I love the “build a better mousetrap” aspect of this reader submission. Daan set out to DIY a wooden train table for his young son Noah modeled after the popular Thomas the Tank Engine train table. Sure enough, he succeeded in making a solid, long-lasting version that his family can pass down for generations. Here’s how he planned and carried out the project in his home workshop.
Noah loved to play with the “official” Thomas the Tank Engine table at Barnes and Noble which was out of service half of the time we went. This appeared to be directly related to the shoddy quality of that table (particle board and failing glue and joints) , which made its exorbitant price even more objectionable. I figured I could build one better myself and for less.
I found the plan for the train table online. There are a ton of plans out there, some free and some you can purchase. My requirements were:
- It should be possible to disassemble the table without destroying it.
- It should be solid enough to carry the weight of one or two 4-year olds.
- The table should be true to the Thomas the Tank Engine specification, so it would hold the reversible “Island of Sodor” playboard that I’d planned on buying separately.
Most materials were sourced from Home Depot. The wood is a combination of select grade pine (for the outer surfaces) and #2 grade pine.
I used my miter saw to cut all pieces to spec and coated screws rated for pine and glue to put it all together. The screws were hidden with wood filler. However, the four sides can be disconnected because they are bolted together rather than screwed and glued.
The horizontal supports are held in place by notches in the side support and can be removed easily as well.
I removed sharp edges by hand using a miniature molding plane (from the excellent Lee Valley and Veritas tools). I did the finish sanding with 240 grit sandpaper prior. Then, I primed and painted the wood with acrylic Behr paint that more or less matched the Thomas color scheme.
After 2 years and plenty of abuse, the table still looks pretty much like the day I finished it. The ready-bought Thomas and Friends Island of Sodor playboard not so much unfortunately. It’s showing some wear and tear, such as blistering from water and juice, and scratches and chips to the plastic foil sticker. The board actually is the single most expensive part of the table, not quite cheap to replace really – I think I paid about $80 with shipping for it. If it fails entirely, I’ll probably replace it with a piece of painted 1/4″ MDF. (Allegedly, the manufacturer discontinued the board but it can still be found for sale online.)
I think the tables were selling at around $300 at the time. I probably spent $60-80 in materials (wood, glue and paint, hardware) and another $80 for the playboard – so $140-160 total – for a better quality table, or so I like to tell myself.
If I had to cut costs, I’d lose the Thomas playboard and make one myself (MDF and paint). One can get very creative here in drawing the streets and painting a map. Should be doable for less than $20 or even less when when using left-over paint from previous projects.