Should I use flex track or sectional track? How do you bend track?

Many people, including myself, have used sectional track for their layouts.

Sectional track has certain advantages:

  • No bending required
  • Curves are already "perfect"
  • Easy to re-use
  • Easy to do "what if"

Flex track has advantages also:

  • Normally lower cost
  • Minimizes number of joints (better conductivity and reliability)
  • Curves can be anything, transitions/easements are easy
  • Large curves are available.

The first thing is to select the type of rail material and types of joining. You should also decide on whether your rail joints are staggered from side to side, or you have "square" rail joints, i.e. both rails join at the same place.

Normally it is best to stagger joints, it conserves rail, and makes smoother transitions for the rolling stock. It does make it a little more difficult to get the rail joiners to fit between the ties at any spot, but it's not a huge problem.

The next thing is a rail bender.

If you are using aluminum or brass, or nickle silver, it's pretty simple, almost any bender will do, and you can "tweak" the curve by hand to get both rails exactly the way you want them.

Stainless steel is quite another thing. It's much harder to bend, and it "springs back" a lot more than other materials. It's also likewise harder to get both rails to match.

I've listed the products in alphabetical order below: (seems fair)


AristoCraft

Recently, (October 2008) Aristo announced their own bender, about $165 street price.

Very similar in design to the Train-Li, Massoth, etc.

 

It has a shiny chrome plating which is not very tough and has been reported to peel off. The bearings are not of the same quality level as the Train-Li, you can see for yourself.

The track guides are a cheap plastic of some sort, and they wear easily. In addition, the holes are countersunk, so when you want to reverse them, you have to countersink them again.

There have been problems reported by people that screw heads hanging down hit the "spikes" on Aristo track. Aristo replied:

"Dear Axel.

The plastic slides can be shimmed if necessary with paper or cardboard to adjust the height if you feel it's necessary. Give it a try and let me know, since this is an assembly adjustment. This was designed in house and that's the recommendation of the designer.

All the best,
Lewis Polk"

Axel Schweiss replied:

"Shimming of the plastic sliders alone wasn't sufficient. I had to flip the movable rail guides, too. After flipping the rail guides they fit perfect to the rail head and the bender slides along."

Below is a picture that shows the interference of the bolt heads with the Aristo "spikes" on Aristo track.

By looking at the picture, you will see that shimming the guides could move the rollers off the rail head. The best thing is to find a lower profile bolt head for the rollers.

In that picture above, you also can see the screws from the top can hang down the main plate, they are just a bit too long.

Marty Cozad ground down both the projecting screws and the roller bolt heads:

I'm a little concerned that the best suggestion Aristo could master is to shim a high pressure device with paper or cardboard. Perhaps Aristo should hire Axel as an engineer.

Bottom line: the Aristo unit is definitely not the quality of the Train-Li, or RLD in materials, finish and operation. But, it's street price is about $100 less than the Train-Li. If you need the cheapest rail bender, and can put up with the problems, this one is for you.


G Scale Specialties

http://www.gscalespecialties.com/

New in 2009. All aluminum. Has been recommended for 215 and 250 rail, would like to get experiences with code 332 and/or stainless rail.

I have picked one up and handled it at the show. I was a little concerned about aluminum but I have been told it is high strength.

The bearings look a little small, I might be concerned about their ability to handle loads and how they wear.

list price is $260, for the price I would either go up in price for a Train-Li, or get the same thing or better with Norm's

 


Massoth

They were the first out with the dual track bender.  It works well, but it's not a sturdy as the Train-Li or the RLD, and not as cheap as the Aristo. You don't hear of many people buying them now. Street price is $399. I don't see any advantage buying it.

 


Norm's Rail Bender

Pretty new on the market.

j

I don't have any direct experience with this rail bender, but have had a few emails from the owner, and seems to be well built and have some unique features.

There was some confusion between another black anodized bender without the dial indicator, but I now understand these are two different products.

Interestingly, this manufacturer also makes some really interesting and cost effective bridges and bridge kits.

But back to the bender, nice photos of the bender here: http://choochoostuff.homestead.com/DUAL-TRACK-BENDER.html

The product looks very nice, and several people that have one have commented how they like it.

At first, I thought the dial indicator was just nuts, just more of a way to try to upstage the competition. But read the site, apparently it not only makes for repeatable bends (nice if you are making track at different times and want the same curve), BUT, the ability to actually dial in a desired curvature, i.e. an absolute measurement. I have not verified these claims for myself, but read the site, it makes a convincing argument.

The original price was $199, now $239, and very competitive in this market if it proves to be as good as I think it is. I'll try collecting more opinions and maybe get my hands on one.

Update, a big handle and "observation ports" above the rails have been added:


RLD Hobbies PTM rail bender:

They make a nice bender, it appears to be of the quality level of the Train-Li unit. Street price is $229. I have not used one other than at a show, but the construction looks as rugged or even more so than the Train-Li. I have picked it up and played with it. Feels as "good" as the Train-Li, the finish is not as pretty. The bearings appear to be high quality, although I don't know yet if they are stainless. The track guides appear to be made from a high quality nylon. Bottom line: close in quality to the Train-Li and less expensive, could be a good choice for many.


Train-Li

Last, but certainly not least, Train-Li has a great rail bender, probably the best one on the market. This is usually considered the "Mercedes" of the benders.  It bends the rails in the ties, and it will go past most rail clamps. Street price is about $265-$285 depending on if it's on sale. Check with Train-Li because there was also a promotion at one time where you got a $100 discount certificate against $500 of Train-Li track.

Below you see the top of the unit. It is very heavy and feels like it. The knob is very convenient, it makes it easy to swing along a curve without readjusting your grip. A small thing, but if it was done wrong you would notice. There is a stainless steel rule embedded to allow repeatable settings. This is quality all the way. The unit is galvanized, and the galvanizing is done after the machining, not before.

Below, you see the underside. These are high quality Swiss made all stainless steel bearings and they are sealed.The track "guides" are Delrin, a high quality type of engineering plastic more rigid than nylon.

It is truly fantastic, works very well, very heavy and solid construction. It is available for Code 332, 250, and 215, about $300 as of October 2008.

I have not only played with it at several shows, but borrowed my friend's and bent a bunch of 332 Aristo stainless for my layout. I love it.