The tie jig

This week, the posse consisted of just Jim and myself; Julian being stuck down a hole somewhere, and Andrew being off chasing the ghost of the Northern Pacific. Between this and a previous session with Andrew, we have most of the ties laid. The trick to placing ties quickly and accurately is a tie jig, which my daughter helped me build a couple of months ago. It could hardly be simpler, but it saves a lot of faffing with glue and individual sticks of wood.


A couple of construction notes:

  • My jig is about two feet long because that was the length of the plywood scrap I made it from. You could probably handle a three-footer (1 metre), but beyond that the strips of masking tape with ties on them will appear to become self-aware, and try to confound you by getting tangled.
  • The Kappler ties I’m using are at least a decade old, and there is tremendous variation in the width. I understand that you don’t see that nowadays. I wish I’d built my jig with a wider tie in mind, as I had to discard quite a few ties that didn’t fit in the jig and that upsets the Scottish side of my nature.
  • Andrew reminded me that you don’t want the jig too tight as that makes it difficult to get the tie strips out later.

Because some of the ties are a bit tight in the jig, the tie strips don’t fall out easily. I wind up prying them up with a ruler so only the ends of the ties are still in the jig. Then the strip comes out without further resistance.


Note that the ties are laid on top of the masking tape, rather than the other way around. I don’t know if this is important or not, but when Tom Hood showed me how to use a similar jig when I was a teenager, this is what he did. I think if you put the masking tape on top of the ties, it’s likely to sag between ties, and the resulting spacing will be inaccurate.

I mark the middle of the occasional tie before I place them on the masking tape (mark down); these marks help to place the strip on the centre lines we laid out before.

I also used the jig to lay out the ties through the leads of my turnouts. The frogs and points will get special treatment, but the lead is basically plain track that happens to overlap. To make this easier, I wrote the tie lengths on the jig; then it was simply a matter of controlling the piles of ties and plunking them in the appropriate slots.


When all is said and done, we need a little less imagination to see where the tracks are going to go. You can see now that there is not much space at the end of the ties before the embankment drops down into the river. Indeed, Jim pointed out that they’re under-cut for a short ways. That is accurate for Pembroke, and we will have the head-block ties of a couple of turnouts sticking out in thin air.


One final note: make sure the glue is dry before taking the masking tape off!

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