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I’m in the process of restoring Lionel O Gauge layout consisting entirely of track, engines, cars, and accessories from 1954-1957.

My question is about proper gauge wire and recommended connectors.  This question has been asked many times.  I know since I’ve spent considerable time reading various threads.  I’ve also read other resources online and as well as several guides/books (including Greenberg’s Wiring Your Lionel Layout by Peter Riddle—3 vols.).  Often different answers throughout.  I suppose there might not be one authoritative right answer—perhaps due to vastly different layouts and equipment and personal preferences.

I apologize for asking again, but I’m still not entirely certain with my decisions about the proper gauge wire and connectors.  Please understand I am a novice when it comes to this sort of thing.  Also inexperienced—the last and only time I held a soldering iron was when I built a HeathKit shortwave radio 55 years ago.

I’ll briefly describe my layout since this should have a direct bearing on wiring decisions.  I’m using 3-rail tubular track and O22 remote switches (turnouts) and UCS uncouplers/unloaders—again from the 1950s.  CTC and LTC and OTC lockons.  Powered by 3 restored/refurbished ZW 275-watt transformers.  The benchwork is “L” shape with 12 feet on one side and 8 feet on the other and 5 feet wide (utilizing three pieces of 5 x 5 Baltic Birch plywood).

I have lots of industry accessories (e.g. coal loaders, coal ramp, ice depot, etc.) together with passive and automatic accessories and lights (such as signal blocks and crossing gates).  My plan is to have a number of separate track lines and I hope to incorporate block wiring with automatic train control and toggle (center-off) switches.  I’m sure I will be asking more questions about that!

Important to note—this is not intended to be a permanent layout per se.  There might be one or two lines that will be more or less unchanged, but I want to ability to redesign or remove or add lines and accessories as I go along.

Here is what I’ve tentatively decided (apologize if my terminology is inaccurate)—

  1. Track Power Bus (and also ground loop wiring): 16 Gauge stranded wire. Some sources recommend solid wire.  But I’ve read that stranded wire is more flexible and easier to work with in this instance.  I almost decided on 14 Gauge stranded wire but concluded 16 is probably adequate for my particular size layout.  You tell me.
  1. Feeder Wire (from track to the power bus line): Solid wire because of the better ease of connecting it to screw terminals. 20 Gauge.  But I may go with 18 Gauge if this is more strongly recommended for my situation.
  1. Toggle Switches (to facilitate “blocks” operations): Same as Feeder Wire—20 Gauge Solid.
  1. O22 Remote Switches and UCS Uncouplers to the Controllers: 22 Gauge Solid (3 wire or 4 wire respectively).  These are already wired this way.  I’ve got spools of these two wire configurations to use in those cases where I need to extend the length).
  1. O22 Remote Switches Fixed Voltage Plugs: 22 Gauge Solid.
  1. Industry Accessories and Lights: 22 Gauge Solid. Or should this be 20 Gauge Solid?


Now about the connectors.  After considering different options (including suitcase connectors and Ideal In-Sure Push-In connectors), I’ve decided on the following:

        A. To Connect Feeder to Bus Line: Posi-Tap Connector.  This connector is approved for both stranded and solid wire and the size wire I would be using.   I’ll have to remove small amount of insulation from the bus line stranded wire to use with this connector.

        B. Alternative Option for Feeder to Bus Line: Wago 221-413 which is the 3-conductor splicing connector. This is also approved for both solid and stranded wire and 24 to 12 Gauge wiring.  In this case, I’d have to actually cut the bus line in each instance and there will be one conductor for “bus-in” and another for “bus-out” and the third for the feeder.  This would seem not to be ideal with possible power loss due to repeated cutting of the bus line.  But maybe there is no appreciable power loss and this is better/easier than utilizing the Posi-Tap Connector arrangement.

        C. Splicing other wires when longer runs are necessary—such as extending the length of O22 remote switch controllers or UCS controllers: Wago 221-412, which is a 2-conductor splicing connector. Again, approved for either solid or stranded wire and 24 to 12 Gauge.

