How to ....Avoid Kinky Track
I used to lay track the conventional way, cutting the ends flush to line up with the next bit. At the time the result was nice smooth track but a few years later the curves had settled and the result was like a clip from "You Tubes Worst Ever Tracks" compilations. When I laid the Chibanxi Light Railway I decided to try something different after reading an article I think from Garden Rail;
So, instead of cutting the rail flush to each other, leave one end longer than the other by an inch or so, and either slide the rail on the adjoining track through the sleepers, or cut one rail shorter to suit the rail it needs to connect to. You can also cut off three or four sleepers to make it easier, and then once you've cut the track slide the cut sleepers onto BOTH tracks as it helps to stop the track kinking in the future.
My vague ramblings probably don't make any sense, but the picture should make it clear. Note the uneven lengths of track, and the three sleepers have been cut and added to the track to support the join to stop it moving. Four years on this bit of track hasn't kinked at all. (Unlike the rest of the railway....)
Don't forget to secure the track to your chosen means of support. It doesn't have to be tightly held, I use one screw on one side, and one screw on the other side. I've got another section of NOT USING SCREWS TO ADJUST THE TRACK!
How to .... Lay Track Evenly (ish)
Right, so if you've used screws on your track to secure it all to your chosen substrate then time to take them all up I'm afraid!
Screws should only be used sparingly on Peco SM32 track., If it's LGB or Aristocraft you don't even need screws, just lay it loose in ballast as the track is indestructable.
But,if it is Peco SM32 or SM45 I'd only use 3 or 4 brass screws for every length of track. One at each end, and one or two in the middle of the length, three or four sleepers apart. Make sure you use the screws on the OUTSIDE of the sleepers, not in the middle as it will make the sleeper bend and your back to back will be wrong!
If you lay the track and it doesn't sit snugly on your track bed DON'T tighten up the screws to make the track sit flush, all you're doing is making the track twist or bend. Instead use the screws to just hold the track in place, and use my favourite item to slide under the track to get it level.....
Time to visit Costa Coffee. Get a handful of coffee stirrers on your next coffee break and head back to the garden, lay your level along the track and carefully place the coffee stirrers under the track to build up the required level. Once it is all level then you can carefully tighten down the screws just enough to hold the coffee stirrers in place. If you need an additional screw (and I mean just one or two) now is the time to put them in, Or, you can what I do and paint the coffee stirrers with some diluted waterproof PVA which will glue them nicely to the track and your track bed, but will let you pull them up if you ever need to. Ballast, are you going to ballast? Read on...
How to .... To Ballast or Not to Ballast?
I'm biased here, I like to see ballasted track. Many of the lines I've visited are set in Rowlands Mix which is a cement and soil mixture and allows for moss to grow between the tracks, as well as allowing better drainage than cement alone. But I don't think moss looks as good as ballast, years old ballast ages with oil and dirt to give a patina that moss, quite frankly, can't offer.
You might have realised by now that most of my railways are done in two distinct ways; Quickly (I'm impatient) and cheaply (I'm tight). You can add another one; semi-permanent. Ballast, applied loose between the rails (once you've got the track levels right - as above) and tamped down with the end of a 1/4" wood baton holds the track quite tightly in its own right. Whilst Peco SM32 doesn't like being loose laid - unlike LGB - it is surprising what a few screws to hold it in position and the ballast can do.,.
In my case I PVA the ballast in place. My brick building and track laying skills, despite numerous years of practise, are shocking and a lot of my track is levelled with uPVC window shims, coffee stirrers, you name it. In order to hide all of this ballast is the key. It fills in the gaps, covers the evidence of my ineptitude and with a touch of PVA stays put. A yearly covering of 50/50 water and pva with the obligatory splash of washing up liquid is a small price to pay for secured track that still has a bit of "give" in case of hot summers or cold winters. And if the track does move the ballast can be easily removed, or loosened by the use of boiling water and a sharp screwdriver. Perfect!