I came across a couple of boxes of Cat4 cable at a Habitat for Humanity store, it was a lot of wire for like 10 bucks. I believe it is 23 gauge, I wouldn't use that for the track wiring but might work nicely for wiring switch machines and other things that don't need higher gauge wiring. Has anyone ever worked with this? It might be a scrounge job (it is twisted pair, though that shouldn't matter), just seemed like a relative bargain. Thoughts? Course I will prob go back and they won't have it
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23 gauge is probably too small of a wire gauge for anything except short runs for LEDs and grain of wheat bulbs. Switch machines take more current than you would expect unless they are the slow motion stall motor type.
I use Cat 5 and Cat 3 for accessories and lighting. Works fine and it's nice to have spare wires at different locations on the layout.
A 1000’ box of Cat 4 weighs about 25 pounds
Comm Wire is bringing around $1.75 a pound
Even if you don’t use it
you can take the profits from scrapping it, and buy what you know will work.
I wired all my DZ-2500 switches with CAT5e wire, I had a 1,000 foot box of it laying around. Worked great, and I have some spare wires going to each switch location as every switch is a home run to my power distribution panel. There's a lot of CAT5e cable under there supplying the switches.
It will work fine for most of your needs, with the only possible exception of track power.
Switch machines...hmmm... has anyone ever posted a spreadsheet of current requirements for the many different ones, so that we needn't constantly have these discussions? I suspect that one switch machine, even one of the most robust pre-war Lionel ones, would work fine on one pair of Cat4 wire. If not, since you have already run the wire to that single location, and there are 8 wires in the cable, double them up - twice, even.
A quick rule of wire gauge is this: If you double a wire run (assuming identical gauge for both wires) the resulting gauge equivalent is "three less than one". Example: if you take two runs of #14 wire, and use them in parallel - the resulting equivalent gauge is 14 minus 3, or #11 gauge.
Two runs of #16 gauge is equivalent to 16 minus 3, or #13 gauge. Four runs of #16 would be equivalent to 13 minus 3, or #10 gauge,
Eight parallel runs of #24 is the equivalent of one run of #15, which is adequate for track power. It's between 14 and 16, which are typical track power gauges.
Does the box of wire say 23 gauge? Does it say "copper" or does it say "CCA" somewhere in fine print, which is the industry's trick way of saying "copper-clad aluminum"? Aluminum wire is outlawed for line voltage inside buildings, but is acceptable for large-gauge feeders, and for low-voltage signal wiring, although it does not have the same ampacity as an equivalent gauge of copper wire.
CAVEAT: Even though the calculation method that I have described works in theory, in practice, it is illegal to use parallel conductors to create a larger gauge, if used in a residential or commercial line-voltage (120/240/480) application. So please don't go "trying this at home" (outside the train room.) The NEC prohibits parallel runs to create larger gauges, except for large-gauge feeder applications, in conduit, with the conductors clearly labelled and connected using a particular method.
Google: "Wire Combination Calculator"