I hope the length of this post is not objectionable.  I very much look forward to your advice and guidance.  Thanks for your help!

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Jimbo1952 said,   " B. Alternative Option for Feeder to Bus Line: Wago 221-413 which is the 3-conductor splicing connector. This is also approved for both solid and stranded wire and 24 to 12 Gauge wiring.  In this case, I’d have to actually cut the bus line in each instance and there will be one conductor for “bus-in” and another for “bus-out” and the third for the feeder.  This would seem not to be ideal with possible power loss due to repeated cutting of the bus line.  But maybe there is no appreciable power loss and this is better/easier than utilizing the Posi-Tap Connector arrangement."

If you go to the Wago website for technical data you will see that the losses and/or resistance through their connectors is negligible. I've used their connector for bus feeds, grounds and accessory feeds with no noticeable losses. Yes, the great advantage is you can remove the 3 way connector and install a 5 way to give you additional ports. Very much flexibility with this style connector, just make sure it has the Wago logo on it and is not a knock off. Good luck.

Steve

Thanks for your quick reply, Steve, and helpful advice.

I've read elsewhere to be sure it is the Wago brand connector and not a knock off.

I know some may be inclined to try to save a small amount and end up with inferior product.  While cost is always a consideration, I don't intend to try to save a few dollars (relatively speaking) overall on connectors considering how much I have invested and spent on everything else.

This Wago 3-conductor splice (or 5 way splice as suggested) does appeal to me more than the Posi-Tap connector for this application.

Thank you for providing the Voltage Drop Calculator.

I'm now persuaded to use 14 AWG, Stranded wire (and not 16 Gauge) for the track power (including the track bus lines).  The Voltage Drop Calculator says I should go with 14 gauge.  In re-reading some comments on this Forum, the common advice is--whenever in doubt--to go with the larger gauge as well.

I also saw some other comments recommending MTW stranded wire for this application.  Stands for Machine Tool Wire.  One reason is that it is apparently a little more flexible.

I checked on prices from different sources.  I found what appears to be a good price at wireandcableyourway.com (Wire & Cable Your Way).  14 AWG, Type MTW wire, 41 strand.  250 ft is $29.50 and 500 ft. is $59.00.  Before shipping cost.  Lots of different colors to choose from.

I used these lever nuts (apparently a Wago clone) for all my track power wiring in three and five connection types.  I have zero issues anywhere on the track, I did use plenty of drops to insure good connectivity.  Yes, I cut the bus at every drop, but that didn't seem to affect anything, on a load test with 8 amps at the end of the run, I had a .5V drop from a reading at the transformer, so any drops in the lever nuts was apparently negligible as the #14 wire accounts for much of that drop.  The fact that I was using a Wago clone didn't seem to affect the quality of the connections.  They're way easier to use than most other types of connections, and also very easy to change wiring when you run into issues.

XHF Lever Wire Nut Combination Compact Wire Connectors28-12 AWG, Solid or Stranded

 

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In addition to the 14 AWG wire that I will use for the track power, I will be using a smaller gauge wire for the drops (feeders) and lights and accessories as well as the wiring for the Fixed Voltage Plugs for the O22 Remote Switches and also the toggle switches.  I stated in my original post that my plan is to use some 20 AWG solid wire and also 22 AWG.  I also considered possibly using 18 gauge solid for the drops/feeder lines.

I thought it'd be nice to keep it more simple and use one size/type of wire for all of these additional wiring requirements.

Is it reasonable to only use 20 Gauge Solid copper wire for these other wiring needs?  Or should I still get--in addition to the 22 AWG--some 20 and some 18?

I have pulled over 3000ft. of wire under my layout and would not recommend using solid wire. In 22ga. If you nick the wire when stripping it you have just created a weak point in the wire which after flexing is the break point. Working under the layout you are going to be moving the wires around at some point. I have used very little solid wire and only because it was found at a yard sale for $5 for 500ft.  

