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 Wiring Question - Suitcase connectors vs Soldering
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d tuuri

Posted - 2009 March 13 :  3:08:35 PM  Show Profile

I have always soldered all my wiring joints when building prior (HO and N) layouts. I am now getting ready to start laying track for my first 2-rail O-scale one and there has been so many articles in model railroading mags lately about how easy those Scotchgaurd suitcase connectors are when wiring I was figuring on using them for my layout wiring - Micromark sells ones that are for #12 wire (My bus size) and #18 feeder wires (my feeder size). Seems like a no brainer but yesterday my LHS recommended not using them as they had problems with DCC and those connectors?

I was wondering if anyone can give me some real-life experience with these and if they worked well on your layout? Or should I go back to soldering and burning myself on this one as well???



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tom thorpe

Posted - 2009 March 13 :  3:46:29 PM  Show Profile  Visit tom thorpe's Homepage

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Ken Rice

Posted - 2009 March 13 :  3:57:40 PM  Show Profile  Visit Ken Rice's Homepage
The suitcase connectors are VERY reliable, IF you use them EXACTLY as intended. In other words, no cheating on wire size or type - if the connector is rated for 14-18 solid and 16-18 stranded, don't go using a #14 stranded, or a #12, or a #20 wire.
I use them on my layout, and I've never had a problem. A friend used them but cheated on the wire size, and sure enough a few months later had random power loss issues. Once he replaced the ones that weren't for the right size wire with the proper connectors, everything worked great and has ever since.

There was recently a thread on this subject on the HO forum:


My blog:

Edited by - Ken Rice on 2009 March 13 4:00:20 PM

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Posted - 2009 March 13 :  5:32:48 PM  Show Profile

I used these connectors with NCE DCC and have not had any problems. Get a good crimping tool, well worth it.

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Posted - 2009 March 13 :  7:18:00 PM  Show Profile
I have a 3 rail layout with command control. I heard the same stories, but that sure has not been my experience. The layout has been up and running for a good 10 years. I have not had any problems with them. For the most part, I use Scotch-Lok 567 connectors. All you have to do is pick up the phone, call Graybar, and you'll have them in a day or two. Haven't purchased any in quite a awhile, but they were about $25 for a box of 100, plus a few dollars shipping.

Neal Schorr

Edited by - prrfan on 2009 March 13 7:19:00 PM

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tom thorpe

Posted - 2009 March 13 :  9:18:11 PM  Show Profile  Visit tom thorpe's Homepage
IMO, this is one of those issues that can be termed "what can I get away with?" as opposed to "what is the most secure way to connect two wires?"

I have paid professionals to wire layouts for me. Never once have I had anyone attempt to use Scotch locks. My background is in marine and aircraft where corrosion and resistance is an issue, soldering is second nature.

Yes, many times one can get away w/ scotch clamps. I view them as temporary. Used to rent U-Hauls many years ago and we used them all the time for down and dirty quickies.

But my neighbor who runs a car stero, remote start and alarm install shop considers suitcase clamps something DIYers use.

For me, I solder & shrink wrap because IF I would have to deal with a electrical failure I know it is NOT an electrical connection.

Once you run one buss with soldered connections you will see it is about the same amount of time. Plus you never have to be concerned if you have the right size connector or if you nicked a solid wire or broke strands from a stranded wire. If you are breaking strands from a stranded wire at several connection points on a long run.....well do the math. Plus the actual electrical interface has surface area equal to the blade's pinching edge. tt

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Posted - 2009 March 13 :  11:09:55 PM  Show Profile  Visit TMCC-Trains's Homepage
I agree with Ken,Mike,Neal The suitcase connectors are VERY reliable
I also use them on my layout and they work great.
You can also get them at a Home Depot or Lowes here is a photo off the net.

Drew Madere aka:Louisiana Southern Pacific,aka:ICG,aka: Louisiana SP
Golden Spike Club member
Vist my website

"3-rail operators? I call myself a 2 railers with a spare!"

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Midnight Railroader

Posted - 2009 March 13 :  11:52:21 PM  Show Profile
Originally posted by Ken Rice

The suitcase connectors are VERY reliable, IF you use them EXACTLY as intended.

I have had the same experience.
And yes, I can and do solder as well.

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Steve Horvath

Posted - 2009 March 14 :  01:38:49 AM  Show Profile
You are on the right track ( no pun intended).The very best connection for maximum power and minimum noise will always be a solder joint. I personally would never use the crimp type connectors with any layout I build as they are only "holding" the wires together With all the remote systems on the market today "noise" is probably the biggest interference to good layout operation. In the end you will not be sorry. The small amount of time required to make a solid connection will reward you in the end. For thoes who do use the crimp type connections and have no problems I'm sure they meet your needs and they do make a connection when used properly, but will not match a solid solder connection for reliability and operation.

