Building a swing gate:

an alternative to the duck under - Part II

By Ryan Boudreaux

    In review of the first part of this tutorial I explained my plan of action, or how I approached this project using 3rd PlanIt track planning software. I also provided a materials list of all parts and measurements for each piece that was utilized in the swing gate building process. I also listed the major tools and a step-by-step construction process with accompanying photographs to highlight what I used in creating the swing gate for the Piedmont Division (PD) layout. I started with the frame and making the cuts, then I proceeded to building and hanging the swing gate. Then I finished the tutorial with setting the sub-roadbed and worked on the receiving end of the swing gate.

     Picking up where we left of from the first installment of this tutorial I will review laying down the cork roadbed, attaching the flex track and cutting the flex track. Wiring the electrical feeders to the swing gate track, then I will test run some trains on the swing gate. I will also show you how I made adjustments to the track for alignment and will end this segment with applying the ballast and scenery to the swing gate and track. The finished swing gate can be seen in Figure 1.


Completed Swing Gate

Figure 1 (click image for larger view)

      The swing gate will enter it's first year of use in March 2008, so at this writing (February 8, 2008) it has logged 11 months of service on the PD. In this time frame I have not seen any major fluctuations in track alignment or variation of angle that the swing gate moves when opening or closing. A true test of this project was to re-evaluate the sturdiness and longevity of the construction methods used in the swing gate after one full cycle of seasonal changes through all of the spring, summer, fall, and winter. With one month remaining to complete the full cycle it seems that the swing gate has passed the test, I will update this tutorial with any changes that might be noticeable after March 2008.



Cork Roadbed

Card stock shim

Figure 2 (click image for larger view)

     Once the plywood sub-roadbed was attached to the swing gate I noticed that the hinge side was just a bit lower than the benchwork roadbed. I used a few pieces of cut card stock and tapered the other end then attached it to the plywood base with latex caulk as shown in Figure 2. This created a smooth shim that allows the cork roadbed to be fairly even with the existing benchwork cork roadbed making for a smooth transition onto the swing gate.

Benchwork cork roadbed removed

Figure 3 (click image for larger view)

     I had to remove about 4 inches of existing cork on the throw plate side of the benchwork as shown in Figure 3 so that an overlap section of cork roadbed would cover the swing gate in addition to at least 3"-4" on either side of the swing gate. I wanted this overlap because the cork will eventually be cut at each end to match up with the swing gate dimensions.


    I took one 3' section of HO scale cork roadbed and separated the two pieces then cleaned off any loose cork, typically I just rub my hands over the edges to remove any burrs or cork that sticks out from the edges. I also use a hand block sander to smooth down any uneven edges and remove any burrs from the roadbed. I placed the cork pieces and abutted them against the existing benchwork roadbed and once I felt comfortable with the placement I tacked down that end with push pins. I then worked my way down the swing gate and placed more push pins into the cork roadbed to keep it in place until I got to the end of the 3' section. With the loose end of the cork just overlapping a bit over the throw plate side of the benchwork cork I then took my X-Acto knife and cut the loose end of the cork roadbed flush with the existing cork roadbed to get an even fit. See Figures 4 and 5 below.


Cork roadbed - hinge side

Figure 4 (click image for larger view)

Cork roadbed - throw plate side

Figure 5 (click image for larger view)


    Once the cork was measured and cut for the fit I removed it from the swing gate and then applied a thin layer of gray latex caulk onto the swing gate and benchwork sub-roadbed sections that would accept the cork roadbed. Using a spatula I smoothed out the caulk to about a 1/8" inch thickness to ensure a good and solid coverage. I then took each piece of cork and placed it onto the caulk in the relative position that it was cut out for, once the first piece was in place I took the second piece and placed it in relative position. Then I started from the hinge side of the benchwork section and positioned the cork in a more defined position and pressed down to give it a nice seal with the caulk. As I worked my way down the swing gate I added the push pins back into and through the cork and into the plywood sub-roadbed. I finished up at the throw plate side of the swing gate and benchwork. I allowed this to set up overnight so that the cork roadbed and caulk would have a nice cure and attachment to the plywood.


