Clinic: Hiding Atlas Snap Switches

So, your using the 1-1/2 inch foam siding for the base of you layout?? Me too, and after getting into it I ran into one major problem:

I use 1/2 inch plywood (top of bench work) then put 1-1/2 inch pink or blue foam siding. That equals to be 2 inches. The rod on under the table switches is only an inch tall (out of the box). You can put a rod of sorts on the end if you can find a great way to do it and get consistent results out of it. This was done in several ways in my experiments to find out if I should buy a bunch of under table switches and replace the table top ones I had on my layout. After a day of frustration and nothing good and consistent to show for it. I threw in the towel and took the under the table switch back to the store.

It donned on me about a week later when I was sculpting rock formations. “Hey you can carve this stuff really well, and pretty accurately with a fresh xacto blade”. No, I didn’t bury the switch machines in the foam, close but no. They are in fact still on the table top just covered up. Yes they still work, they work great actually better than they did before covering them and you won’t have rolling stock or locos hitting them afterwards.


  • Switch, wired and working (Atlas Snap-switch is used)
  • Felt-tip black ink pen
  • Xacto knife (Hobby knife)
  • Fresh blades for your hobby knife
  • 2 finishing nails
  • 3M Double-faced tape with a plastic peel-off backing(usually white peel-off backing)
  • Elmer’s Glue
  • Scenery material of you choice


First, I’ll start with the assumption that you have laid the track and wired the switch machine(s). If you have not done this do this first. Also, before proceeding with this project do understand that once you have this thing covered there is no “easy” way to replace a switch machine with out tearing up your scenery. I never have heard of one going bad but there is always time for a first I guess. If you can live with that then let’s get going. As shown to the right you should have your switch wired and working (so you can test it as we go). As well you should have no scenery around the area where you are doing this, it will make sense later.
Next you’ll want to get a ink pen of sorts, not a ball point pen, something that you can use without having to push down firmly to get a mark on the foam. From here you should look at the space you have around the switch machine itself, if you have room, move the lever to the outer-most notch on the switch arm. See the photo to the right, notice it sits away from the tracks now. If you are in a tight spot, no worries, just don’t move it.Ok, now trace the basic shape of the switch machine, it doesn’t have to be perfect, you just want the basic shape to know where it’s going to sit. In the photo to the right I disconnected the wires, you can do this as well it makes it a little easier to trace.
Once your finished, remove the switch machine all together and this is what you should have now. A rectangle drawn on your foam and some wires sticking out.Now is a good time to go find your xacto or hobby knife. and put a fresh blade in it. Do not use an old blade it will make a mess of the foam.
Now what your going to do is cut the long sides first but you want to cut the foam at an angle downward. In other words, if that was your hand in the photo, the blade would be pointing toward you. Ultimately your going to cut a wedge shape out from the foam. When you cut the other long side the blade would be facing away from you at an angle downward. Once you have that done cut the short sides with the blade pointing straight down when cutting.
After performing the step above you might want to go over the cuts again, as you do this you will feel the foam start to loosen. Take the hobby knife again, stick it down into one of the cuts you made and use the blade to pry it up. The foam may come up in a few pieces or it may come up as one piece. Either way is fine. At this point you should have a wedge shape groove cut into the foam and should look like the photo to the right. The groove should be about 1/2 inch or a little less deep. If it’s deeper no worries, it just means that excess ground foam/rock/ballast (whatever) has a place to fall into, which is what we want.
Now You’ll want to hook the wires back up to the switch machine, hope you remembered which ones go on which side. One important thing to remember is that you will be flipping the switch machine over so that the back faces up, so taking that into consideration connect your wires. Once you have that done stick the switch lever into the notch on the arm you’ve decided to use, in this example I used the furthest away from the tracks (remember the switch machine should be upside down). Be sure not to push the lever to far up into the arm or it will cause problems in a minute and you’ll be taking it out. Now go grab some small finishing nails, we’ll use these to hold it in place for testing, place them in the holes that normally would be used for screws.After doing this let’s take a minute and talk about the switch machine, they are the most temperamental gadgets I’ve dealt with, start testing the switch. Make sure the lever moves the arm of the switch. If it doesn’t, pull one of the nails up and shift the position slightly left, right, or pull the lever out a little from the arm. While holding it, test the switch again. Once your getting consistent results, put the nail back in to hold it in that position.
Now we’ll start covering this thing up. Get your double-faced tape, the stuff with a thin plastic backing that you peel off, usually is white. Cut all your pieces longer than the area we are going to cover. Starting with the first piece on the outside end of the switch machine, place one end of it right at the edge of the switch machine up where the lever comes out, as in the photo to the right. Rub it down to make sure that it’s stuck to it and the foam nice and good. Ok, now test your switch again. If it starts giving you problems just wiggle it a bit then test again.
If the switch machine is working good then apply another piece of tape on the opposite side of the switch machine. Should be the side closest to the tracks (the harder one). This piece you want to place just like before, one end right at the edge of the machine where the lever comes out. The only catch is that this piece you may have to tuck one side of the tape under the ties of the track.So, you may be wondering why are you using this tape and not another? Well, the answer is simple, this tape, with that thin plastic peel-off backing is durable and does not flex when you put glue on it, it stays the same shape it was when you put it down even after the glue dries.Test your switch again.
Place another piece in the center part, overlapping the first two you put down, doing the same as before start up at the edge of the switch machine where the arm comes out once you have the first three down, test your switch. Then put the rest down but the only difference with the remainder is that you don’t need to start up at the edge of the switch. From here on out your just using the tape like sculpta mold, your just smoothing it out. Once you have the whole thing covered it should look kind of like the photo to the right.
From here you can start applying scenery, which I will cover in the next few days / weeks. BUT to sum it up without photos here are some key points to remember:

  • You can paint the tape, I found air brush works best.
  • Be sure to paint around the arm and lever, unless you like pink :)
  • BE CAREFUL WHEN USING THE GLUE! do not get ANY glue on the lever or arm
  • BE AWARE OF ALL MOVING PARTS! otherwise your in for a longer project.
  • Use your finger and gently spread some elmer’s glue on the tape and only the tape and foam leaving an area around where the arm and lever work untouched
  • spread your ground cover of choice
  • Let it dry over night

After it drys, you guessed it, test the switch. It may need some messaging (a little help at first). If you laid ballast around the tracks and between the ties, take a small “clean” paint brush and clean out any scenery that maybe messing with the moving parts of the switch. The area you left untouched, you can sprinkle “a little” scenery material on and around it BUT NO GLUE!! Then, test the switch. In the end you should have a near flat surface with a “thing” that looks a lot closer to the real thing than those big black boxes.

To see how some of mine turned out check out my layout page

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