I built this train bed for my 2-year old son to help him transition out of his crib. I spent about $140 on materials (not counting new tools), a few weeks designing it, and a little more than 4 weekends (80-100 hours) on the construction/finishing phases. I wanted something very sturdy my boy could actually play with, jump on, etc, but didn't want to pay a lot. of this train bed for my boy and I'm really happy with it. I've also included some pictures of the actual train I used for my design.
I was very inspired by another instructables article: "Dump Truck Bed with Front Loader Book Shelf" by djmccray (https://m.instructables.com/id/Building-a-dump-truck-bed-with-front-loader-book-s/). Tell me that isn't the coolest bed you've ever seen.
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Step 1: Design / Google Sketch-up
I find that a Google Image search is a great place to start. I searched for "toddler beds" and "train beds", etc, but most of them are of Thomas the Train or something similar. Many appear to be made by attaching flat panels and shapes to an existing bed frame. While this could have been a much cheaper and timely solution, I wanted something more durable and closer to a model train.
I reviewed many pictures of actual train body styles before deciding on the Western Maryland Fast Freight Line at B&O Railroad Museum. I almost settled on the BNSF style (which is fairly boxy and seemed easier to make) thinking I could turn the very front into a toy box, but decided that my boy could use a bookshelf instead. Also, the extra cab space gives him a place to curl up and read.
My Guiding Design Principles:
1) Strong enough for my boy to play on it and for me to curl up in it with him (i.e. it has to support my body weight).
2) Must disassemble easily for transport between rooms or in case we move.
3) And of course, it has to look awesome!!
Once I had a good idea of what I wanted I sketched 2 or 3 ideas on paper before getting wrapped around my 3D CAD program as I knew would happen.
Designing Using Google Sketch-up:
Sketch-up is a great free drawing tool. It's fairly simple in 2D space like any paint program, but takes a little getting used to in 3D. However, it is far simpler to use than any other CAD program I've tried.
Most of my time on this project was spent on the design. I did have some difficulty figuring out how to intersect curves and shapes at first. After drawing out a paper thin model in sketch-up using plane geometry it was fairly easy to "grow" those planes into side walls and support frames of the right thickness. Besides being able to easily measure any aspect of a drawing and scale the model to your needs, Sketch-up has a feature whereby you can highlight all the planes and edges of a shape and create "components." Those components can then be duplicated anywhere in the model. If you modify that component directly it will change all of them at the same time. This was a real time saver.
The beauty of designing the whole bed in sketch-up at the right scale was that I could then load those components into another sketch-up document and move the pieces around on virtual lumber that I drew (much in the same way you could cut out paper scale drawings and move them around to minimize lumber waste). I measured and labeled all aspects of each component and printed those drawings as a complete set of plans for use in my garage.
Please see my Google Sketch-up files for detailed plans. One is the full 3D model. The other is a component layout on virtual lumber. Both have overall dimensions for the major parts and detailed dimensions for every component which can be switched on or off.
Step 2: Bill of Materials
I mostly have just hand power tools, but a table saw and band saw would certainly have made the project much easier and faster. Not counting new tool purchases, this project only cost about $140. Don't tell my wife, but I spent just as much on new tools as I did on the bed itself...
- Circular Saw or Table Saw (preferred)
- Miter or Crosscut Saw
- Orbital Jigsaw or Band Saw (preferred)
- Drill w/ 1/8" bit_____________
- Router (1/2" Flush Trim Bit, 1/4" Round Over Bit, and 3/4" Straight Router Bit or Table Saw Dado Kit)
- Palm Sander
- Pocket Plane 5 1/2"
- Bar Clamps 2x 36" and 4x 12"
(1) 5/8" MDF 4' x 8'
(1) 1/4" Plywood 4' x 8'
(1) 3/4" Plywood 4' x 4'
(2) Stud 2" x 4" x 92 5/8"
(2) Stud 2" x 2" x 92 5/8"
Screws 2" or 2 1/2"
Sand Paper 60 grit, 100 grit, 150 grit
(10 cans) Spray Paint, Hammered Black
Paint 1/2 pint White
(5 cans) Paint Clear Enamel
LED Light (IKEA, $3)
Sultan Lade Bed Slats 28" x 63" (IKEA, $9)
Step 3: Cut Out and Assemble
I figure if you're endeavoring to make anything out of wood you already have some basic woodworking skills so I'll only cover the tricky bits here.
