Introduction: Simple Train Play Table

Picture of Simple Train Play Table

I have 2 sons, one is 3 1/2 and the other is 1 1/2 and the 3 year old is totally out of his mind crazy for Thomas the Tank Engine. He lives, eats and sleeps Thomas and his friends. During one of his many perusals of the Toys R Us catalogs, he stumbled onto the Thomas Train table and it's all he has been talking about. This is for sure something he wants for Christmas, but the table alone is $299.00.  Add in the many sets (anywhere from $39 - $129) and trains (anywhere from $9.99 - $29.99) you can easily spend close to $1,000. Well that isn't an option, but building one is.

Step 1: Material and Tools Needed

Picture of Material and Tools Needed


5 - 1x4  8' long -  $3.98 each
1 - 3/4 sanded pine plywood - $25
1 - Gorilla Glue wood glue
nails for nail gun
120 grit sand paper - $3.98
220 grit sand paper - $3.98
pint of polyurethane -  - $7.00


Compound Miter Saw (optional)
Air Compressor and nail gun (optional)
Various clamps
palm sander
sanding block
Tape measure
paint brush

Step 2: Prep

Picture of Prep

I had the chap at Home Depot cut my sheet of plywood into two 3' x 4' sections. This will be the table top. Be sure to choose a high grade sanded sheet of plywood.

I could have had him make my 1x4 cuts too, but I figured he did enough cutting the plywood.

Step 3: Cutting the 1x4s for the Legs

Picture of Cutting the 1x4s for the Legs

The first step is too make you cuts to the 1x4s. I made all the cuts for the legs first. A compound miter saw makes this task easy as cake. The blade is 1/8th of an inch so so all of my legs are even I cut them at 1/8th of an inch shorter than 24". Cut 8 pieces for this tasks.

When you're done cutting all 8 pieces run a bead of the wood glue down the edge of one piece and place it on another piece to form the first leg. Use a clamp to hold it together and nail it into place.

Repeat this step another 3 times for all 4 legs and set them aside while we frame up the table top edge.

Step 4: Cutting the 1x4s for the Table Edge

Picture of Cutting the 1x4s for the Table Edge

Since out table top is 3' x 4' we're going to need to make a frame for the plywood to sit down into. The two long pieces are going to be 1" longer than the long sides of the table so cut them at 49" each.  Do the same for the two short sides. When you're done, you should have:

2 - 49"
2  - 37"

Place the first two pieces together and glue them and drive two nails into them. The next piece should overlap end to side the opposite way the first two pieces are stuck together. The third piece should be should overlap the same way the opposite corner is overlapped. It should be obvious how the final piece fits. Glue and nail all of the edges together.

Step 5: Attaching the Legs to the Frame

Picture of Attaching the Legs to the Frame

Place two pieces of scrap wood in the corner and place a leg in the corner. Glue the leg and nail it into place. Repeat this step three more times

Step 6: Attaching the Table Top

Picture of Attaching the Table Top

Flip the frame and legs over and hopefully, if you made all of your cuts correct, the tops should fit snugly into place. Be sure to put a bead of glue in all of the areas that wood will touch wood. Add a few nails with the nail gun into the corners and you should be done with the hard part. Next is same easy sanding a adding the polyurethane..

Step 7: Sanding and Finishing

Picture of Sanding and Finishing

Sand every part with the 120 grit paper and apply a coat of the polyurethane. When that dries sand it again with the 120 grit paper. Then apply another coat.

Step 8: Add Tracks and Trains As Needed

Picture of Add Tracks and Trains As Needed

Enjoy your new train table.

Step 9: Added a Shelf Over the Weekend.

Picture of Added a Shelf Over the Weekend.

I cut another piece of plywood 2 inches less than the top on each side to create this shelf. Stay tuned this is an on going process.

Step 10: Primed and Painted Over the Weekend

Picture of Primed and Painted Over the Weekend

I primed and painted the table over the weekend.