Cutting cork roadbed - hinge side

Figure 6 (click image for larger view)

Cutting cork roadbed - throw plate side

Figure 7 (click image for larger view)

    Once the caulk had set up it was time for me to make the cork roadbed cuts. Using a razor saw I started on the hinge side of the swing gate as shown in Figure 6 and used the existing gap under the cork roadbed as a guide making sure to keep a straight cut, then I did the same on the throw plate side of the swing gate as shown in Figure 7.

Cut cork roadbed - throw plate side

Figure 9 (click image for larger view)

Cut cork roadbed - hinge plate side

Figure 8 (click image for larger view)

    This is one cut where you want to have all your wits about you, making sure the cut is clean and straight is a plus, take your time and keep a steady hand. I did not want to have to pull up all this cork and start over again! Notice that I made sure to have four (4) push pins in place around the areas where the cuts would be made into the cork, this helped to ensure stability and kept the cork from pulling up from the caulk. The fresh cuts in the cork roadbed can be seen in Figures 8 and 9.

    I then opened up the swing gate to test the fit and to make sure that everything worked as expected, meaning, I wanted this thing to open and close still! See Figure 10. Once I felt comfortable with this stage of the project I took my hand block sander and smoothed down both the top and sides of the cork roadbed before painting as shown in Figures 11 and 12. Then I took my gray latex paint (see Figure 13) and applied a coat to all the exposed cork roadbed (for some reason the images appear to be a bluish color, the color is really gray). I like to paint my cork roadbed for a number of reasons, 1.) it gives the roadbed an instant gray ballast look and feel, and 2.) it seals the cork and helps prevent any future dry rot or expansion and contraction issues with temperature and humidity. Now all the new cork has been painted measured, cut, attached, sanded and painted as shown in Figure 14.


Swing gate opening test

Figure 10 (click image for larger view)

Hand sanding the cork top

Figure 11 (click image for larger view)

Hand sanding the cork sides

Figure 12 (click image for larger view)

Painting the cork roadbed

Figure 13 (click image for larger view)

Cork roadbed is now set

Figure 14 (click image for larger view)






Sub-roadbed and base painted Earth tone

Figure 16 (click image for larger view)

Sub-roadbed and base painted Earth tone

Figure 15 (click image for larger view)

 Track Placement

     The next phase of the swing gate project involved attaching the HO Code 83 Atlas flextrack segment onto the cork roadbed. But before I added the track I also painted the sub-roadbed plywood a tan Earth tone color using latex paint, see Figures 15 and 16. You will also notice that I painted the sub-roadbed plywood and lower sections of the swing gate and frame with the same tan Earth tone paint, again this is for consistency and weather proofing. I like to cover all the bases! Some might think that this is overkill, but I wanted this project to be "bullet-proof."


    Starting from the curved turnout just west of the swing gate (throw plate side) I attached the 3' section of Atlas Code 83 flex track. After the switch was attached with latex caulk I made a temporary fit (see Figure 17 below) with the 3' flex track segment to ensure it was smooth and to confirm or find if there were any issues. After the fit was confirmed I applied a 1/4" bead of caulk down the centerline of the roadbed (see Figure 18 below), then using a metal spatula I smoothed out the caulk to a thin 1/8" to 1/16" thick even layer (see Figure 19 below), then I positioned the rails into the joiners on the curved turnout and lightly placed the track into position. Once the track was center-aligned on the cork roadbed I pressed the track down onto the caulk and then allowed it to set up overnight as shown in Figure 20.


Temporary track fit

Figure 17 (click image for larger view)

Applying a bead of caulk

Figure 18 (click image for larger view)

Spreading the caulk evenly

Figure 19 (click image for larger view)

Track applied to caulk

Figure 20 (click image for larger view)




 Cutting and Smoothing the Track

Applied CA to track sections

Figure 21 (click image for larger view)

Applied CA to track sections

Figure 22 (click image for larger view)

     Before the track was to be cut I applied a generous amount of Cyanoacrylate Adhesive (CA) to the surrounding areas of the track ties and cork roadbed that would eventually create the track ends (cuts) on the swing gate and allowed this to set up for a day. I then put down a second application of the CA the next day and allowed it to dry for a few days for a really good cure time. Actually, I was out of pocket for a few days and just let it set up for little under a week, but a full day to cure would be okay too. See Figures 21 and 22 to view the right and left side of the swing gate track with CA applied. The application of the CA adds extra strength to the area to be cut, and also stabilizes those areas once they are separated.


