Track and Your Model Train Toolbox

Laying track requires simple tools, patience and a little know-how. Unlike the prototype, there's no mechanization for laying model track. Fortunately, some basic hand tools are all you'll really need.

  • 01 of 09

    Needle-nose Pliers

    needle nose plyers
    Needle nose pliers are essential when laying track. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Perhaps no tool is more useful to model railroaders than a good pair of needle-nose pliers. For wiring, adding details, or inserting track nails, this common tool should always be in your toolbox. When laying track, needle-nose will be used to:

    • Insert spikes
    • Remove spikes
    • Tighten / remove rail joiners
    • Position Rail
    • Bend and hold feeder wires
  • 02 of 09

    Rail Cutters

    rail cutters
    Rail cutters are specially designed for leaving a clean cut in model rail. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Not to be confused with wire cutters, these flush-cutting pliers are designed specifically for HO or N scale rail. Cutters will leave a smooth cut on the end of rail without any burrs or rounded edges. These are absolutely essential when working with flex track.

    A good pair of rail cutters will last a long time if only used on rail. When used on other materials, including wire, the blades become deformed and will leave burrs on the rail. Keep a dedicated set marked only for rail.

  • 03 of 09

    Tack Hammer and Nail Set

    track tools
    A straight edge keeps track in line. A pin vise puts holes in the ties. The hammer and nail set finish the job. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    For nailing or spiking track, a small tack hammer combined with a nail set delivers the perfect hit. The light hammer prevents over-driving. Nail sets come in a variety of sizes and will allow you to get that final strike without hitting the rails.

  • 04 of 09

    Hobby Knife

    hobby knife
    A good hobby knife has many uses. Different blades increase versatility. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    A hobby knife with a standard blade works well to remove ties or trim away molded spike details around rail joints. It is also a good idea to check the bottom of track for flash or burrs that may prevent a level fit.

    Tip: Check the office or school supply isles for rubber pencil holders. These little sleeves are designed to slip over a pencil to prevent it from rolling off a desk. They'll also fit most hobby knives perfectly. For a few cents, you can prevent a potentially serious accident.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Pin Vise and Drill Bits

    pin vise
    For small drilling chores, a pin vise is a simple option. Keep replacement bits on hand. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    A small pin vise equipped with a drill bit can be used to add holes to plastic ties for track nails. A number 61 bit usually works best.

  • 06 of 09

    Straight Edge

    straight edge
    A straight edge helps keep straight track in line. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    A steel straight edge is useful for keeping joints straight. It can also be used to lay out both straight and curved centerlines on the platform before adding track or roadbed.

  • 07 of 09

    Soldering Gun

    solder gun
    A 100 Watt gun or iron, solder and flux are all that is necessary to improve track joints. ®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    A 100 to 140 Watt gun will provide ample power for soldering feeder wires and rail joints in O or smaller scales.

  • 08 of 09

    Motor Tool

    motor tool
    With dozens of attachments available, a motor tool can perform many functions. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    Motor tools with changeable bits have many uses on a model railroad. For track laying, a cut-off disk makes quick work of cutting electrical gaps, trimming rail at joints, or removing old sections of track.

    Always use eye protection as small pieces of rail, or a shattering cut-off disk, can fly great distances without warning.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    NMRA Gauge

    NMRA gauge
    The NMRA standards gauge is many standards tools in one. Different scales are available. ©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to, Inc.

    The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) markets standard gauges in every scale. These multi-purpose tools check track gauge, switch points, clearances, coupler height, wheel gauge and more. No modeler should be without one.

    Other companies make other track gauges and templates which can be used to lay consistent curves in a variety of radii.

Tool Tips

Do you have a favorite tool you don't see here? Maybe you have a novel use for an old favorite...share your insight!