Rail Bending

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Summary: This article discusses the technique of bending Flexible Track used in garden railways.

Most rails for garden layouts are too stiff to bend manually, and if you do, the rails will be uneven and non-uniform, any skewing of the rail is very difficult to fix.  They will also be bent in three dimensions, instead of two. The causes the rail surface to be uneven and not flat, which leads to premature wear on your rolling stock. Railbenders should be used for all large scale track, except for the very lightest strength grade of metals. Many people who have bent code 250 track have said that if they could to do it again, they would use a railbender. 

Railbenders are simple manual tools used to bend flex track in a controlled manner. Anyone, including those with no experience laying track can use a railbender and there really is no reason why should not be used. A railbender is a tool used to bend flex track in a controlled manner and ensures the top and bottom portions of the rail bends uniformly so that the rail head remains flat. They typically work by holding the rail and applying pressure in the center of the rail, known as the web. This keeps the rail on a level plane, bends both the top and bottom portion of the rail, and prevents the rail from being uneven on the surface. Railbenders are simple manual tools comprised of a few rollers that apply the pressure to the rail from two different directions. One of the rollers has a crank attached to adjust the amount of bend to apply, that is, to control the radius of the track.

If you don't want to buy your own railbender, you can borrow one from a fellow garden railroad or local garden railway club.

Railbender Types

There are two primary types of rail benders: single-rail and dual-rail benders. Given a choice, many choose a dual-rail bender given their ease of use and speed at which track can be laid. Single-rail benders require more work and pre-planning.

Most rail benders work about the same way and their use is about the same from vendor to vendor. The following guides are for both single and dual-rail benders are compiled from various websites and users. When in doubt, follow the manufacturers guidelines. If the manufacturers directions say to do something differently, follow their directions. These guides are meant to fill in any gaps and provide tips.

As you will see, a single-rail railbender is a much more involved process than a dual-rail railbender.

Single-Rail Railbender

  • Find a large space that can accommodate the full length of the rail on both sides of the rail bender.
  • Mount the single-rail bender according to the manufacturers directions. This will typical be in a vise or bolted to a work bench.
  • Preferably, you'll want the work surface to support both sides of the rail from the rail bender.  If that's not available, you'll want to support the rail for the portion of the rail that has already been bent.
  • Decide on the radius or curve of the track. Some people use templates or some method to ensure that the rail will be bent as desired.
  • Adjust the railbender radius according to the manufacturers directions. We suggesting using a very slight curve to start with and for practice. You can run the rail through the railbender again without worry.
  • Slide a piece of rail through the railbender. Most railbenders don't care which direction it goes though, but check with the manufacturers directions.
    • Note: Some railbenders bend rail upside down. Be sure to note the orientation of the rail for your railbender.
  • Inspect the newly bend rail.
    • If the curve is not strong enough, increase the setting on the railbender and run the rail through the bender again to modify the radius.
    • If the curve is too much, flip the rail 180 degrees, back off the settings on the rail bender and unbend the rail.
  • Once you have the desired setting, run the matching rail through bender.  Don't worry, no two rails will be bend precisely the same. This is due to many factors, including the rate in which the rail we ran through the bender and the what batch the rail was made in. As long as the rails are pretty close together, things will be fine. After inserting the rails into the ties, the rails will "average" out and be fine.
  • Many times, the last inch or two of rail is not bent. There are a couple of options for this:
    • Cut off the last couple inches of rail.
    • Use a quality rail clamp and bend the last couple inches using another rail. Perhaps you won't get the exact bend, but may be "close enough" for large radius bends.
    • Some people use pliers to bend the last couple of inches. Use with caution to not imprint the plier prints into the rail and to bend the rail evenly.

Caution: If you change the radius midway through a rail to create easements or fit to your layout, be sure to bend rails at the same point to the same radius!

Dual-Rail Railbender

Using a dual-rail bender is going to be cake compared to a single-rail and some consider dual-rail benders the "best thing since sliced bread."

  • Put both rails through the ties to make a section of track.
  • Lay the track on the ground, either within you layout or elsewhere.
    • It's preferable to bend the track at the location it will be installed. This allows you to adjust the bends "real time" as you move the rail bender down the track.
    • If the track is going around tight spaces, and you're unable to bend on site, then lay the track down elsewhere that is level. Roughly bend the track as desired. Place the newly bent track on the layout and re-bend as needed for the final fit and finish.
  • When bending the rail, make multiple passes and don't bend it all at once. This makes life easier on you and the rail. It's best to go over the same track a couple times, increasing the bend with each pass. This provides the ability to finely tune the radius without over bending the rail.
  • To get the last inch or two of the rail bent, us a rail clamp between sections of flex track and continue your bend. Start with a light bend, and increase the bending force through the turn with iterative passes.

Videos

Aristo-Craft has created a railbender that will bend both rails at the same time, while the both rails are in the plastic ties. Sure beats the old one, one rail at a time. Watch as Navin from Aristo-Craft shows you how easy it is to bend some Aristo-Craft track.

External Links

railbenders at Family Garden Trains