Finishing the track and cork cutting

Figure 24 (click image for larger view)

Starting the track cutting

Figure 23 (click image for larger view)

    Now that the CA has thoroughly set up and is dry I can now make the appropriate tracks cuts that will allow the swing gate to open fully. I started on the hinge side of the swing gate and used the existing gap between the benchwork plywood base and the swing gate as a guide. Following the gap with the razor saw I made slow and smooth strokes with the blade I started cutting through the cork roadbed and then eventually into the far side of the track ties and then hit the first rail. I then lowered the saw blade and continued with the next rail and finished with cutting through the ties and cork roadbed on the near side until the blade passed through the complete track and all cork roadbed. I repeated this same cutting technique on the throw plate side of the swing gate (see Figure 25) and then checked the cuts for their thin smoothness (see Figures 26 and 27).

Finished cutting other side of swing gate track

Figure 25 (click image for larger view)

The cut in full view

Figure 26 (click image for larger view)

The cut in full view

Figure 27 (click image for larger view)

Opening the swing gate for the first time

Figure 28 (click image for larger view)


     After some slight loosening up of the swing gate I was able to get it to open up and tested out the first real usage of the gate in swing motion. (see Figure 28). I had to use the same razor saw blade to loosen up a bit of stuck paint that lodged the bottom of the swing gate plywood base with the top of the receiving side of the benchwork. I suppose to prevent this from happening it would be necessary to sand both sections a bit so that the paint does not stick together, in any case, it only took a few minutes to "pry" the pieces apart.


    I noticed that the track rail ends had a few burrs and loose filings so I wanted to make sure these areas were smoothed down and also to ensure the rails would not catch or pick up anything as well. I took a few small micro files, both rounded and flat and made a few very light sweeps along the rail tops with the flat file and then inside and outside the rail flanges with the rounded file. I repeated this for both ends of the swing gate trail rails and for the track on both sides of the benchwork. So, all in all, I performed the filing step on 8 track rail ends.

 Wiring the Track


Drilling wire holes

Figure 29 (click image for larger view)

    With the swing gate open I took the power drill and fitted with a 1/8" inch drill bit and made two holes next to the track rails on the hinge side of the swing gate. The holes were made at about a 45° angle, and with the axes pointed toward the bottom and hinge side of the swing gate as shown in Figure 29. On my layout I have the red wire leads set as the inside rail and white wire leads set as the outside rail. I run using DCC, so this helps me to keep all the track wired correctly. You can use any color wire scheme as long as the wiring is consistent throughout the layout. Most people use red and black, but I find that white shows up better under the benchwork. Also, for my layout I use 20 AWG for my feeder wire and 14 AWG for my buss wires. If you are using a different size feeder wire you many need to adjust the size of your drill bit.


Wire threaded through holes close-up

Figure 30 (click image for larger view)

    I also wanted to make sure that the bottom of the hole penetrated out just about 1/4" from the top of the plywood sub-roadbed material. There is enough of a gap between the swing gate and the benchwork to accommodate the feeder wires, but just in case I also drilled out a little bit of the edge to create a channel for the wire to fit into on the side of the swing gate plywood sub-roadbed material as shown in Figure 30. I crimped the wires and pulled them up close to the rails and soldered them each to the respective rail in my typical fashion.


Terminal wiring block

Figure 31 (click image for larger view)

     I then set up a wiring terminal block on the swing gate gusset panel to terminate the feeder wires by screwing it into the side with two small screws as shown in Figure 31. I then ran another set of feeder wires from the other side of the terminal block to the buss wires under the benchwork and behind the swing gate. I suppose that the terminal block could have been eliminated but I wanted to have something solid for the feeder wires to attach to on the swing gate to prevent it from becoming loose or catching on anything, especially since the swing gate does rack up a lot of movement in the course of a typical operating session. It also helps to prevent the feeder wire soldering points/joints from coming loose.

