Introduction: Handmade Station for Thomas the Tank Engine Wooden Train Set
Any parent that has a little one who enjoys Thomas the Tank Engine knows how expensive the playsets can be be, easily reaching $60-$80. However if you have or have access to a basic shop and common supplies you can build your own in an afternoon.
I believe most official Thomas parts are built of maple, and if you have some laying around you can certainly use it as it doesn't tend to sliver and is very durable, but can be a bit pricey and it's a shame to cover such nice wood with paint. I have chosen Basswood for the project as it is light, inexpensive, easy to work with and it does not give slivers, so is safe for little hands. (And I had some lying around).
This station would work with most wooden train tracks of this scale: Plan Toys, Melissa & Doug, Brio, Ikea all use the same gauge track and connectors.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
The tools required for this project:
Drill Bits - 1/4" and 1/2"
Sandpaper (Medium fine works well - 100 or 120 grit)
Scroll, Jig or Band saw, whichever you prefer...or a coping saw if you are oldschool.
Materials needed for this project:
Basswood 48" x 5" x 0.5" (about $5 at your local craft shop)
1/4" dowel 4" long (the small wood pegs from Ikea furniture work well, if you have any leftovers)
1/2" dowel 2" long (I used the handle from a cheap foam paintbrush)
Acrylic Paint and Varnish
Sharpie Markers (thick and thin)
Brown paper bag
I found it really useful to have a piece of standard track for setting up the saws and testing sizes. If you are making this toy for somebody else and don't have track pieces laying around, you can pick one up at most good toy stores for under $2.
Step 2: Preparing the Basic Components
For the most part I adjusted my plans to fit the material I had, and in general I improvise a lot in my crafts, but here are the specs of what I ended up with:
1)............Base- 4 1/2" x 8"
2)............Riser- 2" x 7"
3)............Platform - 2 7/8" x 8"
4,5&6)....Housing- Three Identical pieces 2" x 3 1/8" stacked, glued and sanded
7)............Arch - 2" x 1 1/2"
8,9).........Roof- two pieces 2 7/8" x 6 1/2" stacked glued, then cut on all four sides at a 70° angle
10)..........Station Sign - 1/2" x 3"
11)..........Chimney (a & b)- 7/8" x 1/2" and 7/8" x 1 1/2"
12)..........Luggage - three small random sized rectangular scraps about 1/2" x 3/4"
Glue the Roof and the Housing pieces together and then cut the slope on all four sides of the roof.
Give everything a good sanding.
There will be some leftover from a full 48" board and you might even be able to squeeze it all into a 36" x 4 1/2" board if that is what you have. The extra can be made into trees or even a tunnel (see my next Instructable)
Step 3: Constructing the Base
Most pieces of track have a male and female connector, and while the female end is very easy to make, the male end takes some tricky scroll saw work, (or the use of an expensive router bit ~$40) and the result is not very strong when made of basswood. Instead, I decided to make both ends female and build a small male-male connector out of dowel. Besides being easier to fabricate, the double female arrangement is beneficial because it can be oriented either way on the track, however your layout requires. It should be noted that the small connector that I will describe in this Instructable is fairly small and could be a choking hazard for very young kids so you may want to purchase an actual male-male piece of track at a toy store (around $2).
Using the size of a standard medium size track piece I cut the base to 4 1/2" x 8" and drilled a 1/2" hole centred at 3/4" from the bottom (long) and 3/8" from the edge on both bottom front corners of the base. This is where having a reference piece helps a tonne as i was able to just mark the centre point. Next cut a 1/4" channel from the hole to the edge of the base to complete the connectors.
Then using the table saw set to a depth of 1/8" I cut two 1/4" wide grooves for the track. The first grove is 1/8" from the bottom front edge, and with a 1/8" kerf blade it takes two passes to cut the first groove. The second groove is 1 1/8" from the bottom front edge, and like the first you need two passes to complete the 1/4" wide track.
All that is left is to check your cuts with your reference piece and you are ready to move on.
Step 4: Detail Fabrication
To make the connector simply drill two 1/4" holes in the side of the larger 1/2" dowel with a drill press, but make sure you don't go all the way through. Then cut the dowel 1/8" above and below each hole making two 1/2" long pieces with a hole in each. Next cut a section of 1/4" dowel about 3/4" long and sand the ends slightly. Add some glue into the holes on the larger dowel pieces and put the smaller dowel into place in both holes. Be sure to orient the larger dowels so they are facing the same direction.
Once More: If your child is prone to swallowing little things, these connectors can be replaced with a larger store bought or handmade male-male section of track. I believe the box would say not safe for children under 3.
In the upper chimney section drill two 1/4" holes about 3/8" deep. Cut and sand two 1/4" dowels to around 5/8" and glue into place in those holes.
Use your saw of choice to cut an arch shape out of the arch piece of wood. You can drill two holes and join them with a few cuts to get nice curved corners, or cut the whole thing out . A word of caution, when using basswood, hole saws don't work all that well and the teeth tend to get gummed up and you end up burning your way through rather than cutting.
If you want to add details like clocks, a thin slice of the 1/2" dowel can be painted to look like the station clock.
Step 5: Painting and Assembly
Start by applying a coat of water based and child safe varnish on all of the finished pieces. After drying, polish all the varnished surfaces with a crumpled paper bag until glass smooth... It sounds weird but it gives a nice store bought and finished feel (Thanks for the tip Mom).
At this point you can paint your station however you like, using the sharpies for details such as signs or the child's name.
I started with a faux plaster 2 coat, using a dark tan with a sponged on lighter top coat, then painted the corner and chimney bricks by hand with a highlights and shadows on top of everything.
After that, I painted on signs, luggage, clocks, and a train schedule, using a painted antique white base and then sharpie detail on top.
Finally, I weathered the look with a highly watered down black paint on the exposed upper surfaces.
Step 6: Finishing the Station
Finally, it is time to assemble all the pieces and do the final varnish. You want to use enough glue, but not too much, so a nice even light coat and a half hour of clamping should keep this thing together even in the loving hands of a toddler. I used two coats of varnish, with a quick paper bag polish in between coats.
All totaled, this Toy would cost about $10 if you have some paint and glue already around the house, and add to that it was a lot of fun and feels great to be able to write "Handmade by Daddy" on the bottom.
I'm glad to say that the station was a huge hit, and my son has played with it for days now, which is more than I can say for many of the toys I have bought for him. He even wanted to take it to bed with him for a nap, which is about as big a compliment a toddler can give. All in all a well spent 8 hours, although I would reconsider hand painting the bricks in the future.