Monday, February 16, 2015


Wiring for my upper level staging at Crescent Lake continues.  Half of the staging tracks have been wired and connected at the station panel.  Feeders have been dropped for the other half of the staging tracks.  While I still had room to get at the underside (before covering everything with the web of staging track bus wires), I realized I needed to get the directional power feeds run to the switch machines.  This required a new reel of 16 ga. wire, a bunch of holes drilled, cable pulling, and spade lug installations.  This has been accomplished for the two dozen switch machines at Crescent Lake.

Underside of one of the switch ladders at Crescent Lake.  The heavy red and white wires are bus wires.  Six pair in the lower half feed staging tracks.  A separated pair toward the top of the picture feed the switch ladder.  The bus wires are separated to provide for detection.  The dark gray wires are 16-gauge pair used to feed directional power to individual switch machines.  The clump of these wires penetrating the edge of the benchwork at the lower right will feed into the switching system for controlling the turnouts.

I had worn down the graphite tip for my resistance soldering probe while soldering feeder wires to bus wires for the first half of the staging tracks.  I needed a new probe element.  In addition, I sought advice from the manufacturer about a separate issue anyway, so the call was placed. 

I use a Hotip resistance soldering unit marketed by PBL:  PBL advertises that one can talk to a real person when one calls.  That certainly was my experience!  Mrs. Peters answered the phone and took my order, but I had a technical question, so she immediately got Bill Peters on the phone.  Bill is an expert at soldering and most other means of metal construction used in the hobby.  His video on soldering, sold with the Hotip system, is a “must see” for most hobbyists as they begin using the system or even as review before doing any other soldering. 

Hotip resistance soldering system by PBL.  Tweezers are on the left; power footswitch is in the center; and probe and clip are on the right.

Most resistance soldering units sold to the hobby provide a choice of a clip and probe or insulated tweezers for applying the electric current which produces the heat for soldering.  Over time, my tweezers had become unusable.  They would not pass much current, which meant they failed to create the heat necessary for solder to flow. 

I described this situation to Bill Peters.  He immediately recognized the problem and suggested the solution.  The tweezers tips are titanium rods inserted in holders on the tweezers.  Mine had developed an oxide layer or scale.  The fix was very simple: pull the tips out of their holders, clean the bases, re-insert (twisting to remove any oxide in the holder) and re-tighten.  I took me as long to describe this as to do it. 

Forty-five minutes later, I had two-dozen crimped-on spade lugs soldered to their wires.  That was at least an order of magnitude faster than trying to heat up the lug and wire with an electronics soldering iron!  The right tool for the job was those soldering tweezers!  This was the missing tool in my arsenal.  The probe and clamp are essential for the feeder to bus wire connection.  The tweezers are ideal for soldering spade lugs to their wires. 

Soldering a spade lug using the resistance soldering unit tweezers.

When I bought my resistance soldering unit, I considered the Hotip system from PBL and a competitor.  I elected to go with PBL because they had a good reputation locally and I knew I had a better chance of getting advice when I needed it.  I just needed advice and I am VERY happy to report I got just what I needed.  I recommend PBL and their Hotip system!

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