Part 5: Wiring (DRAFT – updated 18/05/2021)

In part 4a I worked through laying the roadbed. This step, along with doing the rough-in of the track (described in part 4b) allowed me to pinpoint the location for the wiring runs. This time around we’ll look into how I approach layout wiring, and I hope to be able to demystify it for you.

Before we start

If you’re looking for my wiring standard please download here.

Getting started

There are a couple of ‘rules’ that I use when I wire anything. Using a consistent rule set when wiring allows you to do the work simply, find faults easily and if you’re working on multiple parts of a layout (or if you are into working with modules) hook them up together without issue.

The rules:

  1. Use a standard wiring colour code
  2. Run common buses for DCC, and or DC (or both)
  3. Design board wiring into discreet blocks
  4. Use commonly available interconnection items (on the board and between boards)

Why you should follow the rules:

  1. Using a standard wiring colour code allows you to:
    • Wire every layout and module the same way every time
    • Interconnect without fear of cross-connecting, blowing things up, or connecting different systems (DC/DCC) together
    • Simplify your wiring supplies
    • Troubleshoot in minutes, not hours, or days
  2. Running a common bus for DCC and DC wiring allows you to:
    • Wire back to common points (DCC supply and common return – and the same for DC)
    • Modularises your wiring (bus, feeds, etc) to simplify troubleshooting and failures
    • Simplifies interconnections between boards
  3.  Simplifying your wiring supplies allows you to:
    • Buy from any suppliers, so long as your required wire colours, and other connecting hardware are available
    • Simplify your troubleshooting and minimise failures

You’ll notice that the central theme is ‘simplifying your troubleshooting. This is important (I cannot stress this enough) for your sanity somewhere down the road when you expand the layout, a wire comes loose, a connector fails, or some other issue arises and you have to troubleshoot your wiring.

What you’ll need to wire

At a minimum you’ll need:

  • Wire for droppers (smaller size) and buses (larger size)
  • Something to tidy up your cabling (I recommend cable, also known as zip ties)
  • A means to terminate your wiring (see terminal strips below)
  • A means to bore a hole through the layout surface
  • A means to fasten the wires to your rails (will vary depending on the size of rail and scale in use)

Being cheap, and needing to always save money, I repurposed wiring from an offcut of 20 metre offcut of two-conductor 240 Volt wiring cord. (I pulled it out of a dumpster and had to remove the orange PVC outer covering to use it.) This gave me the colours for the DCC bus – brown and blue.

Wiring Supplies

I purchased the following wiring related supplies:

  • Hook up wire as follows:
    1. Red and Black (for the DC bus supply and earth/ground),
    2. Blue and Brown (for the DCC bus supply and common return)
    3. Green (for the frog power)
  • Terminal strips:
    1. Black for inter-layout terminators
    2. Clear/White for on-layout terminators
  • A box of No 4 (4G x 32mm) wood screws to fasten the terminal strips to the underside of the baseboard
  • a 500 count bag of small cable ties (they’re way cheaper this way) and they come in handy for so many things, well worth the little extra purchase price, and
  • Self Adhesive Cable Tie Mounts (which make your life easier, and your wiring tidier)

Hand Tools

You’ll need a few simple hand tools as well, including a:

  • wire cutting and stripping tool (diagonal cutters work for me)
  • hand drill (with a long drill bit) to go through the entirety of the layout/foam) if you intend to run your wiring below the board as I’ve done
  • soldering iron and solder for joining the wire to the rails
  • screw-driver (depends on the head of your screw) either Philips or straight

Why I’ve used terminal strips for the layout

Modular wiring terminal strip

Terminal strips are not a perfect solution for a model railroad. And they do come with some limitations. However, with a little work, they are an ideal solution for baseboard wiring. If you’ve never used or seen them before (above) this is what they look like.

You can:

  • keep them at their supplied size, cut them down to what you need, or add more together to make them large enough for your needs
  • gang them together (where you join loops of wire from one hole to another along one side of the strip) to make distribution strips (one feed in – many feeds out)
  • use them as simple connectors to break your wiring down into modules.

They provide a simple physical connection using vertical force (screwing down) to crush the wire bundle and provide both a mechanical and electrical connection for the wires. They are not perfect but I suggest you give them a try if you’ve never used them. You might just like them. There are many types, some of which can be used with car-like wiring terminators, and so on. But I’m showing you how to do this within a tight budget, so I’m not going to that extent.

How I wired my baseboard (follow the pictures)

<<insert the wiring picture gallery here>>







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Designing Small Operating layouts you can build since 2003

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