Jey9731 (author)2015-05-10

This was one of my first projects and it turned out great thanks to the solid instructions, thanks for posting! Only modification I made was using a countersink bit, plugs and a flush saw to hide the screw holes. It is a little tall for my 2 yr old, but he'll grow into it! Thanks again!

gdhenson (author)Jey97312015-05-10

Wow, that looks great. I built this table 5 years ago and my boys are now 8 and 6 and we've converted out table to a Lego table.

jubco made it! (author)2016-04-05

Made a few adjustments, but a great plan. Sturdy as a rock with pocket hole screws and glue.

rainigirl65 (author)jubco2017-10-04

I want to know how you painted the scenery background? With the roads and waterways etc. Yours looks great! Thanks!

csera (author)jubco2016-12-30

I love how your table turned out. Can you tell me how the bottom shelf is supported? Is there just an additional block of wood in each corner or an interior frame?

jubco (author)csera2016-12-30

Thanks! Yeah, I just glued and screwed a little block on each side of the interior legs. Pretty great support got the 3/4" plywood to rest on!

MarcusF27 made it! (author)2017-04-10

Built mine over the weekend. Changed up the size a bit, but used the basic concept. I got a nice piece of composite as my top, and since I had it cut to 72"x40" I had some left over to use as the sides and a sliver to use along the inside of the rails to offer some more support to the table top in the long section.

jsnorman (author)2015-12-04

My only hiccup with this build was that the 1 x 4's were actually .75 x 3.5" in dimension. I couldn't find true 1x4. If you go this route, you need to adjust the board dimensions accordingly i.e. the rail are .75 inch not 1 inch longer. The shelf is 1.5" shorter on each axis etc. Just thought it worth mentioning. Haven't painted the table yet but know that the kids are going to love this!

JasonJ144 (author)jsnorman2016-10-30

All dimensional lumber is this way, FYI to anyone reading. Your house might be built out of 2x4s but if you measured them they are really only 1.5x3.5. Dimensional lumber should always be measured and worked with carefully as it is easy to make mistakes by using the "nominal" named dimensions which are not accurate. Kind of weird but true with all lumber.

CoreyC21 made it! (author)2016-03-20

Thanks for the easy instructions. I'm a rookie when it comes to working with wood, but with some help from my father-in-law, we built this pretty easily. Thanks!

onlylivemusic made it! (author)2016-03-16

Awesome plans, followed them pretty closely. I decided to go with a dark stain on the top and shelf. A little tricky with pine plywood, but I think it turned out alright. We will see how long it lasts but I can't wait to see my son playing on it. Thanks!

rad10 (author)2010-12-02

I love it!!! I procured a 36"x30" tabletop from the IKEA "as-is" area and am using that along with your design to create a faux Thomas Table for my 3 year old.

Does the shelf fit into a small groove in the legs?

gdhenson (author)rad102010-12-02

I cut 4 pieces of 1x4 and tacked them to the inside of the legs and then slid the shelf in while the table was upside down. I then measure the distance from the bottom of the shelf to the bottom of the leg and cut 4 more pieces and tacked them into place to hold the shelf when I flipped it right side up.

Will probably be painting the landscape and adding track this weekend.

Jerseymike61 (author)gdhenson2015-10-12

It looks like you hVe grooves cut out for the bottom shelving area. Are there?

gdhenson (author)Jerseymike612015-11-04

its not grooves, its just another piece of wood that I nailed to the leg to hold the shelf.

Jerseymike61 (author)2015-10-12

I need to ask a question pertaining to the layout of the 49" and 37" boards.

Hope I ask clearly.

You hVe a picture showing the bottom board inside the left board and outside the right board but the top board is inside both the left and right side.

How can this be if they are the same size. Here is a picture of what I'm asking.

The drawing I have has each board inside one and our side the opposite side.

Can you please help.

