Soldering advice for your layout

“Inevitably, you will have a need to solder. For first timers it is not to be feared. Here are a few of my observations to successful soldering.

1. A high quality, temperature controlled soldering station is a must. It will cost some $$$.

2. Use quality clad tips on the soldering iron.

3. One size tip does not fit all so two or three sizes will handle most modeling jobs.

4. Use heat sink devices where you want to avoid heat damage.

5. Practice first. Use scrap wire and tin from tin cans (magnet test). Watch YouTube videos. Soldering mechanically and electrically bond two metals together. You must heat both pieces simultaneously. Hint: apply solder to the tip when beginning to heat the metal. When both are heated sufficiently, solder will melt and flow when touched to the metal. You can master soldering in 30 minutes.

6. Rosin core solder is a must for electrical soldering. Use an appropriate gauge for the job. I have found rosin core is satisfactory for just about all modeling projects thus avoiding the need to have acid core soldering.

7. Protect your tips. They are not cheap but will last forever if protected. Protected? How? Shut off the soldering station. Wipe the tip clean. Apply fresh solder to the tip until it no longer melts. A blob of solder will form on the clad portion of the tip. This blob forms a barrier on the clad that prevents oxidation. Just wipe the blob off on the next use. Unless you want to buy new tips all the time, I cannot stress how important this step is. I have been using the same tips for over twenty years and they still look and work like new.


“Another trick for joining solid wires is to put a loop at the end of each wire, hook them together and solder generously. This is also useful for those damn little Chinese wires for LED’s and signals etc. twist them tight and loop them together.


That’s all this time folks. Don’t forget, time’s nearly up for the Beginner’s Guide hereBeginner’s Guide sale.

Keep ’em coming.




16 Responses to Soldering advice for your layout

  1. Colin Johnstone says:

    First of all, Thanks to Al for running this site. lots of usefull info. Like Guenter, I have been collecting sticks from coffee houses to produce planks to come from the timber mill I am building in OO gauge.

  2. Keith Miller says:

    Tip top tip tips Fred

  3. Dominic P. DeMonte says:

    Nice little trick I to have used this.


  4. James Hillcoat says:

    Hello people, Just a note on a soldering station – Google “cheap ass soldering station” for instructions as to how to make one for just a few dollars. I have been using the one I made for three years now with great success. I substituted a plug
    in night light for the LED as it was easier. Good luck & happy modelling.

  5. Joe says:

    I was an electronic tech in the Navy for 20 years and have been soldering for over 50 years. I never heard of leaving a blob of solder on tip. Great Idea! Thanks!

  6. Gary Gordinier says:

    You can buy those coffee stir sticks on Amazon. Handy for all kinds of things such as lumber loads, siding, flooring, building trim, and for stirring paint.

  7. tom in az says:

    The tip on making loops on the wire ends is a good one I use all the time. This also gives a mechanical strengh to the connection besides the solder, Good soldering tips, who has a good solder station for a good price? Thanks Tom in az

  8. Does anyone have any experience with using a 3 D printer for making parts for their railroad. I was thinking it would be a great way to build trestles and such stuff to customize my layout. I am getting back into railroading after a 55 year break after I learned about DCC controlling the locos and switches.
    Thanks for any help in advance

  9. Norton Williams says:

    Concerning Step #5 above: This is mostly true but can result in some quite “blobby” solder joints. A better method, but one that still requires practice, is to barely touch the solder to the tip where it meets the joint when beginning to heat the joint. This facilitates the heat flow to the joint. Then as that begins to flow, apply only enough additional solder to complete the joint. Once the solder flows to both pieces, remove the iron and don’t move the pieces until it hardens, just a couple of seconds. A good solder joint will be shiny and tight. A cold solder joint will be uneven and dull, which can result in the joint not passing current.

    Ed’s tip can also result in some “blobby” joints due the the physical nature (size mainly) of the loops. If this is of no consequence, then by all means use it. If you prefer neater joints, simply twist the wires together and solder. This works regardless of the size of the wires. It can be used to join two different wire sizes too.

    Thanks for the tips Fred. Soldering is a skill that is quite useful in many more places than the railroad.

  10. John says:

    Do not forget that silver solder although more expensive is easier to use when dealing with dissimilar metals,or metals that normally will not take regular solder easily.

  11. Austin Wilson says:

    I love the tips and how you have the lumber hanging. I have to try that in my lumbet yard.

  12. joe says:

    Just a comment on the soldering technique…..personally prefer to use (as above comment) silver solder w/ a separate paste flux …..using a toothpick to apply a dab of flux to things from 30 gauge wires to Campbell metal bldg joints…..just as in soldering copper pipes…..the flux draws the solder to it……and sticks much more quickly – in my opinion.
    Al keep up the wonderful things you do here…and a happy new year to all


  13. Ian Mc Donald says:

    great soldering tips and photos of the lumber.

  14. Rod Mackay says:

    You might tHink you need a small iron to solder delicate jobs, in fact the reverse is often true, a larger, higher wattage iron, perhaps because it has more of a reserve of heat built up, lets you get in and out quickly, whereas with a less powerful iron, by the time it has raised the parts you’re trying to join to the required temperature, other surrounding joints you made earlier have absorbed enough to start coming adrift again, not what you want with multi part work like etched brass kits.
    Also, when assembling stuff that’s got to be right, start with just a couple of “tacks” of solder, then check the parts are still square/parallel/correctly angled or whatever, if anything’s moved you can still adjust it, but if you ran a whole seam of solder along the joint you’d struggle to re-melt it.

  15. Peter Jacobs says:

    Can I please get an explanation on bus lines? Does the continuing wire need to have breaks in the protection every so often for the new drop?
    What happens to the end, and where is it completed, and is there only one bus
    (red) or is there a 2nd (black)

    many thanks.

  16. Alan Cutler says:

    Great Advice. As an Engineer I am well experienced with soldering, however, I have a number of white metal kits that I want to solder together but have yet to tackle through fear of melting the parts and ruining the kit. Any tips out there?

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