Building the first 2 foot section of prototype track took most of the weekend to get ready and then 4 hours to actually build. The second section of track took less than 30 minutes because I had figured out most of the cutting and assembly methods. To create each section of track, I ripped a 1×2 board in half, then cut 3/8 inch square dowels into 5.5 inch lengths to create the ties. Each tie is then notched 1/8 of an inch to fit onto the rails and glued. The notch ensures that the rails match an exact path for the track.
The problem I have run into is the choice of Red Oak versus Poplar. Red Oak looks best but is about 1/3 more expensive than Poplar. More importantly, I cannot get 3/8 inch square dowels in Red Oak. So, I bought the same materials in Poplar and Red Oak and created a 2 foot section of track as a prototype (see pics below).
Notice that both the Red Oak and the Poplar prototypes are using Poplar ties. At this point it would be an easy choice as to which to use. I like the all Poplar prototype because it is similar in color and has consistency. But, Poplar is a terrible wood for this small detail work because it splinters on the saw blade. Poplar also does not take stain well and will be splotchy. Red Oak, on the other hand, will stain well and take a polyurethane finish very well. But the deciding factor in the use of Red Oak versus Poplar is the flexibility of the wood. Poplar splinters and cracks when you try to bend it even if it is steamed. Red Oak is the most bendable of all woods according to a government survey of woods. This is a deciding factor because I have to bend wood to create the curves.
Building the prototypes has been a good exercise as I have learned of faster cutting and assembly methods. Next will be the curve prototype.