Also. If the legs are 1 x 4s the won't one side be 1x5 and the other 1x4 if they are glued and nailed together ?

gdhenson (author)Jerseymike612015-11-04

Hey Mike -

Just noticed I had a comment on this. Sorry about the late response. It looks like you mike have found a flaw in the design. The way the boards are aligned it skews the measurements. And to be honest, I don't remember having any issue. It was a long time ago.

Jey9731 (author)2015-08-07

Finally got it painted! My wife and I went to Texas A&M and figure it's never too early to start brainwashing! Giving it to our son this afternoon!

Jerseymike61 (author)Jey97312015-10-16

are you legs 1 x4 pieces? if so doesn't that make one side of the legs 1x5 and the other side 1x4 ,

Im trying to figure lout if I need to get (1) 1x3 8 ft piece to attach to the 1x4 for the legs to make both side 1x4

can you help

gdhenson (author)Jey97312015-08-07

Thats cool!

Leigh-AnneW (author)2015-10-09

Did you route grooves into the legs for the bottom shelf? Or did you just add additional supports to the legs for the bottom shelf to rest on?

sugnim made it! (author)2015-09-29

This is the first thing I have ever built, and I loved it! I think I had as much fun building it as my son will have playing with it. I made some little buildings and things to go on top, and I will be painting everything to give to my son for his 2nd birthday. I made the table with just a hand-held jigsaw and a hammer. Thanks so much for the plan!

LizL2 (author)2015-05-11

so I am going to start making this for my son this week and had a quick question, you put both of the plywood on top as the table, correct? Or was the 2nd piece of plywood used for the shelf?

gdhenson (author)LizL22015-05-12

2nd piece is for the shelf

dfdubfletch (author)2015-01-03

hey I just stumbled upon your plan and I love it! Thanks for sharing this I have 3 boys and the 2 year old is all about his choo choo's right now I'm going to build this for him ASAP!

senamar (author)2014-02-08

Great! Thanks for the reply. I don't know if you can edit step 9 or not, but there you said cut the bottom shelf 2 inches shorter, but in the comments I see you corrected and said one inch shorter. About to head to the local wood store (my home is in China) and hoping I'll find some decent choices of wood. I'm equally worried about finding polyurethane that won't have a harmful odor for our boys.

senamar (author)2014-02-07

Is the table strong enough for a child to stand on without a center support?

gdhenson (author)senamar2014-02-07

This table is stong enough for a very large adult (225lbs) to stand in the center. Its sturdy and strong. Would make a good work bench if it had longer legs.

nhenley (author)2013-10-27

Hi! I love these plans. So for the shelf on the bottom, you used the second piece of plywood from the original cut, but made it 2" shorter in width and length, is that right?

And also, did you feel it's sturdy enough not to have a brace in the bottom? I can imagine my son climbing onto it at some point...

gdhenson (author)nhenley2013-10-28

Since the legs are 1/2" think the shelf would need to be 1" less on length and width. I didn't realize I didn't explain that. Sorry about that. I kind of fly by the seat of my pants with things like this. Feel free to ask more questions if you need.

BlogZabout (author)2013-03-09

Very, very cool! I've posted a link to this on my Thomas the Train Table site. I've listed you in my Parents Guide to Train Tables!  This is awesome!!  Very creative.

skiedra (author)2011-09-20

Very nice indeed!

jayzirl (author)2011-09-20

Just to say thanks... you have inspired me to make this for christmas for my kids. They too spotted the Thomas table in our local toy store and you are right... with the figurines, track and so on... it was just short of €800 (Euros)

The only alteration i plan is to place four castor wheels on the legs for easy movement around their bedroom so it can be put away easily. (And if my wife ever finalises what colour i should paint it!) - although i do prefer the royal blue colour you painted.

So thank you man... you plans on here will be used to build this and i honestly cant wait to see their faces on christmas morning this year!

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