Building model railways is appealing to many people for a variety of reasons. Many people see it as a long-term project that can be a family bonding experience. Additionally, it requires creativity, artistic expression, and is an avenue to learn new skills such as woodworking, carpentry, and electric wiring.
One specific example that requires learning new skills is when you build a helix for your model train. Helixes are a wonderful thing to build because they save space while simultaneously giving your train more room and enabling it to move to different levels. Additionally, due to the way they are built, there is less likelihood for your train to roll. So, how does one make a model train helix? Read on to find out.
How Do I Make a Model Train Helix?
Many things go into building a model train helix, but all of them fall into five specific actions, which you can adjust to suit the specific type and size of helix you are building. They are as follows:
- Do the research.
- Have a solid foundation.
- Building the grade or the slope.
- Adding altitude.
- Laying down and screwing the tracks.
Let’s explore each of these more in detail, to give you more of an idea of how you can build your own.
Do the Research
When it comes to building a model helix, a big part of the research involves math, particularly when you are building the frame for the helix. You need to know how much clearance you will need between your train and anything you may place on the sides of the tracks as well as the height between the different elevations.
You can figure this out by doing the following:
- Lay down flex track and mark the estimated width, using a marker. This will give you an initial estimate.
- Decide on roof clearance. You want to make sure that the distance between the top of the train and the top of the next track is generous enough to give plenty of room but not so big that it would require a steep rise in gradient.
- Try out the largest trains. This will give you a good idea of whether the width and height will work.
A Solid Foundation
When you are building a helix, you want to make sure that you are building it on something that is solid and firm and won’t topple over. You may have a table that you are planning to build it on, but if not then make sure whatever you are building it on is secure. Next, make sure that the roadbed itself is made of quality wood such as plywood which many model train builders prefer because of its smoothness and durability.
Building the Grade
When it comes to building the grade of a helix, it is important to take your time. Use a carpenter’s level with an extension, if necessary, that can reach across the entire helix. As you do, you will see the areas of the track which need to be risen to help build the grade. Then clamp the risers in place at the turns where you want the elevation to take place.
Adding altitude comes after laying down the next roadbed segment. This part can and should be adjusted as necessary, but you can get a rough idea of what it will look like by installing 3-inch spacer blocks between the bottom level and the next level. Attach, the spacer blocks using wood glue in the center of the block and hot glue at the ends. Then use the level to see if the altitude is correct or needs to be adjusted.
Laying and Screwing Down the Tracks
Before you add the next level of the helix, you want to be sure to lay down the tracks on the first level, to give yourself some extra room to adjust the tracks. You can secure the tracks down to the roadbed using screws and washers. Then do a test run (or several) with a train to make sure it moves over the tracks smoothly, does not run into anything, or topple over. Adjust the tracks as necessary, then screw them down.
You have successfully built the bottom part of your helix and can build the rest following the same guidelines and principles.
For more information about how to create a model train helix, check out this helpful video from Ron’s Trains N’ Things:
Building model railroads is a hobby that many people enjoy for the thoughtfulness that goes into it, the different skills you can build, and the relationships that can be deepened by spending quality time over a shared hobby. Building a model railroad helix can be an especially enjoyable way to continue building your model railroad without taking up more space.
To successfully build a model train helix it is important to do your research and take your time with each measurement making sure there is enough space for the train and using a level to gradually build up the gradient and have quality and sturdy materials. Once you lay down the tracks on the first level, you can follow the same principles to successfully build the rest.