My almost 2 year old son was lucky enough to get a wooden train set for Christmas this year and to save all the lost and broken pieces that normally happen with a toy like this, I decided to take his train set, combine it with his older sisters train set and make one giant layout mounted to a board and decorated as a landscape. Apart from being fun to play with my main requirement is that is should fit nicely on my dining room table which is approximately 5 feet long, and can be put away and stored vertically behind the sofa .
Step 1: Design the Track Layout
First job was to decide exactly which pieces of track go where. Since I was combining two different sets I couldn't use a design on the box so instead I googled wooden train sets to give me some ideas as a starting point. After some searching I found a design I liked which I adopted and modified to get the most use out of my track.
Before I even went near a mounting board, I laid the track out on my living room floor to make sure it was working before going any further. I should point out the design in this picture is not quite the final design. I tested it later with a battery powered train and carriages and found it was having difficultly getting around short radius bends placed back to back so I had to swap some long radius bends for shorts and generally mix it up a bit until it ran smoothly.
Step 2: Preparing the Board
To begin with I bought a sheet of 12mm 6x2 MDF from Wickes and laid out my finalised track design. After confirming the width of the sheet was adequate I marked out how much its length needed to be cut down by which for this layout was approximately 12 inches. If you watch the youtube video posted on this instructable you will see my technique for cutting perfectly straight edges with a jigsaw, it essentially involves clamping a piece of straight wood alongside your cutting line as a guide and keeping the base of your jigsaw tight to it as you cut. I would normally use my circular saw for a cut like this (or if you have a large well equipped workshop a table saw would be even better) however I appreciate not everyone has a wide selection of tools to choose from and as MDF is a soft and easy material to work with I thought it was a good opportunity to demonstrate this technique.
Once the MDF sheet was cut to size I used a router with a 1/4 inch rounding over bit around all the edges to remove the sharp leading edge and give it a tidier finish.
The last thing before attaching the track was to paint the board and I used two coats of tea green chalk furniture paint for no other reason than I had a tin sat around unused and it seemed like a sensible colour.
Step 3: Fixing (most Of) the Track
This layout has two distinct sections, one flat section and one elevated section. At this stage the board was ready to have the flat section attached with the exception of the small loop at the top for reasons which will become apparent in the next step.
To attach the pieces of track I used 20mm wood screws as it was important the screws be short enough not to pierce out of the bottom of the MDF sheet. You should also pilot drill a hole for each screw to go in or you risk splitting the pieces of track along the grain, as I did to one piece of track which I had to glue back together.
It would have looked nicer to use wood glue to fix the track in place and not have visible screw heads however I elected to sacrifice the aesthetic in favour of making it easier if I decide to change or add to the layout in future as screws are a lot easier to remove than wood glue.
On the bench I assembled and wood glued together the elevated track section and kept it to one side to be fitted at a later stage.
Step 4: Building MDF Mountain
The train set provided several plastic supports for the elevated track sections however I wanted to include a hillside in the design for the track to climb over. To make this I cut 5 pieces of MDF to stack up underneath the track, I didn't really have a design for this other than I wanted some of the plastic supports to sink into the bottom layer and also for the bottom layer to be tight to the small loop of track at the top. This is why I didn't screw down this loop in the last step so I could lift it up and use it as a template to mark a cutting line on the bottom layer. Once this piece was cut and checked I screwed down these pieces of track as in the previous step.
To determine the size and shape of the MDF pieces I simply cut a rough shape, placed it on the layer below to check it. If I wasn't happy I took it off and trimmed it until I was satisfied. I repeated this until I had a pile of pieces that stacked up and held the elevated track aloft. Once I was happy I used the router with the 1/4 rounding over bit around the edge of all the pieces to give a clean uniform finish. I suppose I could have used papier mache here for a more realistic look but wooden sets are clearly not about realism and I prefer the stacked layers of land look, I think because it reminds me of playing Minecraft.
Step 5: Fitting the Elevated Track
Once MDF mountain was fitted and painted I fixed the elevated track section that I assembled earlier in place. I used contact adhesive to stick the track to the plastic supports and the supports to the base board. I used a single wood screw to fix the track in place on top of MDF mountain, and wood glue to attach this piece of track to the rest of the layout via the two riser track sections. Each of the plastic supports was clamped into position while the glue set.
Step 6: Adding the Scenery
Included with the train set were some laser cut buildings which I assembled and stuck to the layout with wood glue as well as some wooden trees which were also added to create a bit of interest.
Step 7: Finished Pictures
Step 8: Parts and Tools
Two different wooden train sets
6 foot x 2 foot x 12mm MDF sheet
20mm wood screws
Tea green chalk furniture paint
Scrap pieces of MDF