Circular Saw Jig, the Next Best Thing to a Table Saw:
I'd love to have a table saw, let alone one I can use to crosscut full sheets of plywood... That's just not going to happen. I created a simple circular saw jig using the first 12" of a sheet of 1/4" plywood. First, determine which side of the plywood sheet is the most true, then rip a strip about 2" wide (which I'll call the "fence") using a circular saw on a drawn line. Then cut another strip about 10" wide (which I'll call the "base") from the same edge and glue the fence onto the base about 5" from the edge (a little more than the width of your circular saw's shoe edge to the blade). Once the glue is cured set the shoe of your circular saw on the base and against the fence so it cuts just a little off the edge of the base. Voila, straight cuts from now on and all you have to do is put the edge of my jig on your pencil marks and clamp it down. I purposely left excess material on the other side of mine so I could do the same thing with my 3/4" straight cut router bit. Two jigs in one!
Strong Curved Panels Require Curved Supports:
To get that curved look, I decided to build a simple curved frame using the 2x4" studs and bend 1/4" plywood over the top. Having a band saw would have been amazing, but all I have is an orbital jig saw. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't keep the blade from bowing into the work. Trust me, I had quality blades, I made many relief cuts, and I steered the jigsaw rather than pushed it through the work. The pocket plane was very handy to smooth out and square up my shoddy cutting.
To get the final 1/4" plywood panels to be flush on the edge of MDF, I clamped a couple scrap pieces to overhang on each side of the curved supports and lowered them until flush. This is where I glued and screwed them in to place (see pictures 3-5 above). I did the same thing for the front compartment (see picture 8).
A Curved Template:
The 1/4" template I mention below allowed me to draw and rough-cut each panel: the top, front window, and two front compartment pieces. I wanted my curves to be smooth all the way across and for the plywood to tightly fit against the sides of the train cab. You'll notice in the 3rd picture above that there is a small triangular gap on the right side where the curved support piece is raised above the side rail. To make this easier, I cut a 3" wide strip of 1/4" plywood so it was about an inch longer on both sides when wrapped over the curve. I screwed this down to the curved frame and flush trimmed it to become the perfect template for each curved panel (see pictures 4 & 5 above).
Flush Trimmed Edges:
The first panel I installed was the one containing the front windows. Even though I rough-cut the curve using a template, the edge was much cleaner after a flush trim. The top piece fit very snugly and that too was rough cut and trimmed flush with the face. Since the top curved down toward the sides, a flush trim bit wouldn't do the trick. I had to finish those edges with a flush cut saw.
The front compartment was built in pretty much the same way (see picture 8), starting with the front-most panel and laying the top on after. The top required a concave curve to align with the face under the windows first. For that, I used a previously cut curve and trimmed it to fit tightly. This too was flush-trimmed once secure. I cut the book case panels to size and used them to set the height of the front compartment (see picture 9). I wanted the book case portion to fit snugly under the curve in front.
Step 4: Painting
Masking Tape as a Logo Mask:
I have little in the way of free-hand talent. For the front logo, I printed the front design and etched it onto a big patch of painters tape. I peeled the tape to expose the surface to be painted and peeled the rest off while the paint was still barely tacky. This resulted in clean lines and a perfect Western Maryland Fast Freight Line logo for my son's train bed. As for the pin striping, I laid two parallel lines of painters tape and painted within the lines.
My wife located a great web-graphic that matched the Western Maryland logo and ordered a large sticker for both sides. I affixed those before applying the clear coat. They really sell the look I was going for and I didn't have to free-hand the paint job.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
I designed the bed frame to take a specific IKEA mattress and sultan lade (support slats). I installed a couple screws and plastic bushings on the support rails at each end to keep the sultan lade in place.
I also installed a couple brass buckles between the shorter rear piece and the main cabin so my kid couldn't separate the sections sliding it around the floor or during play.
(UPDATE) Years of Enjoyment:
We've moved twice since I built this and my now 5-year old and his siblings still love to play and jump on it. I've spent many nights comforting him to sleep and wake to find he went back to my bed. The construction is solid and I've made no repairs in 3 years. Unfortunately none of our books fit upright in the bookshelf, but it is a handy place to lay them in horizontally.