 Scenery, Ballasting, and Weathering


Swing gate with secenery base added

Figure 32 (click image for larger view)

    The last and final step for my swing gate project was the scenery and track details. And this included adding some scenery base material and covering that with a few coats of earth tone paint, adding some ground scenery foam, ballasting the track, and applying some weathering washes. The last step will be to weather the actual track with some rust and thinned down washes of acrylic paints. At this writing the weathering step has not been completed. I will also use some rust paint to weather the rails and also use some toned plaster dusting to simulate dirt and grime between the ties as well. Figure 32 shows only the scenery base with the earth tone paint applied to the swing gate.


Scenery base mixture

Figure 33 (click image for larger view)

Close-up of scenery base

Figure 35 (click image for larger view)

Close-up of scenery base

Figure 34 (click image for larger view)

    Using the Joe Fugate scenery base forumula1 I mixed up a batch (see Figure 33) and using a small metal spatula I applied a bit of a berm on each side of the roadbed and tracks and built it up to the edges of the plywood sub roadbed material on the swing gate. After the scenery base dried overnight I applied several coats of earth tone flat interior latex paint to give it a nice base color that approximates some of the dirt and ground seen in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. Remember to use your own earth tone color paint based on the area you are modeling. I had a gallon of the flat interior latex paint mixed up at Lowe's last year and use it for all my layout "ground" surfaces. A close up view of the swing gate hinge side and some recently applied but naked (un-painted) scenery base on the benchwork is displayed in Figure 34. Another close-up of the painted scenery base applications on the hinge side of both the swing gate and the benchwork can be viewed in Figure 35.


Blue painters tape on track

Figure 36 (click image for larger view)

Shake ground foam material

Figure 38 (click image for larger view)

Applying the diluted white glue

Figure 37 (click image for larger view)

     Before I applied any of the ground scenery foam I cut two lengths of 2" wide blue painters tape and covered up the track to ensure that it would be protected from any stray material and adhesives as shown in Figure 36 on the right. I also applied a strip of the blue tape on each side of the swing gate to help catch any drippings and to prevent any loose ground material from becoming attached to the sides of the swing gate. Using a diluted glue mixture of 1:1 parts water and Elmer's White Glue and a drop of liquid dish detergent I slowly dribbled on the adhesive onto the scenery base as shown in Figure 37. Once the adhesive was applied to the scenery base I took the Woodland's Scenic's ground foam mixture and slowly shook it along each side of the tracks making sure to keep as much of it on the swing gate as I could manage as shown in Figure 38. I allowed this to set up and dry overnight before pulling off the blue painters tape as shown in Figure 39.


Scenery foam drying on swing gate

Figure 39 (click image for larger view)

Getting ready to ballast the track

Figure 40 (click image for larger view)

Ballast spreader tool

Figure 41 (click image for larger view)

    After the ground foam was set up overnight I carefully removed the blue tape and examined the condition of the track and swing gate as seen in Figure 40. Then I began steps to start with the ballasting of the track. Using the ballasting spreader tool I loaded it with Woodland Scenic's Fine gray mix and started from the far end edge of the swing gate and guided it along the tracks until all the ballast was deposited into the track, in-between the ties and down the edges of the cork roadbed as seen in Figure 41.


Spreading the ballast with an artist brush

Figure 42 (click image for larger view)

Spraying wet water to soak ballast

Figure 43 (click image for larger view)

Diluted white glue applied to ballast

Figure 44 (click image for larger view)

    Then I took a small artist brush and guided the stray ballast into and between the ties and formed nice natural looking ridges of ballast along the side of the roadbed slopes as seen in Figure 42. Once all the ballast was in a position that I felt comfortable with I sprayed it with a wet water solution of 1:1 parts water and rubbing alcohol with a drop of liquid dish detergent. As you can see in Figure 43 I use a small hand held mister to apply the wet water and liberally soak the ballast until it is completely saturated. Then I take the same diluted white glue that I use to apply the ground scenery foam and slowly dribble it onto the wet and soaked ballast. I start from inside the rails and thoroughly soak the ballast between the ties, and then I follow along the outside rail edges and completely soak the ballast on the roadbed slopes as seen in Figure 44.


Work In Progress



1 Joe Fugate's Siskiyou Line: Scenery Clinic