Track Power / Wiring / Rail Clamps Overview: Everyone AGONIZES over decisions about track, wiring, and type of rail joiners/clamps. My first advice: Stop worrying about the cost. Track is the foundation of your railroad, and good track will last 20 years, and is basically a one-time investment. Don't scrimp and you will enjoy your hobby every time you run trains. Unfortunately most people try to cut costs and wind up in a situation where there is poor operation and reliability and it basically takes a complete re-do to make the layout run better. Or they they are track power, and cut corners and then have poor power and give up and go battery and spend even more money. Things NOT to do are: Brass rail used in an environment where it oxidizes or even corrodes extremely quickly, just becomes too much work to keep clean. Aluminum rail near a salt air environment. Using over the joiner clamps. Grit and dirt ALWAYS works into the gaps between the original joiner and rails. Clamping dirt does not help! Not using enough feeders and then covering over the access for more feeders with concrete, etc. If you are going to run track power, it really does not matter much what you are running (DC, DCC, DCS, etc.), you will need heavier wiring if you will be running more locos or longer trains. Do note that Stainless Steel rail actually works better for DCC, due to the physics of the "skin effect" (take my word for it, or email me for a technical explanation). Track power - getting power out to the rails: You will need feeders, and you want each feeder a "home run" from the power source to the point on the track where you connect, do NOT "daisy chain". Daisy chaining means you have multiple feeds sharing one wire at some point, so your reliability goes down due to the multiple connections, but more importantly, all the current is going through fewer wires to get to the power supply, which means more resistance, which loses volts wasted in the wiring. The net result is the locos run much slower at the far end of the layout. G scale trains run at higher currents and voltages than smaller trains. Don't forget lighted passenger cars can take up to one amp each! I recommend nothing less than 12 gauge wire, and I use 10 gauge every 30-40 feet on my Aristo stainless steel rail. For outdoors, I also recommend solid core wire, not stranded. Stranded wire has much more surface area to corrode or be attacked, and if moisture gets into the wire, it can travel "up" inside the jacket because of the spaces between the strands. If you are starting out, put conduit around the track, then you can use inexpensive household solid core 10 gauge wire, which is thinner and much cheaper than the "landscaping wire" with the thick rubber jacket. Here's a picture of how my conduit is used, what you see is the conduit from the left comes out using a "sweep", which is a pre-formed 90 degree bend. Then you can bring wires out here, or put them into the next sweep to continue along the main line. This is easy to do, inexpensive, and all your connections are above ground. Connect power to the rails: If you insist on using stranded wire, solder the wire to a ring terminal (after crimping), and then dip or cover in "liquid electrical tape" so moisture cannot creep up the insulation, and cannot attack the strands. If you use solid wire, then you can just clamp it to the rails. Split Jaw makes an excellent clamp for this: At first glance, this looks like a standard clamp, but notice the extra piece of metal bolted the near side. There is a small vertical "V groove" in the brass piece nearest in the picture. This is where the wire is clamped. This is simple, easy to attach and remove, and if the wire corrodes, just cut it off and strip a bit more. If you use stranded wire, then there are clamps to attach a ring terminal to: Conductivity between rail sections: Now you need to make sure power flows between the separate sections of track. In general, the "stock" solution that comes with the track/rail sucks. On LGB track, there is a large slip on joiner. It fits the rail well and when greased to keep dirt, grit and water out, can work OK for a while. On Aristo and USAT track, the rail ends are tapped for 2 tiny socket head screws. The rail joiner fits loosely on the rails, and the screws secure ONE side of the joiner to the rail. The electrical contact is from the rail, through the threads to the head of the screw which presses against the joiner, then across the joiner, through the other screw head through the threads and back into the rail. They just do not work well at all. To make matters worse, one of the holes in the joiner is slotted to allow manufacturing tolerances. So everything really rests on the screw head being down really tight on the joiner, and it's a small conduction point for 5 or 10 amps! Other manufacturers usually supply slip-on joiners that are close to LGB in style and quality. Inexpensive solutions: For brass or nickel silver track, you can solder wire jumpers between rail sections. This works well for many people. The downside is you have to learn to solder big thick conductors without melting the plastic ties. A resistance soldering iron, or a regular iron with a big tip/body works well. Don't use acid flux, use regular electronic soldering solder and flux (normally in the