Make O27 track ties out of foamcore board

There are any number of materials you can use to make ties to fill the empty spaces underneath Lionel O27 track. But I think I’ve found the easiest of all. The materials are cheap and readily available and you don’t need anything special in the way of tools. Here’s how to make O27 track ties out of foamcore board.

Matching the finish

You’ll never match the color and finish of the metal ties exactly. But mismatched ties look better than no ties at all. Much better. If you have older postwar track with black ties, you can use black foamcore board and skip the painting step. This saves a lot of time.

I use dark brown acrylic paint for brown ties. Lionel seems to have changed the color every few years themselves. I used a color that Jo-Ann Fabrics calls spice brown. It’s in the neighborhood.

Make O27 track ties out of foamcore board

Make O27 track ties out of foamcore board
Here I traced out some ties on foamcore board, painted them, and I
‘m ready to cut them out and paint the remaining edges.

You can get sheets of foamcore board at office supply stores and craft stores. They come in black or white. A 20×30-inch sheet usually costs around $3.

Trace the outline of a track tie at one corner of the board to use as a guide. Use a square to extend the lines as far as you can.

After drawing outlines of ties, I cut them out with a paper cutter. This makes the work go very quickly, and makes it easier to get straight cuts. You can use scissors, which are safer, but more tiring.

Paint each tie, if necessary. Expect to need 2-3 coats. Let it dry, then slip two ties into the empty space underneath each piece of track. It’s up to you to decide whether to paint before or after cutting. I found it easier to paint before, then paint just the newly exposed sides after cutting.

Placing your homemade ties

Make O27 track ties out of foamcore board
Here I’ve added six ties to a piece of O27 curved track. It gives the track a much more finished look.

To make placement easier, line up a bunch of ties underneath a loose piece of track and trace the position of the center rail. Then when you place the ties, you have a guide to line them up without eyeballing the edges. If the ties slide around under the track, put a drop of wood glue under each rail. Ordinary wood glues don’t stick to metal all that well, but they’ll stick well enough to hold the ties in place.

I like the look of metal ties better, but after years of not getting around to finishing it, I settled for foam ties on the remainder of my layout. The materials cost me less than $5 total. On top of material cost, cutting out, painting, and placing 100 ties took me around 3 hours to do. I think the result is worth it.

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