All Wired Up

I reached a stage over the weekend where I could commence wiring up the final two modules. I have left this task till quite late in the day because I like to get jobs finalized and don’t like to do things in fits and starts. I wanted to wait till things had reached the appropriate stage and this really meant installing the bridge and the 8th and final point (switch).

After I had set up to start work early on Sunday afternoon I got stuck in and spent 3 hours working systematically through the tasks. I quite like wiring layouts: not so much because I know much about wire and electricity, I don’t, but because I understand what is needed to complete the job and it’s logical. Like just about everything else I do in this hobby I have a process and a method for the way I wire my layouts.

So here are my hints and tips about making wiring a layout easy and fun (almost).

1. If there was one outstanding positive about building a layout in smaller, bite sized chunks it isn’t any of the things you might expect like portability and storage. No, the one thing that would be at the top of my list of positives about working on layout segments is ease of access. This applies to wiring as much as it does to scenery. I spent the first 10 minutes of my work time standing the layout on its back and then the next three hours sitting on a comfortable computer chair gliding back and forth as I worked. No blobs of solder in the eye for me!

2. I run everything I wire up to terminal blocks. simple. This makes sense, saves time in the long run and it allows easy swapping out of components if something goes wrong. For example, I’ll wire up a point motor and run the wires from this to a terminal block. I favour the white nylon variety rated up to 240v mains power. To complete the wiring I then run wires from these terminal blocks to where they need to go. Basically that’s it. This system works for me. I spent three hours working on the layout and never once had to check anything or record what I was doing because I use terminal blocks and I also use coloured coded wires.

3. Never, ever get tempted to use the same coloured wire for two different jobs. It doesn’t matter what colour scheme you use but use something! This is really important. I have about 10 spools of different coloured fine wire that does for the bulk of my wiring and I rarely if ever get confused about what’s going on. BTW it’s much cheaper to buy wire on the spool (normally sold in 100m lengths) rather than in 10 or 20 meters at a time. I bought five or six spools of wire from Tom’s in Sydney (in the days when they actually carried a good range of products) and I’m still dragging the wire off these. I’ve recently added some extra colours.

4. If you’re building a portable layout, develop a good method of getting power from one module to the next and then stick with it. When I built QW I used DIN plugs and sockets to do this and I’ve found these more than satisfactory. However I made the mistake of using plugs/sockets with different numbers of pins in different locations on the layout. Another mistake I made was I had one end of the cables dangling out of the bottom of one module with the socket for this located near this in the next module. This meant that there was always short lengths of cable with a plug on the end of it dangling below the layout as it was moved about and these always seemed to be in the perfect spot to be trodden on. On Morpeth I decided to go the whole hog and have a matching set of sockets on the ends of all modules (with standardised wiring) used in conjunction with a short standard jumper cable that could be used to run power across the gap on any module. This meant more wiring but it also means that there’s no fussing about matching up particular cables and plugs with particular sockets. There are four sections of layout (there will eventually be five) and three gaps so that means I need six sockets and three jumper cables. These cables are short lengths of 8 insulated strand wire with a DIN plug at both ends. I will eventually make up a spare in case one fails, probably after this happens the first time 🙂

5. I learnt from my work with QW that it was far easier to build in extra capacity from the start. All my jumper cables have a capacity for 8 wires so if I need nine wires to bridge a gap I have to install a complete extra set of sockets and make up a new cable. This is not such huge task but at the start I wasn’t sure how many wires would need to jump the gaps in the layout. As a general rule if you feed your controls and power into a portable layout from one end you will find that you need lots of capacity at that end and this will gradually reduce the further down the layout as power reaches components installed along its length. The way I reduced this funneling effect was to feed the main power in from one of the middle modules so that wires headed in each directio from this entry point rather than from one end. However I still couldn’t be sure how many wires would need to jump a particular gap so as I was installing my panels for the sockets that sat at each end of every module I made each panel slightly wider than they needed to be and drilled an extra hole where another socket could be installed later with little extra effort. These panels are simple pieces of thin plywood attached to a piece of aluminium angle. Thus far I haven’t had to use any of this spare capacity but I’ve used all eight wires on one end and I tend to come back later and add lighting and animation so this will probably mean I’ll use them at some point.


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