solder). Since solder itself is not strong, soldered connections can fracture after a while if there is a lot of expansion or contraction. The soldered connections can corrode, depending on your environment, since you have dissimilar metals in contact. Other inexpensive solutions are to just use the stock joiners and keep messing with them as they age. Not recommended. If you do this, be sure to put grease in the joiner. The grease is not conductive (yes, I know it says so on the LGB tube!). The grease just serves to keep moisture and air out of the joint, which will REDUCE the inevitable corrosion and oxidation. Rail clamps, a better solution I strongly recommend using rail clamps. The manufacturer I recommend is Split Jaw, and while they closed business, I just learned that the web domain name has been re-purchased, and the new company is going full speed (April, 2021). Great news, as the split design allows very nice alignment of the rails, better than solid clamps. (Often rails have a twist in them, or vary a bit from batch to batch in sectional track. There are others out there, but many do not do as good a job aligning the rails, or have a complete product line, or use Normal screw heads that cannot be torqued down as well. For all the work involved, the cost savings of these types just were not worth it to me. Rail Clamp Brands (alphabetical): Aristo clamps Aristo made some inexpensive ones, but they broke easily, the holes were too close to the edges of the extrusions. As usual with Aristo products, quality control is spotty, and some batches are fine and some are bad. Lately though, the biggest problem, that the screw holes are too close to the edge of the clamp, has been much better. They are out of business, but still some on the secondary market. Check www.RLDHobbies.com Look how close the holes are to the edge of the extrusion, skip those. These were a cheap solution, but variable quality. Hillman's Rail Clamps Hillman's was a leading rail clamp supplier, I believe they pre-dated Split-Jaw. There is an ornamental patent that expired in 2016: http://www.freepatentsonline.com/D326296.pdf Hillmans was sold to Silvergate, and Silvergate (leftover people from LGB of America) went out of business. In 2010, Hillman's was sold to Alan M. Stewart. The new company was to continue to use the Hillman’s Rail Clamp brand name. Manufacturing was to continue to be done in the US at the new location in Florence, South Carolina. This was good news, because when Silvergate bought out Hillman, supply was poor, and I could no longer get the nickle plated ones. I inquired and was sent an email that "We can special make these for you, but unfortunately we don't have plans to send out any items to be plated in the near future." Hillman's is out of business, but there was a company in the UK was apparently making the bridge clamps and selling them under the Hillman name (clearly not authorized), but in early 2019, Glendale junction closed. Check out Sunset Valley RR for what looks like to be a good clone of the Hillman rail clamps. Many people have complained about the Hillmans breaking, and over the years it has been proven that they break more easily than the Split Jaw. A mechanical engineer can tell you about "stress risers" from making a square notch for the rail foot. The square notch makes a lot of stress as the tapered foot is pressed into it. For a short time, they could be ordered custom nickel plated. Their "lift out" bridge clamps were great, much better than the Split Jaw design. They also made a very nice bridge kit with the special "over center" hinge geometry: Massoth rail clamps nice insulating ones, not many people make an actual clamp that is insulating Piko rail clamps I have not tried these yet, but looks like a slight improvement on the Hillman design, still the sharp corners inside that causes stress fractures. RLD Hobbies: RLD Hobbies has started making a clone of the Split Jaw clamps, so far only in brass. I recommend these: https://www.rldhobbies.com/rldproducts.aspx SanVal / Al Kramer / ana.kramer Sanval makes some, they rely on 4 screws in a SS plate, sturdy, but not good in aligning the rails in my opinion, and echoed by some users. They work over the joiner, and it's my opinion that the conductivity problem is between the joiner and the rails, so adding pressure to a dirt-filled joiner is not real helpful. Only found on ebay lately Split Jaw These are the best in my opinion. They went out of business in 2020, just closed up. But in April 2021 the domain name railclamp.com has been purchased by Dave Bergmann, who hated to see this find product line just go away. He also formed a new company: Split Jaw LLC. The original company had a comprehensive line and items no one else made. They used 6-32 stainless steel cap screws to hold things together. The screws are larger and the hex driver is larger than the Hillman clamps. This DOES make a difference in how long the ball end drivers last, since there's very little meat on the "ball end" of the driver. I bought the smaller driver for the Hillmans twice as often as the Split Jaw ones. So effectively the website address is unchanged: https://www.railclamp.com/ and the "brand name" is unchanged. Thanks to Dave Bergmann for continuing this excellent product line, and we will see the products