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Posted - 2009 March 14 :  08:23:34 AM  Show Profile
Steve and Tom,

This topic seems to come up over and over again on many Forums. I agree with your comments about soldered connections. I solder rather than crimp all my spade connectors and would never think about using a butt connector. But my experience with the Scotch Lok connectors has been excellent with not a single failure. I have hundreds of them on the layout. I see people post stories about fellows who have used them in dirty/wet/hot environments with all sorts of problems, but that's not the kind of environment most model railroads are built in.

I have never seen mass postings by legions of model railroaders cursing these things due to repeated failures. I HAVE seen many such postings like those posted above from people who have used them with good success.

I have a patient who is an electrical engineer, and I shared the same concern with her many years ago. She assured me that she specs them out all the time for commerical use, and has never run into a problem with them. In fact, this is what they are designed for.

I agree that they must be used in conformance with the manufacturer's instruction on the proper gauge wire, or they will fail.

I can't argue that a soldered connection is not solid, but for the life of me, I don't know how you can do one as quickly as connection with a suitcase connector. I've done many a soldered connection in my day, and they just take a lot longer.

My other concern with a soldered connection is reinsulating the joint once you are finished. You could totally cut the bus wire, slip on some shrink tubing, then solder the whole thing together, then slide on and heat the shrink tubing. Otherwise, you have to use either electrical tape or brush on insulation, neither of which I trust. Woe be to him that develops a mystery short years later when that sticky electrical tape begins to loosen up! Good luck trying to find it!

It matters not to me what type of connection you use. But if you have not tried a suitcase connector, might I suggest that you give it a try and judge for yourself. It will save you a lot of time and effort. As with anything else, there will probably be a variety of opinions on this, and I'm not trying to prove any point. Rather, I just want to offer my experience with the hope that it may help someone else with the construction of their layout.

Neal Schorr

Edited by - prrfan on 2009 March 14 08:31:45 AM

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tom thorpe

Posted - 2009 March 14 :  09:20:49 AM  Show Profile  Visit tom thorpe's Homepage

Very good post.

S/L can work. The issue is turning the masses loose with it and the Murphy law effect of paragraph four. Folks today do not come with a critical approach to much of anything. IMO, if it is not idiot proof it can fail. Also, just think about how many will use standard pliars for closure.

Also paragraph five, when you run a buss with sleeves slid on it, flux and wrap a couple of dosen or more drops, scoot along w/heat to finish them off. You never have to worry about the angle of incission w/ a clamp. And it's very quick.

Good point on electrical tape. Please do not use it, and when you do, tywrap it on BOTH ends.

Additionally, what is the commercial use of suitbox clamps that is commercial electrical code accepted?

Please don't take this personal. I learn something new all the time. Old geezers like me tend to hang to the past up to lid closing.

In the trades new stuff comes along all the time. I could tell you about some really hot gernades that the BOCA has let into construction, but thats for another forum.


Edited by - tom thorpe on 2009 March 14 09:22:42 AM

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Ken Rice

Posted - 2009 March 14 :  1:27:52 PM  Show Profile  Visit Ken Rice's Homepage
There seems to be some confusion between crimp connectors (what you commonly find with spade connectors), and suitcase connectors.
The crimp connector presses the metal of the connector around the outside of the already stripped wire. Any scuz on the wire becomes part of the connection.
The suitcase connector slides a piece of metal with a slot slightly smaller than the wire down over the wire, displacing the insulation and sliding across the two sides of the wire, scraping the wire and the connector clean in the process.
I think they're much different beasts in terms of what you can expect for reliability.


My blog:

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Posted - 2009 March 14 :  2:02:08 PM  Show Profile
I've used over 200 suitcase connectors and have not had one fail! Just make sure that you use therecommended wire size. The earlier post on buying them through Graybar is absolutely correct other wise they cost an arm and a leg throw a dealer like MIcro Mark. Also you do not need the specialty crimping tool that is marketed. A good pair of channel lock pliers works just fine. I switched to these when I tested them and found I could put 5 of these in for 1 or two solder joints under the layout. These are great in tight or low places and you don't have to worry about the heat from the iron.


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d tuuri

Posted - 2009 March 14 :  3:27:58 PM  Show Profile
I sure appreciate everyone's input. Sounds like whatever people are using - they like it! I may try them on this layout - it won't be my last. Seems those who use them don't have problems with them.



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Posted - 2009 March 14 :  4:54:47 PM  Show Profile
I honestly think that for any item to still be about, and in use after all these years - well, it can't be bad. Suitcase connectors have been with us for years and years.


Oh for the days when coal was king and steam ruled.
For pics etc -

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