Wooden Tunnel for Thomas the Tank Engine Playsets

Introduction: Wooden Tunnel for Thomas the Tank Engine Playsets

I thought I would write up a quick second instructable for another playset I made for my sons' Thomas the Tank engine track. Unfortunately, I did not document the build of this toy while making it, but a lot of the cutting is freehand and I have done some sketches to give you an idea of the process I used.

My son is a huge fan of tunnels and one of his favourite Thomas episodes has a haunted mine in it, so I decided to us that as the basis for the first playset I built for him.

Again, I used basswood on this project because it is cheap, easy to work with, light and is safe for little hands.

Step 1: Materials Needed

Tools Required:
     Band saw, Scroll saw, Jig saw or Coping Saw
     Sandpaper (100 or 120 grit is fine)
     Drafting Compass (or something round with a 2" diameter)

Materials Required:
     Basswood 28" x 4 1/2" x 1/2"
     Acrylic Paint and Varnish
     Fine Sharpie Marker
     Wood Glue
     Brown Paper bag
     Old Toothbrush

Step 2: Layout and Cutting

The tunnel consists of 6 pieces stacked and glued, but really the most important ones are the front and back as these are the tunnel entrance and exit. measure up 1 3/4" from the long edge of the board, about 6" from the end and draw a 2" diameter circle at that point and cut that piece out.  Once the entrance is cut, freehand cut a rolling random arch shape around that line not closer than about 1/2"  away from the door cut (see piece #1 below). Next make an even larger rolling random arch shape leaving approximately 1" of material (see piece #2 below). The next piece is the tricky one, as you want to make sure that you overlap the seam between piece #1 and #2 more or less evenly so you can stack and glue them, the second image below can give you an idea of how to cut piece #3. Now, take your first 3 pieces and use them as templates to make a duplicate of each (or you can cut 3 totally different ones using the same procedure if you wish).

I then used the scrap offcuts to make a small sign and more rocks and trees to decorate the haunted mine tunnel.

Then give everything a good sanding and you are ready to paint.

Step 3: Painting and Finishing

Start by giving all the pieces a coat of varnish, let them dry as per the instructions and then polish them with a crumpled up brown paper bag. The bag acts like soft fine sandpaper and give the pieces a nice feel.

At this point I glued all of the cave layers using a light even coat of glue and clamping them together for about 20 minutes.

For painting, I started by giving the bottom and entire interior of the cave 2 coats of black paint, then applied a light gray coat to all of the 'rock". Next I used a very dry brush with a tiny bit of darker gray paint on it and dabbed it along the bottom edge and in all the nooks and crannies.

Then using the toothbrush, I splattered the whole thing with very watered down white, medium gray and black paint. After the splatter layer has dried, apply two more coats of varnish, giving a paper bag polish in between. (Don't shake your varnish, roll it on a table to mix it... shaking it will give you bubbles in your finish)

Lastly, I glued on the Trees, sign and other details, clamped lightly using scrap wood to protect the finish and let it dry overnight.

Step 4:

You may notice that my arch only has 5 layers to it instead of 6, as this was a modification i thought of afterwards, but it works fine either way. 

It has been a month in the tender hands of a toddler, and even with daily use (and the dropping and the banging that accompanies belonging to a 3 year old) it has held up surprisingly well. In total this project cost around $5 in stock and about 3 hours of time, so a pretty decent investment.

Be the First to Share


    • Raspberry Pi Contest

      Raspberry Pi Contest
    • New Year, New Skill Student Design Challenge

      New Year, New Skill Student Design Challenge
    • Fix It Speed Challenge

      Fix It Speed Challenge



    1 year ago

    Please, could you share your layout with us?

    joey jo jo
    joey jo jo

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks very much for the inspiration, it's really good to see a parent who doesn't let ridiculous toy prices get in the way of their children having some great stuff :)
    If you don't mind I've got a couple of questions before I start my own- I notice you've used varnish to prime the wood; my first instinct would to have got some wood primer but do you find the varnish makes a better coat to paint over?
    Also- how is the paint job holding up after being played with for a bit? If your son is anything like mine the words 'be gentle with that' mean absolutely nothing to him!
    Thanks again for the 'ible- hopefully I'll have time to make a 2 year old one in time for Christmas.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Joe,

    I appreciate the comment.
    I did use varnish to prime my wood and I would be lying if I gave any other reason than it is just what I had. I haven't used a true primer in this capacity on these little projects, but if it is what you have i would likely work just as well. I cannot complain at all about how the paint has held up, no chips or flaking at all anywhere on any of the toys i have made so far. i think this has to do with the fact that Basswood is such a joy to work with... it seems to love any kind of finish. A fine grained wood like maple might need a finish with a bit more grip like a primer, or something like pine that you risk sap bleed-through without a proper primer, but as for basswood it has held the finish flawlessly after a couple of years with now two kids playing with them on a regular basis. The corners are a bit dinged now but I would confidently say they are roughly "Tonka" level durability.


    PS... please post a picture of your project if you can, I am right in the middle of completing another tunnel for my neice for Christmas and you should have no problem finishing by then...


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Have to say what a fantastic idea. I've just finished constructing my own version of this ible. Very easy to put together and such a simple concept. Hopefully my 4 yo will love it come christmas time.

    Thanks once again.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I would love to see a photo if you have the time.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Wow I haven't heard that name in years - used to watch the show on PBS, and probably had a few of the books...17-18 years ago now. Wow. Is that really still running?

    The tunnel looks very good, and I like the modular nature - I'd imagine this would be a good scheme for more serious train track modeling as a simple build-up method for any size and shape tunnel. How many other pieces besides this and the station have you built for the set? I'd be interested in seeing a full-scale shot - always like to see what other modelers work.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, Thomas is still on TV and they are still releasing new movies. It's the 60th year anniversary this year and still attracts toddlers faster than ice cream.

    Other than the train station I have done a small bridge, and I am currently working on 2 more playsets for Christmas, and with luck will have some more instructables for them soon. I am making several trains as well and will have an instructable about that up very soon.