Whichever wire you decide to use setup a way to have it come straight off the spool it makes pulling wire much easier.  

wiretrainlayout

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@Jimbo1952 posted:

In addition to the 14 AWG wire that I will use for the track power, I will be using a smaller gauge wire for the drops (feeders) and lights and accessories as well as the wiring for the Fixed Voltage Plugs for the O22 Remote Switches and also the toggle switches.  I stated in my original post that my plan is to use some 20 AWG solid wire and also 22 AWG.  I also considered possibly using 18 gauge solid for the drops/feeder lines.

Why are you using solid wire?  I highly recommend stranded wire, it will stand the test of time.

Good question.  My layout is strictly 1950s Lionel O Gauge 3-rail tubular track with 1950s accessories, lockons, O22 remote switches, etc.  I read from several sources (including, I think, here on this Forum) that it is easier and advisable to use solid wire--20 or 22 gauge--to attach to the many terminals on these accessories and devices, and consequently solid wire is recommended in these instances.

I already determined the Wago 221 connector is approved for both stranded and solid wire.  So I thought this would be appropriate if and when I need to connect the solid wire to the 14 gauge stranded wire that I will be using to power to the bus.

It  sounds like I am now advised to avoid altogether the use of solid wire and instead use stranded wire throughout.

I'm simply trying to get off on the right foot from the start.  I hope to avoid using wire that I later discover was wrong or inappropriate (or difficult to use) and then have to re-wire.   

@Jimbo1952 posted:

Good question.  My layout is strictly 1950s Lionel O Gauge 3-rail tubular track with 1950s accessories, lockons, O22 remote switches, etc.  I read from several sources (including, I think, here on this Forum) that it is easier and advisable to use solid wire--20 or 22 gauge--to attach to the many terminals on these accessories and devices, and consequently solid wire is recommended in these instances.

I already determined the Wago 221 connector is approved for both stranded and solid wire.  So I thought this would be appropriate if and when I need to connect the solid wire to the 14 gauge stranded wire that I will be using to power to the bus.

It  sounds like I am now advised to avoid altogether the use of solid wire and instead use stranded wire throughout.

I'm simply trying to get off on the right foot from the start.  I hope to avoid using wire that I later discover was wrong or inappropriate (or difficult to use) and then have to re-wire.   

Jimbo,

It sounds like you and I have similar layouts (Lionel PW-style with tin plate track, accessories). FWIW, I exclusively use stranded wire.

Last edited by johnstrains

I did discover that I must read the description for the wire closely.  I plan to only get copper wire and not CCA.  I've got a lot invested in this layout already, and I have no intention to try to save only couple of dollars by purchasing inferior wire.

I suppose since the stranded wire is small enough, I won't have difficulty using stranded wire with the terminals on the items and accessories.  Contrary to what some books have stated.

So back to my original question--and I apologize since I know this has been asked repeatedly on this Forum--

What gauge stranded wire is best for those purposes which I have mentioned--

1.  Drop/feeder lines

2.  O22 remote switches using the fixed voltage plugs

3.  Accessories--such as 397 coal loader or 352 ice depot or 145 gateman

4.  Lights--such as 153 block signal or 252 automatic crossing gate or 450 signal bridge

5.  Toggle Switches--intended to be used for block track wiring

Can one size gauge stranded copper wire be used for all of the above purposes?  For simplicity.  Or should I be more precise and use different gauge wire for specific purposes?

As reminder--I've already decided on 14 gauge MTW stranded wire for the main power lines and track bus.

Best is a subjective topic.  I'll tell you what I used.  I have #14 for all my longer track power runs, #18 for track power drops (one to two feet typically), and #18 for my turntable whisker track power.  My switches are all wired with CAT5e #24 wire, they're DZ-2500 switch machines, very low power.  For stuff like O22 or similar Lionel switches, I'd be using #18.

No matter how long you have been doing something there is always the time you see something done differently and have an a-ha moment.

A long while ago while very busy I had an 0 scale sub contractor wire a client's layout for me.  He was using a typical Bernzomatic torch with the safety defeated so he would get a flame with just a click.  Well, he was zipping along, solder in his mouth, wire stripper on one hand, torch in the other and wrapped up a medium sized layout connections in less than an afternoon.

He was working like a sewing machine!

So I tricked up a couple of torches, bit the bullet (aka solder),  then went and have been soldering drops for years now.

I preload a the buss wires with heat shrink tubing so as to have clean protected drop tie ins.

-----------

Different item;

Awhile ago I had a client contract me to wire his large layout.  Well, he went and pre purchased 12  500' rolls of different color solid 14ga wire!!  Never having ever use solid wire on a layout I balked,  but he challenged me.

The job was a DCS star wire with home run routing.  Solid wire is actually a joy to run long runs.  My runs were manly between 25' and 60' in length w/ no drops.  I could pull the runs straight off a reel in pairs, clamp one  end, place the  other end in a drill motor and spin a twist.  That way I had nice straight non curled lengths which were soldered at each end and never had a problem in 145 pair of runs.

When I twist up stranded wire there is usually the need to tape the run every 8' or so before I unclamp the ends to cancel out a rat's nest.

Your mileage may vary.

Last edited by Tom Tee
@Tom Tee posted:

A long while ago while very busy I had an 0 scale sub contractor wire a client's layout for me.  He was using a typical Bernzomatic torch with the safety defeated so he would get a flame with just a click.  Well, he was zipping along, solder in his mouth, wire stripper on one hand, torch in the other and wrapped up a medium sized layout connections in less than an afternoon.

How's he doing on his treatments for lead poisoning?

He's an true 0 scaler, impervious to the ailments of common man!

I find it easy to unroll increments of solder with my teeth as I work along the ROW.  Think of it as a form of flossing

My method is more like an assembly line.  I will drill all the holes for an entire project, clean off all the rail webs, insert all the preped drops, solder all the connections, then drop a touch of rusty rail paint on all soldered rail webs.  It just goes more smoothly for me that way.

Last edited by Tom Tee

OK.  I'm persuaded.

14 AWG stranded wire for the track power runs and 18 AWG stranded wire for the drops/feeders.

I was initially advised to use smaller gauge solid wire for the drops/feeders since that wire is easier to connect with the terminals on the lockons.  It sounds like it is not an issue to use the 18 gauge stranded wire.

@Jimbo1952 posted:

I am really go to show my ignorance. (I think I said I am new at this.)  When you say "tin the end of the stranded wire"--I assume you mean to apply a small amount of solder.  Or did you mean something else?

Yep, Put a small amount of solder on the end.  Twist the end of the stranded wire first. Then apply a little solder. Really doesn't take long to do when your set-up stripping running wires. Tinning the end of the stranded wire is also a good idea when you connect multiple wire to connection points close to each other avoiding a little strand of one wire touching a little strand of another, causing grief later on.

I inquired in this thread about the size of wire for various things that are done in a layout.

Based on the advice here and after further inquiry/reading, I concluded my initial decisions on size of wiring were wrong--or at least not recommended.  I was advised to use slightly larger wire.

I also mentioned a couple of times about my concern with using larger and stranded wire to hook up to accessory terminals and lockons--thinking it would be easier to use smaller gauge solid wire.  Again based on advice here, I concluded my concerns are exaggerated.  And in those instances where it is needed, I can tin the end of the stranded wire to make it easier to connect to a small terminal.

I was also wanting to keep it relatively simple by employing two or perhaps three different size wire throughout.

I already reported that I now decided on 14 AWG stranded wire for the track power runs (bus lines) and 18 AWG stranded wire for the drops/feeders.

I think I will also use 18 gauge stranded wire for the other things I have asked about--such as O22 fixed voltage plugs and accessories and lights and toggle switches.  Utilizing different color wire and/or color marking and labeling to keep things organized.

Unless I am urged to choose different size wire.

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