as it comes online. He intends to continue the basic products and some of the specialty ones, as makes sense, and make improvements along the way. (yes, all my clamps are Split-Jaw, and I bought them from normal retail channels) They made good lift out bridge clamps: see the picture below, and also see Ted's Vignette on SplitJaw Bridge Clamps Splitjaw part numbers: Std clamp ss-332-sjc-7.0 Insulating pss-332-sjc-7.0 Double insulating pss-332-sjcx2-7.0 Single power ss-332-psc-7.0 Heavy duty power ss-332-psc-12-7.0 12 ga wire Heavy duty power ss-332-psc-10-7.0 10 ga wire Bridge clamps 40401 (brass only) Sunset Valley Their joiners look pretty identical to the now extinct Hillman joiners, they come in brass, stainless steel, and they make adaptors from 250<>332, insulated joiners, etc. Interestingly they carry 2 different ball end drivers, looks like the SS clamps take a 7/64 driver and the brass ones a 3/32, weird. https://www.sunsetvalleyrailroad.com/track---rail.html Train-Li Train-Li makes some similar in design to the Aristo, but better quality in metal and workmanship. I'd prefer the extra tapped hole for power like the Aristo ones. https://www.trainli.com/rail-clamps-p-61 Uncle Herm's Track Joiners: http://trackjoiners.com/ These look like splitjaws without the split, and are made of brass with SS screws. $1.50 each as of December 2009. Available in both 332 and 250. I have not used these personally, but from the pictures, I would assume they are the same quality level as Hillman, and many people have given positive comments. They have been in business since 1991, but I guess they have not advertised a lot. They have a nicely designed power clamp that will clamp wire to the joiner without any other lugs or hardware. They also make an insulating clamp. Only on eBay as far as I can tell Comments / experience / tips: Now that I have had my Aristo stainless steel track on the ground for over10 years, for stainless, I prefer the Split-Jaw, and no plated clamp. After taking up track that has been down for several years, the clamps acquire gunk and surface rust. A wire brush on a drill gets them back to factory new, but if you did this on plated clamps, the plating would be gone. While I prefer stainless on stainless, there is no reason that the brass joiners would have any trouble on the stainless rail, and this could save you enough money it could make the difference between clamps or no clamps for some individuals. Many people have reported success this way. Just listing why I prefer Split Jaw rail clamps: The socket head is large, thus a larger driver, less chance of stripping the socket. The socket head is larger, a larger driver is easier to use A larger socket has less chance of stripping out A larger socket can take more torque The "split jaws" allow better clamping and rail alignment The split jaw clamps are designed for the slightly different contour of the Aristo rail foot The SJ's are solid SS, not nickle plated brass (just a personal choice) Lubrication of screws on clamps: Before installing new clamps, run the screws all the way in and out with the driver until they spin freely, no "catches". When using clamps I have found it is best to lube the screw threads with a good grease. This is especially important when using clamps where the screws are the same material as the clamp. I tried using anti-seize, but while excellent on steel in cars, I found it did not hold up well, and after 5 years it seemed no better than dry.If you don't use some kind of grease, the SS screws can be hard to get off after 5 years or so. Remember I have the worst case, SS steel screws in a SS clamp. I also have given a 5 year test of NoAlox, designed by the Ideal corporation, and used for electrical conductivity on aluminum wiring, to keep it from oxidizing and corroding. Upon research, the compound works well on other metals. It is available in the electrical department of Home Depot and Lowes. In any case spray the entire clamp with an anticorrosive spray lubricant, something that will leave a lubricating film. I would recommend a good lithium-based grease if you don't want to try the Noalox stuff. Tools: The ball-end drivers are very convenient for the clamps with hex drive, but the smaller contact area (ground away to make the ball end) causes them to wear faster. Get a allen wrench to do the final tightening, and especially loosening of joiners that have been on for a while. The split jaw ones are 7/64" a weird size. The Hillman ones are smaller. First, get the ball end driver for starting and tight areas. When you put the clamps on, the ideal placement is with the screws pointing out on each rail. There are times when you cannot get to the screws this way, when you are close to a wall or plant, or on switches. Put a piece of shrink tubing on the ball driver shaft if you work on the rails with "live" power. I run DCC and the power is always on. If you have to put a clamp on such that you have to access it "across" another rail, put that clamp on first, then run the driver shaft under the first rail to get to the clamp on the "far rail". This will give you the straightest shot to the screws. Then put the clamp on the rail nearest you. Remember that you just open up the clamp and put it on rails. There is no need to separate the rail ends to put the clamp on.