Trackwork: Building a Helix

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Duration: 10:01

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A helix is a spiral-shaped piece of track and road bed that transports a train from one level to another on a model railroad. Depending on what kind of configuration you have on your layout, a model railroad helix can either be placed inside a mountain and thereby hidden, or placed in an adjoining room.

In this video, Martin Tärnrot builds a model railroad helix, sharing the methods and materials that have worked well for him.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS

Martin constructs all subroadbeds from ⅛” (4mm) birch or aspen plywood. It’s a bit more expensive but less likely to warp or skew as compared to plywood from spruce.

The tools Martin uses to build the model railroad helix include a long stick with a sharp screw in one end. It has holes drilled for different track radiuses. He uses this tool to draw the centerline of curved tracks. A carpenter’s square allows him to draw and position objects at 90-degree angles.

Martin uses a jig saw or figure saw to cut out the sections of the model railroad helix. After cutting, he drills the holes for the support pillars, then glues the top and bottom pieces together.

MOUNTING PAD

Next, Martin makes the mounting pad, which is made of ½” (12mm) spruce plywood.

The height of each support in the first full turn determines the grade and the height for all the following layers, so Martin puts a lot of effort into getting this first turn perfect before moving on to the next one. Keep all your measuring tools at hand.

He also keeps the grades consistent in a model railroad helix, so any transitions in and out from the helix are made in the mating track sections.

LAYING TRACK

Once you have completed a half turn, you can lay cork and flex tracks on top. We also have a video dedicated to laying flex track, and one that offers tips and tricks for laying track.

Martin gives much more information about building a model railroad helix than is contained in this brief description. Watch the entire video for the details!