How to Clean and Prepare Second Hand Track
Once you have got your box of second hand track home, find a suitable space. Empty the box out piece by piece. Do not tip the box out as there will be a layer of dirt/grit/fluff at the bottom of the box having been stored in the loft or garage before finally being disposed of.
However at the bottom of the box you may find some interesting little bits of scenery or car. You will probably find some stuff that is not really slot car related. Some times the most exciting bits are at the bottom of the box.
As you remove the track sections give them a visual examination for the for;
- Missing electrical connectors
- Missing track connectors
- Very rusty
- Bent rails
These should be discarded, as they will not be usable without a lot of work.
Also look for track sections that are:
Rusty (as apposed to tarnished)
- These are recoverable by soaking them in cola, but the surface will always be pitted and rough and will be very susceptible to rust re-occurring. It is probably better to concentrate your resources on the track sections in better condition.
Warped (not bent)
- If you have other bits of track work on them first, but I noticed that the plastic becomes more flexible after being (washed in hot water then) dried using a hair drier. Warped track (where the metal rails are straight but the plastic is twisted) can therefore be restored by heating with a hair drier (or a hot air gun from a distance with great care) then placing on a flat hard floor and covering with something flat, hard and heavy (e.g. a pile of hard back books) and allowed to cool. This will probably not work if the metal rails are bent.
Modified by a previous owner
- Somebody else may have converted the track section for use with a counter or in some other way. You have to decide whether they have done a good job and produced a useful new track section, or just made something only suitable for the bin. Be very wary of soldered joints. Soldering requires some skill which not everybody has. I have also seen Blu-Tack used for electrical connections. Bin any such track sections as their creator did not know what they were doing!
- I have seen track sections painted white, have had white lines added at the edge or a starting grid painted on. The sections painted white could be used for ice racing or a winter rally. I have put all the painted sections on one side as I may be able to use them or remove the paint, but I have not tried yet.
- Avoid cleaning track sections if you can help it with water. Water causes rust, so only clean track that is very dirty. Also if the track has been soaking in cola it will need rinsing I water to remove the stickiness. Add some detergent to the water such as washing up liquid. Then scrub the track sections using a nail brush and if necessary an old tooth brush.
To minimise the damage use hot water as if it is hot enough, it will evaporate a bit by itself and speed up the drying process. It also helps (I believe) if you leave the track section submerged for a few minutes so that it is also hot (warm) when it is removed. Oxygen and water are both required for rust (oxidation) so a piece of track rusts quicker once it has been removed from the water as it is damp and surrounded by air. I may be wrong, but you shouldn't leave the track on water for too long anyway.
Once the track has been removed from the water it should be dried immediately. I use a hair drier instead of paper towels etc as the hot air should ensure all the water evaporates including that sitting in crevices such as the gap between the metal rails and the plastic. Grubby track can be wiped clean with a damp cloth avoiding the metal rails.
- It is worth noting that track with rounded ends is better that sections with the folded over ends (I call these flat). The rounded ends keep their shape and are easier to get a good electrical connection with. Flat section ends can have been re-shaped (bent) by a previous owner and now have less effective profile, or could have been bent so many times they can snap off half way along.
The rounded ends were a development from the flat ends. The track sections with rounded ends are therefore newer and usually less corroded. Newer track sections are also chromed to prevent corrosion. I don't usually buy standard curves or straights with flat ends unless they come with outer/inner curves, quarter straights etc or is very cheap, and now I have emptied Robert's garage for him, I don't plan on buying any more track for a while.
You will now be left with a pile of tarnish track or track with only small rust spots.
- You should look at the inside faces (not the top face which the braids touch) of the rails and look for bulges. There are two ways of dealing with these. If there is a corresponding slight dip or rise in the rail, you should take hold of the rail with a hand each side of the bulge. Use all your fingers to spread the load as you gently bend the track back. VERY GENTLY. The bulge on the inside face should disappear.
If the rail is not bent, or bending it back has not removed the bulge completely, it should be pushed back in using a flat blade screwdriver. This can be tested by pushing a surplus guide blade along the track section and feeling the resistance. The guide part of the blade should be reduced in height to take into account the thickness of the braids which have been removed otherwise it will be taller than the slot is deep.
- Rust spots, light surface rust and more serious tarnishing is best removed from the rails using a hard model railway track rubber such as that made by Peco. It is less abrasive than emery or sand paper. If you do use sand paper, only use a fine grade as course sheets leave big scratches (and some of the rust) behind.
- The remaining light tarnishing (including when the track rails are a dull grey colour) can be dealt with using a domestic Nylon Scouring Pad marketed for removing stubborn food remains from pans etc. Do not use wire wool as it disintegrates and leaves small lengths of wire which cause short circuits and arcing when the circuit is powered up.
- These should be carefully bent back to the original profile if possible, or a new profile to ensure good electrical conductivity, with pliers and/or a small flat blade screwdriver. If you snap the end of the connector off half way along, or it is already missing, the jagged edge may need to be bent down. It should also be smoothed off with a small file to increase the electrical contact. (If the whole of the connector is missing you should discard the track section).
- The connectors (flat and round) can now be polished using fine emery paper, nail file (cardboard stick coated with fine abrasive, ask your wife, girlfriend or mother if you are still unsure or want to know where to get them from) etc. However the best thing I have found is a soft model railway track rubber that deforms to the shape of the connector and therefore cleaning more of the curved metal.
Different abrasive pads may work, but are usually too big. Using a green nylon scouring pad will severely decrease its life as the strands get caught on the ends are pulled from the matrix, e.g. the pad disintegrates.
It is important to clean the ends as this is how the power is transmitted between the track sections. If after cleaning and reshaping you still get 'dead' sections of track within your circuit, you may need to use Jumper Cables.
The track rails should now be cleaned using methylated spirit (purple alcohol more commonly known as meths) and a rag. Meths evaporates quickly, especially in summer or in a "well ventilated room" which is where you should be. If you pour a small amount onto the cloth, the cloth will soon dry out. If you put a decent amount onto the cloth it will stay damp enough to clean a few track sections. This can be done by dabbing the cloth into a partially filled dish. It is worth having a pile of sections that need wiping at one go so you can keep on refilling your cloth and use up all the meths in the dish before it evaporates away.
If you are cleaning one track section at a time, using a (blunt) syringe) or pipette and dispense an appropriate amount of liquid onto the cloth for that track piece. A simple test to see whether the rails are clean is to find a clean bit of the cloth (a white cloth is best), put some meths on, then wipe the rail. If there is now dirt on the cloth, carry on rubbing!
Something I have just tried is to give the rails especially the ends a very light coating of WD40 to prevent future corrosion. Be careful not to get the stuff onto the plastic as it is 'slippery' and the tyre will loose grip (I don't think it actually attacks the plastic so it is safe). Also be careful if you are setting up your circuit on carpet as WD40 may leave a mark. I have set my track up on boards in the loft so this does not matter.