make a finished track. It was a bold concept but never managed to become a sales success. At least Al could try his concept without making a big investment.


                      • #12
                        Excellent point. Another option to consider is TechShop if you happen to have one close by. They will train you to use their routing equipment for a nominal cost.


                        • #13
                          I route pvc probably 2 or 3 times a week, maybe more, on my CNC. You do need to use a router with an adjustable speed as a regular 1 speed router will melt the plastic as Ed mentioned. If you use a low speed (10,000 to 12,000 rpm), you can use a down cut spiral bit, I use them all the time. As for bits; I use a 1/16" carbon bit, sometimes a 1/32", depends on the project. They are both readily available with an 1/8" shank, so you would need an 1/8" collet for your router. With a CNC it is easy to only go a little bit of depth at a time but with a hand held router, you might find this inconvenient but I would highly advise it. With a 1/16" bit I limit the pass depth at .1" @ 80ipm, 1/32" bit limit at .05" 60ipm per pass and that's kinda slow. I get my router bits these sizes off ebay from a guy in Texas; drillman 1 . They are high quality!
                          Let me know how your testing goes yellerstang, if you don't mind, I might play around with some of that.


                          • #14
                            Routing with a 1/16" diameter bit on CNC in several passes, as 'galerdude' says above, isn't a big deal. But with a conventional router it can be difficult. Controlling the feed speed is also difficult. If you feed too fast, or cut too deep, it is easy to break that small a router bit.

                            The first track I routed, in tempered masonite, back in 1968, had 1/16" slots, and I broke a number of bits routing it. That is one reason why all my subsequent tracks have 1/8" slots. I can cut those full-depth in one pass, and my router bits have never broken.

                            Power rails are another issue. I have never used them. My tracks have always used copper tape or braid. I have built tracks with both magnetic and non-magnetic braid, depending on what the customer wants. My braided tracks have been very successful.

                            If you want to use rail, you need to do your research. Most custom track builders make rail tracks, and you need to learn from them. Rail is not a slam-dunk. You need to get the right material, and learn how to install it correctly. If you go off in your own direction you risk repeating the expensive and frustrating mistakes of the past.

                            Ed Bianchi


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by yellerstang View Post
                              .....I have found this PVC material at Home Depot. It comes in a few different sizes. Their ad says it routes easily and can be painted. I want to build a 16' drag strip and was wondering if anyone has tried this lumberyard available product. The face side of this has a wood grained effect, but, the back side is very smooth.

                              They have this in a 16' length, which would be awesome. A 1 piece drag strip that would neatly fit on my table. So, I want to get some smaller pieces of this product and make some test runs with the router.......
                              Did some checking on this material from HD here locally (Spokane, WA) and they don't offer the 16' but do offer a 2 pack of 1"x 7.25"x 96" for $70 and a 3 pack of .5"x12"x96" for $110. For me, personally, this would be way over the top, price wise. In this area I could purchase a 4'x8'x.25" for a lot less than that 3 pack and have the option of either grey or black. I'm sure availability and price vary a little in various parts of the country. I've done a number of experiments with small pieces of pvc, trying to find a working & affordable solution to fabbing an HO track out of pvc and "for me" concerning attachment of conductors, it's always been either not affordable or has been beyond my abilities . YMMV
                              Lately I've been bit hard by the HO Drag Racing bug and am in the midst of planning and pondering an HO scale 1000' track in my basement. At this point in time, I'm definitely leaning toward MDF for a track surface. For me, it's both affordable and offers more options for the attachment of conductors. In about a month, I'll start a thread documenting my progress.

                              Oh, and concerning moisture & mdf; my house is 110+ years old and has rock foundation walls ( don't get much more porous than that ) and have never had any problems with rails on my Tomy 4x16 track, although I do rub the rails down with CRC once a year. Plus I have mdf carved yard art in my back yard, primed and painted, that after 8 years is still as solid as when I installed it, just sayin'. YMMV.

                              EDIT: Update, 2-14-18; been doing some more experimenting and testing and now considering 3mil pvc laminated to mdf. and as far as documentation, when the project is done I'll work up a nice little pdf document with pics and processes that can be downloaded, for those that have an interest.
                              Last edited by galerdude; 02-14-2018, 05:48 AM.