I am following along in the background and starting to get totally confused by the different printers that are needed and various settings - but your image there proves that if people can get their heads round it, wow. What a stunning outcome you have. If I have understood correctly, you have four sleeper blocks linked to gather to create 60-foot length of sleepering? I was in the laser cut timber sleeper camp previously, but the more I see (and the more I hear the minimal cost!) the more I think that 3D printing everything, except the rails, is a good idea.
Superb work Martin - how you get all this to work in the background baffles me! I am assuming a lot is maths and trial/error - but please keep going, you could take on Peco in a few years time!! Within this plug system have you had any thoughts or ideas of how track electric feeds could be hidden - or its that an 'outside the scope of this project' and down to the user to hide them? I am guessing that a light dab with a soldering iron underneath the rail between sleepers wouldn't melt the 3D plastic? then the wire could be 'threaded' down the side of the sleeper and through the baseboard?
Thanks for the kind words. As I'm now 74, it's not likely I shall be taking on Peco in a few years time! I tried that back in the 1970s and 80s -- and look where they are now! I doubt Plug Track is causing much crying into their beer in Beer.
I've been fearful all along that releasing experimental stuff while I'm still working on it would cause a lot of confusion. But the feedback I've received has been extremely helpful and encouraging -- without it I suspect the project would have stalled by now.
I'm hoping that within the next few months I will be able to stop calling everything "experimental" and Plug Track will become part and parcel of Templot in the usual way. At that stage I will be able to make videos and tutorials explaining all about it, what equipment you need, and how to use it.
In the meantime I will try to summarise where we have got to so far -- bearing in mind that any of this might change, and all the work so far has been done in 4mm/ft scale (I believe you model in S scale?). I'm confident that it will all scale up nicely for the larger scales, but I'm not too sure about going smaller. Maybe 3mm/ft will be feasible.
Yes the material costs are low, but don't forget you need to have at least one 3D printer first. That can of course be used for lots of other model-making jobs too, not just track. For general modelling you are likely to need some CAD design skills, but for Plug Track you don't -- Templot creates the 3D files ready for printing.
For a summary of the current state of play in developing the Plug Track software, see the topic:
And for the day-to-day progress, just follow along in this one.
For these you need a resin printer. The one which we (Steve, Charles, and I, and no doubt others) are using is this one. It's currently available at a so-called "Black Friday" price on Amazon. There are more recent, bigger and better(?) resin printers available at greater cost, but the results we have been getting from this little Mars printer are excellent:
Resin printers are supplied pretty much ready-to-use, there isn't much assembly needed.
In addition to the printer, at a bare minimum you will need a bottle of resin (£30 - plenty enough for a small layout) and some Isopropyl Alcohol (£10) for washing surplus resin from the printed parts. The rest is optional, but it is useful to have a small UV lamp of some sort for when the sun isn't shining. Or very handy to have one of these units in addition to the printer:
As I have the Mars printer myself, I shall be able to provide detailed instructions and details of how to get from Templot to finished chairs on it.
For these there are several options:
a. Laser-cut plywood. Home laser-cutting machines are expensive, but so too is sending files from Templot to laser-cutting firms. I don't have a laser-cutter, so I can't offer any advice on using them. But there are others here who can. Ralph is using a less expensive laser to cut timbers in thick card rather than ply.
b. 3D resin-printed timbers, using the same printer as for the chairs. This is what Steve is doing. The big snag there is that you can't get much of a timbering base on the size of a resin-printer work plate. A typical turnout in 4mm scale would need to be printed in at least 3 sections. In S scale probably 4 sections. Templot can include the connector clips to ensure that they clip together in the correct alignment.
For plain track, if you resin-print it is not necessary to print the chairs separately. You could print them integral with the sleepers and slide the rail into them, similar to turnout kits. If you like the idea of the loose jaws for plain track (madness or what?) there is no need to print the chairs separately. You could print them integral with the sleepers, drop the rail in place, and work along the rail fitting the loose jaws.
c. 3D FDM (filament) printed timbers. The great advantage over resin printing is that the work plate of FDM printers is much larger -- typically about 250mm (10") square. A timbering base for a small turnout in 4mm scale can be done in one piece, and most larger turnouts in 2 sections.
There are dozens of suitable FDM printers available at widely varying prices, some ready to use, and some kits of parts. One which is getting good reviews is this one:
I have an earlier version of that printer, so again I shall be able to provide detailed instructions and details of how to get from Templot to finished timbering bases on one of them. It can get quite complex to get fully into FDM printing, but for the Plug Track I shall be able to provide exact details of what to do. In addition to the printer you will need a reel of filament (£20 -- enough for a small layout).
Another advantage of an FDM printer is that it can be use to create rail filing jigs and other track-building tools. Plus useful layout parts such as point-motor brackets.
d. CNC-milled timbering base panels. If you are into model engineering, a benchtop CNC miller/engraver might be an attractive alternative to an FDM printer, at a similar cost:
4. Using Plug Track.
For some of the practical aspects of building and using Plug Track, see: The Book of Plug Track
For dropper wires, remember that in Plug Track the rail is fixed in place vertically from above. Which means the dropper connections can be soldered to the underside of the rail in advance, before sliding on the chairs from each end, as Steve suggested.
The wire could drop through a pre-drilled hole when laying the track. Or it could be bent at 90 degrees to run between the timbers to the side of the track. The Plug Track timbers are deep enough to hide all manner of working parts under the ballast. It doesn't even need to be a wire -- a strip of brass etch-kit waste could run between the timbers and be turned up at the end for solder connection to the bottom of the rail.That might be easier to solder than a wire.
The same thinking can apply to tie-bars. We can print a groove in the side of the toe timbers in which a functional tie-bar runs, below ballast level. Cover with a thin card shield and ballast over. Dummy models of prototype stretcher bars, facing-point locks, etc. can then be added.
5. Join in.
Plug Track reports and ideas welcome. Post in this topic or join in the Templot Club Zoom meetings: