Basic Wiring and Connection Techniques

Basic Wiring and Connection Techniques

By Roger Heid


This article addresses all you beginners who are unfamiliar with wiring and connectors. It is not intended to teach you which wire goes where and how to hook this and that up. It is geared to give you a basic insight in how to use wires in the first place, how to make connections and how to select associated hardware, all within the needs of the astute beginning model railroader.

There is one basic rule. The thicker the wire, the better it conducts electricity. Anything thicker than 16 gauge wire is usually an overkill. Wire gauges are just like shotgun gauges; the smaller the number, the bigger the bore. 14 gauge wire is thicker than 16 gauge; 18 gauge is thinner.

There are two basic types of wire: Solid and stranded. Stranded wire consists of many very thin wires to form a wire of whatever gauge. It has a better conductivity rating than solid wire.

You will come into a situation when a wire needs to be extended or spliced. This starts out with the removal of a length of insulation to bare the wire. The most common tools used to get this accomplished are teeth, pocket knives, kitchen knives, scissors and side cutters. The rule that applies here is quite simple: Use anything that seems to work as long as you keep your blood contained in your body and your fingers in place.

The most notorious method to extend a wire is using whatever works, cutting off too many strands of the wire, twisting the wire ends together, wrapping electrical tape around the handiwork and using up half of the household’s band aid supply.

It’s a Classic. It is makeshift and short-lived, plus the Red Cross has better use for the spilt blood than your kitchen or basement floor. Make an appointment with your dentist in case you choose your front teeth as a tool. If you choose a razor blade you may wind up in an ER. The most appropriate tool is a professional wire stripper.


There are two basic types of electrical connections. #1: metal touching metal  #2: two or more metal work pieces fused together; for us modelers soldering is best. Arc welding and nuclear fusion are not required. Be advised that aluminum does not accept fusion via solder. In order to learn how to solder you need to read my blog titled ‘Soldering Equipment and Techniques’.

Now, even if you are able to employ proper soldering techniques, there can be situations where soldered connections are not feasible. An example is a layout designed in sections you may want to haul to a show. This situation calls for quick disconnects and re-connects. This is not something a beginner would. But not all beginners are able to use the ‘Solder Iron’, for whatever reason. So, let us talk about ‘solderless alternatives’.

One way to extend wiring is to use banana plugs and sockets. Just about every model railroad manufacturer carries these in various colors. All you need is a small screw driver to hold the wires in place. Solder coating the wire ends provides a better and longer lasting connection.


Maerklin type: The vertical plug can be plugged into a receptacle on the horizontal plug on bottom right.

Another method is the use of screw type terminal strips. Those are widely available. One source I know of is:   www.


Samples of screw type terminal strips. The one on the left can be cut into individual sections ideally suited for solderless extensions.


Here is another situation beginners will sooner or later be faced with. Let us say you inherited enough stuff for an elaborate layout containing a multitude of turnouts, signals and de-couplers, maybe a total of 16 of these devices. They all operate on a common ground or return. In order to reach the negative or return wire receptacle of the power supply, you may have to extend 16 wires. Even if you did, these 16 wires would not fit into the power supply receptacle.

What you want to do is to establish one or more collection points for all 16 wires. Then you want a single common return bus wire connecting to the power supply. If you don’t solder, there is hardware available to facilitate this. One is made by Maerklin, called a ‘Distribution Strip’. It requires the use of banana plugs.  The other one is made by Fleischmann. It has spring loaded receptacles.


Left:  Maerklin # 72090                       Right:  Fleischmann # 6940

If you have soldering capability, you may use what is called a soldering terminal strip, a sample of which is shown below.


You can then solder a length of bare solid wire across all of the terminal lugs. Now you have a distribution strip.

There is a way to extend wires the professional way. This method requires soldering skills, heat shrink tubing and a heat gun.


Sample of Heat Shrink Tubing


Samples of Heat Guns

Heat shrink tubing is made of a special kind of plastic material. When exposed to heat it will shrink like the cheap underwear you bought, after the first washing. It comes in different diameters and colors. Choose the size that fits around the wire like your long shirt sleeves fit around your arm. You do not use the solder iron to apply heat, because you will melt this tubing, thus rendering it useless and making a mess of things besides that. What you need is a heat gun. This device functions just like your hair dryer. It is smaller and puts out a lot of heat wherever you direct it. If you try it on your hair, you will wind up with a hairdo you don’t want to be seen with.

You slide the tubing on one wire end, solder the wires together, slide the tubing over the solder joint, apply heat from the gun and, voila, you have a professional quality permanent extension. I have done this many, many times.

Keep in mind that the metal touching metal type connections will eventually degrade due to corrosion.

You should also read my blog titled ‘Basic Electricity’. The information therein will help you further.

Once you start operating off track devices in the digital mode, things will take on a slightly different character, but this is a different book in the library.

I am sure there other items of the kind I described above. This blog article is meant to be a guideline, not a catalog.

If you have questions, please post them in the Forum under the appropriate topic.

Thank you.







5 Responses to Basic Wiring and Connection Techniques

  1. Reynauld says:

    Very useful article Roger, thanks for sharing!!


  2. Eric says:

    The information is valuable thank you very much, but I don’t like your comments in between. I don’t like to be treated like an idiot, though I’m a beginner on certain terrains like electricity and digital. I know I don’t have a clue but I don’t need someone telling me so. It might sound funny to you but not for me. Just imagine your Doctor starts to joke about your disease and treatment. That’s not funny, isn’t it? Eric

  3. Ernest H. Robl says:

    I think Roger was only trying to inject a little humor into the subject.

    Model railroading is just a hobby — not a disease, though some might argue that point.

    Perhaps one of the points that Roger was trying to make was that we all do some dumb things in this hobby from time to time — even when we know better.

    Roger has produced many entertaining and even moving posts for this Blog, relating some deeply personal railroad-related events in his life.

    I don’t think he was trying to talk down to anyone, only to poke fun of some of the foibles we all deal with.

    By the way, I’ve never met Roger in person.

    – Ernest

  4. Roger says:


    Ernest said it all. It was certainly not my intention to offend you or anyone. Also, keep in mind you are not a patient and I am not your doctor.

  5. Peter M. says:

    Thanks Roger, good article and informative. I was glad you did not recommend the those nasty compression connectors that join wire and usually damage the wire if not reduce the gauge of the conductor(s).

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